Real Food

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Gift Bag

If you are like Steve and me, you have several parties and dinners coming up. This is the time of year when home canning over the summer is a real delight – for you and for the hosts that receive your special gift. A jar of homemade jelly or preserves pared with fresh home-baked gingerbread cookies is a welcome treat.

Dandelion Jelly 

This year I also found some really fun gift bags that highlight the canning theme. That was my only expense ($4 each). Everything else I had on hand. If you are cleverer than I am and think ahead, you could stamp or paint customized images on a plain bag. Here’s what you need to make one gift bag.

Materials needed:

• 1 gift bag
• 1 gift tag
• 1 jar jam, jelly, preserves
• 6 gingerbread cookies
• 1 12-inch square of cellophane
• 1 12-inch square of tissue paper (red, white or green)
• 1 plastic sandwich bag
• Twister tie
• Ribbon or yarn


1. Place canned item in the bottom of the bag.

2. Put cookies in a sandwich bag and seal securely. Place the cellophane on the table first, then the tissue, then but the bag of cookies in the middle, pulling up the four corners and making a pouf at the top. Secure with a twister tie. Then tie a ribbon or yarn around the tie to hide it and make the package more festive.

3. Place the wrapped cookies on top of the jar in your gift bag and add a tag. Simple, fun and inexpensive!

Gingerbread cookies out of the oven 

Check out Dede Ryan's Blog to see more of her writing.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and 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. 


 Tea Mug

A bombilla is a Latin American tea straw used to drink yerba mate. Why not use it to enjoy all kinds of loose herbal teas?

I learned about yerba mate from Denise. Denise volunteers on our farm. She drives an hour from the city to spend the day on the farm, a connection to nature for her and a reminder of her mother land of Brazil. One cold day she came to the farm with a canteen of hot water and a traditional drinking gourd filled with tea leaves. She told me they were yerba mate leaves, and she described the traditional ceremony of adding water and passing a drinking gourd around a circle of friends. She showed me the beautiful stainless steel drinking straw, a bombilla, which strained the loose tea from the bottom of the straw. She pours the water at drinking temperature, not piping hot, so she can sip it through the straw.

I was intrigued. I bought yerba mate and a bombilla tea straw at my local food co-op. Yerba mate is a strong caffeinated tea, without the caffeine effects of coffee and with a reputation for significant health benefits. I am not used to caffeine and it still gave me a shaky reaction. But really, it wasn’t the mate I was after. It was the tea straw. I love drinking from stainless steel straws. I love the aesthetic of a collection of tea straws in a mug, ready for friends and tea. I broadened my tea collection to include quality loose teas from Mountain Rose Herbs. I will never go back to Celestial Seasonings. No more “natural flavors” flavoring my tea. I can use the straw to strain a mug of dried herbs from my herb garden, like my own chamomile flowers. Perhaps I will begin to mix my own tea combinations, another branch of the DIY passion. I can personalize the herbs in my mixes. But even without getting into mixing my own teas, drinking loose tea has improved the quality of tea in my life.

I was excited to see Denise the next week. I showed her my mug of herb tea and my tea straw. She looked at my tea and then she looked at me. She smiled and shook her head with an expression that said “Silly American…” She clucked her tongue and said, “Wait ‘til I tell my friends back in Brazil.” 

What?! Here I am, taking in the cultural tools, but I am still breaking the social rules? I know that I am not drinking from a gourd or passing the cup around the circle in traditional manner. But apparently, it is enough of a social faux pas to drink anything but mate from the bombilla. I chuckled. I’m always breaking the rules. I asked Denise, “How do you drink a cup of chamomile tea?” She described the familiar process of putting loose herbs in a tea ball strainer. But, of course.

Wikipedia’s definition confirms Denise’s apprehension of using tea straws for general tea use: “A bombilla (Spanish), bomba (Portuguese) or masassa (Arabic) is a type of drinking straw, used to drink mate.” Not with tea, but specifically with mate.

I will, yet again, break the social rules. Always picking the traditions I follow and those I revise, I will morph my newly adopted Brazilian tradition too. Tea straws will be for any herbal tea I wish. They are fun to use and more convenient than tea ball strainers. They don’t snap open accidentally. And they open my world to more creative, more pleasing and more quality tea drinking. I will enjoy tea from a straw.

