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Highly aromatic, lemongrass grows in thick, cascading clumps that make an attractive indoor or outdoor plant. This plant isn’t just a beauty; it also has medicinal properties and can be made into a delicate tea. In addition to being healthy, this herb will also impart a citrus flavor into any cuisine. If you’ve been interested in experimenting with it, growing lemongrass couldn’t be easier.

Getting Started

Purchase lemongrass stalks that are fresh and still green; avoid stalks that are turning brown and drying out. The ones I purchased were beginning to yellow, but still rooted. Each stalk will multiply to create several new stalks by the end of the season. Fresh lemongrass may be difficult to find in some regions, so I suggest looking in specialty shops—I found mine in an international food market.

Watching Grass Take Root

I prefer to make a fresh slice on the end of the lemongrass to help it take in water until the new roots form. Now simply plop them into a jar of water, making sure the bottom bulb section is covered. After 2-4 weeks, roots and new growth should begin to appear.

Watching Grass Grow

Once 1-2” of roots develop, the lemongrass may be planted into soil. If unable to plant right away, don’t worry–lemongrass is patient. It was still chilly outside when the roots developed on mine, so I left mine in water until the roots were approximately 5-6” in length and the weather had warmed.

Choose a well-draining container to plant the stalks in. When planting, ensure that soil covers the root base. To prevent a risk of rot, do not bury into the soil any deeper than where the highest root nodule is. Water thoroughly. The stalks may feel loose at first, but will soon grow new roots to anchor them securely into the soil.

Lemongrass is not frost-hardy and must be brought inside if temperatures dip below 45°F/7°C.

Health benefits

According to The Herb Bible: A Complete Guide to Growing and Using Herbs (Harding, 2006), lemongrass has many medicinal benefits such as:

  • Lower fever, especially malarial
  • Treating stress-related symptoms
  • Aromatherapy
  • Aids digestion
  • Essential oil relieves muscle aches and pains, injuries, and poor circulation
  • Insect repellent

Making tea

Lemongrass tea is a delicate, citrus flavored tea. It can be made by either steeping the top leaves or the stalk of the plant. The top leaves make for a lighter citrus flavored tea. Simply cut up the leaves and steep as normal—approximately 5 minutes.

When using the stalk, peel off the outer leaves—these are bitter. It is necessary to bruise the stalk by either bending it several times or crushing it under the blade of a chef’s knife. Cut the stalk into pieces. Add to boiling water and steep until preferred strength is reached—approximately 5-10 minutes.

Cookery

Lemongrass is one of those mystery herbs you typically see sold as dried, brown stalks in a little glass bottle at the grocery store. Well-known in Thai cuisine and common in Southeast Asian dishes, lemongrass can be added to soups and curries or made into a tea. It pairs well with coconut milk and will provide a delicate and acidic lemon flavor to balance and compliment a dish.

Lime and Lemongrass Cooler

Servings: 4

  • 2 limes, peeled and each cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 small lemongrass stem, coarsely chopped
  • 3 Tbps. Sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 crushed ice cubes
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 slices of lime
  • Soda water, to top off

Place lime pieces, lemongrass, and crushed ice cubes in a food processor.

Add the water and sweetened condensed milk, process for a few seconds, but not until completely smooth. Strain the mixture into glasses. Add a slice of lime to each glass and top off to taste with soda water. Serve at once.

Enjoy!

After removing, the outer leaves of lemongrass make great cat toys!

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The zucchini plant is a fairly tough customer. If the soil is of good quality, it can grow to massive sizes, its huge leaves much larger than your whole head. Little spiny hairs cover its leaves and stalks, irritating and itching the bare arms of those who are sensitive to them. At least in my plantings, it seems to shrug off all insects, animals, and disease, save for the powdery mildew that sometimes saps its strength (but never seems to fully kill it) in the cooler days of late summer. Its foliage is often nicked or lopped off by an accident with my harvesting knife, but more just grows back to replace it, the vines perpetually lengthening as you pick from them until they are feet long at the end of the season. The same things are true for summer squash – they are, after all, the same species.

