Lilac Soda Syrup Recipe: A gift from The Unplugged Family Activity Book

Unplugged Family cover

Another pre-release from the Unplugged Family Activity Book? You bet! Since lilacs are bursting for many right now, it felt like the perfect time for this simple, delicious, springtime recipe.

Before we dive in with the download, I have a few quick thoughts to share…

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Just a month from today, my new book will land in the welcoming world. And all things considered, I’d say that just about perfect timing. Don’t you think? 

As so many children and their families and trying to regain their equilibrium from an unprecedented end to the school year, we are all entering a summer that will be equally disorienting. Many of our usual summer activities–from camp to summer school, community potlucks to swimming at the local pool–are off the table for so many of us.

If you pre-ordered, in just four short weeks, The Unplugged Family Activity Book will land on your doorstep, and you’ll be off on a grand adventure all summer (and all year!) long. And I can hardly wait to hear which project, recipe, or celebration you try first.

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Will it be bark boats or infused honey? Campfire bread or giant bubbles? A backyard tea party or a backyard campout? There are so many simple, free activities to enjoy within these pages, I can’t wait to see where you dive in.

In the meantime, can I ask a small favor of you?

Because I could truly use your help. Below are five small, but powerful things you can do to help support me during this launch. And aside from pre-ordering your family’s copy, none of them will cost you a dime.

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1. Pre-Order The Unplugged Family Activity Book

You can pick up a copy for yourself, your family, or a friend directly from me, or through your local bookshop. (Bookshop.org is another great resource that many local, independent bookstores are using in order to stay afloat right now. Use my local bookstore’s portal, or search for your own!)

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2. Contact your library

Drop an email to your local library, requesting they pick up a copy for their shelves. It’s a perfect resource for what will surely prove to be a DIY-fun sort of summer season.

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3. Tell your friends!

Word-of-mouth is everything, so talk it up. I can’t express enough how important this one is. Use social media, email, or a good old-fashioned phone call. Whatever your strategy, I appreciate each and every recommendation.

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4. Post a review

After your copy arrives, post a review online. Goodreads and Amazon are both excellent places to generate some positive buzz that helps other families know better what to expect within the pages. Along with sharing with your friends, reviews are profoundly helpful for the longtime trajectory of any book.

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5. Go outside and play!

Then get out there and enjoy all 60+ ideas, projects, recipes, and celebrations. And savor this season.  If you share photographs online,  use #unpluggedfamilyactivitiybook to share your adventures and creations.

 

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Thanks, friends. It means so much to have your support along this road.

And now… the recipe you’ve been waiting for! Find your download in the link below. Enjoy.

 

Love,

Rachel

Lilac Soda Syrup Recipe

 

Turmeric, Lemongrass, and Cardamom Shrub Recipe

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Since I quit drinking alcohol 2 years back, homemade herbal shrubs have become my main squeeze for an evening drink. A splash of homemade shrub syrup added to fizzy water fills the void left by Malbec nicely (without the headache!).

Shrubs are easy to make, probiotic, and absolutely delicious. Also know as “drinking vinegars”, they are sweet + sour and nourishing.

I make mine with organic, raw apple cider vinegar, local raw honey, and whatever flavors speak to me at the moment. Added bonus: homemade shrubs are a zero- or near zero-waste drink option (especially if you have access to local vinegar or make your own, which is surprisingly easy.)

I wrote about shrubs in my book Herbal Adventures. (You’ll find a dandelion shrub on page 88 and a citrus and white pine shrub recipe on page 161. There’s also an elderberry switchel, which is similar to a shrub but a bit quicker from start to sip.) I also share my love of shrubs in Taproot Magazine BLOOM a year or so back, and there are still back issues in stock if you would like the recipes (and open-ended make up your own recipe guide).

Today’s shrub is made with lemongrass, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, turmeric, aromatic clove, star anise, allspice, and lemon. And it’s divinely delicious. If you don’t have all the ingredients on hand, improvise. It’s surprisingly adaptable, so go off the rails and mix it up with whatever flavors you have on hand, using the instructions below for inspiration.

Ready to make your own? Then grab some vinegar, honey, fruits and aromatics. My recipe follows!

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Turmeric, Lemongrass, and Cardamom Shrub Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 fresh lemon, halved + gently squeezed (reserve both peel and juice to add to the jar in step 1 below)
  • 1 stalk lemon grass, chopped
  • 1 tsp cardamom seeds
  • 1 tsp whole clove
  • 1 tsp whole allspice
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp ground, dried turmeric (a 1″ piece of fresh would be even nicer, but I was out)
  • 1 large ginger root (just smaller than your palm) sliced, smashed, or grated. (No need to peel.)

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients in a mason jar.
  2. Fill 2/3 to 3/4 full with apple cider vinegar
  3. Top off with honey, and stir or shake well to combine.
  4. Infuse in a lidded glass jar out of direct sunlight but at room temperature for 7 to 14 days, shaking daily or as often as you think of it.
  5. Strain your shrub, squeezing to extract as much goodness as you can from the fruit and spices. Compost solids, and transfer liquid to a clean glass jar.
  6. Add a splash to fizzy water and enjoy. Store in the refrigerator. (Will keep for 6 months or more.)

Are you already crazy about shrubs? What’s your favorite combination?

As easy as kraut (a simple, live-fermentation tutorial)

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There are so many things that our great-grandparents knew how to do that we as a culture no longer remember. Things like how to can soup, bake bread, craft a poultice, split firewood, butcher a hen, or make kraut (off the top of my head).

Somewhere along the way, we traded our collective domestic wisdom for the lure of convenience. And what a loss that truly was! To our families, our health, our budgets, and the earth.

I say it’s time to bring that knowledge back.

One person, one family, one step-outside-of-your-comfort-zone at a time, let’s start to remember. We can regain what was lost, and take back some of the simple skills that have been commoditized in our modern world.

