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Real Food
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We Need More Local Meat Processors and We Need Them Now


The Sunflower Farm Grass-fed Beef

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the reports of farmers euthanizing whole herds of hogs, cattle and chickens, some of which may be true, but however, at this point, are limited in actual numbers. There is definitely a major problem being exposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has closed off or limited meat production and distribution in the past 30 days.

Last week, the grocery store in my hometown ordered 60 boxes of meat from their distributor, yet only received 18 boxes, all at higher prices. There are also reports of farmers now seeking to sell direct to customers, many of whom are butchering their own hogs and chickens. Or the ranchers are hauling beef cattle to processors for slaughter that is picked up a week or two later by the consumers.

Unfortunately, there are not near enough small butcher shops remaining in the country to process enough livestock to feed everyone who eats meat, as the slaughter and butchering operations have been centralized by the world’s largest meat packers, such as JBS-SA, Cargill, Tyson, and other multinational ag corporations that do business here in the U.S. and abroad. So how did we get here?

The Industrial Meat System

Most cattle ranchers make the mistake of contracting with the "order buyers" from big feedlot operating companies, known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFO’s (just the Panhandle of Texas has over one million head of cattle in these feedlots). The ranchers then get sold on using growth hormones to speed up the growth of yearling cattle and are offered a set price for all their calves to be bought and sold into the factory farm system. The calves go off to the feedlots at a year old, where they begin eating nothing but grains — mostly soy and corn, mixed with numerous additives. This carries on for six to eight months, then on to the factory farm processing plants.

That's where our food system breaks down, and the factory farms gain control of the beef (pork, chicken and turkey, too). Now those big corporations control the price paid for cattle, the distribution of the meat, its processing, and ultimately, the price paid by the consumer. The price fluctuates wildly when calamity, war, fuel shortages, drought, or a global pandemic happens. They also control the grain prices and its production in many states that gets fed to the livestock in the feedlots.

The Prime Act: A Law for Local Butchering

All is not lost, yet. There's a bill filed in both the U.S. Congress (and in the Texas legislature. Check your state’s legislature for similar bills.) commonly known as The Prime Act. The law would allow "custom meat processors" to slaughter and butcher livestock, brought in by farmers and ranchers, to be resold to the public by the rancher, a grocer, a restaurant, or the butcher shop itself.

As of now, a government inspector must be on site at the processors (USDA, Texas Department of Agriculture) to sign off on each head to be resold, and there are not nearly enough inspectors to go around, as most of them now work in the big factories where they still only check every few head. Picture government inspectors at seaports and docks checking shipping containers — one of the thousands of shipments actually get opened and checked. The Prime Act would allow periodic inspections of these small butcher shops, and training of their butchers on site to suffice, and also provide for more inspectors to be trained and paid by the Feds or the States.

Back in my youth and in my hometown of Olney, Texas, local ranchers hauled their fat steers to the Olney Livestock Auction for sale where the beef cattle were bought by local grocers, families, and butcher shops like Gibbs Meat Processing and Locker, and a bigger one in Fort Worth called Ebner Brothers. A couple weeks later, the beef was on the shelves in the grocery stores or in the freezers of local residents.

Some ranchers would add corn to the diets to fatten up the steers for 90 days, but not all of them would as it was too expensive for most. Once in a while, a steer would get injured at the sale barn, and my dad and uncle would buy it and send it straight to Gibbs locker for butchering.

How is the Industrial Meat System Responding to the Pandemic?

Our food system was broken before Covid-19, but it has now been widely exposed as such. Big factory farm processors have workers elbow-to-elbow cutting the beef carcasses up, and that's how so many workers became infected with the virus. The factories that once had 500 meat cutters now have 50 left on their lines who aren't sick, so the supply is drastically cut back.

It's their own fault for allowing the viral contagion, and now they are running a public relations campaign to get bailed out by the taxpayers. Politicians who know nothing about the system in place are making the decisions, if not those politicians who are on Big Ag’s corporate payroll via campaign donations. Our corporate-owned media will jump on the bandwagon of scare tactics, bolstering the factory farm PR because they advertise with them, and it's easier and cheaper than investigative journalism.

So, there will likely be meat shortages, higher prices, and a bailout for JBS, Cargill, Perdue and the handful of other major companies, instead of breaking that system and starting over with the localized butcher shops and inspectors we need to right our food system.

Can We Build a Local Meat Processing Industry?

The only way to stop it and secure our food is to break this centralized, corporate control. I'm hopeful, however doubtful, with so many corrupt politicians running the "red states" where most meat production happens. But that might change if people are forced to eat Spam or do without meat for the rest of the year.

Here’s how you can help:

Call your state and congressional representatives and ask them to support H.R. 2859, the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption Act — also known as The Prime Act — which is sitting in Congress for two years now. This bill expands the exemption of custom slaughtering of animals from federal inspection requirements.

