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

Foraged-Greens Empanadas (with Recipe)

My husband and I had been out of town for a few days, and with a sparse pantry, there seemed to be few options for dinner when we finally got home.  However, we were determined not to go out to eat out again—our stomachs needed a break with some clean, homemade food.  And so, with ten minutes of foraging and a little ingenuity, we came up with this recipe for these savory, leafy-green-packed empanadas.  It has since become a favorite.

This recipe features wild dandelion greens and wild spinach/lamb’s quarters, though any domestic or foraged green could probably work.  I made this recipe specifically for these "weeds" because they grow so readily in our yard.  We encourage their peaceful takeover of our lawn and enjoy eating them all summer long.  For the inexperienced forager, you can't pick a more amiable set of plants--they’re super easy to identify (so there’s little risk of mixing them up with something less edible!), and you can get some good pointers from the myriad of  of posts on Mother Earth News about locating and harvesting dandelion greens and wild spinach.  If you give them a chance, I’m confident you can enjoy them as much as we do.

Time needed: 15 minutes foraging in a good spot, 35 minutes active, 1 hour baking

Empanada Recipe


Crust:  (makes enough for 2 dinner-sized pies )

• 1 cup whole wheat flour
• 1 tsp salt
• 3 tbsp olive oil
• 1/3 cup warm water
• Herbs (optional: I enjoy throwing in dill or oregano)


• As many dandelion greens and wild spinach leaves (be sure to remove the tough center stalk of the mature plant) as you can fit into a large fry pan.  For me, this is roughly two full handfulls
• 1 onion, sliced
• 2 large carrots, diced
• 2 cloves garlic, diced
• salt and pepper to taste
• 2 tbsp whole wheat flour
• ¼ cup milk (can be cow, goat, or plant)

Flavor options:

• Try: diced ginger, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tsp rice wine, squeeze of lime, dash of sugar
• Or maybe: Oregano, marjoram, rosemary, basil, parsley
• What about: Dill, cumin, and whatever cheese you have on hand



First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

Make Crust.  Combine the flour, herbs, salt, and oil in a small bowl.  Crumble the ingredients together with your fingers until the mixture resembles wet sand, then add the water.  


Continue mixing and kneading with your hand in the bowl until it comes together into a smooth ball.  Cover and set aside for now.

Prepare Filling:  Carefully clean your foraged greens, being sure to separate the spinach leaves from the tough center stalk (be sure to compost it).  Rinse them in a colander under cold running water. 

Chop the onion, carrot, and garlic.  Chop the dandelion greens coarsely (the center rib can get stringy in later-season plants).


Heat some olive or peanut oil in a large skillet or wok, then add everything but the greens.  Once the onions are translucent and fragrant, you can throw in your greens and cook until they have wilted down a bit.  Add the seasonings of your choice, taste, and adjust accordingly.  Then, turn off the heat and mix in the four and milk.  Set aside for a moment.

Lightly flour a clean surface and divide your dough into two equal portions.  Roll them, individually, into rounds that are about 8-9 inches in diameter and roughly 1/4" thick.  Spoon half of the vegetable mixture into each round, then fold in half, turnover-style and crimp the edges shut.


Place on an ungreased baking pan (or side-by-side in a pie pan if you don't mind them touching!) and cut some vent holes in each pie.  Bake until the surface of the crust is nicely browned, about 50 minutes to an hour. 

They can either be served piping hot out of the oven, or allowed to cool to room temperature.  We really enjoy eating ours with hot sauce!

Andrew and Michelle Shall run Shuv Naturals and Studio Shuv, a handcrafted soap, art, and recycled good business out of their home in Akron, Ohio. Find them online at Simple Life Homestead, and read all of their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Last Minute End-of-Season Fruit Preservation Methods

What do you do when you find a windfall of fruits to forage and harvest but you don’t generally eat whole fruits in your normal diet? You find yourself challenged to discover as many different ways of preserving those fruits as you can!

We foraged for fruit in the woods and within the city this summer and thankfully, there are many ways to put fruit by. We’ve compiled a long list that has something for everyone, from the familiar jams and jellies, to ones that you may not have even heard of, like making mead.

Canning Fruit

One of the most popular ways to preserve fruits is canning. It’s a good choice because it requires no fridge or freezer to keep the food fresh and it’s always ready to go. It’s a favorite for many.

