Making Apple Cider

Apple cider and fall – is there a better drink on a cool fall evening than a cup of warm apple cider flavored with cinnamon?

My husband’s family has a long tradition of making apple cider each fall.  His aunt and uncle have apple trees.  This year, they picked 11 bushels of apples which made 20 gallons of cider deliciousness.

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This is the cider making operation.  The two on the left are my husband’s aunt and uncle AKA Extraordinaire Apple Cider Makers!

Once the apples are picked, they must be washed and any bad spots are cut out.  These side by side tubs worked great to put sweet apples on one side and tart on the other.  The water was changed out every couple of batches.

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My mother-in-law preparing the apples to be made into cider.  The sweet apples were in the tub on the left and the tart apples on the right.  We used 2 sweet apples and 1 tart apple for just the right flavor.

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Little ones are good at cleaning apples 🙂

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Any guesses on how many apples got eaten?

The mixture is two sweet apples with one tart apple – that’s it!  The tart apples are Jonathan and the sweet apples are Red and Yellow Delicious.

After being washed, the entire apple goes in to be shredded – seeds, stems, peel, and all.  Once there are enough apples, a lid is put on and the apple mash is pressed for the cider to run out.  As the liquid flows out, the mash can be pressed down further.  It takes a little time to release the juice.  We got about one gallon of cider per batch of pressed apples.

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Pressing the apple mash

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There’s a net bag inside the bucket that keeps the apple mash contained.  Once all the juices flow out, the mash was removed, and we’d start a new batch.

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The apple mash was fed to the cattle.

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Apple cider flowing

As the cider flowed from the apple mash, we would alternate pitchers to collect the cider.  Then the cider is strained through a thin fabric, such as a tea towel. The straining collects any small chucks of apple that came through the press.

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We yielded 20 gallons of cider from 11 bushels of apples.  It took 4 hours, lots of laughter and precious family time.

The cider is good for 2-3 weeks stored in the refrigerator or can be frozen to enjoy later.

This year making apple cider was bittersweet.  My hubby’s grandma always enjoyed making cider.  She passed away last winter so it was the first year without her there to strain the cider.  Our family gathered in the evening to enjoy supper together.

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The Best Ham & Potato Soup

This is really the name of this recipe and I think it lives up to its name!  Since October is National Pork month it’s a great way to round out the month, and perfect for Halloween night.  It’s great for either putting in the Crock Pot or cooking on the stovetop.

The Best Ham & Potato Soup

The Best Ham & Potato Soup

8 medium potatoes (I don’t even peel mine, just wash and dice)

2 carrots, finely shredded

2 stalks of celery, sliced

1 onion, chopped

5 cups of water

5 chicken bouillon cubes

1 ½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1-12 ounce can of evaporated milk

2 cups of cubed ham

Directions to cook on the stove.  Bring water to boil.  Add bouillon cubes, salt, and pepper to water.  To make this recipe quickly, I just wash all my vegetables then run them through my food processor to chop.  I don’t chop the potatoes as finely as the carrots, onion, and celery.  Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to medium; add potatoes, celery, carrots, onion, and ham.  Cook until vegetables are soft.  Add evaporated milk and cook for 5 minutes.

Directions to cook in slow cooker.  Place vegetables and ham in slow cooker.  Add bouillon cubes, water, salt, and pepper.  Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.  About 2 hours before serving, add milk.

Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with chives, parsley, and cheese.  Yummy!

*Bonus – this soup freezes well!*

**I grew up on a family farm, and we raised pigs.  My parents stopped raising pigs about 10 years ago.  The pig farm that I was raised on was “farrow to finish”.  This means that we had mama sows that were bred, they had baby piglets that were raised to market weight and sold to be processed into meat for grocery stores.  Most family pig farms today are more specialized than what our farm was.  They may only have the mama sows and then sell the piglets once they are weaned from their mother.  Other farms might just have the small piglets and raise the pigs to market weight.  Each part of raising pigs has its own challenges.

