Real Food

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

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Elderberry Syrup and Elderflower Cordials

Most great ideas start small. That’s how Katie and Ben Reneker, founders of the Carmel Berry Company, started out, handcrafting small batches of syrups and cordials with elderberries or elderflowers wild harvested or grown on their small farm. My wife, Lisa Kivirist, and I caught up with her during a tour of the El Pajaro Community Development Corporation’s non-profit kitchen incubator in Watsonville, California, during a book tour for our latest book, Homemade for Sale. We’re always excited when incubator kitchens are started up, fostering and supporting the next generation of food micro-entrepreneurs.

“In 2014, we planted the elderberries to see if they would actually grow where we live,” says Katie Reneker, who resides with her husband and two young kids in Carmel Valley, California.

“We were able to harvest our first flowers and berries last year and began making and selling our Elderberry Syrup and Elderflower Cordial. They’ve been a huge hit, so we’ve been working with local farmers and learning to farm ourselves so that we can have enough plants to meet the demand.”

Homemade for Sale

Like a growing number of food entrepreneurs around the country, they launched their food enterprise from their home kitchen, thanks to the California Homemade Food Act, one of the most comprehensive and entrepreneur-supportive laws of any state in the country. This “cottage food law” allows California residents to sell up to $50,000 worth of certain, state-approved, non-hazardous foods made right in their own kitchens. has the most complete summary, state by state, of current laws, plus a way to connect with and learn from other Cottage Food Operators, or CFOs.

For Reneker, the cottage food laws in California were key to making her dream a reality. “Starting in a commercial kitchen is a much larger financial commitment — not only rent and extra training, but also a whole different set of pots and utensils approved for commercial kitchens. With the CFO license, I’ve been able to test the viability of my business without any of those costs.”

Artisan, Small-Batch, and Nutrient-Rich

Using the highest quality, organic and locally sourced ingredients, Reneker transforms elderberries and elderflowers into a high-value, shelf-stable bottled product that does not require refrigeration. “We decided to keep our syrup light and fresh, with minimal processing. It’s yummy mixed into sparkling water or cocktails and desserts as well as taken straight.”

Raspberries or blueberries, they’re not. “You can’t eat elderberries raw unless you want a stomach ache as they contain a cyanide-like compound in the seeds,” she cautions about their toxicity when uncooked.

“I learned about elderberries looking for a natural remedy for the colds my children brought home from school. They’re super high in antioxidants, vitamin C, and other vitamins. But most elderberry products are made in Europe and I wanted a local option.” As it turns out, the native elderberries grow quite well in the Carmel Valley area.

Time-Saving Bottling Process

“I use a hot-fill method, which means that I don’t have to water-bath can my products, saving me so much time,” explains Reneker, on her discovery of a way to streamline her processing. “As long as the empty glass bottles and my liquid are sufficiently hot and I’m using a lid lined with Plastisol, I can simply fill and screw on the lid. No more fishing around in pots of boiling water!”

She did have to do a bit of educating, when it came to secure the approval from her local health department, which in California (unlike many other states), is the governmental agency administering and enforcing the cottage food laws. “I needed to take a sample of this method to my health department since they had never had a Cottage Food Operator use it before,” admits Reneker.

“Plastisol lined lids are now available with most common jam/jelly type jars,” she adds. “I got mine from Ebottles and Fillmore Containers online which carry specialty bottles.”

Carmel Berry Company Elderberry Syrup

Great-Looking Cottage Food Product

“I wanted a bottle wide enough to show a beautiful label, and short enough that it would fit on a regular store shelf, and unique to catch one’s eye,” says Reneker. “I decided on the flask shape because it reminded me of an old apothecary bottle and as elderberries have been used in folk medicine for ages.”

“Now that I know that people like what I am making, I’m willing to invest in commercial kitchen costs,” admits Reneker about future plans. “There are only so many jars that fit on my kitchen counter, and only so many times I can fill a jar with a ladle and funnel without my arm falling off.”

“I’ll spend another year or two as a CFO,” she adds. “Then I’ll hopefully have learned how to fly well enough before I spread my wings and jump!”

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently,9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10-kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John'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.



When was the last time you thought of the food you ate as medicine to feed both your body but also your well being? I think we as Americans overeat both to fill the void of sadness in us but also due to “food” lacking full nutrition. We are overweight because we are malnourished.