I haven’t made my own tea mix, but my friend Sarah Frost gave me a gift of some of her blend. It is naturally sweet and full of healthy herbs. She calls it Relax Tea, a blend she created from Mountain Rose herbs, adding a little of this and that until she liked the balance of herbs. I include it here with her permission, to share her gift with you.

Tea Straws

Herbal Tea Blend Links and a Recipe

I recommend Mountain Rose Herbs for quality loose teas. You can buy the ingredients there to make your own blends as well. Also check your local food co-op for a bulk tea section.  See if you can bring your own mason jar to fill with tea right at the store. Buy in small quantities so it won’t sit in your tea drawer for years.

Go to my Pinterest board for lovely images of traditional drinking gourds and bombillas, as well as links to DIY tea blends.

Sarah’s Relax Tea Recipe - by Sarah Frost

• 8 parts catnip
• 6 parts lemon balm
• 6 parts Holy Basil
• 5 parts skull cap
• 5 parts rose hips
• 5 parts elderberry
• 5 parts hawthorne berry
• 3 parts lavender
• 2 parts chamomile
• 2 parts rose petals
• 2 parts elderflower

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 at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and House In The Woods, easy to follow from our Facebook Page.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and 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.



People have always made their own cereals and breakfast grain dishes (oatmeal, wheat cereal, muesli). Then big companies came 'round and said, "oh, let us do that for you!" Lots of innovations and time saving convenience foods came about, to help women (mostly) in the kitchen find more time to do more things. Unfortunately, as we know, faster and easier is not always better. Not better for you, nutritionally or spiritually. (And yes, I find a lot of spirituality in the kitchen. There's something primarily satisfying and just plain right about nurturing your children and your spouse. And your friends. Feeding the hungry is a big deal for me). I am so pleased about the slow food movement taking place in this country. Slowing down, cooking at home, breaking bread together. It's good stuff, on such a deep level.

It's easy to grab a fast food breakfast sandwich or a bowl of over sugared chemicalized cereal. But you don't have to. I have a recipe here for a healthy hearty nutritious granola that makes a gallon at a time. I would roughly estimate the cost of it at around five dollars. Yep, you heard right. $5 for a gallon. I didn't think that was so hot, until I went into the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Do you know what they charge for a small box of cereal? I nearly fainted. And that's not for healthy, organic good-for-you food either.

I started making granola back in the early '70s. I have an old yellowed barely legible recipe card in my box from my first attempts at making it, and it was very primitive and simple. I've gussied it up a lot since then. You can make it as fancy or as plain as you like. Naturally, everyone thought I was crazy making my own cereal (not much has changed). I do it today for some of the same reasons I did it back then. And for a few other reasons as well. The bottom line, as it always is with me, is that I want to know what is in the food I eat. If I make it myself, then there's no mystery. No ingredients I can't pronounce. No chemicals I don't want to ingest. Nothing I can't afford. And gosh darn it! It tastes good!

So, I make this granola all the time. Here we go:


• 8 cups organic rolled oats
• 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
• 1 cup coconut oil (or any vegetable oil will do)
• 3/4 cup to 1 cup Honey
• 1 tsp sea salt
• 1 tbsp cinnamon
• 1 tbsp vanilla
• 1 cup nuts of your choice (sometimes I use a combination)
• 1 cup flaked or chips coconut
• 1 cup dried fruit of your choice (raisins, dried apples, dried cherries, dried cranberries, whatever)
• Your choice of sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds or roasted pumpkin seeds.

Like most of my recipes, there is a level of ambiguity here. I don't measure lots of things, for instance I'll sprinkle sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and flax seeds into the bowl. I use whatever dried fruit I have a lot of, so there's often dried peaches, apples or cherries (from our trees). And sometimes, I only use raisins. The recipes that I post are pretty flexible.


1. Sometimes I toast the oats in a dry pan in the oven at about 350 degrees. Only takes about 15 minutes, stirring often so it doesn't scorch. It gives the cereal a depth of flavor that you won't have if you skip this. That said, I often skip this step since the finished product gets toasted anyway.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine the oil, honey, brown sugar and salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 5 minutes.