Fruit Jams, Jellies, Preserves, Conserves, Marmalades, Butters Syrups & More

Jams can be used in many ways besides spreading on a piece of bread or a cracker, so if you don’t eat many of those types of things, you may not want to completely rule them out as a preservation method. Jams (like this thimbleberry jam) are typically what comes to mind when most people think of fruit preservation. Alternative uses for jams, jellies, and preserves may include meat glazes, bases for meat glazes, and even in some meat marinades!

Fruit Sauces

Applesauce or pear sauce may be another way to preserve some of the fruit harvest. While organic fruit sauces can be expensive in the store, they are extremely simple to make at home, and you can get as creative as you want with them by mixing hard fruits like apples or pears with berries or other spices and flavorings. It’s a nutritious whole food option when compared to jams straight out of the jar.

Fruit Syrups

A versatile fruit syrup could be a fantastic pantry item. Use it over pancakes, waffles, pound cakes, in drinks as a flavoring, or even to top your ice cream. There are also seemingly endless fruit combinations so your imagination can really go wild.

Fruit Salsas

A growing trend is fruit salsas! They can be made from just about anything you can think of and are less expensive than those available for purchase in the store. While these may be slightly more expensive to can at home if you don’t have the other salsa ingredients, they are a very tasty and different way to use your fruit.

Fruit Chutneys

Chutneys are very popular in the US and even more so all over the world. Although our chutney didn’t turn out to be very tasty, I am still willing to give it another go and I’d encourage you to do the same.

Pie Filling

For pie eating folks with ovens, pie filling may be just the ticket! For us, having neither oven nor pie eating tendencies, it wasn’t a great way to use our fruit.

Preserving Whole Fruit

A very different way to preserve fruit is by canning the entire fruit whole. There are many unique and interesting recipes for this method of canning, although we chose not to use our summer fruit harvest this way.


Dehydrating Fruit

Fruit Leather

I loved the apricot fruit leather that my mom made when I was a kid! Fruit leather is the good-for-you-alternative to fruit roll ups. It’s simple to make and costs just pennies compared to the exorbitant prices store-bought fruit leather brings.

Dehydrated Whole Fruit

Dehydrated fruit can be a great way to preserve your fruit if you aren’t feeling particularly creative or are pinched for time. Simply dehydrate it now to enjoy later in oatmeal, baked goods, granola bars, or just to snack on.

Ice Cream

While it may not seem like an obvious way to preserve fruit, ice cream can be a fantastic treat and homemade ice cream is much less expensive than store-bought. If you get as lucky as we did, you’ll find a hand-crank ice cream maker too! We’ve enjoyed huckleberry and elderberry ice cream...what a treat that huckleberry turned out to be!  

Turning Fruit Into Beverages

You can only eat so many jams, dehydrated and canned fruits, so we started thinking outside the normal boxes of fruit preservation. Why not a beverage or two to add to the mix? We realized that we could make something ourselves to enjoy in this area of preservation since we typically enjoy one non-water beverage a day.

Wine & Mead

Using simple ingredients like fruit juice, honey, and yeast you can be well on your way to creating some tasty mead to enjoy later. Many people enjoy wine, but mead is still preferred by some, including us!

Fruit Liquors

A very tasty way to preserve fruit can be in a fruit liquor. All you’ll need is a hard alcohol base (rum, vodka, whiskey, etc) and some fruit. These types of liquors are very popular and can even be nice gifts. Summer fruits are perfect for preserving in this manner.  

Fruit Juice

Add some fruit juice to sparkling water and you’ve instantly made a delicious fruit flavored sparkling drink that just about anyone can enjoy. We preserved a lot of fruit juice from our summer harvest. You can really dress it up or down depending on your mood or other resources.

Probiotic Soda

If you have fruit juice, you are just a couple of steps away from probiotic soda. You’ll just need juice, sugar (unless it’s canned into the juice), whey or a ginger bug for a starter.


Freezing Fruit

Freezing fruit is not a way that we froze our fruit, but for many it’s the #1 way they choose to preserve. Since we didn’t have a freezer this summer, and probably wouldn’t choose to freeze our fruit even if we had one, this wasn’t an option for us.

Get involved!