Growing up, my mother believed that we shouldn’t eat any white food due to lack of nutrition, so we didn’t eat white flour, white sugar, cauliflower, and we even tried to stay away from the white pasta, instead opting to eat whole-grain pasta.

Our diets are high in whole grains, including oats and legumes such as black beans, while eating lots of greens. The nice thing about Tennessee and Alabama where I mostly grew up is that greens grow throughout the winter. In Illinois where I reside now, greens grow outside and lots of local farmers are getting hoop-house greenhouses to grow all winter more easily.

our bus greenhouse

Although I grew up predominately vegetarian, a big part of that reasoning was that we did not have refrigeration for storage, and meat is very expensive compared to other proteins.

My family has always been very interested in the medical field with a few CNAs (certified nursing assistants), a couple of EMTs (emergency medical technicians), an RN (registered nurse), an herbalist, and an WFR (wilderness first responder) all part of our family.

Eating for Health

I think the hardest thing for me to do is to actually chew my food. I try to chew my food 10 times for each forkful. Eat a variety of vegetables, the more color the better.


Other than tomatoes, I understand that heat makes vegetables lose their nutrition, so the less you cook them, the better.

Eat locally both to help the local economy but also local food is exposed to the same soil and air bacteria that you are and have, therefore, developed a bacterial and nutrient profile to help you. I have read studies for honey that promote this idea, so why not follow the guideline for all food? I also find that when I eat locally, I tend to be more satisfied and eat less.

our eggs

Knowing your farmer also tends to provide a mental satisfaction while you are eating their food.

Food as Preventative Medicine

Don’t sacrifice buying the better food. A $1 burger doesn’t include the later cost of the quadruple bypass surgery. I am willing to pay extra for good, local, ideally organic food so I don’t have to pay for hospital visits later.

Do you automatically pop an antacid or aspirin instead of figuring out what is causing your pain? Did you know that mint or ginger is great for upset stomach? I love my mint-ginger tea.

Did you know that the cancer-prevention power of turmeric is only unlocked if mixed with oil? I love making curried rice with local fresh ginger and turmeric toasted in coconut oil.

Herbs as Part of Food

My mother had the joy and luck to study under grandpa Amoneeta, a traditional medicine man. Anytime I want my mother to teach me, I point to a plant and call it a weed. I am then prepared for the multitude uses of that plant. She knows common names for plants and their uses but no official Latin names, nor does she look up studies on whether it works.

Why are some herbs considered spices and others considered medicine? Why can’t they be both?

Instead of the hassle of ingesting herbs as medicine, figure out how to add it to food. If you do make tea, try not to make it too hot as that kills the medicine of the herb. The best way to brew tea is to get a one-gallon old pickle jar or any gallon jug and let it sit out in the sun to slow-brew it. Otherwise slow-brew it on low heat like over the woodstove or put over the pilot light on a gas stove.

Since my mom doesn’t sell her herbal mixes, I have found someone that does similar herb mixes for my friends.

Using Modern Medicine

Although I have picked up and read the book Where There is no Dentist out of my medical interest, I believe getting an annual cleaning and checkup is very important. Never compromise on teeth or eyes as they are the only ones you have.

Modern medicine has recently started to focus on preventative care but historically has only been a way of last resort or once things have already gone bad. There needs to be a balance.

I have never shunned modern medicine but try not to use it. I have always liked sleeping outside or with my window open but when I was a kid I had my lungs damaged breathing polluted air from a nearby fertilizer plant that dumped at night. I got whooping cough and pneumonia in the middle of the summer and that damaged my lungs. Every couple of years, I have a re-occurence of whooping cough and need antibiotics. It is all about balance.

I look forward everyday 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 Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous 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.


My freezer is full of beef fat and I finally rendered tallow for cooking oil. We raise some pastured beef for our family, and while we enjoy the grass-fed beef, we have been slower to learn the art of cooking with homemade oil.  I pay top dollar for organic vegetable oils and here I’ve got bags of animal fat in my freezer. Why have I been avoiding them?

First, it’s a new skill for me to render oil, albeit a simple one, but something I’ve never done before. It often takes extra motivation to try something new. It might hang out on my wish list for a year before finally making it to the “do it today” list. Then, after I know how to do it, it is easier to integrate into daily living.