These plants are also legendary for how prolific they are. It seems that everyone who grows them – and even those who live near those growers – know of their amazing ability to pop out fruit after fruit. Tales abound of zucchini stuffed in mailboxes, or of piles of giant lunkers left on steps or porches. I sell them 2/$1, but even with that and eating them besides, I’ve still brought boxes to work before in an effort to prevent them from going to waste.

This is especially true when your plants are cranking out two-headed mutants.

Because of this extreme overproduction, zucchini fans are often scrambling for things to do with it. You can only eat so much fried squash or zucchini-based stir-fry before it gets very tiresome. Thankfully, over the past few years I’ve gained knowledge of several things to do with them when I have 30 of them on my table and can’t move them fast enough. I’ve decided to share some of these with you, because I know that right now my plants are in full swing and will be cranking them out for weeks to come.

– Zucchini Chips –

These consist of thin crosswise slices/rounds of zucchini that are coated with (optional) seasonings and dried. A mandolin slicer makes it really easy to produce the slices, but you can do it by hand with a knife too as long as you are able to make a rather thin cut. You don’t want it extremely thin, though, because there’s a lot of water to them and drying will turn too-thin slices into little more than squash-flavored paper that tears apart when you touch it. Around 1/4″ or so seems to work well for me.

No skinning or seeding is needed as long as the zucchini is not gigantic – just rinse for debris and then cut the ends off and you’re good to go.

They are very easy to produce with a small dehydrator set at veggie setting/130-140F. It takes several hours, but they are hard to ruin this way. They can also apparently be done in a low-temperature oven as well, though I have little experience with this method. When seasoning, go light – the flavor concentrates as the slices dry. My favorite flavors are Hidden Valley ranch (it comes in a powder form you can just sprinkle on) or cinnamon sugar.

– Zucchini Bread (or Muffins) – 

This is a great way to use up ugly zucchini or giant ones of great size (though you still may want to skin and seed really, really big ones because those parts get tough and hard). The zucchini is grated finely before going into the recipe, making age and appearance less important. The recipe below is my aunt’s, and I’ve used it dozens of times to make delicious quickbread out of my surplus. You can easily pour it into muffin tins or cups to make individual portions out of it, too. No alterations are needed to do this.

You can throw in other things you like, or subtract those you don’t. For example, I often leave off nuts or exchange cranberries or blueberries for them, and I sometimes omit coconut if I don’t have any on hand. I also add more cinnamon than called for, and almost always toss in a dash of clove as well.  The recipe seems tolerant of changes as long as you keep the basic ingredients the same. This recipe also freezes extremely well if wrapped closely in aluminum foil and then placed in a gallon Ziploc (wrap the sealed end of the Ziploc around the loaf and press out excess air, taping in place if desired). I have kept it frozen for over 3 years with no significant loss in quality.

Aunt Smith’s Zucchini Bread

3 eggs

2 c. sugar

-> mix these ingredients together, then add…

3 c. grated zucchini or summer squash

1 c. oil (any mild tasting oil will work)

2 tsp. vanilla

-> mix these ingredients together, then add…

3 1/2 c. flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 c. chopped nuts, coconut, berries, or other mix-ins (optional)

Bake about an hour at around 350 degrees. Watch for doneness after 40-45 minutes – prick into center with a toothpick to test. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Makes 2 regular loaves.

Still taking over the table?

– Stuffed Zucchini –

This is one of my semi-lazy methods of dealing with extra zucchini. Cut the ends off and slice once lengthwise, as ‘down the middle’ as possible. Scoop or scrape out some of the seeds to make a crater. Stuff the crater with stuffing, cheese, other veggies, or anything tasty that your heart can dream up. If you don’t want to bother with that, simply stuff with Stove Top stuffing mix or some other equivalent. Bake in the oven until it looks delicious. I usually default to baking at 350 degrees F.

Sometimes it works better to precook or parboil the zucchini for a few minutes before stuffing, or to tent foil over the baking sheet and remove at the last few minutes if browning is desired, although this isn’t strictly necessary because I have had success without precooking as well.