Do YOU have a unique way to handle a large amount of fruit? Does your diet, like mine, have you searching for any and every way you can find to get those fruit preserved? Let us know in the comments below!

Alyssa Craft moved to Idaho after purchasing 5 acres of land where she will build an off grid homestead from scratch with as little money as possible. She is blogging about the journey from start to finish in hopes of inspiring others that wish to take a similar path. Follow her many projects including getting started with portable solar power, creating an off grid water system and a diy hot tub. Follow Alyssa on her blog Pure Living for Life, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. View Alyssa’s other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Water Kefir: a Delicious Probiotic Beverage


This time of year our family likes to bulk up on probiotics. With cold and flu season underway, we’ve been taking a proactive approach by upping our fermentation game through our diet. By eating a variety of fermented foods, we’re increasing our probiotics, this way we don’t have to rely on a flu shot to keep us healthy. We do this by adding fermented foods to each meal and sipping on probiotic beverages throughout the day.

To see just how simple this can be, here’s an example of what we eat in a typical day (BONUS: link includes a delicious, gut-friendly recipe for a coconut milk smoothie).

What is Water Kefir?

Hands down, our favorite probiotic beverage is water kefir. We think it tastes the best and it’s also the easiest to make at home! Never heard of water kefir? Sure, it’s not as well known as Kombucha, but definitely rising in popularity as the new kid on the block. You may have seen it in grocery stores under the label “Kevita”. Water kefir is made from kefir “grains” (which aren’t grains at all, but tiny colonies of bacteria and yeast) that look like little clear clusters of cauliflower. These grains feed on sugar and in return, produce a carbonated and lacto-fermented beverage containing gut-friendly probiotics.

When buying from the grocery store, you can expect to shell out close to five bucks per bottle, not a luxury I can afford every day. But for the cost of 3-4 bottles of store-bought water kefir, you can make it from home, indefinitely. All you need are kefir grains, some organic sugar, and a cozy half-gallon jar that your grains will call “home”.

Better yet, kefir grains often grow and double in size, making a wonderful gift for your “fermenty friends." Once you have your grains, you’re ready to begin.

How to Make Water Kefir

Oftentimes, kefir grains come dehydrated, and will take 3 to 5 days to rehydrate. Follow the instructions included with your grains prior to making your first batch.

Step 1: Add ½ cup organic sugar and one cup boiling water to a clean, half-gallon sized mason jar. Stir/swirl until sugar is dissolved then top off with cold water (an additional 7 cups).

Step 2: Add kefir grains to sugar water, cover with a coffee filter and secure with a rubber or metal band.


Step 3: Place jar in a warm spot in your home, we put ours on top of the refrigerator (68-75 degrees is ideal). Allow to ferment for 24-48 hours*.  

Step 4: After 24-48 hours, strain water kefir through a non-metallic, fine mesh colander, collecting the grains in the strainer. Store water kefir in the refrigerator and sip the probiotic benefits daily.


Step 5: Using the collected kefir grains, follow steps 1-4 to begin your next batch.

If your grains grow and double in size, you can make a gallon or more at a time (increase the sugar to 1 cup). If ½ gallon is too much, you can gift half your grains to a friend and make one quart at a time (decrease sugar to ¼ cup). Ideally, you should have ¼ cup grains per half-gallon vessel.

Flavoring Water Kefir

You’ve made your water kefir (pretty simple, right?), but the fun isn’t over yet. You can drink your water kefir as is, or flavor it a myriad of delicious ways.

Peach Italian Soda. Toss half an organic frozen peach (or other fruit) into the jar with the grains to flavor the kefir while it’s fermenting.

Probiotic Lemonade. Pour water kefir into a cup and add a splash of organic lemon juice - my husband thinks this tastes just like the neon-colored gatorade he used to drink on a daily basis!

Ginger-Lime. Squeeze ¼ of a lime into your water kefir and a splash of organic ginger juice (this is my current obsession) — if you’re feeling crazy, add a splash of organic vodka for a faux Moscow Mule.

Fizzy Kefir (any flavor). If you’d like a bubbly, carbonated drink, follow these directions for second fermenting your water kefir.

Troubleshooting Tips

Fermenting time and temperature. Kefir will ferment faster or slower depending on the temperature of your home. If kefir tastes too sweet, allow it to ferment an additional 12-24 hours and taste again. If kefir tastes “yeasty”, make a fresh batch and taste after 12-24 hours.

