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

Cooking With Heirloom Tomatoes

heirloom tomatoes

Bountiful heirloom tomatoes, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Tomatoes are the reason I started gardening. All summer you can find me in the garden, luscious fruit in hand and tomato juice dripping from my chin. This is where you need to start before learning to cook with heirloom tomatoes. Heirlooms have been around for years and were bred and kept because of their incredible flavors. Taste them. Get out in your garden or find a festival that offers a tomato tasting event. You’ll want to use different varieties in different recipes but you’ve got to get them on your tongue to know this.

Heirloom tomatoes can taste sweet, tart, spicy, smoky, or even have a hint of citrus flavor. Some of them have a strong old-fashioned tomato flavor perfect for marinara sauce, while others cry out for other uses. Make some recipes with single varieties, and create your own seasonal tomato blend of varieties for soup and bruschetta.

bowl of tomatoes

Heirlooms for great taste and amazing variety, photo by Sheryl Campbell

The things we’ve decided are important to our family include:

  • Taste, taste, taste! We like most of our tomatoes to strike a balance of sweetness and acidity, and to have complex flavor profiles.  We love the smokiness of black tomatoes, and the surprise of citrus undertones in some of the bi-color or yellow tomatoes.
  • A variety of colors and flavors in small cherry and grape tomatoes to roast for using in Roasted Tomato Goat Cheese Penne
  • A steady variety of tomatoes ripening together so that our Tomato Basil soup is a complex and tasteful work of art impossible to duplicate from batch to batch.

What Do Our Tomatoes Taste Like?

  • Amish Paste is a large, meaty, full flavored tomato good for sauce or paste
  • Opalka is rich flavored, sweet and slightly smoky, great for roasting or sauces
  • Cour di Bui, with its true tomato taste, is a meaty pink tomato great for dehydrating

Salad tomatoes are small at 2-4 ounces and tend to produce early giving me that first “fix” of the season eaten out of hand or on salads.  Our two favorite are:

  • Juane Flamme, a beautiful orange jewel that is sweet and fruity
  • Green Zebra which is sweet yet zingy with green-on-green stripes

Our favorite early season tomatoes include:

  • Cherokee Chocolate, a more stable selection of Cherokee Purple with a complex flavor
  • Pink Berkeley Tie Dye tastes sweet and spicy - it’s the tomato that caused my addiction!
  • Rebekah Allen has a nice sweet/tart balance and is our earliest producer.

My huge beefsteak tomatoes are in full swing by mid-summer, cranking out an abundance of color and flavor that combine into the most interesting meals imaginable:

  • African Queen with a robust tomato flavor is sized perfectly for enormous sandwiches
  • Red Rose has a milder, sweeter flavor which caramelizes nicely on tarts
  • Carbon has a deep, smoky taste delicious for pies and tomato jam
  • Hawaiian Pineapple is fruity with citrus overtones pairs up with Carbon in pies
  • Green Giant is a true green with tropical citrus flavors perfect in Bruschetta
  • Lillian’s Yellow is perfect in Cucumber/Tomato Sandwiches with its citrus overtones

Our grape, pear, and cherry miniature tomatoes have the same wide range of flavors and colors. They include Sunrise Bumblebee, Grape Doctors, Black Cherry, Sungold, Cherry Roma, Sugar Cherry, and Napa Chardonnay.

cherry tomatoes

Cherry, grape, and mini tomatoes for roasting, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Let’s Start Cooking!

I love to cook – particularly with tomatoes. I love to eat – particularly tomatoes! So my collection of tomato recipes, found or created, grows larger every year.  Here are a few of my family’s favorite tomato recipes.

Roasted Tomato Goat Cheese Penne

This is one of our favorite summer meals. It takes two hours to roast the small tomatoes at 200 degrees, so I make up pounds of them and store them in the freezer in correct amounts for this recipe so I can make it in a few minutes on hot summer evenings. Add roasted chicken to it to make it a complete meal.

  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 3 quarts water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6-8 ounces herbed goat cheese
  • 1 large bunch fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 cups roasted cherry or grape tomatoes (multiple colors and flavors)
  • 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid
  • 1 tsp. good olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot bring the water, broth, and salt to a boil.  Cook the pasta in the liquid and then reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid.  Then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.  Add reserved liquid, goat cheese, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Toss well and serve immediately.

roasted tomato penne

Roasted Tomato Goat Cheese Penne, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Rainbow Bruschetta

I could eat this straight out of the bowl!