– Pickled Zucchini –

Zucchini and summer squash can be pickled using most recipes that call for cucumbers. I only like sweet or bread and butter pickles, so that’s all I make, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use them in a dill recipe too. Feel free to try them in any recipe you already use. Just be aware that they’ll turn out a bit softer than cucumber pickles, at least in my experience. I find that they’re best if cut into spears and seeded before the pickling process.

The easiest bread and butter pickle recipe I use is as follows. Spices can be substituted or added to depending on what you like.

8 cups sliced cucumbers or zucchini (chunks, spears, or round slices work equally well)

2 c. sliced onions

2 c. sugar

1 1/2 c. vinegar (I use cider vinegar)

1 1/2 tsp. pickling salt

2 tsp. mustard seed

1 tsp. turmeric

2 tsp. celery seed

Place all ingredients together in a large pot. Heat on medium to high heat until liquid starts to boil, stirring the mixture to soak all ingredients in the brine. Pack in hot, sterilized jars and seal. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner. Makes about 2 quart jars.

Pickled peas, zukes, cukes, and summer squash help to stuff this old cupboard

Zucchini is right up there with my green beans as far as overabundance goes, and its texture and mild flavor lend it really well to all kinds of interesting applications. Stay tuned for Part II of this article, where I reveal one of my favorite (and most unexpected) ways to use summer squashes, as well as a great way that you can use up several of them and barely even notice their presence!

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When I was a little girl, my dad would share stories of the yogurt his grandmother made in a jar without modern simplicities. Yogurt is still a refrigerator staple for my father, but the cost of buying it can quickly eat away at the thrifty shopper’s wallet. Making yogurt is not only a fraction of the cost, but is one of the few old traditions that can be made simple.

What is needed?

  • Milk
  • Yogurt or freeze dried yogurt starter
  • Pot
  • Candy thermometer
  • Containers or jars
  • Whisk
  • Spoon
  • Powdered milk (optional)

Heat the Milk

Heat the milk to 185ºF (85ºC). Stir frequently to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of pot. As the milk cools, powdered milk may be added (optional). The addition of powdered milk will create a richer, thicker yogurt.

Let milk cool to 100ºF-120ºF (38ºC-49ºC).

Add Yogurt Starter

Add the yogurt starter to the cooled milk. I typically add approximately 2 tablespoons per pint of milk. Whisk the yogurt starter into the milk to evenly distribute the bacteria. I am using a favorite yogurt brand; however, they do sell freeze-dried yogurt starters. If using premade yogurt for a starter, try to choose a brand you prefer as they all have different tastes. The yogurt must contain live active cultures and should not have any added flavors.

Distribute Mixture

Distribute mixture into containers—I prefer mason jars to keep water out.

Keep the Mixture Warm (100ºF-120ºF/38ºC-49ºC)

Place the containers into a cooler filled halfway with hot water (100ºF-120ºF/38ºC-49ºC). Don’t have a cooler? An electric yogurt maker, a preheated crock pot wrapped in towels, or sunny window sill work as well.

The Waiting Game

Let sit for 6-12 hours, or overnight. I prefer to leave mine overnight, but I recommend rechecking the temperature of the water-filled cooler to make sure the proper heat is being maintained.

Fresh cultured yogurt.

Prefer Greek Yogurt?

Strain the yogurt in cheesecloth until desired consistency is achieved. Alternatively, use a white kitchen rag or towel. Whey will drain from the yogurt as it thickens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to make Yogurt Cheese? 

Yogurt cheese is a healthier alternative to cream cheese and is very easy to make. Simply strain yogurt through cheesecloth overnight until the yogurt is thick and spreadable.

Tips

  • If yogurt doesn’t turn out and temperatures were correct throughout, try switching brands. I went through two brands before I found one that cultured correctly.
  • Save a little yogurt to use as a starter for the next batch.
  • Honey drizzled over Greek yogurt.

    Add any flavor to taste: jam, honey and maple syrup all work well.

  • Save leftover whey from strained yogurt to boost the health of tomato plants.
  • Whey is a healthy addition to any diet.