Type of sugar to feed your grains. There are many different sugars that can be used when making water kefir. I use organic evaporated cane juice. Sugars that are higher in minerals can sometimes cause damage to the kefir grains, but are great to use in moderation to add minerals to sluggish grains. It’s not recommended to use honey as it contains its own bacteria, this may cause grains to die. Read this article for more information on different sugars

New kefir grains. If your water kefir is tasting “off” (too sweet or too sour) and you ordered kefir grains through the mail, make two or three batches of kefir before throwing in the towel. Kefir grains can easily become out of balance, and may take a few "feedings” (batches) before regulating the proper bacteria:yeast ratio.

Bubbles and carbonation. Oftentimes tiny bubbles will float to the surface during fermentation, this is completely normal. However, a lack of bubbles is also OK. For soda-like carbonation to occur you will have to do a second ferment in an airtight bottle, such as the flip-top bottles in the photo above (called grolsh bottles).

Kefir has an off-putting odor. Water kefir should have a nice, slightly sweet aroma or it may smell slightly sour (but never unpleasant). If your grains are new, give them a few batches for the bacteria:yeast ratio to normalize. Next look at the fermenting time and temperature (see above). If kefir is still smelling “yeasty”, try adding ⅛ of a washed, organic lemon while fermenting the next couple batches. This will help normalize the yeast by increasing the acidity.

Cloudy looking kefir. It’s normal for water kefir to appear cloudy during fermentation. Some grains turn water cloudy, some don’t. Both are normal.

Multiplying grains. It’s common for water kefir grains to grow and double in size, although this doesn’t always happen. To promote the growth of your grains it’s important to use filtered water. You can also try adding one of the following during fermentation: a few, unsulfered organic raisins, ½ tsp organic molasses or half a washed, pastured egg shell. The mineral content in these items can help encourage grains to grow.

Over-mineralization. If your grains become slimy, mushy or begin to break apart it’s possible your grains are getting too many minerals. This can also cause your water kefir to be syrupy. If you have high mineral content in your water, be sure your sugar doesn’t also have high mineral content (coconut sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar, etc.).

Over-fermentation. What if you forget about your water kefir for more than 48 hours? Chances are, if it’s only been a few days, they’re fine. Taste the water kefir, and if it’s not too strong, enjoy it and start a new batch right away as it’s likely your grains are very hungry! If you forgot about your kefir for more than 6 days, it's unlikely your grains will recover. But try a few batches and see if you can revive them. If not, you’ll have to buy more grains and start again. (Sad, sad day.)

Storing kefir grains. It’s possible to store kefir grains for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator. Simply make a fresh batch of sugar water, add kefir grains, secure a coffee filter on top and place in the refrigerator. The cold temperature will slow down fermentation. For longer storage, you can dehydrate your grains and keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months (see below).

Dehydrating kefir grains. To dehydrate grains simply rinse with filtered water, place on unbleached parchment paper and leave out at room temperature for 3-5 days. Store in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator. This is perfect if you want to take a break from making kefir for a while, if you want to give kefir grains as a gift, or if you want to have some backup grains "just incase".

We Want to Hear From You!

Congratulations! You’re now helping improve your gut health by introducing probiotics in a healthy, and delicious way. Let us know your favorite flavors or share your new flavoring discoveries.

Kelsey Steffen is a aspiring farmer, wife, mom of four, and homeschool educator in northern Idaho. Join Kelsey and her family over at Full of Days as they blog about life in the Steffen household, and follow along on Facebook and Twitter. Read all of Kelsey’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

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

How to Make Your Own Pancetta

Pancetta Finished 20161016 550 pxl

Pork Belly is Back

Among the mainstream, pork belly has risen from an obscure reference in a movie to the top dog in many kitchens - both commercial and home. Its availability and ease in preparation with excellent results make it a great “starter” meat for those wanting to learn about curing meat at home.

I took this recipe from Dry-Curing Pork by Hector Kent [1]. It is an excellent book that starts with several short chapters explaining the process, then moves to recipes with increasing levels of difficulty and a “lesson” to be learned with each new one.

My two takeaways from this experience: start using metric units for charcuterie, because it makes the math and measurement easier; and second, my spare refrigerator may not be the right equipment to use for dry curing. I’ll explain later.