It turns out that rendering oil is as simple as heating the fat at a low temperature for a long time and then straining it into a jar. Just like that, a jar of lovely pure cooking oil. Well, why didn’t you say so?!


Rethinking the War on Animal Fats

Second, I didn’t grow up using animal fats except butter. I was raised in the 1970s and 80s, when the oil industry was busy selling us “healthier” oils than butter, tallow, and lard — those were farm products. It might have been my grandmother’s generation that raised the animals and milk to create these foods, but industry worked hard to convince those families that purchased vegetable oils were healthier than the free lard from the meat freezer.

Michael Pollan writes in his book In Defense of Food:

Part of what drove my grandparents’ food culture from the American table was official scientific opinion, which, beginning in the 1960s, decided that animal fat was a deadly substance. And then there were the food manufacturers, which stood to make very little money from my grandmother’s cooking, because she was doing so much of it from scratch— up to and including rendering her own cooking fats. Amplifying the “latest science,” they managed to sell her daughter on the virtues of hydrogenated vegetable oils, the ones that we’re now learning may be, well, deadly substances.

Pollan dedicates a good part of chapter tracing the curvy line of “scientific” health claims that the public is supposed to follow, from non-fat to low-fat and all over the place. The only consistent healthy vegetable oil claim I can see is about extra-virgin olive oil. Olive oil is good for you, but its heating point it so low that this oil is best reserved for raw application, such as in salad dressing, adding to hummus, and drizzling over bread. Now I have been reading about fraud in the olive oil industry for passing off lower quality oils as extra-virgin olive oil, as well as claims of completely fake olive oil made from other vegetable oils.  

Reading Pollan’s review of the history of oil and marketing tricks of the food industry, I feel even more compelled to rebel from the system to produce homemade oils. I was equally empowered to make my own mayonnaise when I learned more about the food industry history. As I produce eggs, meat and animal fat along with plenty of organic vegetables, this is how it used to be done on family farms. It is time to bring these products back home.  

Here is an excerpt from Pollan’s book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. For a little deeper understanding of different kinds of oils and their health qualities, the Weston Price Foundation has a comprehensive review of oils: The Skinny on Fats.

Rendering Tallow for Homemade Cooking Oil

I used a MOTHER EARTH NEWS article as my guide in rendering tallow.

I put the chunks of fat into a big turkey roaster with the top on, heated in the oven at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for hours to slowly melt the chopped beef fat. I think it would be safe to use an uncovered glass casserole dish, but I was making sure it didn’t splatter all over the oven.

The covered container worked fine, but my guide says to keep it uncovered and I’ll do that next time. You want a wide container for more surface area, making the turkey pan an ideal choice. Cast iron would also work well, or a heavy casserole dish.

The low-heat technique worked great and produced beautiful buttery yellow oil. I hardly needed to strain it as I poured it into a jar.

"Slow and low" is the most effective technique. Patience is worth it with rendering oil. I would avoid instructions that recommend high temperatures, as high as 400 degrees — you will be cooking the oil at that temperature, and probably splattering it all over, instead of melting it. It will have a stronger, cooked aroma. I read that blending it the food processing speeds up the process, but this didn’t work well for me at all. Instead of just pouring off the beautiful oil, I spent time straining the thick pulp from the oil and it wasn’t as clean an oil. It is better to start with chunks of fat, as it separates nicely and barely needs straining. I saw notes on using a crock pot and I suspect that would work well.

I am amazed that a bag of nasty-looking chunks of fat so simply created two beautiful jars of pure cooking oil. Of course, we had to test it out right away with a batch of French fries. So, it was hamburgers and French fries for dinner. Our own pastured burgers on the grill, frying up some heirloom Kennebec potatoes from last summer’s harvest, home-canned pickles from the pantry, homemade mayo, and kim chi from the fridge, and a salad from the hoophouse. It was a home-grown meal to remember — including the homegrown cooking oil!

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm's Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene'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.


Students working at the food lab, Cornell.