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When I posted a photo on Instagram and Facebook last week of a batch of cabbage kraut in the making, I didn’t anticipate such a flurry of earnest questions regarding procedure, safety, equipment, and more:

“Do you have any advice for someone new to fermenting? I am honestly so terrified of doing it ‘wrong’ and making my family sick…growing up in the era of all-bacteria-in-food-is-potentially-deadly. Natural mold=bad. Bubbly ferments=good. Hard to wrap my head around how it all works and when good ferments can lead to poison for our bodies…and how to know a bad ferment. […] I need to get over this hurdle of fear!”

“Inspired to finally try this, as i keep feeling the tug of ‘what if it doesn’t turn out?’ holding me back.”

“I’ve been wishing I had the bravery to try to make my own recently… but I get scared about not knowing if it’s spoiled on the counter while it’s curing… and do I need those glass weights or special water or other gear?”

The questions above really to to the heart of the matter, don’t they? Without learning these skills from our ancestors, they became cloaked in mystery, anxiety, and fear–and we fret that if we do it wrong we’re sure to kill someone.

Let me assuage your fears.

Sandor Katz, my live fermentation hero (whose books I reference below), said at a recent talk that he’s never heard of anyone dying–ever–from fermented foods. Yes, he’s made bad ferments that he’s spat out before, but no, he’s never gotten sick, nor has anyone he knows. I’m going to back him up here.

Because it’s all about the science.

Lactofermentation (or live-fermentation) uses the naturally occurring good bacteria (Lactobacillus) found in raw veggies to preserve. The bad bacteria (the kind that could make you sick and/or poison your peeps) can’t handle the salt, and so are killed in the kraut-making process.

This is why you won’t give anyone food poisoning with your ferment. Because it’s, well, fermented.

In short, it works like this: We salt our veggies which kills the bad bacteria; then the good bacteria have a party to celebrate. Bubbles form in your ferment, the brine rises up and out of your jar, and everyone is happy. (Sour, but happy.) It’s nearly fool-proof.

Best of all, it doesn’t take any special equipment. You don’t need weights and silicone lids; pickle crocks or razor-sharp mandolines. While in years past I’ve used all of these gadgets and more, you really don’t need them, and I’ve come full-circle, back to the basics. Knife, jar, plate.

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And I realized this week that after  nearly 10 years of blogging and kraut-making, I have given you a proper sauerkraut tutorial! Forgive me.

So I made another batch, photographing and documenting every step of the way. Think of me as your virtual, younger than I should be great-grandmother. Or something. And with a bit of courage and knife work from you, you can join me here in the simple, sustainable, health-giving act of making your own sauerkraut.

Ready? Let’s get our kraut on.

Lacto-fermented Sauerkraut Tutorial & Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cabbage, approximately 2 lbs.
  • 1 tbsp good quality sea salt

Supplies

  • Sharp knife
  • Mixing bowl
  • Screw-top mason jar with a tight fitting lid
  • plate or bowl with an adequate diameter to hold your jar

Instructions

1. Peel the shabby, outer leaves off of your cabbage and compost them.

2. Peel off a full-sized, not-so-shabby cabbage leaf. Do not slice, but set aside whole.

3. Cut your cabbage in nearly in half, slicing at an angle just beside the core. Repeat on the other side, creating a wedge with the core in the center. Cut off the edges of the wedge that aren’t core. Don’t fiddle with it too much, just whack off the excess.

Set the core aside for use in a bit.

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4. Grab your sharp knife (or, if you prefer, a box grater or electric food processor), and thinly slice your cabbage. My method is to cut the cabbage halves into wedges that are approximately 2″ across, then slice the 2″ chunks as thinly as you wish, as pictured. Continue slicing until your whole cabbage is in thin shreds.

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5. Using your box grater, grate the core beginning with the inside, and holding onto the stem. Grate just until where it stops looking appealing, then discard the stem end.

If everything went according to plan, your bowl should look something like this:

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Your pile of sliced and grated cabbage may be smaller than mine, as I was working with 3 cabbages instead of just 1, but honestly, do whatever size batch you wish. (When we were recently traveling, I made tiny 1/4 to 1/2 cabbage-sized batches in an empty peanut butter jar, just big enough to fit in the cooler.)

6. Now it’s time for the magic. Add approximately 1 tbsp. of high quality sea salt for every 2 lbs. of cabbage you used. (An average smallish/medium cabbage normally runs around that size.) Sprinkle the salt over the grated and sliced cabbage, and stir to combine with your hands. Give it a little massage to work some salt into the cabbage. Work it for just a minute or two, until thoroughly combined.

7. (And this is the hard one…) Walk away.

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Really. Walk away. You can go and grab your grandma’s kraut pounder (like the one pictured above), and expend 1,200 calories beating those vegetables into juicy submission, or you could just… walk away. I suggest the latter, and only pulled out my kraut pounder to tell you you don’t need one.

Come back in 10 to 20 minutes, and see what you’ve got.

8. Rewash your hands, and head back to your kraut bowl. If the salt has already started working on the cabbage, the veggies will have a slightly translucent appearance, and feel a bit wet. That’s a good sign! Use your hands to gently massage the kraut, further softening the vegetable and breaking down the cell walls. Do this for as long as you want (1 minute, 5 minutes, it honestly doesn’t matter), then walk away again, giving it another 5 to 15 minutes to continue to release its juices and soften.

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When you return, your cabbage should have started to release even more liquid. Using clean hands, stir it well, then grab a handful and give it a squeeze. If your cabbage was really fresh, you’ll probably have brine running down your elbows.

If your cabbage wasn’t as fresh and juicy, repeat step 8 one or two more times.

9. Taste the brine. It should be nice and salty, but not like licking a salt lamp. If you still have very little brine and tastes like cabbagy water with little or no salty flavor, add more salt. If it’s unpleasantly salty and has you running for the sink to rinse your tongue, you can add 1/2 c of water, stir, and taste again.

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10. Let’s review. You’ve chopped up your cabbage, given it a relaxing salt massage, and now you’re swimming in soft, briney cabbage. Great! Now it’s time to pack it in a jar for fermenting.