Under current law, the exemption applies if the meat is slaughtered for personal, household, guest, and employee uses. The bill expands the exemption to include meat that is: slaughtered and prepared at a custom slaughter facility in accordance with the laws of the state where the facility is located; and meat that is prepared exclusively for distribution to household consumers in the state or restaurants, hotels, boarding houses, grocery stores, or other establishments in the state that either prepare meals served directly to consumers or offer meat and food products for sale directly to consumers in the state.

The bill does not preempt any state law concerning (1) the slaughter of animals or the preparation of carcasses, parts thereof, meat and meat food products at a custom slaughter facility; or (2) the sale of meat or meat food products.

Local Meat Processing Can be Safer

Some may think this expansion of small processing plants isn’t safe; however, the constant recalls of factory-farmed meats have increased both in numbers of pounds and in frequency. In 2018, JBS-SA, the world’s largest meat-packing and sales company, issued recalls for 12 million pounds of beef, which had already sickened almost 300 people with salmonella poisoning. Twelve million pounds of meat in 16 states were recalled over an eight-week period before the problem was identified and the final recall issued.

The massive packing plants, which employ thousands working in extremely close quarters, have done little to alleviate the problems associated with food-borne illnesses, not to mention the spread of Covid-19 among employees as of late.

Food Safety News issued a report October 5, 2018, stating “The JBS recall, which was expanded by 400,000 pounds on Thursday, caused Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro - Connecticut, to call for the USDA-FSIS to update ground beef safety standards that have not changed since 1996.”

“FSIS no longer monitors ground beef against the 1996 standard, nor do they require beef processors to designate Salmonella as a hazard in the plant-specific plans to reduce contaminants,” wrote the Connecticut Democrat. “That is unacceptable and has put people across the country at unnecessary risk to food-borne illnesses.”

Local Butchering Supports a More Efficient, Local Economy

Factory farming (CAFO-style), factory meat processing, Big Ag marketing and sales are not sustainable, especially when their cheap labor force is forced off the job. Of every dollar spent today for meat, the farm share is 14 cents, and marketing and sales gobbles up 86 cents.

Improve efficiencies. Small processors like the ones we use here in north Texas, have one butcher working on one beef carcass at a time, and about 10 feet between their butchers, instead of assembly lines with numerous workers handling the different cuts off thousands of carcasses. At the small processor, once our carcasses are quartered, they are cut specifically to our instructions (bone-in ribeyes, 85% lean ground beef, short ribs or English cut, and so on.), carefully packaged and labeled, then immediately go into the freezers for added safety.

Boost local economies. You can also help break this unsustainable food system by seeking out local farmers to buy meats from directly thru co-ops, CSA’s, and farmers markets, by raising chickens in your backyard for egg production, by investing in local processors and butcher shops, and by purchasing only pasture-raised meats.

Support more nutritious meat. Pastured meats are by far more nutritious, it is better for the livestock not being confined and fed diets of grains and additives, and better for our environment.

Address environmental health. Pastured livestock limits or completely rids the use of antibiotics, growth hormones, and toxic chemicals used to grow the vast amounts of grains fed in the feedlots and halts the runoff of those chemicals into our water supply.

I’ve said it before: It ain’t rocket surgery. Keeping control of our food system in the hands of farmers and ranchers, and direct sales to consumers makes for a sustainable, safe, and healthy food system. Please do your part today.

RD Copeland raises pastured beef in north Texas on his organic farm and weekend retreat, The Sunflower Farmwhere visitors can check in to a cob-cabin getaway or take one of RD’s permaculture seminars. Read all of RD'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.

A Celebration of Cheese


All but three of my tomato plants died yesterday. I usually have ridiculously good luck when it comes to planting, but this year my transplants decided to give up the ghost. I feel like I did everything right: amended the soil with well-aged compost, gently fertilized, watered from the roots. And yet here I stand looking at a box of dead plants after a night of gusty winds and downpours. At least I still have three plants which will give us enough tomatoes to last us until the direct-seeded plants come in.

I feel like this is somehow a metaphor for life lately. Everything feels off and unusual.  I was going to bake some bread, but the weather has decided to go from mild winter to full summer in the course of a week. I’m not complaining - just an observation and a change in plans. So, with the weather deciding it’s had enough of cold, I’m switching to grilling as my primary method of cooking. We’re huge BBQ fans - enjoying everything from simple burgers all the way to smoked meats and every side dish we can dream up in the mix.

Tonight will be a somewhat middle-eastern recipe I made up that is loosely based on kebabs. I grill a flank steak medium-rare, toss a few grilled veggies (peppers, onions and mushrooms) with some olive oil, fresh minced garlic and a healthy dose of za’atar, and then dice everything up and combine with leftover rice. The result is a robust pilaf that tastes like it took hours. Bonus points if you used fajita leftovers from the night before like I did. I don’t have a recipe, just a list of ingredients I can toss together in a ratio - 3-parts rice, 2-parts veg, one part protein - and it turns out to be a quick and tasty meal nine times out of 10. It’s my version of lazy meal prep.

