Tag Archives: culinary heritage

As Easy as Pie


Oh…the joys of Spring and Summer are upon us….no?  It’s Autumn, you say?  Really?  Where’d my Summer go?!!

You might also feel that way…just a bit?

These little 3 to 4 pound beauties make the best pies!

This post really brings me into reality.  I just realized it was time to bake the pumpkins. (still shaking my head that it is autumn)

“Oh how we love pumpkin season. You did know this gourd-ish squash has its own season, right? Winter, Spring, Summer, Pumpkin…. We anxiously anticipate it every year.” ~Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer, October 2010

I usually prefer to bake up actual pie pumpkins and my favorite one is the little “Winter Luxury” pie pumpkin, as smaller tends to mean sweeter.  I get the seeds from the Jung Seed company in Wisconsin.  But since my unofficial motto is (according to my husband) “Can it before it rots” I pretty much put-by food regardless of pedigree.  I rather enjoy carving a huge jack-o-lantern and baking a pie from the face parts I cut out.  It brings a chuckle to any kid in your home to be eating “face pie” on Halloween.  I also will use hearty sweeter pumpkin like squashes like Red Warty Thing and hubbard as pumpkin mash as they are pretty much interchangeable in recipes.

Pumpkin is the one thing I don’t can.  Instead I prefer to freeze it.  The pure density of squash leaves too much question about whether the pressure canning process brought the center of the jar up to the right temperature and for long enough.  Additionally, I prefer to take it out as ready to go mash.  NEVER, can mashed pumpkin as it is too dense for safe home processing.

So….this morning, my house was 59 degrees.  By George, I am NOT lighting the furnaces in September.  That makes it a perfect day to bake pumpkins.  Here is what I do:

Just halve the pumpkins and place on a cookie sheet to bake.

Preheat oven to 325 (you can do 350 for a faster bake, but don’t go higher).  You want to slow simmer the flesh, not bake it crispy.  Take a long carving knife and slice the pumpkin in half.  Scoop the seedy center our with a spoon and …in my case at least….feed that yummy center to the chickens and ducks!  Lay the halved pumpkin face down on foil covered (for clean-up ease only, foil bottom not necessary) cookie sheets and cover with foil.

Boy…that took all of 5-10 minutes.  Really…this isn’t that hard or time consuming.  I might lose my day-job if people realized how easy some of these very heirloom activities actually are….

Bake for 1 to 3 hours, depending on how much you have in your oven and how big the pieces are.  Smaller equals faster.

You know the pumpkin is done when a fork slides easily in all the way to the shell as if warm butter.

You know they are done when you can sink a dinner fork like into warm butter until it reaches the shell.  Take out and let cool a few minutes.  You probably can read half of “Fifty Shades of Grey” during this effortless time and people will thing you slaved to make them a pumpkin pie from scratch.  Your secret.  🙂

After baking let the pumpkins cool just enough to handle. It is easier to work with when warm.

Next is up to you.  At this point the pumpkin is ready to use in recipes.  I don’t like the texture of the occasional strings in the flesh.  So here is what I do:

With a soup spoon I scoop the now soft and warm flesh into my old food mill.  Press it with a few turns of my hand and it deposits into the bowl underneath.  Any strings are strained out by this extra step and it is also not time consuming.  Warmer is better.

If not using it right away, stir and premeasure into freezer containers or bags, writing the amount,date, and of course, contents on a label.  100% pumpkin.

SO EASY.  AND, it is your family food quality control … You know what is in that pumpkin puree and what isn’t.  You may not have read that aforementioned book, but I get a lot done when baking pumpkin and I adjust the oven temp lower if I have to run on an errand that is longer than an hour or so.

This food mill may be old, but it sure does a quick job of sending pumpkin through.

It is very easy to scoop out a baked pumpkin.

Mine almost entirely goes into pumpkin pie.  Which should be another post perhaps.  Equally as easy, but oh so tasty!  My favorite pie.  I actually had it be my “wedding cake” when I married.  I love it that much.

Do you bake your own pumpkin?  What is your favorite variety for it?

Ready for the freezer!

Holy Cow

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Holy cow, it has been a very eventful summer.  My apologies to you for a prolonged absence.

We have had twin grandaughters and a grandson born.

We have also learned of another grandchild on the way, and were saddened by the loss of a grandbaby-in-womb.

Our garden has been prolific lately, but as a result of much tending and watering due to the extreme high temps this summer and drought.

