photo-3Yesterday’s dinner consisted of spaghetti with meat sauce and sauteed greens. The meat in the sauce was venison, harvested on our family’s farm, and the greens were kale and chard grown in one of our raised beds.

Ground deer meat is great for spaghetti, chili, tacos, burgers, and such. We very rarely buy ground beef anymore.

I cooked the greens in butter with garlic, onions, salt, and pepper. They were a wonderful compliment to the pasta and sauce.

BONUS: Venison Tenderloin

The greatest thing about harvesting a deer? Fresh tenderloin.

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I cooked it in butter in my Granny’s cast-iron skillet with salt and pepper. Ridiculously good.

Venison and Greens for Supper

Acorn Flour & Other Products of Foraging

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While I haven’t been updating the blog for the past year and change, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been outside–hunting, gardening, catching bee swarms, and now new to the repertoire: foraging. I bought both of Samuel Thayer’s amazing books on foraging a few years ago and learned how to identify wood sorrel; that was about it other than the occasional blackberry or wild raspberry. I’d also been learning a few trees, but not to actually get out and forage.

I knew I needed to turn knowledge into action at some point, and what better time than August through mid-October? There’re autumn olives (autumn berries, silverberries, etc.), pawpaws, wild plums, walnuts, acorns, maypops, smooth sumac, and so on making this recent period a wonderful time of year to begin foraging in earnest. So I grabbed my backpack and a bucket and started through the woods.

It had been several years since I’d had pawpaws–that’s a mistake. A good, ripe pawpaw that falls off the tree with the slightest touch really is one of the marvelous fruits God created. Autumn olives, from the right bush, are a sweet, astringent, juicy treat that make a great fruit juice and jam/syrup. A ripe maypop will have you thinking of–nay, longing for–it again for days. Sumac lemonade–or rhus-ade or Indian lemonade–is a tangy treat that I plan on freezing to enjoy in the heat of summer. I’ve not even got into other wild edibles like greens, hopniss, mushrooms, and huckleberries. I’m just getting started on my journey of discovery, but I’m so, SO excited to make it.

Making Acorn Flour

The acorn mast is impressive this year. Under certain trees, the spread and number of nuts resemble a brown gravel road. I found some white and chestnut oaks near a ridge that dropped some massive acorns and gathered about eight pounds. I figured it was time to take action and see just how much work goes in to making acorn flour.

Step One: Float Test

Honeybee helped me fill a washtub with water and we dumped the acorns in and stirred. After a couple of minutes, we discarded those that floated (they are bad). We stirred some more to knock any dirt off the good acorns.

Step Two: Drying

We then placed the acorns on towels and laid them where they’d get the most sun on those unseasonably warm, early-October days. Drying the acorns separates the nutmeat from the shell somewhat, making for easier cracking and shelling. I let them go for 2-3 days. They could have dried longer, but I was afraid they might go rancid.

Step Three: Cracking and Shelling

Perhaps if one had more space, was in better shape, or didn’t have a 2 1/2 year-old Honeybee hanging off of one’s leg, one could crack acorns more quickly and efficiently. I found the best way for me was with a nutcracker and knife, sitting at the kitchen table listening to audiobooks. As I removed the nutmeat (you’ll still have some acorns with grubs in them BTW), I placed it in water to keep oxidation to a minimum. I then coarsely ground the nutmeat in our NutriBullet.

Step Four: Leaching

I chose the cold-leaching method so that the product would stick together during cooking (and it seems to be the easiest method). I placed the coarsely ground acorns in an old gallon jar filled with water and stuck it in the fridge. I changed the water several times a day. This process removes the tannins, which taste bitter. When there was basically no taste whatsoever, I knew it was time to move to the next step.

Step Five: Drying and Fine-Grinding

For the first batch, I spread the damp, coarsely-ground acorns on a baking sheet and placed them in our $17,000 dehydrator. Remember that unseasonably warm and sunny weather? That allowed me to dry the acorns in our Honda Civic. I left a couple of windows lowered slightly to allow moisture to escape and air circulation. I finished that batch off that evening after the sun went down in our oven on its lowest setting. For the second batch I made, I used my parents’ Nesco dehydrator.

After drying, I placed the coarse acorn flour in our coffee grinder (hand-crank BTW) and went to cranking. It took a while–it was a workout–but it was worth it. What I produced was a beautiful, light-brown flour that I made chocolate chip cookies with. They were spectacular! Perhaps the healthiest cookies I ever ate.