Speaking of meal prep, I wonder how many people are re-discovering the joys of fresh cooking during the lock-down. We just can’t do meal-prep here at the Lazy Dog. We tried it back when we were on the go constantly with work and activities. We diced and cooked and packaged for an entire Sunday and we still have a few meals hiding in the back of the freezer because we discovered we REALLY don’t like left-overs. To me, there is something “dead” in the flavor of frozen meals, no matter how fresh the ingredients you use are. I just like the flavor of fresh food too much to give it up for the convenience of pulling a finished dinner out of the freezer. Now, that’s not to say I didn’t take some things from the process and continue to use them - pre-shredding cheese, dicing onions and garlic, pre-chopping peppers and lettuce for the week - all things I still do. I buy our cheese in five-pound blocks from an online family-run cheese shop and shred them with my mixer attachment. We spend an hour shredding and bagging cheese to freeze. Our efforts last us a few months. Not bad for an hour’s work.

So, in honor of our impending weekend cheese-shred-a-thon, I prepared two cheese-heavy recipes to try. The first is a homemade mac and cheese that my great-grandmother made. The second is a gouda and apple grilled cheese that never fails to impress.

Gigi’s Mac n’ Cheese

This mac is a no-bake recipe but can be baked (directions in notes). Eating this takes me back to being a kid sitting at my great-grandparents’ kitchen table watching my Gigi cook. I also like to add cooked broccoli to the mixture for some extra vitamins and flavor.


  • 1 pound pasta
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 -3 cups shredded cheese (more or less, depending on how cheesy you like it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered mustard 
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper


1. In a large pot, boil pasta until desired consistency, approximately 10 minutes. Drain

2. In a separate saucepan on medium heat, add flour and stir for a bit.

3. Whisk in milk to flour, add mustard, salt and pepper until combined.

4. Cook milk mixture on medium, stirring constantly, until thickened.

5. Stir in cheese slowly, stirring thoroughly between each cup of cheese.

6. Add mixture to pasta and stir to combine.

7. Serve as is or bake, if desired.

Notes: You can put the mixture in a casserole dish, top with breadcrumbs or more cheese and bake at 350F for 20 minutes, or until top is golden brown. 

Darn Gouda Grilled Cheese

You will never look at grilled cheese as kids’ food again.


  • 2 slices sandwich bread (or ciabatta if you’re fancy)*
  • 2 slices gouda (I use a bourbon-smoked gouda sliced medium)
  • 1/2 apple or pear sliced thin (you can use any firm fruit)
  • Pinch herbes de Provence (optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil or less (for toasting)


1. Preheat a medium pan over low heat

2. Drizzle each slice of bread with olive oil and place oil side down in pan.

3. Add cheese to bread and cook until cheese starts to melt.

4. Add fruit and herbs. Place one side of bread on top of other, toppings together and cook until cheese is gooey

5. Remove and serve with rest of fruit slices on the side.

Notes: *This can also be made as a savory crepe or a quesadilla.

Dana Gnad is a freelance writer and photographer with over 20 years of experience in technology. She has spent most of her life living on various homesteads — off-grid, urban, and everywhere in between. Currently camped out on 30 acres in the suburbs, affectionately known as The Lazy Dog Farm, she is working on her first book and dreaming of a life on the sea. Connect with Dana on Facebook and Instagram, and read all of her 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.

Small Wineries Staying in Business During the Pandemic

Vivac Wines from New Mexico 

Our world is fed and thirsts are quenched by the small farmers, wineries, and brewers who work hard for their customers. Many of us consumers are worried about small farms and wineries that have lost much of their market share due to pandemic-mandated business restrictions. 

I'm impressed how some small wineries are surviving in a world turned upside down by the Covid-19 virus. Lucky for wine drinkers and me, most wineries can stay open if they conform to strict pandemic regulations. These new regulations make life challenging to keep the business open but I’ve found a few that seem to be doing okay for now.

Wineries throughout most of the world have had to close their tasting rooms, cancel weddings, and special events. Tasting room sales, special events, and parties are a huge part of their income. Just like small farms, small wineries face a host of obstacles in their daily lives. There is the weather, insects, market trends, and now a pandemic to deal with. 

I reached out to a few of my favorite small wineries to see how they were coping with business falling off a cliff. Some of their methods to stay afloat may help other wine producers, small farms, and business owners survive these trying times? 

On Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter I've noticed wineries stepping up their social media game with virtual wine tastings, wine specials, free shipping, and virtual happy hours. Vivac Winery has been doing a Facebook show called, A Fern Between Us: Emotional Sanitizer Wine Show to draw in their customers for a light-hearted session. I've helped out by watching a few episodes and purchasing a bit more wine online than usual from Vivac and other wineries. Social media is playing a big part in finding a way to stay afloat.

I wanted to know how small wineries were coping with the current situation. After emailing a few questions to several wineries, three of them responded to my requests to see how they are doing during the pandemic. I include their responses with minimal editing.

Ampelos Cellars, Lompoc, Calif.

A sampling of Ampelos wines

A sampling of Ampelos wines.

Here is the impact for each main part of our business:

  • In the vineyard it is pretty much business as usual. The vines are growing and with the good amount of rain this winter and no spring frost challenges everything is looking good so far! Green, lush and happy shoots.
  • Since wines are considered essential we continue to run the winery as usual. We will be bottling in June but at a lower pace so that people can maintain social distancing.
  • Our tasting room is curbside pickup only but it is doing fairly well.
  • Sales to distribution has gone down significantly due to all on-premise business closed (restaurants, wine bars, hotels etc.) but we still get orders coming in – this morning one from Singapore…
  • Direct sales on the other side has increased amazingly. Rebecca and I spend some days a month ago evaluating our crisis-approach and out of that came a bunch of initiatives. Most important our weekly virtual wine tastings where wine lovers once a month receive a 4-pack of wines that we one by one open together and taste Friday afternoon. Rebecca and I host these tastings at the ranch at different locations and talk about vine growth, chicken and horses, organic and biodynamic, food and wine pairing (on Friday we are cooking in our kitchen!). We want to make it fun for everyone and bring our vineyard and winery into everyone's living room. We already have over 100 participants. Similarly we just started a similar program in Danish for our significant Danish wine community.
  • Finally our presence and focus on Social Media has significantly increased. Important to stay in touch!

K.J.- How, have your online/phone orders increased?

 I think I covered that above.

K.J.- Who is still working at the winery versus laid off?

No-one has been laid off. We have promised everyone that we will work as hard as we can to make sure we can pay our bills and keep feeding their families.

K.J.- Anything else you'd like to add?

In times like this we have to re-evaluate our sales and marketing approach and be ready to react fast. Rebecca and I have been working together for over 25 years and we view this as an interesting new challenge!

Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles, Calif.

We are staying afloat thanks to the tremendous outpouring of support we've received from our fans and customers. We've worked hard (and I think successfully) to address the disappearance of the traditional avenues and venues where we'd meet our customers, including our tasting room, festivals and tastings, and restaurant and retailer events. 

All of these have been closed, canceled, or pushed back into the second half of the year. But these challenges have forced us to fast-track some of new sorts of experiences that we'd been discussing before but never seemed to find the time to get up and running. I've been hosting weekly Instagram Live broadcasts with guests here from the winery every Wednesday. Our Winemaker Neil Collins has begun hosting Facebook Live tastings, also with a guest, each Friday evening. 

We've launched virtual tastings, where people can order wine or just let us know that they have wines they'd like to taste, and we set up Zoom calls and walk them through an interactive tasting from their homes. These have all been extremely well received. We've also redoubled our efforts to share what we're doing via video (we now have our own YouTube channel to collect these), over email, and on our blog. And the response that we've gotten from our customers has been amazing. We're seeing Internet and phone sales three and four times what we were seeing pre-Covid. 

We're seeing online wine club signups five times our pre-Covid averages. It's not quite enough to make up for getting zero revenue or wine club signups from our (closed) tasting room, but it's far closer than I would ever have expected.

We have seen about half of our wholesale business disappear, as we've focused on restaurants for distribution rather than retailer, and the retailers we tend to be in are more likely to be independent than the chain and grocery stores that have been seeing big increases in business.

We've been able to keep all our full-time employees employed. We've shifted a few from the tasting room to working with our wine club/orders office to help them handle the increased load.

 3 Steves Winery, Livermore, Calif.

Steve Burman of 3 Steves Winery and customer

Steve Burman and author's brother at 3 Steves Winery, Livermore, Calif.

We are staying afloat by offering deep discounts between 30 and 50% of cases of wine, offering curbside pickup at the winery with pre-arranged meeting time, home deliveries, and shipments. Our sales volume is up slightly over last year but we prefer not to profit from this difficult time which is why we are offering such large discounts until the shelter in place is lifted.

Two of the 3 Steves as well as our general manager have been working at the winery as we have been deemed an essential business by our Governor and the three of us have been keeping the sales and winemaking going. No other employees are working since we aren't allowed to serve guests at this time. 

We all want to know when the pandemic will let up, and life can gradually return to a new normal. Until then, it's good to know that several of our favorite wineries, craft breweries, and cider makers will survive. Thanks to Vivac Winery in New Mexico for recommending this subject, the three wineries that responded to my questions. With their ingenious methods of adjusting to the pandemic, we have a snapshot of what it takes to stay in business.