Our bed & breakfast, Amanda’s Bequest Bed & Breakfast, in here in Montague, Michigan  www.amandasbequest.com  has been busy.  Certainly for its opening year!  We operate as a farmstay and guests are immersed in a real working farm-stle home.  They collect eggs and can help churn butter or gather food from the gardens for breakfast if they wish.  We have enjoyed many wonderful and diverse guests from all over the world now!!  (How cool is that?!)  One guest, who was a world traveler, rated us as top two B&B’s in all his travels.  Turns out I’m I’m an ok cook.  He couldn’t decide who was better, a B&B in Scotland, or us.  I have to tell you, I was so dumb-struck at the remark.  After all…we are just..us.

Also busy for us has been our Bygone Basics culinary experiences.  www.bygonebasics.com  People are really wanting to know how to go back to the healthy nutritious foods that were on our predescessor’s tables.  I teach them how to use what tools they already have to get that heritage “kitchen is the heart and soul of the home” healthy foods back into their lives and in their “today” lifestyle.

We have had kitchen guests from 7 countries and 44 USA States now.

To top it all off, I’m now a licensed kitchen and am baking and selling heritage recipe and artisan foods.  All made to order and by hand from natural foods and basic ingredients (nothing you can’t spell or say!).

We have grown our little flock of hens from 6 to 12…plus a duck…but don’t tell Daisy, she thinks she’s a chicken.

My loving husband has been amazing as our journey has brought us to this kind of activity.  He just smiles and builds what I need.  🙂  I wish this kind of a husband on all of our daughters.

Anyway….

My niece Jade is now “apprenticing.”  Leaving me with a few hours at the end of the week to blog and do other things that I’ve been too swamped to do.  I taught her how to hoe the other day.  I told her she was going to be a great hoe-er someday.  She laughed.  I realized what I said.  Too funny.  She’s been learning to bake, make pies, artisan breads, hoe, can, make soap…she’s been a treasure of help to me too!

I will “talk” with you soon.  Just needed to catch you up on my busy-bee “holy cow, what changes!” summer.

Yours,

Valerie Hanson

A Sprung Spring

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See the plant nursery in the window? Pretty nice “digs” for them, if you’ll pardon the pun.

We try to use as much space as possible for planting. Even vertical shelving and mismatched planters. Soon the pots and shelves will be screened by moon flower and morning glory vines.

Rhubarb!! A seriously under-used food plant.

One of the lucky pepper plants that survived the greenhouse demolition. We don’t really know which of 4 varieties if may be!

Finally!  I got to plant my garden.  It has been a crazy spring.  80 degree March and 30 degree April.  Wind heavy storms.  I happily started seeds in the parlor windows in mid February so my little pretties would be ready to transfer out to the big outdoors greenhouse by mid to late March.  The weather was so nice in March, I was pleased to re-pot the now leggy tomatoes, ground cherries, and peppers, etc. and haul them all out to the sunny warm shelter of the outdoor greenhouse.

That’s when it started.

The Crazy Spring.  It was like Spring sprung a spring and went bouncing off its track.  The weather didn’t just turn cold, it turned frozen with night temperatures plummeting to 23 degrees and daytime ones nudging 40 and 45.  Certainly not growing weather.  I took to hauling the many flats of plants back into the house at night and then, out to the greenhouse by day.

Eh…it’s Michigan.

That’s what I told myself.  You do what you have to, to garden in Michigan springs.

Then, it warmed up a smidge and I let the plants have a sleep-over in the outside greenhouse.  That’s when disaster struck!  Fantastical high winds.  They arrived as if on a freight train and demolished my greenhouse and spilled my lovelies all over.   Broken stems and dashed harvest.  I did my best to find and re-plant what I could and hauled them back into the parlor to stay.  Then, fortunately, I had more seeds, I started new plants.

Here is a young row of strawberries interplanted with asparagus. In normal years, the asparagus would be much shorter! Plus, it has been left to grow healthy roots instead of stalks this first year.

That is one of the great things about starting a garden with seeds instead of nursery plants.  Extra seeds.

Well.  I finally got my gardens planted.  The recovered older plants are in the ground with smaller ones.  Rows of seeds are now sprouting into red trails of beet leaves and fine tendrils of newly emerging green onions.

There’s cabbage, broccoli, rutabaga, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, horseradish, sweet corn, peas, beets, ground cherry, squashes, beans, pickles, lots of herbs, nasturtiums, sunflowers, morning glories, marigold….and lions and tigers and…

Beets make a pretty row of red and green. My how the chickens love the little ones I pull out to thin the row.