Overall Thoughts on Acorn Flour

I won’t get into the details of the process or the history of acorns, or the healthfulness of avoiding grain flour, but I will say that acorn flour is gluten-free and that if I had to, I could produce flour for my family. It’s not hard, but it is time-consuming.

Starches are referred to as the “forager’s dilemma” since they’re hard to find and harvest in any significant quantities, but we can at least rely on a good nut mast every year or two if that were our only option. In the meantime, I’ll still buy White Lily and King Arthur.

It’s Been A While; First Fruit Trees

I’ve hoped for a while to one day run an evening/weekend homestead–“homestead” in the sense that we’re homesteading, or ever moving toward self-sufficiency. For years I’ve been acquiring the skills necessary: gardening, canning, dehydrating, fermenting, composting, foraging, hunting, butchering, DIY, etc. Now, the opportunity might be close. A house that has been in the family for decades just became available. It sits on a few acres adjacent to nigh a hundred acres I’ll one day inherit. There’re outbuildings; a barn; space to garden, to grow crops and green manure, for chickens and goats, and plenty of space for my girls to play. There’s also more than enough room to hunt and forage on bottomland, ridges, forests, clearings, creeks, northern-exposed and southern-exposed terrain. My wife and I are praying about buying it.

Moving toward that lifestyle will take some time, but I REALLY think I’d enjoy the journey. I’ll tell you why: yesterday, I drove over there and went to the old orchard just above the house (on my parents’ land). I grabbed a shovel, some tree protecters, compost, and the fruit trees I ordered six weeks ago. I parked the SUV and listened to the UK football game (well, I didn’t really listen, the broadcast became ambiance as I let the outdoors take over my senses) while I dug five holes.

I planted three apple trees near an old mystery apple tree, the only remnant from the long-neglected orchard my late-grandfather planted. Goldrush, Jonafree, and Enterprise trees, all disease-resistant dwarf varieties from Stark Bros., went into the ground. Just up the hill from them, I planted Bubblegum and Superior dwarf plums.

I was on my knees, setting the last tree in the ground and scooping compost into the hole, when I realized that I was tired, sore, cold, and LOVING IT anyway. It’s like I was doing what I was supposed to do, something noble and forward-thinking, something profound. Someday, I hope to look over and see my girls sitting on a porch swing together, eating apples picked from one of those trees–naturally-grown apples, clean apples, fresh apples. I want them to appreciate God’s design and provision in a way I’ve just recently started to realize.

I want to work the land.

But if God wants us to wait, or to do so elsewhere, I’ll be patient. If there’s one thing the last few years have taught me, it’s to wait upon the Lord. He’ll provide.

It’s been a while. I’m back.

A Weekend Chock Full of Being Outside

It was a little on the chilly side, and it began with rain, but this weekend was fantastic. I got to plant all kinds of goodies in the new raised beds at Mom & Dad’s and get pots ready for herbs and seed starting.

In the raised beds, I planted Rainbow Swiss Chard, Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach, America Spinach, Red Romaine Lettuce,¬†All-Season Romaine mix (Burpee), Merlot/Galactic Red Lettuce, Waldmann’s Dark Green Lettuce, Arugula, Red Winter Kale, Dwarf Blue Curled Vates Kale, Calabrese Broccoli, Tall Top Early Wonder Beets, and Golden Beets from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. I kept one bed empty for tomatoes; they’ll go in the ground in about five weeks.

At home, I mixed peat moss, coconut fiber, humus, manure, fertilizer, and worm castings in our new compost tumbler. I then carted the mix down to the greenhouse and filled 55 plastic pots and 64 peat pots. I’ll use the plastic pots for tomatoes (Amish Paste, Cherry, Vinson Watts, Willard Wynn, Big Rainbow, Brandywine, & Lemon Boy varieties) and peppers (Jalapeno, Orange Bell, Golden California Wonder, & King of the North varieties); the peat pots I’ll use for okra (Clemson Spineless), cantaloupe (Honey Rock), watermelon (Sugar Baby), summer squash (Lemon, Straightneck, & Crookneck), cucumbers (Dar & Sumter), and flowers (Marigolds, Zinnias, and I’m going to see how Evening Sun sunflowers do).

I hope to get the tomatoes, peppers, melons, okra, & flowers started tonight and tomorrow. I’ll wait about a week and a half to start the rest.

Finally, I filled clay and plastic pots in which to plant herbs and flowers. I have herb seeds, but have never had much success so I’ll buy them this year. I plan on purchasing mint, lemon balm, chives, thyme, sage, rosemary, cilantro, basil, dill, & parsley. I’ll also buy some flower bulbs and alyssum.