Most, if not all States at least at some level, require training and licensing of individuals that wish to produce and market food products for sale. While this article was written specifically with New York State residents, it was also prepared to make the general public aware of the issues associated with improperly prepared and packaged food products, which are offered for sale. Anyone interested in going into this business, check with county and state agencies that administer food processing licenses and regulations. In addition to county/state regulations, preparation and packaging of certain food products, such as pickles, may require involvement with the Food and Drug Administration.

When I began thinking about starting a small specialty-food business using my home as a base, I had little knowledge of food processing regulations. Like many folks, I enjoyed cooking for friends, and over the years, developed a number of recipes in which I was encouraged to package and market some of them.

Who Certifies Cottage Food Businesses?

So began the process of finding which agency had jurisdiction over the types of products that I wished to make and sell. I learned that the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets had that responsibility. I called their offices in Albany, explained my intentions and was advised to contact the inspector for my region. I made that call and a representative came to my home to review my proposal with me.

During his visit, I not only learned that a second kitchen would be required, but I would need a Food Processing License and my recipes would have to be reviewed and approved by the Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship (NECFE), also known as the New York State Food Venture Center, a part of the Department of Food Science at Cornell University, before production and sales could begin.

Things were becoming complicated very quickly! To make a long story reasonably short, I complied with the State’s regulations and began sales during the summer of 1993.

As a matter of routine, I provided potential customers with a letter explaining the history of our company. It advised that Cornell had approved our recipes, we obtained a Food Processing License from the Department of Agriculture and Markets, and we carried product liability insurance as a protective measure.

During that process, I was surprised to find that unless I offered my background information, few, if any vendors asked for my credentials! Thus, the reason I decided to write this article: to make people aware that there are a variety of regulations and procedures that must be followed in order to make certain types of foods for sale.

Complying with Cottage Food Laws

Making and selling processed foods, whether they be sealed jars or refrigerated items for public sale, is a serious undertaking because a variety of food-borne illnesses can occur unless established safety procedures are followed. Bacteria, which can grow in improperly prepared and packaged foods, can cause everything from diarrhea to botulism, a life threatening condition.

The Department of Agriculture and Markets works in concert with Cornell University to develop and enforce a variety of procedures designed to protect the public from potential health issues associated with improperly packaged foods.

For example, when the inspector from Ag and Markets visited my premises and learned that I planned to work from there, he explained that my second kitchen would need three sinks — one to wash utensils, one to disinfect utensils with a Clorox solution and one to wash my hands! (Since that time, I installed a high-temperature dishwasher, helping with the first two requirements).

In order to comply, I built the kitchen to conform to the guidelines provided by the State and began making small batches of the product to send to Cornell for analysis. We began with small samples of our marinara and pesto sauces, and sent them along for evaluation.

In about two weeks, we received a response from the lab, explaining the adjustments that would be required before these two recipes could be approved.

The pH of the Marinara sauce needed to be reduced to a level of 4.2 or below, heated to 195 degrees Fahrenheit, packed in clean jars with lids capable of holding vacuum, and inverted to seal and cool before labeling. The same guidelines were outlined for my pesto.

pH monitoring of pesto, to ensure it below 4.2, the threshold for refrigerated foods.

Reducing Food pH and Safely Canning Food for Sale

Now, I’m faced with two new challenges: what to use as an acidifying agent to lower pH and how to measure that parameter? From my training in chemistry and work as a field biologist, I knew that meters were available that measured pH, and ordered one from a source in Albany.

Because I had no clue about what kind of material to use to lower pH, I called The Food Venture Center at Cornell, and was advised to use vinegar or crystalline citric acid as a mechanism for that process. I chose the citric acid and found that after a few batches, a little went a long way.

So, with citric acid and my new meter, I was able to prepare new batches with a lower pH and re-submit them for analysis. After the recipes were approved, I submitted and received a Food Processing (20-C) license from Ag and Markets, along with guidelines about labeling and record keeping, and we were in business!

Since that time so many years ago, when I began this process to start a home-based food business, the FDA and Agriculture and Markets has established a number of new procedures and regulations for specific products of potential hazard. All of these procedures are designed to ensure that foods being packaged for sale, whether they be hot-packed, shelf-stable or refrigerated, are processed properly and safely.