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Every gardener or farmer knows that weeds can be a scourge. In large numbers, they can choke out flowers, vegetables, or other crops. Even in smaller numbers, they can grow where they are undesirable or unsightly. Dealing with weeds is often a season-long battle, fought with hands, gloves, hoes, or cultivators. Some even choose to use chemical means to eradicate them, but weeds can become more resistant to even this, not even considering the other issues/concerns this brings with it.

While ripping out offending weeds is totally understandable, and I do it all the time, many people do not know of the value of some of these plants.  While it is true that some weeds are too fiddly to mess with (such as the delicious – but tiny – nuts of Nutsedge), inedibly tough or bitter, or even poisonous (such as the Nightshades), others are edible, even tasty (some have good medicinal value, too, though this is often not for beginners). I have selected and will elaborate on a few of the most common, easily identified ones I find in my plantings.

A very exceptional purslane growing among my onions. Normally they are not this large or thick – I guess it likes its spot!

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

  • – Low growing, creeping-type plant. Thick, smooth, computer-cable like stems, usually with a strong reddish color or tinge. Succulent, thick leaves shaped like little paddles or spatulas. Small yellow flowers give way to tiny green seed pods
  • – Contains more Omega-3 than any other leafy vegetable. Mucilaginous quality lends it well to soups/stews, or very good just as a salad herb or snack. Can have a tangy or salty flavor. Stems are good for pickling
  • – Does not grow tall or very competitive; tolerates poor soil and drought. Good companion plant – crops such as corn will even let their roots ‘follow’ paths broken in the soil by purslane, and its deep roots and ground-covering nature bring up and stabilize moisture that might otherwise be unavailable
  • – Used historically; still widely used in Europe, the middle east, and others

Young lambsquarters – great as a fresh salad at this stage

Lambsquarters/Goosefoot (Chenopodium album)

  • – Cultivated in some countries as a food crop, but usually considered a weed in the US
  • – Tall growing, to several feet or even a few meters high, with stiff stems. Alternate, spade-blade shaped, well toothed leaves; leaves at the top and bottom are more diamond shaped and less toothed. Leaves repel water, and top ones are often mealy, with a white powdery look
  • – Is competitive – can cause crop losses if not pulled out
  • – Edible raw or cooked, but probably best cooked if eaten regularly (it contains some oxalic acid and saponins – probably not enough to do any harm anyway – but these are reduced by cooking). Good spinach substitute, and nutritious. Seeds can also be eaten, or the flowerheads used as a broccoli substitute

Galinsoga with the corn

Galinsoga/Gallant Soldier (Galinsoga ciliata)

  • – Grows to about 2 feet in height
  • – Opposite leaves triangular with rounded back, coarsely toothed along edges, quite hairy on stems and leaves alike. Flowers like a tiny, underdeveloped daisy, with a yellow center surrounded by 5 very small, white, 3-toothed petals
  • – Flowers, leaves, or stems edible raw or cooked, added to soups, or used as a salad
  • – Not as tall and tough as Lambsquarter, but very tenacious – can grow in huge numbers, choking out other plants, and if you break its stems off instead of uprooting it, it will grow two new stems at the place it broke

Yellow wood sorrel

Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis stricta)

  • – Often confused with or called a ‘clover’
  • – Starts out erect, but as it grows it lays down and branches. Leaves with 3 leaflet segments, each shaped like a heart. Small yellow, 5-petaled flowers
  • – All parts are edible, with a very tangy/lemony flavor. Good accent in salads, or can be crushed and made into a lemonade-like drink. The tanginess is from its oxalate content – it is perfectly safe in small quantities, but should not be eaten in huge quantities constantly because this can bind up the body’s calcium

Mallow cheeses

Mallow Cheeses/Dwarf Mallow (Malva neglecta)

  • – Grows from a central point/in a rosette, branching from the base. Prostrate/stems lay along the ground.  Alternate leaves on long stems are circular or kidney-shaped and irregularly shallow-toothed or crinkly-lobed. Short hairs are present on the surfaces. Flowers 5-petaled and usually pink or pinkish-white, with noticeable darker pink or purple stripes upon close inspection
  • – Flowers replaced by disc-shaped seed pods that appear like a button or a cheese wheel in shape – this is where it gets its name. These are very crunchy and  tasty, although small. Leaves and shoots edible raw or cooked as salad or pot greens. They also have mucilaginous properties and are good for thickening soups or stews
  • – Taproot makes it hard to uproot, and it can grow quite large and sprawlingly competitive in the right environment