3. In a large bowl, put the oats, coconut, all the nuts and seeds. Do not add the dried fruits at this time.

4. After the liquid mixture has simmered a bit, pour over the dry ingredients and mix well. You want all the stuff coated as well as you possible can.

5. When it's well coated, put it into a high sided baking dish and put into a 250 to 300 degree oven. You'll want to toast this about an hour and a half, stopping and stirring it well about every 15-20 minutes.

6. After it's all toasted as much as you like, remove from the oven and let cool. Stirring every now and again is a good idea, as it will get crispier as it cools and stick to the pan. Now is the time to add whatever dried fruit you decided on. Mix it in well. Once the entire batch is cooled, pour it into an airtight gallon sized container.

7. Eat as is, with either a milk of your choice or yogurt. We don't do much dairy here, so it's usually Rice Dream or Almond Milk. You can even make it a hot cereal for cold winter mornings by either heating the milk or sticking the bowl of granola, milk and all into your microwave (if you have one)for under a minute. It makes a great snack, right out of the jar. This is economical, healthy and good. Even my hardworking Irishman can only eat about a cup of it for breakfast, with rice milk. That is too much for me. It's a good combination of grains, proteins, fruits and fats.

I share this mix with friends and family at holiday times...a pint or a quart jar, tied up with pretty ribbon, with the recipe on a card taped to the front of the jar. Home made goodness is one of the gifts I love receiving and most of my friends feel the same. And you know that old proverb "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but TEACH a man to fish and he'll never go hungry." I try to share my recipes and my love of good healthy food wherever I can. Gatherings and parties at my house always revolve around the dinner table and food. Our families gather at major holidays and share meals, lives, love and laughter. I think it's really important that we never lose this.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and 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.


Oregon Honeycomb from Beekeeping

Did you know that by definition approximately 75 percent of store-bought commercial honey is not honey at all? As defined by the FDA, all authentic honey contains pollen. To most of us that would seem pretty normal, I think; however, most of the commercially available honey contains very little or no pollen at all.

Traditionally, honey is heated and filtered so it will remain liquid longer. In an effort to keep honey’s natural crystallization from occurring, most commercial honey is heated and pasteurized, eliminating its fragrance and changing the chemical composition of the honey itself. At these high temperatures, the honey is then ultra-filtered. Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure whereby honey is heated, sometimes watered down with corn syrup or other sweet, non-honey products and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have dumped tons of their honey on the U.S. market for years. The pollen is removed to prevent tracing where the honey came from.

It’s during the process of pasteurization that much of the nutritional content of raw honey is destroyed. Powerful antioxidants, enzymes, and vitamins are destroyed when heat is applied to raw honey. Raw honey is anti-viral, anti-fungal and antibacterial in nature, but the same cannot be said about most commercial honey because of the heating process that is applied. Frankly, it's probably akin to sitting down and eating from a bag of refined sugar if you’re using store-bought commercial honey.

Backyard Beekeeping in Oregon

‘My Honey Has Crystallized. Has it Gone Bad?’

No, honey virtually never spoils. Archaeologists have found honey in ancient Egyptian tombs that was still edible. Bacteria cannot grow in real honey. It's high acidity and tiny amounts of naturally occurring hydrogen peroxide prevent bacteria from growing. Therefore raw honey never spoils. Don’t put your honey in the refrigerator if you don't want it to crystallize. Cold temperatures speed the crystallization of honey; however, you can gently heat it in a sauce pan of water to liquefy it and still maintain its healthful qualities. Most honey will crystallize eventually and many people prefer it that way. Spoon it into tea where it melts quickly or spread it on toast.

Raw honey contains all of the nutrients needed for good health, including vitamins A, C, D, E, certain amino acids and high concentrations of B-complex vitamins. It also contains beneficial enzymes and one of these enzymes is amylase which aids in digestion of breads and other starchy foods. Raw honey’s antioxidant and anti-bacterial properties can also help improve the digestive system, yet these are the very things the high heat and filtering of process destroy.