A lot of people have questions about gestation crates that might be used on pig farms.  We did not use gestation crates on the farm that I was raised on ~ more on that in a moment.  We did; however, use farrowing (or birthing) crates.  I firmly believe that farrowing crates are important not only to the health and well-being of the mama sow, but especially important for the piglets.  The mama sow would receive individual feed and close monitoring during the days after giving birth.  The way that the crates are designed, there were bars on the sides so the piglets can get to the sides without the sow laying down or stepping on them.  The sow does have room to lie down to nurse the piglets; the piglets just have space on the sides where the sow cannot lay on top of them.  Once piglets were weaned from their mother, the sows would be moved outside to group pens.

On my parent’s farm, the group pens were outside.  Part of the pen would be concrete where the sows were fed, and part was dirt.  There were “huts” or shelters that they could get in to protect themselves from the elements.  There are some disadvantages to this type of housing.  First, there isn’t a great way to climate control the environment.  During the winter, we would “bed them down” with straw inside the huts, but there were still large open areas that exposed the outside.  Second, there is a hierarchy order with animals.  When sows are fed in this group setting the most aggressive will eat first and the most while the weaker ones will get what’s left over and less feed.  Remember survival of the fittest?  Third, even though these pens were checked at a minimum twice each day, on rare occasions, we’d miss sows that were ready to have their piglets or they’d deliver early in the group setting.  This is very challenging for a lot of reasons, one being that it’s very dangerous to remove the piglets and the sow from the setting.

On the flipside of the disadvantages of the group housing that I described above for sows can be overcome with gestation crates.  A lot of farms today have buildings that are climate controlled ~ think air conditioning/heat to keep the building at a constant temperature.  Hmmm – similarly, most of us keep our houses climate controlled year round…. The hierarchy order isn’t an issue with gestation crates.  Each pig receives their feed individually and can have their health monitored individually.

Why did my parents never convert from outside group housing to gestation crates?  As much as anything it had to do with the cost of putting in this type of barn.  From an economic and sow health aspect, there are a lot of strong reasons why a pig farmer would have built a barn with gestation crates.  Farmers don’t make these decisions without doing a lot of research and contemplating what overall makes the most sense for their farm.  That being said, if a farm already has their sows housed in gestation crates, they built this type of barn only after much research and contemplation.  Bottom-line, I am in favor of pig farmers making the decision of what type of housing works the best for their farm.

Bierock Bake

This recipe has been a work in progress over the years.  Way back in college, one of my roommates introduced me to Cabbage Pockets.  They were so good.

For many years, I made Cabbage Pockets as a mixture of hamburger, onion, cabbage, and seasoning.  At first I made my bread dough.  Then I started buying frozen bread.  Then I started buying the frozen rolls.  The problem for me was that between working full-time and a growing boy with lots of activity the bread just took too much time and I couldn’t find the time to make them.  Quite honestly, I also didn’t think it was as good.

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On my second visit to the Kansas State Fair, probably over 10 years ago, I found my (all time) favorite food stand.  I believe it’s operated by a Mennonite family, and they serve bierocks that are awesome!  I’m not particularly forceful about things like where we’re going to eat, but when we go to the Kansas State Fair, don’t even ask me if we can eat elsewhere – we will be eating these amazing bierocks.  One thing that they do differently is that they add shredded carrots into their mixture.

Back to my kitchen – one day when time was short, I decided to make the bierock mixture (with carrots), put the mixture on the bottom of a casserole dish and top with crescent rolls.  Wow – that was way quicker and tasty!  My brother-in-law offered up that it would be even better with a layer of cheese.  Well, of course, everything is better with cheese.  My work in progress recipe was nearly perfected.  I sense seen other versions of this, but this is how I make it.

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Even better, this recipe works really well to make ahead and freeze.  See below for freezer meal instructions.