  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes (variety of colors and bold flavors)
  • ½ cup chopped fresh basil
  • ¼ cup Greek or Spanish olive oil (it is milder than Italian)
  • 3 T. good balsamic vinegar
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 dashes of course ground black pepper

Mix everything well in a bowl and refrigerate overnight so that flavors blend. Serve on thinly sliced, toasted baguette. 

Tomato Tart

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 T. olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta, drained
  • 4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
  • ¾ tsp. Kosher salt, divided
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 1 pound Juanne Flamme and Green Zebra salad tomatoes, cut in ½ inch slices

On a floured surface, roll out pastry into a 10x15 inch rectangle; transfer to parchment lined baking sheet.  Score a border 1 inch from edge all around. With a fork, prick dough inside the border. Brush center with 1 T. oil.

In a bowl, stir together ricotta, goat cheese, eggs, basil, ½ tsp. salt, and pepper. Spread over center of pastry. Top with overlapping tomatoes. Sprinkle with remaining salt and 1 T. oil. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes.

Tomato Jam

We use this on pizza along with goat cheese, on grilled cheese sandwiches, and on appetizers.

  • 5 pounds smoky flavored dark tomatoes like Carbon
  • 3 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup bottled lime juice
  • 2 tsp. fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 T. sea salt
  • 1 T. hot red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive pan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring regularly for several hours until it reduces to a sticky, jammy mess. It burns easily near the end. When done it will be glossy and not runny. Put in jars and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth Gardener and Grit 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.

What Foods Can You Discover in Your Back Yard?

 velvet mesquite resize

A velvet mesquite tree.

Photo by Renee Benoit

This desert surprises me on almost a daily basis. I originally came from a rainy climate where the soil was fertile, maybe the most fertile in the country (Iowa. I can brag!) Everything seemed to grow on its own. For a gardener it’s a heavenly place and I didn’t fully appreciate until I moved to a Mediterranean climate where the soil was not so heavenly or easily coaxed into growing things. For one thing, I had to irrigate to get things to grow. But that’s OK. Each place has its own attributes. Each have their own pros and cons. This place has turned out better than we thought.

For one thing the climate is not terribly hot and after a mild dry spring with only 2 weeks of unusual heat we’re now enjoying what is known as the Monsoon Season. It rains nearly every day, and it feels much like it feels in Iowa. The native plants and animals aren’t similar though. I’ve written about yucca and what can be done with those. Another plant – a tree – has turned out to be much more useful than I ever thought possible. I’m talking about the Mesquite tree.

The indigenous peoples in the southwestern United States used the mesquite tree for everything. They used it for food, medicine as well as a source for making implements such as bows, arrows, and sewing needles. They ground the dried seed pods into flour using a stone mortar and pestle, mixed that protein-rich gluten free flour with water, formed it into a cake and baked it in clay ovens. It was probably pretty bland because they didn’t have our modern seasonings, but they were used to it and most likely thought it delicious. They also made mush out of it or mixed it with a lot of water for a nourishing drink.

I did a little research and found that there are six species of mesquite trees native to the United States, from Southern California to Texas and from the Mexican border as far north as Oklahoma. Around here where I live the most common varieties are the velvet mesquite and honey mesquite. We have velvet mesquite on our property.

You see the seed pods between June and September and they are ready to harvest from mid-July through September. Ready-to-process honey mesquite pods are light tan in color and should be picked from the tree when they are dry and brittle. Velvet mesquite look very much the same, but their pods are mottled red.

 pods 1 resize

Mesquite pods.

Photo by Renee Benoit

Don’t collect pods from the ground because they can have mold growth. This is an aflatoxin that is present after the pods get wet so not only is it not great to gather them from the moist ground but also don’t pick them right after rain. Let them dry out and don’t choose pods that have any mildew-y or moldy coloring. Also pick pods that come off the tree easily. In other words, if they nearly fall into your hand, they are ready.

Mesquite has an earthy sweetness. I think it kind of resembles chocolate. And since the flour does not have gluten, you will need to mix it with wheat flour if you want to bake bread or something similar to that. A recipe that calls for 1 cup of wheat flour, for example, you could combine 1/4 to 1/2 cup of mesquite flour. Feel free to experiment.

Grind Your Own Mesquite Flour

The first step is to gather the mesquite. Use only pods that have little holes in them because that means the mesquite beetles have hatched from these pods. If there isn’t a hole there might still be a beetle in there. If you eat insects, then don’t be concerned! A 5-gallon bucket full to the top yields about 1 pound of flour.