I chose to try pancetta because I have become interested in spaghetti carbonara - a dish that I have never eaten but was fascinated by the concept of a sauce made from egg, cheese and cured meat. The recipes call for a cured meat such as guanciale, pancetta or bacon. Because pork belly is far easier to find than pork jowls used for guanciale, I took the path of least resistance, used the belly and made pancetta. Since this was a test run, I used a small piece of pork belly that did not allow me to roll the meat for drying in the traditional Italian style.

The Metric System Will Not Hurt You!

When dry curing, the percentages or ratios become very important, especially when it comes to adding the salt. Too much and it is too salty and dry, too little and it will not cure properly and may be dangerous. These additions are based on a percentage of the starting weight of the meat — therefore, it is important to use measurements of weight such as grams, ounces and pounds. Do not use units of volume such as cups, tablespoons and teaspoons.

Using the metric system makes all of the calculations easier, and most scales that you are using for your home charcuterie efforts should have both Imperial and Metric units. Take the leap now and convert to metric — it will make things easier in the long run.

Here is the recipe and process.

Homemade Pancetta (Italian Bacon) Recipe


• Pork Belly, 1060 gm (approx. 2lbs, 5oz)
• Dry Cure Ingredients
• Salt, 29.15 gm (2.75% of 1060 gm)
• Black Pepper, 5.3 gm, lightly toasted (0.5% of 1060 gm)
• White Pepper, 2.65 gm, lightly toasted (0.25% of 1060 gm)
• Garlic Powder, 2.65 gm (0.25% of 1060 gm)
• Rosemary, 2.65 gm (0.25% of 1060 gm)
• Cure #1, 2.65 gm (0.25% o
1060 gm)
• 2 Bay Leaves, crumbled
• Juniper Berries were included in the recipe, but I did not have any at the time. If you want to add some, add 2.65 gm.


1. Mix together dry cure ingredients.

2. Cover all surfaces of pork belly in cure.

3. Place in a 1-gallon zip-lock plastic bag.

4. Refrigerate one week, flipping daily.

5. Remove from the bag, rinse with water and dry

6. I did not roll mine. Instead, I put two holes in opposite corners and hung it to dry in my refrigerator with a bowl of salted water to add some humidity.  

7. After about 6 weeks, I started tasting the pancetta. You can start “testing” it at about 4 weeks. Use part or all of it when you think it is ready. It is safe to eat without cooking.

Pancetta Hanging 20160712 550 pxl


This is still a work in progress as about a pound and a half of my pancetta is still hanging in the refrigerator. The flavors are supposed to intensify and meld with time. I plan to use some with mashed potatoes or mac and cheese at Thanksgiving.

I did use about 8 ounces to make Spaghetti Carbonara and liked using it. The pancetta was tasty but a little dry. I do not think it was the salting process but more from the lack of humidity in the refrigerator. I expected this to be a problem and need to examine ways of increasing humidity without causing a mold problem. I also think I need to start with a thicker piece of pork belly. Maybe I’ll try to track down a belly from a heritage breed.

Any advice from you folks would be greatly appreciated.

I want to thank everyone that wrote me or commented on my last post about figs. Who knew figs had such a devoted following? I’m pretty sure Mary talked me out of moving the fig tree and Beth’s suggestion of pickling the figs totally piqued my interest. The tree/bush has put on a second batch of figs that I hope I can harvest before it gets too cold.

The holidays are just around the corner. Does anybody have a really great, significant or sentimental recipe that they want to share? It looks like we are hosting around 25 people for Thanksgiving this year, and I was thinking about trying something new this year. Let me know and maybe I can post a few.


Hector Kent. Dry-Curing Pork: Make Your Own Prosciutto, Salami, Pancetta, Bacon, and More! (Woodstock, VT, United States: Countryman Press, 2014), 59–61.

Photos by Jennifer Hudson 

Ed Hudson is a biochemist for NASA in Houston. His free time is filled with gardening and an ongoing list of Food Preservation Projects with his lovely wife, Jennifer. You can read more MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts from Ed here and contact him via email at He is always looking for comments, new ideas and suggestions.

