Real Food
Savor the flavors of everyday real food, fresh from the garden or stored on your pantry shelves.

‘Tomato Stuff’: Tapenade-Style Tomato Spread for Sauces, Dressings, and More

With a bonanza supply of dehydrated tomatoes put by, I made this delicious spread that we’ve always called just “tomato stuff.”  It’s like a tapenade, although without anchovies.

I use it by itself to spread on thin slices of baguette or water crackers for an elegant appetizer and also use it by the big spoonful for enrich a pasta sauce instead of tomato paste, make a quick pizza, add body to a vegetable soup, add big flavor to a vinaigrette dressing, dress a plain dish of spaghetti, and put a bit of zing into a bland stew.

It’s also quite tasty just on a spoon! One of my favorite one-pan meals is below.

‘Tomato Stuff’ Tapenade Recipe


• 1 cup oil cured black olives, pitted
• 2 cups dehydrated tomatoes
• ½ cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
• 8 fat cloves roasted garlic
• 2 tbsp homemade pesto if you have it
• 1 tbsp Herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning herb mix
• ½ cup very good extra virgin olive oil, possibly more


1. Pit the olives, using your cherry pitter if you have one. If you do not, use a small knife to slit the side of the olive and squeeze out the pit. Reserve the pits for a bonus (see below).

2. Snip the tomatoes with scissors to about ½ inch to make them easier for the processor to grind. If the tomatoes are really hard and tough, sprinkle them with just a little water and let them sit for a few minutes to soften.

3. Into your food processor, put the olives, tomatoes, cheese and garlic. Get it going and process until the tomatoes are chopped fine.

4. Add in the pesto if you have it and the herbs, and pulse. Don’t add salt — between the cheese and the olives, there’s plenty.

5. Add in most of the olive oil and process, adding more as needed. You want a rough but spreadable texture, not a smooth paste. If the tomatoes were quite dry, you may want to add more olive oil.

6. Pack your Tomato Stuff into small freezer storage tubs, coat the top with a film of olive oil. Stored in the freezer, it keeps for months.

Bonus: Olive Pit-Infused Olive Oil

Remember you saved the olive pits. Put these into a small jar and cover with your good olive oil. Be sure the pits are completely covered.

Set the jar on the counter for a week or so and then drain off the oil. You’ll have a delicious “fruity” olive oil that tastes like the most expensive kinds. Use this for your favorite vinaigrette dressing.

One-Pan Chicken and Pepper Dinner Recipe


Yields 4 hearty servings

• 1½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
• extra virgin olive oil for the pan
• sea salt and pepper to taste
• a pinch or two of herbes de Provence or Italian herb mix
• 1 very large red onion
• 4 large bell peppers, assorted colors
• 4 to 6 fat cloves roasted garlic
• ½ cup white wine
• 8 ounces pasta, tagliatelli, mini penne, or similar, or mixed
• 4 heaping tbsp Tomato Stuff

Equipment: One skillet, one cutting board, one knife, one pot.


1. First, cut the onions into lengthwise slices ¼ inch thick. Then the peppers into slices about the same size.

2. Put a nice spill of the extra virgin olive oil in the skillet and heat. Put the onion in the pan and sauté over medium high heat. Give them a head start then drop in the pepper pieces, sauté a few minutes more.

3. Then, cover the pan and lower the heat to get the veggies to your preferred tenderness — don’t let them get too soft, leave some crunch. Remove the veggies to a plate while you sauté the chicken.

4. Slice the chicken breasts horizontally no more than ½-inch thick. Season each piece nicely with the sea salt pepper and herbs. Add more oil to the skillet and, over moderately high heat, sauté the chicken pieces until just barely golden. Work in batches — don’t crowd the pan. As they’re ready, remove the chicken to the plate.

5. When the chicken is all done, add in the garlic and smoosh it against the bottom of the pan. Add in the white wine and stir to deglaze the pan and get the garlic distributed. Add all the chicken back in and gently simmer to reduce the wine.

6. Meanwhile, cook the pasta to your preferred degree of al dente. Drain the pasta.

7. Add all the veggies back into the skillet on top of the chicken. Stir the pasta into the skillet of chicken and veggies. Cover the pan to reheat it all. Then, dollop in heaping spoons of Tomato Stuff and stir and toss to coat the whole pan-full.