The domestic carrot’s mommy

Queen Anne’s Lace/Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)

  • – Tall growing, to a meter in height. Large clusters of tiny white flowers on tops of stems, often with a single maroon flower in the center. Foliage is lacy, like the familiar leaves of domestic carrots
  • – Root is edible like a carrot, or flower heads can be fried and eaten. Seeds can be used to flavor soup. The root can also be dried, roasted, and ground into a coffee substitute
  • – To avoid confusion with poison hemlock, look for the strong carrot smell and the very hairy stems – they should also lack purple spots
  • – Some people are photosensitive after handling the foliage, so treat with care if you are uncertain

Very immature Velvet-leaf, this youngster will grow many times this size if I let it

Velvet-leaf (Abutilon theophrasti)

  • – Grows several feet tall on stout, stiff stems, with large, heart-shaped, long-stemmed leaves covered with velvety, fine hairs. These are very soft to the touch. Yellow or orange flowers give way to segmented seedpod clusters with an overall ‘crown-like’ appearance, each segment having a pointed ‘horn’ on top. Entire plant has an odd, distinct odor about it
  • – Extremely competitive, stealing nutrients and water from other crops. A damaging and invasive species
  • – Seeds are edible and tasty (in my opinion). Although a bit small, they are easy to get to, and eating them stops the plant from reseeding. Leaves are reportedly eaten stir-fried or in omelettes in China. The plant also provides strong, jute-like fiber, which is what it was originally grown for.

and last, but never least…

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

  • – The familar dandelion almost everyone knows needs no photo – it grows in rosettes of deeply toothed, dark green leaves, with prominent yellow composite flowers on long, often reddish-tinged stems
  • – Entire plant is edible. Leaves are better when young, and get bitter as they age. Root is edible raw or cooked, or can be dried and roasted as a coffee substitute. Flowers are edible, fried into fritters or plucked of petals and mixed into anything (I like to put them inside a veggie burger of sorts). They can also be used to make wine, or pickled and used like capers. The milky sap is a folk remedy for warts
  • – A number of other medicinal uses as well!

Looking up the wild plants you find around you can be an addictive pursuit. So many of the plants we treat as weeds or ignore actually have beneficial qualities. Whether you decide to eat them or not, maybe this posting will give you a little curiosity about the leafy neighbors of your prized plants. After all, they’re just plants too – they just don’t often benefit from the help of a human hand, so they come up with other strategies to succeed, strategies that can invoke our ire at times.

Happy growing/harvesting season 2012!

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Starting your garden from seed may sound like a great, thrifty way to save some cash. However, there are several herbs that will give a variety of disastrous results when grown from seed. I strongly recommend propagating the following by cuttings or plant division.

Tarragon

When looking to grow Tarragon, never buy seeds. It is very important to be aware of what you’re buying because incorrect labeling does occur. Many times, when you see seed or plants for sale, they will either be Russian Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L.) or Mexican Tarragon (Tageteslucida). Look for French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa). Taste a leaf before purchase to ensure the plant is labeled correctly—look for a numbing effect on the tongue when purchasing French Tarragon.

The Differences

French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa)

  • Superior flavor
  • Preferred in culinary
  • Numbing effect on tongue
  • Rarely flowers, seeds are typically sterile
  • Can be finicky to grow

Russian Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L.)

  • Belongs to same family as French Tarragon
  • Lacks flavor, may be bitter
  • Readily flowers and sets seed
  • Hardier and more tolerant than French Tarragon

Mexican Tarragon (Tageteslucida)

  • Actually a variety of Marigold
  • Closest in flavor to French Tarragon, so may be used as a substitute

Rosemary

I recommend everybody interested in growing rosemary to buy an already established plant or start with a cutting from an established plant. The seed germination rate is incredibly low—I had only one germinate last year. If you’re lucky enough to get the seeds to germinate, the seedlings can be fussy and difficult to keep alive. The seedlings seem to prefer a moist, well-draining soil and will quickly die if the soil remains dry too long. Rosemary is also slow growing and will take at least a year to establish.