Most average sized cabbages will make around a quart of kraut, I made a gallon using 3 large cabbages. Using your (clean) hands, a widemouth canning jar, and canning funnel (if you have one), place a couple of handfuls of cabbage in the jar. if your hands fit in jar, make a fist and press the kraut firmly in, using your knuckles. (If your hand doesn’t fit, use a sturdy spoon to mush it in there as best as you can.)

11. Keep filling and pressing, filling and pressing, until the jar is full to the shoulders or and your cabbage is all used up. At first you won’t see any brine at all, but as you add more layers and press in the veggies, the brine will begin to release. By the time you’ve loaded your jar, you should be left with a bowl with brine pooled in the bottom. Pour this over the cabbage now.

Your jar should look something like this: cabbage firmly packed at the bottom, topped with juicy brine. (If you don’t have this much brine, taste again to make sure it’s plenty salty and add more salt if needed stir it a bit with a fork, press again, and/or wait another 20 minutes or so. It will release more. I promise!)

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12. Remember that reserved cabbage leaf? Go and get it. Press the leaf into the top of the jar, holding your cabbage beneath the brine, and preventing oxygen from getting to your kraut and making it taste less amazing. Tuck the leaf around the edges, pushing until it stays beneath the brine as well. (Anything above the brine can develop mold, but it will not effect the kraut beneath the brine. Just remove and discard if this happens and all will be well. Really! Because: science.)

Use your fingers to swipe around the neck of the jar to remove any cabbage bits you may have missed.

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13. Add additional brine if needed to fill your jar right to the neck, so that it looks something like the picture below (adding approximately 1/2 cup of water to 1 tsp of salt).

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14. Tightly lid your jar with a regular canning jar lid, and set on a rimmed plate or bowl in a cool, out-of-the-way corner of your kitchen, out of direct sunlight.

After 1 to 3 days, your brine will rise up and out of the jar (thus the plate or bowl)!

Edited to clarify: as long as you are “burping” your jar after day 3, and daily going forward, the jar should not build up enough pressure to break. A friend who makes kraut professionally told me that she has never had a jar break using this method, and I concur. Though you’re tightly sealing it, it’s not pressure-canner tight, so a drizzle of brine will be able to seep up and out by the pressure generated from fermentation. For this reason, I don’t recommend fermenting in latch lid jars, as they seal up too tightly and don’t let any air escape, causing a breakage risk.

If you’re concerned about breakage, simply “burp” your jar daily from the start by loosening, then retightening the lid.

Pour off any liquid that pools on the plate, and wipe down the jar if desired.

15. After four or five days, it’s time for a taste! Using clean hands, remove the lid and cabbage leaf, and set aside on a clean plate. Scoop out a bite of kraut on a fork, and taste. It should be just beginning to taste sour, and the cabbage will be softer than when you jarred it up.

Unless your kitchen is quite warm, your kraut won’t be ready for a few more days, but I think daily tasting to get a feel for how it changes it’s a great habit to get into. Consider it kraut-bonding.

After each taste test, press the kraut back under the brine with clean hands, and top with your cabbage leaf. Double check that everything is below the bring before twisting on the lid.

16. When you are pleased with the taste (normally after 1 to 2 weeks, depending on your flavor preference and the temperature of your kitchen), pop it into the fridge. You can remove the cabbage leaf and compost it at this stage, then push the kraut beneath the brine. Serve with every meal, and be sure to push the kraut back under the brine after each serving.

Look at you, making your own kraut!

Your great grandma would be proud.

P.S. There are a thousand ways you can embellish your next batch of kraut once you’ve mastered making a basic batch. Add a some caraway seeds, a teaspoon of dill, or some thinly sliced hot peppers. Throw in sesame seeds and kelp, or an assortment of other grated veggies.

The sky’s the limit, and–aside from adding salt and keeping the veggies beneath the brine–there are no rules.

 

P.P.S. Want a book on the subject? Here are a few of my faves. Buy them at your local bookshop! (If you choose to buy online, some afflinks are below.)

Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Katz

The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Katz

Fermented Vegetables, by Kirsten Shockey and Christopher Shockey

Firey Ferments, by Kirsten Shockey and Christopher Shockey

 

 

 

Herbal Ice Cream and Sorbet Recipes

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If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I’ve got a thing about ice cream.

Likely my favorite dessert of all time, I can think of nothing more delightful than a rich, tasty scoop of homemade ice cream, dairy-free ice cream, or sorbet.

Today, I’m thrilled to be over on LearningHerbs sharing two of my favorite herbal frozen treats: hibiscus + tulsi sorbet (with or without an ice cream maker), and chamomile and lavender ice cream (dairy-free variation included).

Find the post here, and get churning!

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In my kitchen

20180917-DSC_722320180922-DSC_731420180922-DSC_7312Here in Wisconsin, the seasonal shift from summer into fall is taking hold.

And I couldn’t be happier.

Where last week there were cucumber-mint fizzy waters, and burgers and zucchini on the grill, today there are cups of hot tea and a simmering pot of chicken stock. My old  canner is rattling away on the stove as we slowly fill the pantry shelves with the last of summer’s bounty.

Below are five of the things that are making my heart (and tastebuds!) happy in the kitchen this season.

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Pesto

We had a bumper crop of basil this year and I set to work making a ridiculous amount of pesto. So much so that we’ll have to work at using it up before next July! We enjoy homemade pesto on eggs, our weekly homemade pizzas, veggie sautés, and pastas.

I don’t know how most folks store their pesto for use later in the year, but here’s my simple, handy method:

Make your pesto with whatever recipe you love (mine is your basic basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and salt).

Run through the food processor until you’re happy with the texture, then drop onto a cookie sheet (closely spaced) using the smallest ice cream scoop you can find. (Mine is something elvish like 2 tablespoons, and sold as a ‘cookie scoop’.)

Place the tray in the freezer for 1 to 2 hours, then remove pesto from sheet with a thin spatula.