Kurt Jacobsohas been a chef for 40 years and, after being schooled in the U.S. Coast Guard, he trained in many restaurants under both kind and maniac chefs. Kurt is starting his eighth year of container and raised-bed organic gardening  For tasty travel ideas check out Kurt's travel blog, Read all of Kurt'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.

Canning Stewed Rhubarb: Good Project for Beginning Food Preservation


As a canning instructor, I often get asked what is the best first time canning project should be for someone new to canning. My response is always “NOT STRAWBERRY JAM!” So many people get inspired early in the season by the beautiful quarts of strawberries for sale at the local farmer’s market, and set out to make a batch of strawberry jam, only to end up with an epic fail.

The fact is, making any kind of jam can be tricky business — it’s easy to burn, needs to have the right amount of pectin to set up, but not too much or it will be tough. Strawberry jam is even more difficult to get right because spring weather can really change the quality of the strawberries every year. Too much rain can result in lower pectin levels and lackluster flavor. Instead, I always recommend stewed rhubarb as an ideal first time canning project.

Rhubarb is a springtime treat popular in desserts and is traditionally made into sauce or pie, this led to it getting the nickname “pie plant.” In my home state of Michigan, fresh field or homegrown rhubarb is available late April through June. It can be mostly green or have a rosy to dark red color and have medium to thick stalks, and is a tasty source of calcium and potassium. Remember to cut off and compost, or discard, all rhubarb leaves when you harvest rhubarb. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid which is harmful to eat.

With a patently unglamorous name like “stewed rhubarb” the real deal doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Stewed rhubarb is wonderfully versatile - it can be used to make a crisp or a pie, or as a topping for yogurt, or used as a sauce for pork roast or venison. All you can use strawberry jam for is for topping some toast or a pb&j for the most part. How much jam does a person really need, anyway? Being a Michigan native, I love to eat local foods - we rank #3 for rhubarb production in the U.S. One of our family favorites is rhubarb streusel muffins. A wonderful treat on a Sunday morning!

Stewed Rhubarb for Canning

Makes about 18 half-pints (two canner loads) of rhubarb


  • 7 lbs rhubarb
  • 5 cups sugar


1. Trim off leaves.

2. Wash stalks and cut into 1/2-inch to 1-inch pieces.

3. In a large saucepan add sugar to fruit. Let stand until juice appears.

4. Heat gently to boiling.

5. Fill jars without delay, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process for 15 minutes.

Whole Wheat Rhubarb Streusel Muffins


  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 half-pint jar of stewed rhubarb

  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

For the streusel topping:

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Grease medium muffin pan with butter.

3. In a small bowl, mix stewed rhubarb, egg, oil and vanilla with a fork until well combined.

4. In a medium bowl, mix remaining muffin ingredients and then add rhubarb mixture and stir until well combined.

5. To make streusel topping, put all ingredients in a small bowl and rub between your fingers until the mixture resembles pebbly small sand.

6; Fill muffin tin cups 2/3 full with muffin batter and top each with some streusel topping.

7. Bake for approximately 15 minutes until golden on top. A skewer put in the middle should come out clean when the rhubarb muffins are done

Cynthia Hodges loves cooking and the lost domestic arts of home canning and sewing — those skills they used to teach in home economics. She’s been keeping her home economics blog, Mother’s Kitchen, since 2006. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook at Mother’s Kitchen and Michigan Inspired. Read all of her 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.

Making Fermented Hot Sauce at Home

 Jars of Fermented Hot Sauce

As the last jars of fermented hot sauce from the last season come to an end I feel compelled to share the successes and failures in the hopes that readers that have not already, will do some experimenting of their own. First off I am certainly not a fermentation expert. There are many good books out there, and internet resources, on fermentation. I found the idea of fermentation compelling because of the health benefits, and also daunting because there is so much to know. The process I am sharing with you is very simple and safe; but, of course you must apply your good common sense when it comes to food. 

This process began last year with the growing season. We chose a variety of hot peppers that turn red upon ripening. We did try a batch of green peppers as well with little success. We are an organic farm so our produce is free of chemicals and pesticides. You will want to harvest the peppers when they are at their ripest point; but, are also free from rot. I like to choose peppers that are free of blemishes and bites. If your water system is chlorinated you will want to seek out some non chlorinated water to rinse the peppers in. It is not necessary to scrub the peppers as some natural yeasts on the fruits assist the fermentation process. 