Mint

Mint plants should be incredibly easy to find and are even easier to propagate from cuttings or division. Due to hybridization, mint should not be started from seeds. This causes the mint to have a rank odor and taste. If possible, I strongly recommend finding a good wild or heirloom variety to start with. I have purchased mint varieties from stores that turn rank after a couple years of growth. Since mint tends to readily take over where it’s grown, I encourage everybody interested in growing mint to check with friends and family for a clipping or plant division.

Lavender

If absolutely insistent upon starting from seed, Lavender would be the safest from this list. The biggest problem with Lavender seed is that it can take up to three months to sprout. From there, it may take one year for the plant to become established and bloom. There are also many varieties of Lavender to choose from, just make sure to choose an edible variety.

These plants may sound discouraging to grow, but with a little attention a garden can be saved from imposters. Starting plants from seeds may sound like a cost-efficient method to acquiring a garden, but it may have the hidden cost of replacing poor quality varieties with the proper plant. If looking to save money, cutting and plant division are the keys to success with these four plants.

Looking to start from seeds? Try reading “Seed Sowing: Timely, Thrifty, Universal Methods”

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I am a huge fan of butter.

Well, I am a huge fan of cream and its products in general. It started with the discovery that I could make super thick and delicious whipped cream of my very own (perhaps more on that subject later). When I was little, I loved the kind I could spray out of a can and into big dollops. Now I learned that what I make myself is much more enjoyable in flavor, doesn’t go flat upon sitting, and doesn’t have any unnecessary additives, either – it’s just the cream, perhaps with a small amount of sugar or flavoring of my choice.

I was raised on margarine, but upon going out and living on my own, I shifted away from this product, and now I can barely stand it in comparison to butter. Even so, I had always simply bought my butter from the store, or from the area’s Amish on occasion that I passed by. My cream purchases usually got turned into whipped cream or put into my baking. After I obtained a pint of grass-fed, organic cream from the Jersey cows at Evans Farmhouse Creamery, though, I decided I was going to do something different this time. I had enough whipped cream. It was time to try making butter… and I succeeded. The result was glorious, with a creamier, stronger ‘butter flavor’ than I had ever had before. Wanting more, I picked up some quarts of a larger local brand and got busy.

A lot of the time, making your own stuff at home saves you money. I am not going to even pretend it’s the case here, as it’s certainly not always cheaper to do it this way. Pre-made, store-bought butter is relatively inexpensive for what goes into it, especially for conventional brands (non-specialty/non-organic/etc.) or generics/store brands. If you buy specialty butter, though, or you have a source of cream that’s inexpensive or from your own animals, you may be able to break even or make it cost slightly less.

You have to look at the other benefits too, though. You get very fresh butter that hasn’t picked up any off flavors or sat on a shelf for weeks. You get to learn a new skill. You choose whatever cream you want, and you can add whatever flavors, herbs, or spices you like, in whatever quantity you like – or add none at all. You control the process. Best of all, it’s really easy. It just takes a bit of time.

You start with about a pint of heavy cream. If you have a bigger container of it, just pour out roughly a pint. It doesn’t have to be exact. I only do this much at a time because it puffs itself up and flings itself around a lot, and more than this amount is hard to contain! Plus, a pint will give you just slightly shy of 8oz. of butter when you’re done, assuming yours is anything like mine. You can whip this cream using something as complex as a stand mixer, or you can do something as simple as constantly shaking a container with a tight lid. The process is essentially the same. For the sake of simplicity, I am going to describe how I did it, using a small electric hand mixer.

Use a fairly large bowl – the cream should fill it less than halfway. Then stick in your mixer, turn it on high speed, and mix for a few minutes. For those familiar with making whipped cream, you whip it until it swells up to that stage…

… but you keep going after… and going, and going… until it starts to clump up and stop looking so pretty and white. It begins to take on a yellowish tinge at this time. This is an indicator that you’re getting close! Keep going!