Bierock Bake

1 pound ground beef

6 ounces cabbage, shredded

Half of one onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, shredded

1-2 cups of cheddar cheese, shredded

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 can of crescent rolls

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Chop and shred all vegetables. This is important, the vegetables will cook with the meat.
  3. Start to brown hamburger, add cabbage, onion, carrots, salt, and pepper to let cook while hamburger is browning. Once hamburger is cooked, drain excess fat off meat and vegetable mixture.
  4. I use a 7”x11” baking pan, but an 8”x8” baking pan would work too.
  5. Place meat and vegetable mixture in bottom of baking pan.
  6. Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top of meat mixture.
  7. Top with crescent rolls.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

A special note to all my Farm Friends who are taking this to feed the crew in the field, and require food that can be eaten while “on the go”.  When serving, turn the casserole upside down to eat.  The cresent roll will serve as a crust to hold the filling up.  My MessMaker especially likes to have his “cut as triangle” on the crescent roll lines, and eat “like a slice of pizza”. If you served it wrapped in foil, I think it would work to eat one handed.

This recipe is really easy to freeze up several batches so I can later make a quick meal.  I make the meat and vegetable mixture, and freeze.

Bierock Bake for Freezing

5 pounds ground beef

2 pounds cabbage, shredded ** I bought a 2 pound bag of shredded cabbage at Sam’s Club

3 onions, chopped

1 ½ pounds carrots, shredded

Salt

Pepper

  1. Chop and shred vegetables.
  2. Start to brown hamburger, add cabbage, onion, carrots, salt, and pepper to let cook while hamburger is browning. Once hamburger is cooked, drain excess fat off meat and vegetable mixture.  I do one mixture at a time.  While the first mixture is cooking, I finish shredding the onions and carrots for the next batch.
  3. Once the meat mixture is drained, move the meat and vegetable filling from the hot pan into a glass bowl to cool. Then start the next batch cooking.
  4. Once the filling is cooled off, put it into quart size freezer bags. Flatten out the bag and they will stack nicely in the freezer.

*** When you’re ready to use the frozen mixture for a meal.  Simply defrost the meat and vegetable mixture.  Spread out on the bottom of a 7”x11” or 8”x8” pan.  Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top of meat mixture.  Top with crescent rolls.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. ****

Time commitment – If I’m going start a big project like this, I like to know what kind of time commitment I’m making.  If you were just making up 5 batches of the mixture, it would probably take about 1 ½ hours start to end of clean up.  Last night, I made one Bierock Bake for our supper.  Then I made 4 more meat and vegetable mixtures to put in the freezer for future use.  It took me 2-2 ½ hours from start to finishing clean up.  However, I was also making the rest of our supper, helping my MessMaker with his homework, and doing extra dishes ~ you know, all the normal craziness that goes on at home in the evening.

What other freezer meals do you like to make?

Fall Harvest – Corn or Soybeans First?

On our farm, we raise corn and soybeans. Both crops are harvested in the fall.  Did you know that in some areas corn is harvested first and other areas soybeans are harvested first?

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Corn being harvested. The corn is “fed” into the header on the combine where the corn kernals separate from the leaves and stalks. The leaves and stalks become compost for the soil.

On our farm in Northeast Kansas, we always start harvesting corn first.  Our corn is ready anytime from late August to mid-September depending on when the corn was planted and the weather Mother Nature provided throughout the growing season.  Some years we can be completely done harvesting corn prior to starting soybeans.  Other years, we’ll harvest corn for a few weeks then switch over to soybeans.

Once soybeans have lost their leaves, they need to be harvested ASAP. As the soybean pod dries down, the beans can “shatter” by splitting the pods open, and allowing the individual soybeans to fall to the ground. The soybeans can’t be picked up off the ground – they literally fall on top of the ground and there isn’t a machine that’s able to pick them up.

Fall Harvest canvaOn the flipside, typically, corn will “stand” in the field, and we can go back to harvest after the soybeans are done.

THIS is where we have a challenge this year.  The corn stalk quality is not very good this year which means that the corn can blow over or fall down easily the longer it’s in the field.  Heaven forbid a big wind storm or rain come through and be further detrimental to the corn falling over.