Place your peppers in a sterile jar so that they are two inches below the rim. You can choose to put the peppers in whole, cut the tops only, or you can slice them in half. If you leave a way for the water to get to the inside of the pepper they will ferment faster. Then fill the jar with non chlorinated water. Chlorine interferes with the beneficial bacteria that aids lacto fermentation. I use spring water; but, if you use spring water make sure it has been tested to be safe. The next items you add can be very minimal or more extensive depending on how confident you are in the conditions of your ingredients. I typically add a teaspoon of salt per quart of peppers and water and nothing else. You can also add a teaspoon of sugar and vinegar if you choose. Adding sugar and vinegar will aid the speed of the fermentation; but, are not necessary. 

Small Jar Used as a Weight

As you put all of this together you will notice the peppers float to the top exposing themselves to air. It is very important for the peppers to stay submerged, so you will need to weigh them down. Some people use river rocks; however, there is a risk of contaminating your batch if you use the wrong type of rock. Glass weights are also used with a large amount of success; however, they tend to be rather expensive if you are using very many. As I am not a geologist and also not wealthy, I use small glass jars that will fit in the top of my fermentation jars. They are all jars that are used for canning so are easy to get and very reusable. You can lightly set the small jars on top and they will weigh down the peppers.

To cover the jars, use cheesecloth or paper towels. I secure the cheesecloth with jar rings; although, rubber bands also work. When beginning your fermentation journey I would urge you to use what you have available as you are figuring out the process and wait to spend money until you know what you really need. 

Cheesecloth Lid for Fermentation

So then you wait. This is the difficult part. Keep your jars in a cool dark place; like what you would find in an old cellar or basement. As you check on your jars you are looking for some white debris floating in the water; that is the bacteria working. You will know if the batch has gone bad because it will smell terrible and may have some odd looking molds growing on it. If you are in question do refer to the experts in fermentation. Once the process is complete it will have a sort of pickled taste. Sauerkraut is fermented and your peppers will have a similar smell to them, only with the spiciness of peppers. 

Hot Sauce Processing

To process them from this point is very easy. All you need is a blender, a food mill, and sterilized jars and lids. I drain about half of the liquid off of my peppers and dump all of it into the blender. Blend well and then pour the mixture into the food mill to mill out the stems and seeds. At this point, we season to taste. I like some extra salt and my husband likes to add some sugar. Occasionally we will add cumin, garlic, or curry. You will need to do this to taste so be prepared for the heat!

When you are satisfied that your batch has the taste you want pour it off into the jars and put it in the refrigerator. If you leave it out in the heat your batch will continue to ferment and will create pressure in the jars. This can cause an explosive event if the jars are opened after more fermentation. I know this from well earned experience. Some people choose to heat and process the hot sauce at this point; however, that kills the beneficial bacteria that lacto fermentation produces. It's safe to keep your hot sauce for up to six months in the refrigerator. From this point and all through winter enjoy the heat of summer. And you can dry out the leftover skins and seeds for a spicy topping for pizza. 

Fermented Pepper Flakes

Holly Chiantaretto is an organic farmer, farmer market manager, and goat breeder in Kentucky where she also raises cattle, pigs, chickens, and hops, and preserves the harvests from her garden. Connect with Holly on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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Better-Than-Takeout Pizza Crust Good for Focaccia, Too


Today it was announced that our governor was extending the stay at home order due to Covid-19 until June 4th. Well, another month of lock down, I suppose. Not much changes for us — we’ll be here at The Lazy Dog Farm all summer doing what we always do. That is, if summer ever comes.

I just looked out the window to find snow coming down in massive squalls! I knew it was going to get cold tonight as we have a “polar vortex” hovering over our little part of the world for the next 24 hours or so, but I wasn’t expecting it to start snowing right after lunch. I hurriedly tossed my shoes on and ran outside to the early plants with my trusty extra sheets and sack towels to cover up the tender shoots before the cold kills what little progress we’ve made in the garden. Due to the cold weather, we put moving our starts outside — I’m desperately trying to keep the tomatoes and peppers from getting too leggy. It’s hard to do when they’ve been ready for the outdoors for a week, but the outdoors isn’t ready for them yet. Sigh. Life on a farm. 

On the upside, my chives are big and fat and nearly ready to flower. I’ve been raising the same batch for going on 3 years. I harvest some, pinch back some flowers and let the rest bolt. It seems to be working, and I don’t mess with much in between seasons. I wish all plants were like chives.

I still can’t believe it’s May, and snow is falling. The winter refuses to let go! After a few days in the high 60s and mid 70s, I thought winter had headed off for parts unknown. But here it is, back again, with a vengeance. Tonight, is supposed to dip into the mid 20s, with a stiff wind and I’m sure we’ll lose some portion of our plants by morning. A hard freeze right now is just a disaster - the seedlings are sturdy, but none of them are hardy to this level of cold. 

Oh well. There’s really not much we can do other than cover the plants, move as many containers as we can close to the house to catch any heat coming off the bricks, and wait. This weather has also put a stop to our driveway project. We’re so close - another twenty feet or so and we’re at the main road. We have all the material and time in the world, and the stupid weather is putting everything on hold. It’s too wet to dig with all the clay we have in our driveway and it’s way too cold to stack rock. So, inside we go to work on projects we put on the back burner while we’ve been working on our driveway. 