Sellers’ Contacts for More Information

Individuals in New York interested in making and selling food products will need to contact the sources below. These entities will provide the information you will need to get started on a new food-making venture.p;

Contact the NECFE /Cornell Food Venture Center and request the “Initial Guide.” (315-787-2273; on the Web here; or Google NECFE)

Contact the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets and request information about licensing requirements (518-457-4492 or on Web here) or local Health Department if not in New York State.                              

So you see, making and selling processed foods legally involves more than filling containers with your favorite recipes and selling them at the local farmers market. It requires compliance with a variety of state and perhaps federal regulations and processing guidelines designed to ensure that food products are packaged safely and properly.

In this article, we have provide an overview of the requirements that New York State residents thinking or planning to go into the food business need to be aware of before beginning operation. If you decide to take on this endeavor, be sure to contact the NECFE and Ag and Markets before undertaking production.

If on the other hand, you are an outlet store for food products, be sure to ask potential suppliers to show proof that they are licensed to make the items they wish to sell.

Marinara sauce after processing, and jarring with jars inverted to ensure seal and that the tops are sterilized by heat.

*Note: pH is a measure of hydrogen ion concentration; a measure of acidity, where research has shown that Clostridium botulinum cannot grow in environments, particularly anaerobic (no oxygen), where the pH is below 4.6.

Tony Bonavist is a fisheries biologist by training and worked for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Department for over 25 years. He currently operates Tony B’s Specialty Foods in Hurley, New York.

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.



Usually the words Canadian, spiced rum, boreal herbs and spices, don’t go together. Enter Chic Choc Spiced Rum by Domaine Pinnacle. Usually I write about food, but this time, it’s drink. One does need a little spice in one’s life, after all.

Chic Choc (pronounced Shick Shock) is the perfect way to take a trendy, out of the usual, visit to rustic, eastern Quebec. The Chic Choc Mountains not far from the St. Lawrence Seaway, to be exact.

Mountains? Spice? Oui

Chic Choc starts out life like many rums, mainly in the Caribbean countries of Jamaica, Barbados or Trinidad. Sugar cane gives rise to molasses, which of course can result in rum. The rum then travels northward to Quebec, where it is aged again, about three-eight years, then is infused with six boreal herbs and spices: Peppery Green Alder, lovage root, Pine Forest Spikenard, Whiterod Berries, Sweet Gale Seeds, and Wild Angelica. Not once, but twice. In other words, a Nordic approach to your flavourings.

The Chic Choc Mountains were in fact chosen because the six herbs and spices all grow in that region. I like spiced rum, it’s the rum I prefer rather than the un-spiced versions, so when I heard about this, my ears perked up.

I was also able to secure an interview with the brand ambassador and mixologist for Domaine, Joshua Groom, to get more insight into how this unique product came about, as well as his recipe for the cocktail Lumberjack Kryptonite. Recipe follows. Intrigued? Read on. (I paraphrased some of Joshua’s responses for space reasons.)

Sue: What was the inspiration for this rum?

Joshua: Canada has a long rum history, especially in and near the Maritimes. Chic Choc is a continuation of that tradition. They wanted to create a unique rum that a lot of people would enjoy.

Sue: Why the Chic Choc Mountains?

Joshua: All six of the herbs and spices are native in this region, and they were looking for a balance of several flavours, for example bitter, sweet, peppery.

Sue: What do you do at Domaine Pinnacle?

Joshua: I am their brand ambassador around the world.  I really love my job, as I get to travel around the world.  Last week I was in Scotland, for example. (Please note: Domaine also produces Ungava gin, so gin-making experience undoubtedly helps in producing a spiced rum.)

Sue: How did you come up with this particular cocktail, the Lumberjack Kryptonite?

Joshua: Firstly, we wanted to make sure all the elements are showcased and balanced with the spiced rum. With the Fernet Branca bitters and sherry, we wanted to create a trendy cocktail, something that would appeal to the bartending community as well as the hipster. It started as almost a joke cocktail, because the hipsters wear a lot of plaid {like lumberjack’s jackets}.

Sue: Well, I’m sure you're busy, thank you very much for your time!

That concluded the interview, as Joshua was off to create a cocktail for Hugo Boss. 

So, what is in this cocktail that lumberjacks and plaid wearing hipsters want to drink? Without further adieu, here’s the recipe. Please note, Chic Choc Spiced Rum will be coming to the United States soon, stay tuned.