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

Cultivating and Cooking with Swedish Whitebeam Berries

Swedish whitebeam ripe berries 

There is a fascinating story to Swedish Whitebeam (Sorbus intermedia). Everywhere in northern Europe there are avenues planted with it. In big cities, the like of Stockholm or Hamburg as well as there are small country roads, leading to the edge of nowhere, lined with whitebeam trees about everywhere. I believe it’s the most common avenue tree between polar circle and about 52nd lat.

But why is that? You might get a clue, when you hear the German word for it: Mehlbeere, which translates to “meal-berry”.

Cooking with Swedish Whitebeam Berries

Swedish whitebeam berries are ripe about the end of September. Middle of September last fields of grain are harvested here. Now, if grain harvest wasn’t good, perhaps due to bad weather or fungus, people used the berries of Swedish whitebeam to supplement or sometime even substitute grain.

The flesh has a mild, somewhat “boring” flavor, while the seeds, once ground, develop a pleasant marzipan type flavor, and are rich on fat. So even in terms of nutrients these berries are a good substitute for grain. They, of course, aren’t grass, so they are lacking gluten. So, for backing purposes, berry meal would need wheat or spelt added to.

Our ancestors used to dehydrate berries and grind them in a grain mill, which is an awkward process and not every modern grain mill would take the oily seeds.

So, if I bake traditional whitebeam bread, I would just shred fresh or frozen berries finely in a blender and use the pulp, instead of water, to make dough of wholesome wheat or spelt meal and yeast. A drop of maple syrup or honey and a pinch of salt would enhance flavor.

We traditionally eat buttered whitebeam bread along with autumn’s first pumpkin soup.

There is another kind of whitebeam, the large or “German” whitebeam (Sorbus aria). Its berries are much larger and have rather big pits which are bitter in taste. It grows in areas south of Swedish whitebeam’s habitat. I am not sure can you use its berries as well. Since those trees are not as tolerant against minus temperatures and cold wind, they wouldn’t grow here and I am not really familiar with their use.

Besides baking bread, Swedish whitebeam berries can be used for to make jam, but should be blended with more tasty berries or apples. They also can be dried and used instead of raisins for baking. Especially when they are dried first and then soaked with black rum, they would add a nice “Christmas-type” taste to cake or cookies. Dehydrated and then shredded berries make a nice marzipan-flavored fruit infusion.

Cultivating Swedish Whitebeam

The sturdy little trees won’t grow much taller than about 30 feet. They are highly resistant against strong wind and salt, here they have to frequently put up with winds around 100 mph, being exposed to salt spray.

They would grow in any soil, but if you want to sufficiently harvest berries, it shouldn’t be too poor or too low on PH. Swedish whitebeam seeds need rather cold temperatures to germinate, but the tree itself can do without regular frost, if summers are not too warm. In cold temperate and subarctic climates, Swedish whitebeam can behave a little invasive, especially on fertile ground. Its seeds would  germinate everywhere, even on roofs, old rotten fence posts or in gaps or joints of buildings.

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 connect with her on Facebook. Read all of Marion's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

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

Making Boiled Cider, with Recipe for Scalloped Apples


Reduced cider is the secret ingredient. All through the year, a bit of cider reduced to a syrup adds deep apple flavor to so many recipes. It’s no work, very economical, and your house will smell fabulous all day! Choose a cool fall day, rainy or not.

How to Boil Apple Cider

Pour a gallon or even just ½ gallon of fresh apple cider into a big stainless pot. I often start with a gallon, drink a couple glasses because it’s so delicious and then reduce it, so I start with about ¾ gallon in a 6-quart pot.

It isn’t apt to boil over. Set it over high heat and bring to a boil. Turn the burner down to medium and keep the cider at a slow boil until it reduces to half, then turn down the heat a little more and let the cider simmer until it’s reduced to about 1/3 of the original volume. It will be darker and about the consistency of warm maple syrup.

Let the cider cool, then pour it into wide-mouth jars and freeze. I keep mine on the door shelf of the freezer, along with yeasts and ginger puree. Right there, ready to use. Don’t be tempted to add cinnamon stick or other spices — they could become bitter and, reduced that much, you won’t have control of the flavor.

Add your boiled cider to apple pie and apple crisp, apple cakes and breads, and any other recipe that will benefit from a shot of pure apple flavor, adjusting the liquid in your recipe. It keeps a year or more in the freezer. Since the cider contains natural sugars from the apples, it doesn’t freeze quite solid, so it’s easy enough to scoop out a spoonful.