Store in zip bags or mason jars in the freezer. Thaw those cute little buggers in any quantity you’d like throughout the year.

Easy! Convenient! Less waste!

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Roasted Red Peppers

Some years back, Pete and I were panini-crazed. Eggs, sharp cheddar, sausage, spinach, and roasted red peppers, all on sourdough bread, were our standard.

Since bread became a treat (rather than a staple) around here, we’ve mostly outgrown our panini habit, but we still love to have them once or twice a year for old time’s sake. Back when these were a weekly affair, I started canning our own lemony, garlicy, roasted red peppers. And we absolutely love having them on hand! These days they are often destined for salads, pizzas, and egg bakes.

My recipe comes from my favorite canning book, Canning for a New Generation (afflink). I. Love. This. Book. Her recipes tend to be small, though, so I always double or quadruple.

Buy that book. It’s fabulous.

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Fermented Sriracha

We’re swimming in hot peppers over here. (I mean that figuratively, because: ouch.)  I bought some from my friend Mary last week and ended up with quite a few more than I was expecting.

Backstory: I’ve introduced you to Mary in the past. She’s an herbalist, an organic farmer, and a wickedly funny Amish mother of seven boys. (“Wickedly” is probably the wrong word here. You get the idea.)

One year I ordered organic calendula from her for LüSa. I told her I could take (and I quote): “a ton of it”. 

She politely smiled and nodded. (Some of you already see where this is going.)

When I came to pick the calendula up three months later, she said in a very serious voice, “Now back when I went to school a ton was 2,000 lbs.” She looked at me over the top of her wire rim glasses. “And you did order a ton of calendula this spring…”

My eyes widened.

She couldn’t restrain herself anymore, and broke up with laughter, along with her husband and adult children. I blushed, and breathed a sigh of relief. Oh, how we laughed!

There was a similar vibe when I picked up hot peppers last week. I told her the week prior that I would take “loads”, but carefully corrected myself and added, “Though not a ton.” More laughter.

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I know know that a “load”, in Amish Farmer Speak is something close to a bushel.

Because that was what was waiting for me when I came back for my veggies. I took the abundant hot peppers gratefully.

But honestly, a bushel is a lot of hot peppers (nearly a ton, in my estimation). What to do with so many?

Most went straight into the freezer for future salsas and hot sauces; but three pounds worth were trimmed and brined with garlic for a future batch of fermented sriracha.

I’ll share a recipe after I’ve taken this project through to completion, but for now you can find my canned sriracha recipe here.

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An autumn-inspired shrub

Since I gave up my evening glass of red wine nearly a year ago, I’ve taken up a new (and arguably healthier) habit: shrub. A probiotic and alcohol-free beverage, I make a batch every week or two from seasonal fruits and herbs. (Some of you saw my shrub recipes in Taproot 27: BLOOM.)

This one is based off of that same vinegar-honey-fruit-spice blend that I outlined in Taproot, and is beautifully balanced with ripe, local pears; spicy fresh ginger root; and fragrant cardamom. Quite possibly my new favorite evening sip.

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Einkorn sourdough bread

And last but not least, sourdough bread. Einkorn sourdough, to be precise.

A year or so ago some of you tipped me off to einkorn as an easier to digest wheat and we gave it a try. (We had been on-and-off gluten-free for years and were just starting to dabble in wheat again at the time.) It turns out you were right! We find einkorn easier to digest then other wheat.

We still don’t do a lot of it, but we do love to bake and when we do, this is our go-to now.

The book we picked up is this one (afflink) and includes everything you need to know, including instructions on nurturing a wild sourdough starter (mine is pictured above).

Bread is a treat indeed, and this version is our hands-down favorite.

What’s happening in your kitchen these days? Share your favorite recipes, projects, or links below! 

 

Easy, homemade, probiotic sauerkraut

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I posted a photo of our kraut-making process on Instagram this week, and promised to share a simple method for making homemade kraut, suitable for beginners.

While there are countless ways to do this age-old process (and an abundance of veggies you may add to the mix), I’ve kept it intentionally simple to get you started on your fermentation journey with ease.

I’ve extolled the virtues of live-fermented foods many, many times on the blog, so we’ll let the archives do the talking. This post in particular lays out the basics of why eating a variety of probiotic foods daily is important, plus tips for getting your kids in on it without drama, if kraut is a new taste for them.

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Making your own fermented veggies is easier than you ever imagined.

All you need is cabbage and salt; a knife and a mason jar. You can get fancier than that, of course, but these are the basics.

To put it simply, making kraut is just slicing, salting, tasting, jarring, and waiting. I’ll break it down into more details below, but that’s honestly all we’re going to do! Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of steps. It’s seriously a 20 minute job.

So let’s get on with it, shall we? The recipe your gut has been waiting for!

A few afflinks follow below. I encourage you to seek these products out locally before buying online. Yay, local economy!

Easy, Homemade Probiotic Sauerkraut Recipe

Make your kraut in any amount you’d like. I suggest beginning with a quart of kraut, or a scant 2 lbs of cabbage.

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While cabbage weights and sizes vary widely, here’s a general rule: a large cabbage will be somewhere in the 2-3 pound ballpark, while a small cabbage will weigh in around 1/2 pound.

1. Prep your work station.

If your kitchen looks like mine (meaning: well-loved and lived-in and not exactly sanitary), give your work surface a washing or wipe down before you begin. We’re encouraging bacteria in this jar–let’s make sure it’s the good kind.

Gather your supplies: a cabbage or two, some unrefined sea salt, a knife (or mandolin or food processor), and a mason jar.

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2. Thinly slice your cabbage.

I used a mandolin for the project pictured, but I often cheat and use a food processor. A chef’s knife works as well, though expect slightly larger pieces of cabbage in your kraut. Each method results in a different texture of finished kraut, so experiment with a few batches to find your favorite method.

Note: Reserve a single large, relatively intact cabbage leaf. We’ll use it later to keep your sliced cabbage below the top of your brine.