Lumberjack Kryptonite Recipe


• 30 ml or 1 oz, Chic Choc Spiced Rum
• 15 ml or 0.5 oz Fernet Branca*
• 15 ml or .0.5 oz Luxardo Maraschino (I used - gasp - maraschino cherry juice.  Joshua said simple syrup could also be used.)
• 15 ml or 0.5 oz medium sherry
• Orange zest (Keeping with the cherry theme, I used a cherry.)

Here’s how I did it (not being a bartender): In a large glass measure or similar item, I put in ice cubes, then poured the liquid ingredients over the ice. Stir. I then strained the whole affair into a glass. Makes one cocktail.

How did it taste? Very nice. This is a complex cocktail, and the flavours are very nuanced. Also, very balanced between the bitters, sherry and rum. Not any one stood out over the other. The colour was a beautiful russet or burgundy.

*The Fernet Branca is a bitter, any good bitter can be substituted if you can’t get your hands on the Fernet. Not being a bitters person myself, I do say this is absolutely essential to the cocktail.

This was a neat blog to do, but please, drink responsibly, and don’t ever drink and drive.

Important notes:

This is the main website for Domaine Pinnacle. It tells you more about the company, along with tons more recipes. Last accessed March 30, 2016. This is the Wikipedia page for basic info about the Chic Choc Mountains, with photos and map. Last accessed March 30, 2016.

You can follow Sue van Slooten’s adventures at, and you can email her at Sue teaches cooking and baking classes at her home on beautiful Big Rideau Lake, Rideau Lakes Township, Ontario. She specializes in small classes for maximum benefit. Give her a call, sign up for a class, and she’d love to see you. Read all of Sue’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.


Now, while it’s still cool, bake some delicious rustic breads and stock the freezer for special breakfasts and “high tea.” All the fruits in these breads give the loaves a craggy surface that’s wonderfully crunchy. These all keep for months wrapped well in the freezer. If you get them out the night before, they’ll be ready to slice for breakfast, toasted or not. I often cut the loaves in half before freezing, because six or eight slices will be plenty for a breakfast.

When you invest the time and costly ingredients for breads like this, use the best flour you can find — I’ve listed some of my favorites at the bottom of this post.

Cranberry-Pecan Breakfast Bread Recipe

Makes two 9-by-5 loaves


• 1 cup rye flour
• 1 cup white whole-wheat flour
• 4 cups bread flour in all
• 2 tbsp yeast
• 1 tbsp salt
• 2 Tbsp vital gluten
• 1 tsp diastatic malt (optional, but helpful)
• 1 tbsp best quality cinnamon
• 2 ½ cups milk, heated*
• 2 tbsp butter
• 2 tbsp honey
• 1 cup broken pecans
• scant cup gold raisins
• scant cup dried cranberries

Optional: 2 Tbsp melted butter and some coarse turbinado sugar

Note: I use organic whole milk; if you use a low-fat milk, add some butter.


1. Set up the mixer with the dough hook.

2. Put 2 cups of the bread flour and the rest of the flours and dry ingredients into the bowl, give it a stir to mix.

3. Heat the milk to 105 degrees F, drop in the butter and let it sit a minute until the butter is mostly melted. Add the honey, stir to mix, then pour the liquids into the bowl containing the dry ingredients. With a spoon or spatula, roughly stir to incorporate, then machine-knead 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Put the fruits and pecans into a small bowl or a bag, then add a little of the remaining 2 cups of bread flour into the mix. Stir or shake to give a light coating, which keeps the fruit separated and nicely suspended in the dough.

5. Now, add the fruits and nuts to bowl of dough. Stir with the mixer until they’re mixed in and then add some of the remaining flour, mix and add more of the flour until you have a soft, but firm, dough that will clear the sides of the bowl. (You may not use all of the flour.)

6. Put the dough into your greased rising bucket or bowl and let it rise until almost doubled. The dough won’t fully double, because 3 cups of it is fruits and nuts.

7. Turn the dough onto your floured kneading board, give it a few turns and divide in half. Form two fat loaves and put into your well seasoned bread pans.

8. Allow the bread to rise again, covered, until it’s nearly doubled and nicely rounded over the top of the pan. Allow it time — all that fruit slows it down.

9. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

10. For a shiny, crunchy crust, brush the loaves lightly with melted butter, and sprinkle with coarse turbinado sugar. With a lame or very sharp knife, make a couple slashes on the top of the loaves.

Apple Breakfast Bread Recipe

Makes two 9-by-5 loaves


• 4 cups white whole-wheat flour
• 2 tbsp vital gluten
• heaping tsp diastatic malt (optional but helpful)
• 2 tbsp SAF Gold yeast**
• 1 tbsp salt
• 2 tbsp best quality cinnamon
• ½  tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
• 2 cups bread flour in reserve for later
• 2 cups milk*
• 1/4 cup honey
• 2 tbsp boiled cider***
• 2 tbsp butter
• 1 cup dried apple slices, snipped into ½ inch pieces
• 1 cup gold raisins
• 1 cup broken pecans

Optional: 2 tbsp melted butter and some coarse turbinado sugar


* I use organic whole milk; if you use a low-fat milk, add some butter.

** SAF Gold yeast works better for doughs that include a lot of sugar or butter. It’s not absolutely necessary, but nice to have. You can find it online from King Arthur Flour.

*** Boiled cider: the secret ingredient. If you didn’t boil down some cider last fall, you can use frozen apple juice concentrate.


1. Set up mixer with dough hook. Mix the whole-wheat flour and other dried ingredients together in mixer bowl.

2. Heat the milk to very warm then add the honey, cider and butter. The butter will partially melt. Add to the bowl of flour mixture, stir and then knead with mixer on #4 for 15 minutes. The dough should be smooth.

3. In a small bowl or bag, mix the fruits and nuts, then add a little of the bread flour and stir or toss to lightly coat (this helps to keep them well distributed in the dough). Add to the dough, stir in until well distributed, then gradually add the rest of the bread flour to the dough. Hold back some of the flour — you may not need all of it.

4. With the mixer set on 4, knead until the dough is smooth and cleans the bowl. If the dough still seems too soft, add flour a spoonful at a time until the dough cleans the bowl.

5. Put the dough into your greased rising bucket or bowl and let it rise until almost doubled. (The dough won’t fully double, because 3 cups of it is fruits and nuts.)

6. Turn the dough onto your floured kneading board, give it a few turns, and divide in half. Form two fat loaves and put into your well seasoned bread pans.

7. Allow the bread to rise again, covered, until it’s nearly doubled and nicely rounded over the top of the pan. Allow the loaves time to rise — all that fruit slows it down.

8. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

9. For a shiny, crunchy crust, brush the loaves lightly with melted butter, and sprinkle with coarse turbinado sugar. With a lame or very sharp knife make a couple slashes on the top of the loaves.

10. Bake the loaves for about 50 minutes. If they seem to be browning too fast, you can tent them with foil. The loaves are ready when an instant read thermometer reads 195 degrees F. Turn the loaves out of the pans onto a wire rack and let cool completely before slicing.

11. Wrap as air-tight as possible to freeze.

White Chocolate Apricot Bread

Makes 3 boules, approx 8 inches round

The dough for this bread is delightful. Because of the chocolate, it feels like modeling clay, smooth and elastic. You won’t want to toast this — the chocolate will make a mess of the toaster. Rather, spread the slices with cream cheese or labneh for an elegant treat.


• 6 cups bread flour in all
• 2 tbsp SAF Gold yeast*
• 2 tsp diastatic malt  (opt but helpful)
• scant tbsp salt
• ¼ cup organic sugar
• 12 ounces white chocolate bar
• 2 cups hot water from the tap
• 8 ounces dried apricots
• a little milk to brush the top of the loaves
• (Optional: a bit of coarse turbinado sugar)

* SAF Gold yeast works better for doughs that include a lot of sugar or butter. It’s not absolutely necessary, but nice to have. You can find it online from King Arthur Flour.


1. Prepare the chocolate: cut about ½ cup of little chunks, about ¼ inch. Then, grate the rest of the bar to make 1 cup of grated chocolate. Set aside the chunks.

2. Set up mixer with dough hook.

3. Put 4 cups of the flour and the remaining dry ingredients including the grated chocolate into the mixer bowl and stir to mix.

4. Add the hot water and mix together and then knead on #4 with the dough hook for 5 minutes.

5. Add the remaining 2 cups flour to make a medium-textured elastic dough. Knead until smooth and developed, another 10 minutes or so. The dough will clean the bowl.