Did you know that areas that are north of us harvest their soybeans before corn?  Each area grows varieties that work well in their area, and the ones in the north mature earlier. Partially this is because soybeans are light dependent, and the days are shorter farther north.  Likewise for our area in Kansas, the days are getting shorter, and the soybean plants are all maturing quickly.  The northern half of Nebraska and north into the Dakotas and Minnesota harvest soybeans first then switch to corn.  The southern part of Nebraska and south into Kansas and Missouri harvest corn first then switch to soybeans.  You could draw a line across the United States – north would harvest soybeans first and south would generally harvest corn first.

So what are we going to do on our farm?  We will switch from corn to soybean harvest as soon as the soybeans are ready.  We know that the longer mature soybeans stay in the field the more will shatter and the less there will be to harvest.  Hopefully, the corn will continue to stand. A few years ago when the corn was down, we invested in a corn reel for the combine which makes it easier to pick up corn that’s fallen over.

Like many other farmers, we will continue to work long hours to bring the harvest in.  It can be a stressful time of year, but it’s also very rewarding to bring in the harvest.  We grow crops, now we’re harvesting.

10 Tips for Quick Cooking

Never to be a gourmet chef, I consider myself more of a “home cook”.  There’s always something to eat, hopefully it’s tasty and filling!

I’m not sure cooking is a fast thing to do, but I have found ways that with a little planning I can speed up cooking for busy nights.  Whether you’re trying to manage a family meal during those precious few hours after work and before bedtime or a farm wife planning meals around harvest – I hope these tips might help you.

These are 10 of my tips for quick cooking, in no particular order, except maybe #10.

  1. Brown hamburger, let it cool, and freeze for a quick meal that requires ground meat such as spaghetti or tacos. I freeze it in quart size zip lock freezer bags.  Freeze the bags flat then they stack nicely in the freezer.
  2. I make a Bierock Bake which is a casserole version of bierocks, cabbage pockets, runzas, whatever your local name is for this yummy creation. When I make this casserole, I’ll make up a half dozen packages of the meat and vegetable mixture and freeze them in quart size freezer bags (I freeze the mixture similar to how I freeze the hamburger in Tip #1). IMG_5580 Then when I need a quick meal, I’ll defrost the meat mixture, add the top layers, and bake. Look under the “My Kitchen” tab for the Bierock Bake recipe.
  3. When making mashed potatoes, I make a double batch. We’ll eat regular mashed potatoes and gravy the first night.  Later in the week, I will heat up the leftover in the microwave until warm and the potatoes stir easily.  Then I’ll add cheese, chives, celery seed seasoning, salt & pepper, butter, anything that sounds good, and mix it into the plain mashed potatoes.  Pour the potato mixture into a dish and bake in the oven until hot and slightly toasted on top.
  4. Keep small loaves of quick breads in the freezer. My favorites are banana nut bread or pumpkin bread.  Both freeze beautifully.  We have a lot of people who stop by and it’s nice to have something quick to serve.  I have a defrosting pan that will defrost the loaf in minutes.  I also take quick bread to the field to serve the harvest crew as a snack or quick dessert.
  5. When I make cookies, I like to freeze half to have on hand for a quick dessert. I freeze them in an ice cream bucket.
  6. Rather than making a 9”x13” casserole, sometimes I will put the casserole in two 8”x8” dishes, and freeze one casserole. Because two 8”x8” casseroles are a little bigger than a 9”x13”, I do increase the fillings.  For example, if the 9”x13” casserole recipe calls for 1 pound of ground meat, I would use 1 ½ pounds, I would also increase any vegetables.  My favorite casseroles to do this with are taco lasagna and regular lasagna.
  7. Most of my soup recipes make a big batch. Rather than eating it for days and days, I will package a meal or two worth and freeze for a future meal.
  8. When I need to shred meat, I use my KitchenAid mixer. I can’t remember where I found this tip a few years ago, but it’s amazing how much quicker meat can be shredded using my KitchenAid mixer. IMG_5583
  9. An entire ham is too much for us to eat. With leftover ham, I slice as much as I can, and the slices go into freezer bags to make sandwiches in the future. Then with the odd bits and chunks left of ham that are left, I cube.  The ham cubes go in another freezer bag to be used in casseroles.
  10. Although I usually cook somewhat from scratch, prior to our busy seasons (spring planting and fall harvest), I’ll stock up on some convenience items to have in the freezer. Our favorites are shrimp scampi for my hubby, individual servings of steamable edamame, and just recently I found 1-1 ½ pound marinated pork tenderloins that are delicious and quick. IMG_5582