GMO Warning: The GMO apple could be appearing in markets soon. The varieties are ‘Arctic Golden’ and ‘Arctic Granny’. You’ll want to check the little sticker on apples to be sure you avoid buying these “frankenapples."

Scalloped Apples Recipe

I made the 2 person size pictured; you can multiply the ingredients and increase the baking dish size for as many servings as you wish, allowing about 4 inches square and 1 good sized apple for each.


• 2 good-sized apples that bake well such as Golden, Granny, Greening.  I used fresh Galas.
• 2 tbsp organic cane sugar
• ½ tsp best-quality cinnamon
• 2 tbsp unsalted butter plus a little for the baking dish
• 2 tbsp boiled cider
• Optional interesting things to add: Diced dried apricots, raisins soaked in rum, dried cherries, chopped walnuts, or pecans.


1. Butter your baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Peel and core the apples and cut them lengthwise into ½-inch wedges.

3. In a small bowl, stir the cinnamon into the sugar. Melt the butter and stir in thoroughly. Now, add in the boiled cider. If the cider is ice cold, the butter will clump up — no matter, just stir until it’s evenly distributed.

4. Arrange the apple wedges in the buttered baking dish, packing them in pretty tight. Spoon the sugar-cider mixture over as evenly as you can.

5. Bake for about 40 minutes. Halfway through, use a spoon to baste the apples with the syrup in the dish. Some might top a serving with whipped cream or ice cream.


Cover and refrigerate. For breakfast, serve them cold with yogurt or warmed and stirred into oatmeal. To top a waffle? Or just leave it out and somebody will come along and finish them.

Wendy Akin is a 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 our Terms of Agreement and to follow blogging best practices. They are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Grass vs. Grain: Improving the Nutritional Profile of Beef (And Making Pastured Meat More Affordable)

Grass Fed Beef Nutrition 

Working within a traditional diet, we save a large portion of our grocery budget for quality meat and dairy. It’s a harsh reality, but they do carry a hefty price tag. Unless, of course, you live on a farm and can buy your own cow, you’re going to fork over some hard earned cash for these products. We’re hopeful this post will shed some light on ways to lessen the financial burden while choosing the highest quality food for your family.

(For more tips on saving money check out these posts: Sourcing Raw Milk, Cutting Costs in a Real Food Kitchen, and How to Save Money on Dairy.)

Strolling through the meat department at the grocery store can make anyone’s head start to spin. The choices seem endless, where does one even begin?

I used to stop looking at words and just look for the best price tag, then toss the meat into my cart and call it a day. These days, I’m looking for quality, but seeing $9.99 for one pound of pasture-raised ground beef makes my head spin! Does anyone else feel the same? Which leads to the question…

Is Grass-Fed Really Best?

In short, YES! But at almost three times the cost, I’m guessing you’ve wondered how much better while staring at all those packages of beef.

There are so many unknowns when it comes to the health benefits of grass vs. grain-fed: Is it really that much healthier than grain-fed? Is the price tag worth it? If not, I’d rather save that extra money and buy some organic oreos (I tease). So what’s the true benefit of this somewhat cost-prohibitive meat?

Grass vs. Grain

While all cows start out the same (drinking milk at birth then free ranging for the first few months of life), grass-fed/grass-finished cows remain on pasture (or hay) for the remainder of their life. Grain-fed cows are moved to CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or “feedlots”) between 3 and 12 months of life where they remain until they’re butchered.

Often, these feedlots are overcrowded and unsanitary. The abysmal living quarters bring the possibility for disease, so the cows are routinely given antibiotics just in case. Since the money’s in the meat, the more cows each farm can produce the better, so cows are given growth hormones to speed up the rate at which they put on weight.

And no, these antibiotics and hormones don’t magically disappear once butchered, rather these toxins are stored in the fat and consumed by us where they can wreak havoc on our bodies.

Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef

You’ve heard it said, “You are what you eat”. The truth is, you are what you eat eats, too! The antibiotics and hormones cows receive actually change their nutritional makeup. Grass-fed beef can have slightly less saturated and monounsaturated fats while maintaining similar omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.