After a few more moments, the yellow really starts to stand out. The cream separates fully, and little particles of butter start flinging themselves around the bowl as they’re tossed by the mixer. If you stop to check it, you’ll see a pool of buttermilk rapidly flow out and puddle underneath. The butter has appeared! This is where you can stop (although if you’re unsure if it’s done, you can keep mixing for a bit longer – you won’t hurt it now).

Take a strainer, cloth, or anything else suitable and spoon the butter mixture into it. The buttermilk will start to drain out. You can get rid of it if you really want to, but it’s good to drink, or you can use it for baking (although it is not the same as the cultured buttermilk you buy in stores).

After it drips for a bit, take the butter in the strainer and dump it into a different bowl. You can use the bowl you originally mixed the cream in – just rinse it lightly first. Run cold water over the butter in the bowl. You’ll see this water turn cloudy as buttermilk comes out. Knead the butter with your hands, folding it over on itself and pressing more buttermilk out, gathering the little bits of butter together. Dump the water out, and put new cold water on, repeating the kneading until the water is relatively clear. It’s important to get the buttermilk out (or most of it anyway), because it goes rancid rather quickly and greatly reduces your butter’s storage length. You can also rinse the butter under cold running water to help in this.

After you get the buttermilk out, you’re left with some handfuls of pure sweet cream butter like in the picture above. You can use it just like this, or you can add salt, herbs, or spices. I like to add just a small amount of salt, or mix in a spoonful of honey and some cinnamon for a great cinnamon-honey butter. Don’t worry about adding too little. You can sample it as you go, and you can always add more, so it’s far more important not to add too much from the start! Knead the ingredients in, in the same way you got the buttermilk out. If the butter gets too soft in your hands, cool it and your hands with cold water and continue. When everything seems well-incorporated, you can stop.

So, from a pint of cream, you get a few ounces of buttermilk and a nice log of butter. You also get to say that you made butter, and you can do it any time you get the urge! The buttermilk should be refrigerated if not immediately consumed. You can press the butter into a mold, cup, or anything else of your choice, but I just lay mine out on wax paper and wrap it well. I then refrigerate it until it’s used up, or for longer storage, I place the wrapped butter chunk inside a freezer bag and freeze. It keeps well for a couple of weeks in the fridge, or for months in the freezer… if you let it last that long!

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– “Is this new meat any good? Is it worth the extra?”
– “I don’t know. Honestly, I’ve never had the meat here. I don’t really buy meat from the store.”
– “What do you eat then? … Veggies?”
– “No, I just buy from local farmers.”
– “Farmers?” *scoffs* “I’m not going to buy from farmers.”

The above is an actual dialogue I had at a very large grocer and retail store. I think it helps to show the disconnect that some people have from their food. Meat comes from the store, and fruits and veggies come from trucks. Its presence on the shelf is considered a given. Bones and skin and blood are often sanitized out of the picture as ‘yucky’ parts that should not be dealt with. However, having clean hands doesn’t mean your hands are clean. I have been a strong supporter for local farms for a while now. Many things in the dominant ‘system’ seem broken to me, and I also believe that an animal’s sacrifice should be acknowledged and respected.

My parents made use of the land to help feed my sisters and I. My father hunted, and grew corn and many vegetables, and my mother would freeze and cook these. Other times, after our own animals were sold off years ago, they would get a quarter steer from a nearby farm, or split a half steer with someone else. Years later, after eating plenty of garbage through my teen years, I remembered this and decided to do it again. Eventually, after I work toward building this place back into a farm, I will probably have all of my own animals, but until then, this does quite nicely.

I realize that not everyone has space to grow their own food like I do. However, many areas do have farmers’ markets or direct farm sales. Sites like LocalHarvest, Pick Your Own, and EatWild offer good starts to see listings. However, the place I ultimately used most to find my meat was Craigslist. Sometimes you’ll see ads in the Farm + Garden section. I had best results by posting a Wanted ad.