Look the other way and smile when fingers swipe the empty plate clean.

Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Healthy Food Begins with Community


Photo by Jenny Nelson. Courtesy of Maine Farmland Trust

A group of Somali Bantu refugees have started a cooperative farm in Maine, whole continents away from where they were born. They’ve traveled treacherous terrain and faced down threats that could have taken their lives. Thousands of miles from Somalia, on 30 acres in Maine’s second-largest city, they’ve begun to feel like they’ve come home.

New Roots Cooperative Farm, though just recently started by four new Americans, is already a success story. Combine the complexities of farming with the uncertainty of navigating a system that is unfamiliar — and, at times, unfriendly — to newcomers and you’ll understand just a fraction of how far New Roots has already come. They’re inspired to help one another and the community, too.

“Our aim is not only to grow food and run a business ourselves but to help our community and teach them about how to run a business,” says New Roots farmer Batula Ismail.

New Roots is a cooperative — the four co-owners work together to share land, markets, infrastructure, and resources — and they are demonstrating for other immigrant farmers that their co-op model is best for meeting their needs and building community.

The group used to farm before being forced from their homes during Somalia’s tumultuous civil war period.

“There was no control,” one of the co-op organizers, Hussein Muktar, told the Portland Press Herald recently. “People come to your house and kill you or beat you and take whatever you have,” he said. “You have no power.” 

After arriving in Maine, they got back to farming at Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Project at Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon, Maine. The program empowers New Americans to launch independent farm businesses, to adopt new leadership roles in the community, and to attain increased economic independence for themselves and their families.

Now, with a decade of experience at Packard-Littlefield backing them up, the group is ready to put their education to the test. When Gendron Farm, a dairy farm in Lewiston was divided into several parcels in 2015, New Roots worked with Cooperative Development Institute, Maine Farmland Trust, Land for Good, Cultivating Community, and many others to preserve 30 acres as a working farm.

In August, 2016, the farmers celebrated with a groundbreaking ceremony for their farm with food, music, speakers, and prayers for the land. More than 100 people turned out to support the farm and the New American community in Lewiston, a heartwarming affirmation that New Roots is leading the way for immigrant farmers in the Northeast.

Farmer Mohamed Abukar said, “We are a new generation of farmers, as New Americans, and we want to bring our farming to a new level. We want to develop support from other organizations and people to open the farm in 2017 and provide fresh chemical free vegetables to schools, hospitals, restaurants, and people around the state.”

New Roots is hosting an online barnraiser to help them set solid roots on their new land and create greater economic opportunity for New Americans. Learn more about their plans here.

The Cooperative Development Institute was founded in 1994 with the explicit mission to foster an inter-dependent dense network of enterprises and institutions that allow us to meet our needs through principled democratic ownership, and that care for community, combat injustice and inequity, and promote conscious self-governance. Read all of CDI's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page

Foraging ‘Salt Spray Rose’ Hips to Use in Tomato Recipes

Rosa Rugosa Salt Spray Rose

A homestead located at 55th latitude is probably not considered to be a good place for to grow tomatoes. We do own a few tomato plants, carefully snuggled up against the south wall of our brick-built cottage, and we are cherishing every single tomato, having managed to change color from green to somewhat reddish.

‘Salt Spray’ Rose Hips as Tomato Replacement

Well, the poor tomato-growing conditions actually don’t matter, because, instead of tomatoes, we successfully cultivate Rosa rugosa, also known as the “Salt Spray Rose,” one of the most frost- and sea salt-tolerant wild roses.

Rosa rugosa is not only present on our property, but also growing wild all over the district. It starts to blossom early, at the beginning of June, and from August, it bears tons of plum-sized, bright red hips, with a thick layer of soft sweetish-sour flesh covering a large cavity filled with seeds. Not only their large size and unusual tenderness remind me of tomatoes, but also the taste of the flesh does, especially when cooked.

So why not use them instead of tomatoes? In fact, we do!