Tonight, we’re having pizza and a movie night. With all the cold weather forecast, a nice movie marathon will help us deal with the twin demons of the virus and the vortex. At least we have heat, power and food. Last night we lost power for a few minutes. Just as the Boss was putting his shoes on to go fire up the generator, the lights flickered back to life. We were overjoyed to not have to run the generator as we’re low on diesel around here. With the driveway resembling a missile test site and the temporary dirt road too soggy for a delivery, we have to wait until the road dries, or the driveway is done to get more diesel in. We filled all the tractors, trucks and generators, and we still have a small amount left in case of an emergency, but not having to burn any is always helpful.

We have developed a pizza recipe that beats any take out, hands down. It’s simple, quick and bakes up perfectly every time. Top it with whatever you have on hand, though we’re partial to ham, peppers and pineapple.This crust can also be used to make dessert pizzas or an easy focaccia.

Pizza Perfection Dough Recipe


  • 2 cups gluten free flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1)
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum 
  • 1 tbsp instant dry yeast
  • 1/2tsp sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup warm water 
  • 4 tbsp olive oil (plus extra to coat pan)


1. Add dry yeast and sugar to warm water. Stir gently and allow to sit until yeast begins to bubble.

2. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, add flour, xanthan gum and salt. Whisk to combine.

3. Add yeast mixture to dry ingredients. If stirring by hand, use your Popeye arms and a wooden spoon to mix dough into a sticky ball consistency, adding olive oil by the spoonful. If using a mixer, add yeast mixture to dry ingredients. Using the paddle attachment, mix on medium speed for about five minutes (or until a ball forms) to combine, drizzling olive oil in slowly. 

4. Remove ball and grease bowl with olive oil. Add ball back to bowl, cover with a damp towel and place in a warm location (I put mine inside my gas oven - the pilot is always on and generates a small amount of heat) for an hour or so until doubled in size.

5. When you’re ready to make your pizza, preheat your oven to 400F. 

6. Grease your baking pan. I use a large sheet pan and really spread the dough thin as my crowd likes a thinner crust. Place dough in pan and press outward to cover pan to desired depth and size. 

7. Bake crust for 7 to 10 minutes, depending on your oven and how crispy you like your pizza.

8. Remove from oven and add sauce, cheese and toppings.*

9. Place pizza back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 10 minutes, or until cheese is golden or your personal desired level of doneness. 


You can freeze the crust for later use at this point. I remove it from the pan, top and wrap in parchment paper then cling film before placing in freezer. If freezing more than one, I place cardboard sheets between the pizzas for a little extra stability and to save space. To reheat, preheat oven to 400F and bake for 7-10 minutes. 

You can also top the crust with melted butter and cinnamon sugar after first baking. Place back in oven and bake an additional 5-7 minutes. This makes an awesome dessert. If you want to really make them cry from all the deliciousness, add a can of pie filling (apple is our favorite) and the cinnamon sugar and bake. 

Cheaty-Petey Focaccia Bread Recipe


  • 2 cups gluten-free flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1)
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum 
  • 1 tablespoon instant dry yeast
  • Pinch sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup warm water 
  • 4 tablespoon olive oil (plus extra to coat pan)
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon dried herbs (Optional, but highly recommended)


1. Add dry yeast and sugar to warm water. Stir gently and allow to sit until yeast begins to bubble.

2. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, add flour, xanthan gum, herbs (if using) and salt. Whisk to combine.

3. Add yeast mixture to dry ingredients. If stirring by hand, use your Popeye arms and a wooden spoon to mix dough into a sticky ball consistency, adding olive oil by the spoonful. If using a mixer, add yeast mixture to dry ingredients. Using the paddle attachment, mix on medium speed for about five minutes (or until a ball forms) to combine, drizzling olive oil in slowly. 

4. Remove ball and grease bowl with olive oil. Add ball back to bowl, cover with a damp towel and place in a warm location (I put mine inside my gas oven. The pilot is always on and generates a small amount of heat) for an hour or so until doubled in size.

5. When you’re ready to make your focaccia, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 

6. Grease your baking pan. I use a large sheet pan and really spread the dough thin as my crowd likes a thinner crust. Place dough in pan and press outward to cover pan to desired depth and size. 

7. Using two fingers, poke holes in dough gently. You want to create little divots, not go all the way through.

8. Bake crust for 7 to 10 minutes, depending on your oven.

9. Remove from oven.

10. Brush top with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt (if using)

11. Place focaccia back in the oven and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes, or until golden.

Dana Gnad is a freelance writer and photographer with over 20 years of experience in technology. She has spent most of her life living on various homesteads — off-grid, urban, and everywhere in between. Currently camped out on 30 acres in the suburbs, affectionately known as The Lazy Dog Farm, she is working on her first book and dreaming of a life on the sea. Connect with Dana on Facebook and Instagram, and read all of her 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.