Beware of Toxic Chemicals in Honey

And finally, you should be aware that purchasing raw honey does not mean it is free of chemicals. The title "Raw" can be misleading. Though I am sure there are rare exceptions, commercial honey and even some you are told is locally raised, comes from hives treated with insecticides to fight the Varroa mite. These insecticides, called “miticides,” leave behind residues in both the wax and in the honey. Though deemed safe, do you really want an insecticide in your honey, or for that matter corn syrup? The honey I strive to produce comes from hives that are never treated with commercial miticides. I lose a few more hives to mites this way, but I prefer that over the production of honey containing miticides. Our raw honey is never heated or filtered. It is pure and raw, direct from the hive and contains all the natural nutrients, antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids and pollen of real, unadulterated honey.

When looking for a source of raw honey you should search out a local bee keeper and inquire about his or her practices. Find out if they use commercial miticides or if their honey is heated and filtered. Producing natural, raw honey takes more time and manpower. It’s made by hand. You can buy cheaper honey, but it is often honey in name only.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and 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.


sticky toffee pudding

The UK meets Texas in this decadent date cake with sinfully delicious (and simple!) toffee sauce. The first time I ever saw the words “sticky,” “toffee,” and “pudding” together was in 2010, on the specials board at the Bulman Restaurant in Kinsale, Ireland. I had no idea what it was, but I was eager to find out. Before I could order dessert, however, my group got the bill and rushed off to our next destination. Fortunately for me, since that time, sticky toffee pudding has been slowly creeping onto the US culinary scene. Every time I see it on a menu, I have to order it. While always delicious—it’s hard to go wrong topping a moist cake with anything resembling caramel—only one I’ve tried has been hands-down imitation worthy:

Found at my local Whole Foods Market (and occasionally at Costco), the sticky toffee pudding from the Sticky Toffee Pudding Co. in Austin, Texas, beats any restaurant or homemade version I’ve come across. The difference? While most recipes call for water or milk in the cake batter, the Austin baker with English roots at the helm of the Sticky Toffee Pudding Co. uses Espresso, bringing balance and complexity to an otherwise exclusively sweet experience. Taking a cue from this perfection, my version employs coffee as the soaking liquid for the dates and the primary liquid component of the batter. The food processor yields an extremely smooth batter and makes quick work of mixing—just avoid over-processing once the flour is added so the cake stays tender. The toffee sauce is practically foolproof, keeps well up to a week in the fridge, and can be easily reheated in the microwave when needed.

Delicious enough for dinner with the Queen and simple enough for a Texas Tuesday, this is one dessert you’ll be thrilled to whip up for any occasion.

For the Cake


• 8 ounce pitted dates (I use the deglet noor variety)
• 1 French-press worth of very hot coffee or enough very hot coffee to completely cover the dates in a small bowl or large Pyrex measuring cup
• 1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1 cup dark brown sugar
• 1 tsp coarse kosher salt (I use Morton)
• 2 large eggs
• 1-1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

For the Toffee Sauce


• 1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter
• 1 cup heavy whipping cream
• 1 cup dark brown sugar
• 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt (I use Morton)
• 2 tsp pure vanilla extract


1. Place the dates in a small bowl and completely cover with very hot coffee. Let sit for 10 minutes.
2. Turn the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the butter in a 9-1/2-inch glass pie dish (or dish of comparable volume) and place in the oven to melt the butter as the oven preheats.
3. Once the butter has melted, carefully tilt and swirl the butter in the pan to grease the bottom and sides before pouring the butter into a food processor. Place the greased pan on a rimmed baking sheet.
4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the soaked dates to the food processor along with the butter, gently shaking the spoon as you go to avoid excess liquid transfer.
5. Measure out 1-1/3 cups of the coffee to add to the food processor and discard the rest.
6. Add the baking soda, brown sugar, and salt, and process till almost smooth or till the dates are well minced.
7. Scrape down the sides, add the eggs, and process till smooth.
8. Scrape down the sides, add the flour, and process just till incorporated, about 5 seconds.
9. Transfer the mixture to the greased pan and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes or until the center is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes back with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
10. While the cake is baking, place all the sauce ingredients except for the vanilla in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally at first just to combine, and boil for 3 minutes.
11. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
12. Serve the warm sauce over the warm cake along with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Leftover sauce and cake can be stored together or separately in the refrigerator and microwaved for 30 seconds to reheat — just do not microwave more than you intend to eat in one sitting.