Cooking Tomato Dishes using Salt Spray Rose Hips

Our preserved spaghetti sauce is partly made from Rosa rugosa hips, and we also prepare a kind of bruschetta-style spread from the raw flesh now and again. Of course, some of the hips end up as sweet rose hip spread or jelly as well.

Spaghetti sauce. Before one can start preparing sauce or spread, flesh must be separated from seeds. For spaghetti sauce, whole hips can be boiled in water for about 5 minutes to soften. Once cooled, they are easily processed through a food mill, leaving a soft pulp for further use. You will get about 1 pound of pulp from processing 3 pounds of whole hips.

The easiest way of preparing spaghetti sauce from the pulp is to just season it with salt, pepper, garlic, and all kinds of Mediterranean herbs (thyme, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, sage, laurel, and basil) add a drop of olive oil and heat up. Tasting it, you might find it too sour. To manage its acidity, small amounts of baking soda can be added, until it has your preferred taste.

What’s also missing is the slightly bitter “nightshady” taste of real tomatoes. So, on our homestead, we are adding about 1/3 of real tomato pulp (from the supermarket) to it. The sauce is easily made in bulk and can be canned in jars or stored in the freezer. It can be used as basic sauce for to prepare spaghetti Bolognese as well as for making pizza.

Bruschetta spread. It’s a bit less comfortable to prepare hips for the raw spread. Every rose hip has to be cut into half and its seeds removed using a teaspoon. Because the seed cavity also contains some hairy matter, which causes a bad itch, rubber gloves should be worn doing this.

The raw spread doesn’t keep fresh all that long and should be prepared the day it’s intended to be used.  To make it, the rugosa hip flesh should be getting diced finely. Per cup of flesh, about ¼ cup of finely chopped onions (feel free to add more!) should be added, along with a mashed clove of garlic.

Stir olive oil into the blend until its “spreadbility” is the way you like it most (you may also use a blender if you prefer it being a soft paste). Then season with salt, pepper, and fresh Genovese basil or lemon thyme. Add some chopped fresh chilly if you like.

Spread on slightly toasted white bread. You might want to set a slice of mozzarella on top of each bruschetta.

'Rosa rugosa' Cultivation

Salt Spray Rose is easily cultivated in cold temperate and mild subarctic climates, in fact it tends to spreading fast, using both, runners and seeds. Thus, in low hardiness zones, it sometimes is considered as being invasive.

To be able to germinate, its seeds do need temperatures well below freezing to stratify. It would put up with nearly any type of soil and condition except for lasting heat or extreme drought. In Europe, it is hardly ever found growing south of the 50th latitude.

Marion Gabriela Wick lives on a secluded, 3.5-acre homestead in North Frisia, Germany where she guides tours to the European Wadden Sea National Park and the salt marshes located almost at her doorstep. She has been instrumental in protecting Wiedingharde Beach’s unique “fruity heritage” made up from thousands of wild and heritage fruit trees and shrubs growing along roads and trenches, around fields and farm houses, planted by generations of farmers trying to protect their cottages and grain fields from the regions very harsh weather conditions. Read more from Marion at The Fairies Garden and about her local beach at Südwesthörner.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware: The Best and Worst Oils to Use

Griswold cast iron dutch oven

I consider myself a pretty practical woman — I generally don’t buy things that don’t serve a purpose and serve it well. However, I will be the first to admit, I am a fool for some cute kitchen gear.

It’s ridiculous I know, but there’s something about a robin’s egg blue mixer or a polka dotted casserole dish that makes my inner Suzie Homemaker squeal with delight. So when my husband said he never wanted us to buy enameled cookware again, I was irrationally disappointed.  

Years ago, before I joined the die-hard world of cast iron addicts, I was baking pies in Paula Dean stoneware, whipping up sauces in vivid Rachel Ray pots — sure I love to cook, but I love it even more when the tools are cute.

Why I Opted Out of Cute Cookware

However, my husband had been listening to Paul Wheaton’s permaculture podcasts, and was coming to the realization that a lot of those pretty pans and dishes were coated in not-so-pretty ingredients. Not only was there the notorious Teflon, but those patterned and coordinated pans were releasing trace amounts of nasty glazing and paint chemicals into our food and air every time we used them.