Already in the ground were the perennial plants.  Strawberries, Asparagus, Rhubarb, Onion, Garlic, Blueberries, Raspberries, Currants, Apples, and Pears.  I’m loving my rhubarb harvest right now.  Couldn’t pick the asparagus as it was planted only last spring and it is best to give it a year or so without harvest to let the plant focus energies on the root growth.  The first crop of strawberries froze off but there’s more on the way.  We surely lost the pears and apples to the Crazy Spring.  I’m also getting lots of spring perennial herbs and the onions that make our food practically dance with flavor.

I can’t wait to start canning season.

I’ve been teaching a lot of canning lately and it is certainly the season

Herbs! Oregano and tarragon in front. Planted area for basil and cilantro next. Then, fennel, lavender, lemon balm, pineapple sage, dill, chives…

for canning pickled asparagus.  Bygone Basics guests enjoy taking their green jars of treasure home.  Now it is my turn.  This weekend…I’m canning as much as possible of this neat treat…for ourselves and our guests.

After that…Jam!…of the strawberry rhubarb varieties…and then…summer produce will be in full swing and all harvest will break loose.

What is your favorite food to grow?

What do you look forward to “put by?”

We grow things in the ground and in pots and buckets….here is some basil that will flourish in vertical space.

A newly “grounded” plant. It had just been rained on so it looks a tad bedraggled.

A Compost … Post

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Confessions of a Composter

Most who know me well, have seen me spirit food scraps from restaurants. Yes. I admit. I am one of THOSE people.

I can’t stand to see waste. I think it may be a disease, as it is getting worse as I get older.

My possible disease diagnosis aside <wink> .. I’m getting quite a nicely rounded bio-cycle. Food for human consumption enters the cycle (via my own gardens, grocery, gifts from other growers…and um…restaurant take-away… What isn’t immediately consumable is given to the chickens.

What my free-range feathery little girls who run about the lawns with happy little smiles on their beaks then do, is give me eggs! What chickens can’t eat, goes into the compost. The chickens also produce manure; and that, along with their straw bedding, is regularly put into the compost, too.

The compost eventually gets dumped into the garden. The chickens eat bugs from the compost after random spreading there and further spread it out in the garden with their scratching. And I get eggs.

The compost improves the soil, helping grow abundant good food in the garden…and the cycle revolves. Did I mention I get eggs out of the deal too!? So I have learned that the more organic resources I can introduce into this little bio-cycle, the more powerful the food growing cycle is.

Now please note, I live within CITY limits…in a neighborhood. But fortunately, I also have a few acres of space for gardens!  (yay me!)  This style of healthy living is possible even with small patio gardening. (you should fore go the chickens if there is no room for them to be happy) You can compost in small places and keep vigorous plants in that soil in containers on your deck even. I’ll tell you how:

There are some really nice home use and commercial composting equipment you can pay a pretty penny for and if you want to go that route, that’s fine. I prefer to look around first to see if there is something I can reuse or recycle before I go buy new things.

Let’s call it creative composting.  You can have a compost bin made out of just about anything.  Look around, what have you laying about?  Some cinder blocks?  An old tarp?  Old wooden pallets (these work great because you can stand your rakes and hoes, even Shepard’s crook flower holders to prettily screen your pile, in the outer wall).  Old unused small dog kennel?  A few 5 gallon plastic pails?  Discarded window screens (just wire them together).

We use the big bulk food plastic barrels that would be discarded by huge food processors and go to a landfill to never break down.  They are great for rain barrels too.  Since turning your compost is important, you need access into it with a pitchfork…or in the case of my compost barrel…John has made a lid that fits tightly on the top and I just knock it over and roll it around a bit and stand it back up.  When the time comes to put it on the garden, we just roll it there.  He did drill some small holes in the sides and bottom for proper drainage and aeration.

Essentially, you just need something that will contain your compost, give it some aeration and drainage, and allow you to turn it in some manner.

Start your compost with brown matter.  No…not poo.  Lawn clippings, leaves, even cardboard/newspaper.  Yes…paper is organic and will return to the earth as nutrients instead of a landfill if you mix it in a compost pile.  You can even toss in some soil to introduce the microorganisms that break down matter into soil.  Then you can begin tossing in your household scraps.  Keep throwing on the brown matter.  But there are somethings you shouldn’t put in your compost:

  • used cat box litter (could spread disease)
  • bones (won’t break down)
  • large quantities of fat in one glob (add shredded newspaper with it and stir the pile)
  • Meat (just be cautious as this may attract unwanted interest in your compost…I have never had a problem)
  • non-organic items (plastic, heavily glossy mailings…)

Definitely add your coffee grounds; paper filter and all!

See an earthworm after a rain?  Put him in too, to help break things down.