After reading back through this, I’m realizing that I have a complete dependence on my freezer.  There’s definitely a theme going on there.

I’d love to hear your tips too.  What do you do to speed up cooking in your home?

 

 

2015 Soybeans

I’ve been taking pictures of the soybean crop all season and look forward to sharing the entire growing season with you soon.

Soybeans 9/3/15

There are no more blooms on the soybeans, and pods have replaced where the blooms were.

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Look at all those pods!

These soybeans are 46″ tall – which is pretty tall.  Did you know that tall soybeans don’t necessarily indicate a good yield?  Sometimes shorter beans produce better.

We’re starting to see some insect pressure.  Notice there are some holes in the leaves – that is where the insects have been munching.  The insect pressure is not bad, and we don’t anticipate needing to treat for them.

 

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Tall soybeans with some insect pressure

The soybean pods look a little bit like garden peas in their pods.  It’s typical to find 2-4 beans per pod, 3 beans in a pod is most common for our area.

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Baby soybeans

 

We would like to get another rain to help filling the soybeans out.  Without a rain soon, we have some risk that some pods may abort and the beans will be small.  Small beans mean it takes a lot more to beans to make a bushel.

Did you know that it takes 60 pounds of soybeans to make one bushel?

 

My Farmer’s Planting Notes

In farming, every year has its own set of unique challenges, but this year seems especially challenging.

Notes from my farmer’s planting book –

May 2, 2015  Corn planting is complete. It looks like nearly every seed that was planted came up. Warm and dry weather perfect for establishing a stand. Couldn’t look much better!

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On April 29th every seed seemed to have come up. The crop looked amazing!

May 3, 2015  Right on time to start planting soybeans. Chances of rain next week.  My wife says she saw a forecast for up to 5” of rain next week. Our truck driver says he’ll believe it when he sees it.

May 5, 2015  Rain. Nice break to work on equipment.

May 10, 2015  Still raining. Wife and the weatherman might have been right about 5” of rain.

May 17, 2015  A farmer friend posted on Facebook, “Rain, rain go away, come back on July 1st!”

May 21, 2015  Crazy as it sounds, we’re going to visit my wife’s family over Memorial Day Weekend. Never, ever believed that to be possible during planting.

May 25, 2015  Returned from wife’s family visit. It rained 3” while we were gone.

May 28, 2015  When was the last time I planted? The corn looks yellow. There are drowned out spots all over the fields. Only a few acres of soybeans have been planted and we’re well past the ideal time to plant soybeans.

June 1, 2015  More rain in the forecast?

June 5, 2015  The river is cresting, and will likely get out. Move equipment off fields by the river. Pull motors off pivots on the fields next to the river, otherwise, they will be ruined.

June 5, 2015 (afternoon)  10’ (yes, 10 foot) of water at the entrance of the field. Hope the river goes down quickly so the water can drain off the field soon. Guess I can go to my board meeting dinner tonight after all.

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The river got out of its banks on June 5th and flooded part of this field.

June 8, 2015  Three days of sun before a 70% chance of rain on Thursday. Start planting the sandy fields and hope for the best.

This too shall pass. It’s hard to know how this crop will turn out, but we’ll certainly work hard to get it planted and cared for. Harvest sure seems a long ways off when there are these kind of difficulties with planting!