Though in the U.S., many yucky ingredients have been banned from use in cookware, the simple fact is that you don’t wind up with a purple polka-dotted casserole dish that can withstand 500 degrees Fahrenheit without some serious chemical engineering, and after giving it some thought, I decided I didn’t want that touching my food.

After doing some research on cast iron, we started collecting antique pieces, cleaning and seasoning them, and working them into our cooking rotation. New cast iron just doesn’t compare to the old stuff — it’s rough (from lack of use), and not well seasoned. Start scouring eBay for some beautiful antique cast iron instead.

Special Considerations for Cast Iron

It’s a bit of an adjustment at first, going from regular cookware to cast iron. This is cookware in its purest, most simple form, and therefore you have to pay a bit more attention to how you handle it.

For starters, you don’t really wash cast iron cookware. If you buy an old piece that has some buildup or rust on it, this is really the only time you do anything abrasive to it, but even then, you have to be pretty careful with the process. Because this is untreated iron, any water left on the cookware can cause it to rust.

Secondly, since cast iron doesn’t have Teflon or anything else on it to make it non stick, using this pan requires it to be seasoned to keep everything from baking onto it. What this means is that using oils, you just have to cook with it, over and over again, and only scrape and wipe it when you’re done. Those oils eventually create a smooth surface that is naturally non-stick, and allows you to simply scrape and wipe the pan when you’re done, rather than rubbing it with salt or some other manner of cleaning.

If you do decide to start using cast iron cookware, you’ll want to invest in a few solid, straight-edged metal spatulas for this reason. Not only are they sturdy, but that nice, straight edge makes for a handy tool for the occasional scraping you might have to do initially as you build up seasoning on your pans.

Seasoning a Cast Iron Pan: The Best and Worst Oils to Use

As far as oils go, there are a number of different schools of thought on which ones are the best to use with cast iron cooking, all with their pros and cons.  Me personally? I say it depends on what your needs and values are. Here’s my quick rundown on the various oils you can use, and their pros and cons:

Bacon grease. Personally, this one is my go-to. Every morning my husband and I make a couple of strips of bacon, drain off the excess fat into a grease catcher, and then throw our eggs in the pan. This keeps the pan seasoned and makes us breakfast all at once, and we don’t have to use any oil to keep the pan happy. Bacon grease has a relatively high smoke point: 375 degrees.

Olive oil. Olive oil is readily available and has a pleasant flavor to it, but it’s an oil I’ve come to use less and less, for one simple reason: the smoke point. At anything above 320 degrees, olive oil releases volatile compounds and starts to break down. Since medium heat is about 300 degrees on a stovetop, the smoke point of this oil is just too low for my taste.

Safflower oil. I wish I could love safflower oil, but this one has a hopelessly low smoke point: just 225 degrees. It’s flavor is mild and well suited for various types of cooking, but it’s not good for much beyond a salad dressing or homemade mayo.

Grapeseed oil. This is another nice, mild-tasting oil, and one that I frequently buy in bulk — it’s my go-to choice for deep frying. With a smoke point of 420 degrees, grapeseed is much more stable than most other oils, and is usually pretty cheap, too. Here's the stuff I buy, Massimo Gusto.

Shortening. A lot of people really like using shortening, but I am just not crazy about the ingredients in it. Hydrogenated oils from corn and soy just don’t fall under ideal around here.

Coconut oil. I know coconut oil is lovely for a lot of reasons, but I hate that I have to scoop it out of the jar every time. I know, I’m lazy. Coconut oil’s smoke point is 350 degrees, so it’s not a terrible option, but I definitely prefer bacon grease when it comes to solid fats. This is a matter of preference as many people have success with coconut oil.

Palm oil. Palm oil has a nice high smoke point, sitting pretty at 450 degrees. It’s flavor is mild, and it’s reasonably priced, too. The only reason I don’t really use it is because of the issues with unsustainable harvesting going on right now. If you do decide to use palm oil, make sure you do a little research on who you’re buying it from, and whether it was grown and harvested responsibly — WWF has a guide on certified sustainable palm oil. Otherwise, the environmental consequences of the palm crop are too high to justify its use without being certain of the farmer’s practices.

