Them That's Doin': Canning Food, New Trees and Preparing for Winter

Roberta Hammer reports on new fruit and nut trees, preparing for winter canning green beans, tomatoes and peaches, and shares a no-knead bread recipe from homesteader Alice Okorn.

Home canned tomatoes

 Preparations canning fruits and vegetables for the upcoming winter, and a bread recipe using midwestern, soft-type wheat.


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A Missouri cold spell has reminded us that winter is close, and most of that stuff we had to get done "before winter" is not done! The water pump is not enclosed in insulation, the goat shed and the chicken room have not had their drafts checked, the new garden spot for next spring has not been tilled, and the 5 acre pasture did not get seeded to alfalfa. We DID get the outhouse moved (something we had been putting off, for obvious reasons) to a new location.

The outhouse-moving was a fantastic scene. We had no heavy chain, so we used swing chains . . . and they broke every few feet. Besides that, the old tractor has a bad clutch and Keith had to sit with the pedal pushed in for five or ten minutes every time before he could put it in gear. Try to straighten up an outhouse under those conditions, over a hole you've dug in the ground . . . then write and tell us how you did it.

We had a long drought in the Midwest this summer and, although our garden was better than most around here, our visions of vegetable bounty didn't materialize. We had plenty to feed us and some to give away, but not a lot to put up for winter, and none to sell. I think only experience can dictate how much to plant and how much to can and freeze. I've seen several charts on the subject . . . all different. Anyway, most families eat different amounts of different things, so who can tell?

I was pretty proud of my 40 jars of tomatoes and 20 of tomato juice, but I'm afraid it's just a drop in the bucket compared to my friend (the organic farmer's wife) who did 196 jars of tomatoes, juice and ketchup. Well, she was raised on a farm and has been canning her own for four years, so I'm trying not to feel too badly about it. I also did a WHOPPING 14 pints of peaches. And, are you ready? 15 pints of green beans! I plan to can some pears off our one and only productive fruit tree. And next year . . .

We're still gardening and have turnips, beets, lettuce, spinach, radishes, mustard and winter onions to eat with the green beans and corn we're still harvesting. We've really had to compete with critters for that sweet corn! Grasshoppers ate off the silks, causing some ears not to develop kernels; corn worms ate the ends of the ears; and racoons chomped away on the fattest and best of the remainder. No corn to freeze. I want to get started on a cold frame next week. I hope to have fresh lettuce and spinach for a long time.

We're planning a HUGE garden next year. We want to do much better at putting away food, and we want enough to sell. We've found the patients of an allergy doctor to be a good market for organic produce. Most of them have to have pure food and are used to paying air freight prices for produce from California. They are desperate for nutritious, non-poisoned food and will pay a reasonable price for it.

Early Christmas presents from Keith's parents are 10 fruit and nut trees and 150 feet of honeysuckle hedge. We're trying to decide where to put them so we can get the soil prepared before October, when they'll probably be shipped. The old orchard site is definitely not the spot since it is full of soggy, low places.

Besides the ordered fruit trees, we are saving pits and seeds to plant in the garden next spring so we can experiment with grafting. I hope we will find enough fruit tree owners willing to donate buds!

We wanted the hedge because we are right on a black-top road and—as the local people go by—they like to slow down and get a good long look at us! We really don't look freaky or anything. Just busy and happy.

There is a pretty good chapter on orchards in Kains' Five Acres and Independence. Also the September issue of Organic Gardening Magazine had a good orchard article.

Our greatest personal disaster of 1970 was Ann starting first grade. The school bus picks her up at 6:55 a.m. and she is home at 4:30 p.m. What a long day for a nearly seven year old. Perfect training for a lifetime of despised work. Making her go every morning is one of the hardest things I've ever done. I wish I knew what to do about it.

We finally butchered and ate one chicken. He looked like a big fat rooster, but he was bluffing . . . he was skinny. We lived through the cleaning and plucking, but I didn't eat much. We're going to wait until they're bigger and easier to dress before we kill any more.

I hope there will be a natural food store opening in Kansas City soon. Honey, cold-pressed oil, and rice are our most expensive staples. I'd like to be able to get them for less-than-health food prices. Maybe even barter with produce.

We, buy our stone-ground whole wheat flour from the organic farming couple we know. He, just 31, has been on his farm for 10 years. What luck to meet them! Alice taught me to bake no-knead bread which is delicious and so easy that I make all our bread now. Here's the recipe for anyone who has access to midwestern, soft-type wheat:

Alice Okorn's No Knead Bread

Mix together 5 cups warm water, 4 tsp. salt and 3/4 cup honey.

Sprinkle 3 Tbs. El Molino bread yeast (or 4 Tbs. of Fleischmanns or Red Star) on the water-honey mixture and let it pop to the surface. Stir. Then add:

3/4 cup oil and 8 cups stone-ground whole wheat flour. Mix together with a big spoon then beat until smooth with electric mixer. By the way, do not sift the flour in this recipe; spoon it lightly into measuring cup.

Mix in 6 more cups flour, then . . .

Mix in 2 more cups flour. At this point you may need more or less flour. The dough should be sticky, but manageable. Cover the bowl with towel. Let rise until double in bulk.

Punch down and stir VIGOROUSLY, Divide the dough into four BUTTERED loaf pans (Pyrex works best). With buttered hands, shape each into a smooth loaf. Let rise until double in bulk. DON'T jar or bump.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Remove from pans as soon as bread pulls away from sides.

I don't know how this recipe would work with Deaf Smith County, Texas flour. I've never tried it but I have a feeling it might be too hard to soften and develop gluten without kneading.

Once in a while I miss slamming bread dough around . . . so I knead some biscuit dough! It will be a year or two before we get "together" enough to plan our own wheat crop. The vegetable gardens and orchard come first. Then alfalfa and grain for our animals. Then maybe wheat . . . or perhaps we'll work out a barter system with our other homesteading and farming friends so that we don't have to be so diversified. There are more and more of us all the time.