6. Put the dough into your rising tub or bowl and allow to rise until doubled, about an hour.

7. Meantime, snip the dried apricots with scissors into quarters.

8. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, knead a few times and pat the dough out to about 12-by-12 inches. The dough should be satiny with a lovely, smooth texture.

9. Embed the apricot pieces and the white chocolate chunks into the dough, pressing them in. Fold the dough and fold again a few times to distribute the chips and apricots. Divide the dough into halves or thirds and form smooth balls, making them rather tall so the loaves bake into a round shape.

10. Allow the loaves to rise, covered, until doubled. About halfway through the rise, use a lame or very sharp knife to cut a cross into the top of the loaf to allow for full rise.

11. Brush with milk to soften the crust. Sprinkle if you wish with a bit of turbinado sugar. Bake at 350 degrees F until the loaves are golden. Thermometer reading 190 degrees.

My Favorite Flour Brands

King Arthur: Bread flour, white whole-wheat and many specialty flours and special ingredients

Homestead Heritage Grist Mill: Freshly ground red whole-wheat, white whole-wheat and corn meals. Grown without chemical input. Note you can purchase wholesale in 10-pound bags. I get it “unsifted” so all the bran is in it.

Azure Farm: Organic. A huge selection of flours including kamut, teff, einkorn, whole rye, and just about any other flour you can imagine. Also, all kinds of beans and other staples.

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 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.


Japanese knotweed 

Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum syn. Fallopia japonica) is an invasive plant with juicy, sour, hollow stems. It is often compared to rhubarb both in taste and texture (crunchy when raw, breaking down into a soft paste when cooked).

I’ve written about how to find and identify this plant here before, or here’s a video that will introduce you to Japanese knotweed. Always be 100-percent certain of your identification before eating any wild plant.

Whatever you do, no not introduce this plant into your area. If it’s already there, make the best of the situation by enjoying its tangy taste raw or cooked, in savory recipes or sweet ones like the one below. But if it doesn’t grow near you be grateful, because it is one of the most invasive and difficult to eradicate plants I know. Sustainability is not an issue when harvesting knotweed!

Eating Knotweed

"Use like rhubarb" is the usual culinary advice with this plant because it has a similar sourness and, like rhubarb, transforms from crunchy to fall-apart soft when cooked.

However, Japanese knotweed's flavor includes grassy notes that rhubarb lacks. That can be pleasant or not depending on how this ingredient is used. Those grassy overtones can be interesting in savory recipes, but weird in deserts. If you want to minimize that “green” aftertaste, be sure to peel the stalks (thanks for the tip, John Kallas).

This recipe is from my book The Forager’s Feast: How to Identify, Gather, and Prepare Wild Edibles.

Sweet and Tangy Knotweed Bars

Yield 16 bars

100 percent of the tanginess in these yummy bars comes from the Japanese knotweed. Frozen knotweed works just as well as fresh in this recipe.


• 1 1/2 cups peeled and finely chopped Japanese knotweed stalks
• 3/4 cup brown sugar, divided
• 4 tbsp water, divided
• 4 tsp cornstarch
• 1 cup rolled oats
• 1/2 cup all purpose flour
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 5 tbsp butter, melted, plus additional for greasing the pan


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease an eight-inch square baking pan with butter or coconut oil.

2. Combine the chopped knotweed stalks, 1/2 cup of the sugar, three tablespoons of the water in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring often, until the knotweed softens and starts to fall apart.

3. Stir the cornstarch and remaining tablespoon of water together until you have a smooth paste. Stir the cornstarch into the knotweed mixture. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Remove from the heat and set aside.

4. In a large bowl, stir together the oats, flour, salt, and remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Add the butter and stir until you’ve got a crumbly but well-combined mixture.

5. Press half of the oat mixture into the baking pan. Spread all of the knotweed filling over the top. Top that with the rest of the oat mixture.

6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Cool completely on a rack, then cut into bars.

Leda Meredith teaches foraging internationally and is the author of several books including The Forager’s Feast: How to Identify, Gather, and Prepare Wild Edibles and Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries. You can find more of her recipes and food adventures on her blog and videos.

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.

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