Like most things in life, there are a dozen different ways to season, clean, and use cast iron cookware, but one thing’s for sure: With the proper conscientious care, this is cookware that will be around when your children’s children are cooking.

Cast Iron Adds Iron to Your Food

Not only is cast iron devoid of what we’ve lovingly come to refer to as “toxic gick,” it also leaches a notable amount of iron into your food as you cook with it. Unlike aluminum and copper, iron leaching is potentially a good thing. However, it is questionable whether these pans act as a tool and a dietary supplement, all at once, because the iron they impart on your food may be in a form that your body cannot use. The best advice is to use only well seasoned pots and pans.

It may seem like a stark change, but after a while, this became second nature to me. A little while later, we gave up our microwave, and our 10-inch Griswold skillet became our new way to heat up leftovers. And let’s face it: Is there anything that bacon grease doesn’t improve?

So yeah, I did it. I gave up my cute pots and pans in favor of these clunky behemoths. But you know what? Now, I walk past the colorful pots and pans at the store, and I give a wry smile. Oh Fiesta cookware, your vibrant seasonal colors have no power over me now.

Destiny Hagest is personal assistant to Paul Wheaton, founder of and, as well as a content curator and freelance writer. You can catch Destiny hanging out in the forums at quite regularly, and visit her LinkedIn profile, and follow her on Twitter. Read all of Destiny's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Food Storage Options when Living Off-Grid


A solar food dehydrator can work well to preserve much of summer's harvest.

Because I like high-quality food but live somewhere that doesn't have a year-round growing season, the best way for me to ensure I have it available is to stockpile, store, and preserve food when it is in season and plentiful. I will outline some of the ways my mother and I have preserved food over the years.

Did you read my mom’s recipe in a past post about how to make cheese using milk that is souring (almost no longer good) or if you have extra milk? I would say the best way to figure out what you want to have plenty of is to make a list of what you love and use the most. For instance, I use tons of herbs and tomatoes, so I will explain how I make sure I have plenty of those items.

The best way to “store” food is on the plant. I plant tomato plants every 3 or 4 weeks so I have plenty of tomatoes over the fullest course of the growing season. For herbs, I have an herb garden right outside my kitchen door so I can have access to fresh herbs.

Drying Food in a Hot Car

Growing up, we traveled a lot and didn’t have refrigeration, so we tended to dry the majority of our extra food. We dry vegetables (sun-dried tomatoes are heavenly) and fruits (I love dried strawberries or blueberries) on baking trays in a car parked in the sun. If you have bug problems even in your car, some get muslin or cheesecloth to cover everything as it dries. Mom finishes off the last drying either in our solar oven or in the gas oven with the temperature at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Solar Food Dehydrators

I did also build a solar dryer (pictured above) using plans from the South Carolina Solar Energy Center as an outline, which worked well to dry things. However, high humidity caused the dryer to rot too quickly from the inside out, but it still had a good 5-year life. As we kids moved out, mom didn’t need to make so much food, so I never built a new solar drier. [Note, check out MOTHER EARTH NEWS' own "Best-Ever Solar Dehydrator Plans" for a tried-and-true design.]

My mom has a dehydrated-vegetable soup mix which consists of dried vegetables like, such as zucchini, carrots, greens, peas, celery, cilantro, garlic, and sometimes onion, but usually adds fresh onion to it. It is very tasty when made into a soup or added to a stew. Remember, you need plenty of water to reconstitute.

Smoking Meats

I wanted to include smoking as a way of preservation although we didn’t use it much growing up. I do clearly remember an intense few days when I was 13 or 14 when we were given a deer and, because we didn’t have a refrigerator, we smoked lots of jerky over a smoldering fire, and canned lots of deer meat.

It was a lot of work, but that was a tasty year of smoky food. I think one of my favorite snacks due to that winter of the deer is still pemmican, which is a mixture of dried/smoked meat, animal fat, and dried berries. If you think this is weird, a meat stick version of this is sold in every gas station across America.

Starting Up Canning

Mostly, we tended to can our food growing up as a way to preserve. Cold-water canning just means not in a pressure canner. I recently went shopping to set up a friend with everything for basic canning, and even with three cases of jars, it was under $100.