It works well to have two barrels as it takes about three to 6 months for a good compost to do it’s job.  I fill one and let it sit for a month or two (still need to roll it around once in a while) while I start to fill the other.  About the time the second one is getting full, it is time to put the first one on the gardens.

We have two kitchens at Bygone Basics/Amanda’s Bequest.  We keep two small compost buckets in the kitchen and dump them daily into the larger one out doors.  We just use a bucket we’ve found to re-use for this purpose, but you can purchase kitchen compost containers that are specifically made for this in many home-improvement stores.

Composting is a great way to boost your plants and food output, reduce your trash bill, keep a lot of paper and waste out of the landfill, take care of livestock manure, and of course, get eggs!  

(did I mention I LOVE eggs?)

If you haven’t already, have a look at our websites:

Bygone Basics:  www.bygonebasics.com

Amanda’s Bequest – A Heritage Farmstay Bed & Breakfast:  www.amandasbequest.com

Is Valerie Crazy?

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I thought I might have your attention.  <chuckling>  Anyone who knows me may have actually asked themselves that very question.

You may not know that I went from business executive to helping others learn about a more simple life, one that includes hands-on messy work…(compost comes to mind).  Why not just keep doing what I was doing so I could just BUY anything I thought I needed or wanted?

It took me a bit, but I learned what others already knew.  One cannot buy the best things in life.  Love.  Happiness.  Health.  Those things come from a bank of a different sort.  And you have to work for them.

But…I digress…Is Valerie Crazy?

Yep.  Just crazy enough to open two businesses, in MICHIGAN, in this poor economy..and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  It is quite an adventure too!  Crazy enough to trust the relationship my husband, John, and I have.  Although, maybe he’s crazy-er for smiling and helping to make all this happen!  A very good friend, Gordon, reminds me once in a while that “John didn’t sign up for that.” when I get a bit ahead of our plans.  (John says I do everything fast.)

Bygone Basics is nicely established and picking up steam.  I am thrilled with the uniqueness each guest brings to an experience.  I feel truly blessed by them.

Amanda’s Bequest Bed & Breakfast is just now opening.  (click the name to check out the website) John and I look forward to every guest.  I’m all excited too…MORE PEOPLE TO COOK FOR!  (I can’t help it, I grew up on a rural country farm in a big family….food was a very important part of life…and you fed people as a means of letting them know they are welcome)

Here is the perfect example of why I do what I do:

Bygone Basics' guests sitting down for a hearty farm lunch.

This family planned a vacation in March 2012 around their Experience with Bygone Basics.  They drove through two states plus part of Michigan to get here.  They were a brother, sister, husband, mother.  And oh did they know how to enjoy each other’s company (I can only imagine that road trip)!  They make a point out of celebrating holidays with a unique theme every time so noone takes any holiday for granted.  Isn’t that a great idea?  It might sound odd, but think how memorable a “Mexican” Easter would be.  As each is different, it isn’t as likely that these special family times will fade from memory.  They learned how to can at Bygone Basics, both pressure canning and water bath canning.  I feel certain they will take that knowledge home and have much quality, happy, family times, canning produce from someone’s garden together.

Canning CAN be fun!

People of the past always knew, but we’ve begun to forget.  Many hands make light work and lighter hearts.  Think barn raisings and Amish summer kitchens.  It’s not much work when you are enjoying the company of others while using the time industriously.  Some might even call it a vacation.  Is that crazy or what?

Light is the task where many share the toil. – Homer

On a completely different note:  Here is a link to the March “I Can at Bygone Basics” Newsletter.  Try the dried apples recipe.  They are easy, healthy, and delicious.

The Apple of my Pie

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“Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness” ~Jane Austen

Heirloom Depression era pie recipes...in person.

Since opening our licensed kitchen, creating wonderful heirloom foods, I have made a LOT of pies. I was efficient before, but boy, let me tell you, when running a “made-to-order” bakery that gives each customer the freshest and most delicious product possible, you learn to be even better. Yes, there is always room in our heads to learn more.  My customers often comment on how hard making pies is for them, or time consuming…or both.  I’m very glad I can make pies for them.  🙂  I love it and feel blessed to be able to do “work” that is a passion.

Not only do I sell baked goods, but I have also spent years teaching people heritage cooking and baking.

Practice does help, but so does the simple fact…knowing it isn’t that hard.

The intent was to take a photo of a nice pie. My family had other ideas...when I came back to take the shot...there were a few holes in my plan. I suppose that is a compliment.