Morgan Crumm is a mother, blogger, recipe-developer, and real-food advocate based in Dallas, Texas. More of her work can be found at Being The Secret Ingredient, a blog about food, life, and love.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and 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.


Chocolate Toffee Crackers

The Christmas season is upon us, and nothing warms my household more than delicious holiday treats. This Chocolate-Toffee Crackers recipe is one that my family and I enjoy regularly. After all, what is Christmas without a little indulgence? Organic ingredients allow us to splurge without ingesting harmful pesticides. I order items from when I cannot find them locally. While this recipe is great to enjoy at home, it is an even better gift. Take a decorative box-full to work or to your elderly neighbors. Watch their faces light up in joy at your thoughtfulness, for what is Christmas if not the time to celebrate what a gift it is to give? 

Chocolate Toffee Crackers Recipe

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.


• 1 stick butter
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 1/2 cup chocolate chips
• 1 sleeve saltine crackers (or more)
• 1/2 cup marshmallows 


1. In a small pot, melt butter on low heat. Stir in brown sugar until blended with butter. Stir in chocolate chips until melted.

2. On a cookie sheet, arrange saltines evenly. They should cover the entire cookie sheet. If they do not, add more crackers as needed until the sheet is full.

3. Drizzle chocolate toffee over crackers, smoothing the sauce and covering every cracker with a spatula. Sprinkle on marshmallows.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until marshmallows are lightly browned.

5. Cool crackers in refrigerator for at least an hour, or speed up the cooling process by freezing for ten minutes.


Monica Sharrock is a deer hunter's wife and elementary teacher living in rural Oklahoma. She enjoys making her home cozy by baking delicious (and organic) treats for her small family.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and 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.


wild persimmons

Our native persimmon tree's luscious fruits are ready to harvest in late fall and early winter, long after most other fruit crops are done. Wild persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are smaller than their commercially grown cousins, but just as delicious.

Identifying Wild Persimmons

American persimmon trees can grow as tall as 35 to 60 feet tall. The branches of mature trees tend to droop a bit. One of the most distinctive characteristics of older persimmon trees is their craggy, grey-black bark, which is sometimes described as reptilian. Its chunky pattern does look a bit like crocodile skin.

american persimmon tree bark

The 4- to 8-inch long leaves grow in an alternate arrangement, are roughly teardrop shaped. They are twice as long as wide with smooth edges. The leaves are glossy on their upper surfaces and turn a bright crimson or yellow in the fall.

There are male and female persimmon trees, and only the females bear fruit. The fruit looks like a small, bright orange plum between 3/4 to 2 inches in diameter. There are prominent leafy bracts attached to the stem end of the fruit.

Gathering Wild Persimmons

American persimmon grows in full or partial sun and often prefers sandy, relatively infertile soils. It is hardy to gardening zone 4.

The fruit ripens in mid to late fall. Most of the fruit falls to the ground, but there are usually a few persimmons clinging to the trees' branches well into winter.

Harvest the fruit when it is soft, starting to wrinkle, and either has already fallen from the tree or detaches easily from the branches. The leafy bracts of perfectly ripe persimmons will twist off easily. Persimmons that fell to the ground still attached to twigs are probably unripe.

Unripe persimmons are so astringent that your whole face will pucker up if you bite into one! The ripe fruit, on the other hand, is exquisitely sweet. Fortunately, persimmons will continue to ripen off the tree so long as they are orange, not green, when you collect them. If you come home with fruits that aren't yet fully ripe, just put them in cloth or paper bags and let them sit at room temperature for a few days. Adding an apple or banana to the bags will speed up the ripening because of the natural ethylene gas those other fruits will exude.

Eating Wild Persimmons

Ripe persimmons are delicious raw – just spit out the seeds. Some people peel them first but I usually eat the peel along with the pulp. You can use the pulp (without the peels or seeds) to make superb jams, ice cream, custard and other desserts, as well as an interesting wine. Frozen persimmon pulp works just as well as fresh for any of these preparations.

Leda Meredith is the author of Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries. You can watch her foraging and food preservation videos, and follow her food adventures at Leda's Urban Homestead.Her latest book is Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke...and More.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and 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.

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