We bought a couple of bushels of tomatoes at the farmer's market and ended up with three dozen jars of good, canned tomatoes and a couple gallons of tomato juice. I just bought one of those immersion blenders and that really shortened the prep (only quartered the tomatoes instead of diced them) and cooking time (usually I cook the tomatoes down into sauce) to liquefy the tomatoes. After straining out the juice, put in jars with lids and simmer for 45 minutes. I love the sound of the lids sealing as the jars seal.

Deep Freezing

I will readily admit that I have gotten lazy in my food storage since I got my deep freezers. I keep two, so I fill one up as I eat the other down. Deep freezers don’t use that much energy after the food is frozen, so this is actually a good way to store food when living off the grid.

The only issue is that if there is a long-term (2 days or longer) power outage, frozen food will thaw out if you don’t have a backup power source. I remember how during a region-wide week-long power outage (Inland Hurricane or Direcho), I actually bought another deep freezer to run on my off-the-grid solar system as I was given lots of food from businesses that was thawing out due to no electricity.

I filled two deep freezers with gourmet organic freezer meals. Really the only problem with deep freezers is I forget about it for long periods of time, so I break my rule: Whatever you store, make sure it is something you use on a regular basis. I have been better at making lists of what is in the freezer so I don’t have to root around to see what is in there.


Soup Stock or Bone Broth Recipe

Soup stock is way too expensive and many recipes call for it, so here is how I make and store it.

I save, in a gallon resealable bag in the freezer, every scrap of vegetables that I cut off (carrot tops, onion skins, celery bottoms, cucumber ends) as long as the pieces are not rotten. Once I have a full bag, I put it all in one of those pasta straining pots so I can easily strain the solids out after it is cooked. I put lots of water and let it simmer for at least 4 hours — but better overnight.

I also save all meat straps in a separate bag as I don’t like to have the vegetables and meat stored together. I feel it is a food safety thing. I have had meat scraps go bad in the freezer before vegetable scraps. Mostly the scraps I save are bones which I crack open with a big mortar and pestle. Sometimes I mix the meat and veggies, but usually I make soup stock and bone broth separately.

Using this method, I usually end up with just over a gallon and a half of flavorful liquid which I than can. If you make a small amount or don’t want to can it, it's good in the fridge for about a week, or once it is cool, pour into quart freezer bags to put into deep freeze. I just find that freezing liquid is a hassle, and if it is in the deep freeze, I rarely use it. I like the canned method better.

I look forward every day to the interactions I have on my Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page and hope you will join the discussion there. Stay energized.

Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International  and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page, and read all of Aur's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Cook for a Night and Eat for a Week with a Wood-Fired Oven

Wood Fired Oven Cover Photo

About 3 years ago, my husband took a continuing education class on how to build a clay wood-fired oven. He was immediately hooked – and so was I! Within about a month, he had designed and started building an oven in our backyard.

About 18 months later, we found the homestead of our dreams and I had to promise him that we would hire someone to help build an oven at the new house. It was the first project we completed and has been one of the most rewarding accomplishments of our homestead in the 15 months we have been here.

One of our favorite things to do with the oven is a long baking and cooking session that makes the most of the various cooking environments of which the oven is capable. It takes a bit of practice, but once you master the art of raising and lowering the temperature in your wood-fired oven you can plan a sequence of delicious recipes that will not only feed you that night, but leave you with the building blocks for a week-long menu of easy-to-prepare meals.

A bonus is that spending time at our outdoor oven with a glass of wine on a lovely late summer evening is one of the best ways I know of to remind us why we work so hard on our homestead in the first place.

Here's a glimpse into what you can do with an outdoor oven – a sample menu from a recent marathon session at the oven (during the height of tomato and zucchini season).  We highly suggest planning your menu and prep all of the ingredients ahead of time so that you are ready to go when the oven is lit.

Inspiration for many of these recipes came from an amazing wood-fired oven cookbook by Andrea Mugnaini. Also, an infrared thermometer is a must-have for ensuring you've reached the correct temperature for each phase of the cooking session.