Dried Mushroom Primer and a Chicken Recipe


Dried mushrooms are a cook’s friend when there’s no time or ability to go grocery shopping for fresh mushrooms. I have kept dried mushrooms as long as10 years without a worry of food spoilage. Not that I’d recommend keeping them that long, but I got carried away and bought two pounds once and they lasted me much longer than I thought possible. That was in part to me gifting some of them to my mother-in-law who re-gifted them back to me 9 years later. The mushrooms were still dry and delicious.

Dried mushrooms come in many varieties. My favorite are chanterelles, Maitake, porcini, and portabella. The flavor of dried mushrooms is a bit stronger than fresh mushrooms and are best suited for soups, stews, and sauces. I’ve also ground up dried mushrooms in a spice grinder and incorporated them in homemade pasta with excellent results.

Full of Vitamin D

Mushrooms, both fresh and dried, are an excellent source of vitamin D and potassium. At a mushroom talk at Phillips Mushrooms in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania I learned that if you take fresh shitake mushrooms and place them gills up in the sun, the amount of vitamin D increases significantly. What a tasty way to get a dose of vitamin D!

Using dried mushrooms couldn’t be easier. In most cases it’s best to soak them in water or wine for around ten minutes before using. If your dried mushrooms are raised at an indoor farm, you don’t have to be concerned about grit in them.

If they were wild mushrooms growing in the forest or field before being dried, you still need to soak them, then after 10 minutes give them a gentle stir to let the grit settle on the bottom. Next, take a fork, or slotted spoon to remove the mushrooms, leaving the grit on the bottom of the bowl you soaked them in. Use all but the bottom of portion of the mushroom liquid to add flavor to your dish.

Where to Buy

Dried mushrooms were once a rarity in stores, but nowadays, I see them in most grocery stores I shop at. If you can’t get them at your local grocery store, consider ordering them online. They are easy to ship and very lightweight.

An ounce of dried mushroom typically will cost about $7 to $10 plus shipping costs. I get almost all of my dried mushrooms from Phillips Mushrooms, the largest purveyor of specialty mushrooms in the United States. In the past I’ve also bought from Oregon Mushrooms, but that was when I had to order dried mushrooms online.

Melissa’s dried mushrooms are in some grocery stores throughout the US for another source. All three of these suppliers have a large selection of dried mushrooms but Philips and Oregon Mushrooms have medicinal mushrooms as well.

I like using dried mushrooms for slow cooker recipes like this lamb version I posted on my food blog in 2013. Chicken, pork, beef, and lamb all work well with dried mushrooms as long as there is a significant amount of liquid in the recipe. Another favorite way to use dried mushrooms is in Chinese hot and sour soup, which uses shitake. Cooking with dried mushrooms is usually a low-fat method as they don’t need the butter or oils used often in the cooking of fresh mushrooms.

For confident or beginner cooks, try this delicious and easy chicken and mushroom soup recipe to get started using dried mushrooms. This recipe also works well with pork chops if desired. The prep time is about 15 minutes and cooking time one hour.

Baked chicken with dried mushrooms


  • ½ ounce dried mushrooms
  • 1/3 cup dry red wine-merlot, cab franc, syrah, or similar
  • One 10.5 ounce can Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 T half and half, whole milk, 2% milk, or almond milk
  • ¼ t dried thyme
  • ¼ t onion powder
  • ¼-1/2 t garlic powder
  • ¼ t ground white or black pepper
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 2 pounds chicken legs, or thighs


1. Break dried mushrooms into dime-sized pieces and place in a small bowl.

2. Add red wine to dried mushrooms and let soak for 10-15 minutes.

3. In a medium sized mixing bowl add mushroom soup, half and half, thyme, onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, and saffron. Mix well with a spoon and set aside.

4. Pat chicken legs dry with paper towel and place in a baking dish. I like to use a Le Cruset cast iron or a ceramic baking dish.

5. Add red wine-soaked mushrooms to mushroom soup mix and stir to combine ingredients.

6. Pour mushroom mixture over chicken and coat each piece with the sauce mix.

7. Cover and bake for 60 minutes or until internal temperature of chicken leg reaches 165 degrees.

Serves 2-4

Note: I recommend serving mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, or sweet potatoes with this dish.

Kurt Jacobsohas been a chef for 40 years and, after being schooled in the U.S. Coast Guard, he trained in many restaurants under both kind and maniac chefs. Kurt is starting his seventh year of container and raised-bed organic gardening in his backyard. For this and other published stories, check out his travel blog, Read all of Kurt'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.

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