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Protip: if you, like me, are terrified of your mandolin because you’re afraid you’ll cut your fingertips off, don’t despair! We recently purchase a pair of kevlar gloves for just this purpose, and it’s honestly the best thing ever. No more fiddling with the awkward hand guard, and no more fear of cutting my hand off. Kudos to Alton Brown for the brilliant idea.

3. Add salt.

Transfer your grated or sliced cabbage to a bowl, and add 1 generous tsp of salt for each pound of cabbage.

Gently massage your kraut for 4 to 5 minutes, until it begins to release brine.

If there is one step that I think is important–and often overlooked–it is this one. Massaging the kraut works in the salt, begins to break down the cell walls, and releases the brine. A healthy amount of brine is vital for a good batch of kraut! Once upon a time I did this job with a kraut pounder, but it was loud, clumsy, and not nearly as zen (or effective) as the massaging technique. 

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Massage until the cabbage becomes soft and liquid begins to pool in the bottom of your bowl. Give a handful a squeeze. You should see liquid dripping into the bowl. Now we’re getting somewhere.

4. Adjust the salt.

Taste-test a pinch of cabbage. It should be salty, but not uncomfortably so. Think more salty than you’d want to eat a whole serving of, but just barely. The salt is critical in keeping your cabbage from spoiling, but too salty and your finished kraut will be unpalatable (we’ll address that below). Err on the side of a pinch too much rather than a pinch too little at the start. Stir in extra salt a pinch (or for a large batch, a 1/2 teaspoonful) at a time until it tastes pleasantly salty.

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5. Jar it up.

It’s time to jar your kraut! Using a canning funnel if you have one, fill an appropriately sized wide-mouth canning jar with cabbage. Fill the jar 2/3 full, then press down using your fist or a kraut pounder. Repeat this layering technique until your jar is nearly full and looking really juicy.

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When your jar approximately as full as mine shown above, use your fist to press firmly one more time to submerge all the sliced cabbage you can, well below the brine line. This will insure proper fermentation and prevent spoilage during the next few days.

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Remember that cabbage leaf that you reserved? After compressing your kraut, gently tuck it inside the top of your jar, using it to hold the grated cabbage below the brine. Tuck in all the bits that stick up (like those show above) using your fingers until everything is held beneath the level of the brine.

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6. Top with a weight (optional).

If you have a kraut weight (mine is this type from Masontops), place it in your jar on top of the submerged cabbage leaf. If you don’t have one, you can use a clean flat stone, a tiny 1/4 pint jar tucked inside the neck of your larger jar, or use nothing at all. Just be sure to push as much cabbage as possible beneath the brine level. Anything above this level will spoil and need to be discarded.

Protip: Don’t freak out if some of your cabbage leaf is peeking above the brine. You’ll be discarding it anyway, not eating it, so it’s not the end of the world if a bit of it is exposed. A bit of funky leaf won’t ruin the jar.

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7. Lid your jars.

Lid your jar with whatever lid type you have on hand. I have (and love) a couple of silicone Pickle Pipe lids. But I usually have more batches of kraut going than I have fancy lids for, so my solution is to simply lid with a one-piece plastic lid (if I have it) or a regular canning jar lid. I choose the one-piece when possible because, well, they tend to leak, and when you’re making kraut that’s a good thing.

Whether you use use a one-piece or two-piece lid, be sure you don’t crank it on too tightly. Your kraut will produce CO2 and needs to vent a bit. Nobody wants exploding kraut jars in their kitchen. 

Protip: If you love making kraut, invest in a set of vented silicone lids. (Our local hardware store sells them, so check locally before you buy online!) They’re worth their weight in gold. I find my kraut is more foolproof and tastes a bit better when I use them.

8. And now, we wait.

Set your jar on a plate in a cool, out-of-the-way place. Since our kitchen is often warm, I normally ferment in the corner of our sewing/dining room! Place them wherever works for you, where you won’t forget about them.

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Test your kraut on day three and every other day after that until you are pleased with the flavor. To test, remove the weight and cabbage leaf (using clean hands) then sneak a sample out from below your brine level. Press the kraut back down, and replace the leaf, weight, and lid.

Protip: if your brine level was too close to the top of the jar, it might overflow. Always keep your kraut on a plate to catch any spills! If your kraut gets really lively and bubbly and overflows, then calms down, you may need to press the cabbage back under the liquid or even add a dash of salted water to the top to replace the lost brine. I rarely need to do this if I have packed the kraut down well in step 5.

Sometime between 4 days and 4 weeks, your kraut will be ready to eat! I normally like mine best after 8 to 10 days in summer, 2 to 3 weeks in winter.

Remove the cabbage leaf and the weight, and wipe the rim of your jar. Lid with a one- or two-piece mason jar lid and transfer to the refrigerator. The cold storage will slow the fermentation down to a crawl, and hold your kraut at this perfect, delectable level for months.

Serve with savory meals daily, and celebrate your happy gut flora and better health!

Note: if you finished kraut is too salty, you can pour off a bit of the brine and replace it with water. Fluff the kraut a bit with a fork, then press back down into the jar. Let it sit in the refrigerator for 2 days to allow the salt in the cabbage to reduce. Taste and repeat if needed.

I learned much of what I know from Sandor Katz (Author of several books including my go-to, Wild Fermentation). I’m not crazy about the fermentation recipes in Nourishing Traditions as most of them contain added whey, which makes for slimy (in my experience) ferments and seems unnecessary.  

Go forth and ferment all the things!

P.S. Let me know if you’d like a recipe for live-fermented dilly beans, garlic dill pickles, or foraged ferments, too!

Easy, homemade, probiotic sauerkraut recipe #probiotic #lactofermented #sauerkraut

Quick & easy chicken carnitas

Instant Pot chicken carnitas (or use your slow cooker!) Paleo

On something of a whim this winter (while we were at the cabin celebrating the Solstice), I whipped up a batch of chicken carnitas for dinner. I had had them a few times before and craved them constantly, and I knew that we'd all be down. Plus they were ridiculously easy to make – always a bonus in my book (especially on vacation).