Sample Wood-Fired Oven Cooking Session

3:00 pm – light the fire in the outdoor oven using newspaper, followed by a good pile of kindling and a few large logs on the side of the kindling to hold it all together. Continue building the fire to raise the temperature of the oven to a high pizza oven environment (about 700-800 degrees). It should take about 30-60 minutes to reach this temperature depending on the size of your oven (the interior diameter of ours is 34 inches and take about 45 minutes). Once the oven has reached the right temperature, push the kindling and coals to the edges of the oven to form a nice arch of a flame and to heat up the sides and back of the oven.

3:40 pm – Roasted Tomato Sauce: cook two sheet pans of quartered tomatoes, onions, and garlic for about 10 minutes each (stirring half-way through) until slightly brown and crispy on top. Cool, pour into a blender, and add chopped basil. Voila! You have fire-roasted tomato sauce. Keep sauce on hand for recipes to come.

4:00 pm – Pizzas (2) – one for snacking today, one for dinner this week. Roll pizza dough and place on a pizza peel, top with some of that roasted tomato sauce that you just made, followed by cheese and toppings of your choice. Cook the pizzas for about 2-3 minutes depending on the temperature of your oven, rotating half-way through. We have found that a hearth temperature of about 750 degrees works best for us. Enjoy one of the pizzas and save the other for leftovers (if you can resist).

Wood fired oven pizza pic

4:15 pm – move the coals back into the middle of the oven to re-heat the brick surface. Add one or two pieces of kindling if you are getting low on coals. You are now trying to bring the oven to a medium baking temperature (about 425 degrees). After checking to ensure the temperature of the oven has sufficiently decreased, move the coals to the outside of the oven again.

4:30 pm – Baguettes or bread rounds. Depending on the size of your bread, these should take about 15 min (baguette) to 25 minutes (medium – large bread round). Pay close attention and move the dough away from the coals and closer to the opening if it seems to be browning too quickly.

5:00 pm – move the coals back to the middle of the oven and add a few logs to build the fire up again. You’re aiming for a medium-high roasting temperature (about 425 degrees) but you’ll need it to last so make sure you have enough kindling in there.

5:1 5pm – Bruschetta. After the bread has cooled for a few minutes make your second snack. Slice one of the baguettes into disks, brush with olive oil and place into the oven for about 2 minutes. Scrape with a peeled garlic clove, then top with diced tomatoes, minced onions, basil and some sea salt and enjoy. Save the other baguette or bread for later in the week.

5:30 pm – Wood-Fired Salmon – preheat a baking sheet or oven-safe skillet for a few minutes, then drizzle on some oil and carefully place a filet of Alaskan salmon onto the hot skillet or sheet pan. Make sure your fire has small flames along the back and sides to give you a nice char on the top of the fillet. Slide into the 425 degree oven. Carefully flip after about 5 minutes, and finish skin-side up for 2 more minutes. Set aside for a meal later this week, but be sure to enjoy a few bites straight out of the oven seasoned with a light drizzle of olive oil – heavenly!

5:40 pm – move the coals to the middle of the oven again and replenish a little bit as needed to maintain the 425 degree roasting temperature.


5:45 pm - Lasagna – Assemble your lasagna using the roasted tomato sauce that you prepared in the oven earlier (or you can probably do this ahead of time while your bread is baking). At this time of year, we love a no-noodle zucchini lasagna recipe like this one with fresh mozzarella, ricotta, and basil from the garden. And it gets an extra thumbs up from your GF and vegetarian guests. Cover with parchment paper, and then a layer of foil.

6:00 pm – Move the coals to the edges again and place the lasagna in the center of the oven. For this you should have a well-banked fire (a couple of decent sized logs) with a small flame at the outset. Roast for about 45 minutes then, then add a few pieces of kindling to the coals to build up the flames, remove the foil and roast for about 5 more to crisp the top. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

6:40 pm – Remove the lasagna from the oven, bring the coals back to the middle of the oven. Add more logs to bring the oven back up to a higher temp (about 500-550 degrees).

7:00 pm – take a half-hour break to enjoy your lasagna! Save half for later in the week.

7:30 pm – Ratatouille – follow Mugnaini’s outstanding recipe for ratatouille, cooking the veggies in stages and then combining everything for a final roast. First, roast the olive oil, garlic, and thyme; remove that from the pan and add the eggplant (roast for 8-10 minutes), then add the zucchini/squash (roast for another 6-8 minutes); then put the garlic and thyme back in, add peppers, tomatoes, basil and salt and pepper and roast the whole thing for another 20 minutes.