If I could inspire novice pie makers, I would somehow help them to see that they are “creating” and engaging with the natural world by transforming flour and butter into pastry to hold something as beautiful as an apple or peach.  They are “knowing” their food.  They are serving their creation to others for enjoyment and nurturing.  Pretty cool.

Recently, to dispell myths about how difficult pie making can be, I made two videos and put them on YouTube.  Mind you, they are unusual to say the least.

My point was…HAVE FUN IN YOUR KITCHEN! While showing some basic techniques.

Click the Links below to open the videos on YouTube:

Pie Pastry Fun

Pie Fillings – Easy (and friends love to watch 😉 )

Enlightenment on Leavening

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There’s not much that can hold a candle to enlightenment. Sorry. Couldn’t help that pun.  January in Michigan causes us to get a bit loopy in the short cold days and lack of sun.  🙂

As a “Kitchenaire” at Bygone Basics (www.bygonebasics.com) I help a lot of people experience kitchens in the way they developed as the heart (and the stomach) of the homes of our establishing country.  We do a lot of exploring of old customs and current ones…and the how and why of them.  It is a great way to learn our history and culinary heritage.

One question I get a lot is “What is the diference between baking soda and baking powder?”

It is honestly a fabulous question.  And certainly due a good answer.  The short answer is…Baking powder is baking soda-plus.  In other words.  Baking powder has baking soda plus other agents that help it leaven in blends that only baking soda doesn’t do as well in.

Some recipes call for multiple leavening ingredients. Crumpets, for example call for yeast to raise the dough like a bread and then a baking soda and warm water solution is added right before cooking.

A bit longer explaination is that baking soda alone does well as a leavener in mixtures that include an acidic ingredient.  This could be buttermilk (lactic acid), vinegar, sour cream, molasses, lemon juice and honey (yep honey).  BUT….when the recipe requires leavening and there are little to no acidic ingredients, baking powder is your secret weapon.  Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and added acidic ingredients, such as cream of tartar, to help with leavening.  Baking powder cannot be used as a single substitution in recipes that call for baking soda.  Your recipe will fall flat. (sorry, another pun, I guess, I’m a bit “light” headed)  As a rule of thumb, baking soda is used in cookie recipes and baking powder is used in more neutral recipes ( that contain flour, sugar, milk, oil, salt) like cakes and biscuits.

Yeast is the biological leavener for Bygone Basics' artisan stone baked bread.

A note on leavening…because I can’t help myself.  I looked it up in Wikipedia to see if I could share the knowledge in an easy to understand way.  According to that source, there are multiple types of leaveners in food stuffs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leavening_agent).

Biological:  Anyone who uses yeast in breads, or makes beer or wine is going to understand the use of microbes and their resulting gas release as part of their life cycle.

Chemical:  These are used in everyday modern baking.  Baking soda, powders.  Used to release carbon dioxide (usually that is the gas) when heat is applied.

Bygone Basics' hierloom recipe for Chocolate Chip cookies calls for a lot of oats, nuts, chocolate...and baking soda.

Valerie’s note:  In the case of baking soda, it begins acting immediately, before heat, (resulting in recipes falling flat if there is a delay in baking)….FYI….this is also where baking powder helps…delayed actions…aka double acting baking powders have an ingredient that waits for the heat of the oven.

Mechanical:  Think….meringue.  Mechanical leavening is the introduction of trapped air into the ingredients through whipping or whisking.

Steam/air/gas injection:  Water is flash expanded into steam in the case of pop-overs.  Nitrous oxide is used to “leaven” aerosol “whipped” cream.

There is a leavening agent that isn’t mentioned much anywhere these days.  Ammonium Carbonate.  It was the predecessor of modern leavening chemicals.

It was mainly used in heirloom recipes of northern Europe and Scandinavia.  I have learned that you cannot substitute baking powder or baking soda in these old recipes and get the same light airy results provided by Ammonium Carbonate.   One of my husbands favorite childhood memories involves a recipe called Princess Gems.  It’s leavening agent is Ammonium Carbonate (aka Baker’s Ammonia or Salt of Hartshorn).  I was determined to give him that memory this last Christmas.  It took some doing, but I managed to secure some of the historical leavener.  Right in the old recipe card are the instructions not to breathe in the fumes from the leavener.  (It doesn’t mention not to breathe when you open the oven door when baking them, but that’s another story)  The ammonia bakes off in the oven and leaves an incredibly light and melt-in-your-mouth airy cookie.

Does anyone else have an old recipe that called for Ammonium Carbonate?  Please, share it with me!!!  I am truly fascinated by old recipes and ingredients.

Well…until next time.  I’m delighted that you read this blog.