And? They were pretty much the best thing ever.

We ate every bite, and have made them at least once a week since, with no one tiring of them (quite possibly a record for our crew).

And considering the 90-some chickens we butchered this summer that are still filling most of a chest freezer in the barn, I don't see them dropping off our meal plan any time soon.

The recipe that follows is flexible and forgiving. I normally make them the day-of in my Instant Pot, but if we'll be away all day I use the slow cooker. I've also partially made them ahead and frozen the meat and sauce separately after removing it from the bones. After thawing, I simply proceed with the recipe from the broiling step. Works like a snap! I've even jammed a frozen bird in both the IP and the slow cooker with equally delicious results. 

Before I dig in on the recipe, I would like to acknowledge that I am a midwestern Norwegian girl living in rural Wisconsin. This is not my family recipe or my tradition. With that in mind I would like to take a moment to thank to the brilliant culinary minds of Michoacán who first conceived of this delicious wonder. My family thanks, you, my tastebuds thank you, I thank you. Sincerely. 

My interpretation is simple, fast, and kid-friendly. It's mild because, well, children – but because Pete and I really like spice I serve it with homemade sriracha (A spicy homemade salsa would suffice as well.)

The whole thing can be made from start-to-serve in under 2 hours with an Instant Pot, or take the slow road and let it simmer all day in your slow cooker. As an aside, I discovered recently that Wisconsin-based West Bend brand slow cookers are lead-free, if you, like me, fret about such things. (Those are afflinks, by the way.)

Serve your carnitas on your favorite tortilla (corn, GF-wheat-like, or actual wheat) or in a bowl with rice, crisp romaine, and maybe a few corn chips. Or go paleo and serve on a bed of lettuce. 

Basically, you can't go wrong with this.

Oh, and the pear salsa. The pear salsa! It's almost a requisite part of the meal. I made it up on a whim with what we had on hand at the cabin last December and we've stuck with it every since. Don't skip it. 

Hungry yet? Me, too. Let's get cooking. 

Instant Pot chicken carnitas (or use your slow cooker!) Paleo

Quick & Easy Chicken Carnitas Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken or equivalent in chicken parts (Boneless/skinless is fine, bone-in skin-on is fine, too. See how flexible we are? Use what you have. Mine is a whole, homegrown bird with skin and bones.)
  • 1 tb ground cumin
  • 2 tsp salt
  •  2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne (optional)
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice (from 1-2 limes)
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 pint chicken broth or stock

At the table

Serve with any or all of the accoutrements below. (I normally opt for all.)

  • Fresh pear salsa (recipe below)
  • 1 lime cut in half, then eighths
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Sriracha or other heat of your choice
  • Chopped red onion
  • Tortillas, chips, rice, or lettuce (or all of the above)
  • Live fermented cortido or kraut

Instructions 

1. Pour stock into Instant Pot or slow cooker. Place chicken on top of broth, then pour lime juice over the chicken. Top with spices and garlic. 

Instant Pot chicken carnitas (or use your slow cooker!) Paleo

2. Cook in your Instant Pot for 40 minutes, natural release. My IP is older and doesn't have different pressure settings, so if you have a fancy newfangled one, (afflink) you're on your own. Chicken parts will require less time than a whole bird. 

If using a slow cooker, set on low for approximately 8 hours.

Your goal is a chicken that is fully cooked and tender. Err on the side of slightly overcooked. Our goal is ridiculously tender meat.

3. Remove chicken and set aside on a cookie sheet until cool enough to handle. Reserve liquid in the cooker until the next step. 

4. When chicken is cool enough to comfortably handle, preheat your broiler to high. Remove bones and skin, reserving for stock-making. * I sometimes toss the skin back into the liquid in the pot for a minute to do some spice recovery, then remove, but it's not necessary.

5. Using your hands or a couple of forks, shred chicken into bite-sized strips and return to the cookie sheet. Pour 2/3 of your cooking liquid over meat, approximately 1 cup, and stir or toss to combine. 

6. Place under broiler with rack pretty close to the heat. Broil for 10 to 12 minutes, then remove, stir, and return to broiler for another 10 to 12 minutes.

After 2 rounds the edges of the meat should be starting to get crispy and amazing. Depending on your broiler heat, you'll want to do this a total of 2 to 5 times until your meat looks something like the photo below, with a good mix of dark crispy bits and soft, tender pieces. 

(This is a good time to make your pear salsa, below.)

Instant Pot chicken carnitas (or use your slow cooker!) Paleo

7. When chicken is crispy in parts but still juicy and tender it's ready to eat! Serve with tortillas or lettuce, pear salsa (below), limes, and other toppings listed above. 

For Fresh Pear Salsa

  • 2 large or 3 medium fresh, ripe pears
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 2 green onions, sliced (or 1/2 red onion, minced)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprica
  • pinch of cayenne (optional)
  • salt to taste 

Instructions

Core and stem pear, then chop into bite-sized pieces. Combine with remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Taste, adjust seasoning, and eat.

And eat.

And… eat.

 

 

P.S. Need a printer-friendly version? Here you go!  

Download Quick & Easy Chicken Carnitas


Instant Pot chicken carnitas (or use your slow cooker!) Paleo

Homemade half-and-half recipe (vegan and paleo)

Homemade half-and-half recipe (vegan and paleo). Wahoo!


 When I told you I quit drinking alcohol I also mentioned giving up wheat, corn, and dairy again. And truly, the only hard one in that bunch seems to be dairy. More specifically half-and-half.

Because despite the churning belly after every sip of cow dairy, despite the eczema, the thing that holds me back from quitting dairy every time is my morning cup of coffee with copious amount of organic half-and-half or skimmed raw cream. 

Try as I have to become a purist and drink my coffee properly like any other good coffee snob (black), I just can't make the leap. So usually when I'm off dairy I give up my morning cup as well and switch to black tea or nettle chai with homemade coconut-almond milk instead. 