8:15 pm – remove the ratatouille and allow the coals to cool for at least an hour or two. The oven should drop down to about 350 degrees (to be sure it is cool enough for the next step).

tuscan beans

10:00 pm – before heading to bed, put a batch of Mugnaini’s Tuscan Cannellini Beans in the oven to gently cook overnight.

In addition to the wonderful appetizers and meal that we enjoyed while we were cooking, we now have pizza, lasagna, ratatouille, bread, salmon, and cannellini beans all cooked with that deep wood-fired flavor to enjoy for the rest of the week!

If you don’t have a wood-fired oven yet, I definitely recommend checking out a class or buying a book to decide if one is right for your homestead.  In the meantime, I’m sure you can use these same principles with your indoor oven; a little less rustic, but just as practical.

Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Dual credit for this article goes to Carrie's husband, Eric Howe, whose passion for cooking and gardening has been contagious since the day they met.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Fall Apple Madness: Harvesting and Processing Fall Apples


Fruit trees are an excellent addition to any homestead, even a small urban lot. We have several: a 'Macintosh' apple, an early summer plum, a huge and ancient fig, a new persimmon, and a yellow plum that is too big to harvest. There are also two hazelnut trees on the back lot line. They provide shade in summer, leaf mulch in winter, bee forage in spring — and fruit in the fall.

Dealing with the fruit, especially the apple, which is the largest tree, can be a challenge. We eat it fresh, give it away to friends — who also have fruit trees! — make pies and cakes, and then work to preserve the harvest for the winter.

I slice and dry five or six rounds of 'Macintosh' apples in early August. We really like the dried fruit because of its flexibility. We can take it to work, on the trail, and in the car. We can plump it up with boiling water for a compote with yogurt or add it to oatmeal. It is better than winter’s supply  “fresh” fruit that has been shipped across the equator or stored for months.

Drying Fruit for Fall Harvest Products

I am experimenting with a bit of “pre-drying” to reduce electricity consumption. I’ve laid it on the roof of my van and parked on a sunny street, but there was not enough air flow. I laid the fruit on trays, wrapped them in cheese cloth, and set them on a ladder in the sun, which worked better. We are looking at plans for a home made solar dryer for next year. Dried apples reduce the pile by a bucket or so.

Once we have enough dried fruit, I make applesauce and apple butter. Using a food mill, I am able to quarter apples, toss them into a big pot, and quickly cook them until soft before pushing the pulp through the mill, catching all of the seeds and skins. Once the pulp is cleaned, I add sugar and seasonings for applesauce, heat it up, and can it in pint jars.

For apple butter, I’ll take another round of pulp, add spices and a little sugar, and slowly reduce it by over half in an uncovered crockpot. Apple butter is canned in half pint jars — it does not last long once opened.


Canning Apple Juice

This work helps reduce the racks of fruit stored in the cool basement, but there are still apples waiting to be processed. In late August, I turn to a friend to borrow his apple press. I sort the apples into eaters and pressers, toss the pressers into a large laundry basket, and then look around the neighborhood. There are several old trees in the alleys nearby, so I gather that fruit as well and do one large press of all of the iffy fruit.

We cut out the bruises and buggy spots, mash them, and toss them into the press. Cranking down on the handle, juice flows out into a large bowl. I take the juice inside, heat it to almost boiling, then can it in quart jars.

At the end of the month, dried apples, apple sauce and apple butter, and apple juice line the shelves. We are, once again, set for the winter. We celebrate with an apple pie with ice cream after dinner.

Charlyn Ellis has been growing vegetables since she was five years old, when her mother bought her her first rake and pitchfork. She and her family are urban homesteaders and have a large organic vegetable garden, fruit trees, a beehive, four chickens, one rabbit, and two cats on a small urban lot in the center of town, surrounded by college students. Charlyn considers permaculture principles when she makes changes in her designs, especially the idea that the problem is the solution. Find her online at 21st Street Urban Homestead, and read all of Charlyn's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.