The real difference is in the omega-3 fatty acid composition. This is where grass-fed beef is the clear winner, consisting of nearly five times the omega-3s as grain-fed. Grass-fed comes out on top again with twice the Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). CLA is known to reduce body fat, aid immune system function, and even ward off certain types of cancer.

Both meats contain ample amounts of vitamins and minerals (such as B12, B3 and B6, iron, selenium and zinc) and contain protein, creatine and carnosine (all important for the development and function of the brain and muscles). However grass-fed beef has more potassium, iron, zinc, phosphorus and sodium than grain-fed and contains Vitamins A and E (which our cells store to protect from oxidation).

Grass-Finished is Equally as Important

Be a label reader! You may be disappointed when you find out that “grass-fed” beef wasn’t grass-finished as well. Sadly, some, but not all, grass-fed beef is finished with grain. This is a practice some farmers use to both pack on extra weight and creating the preferred “marbling of fat” throughout the meat (which gives it a good “grade”). So does grain-finishing beef change the nutritional makeup?

You bet it does! The ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids are completely altered after a mere 30 days on grain and many of the nutritional benefits are eradicated by grain-finishing. Don’t be fooled by tricky labeling — if it doesn’t say “grass-finished” on the package, it’s worth spending 10 minutes calling the company and getting some clarification.

Marketers are brilliant when it comes to wording on a package. As long as we, the consumers, feel happy about the product, we’ll buy! But trust me when I say beef that’s not grass-finished isn’t worth the extra money, especially when it’s not much better than the CAFO version sitting right next to it.

Making Quality Meat More Affordable

Unless you’re willing to sell a kidney to fund your grass-fed beef supply, you may feel buying sub-par beef is your only option. Not so fast, keep those organs intact and check out these tips for saving money on grass-fed, grass-finished beef:

Buy a whole cow. Are there any local farms willing to sell you a whole cow? How about a farm within a 100-mile radius? Even with the drive buying a whole, half or even quarter of a cow can be worth it. If this isn’t a financial reality, see about going in on a whole cow with five or six families, then divide it. We bought half a cow that averaged out to $3.50 per pound (even for ribeye, ya’ll!), it lasted our family of six about 14 months. Do the math — if you have the freezer space, this is probably the best money-saving option.

Become a farmer. Too obvious? Well, if you’re not ready for your own farm, look into the possibility of a local farmer who already raises cattle that might be willing to raise an extra cow (from calf to slaughter) for an agreed upon fee. Some farmers even have the means to butcher and process the meat, saving loads of money in butchering and packaging fees. Worth the mention, even if it is a long-shot!

Buy from a friend. Not an option for everyone, especially those within city limits, but do you have a friend with a few acres of land? Farmland is in no short supply up in the Idaho Panhandle, and our state offers livestock tax exemptions for raising a certain number of cattle on your property. This can be mutually beneficial as it allows a family to raise their own food, as well as getting a tax break and making a few bucks by selling an additional cow to you!

Make friends with your butcher. The last time I picked up meat from our local processor, they mentioned that offal (organ meats) are frequently left behind. Color me surprised when I asked if they’d consider selling it and they said, “just stop by, if we have some you can have it, free of charge!”

Buy in bulk. No, not a whole cow, but our local meat processor offers deeper discounts on purchases of 20 pounds or more. After chatting with our butcher, we ended up buying a 20 pound, untrimmed top-round and turned it into the best jerky! (Check out our recipe here!) Which leads me to my next tip...

Buy off-cuts. Sure ribeyes and New York strips are delicious, but they’ll eat up your budget in a heartbeat. Inexpensive cuts like stew-beef and roasts can make delicious meals when cooked “low and slow”.

Try offal. If you haven’t tried offal I feel it’s my duty to let you know you’re missing out on some of the most delicious parts of the animal. Because they’re less common, many butchers will be willing to sell them at more affordable prices. For more information on offal, read this post. And if you’re not sure how to cook with offal, check out our delicious Tacos de Lengua recipe.

Do you have any additional tips and tricks for stretching your meat budget? Please, share them with us in the comments!

Kelsey Steffen is a aspiring farmer, wife, mom of four, and homeschool educator in northern Idaho. Join Kelsey and her family over at Full of Days as they blog about life in the Steffen household, and follow along on Facebook and Twitter.

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.