But this time around I was convinced to find another way.

So I set to work modifying my coconut-almond milk recipe (creamy in its own right) to be more like half-and-half. No, it won't fool your grandma, but good gracious! If you're off dairy and grieving over your lame mug of watery almond milk-diluted coffee each morning while jealously eyeing your partner's cup, here you go. You're welcome.

Honestly, it's been a game changer for my morning happiness quotient. I can truly say I no longer miss my half-and-half. (And that's saying something.)

Homemade half-and-half recipe (vegan and paleo). Wahoo!

Homemade Dairy-free half-and-half

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups whole almonds 
  • 3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 1 pinch hulled cardamom seeds or ground cardamom
  • 2 tsp raw honey or maple syrup
  • 5 cups hot water

Instructions

Pre-soak (optional)

If you are struggling with digestive troubles or issues with bone and tooth health, pre-soaking your almonds is advisable. If you can't integrate another layer to your morning cup of coffee, skip this step. Seriously.

  1. Place almonds in a mason jar with 1 tsp of sea salt. Cover with water and soak overnight (or up to 24 hours) at room temperature.
  2. The next day, drain and rinse your almonds. The soaking water will be murky and gross. That's normal. 

Puree

  1. Combine all ingredients in the jar of your blender and add 5 cups of not yet boiling but piping hot hot water. (The hot water helps bring the fats into solution and makes the cream, well, creamy.)
  2. Allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes if you have not pre-soaked your almonds, or dive right in with the next step if you're short on time or pre-soaked the night before.
  3. Puree your mixture on high power for 3 to 4 minutes until it become a uniform frothy mix, free of the slightest chunks or lumps. Puree for another minute or two if you have it in you or if your blender is wimpy.

Strain

  1. Pour through a mesh strainer lined with a thin cotton towel or cotton bandana, then bring the corners together and squeeze and twist to extract as much liquid as possible.
  2. Twist more. And more. 
  3. After extracting as much liquid as possible, return your wrung-out pulp to the blender with 1 to 2 additional cups of hot water and puree again with an additional teaspoon of honey or maple to make a smaller amount of almond-coconut milk to keep your kids from drinking your creamer. (To make this "skim" milk more tasty, you can be generous and add a glug of your first pressing to the jar. Or… not. It's up to you.)
  4. Compost solids or freeze or dehydrate for other uses (ideas here).

Enjoy!

Add a splash to your coffee and delight in the pleasures of a creamy cup of goodness. Mmmmm…… That's more like it! 

Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to four days or until it becomes sour.

Homemade half-and-half recipe (vegan and paleo). Wahoo!

 

Psst… I even saved the recipe for you as a PDF! 

Download Homemade dairy-free half and half recipe (1)

 

Live fermented salsa recipe

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When I first heard of live fermented salsa all I could think was: gross.

I mean really. Salsa crossed with sauerkraut just didn't sound like a good idea. Ew. But the idea got stuck in my head and I kept circling back. The more I mulled it over them more I wondered… maybe.

Finally a few friends told me it was the best thing ever, so I had to give it a go.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. The sour of the lacto-fermentation could play well with the natural acidity of the tomatoes and lime and the heat of the peppers. Hmm…it might not be so weird after all.

So we went for it. Just before I left for Maine a couple of years ago Pete made a few quarts. By the time I got home four weeks later there was approximately a tablespoon left, waiting for me at the bottom of an otherwise empty mason jar.

I think he liked it.

One taste and I, too, was hooked. So every year we make a gallon (give or take). It never lasts us long, but at least now I'm sure to get more than a spoonful!

The benefits of probiotic salsa are many. Here are my top 3:

  1. Easy! Ridiculously easy. Just chop, salt, and jar it up. Boom.
  2. Probiotic. It's gut-healthy, probiotic nourishment. Which – I would attest – everyone needs more of in their lives.
  3. Summer-friendly. No need to heat up your kitchen making salsa during steamy tomato season.

Care to make some yourself with the last of the tomatoes? Here's how. (This recipe was my jumping-off point.)

Please note: ingredients and proportions are flexible! Tweak to suit your preferences, but be sure to include all of the salt as that ensures proper fermentation, approximately 1 1/2 tsp per quart.

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Makes 1/2 gallon (2 quarts)

6-8 large tomatoes

1 large red onion

1 bunch cilantro

3 cloves garlic

Juice of 1 fresh lime

2 medium hot peppers or to taste

1 tbsp salt

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Instructions

  1. Chop tomatoes into smallish cubes (the size you'd enjoy balancing on a corn chip or fork-full of taco salad). Transfer these tomato chunks to a mesh strainer and allow the liquid to drain out into a bowl for three or four minutes. (This keeps your salsa from being too soupy.)
  2. Meanwhile, finely chop red onion and cilantro and mince garlic.
  3. Stem the hot peppers and seed if desired (for a milder heat), then finely chop with sharp knife or food processor. (Gloves are a good idea for this step to protect your fingers from the lingering burn of the peppers, and if using a food processor hold your breath when opening to prevent from don't breathing the vapors.)
  4. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and stir to combine.
  5. Transfer to 2 quart-sized jars or a single 1/2 gallon, filling to just past the shoulders. Press all vegetables beneath liquid, then lid with a fermentation top or a non-metallic canning jar lid. 
  6. Place jars on a plate or baking tray (they sometimes overflow during fermentation) and allow to sit at room temperature for 2 to 3 days, tasting throughout the process. You'll notice some separation, with solids floating a bit above a mostly clear liquid. This is normal! After fermentation and when you're pleased with the flavor, transfer jars to refrigerator, and enjoy with every meal. 