Main benefits of buying local meat (in my experience):

  • – Helps support your local farmer(s), economy, and food system(s)
  • – Meat is of superior quality and stronger, better flavor
  • – Meat is often fresher, and it isn’t shipped across the country
  • – Cost is often lower, per pound, than buying at a store (main exception is with chicken – chicken is just way too cheap and raised in too huge of numbers to undercut, but you’d still be getting the other benefits).
  • – Have the choice to know exactly where your food is coming from
  • – You can choose exactly how the meat is cut. You can request soup bones, offal, or ‘odd bits’ that often get thrown out. You can specify thickness, prioritize steaks or roasts, or even have it all ground up if you want
  • – May offer fewer trips to the store, and may simplify budgeting

Chops and steaks, ready to bake!

There are other possible benefits as well, but not all farmers have/follow/offer them, so you’d have to pick and choose. Absolutely ask questions. Examples include things like the use and preservation of heritage breeds, leaner meat (for the health-concerned), more space/humane treatment for animals, and less of or lack of the use of antibiotics or other drugs and chemicals. If you have questions about these matters, farmers worth dealing with are happy to answer them or address any concerns.

Some drawbacks:

  • – Some people are used to/prefer the flavor of store-bought
  • – You generally order in bulk based on whole animals, halves, or quarters. This means you must drop a lump of cash at once. Many farmers don’t offer single cuts, and those who do might charge significantly more than a store would for them
  • – You might end up with some cuts you’re not sure how to use, or a lot of some things and less of others you might prefer
  • – Big orders take up lots of space. An above-fridge freezer won’t cut it at all for something like a side of beef
  • – You must do ‘work’ for the food and it isn’t as convenient – you have to seek out the farmer, you might need to find someone to split part of an animal with, and many times you must go and pick up your order
  • – You are limited by seasonality. Animals are not available at all times so you have to plan a little to keep a supply (if you’re someone who uses a lot)

You have to weigh your needs and see what works best for you, but I believe that the quality of the local meat I’ve had outweighs any drawbacks.

The extra freezers I use are two manual defrosting uprights. Manual defrost will build up layers of frost/ice inside, needing attention to remove it every few years or so, but they keep frozen products in better condition because they don’t continually raise and lower the temperature on their own. Mine are 25-35 years old and still going strong. I’ve locally bought a whole pig, 2 whole lambs, multiple 25-lb. boxes of pork, a 50-lb. box of beef, and some individual cuts of goat in the past 4 years or so. This is in supplement to the few animals I hunt. The lamb was my ‘gateway’ animal. I developed a love for generic store-bought, especially in chili or in tacos, but such lamb is expensive and often comes shipped from as far away as Australia or New Zealand. Even a ‘cheap’ lamb cut, such as a whole leg or ground lamb, often costs between 6 and 9 dollars a pound. Other cuts can be 2-3 times higher. Now, from the farmer I get my lamb from, I can get a whole animal all done up however I like for what amounts to between 3 and 4 dollars a pound.

My above-fridge freezer, topped off with lots of local pork. It's on the top and bottom there, and shoved to the back, but this is only 1/3 or so of what I got.

Processors also vary a little. Most farmers have a preference and will have one they want to use, but some will bring an animal to a different one if you have a favorite. I’ve had product that’s been done by several different processors. It seems that most of them use a butcher paper wrap for most whole cuts, and then plastic sleeves for loose sausage or ground meat. Some will package ground meat in little deli trays and then butcher wrap. Another uses plastic sleeves for ground meat, but seals all whole cuts in plastic vacuum bags. I like the vacuum sealed the best, because it lets you see right through the packaging and keeps the meat the longest, but it is also prone to damage and loss of the seal if you ever drop it while handling it. Butcher paper wraps are much less subject to this. No matter what processor my things have been done by, though, the product I have had is always great, and everything has been packaged and labeled well.

Example of butcher-paper wrapped local meat, along with stamped labeling.

For those who can afford the outright cost and are willing to seek out a source, local meat certainly offers a flavorful eating experience. I always enjoy picking up the big boxes or bags, stuffed to the brim with my purchase. I also like being able to meet and shake hands with the guy who raised the animal that gave its life for my dinner. The possible side benefits to these points are just extra incentive for me.

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