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A small bonus: a few of you have asked about the lids I use. I was sent a free sample of tops and glass fermentation weights by MasonTops a couple of years back and I really love them. They have generously offered you all a 10% discount code (through the end of October) if you'd like to get some for yourself! Just use code "LUSA10". (Technically I think that qualifies as an afflink since they sent me my lids.) :-) 

 

Easy homemade applesauce (with optional canning instructions)

I am carrying a tinge of sadness that we'll be gone for the entire month of September, and that this August (for the first time ever) has proved too busy for foraging wild apples for saucing. It's one of my favorite markers of the season's change, signifying the turn from high summer toward fall, and I feel a bit disoriented to miss it.  
 
But with our departure to Ireland just over a week away, this year seems a fine time to buy apples instead. (How lucky we are to have an organic orchard just over the hill from our farm!) And the orchard we planted is beginning to bear fruit, so perhaps we'll come home in October to a few ripe Asian pears as well. 
 
So today, as I hustle about readying the farm for the house sitter and packing rain gear, warm hats, and an unreasonable number of knitting projects into bags and backpacks, I thought I'd share this post from 2015 with you. It contains everything you need to know to convert apples (wild or tame) into the finest sauce around.
 
Will you make some sauce in September with us in mind? Because I'm certain that's not on my list this week, as much as I'd love it to be.
 
My recipe (with optional canning instructions) follows. (And if apple crisp or cobbler is more your speed, this refined sugar-free recipe won't disappoint.)
 
How to make easy, homemade applesauce. (For canning or eating fresh!)

How to make easy, homemade applesauce. (For canning or eating fresh!)

How to make easy, homemade applesauce. (For canning or eating fresh!)

How to make easy, homemade applesauce. (For canning or eating fresh!)

How to make easy, homemade applesauce. (For canning or eating fresh!)

We picked two bushels of apples at the nearby organic orchard about a week ago. And because we don't have a root cellar, keeping them on through winter means freezing or canning.

So we put by a few bags of apple crisp and apple pie filling, ate more than we probably should have, and turned the rest into sauce.

Homemade applesauce.

Until you've made a habit of shunning that flavorless store-bought sort and making your own, you just can't know what you're missing. Because alongside homemade sriracha, dilly beans, and canned tomatoes, applesauce is a pantry staple around here.

If you care to make your own (for canning or fresh eating), my recipe follows!

Easy Homemade Applesauce

(made with or without a food mill) 

I will confess to never having made a batch of applesauce this small. Double or triple or exponentially increase as needed. But know that too many apples crammed into a small pot may scorch. So if you're making a bigger batch, divide it among a few large pans.

Ingredients for approximately 7 pints of applesauce

10 lbs apples

1 1/2 c water

optional spices – cardamon, cinnamon, ginger, clove, orange peel, etc.

optional sweetener of your choice

How to make easy, homemade applesauce. (For canning or eating fresh!)

How to make easy, homemade applesauce. (For canning or eating fresh!)

With a food mill

If you have a food mill (mine is this version (afflink), scored at a second hand store more than a decade ago), making applesauce couldn't be easier. As a bonus, food mill applesauce is often rosy pink from all of those apple peels.

1. Quarter your apples. No need to core or peel them. Remove any bad spots and compost.

2. Combine quartered apple with water in a cooking pot. Ideally you will have a large, thick-bottomed pot. (If your pot is undersized or thin-bottomed, watch your apples carefully to prevent scorching.) Add water and set over medium heat.

3. When the water begins to simmer, carefully stir your apples, then cover the pot and set to low heat.

4. Every five to ten minutes stir your apples. (I prefer a wide wooden spoon or spatula so that I can turn the apples effectively.) If the pan is becoming dry, add another cup of water.

5. After 20 to 40 minutes your apples should be soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool for one hour.

6. Set up your food mill and transfer your partially cooled applesauce into the hopper.

7. Process apples.

How to make easy, homemade applesauce. (For canning or eating fresh!)

 
How to make easy, homemade applesauce. (For canning or eating fresh!)

7. Return processed applesauce to cooking pot. Taste and adjust flavor as desired. You may choose to add sweetener, cinnamon, ginger, or other spices. (We left our batch plain.)

8. If you will be canning your applesauce, bring to a simmer over low heat before packing jars.

9. Hot water bath can for 15 minutes for pints or half-pints, 20 minutes for quarts.

10. Enjoy!

How to make easy, homemade applesauce. (For canning or eating fresh!)

Without a food mill

If you don't have a food mill, making applesauce is still easy! There is just a different first step you need to take. The best part of not having a mill? Perfect. Chunky. Applesauce. Oh, yes.

1. Peel and core your apples, then cut into approximately 1" cubes. Remove any bad spots and compost.

2. Combine your prepared apple with water in a cooking pot. Ideally you will have a large, thick-bottomed pot. (If your pot is undersized or thin-bottomed, watch your apples carefully to prevent scorching.) Add water and set over medium heat.

3. When the water begins to simmer, carefully stir your apples, then cover the pot and set to low heat.

4. Every five to ten minutes stir your apples. (I prefer a wide wooden spoon or spatula so that I can turn the apples effectively.) If the pan is becoming dry, add another cup of water. After 20 to 30 minutes your apples should be soft.

5. For chunky applesauce, proceed to step six. For smooth applesauce, either puree with an immersion blender while hot or allow to cool for one hour, then puree in batches in your blender. (Do not puree hot applesauce in your blender as it can volcano out the top!)

6. Return processed applesauce to cooking pot. Taste and adjust flavor as desired. You may choose to add sweetener, cinnamon, ginger, or other spices. (We left our batch plain.) If you won't be canning your applesauce, simmer with optional spices/sweetener for five minutes, then cool and refrigerate or freeze.

8. If you will be canning your applesauce bring to a simmer over low heat before packing jars.

9. Hot water bath can for 15 minutes for pints or half-pints, 20 minutes for quarts.

10. Enjoy!

P.S. When did this applesauce helper…

How to make easy, homemade applesauce. (For canning or eating fresh!)

 
…become this one?
 
Oh, my heart.
 
How to make easy, homemade applesauce. (For canning or eating fresh!)

P.P.S. You can find my choice for canning supplies – along with ideas for sourcing them on the cheap – here
 
Originally posted in 2015.