  • Grain mill (a grain mill works best because it has the power), a food processor or blender (a food processor or blender can also work but start processing on low to avoid scratching the container. Pods are tough.)
  • Spoon
  • Fine mesh sieve or sifter
  • Glass jar for storage


1. Make sure the pods are completely dehydrated. If they are a bit green dry them in the oven, dehydrator on very low heat or out in the sun for a few hours until they snap when you break them.

2. Then break the pods into small pieces and place them into the grinder of your choice.

3. The first grinding will produce a coarse flour that contains pieces of whole pod and seed.

4. Now sift to remove the chaff from the flour. Compost the chaff as you go. Keep doing this until it’s all milled into powder form.

flour resize

Mesquite flour.

Photo by Renee Benoit.

Feel free to taste it so you have an idea how it tastes by itself. Keep it stored in a glass jar in a cool, dark place. The flour should stay fresh for up to six months.

I made buttermilk pancakes with my mesquite flour. I added ½ cup mesquite flour to 1 cup wheat flour. The mesquite flour imparts a kind of chocolate-y, caramel-y flavor. It is absolutely delicious!

pancakes resize

Dot with butter and pour on syrup!

Photo by Renee Benoit.

Are you in an area where mesquite trees don’t grow? There are a few companies that sell mesquite flour online.

Link to mesquite flour makers. Link to Mother Earth News hand crank grain mill.

Renée Benoi  is a writer, artist, gardener, horse woman, dedicated do-it-yourselfer and homesteader. She has been a ranch caretaker, a real estate agent specializing in country property and an elementary school art teacher. In April 2021 she moved to a 4 acre fixer upper homestead that is within sight of the border with Mexico in southeastern Arizona. With her partner Marty, a horse, a cat, and two dogs she is looking forward to getting things fixed up so she can ride, plant a big garden, get some chickens, and make whatever they need from scratch. Connect with Renée at RL Benoit, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.



Homemade Cottage Cheese

finish resize

Finished cottage cheese. Photo by Renee Benoit.

Over the years I’ve written a lot about my wonderful Gramma E and how she inspired me in the kitchen and beyond. She could sew, bake, cook, can and everything in between. After all she came from a self- sufficient farm family. They were from a time when going to the store for every little thing was simply not in the cards.

She made corn relish, bread, sewed without patterns, canned everything including meat and vegetables, baked the lightest angel food cakes on the planet and quilted up a storm.

One thing she made that I wish she had shared with me was how to make cottage cheese. When we had lunch or dinner at her house oftentimes there was a bowl of homemade cottage cheese on the table. I was too young to appreciate it but now that I am older I think back on those days with fondness and wish I had learned how she did it.

Recently, I discovered a local dairy with excellent milk so I did a little internet research on how to make cottage cheese. I came away confused because there are so many ways to make it! The only thing the recipes had in common was that they all started with the best milk you can get, never ultra-pasteurized and hopefully certified raw. But where they diverged was sometimes you heat the milk, sometimes not. Then to make the milk curdle sometimes you use rennet, sometimes you use lemon juice, or sometimes you use white vinegar. One recipe said to set milk out on the counter and let it curdle by adding buttermilk. I decided to try the buttermilk route because I guessed that might be the way my Gramma made it. My aunt said she remembered that it had a slight “bite” to it which I would think resulted from a fermentation process.

Author’s Note: What follows is a description of what happened to me so you’ll know what to do if the same thing happens to you.

So, as I said before I went with the fermentation route using buttermilk. Because the milk needed to set out at room temperature for 12 to 14 hours I started it just before I went to bed. I poured a gallon of room temperature milk into a large heavy bottom pot and then stirred in the buttermilk. Then I covered it and set it on the counter. I expected that by next morning it would “clabber,” aka curdle.

But the next morning it was still milk! No curdling had taken place! What was I supposed to do now? I definitely was not going to throw away all that milk! I decided to try a different recipe that said to heat the milk and add distilled white vinegar. So, I turned the flame under my pot to very low and attached a cheese thermometer to the side that would tell me when the milk reached 180 degrees. At that point I would add the vinegar. While it heated, I gently stirred the milk with my spoon to make sure the bottom did not burn. Along about 140 degrees the milk started to curdle! Should I still add the vinegar? I decided to do a test. I spooned out some heated milk into a small bowl and added a quarter teaspoon vinegar to see what would happen. It didn’t really do anything and it didn’t taste bad so I just kept heating and when it reached 180 degrees I added ¾ cup of distilled white vinegar.

Then I proceeded with the instructions as if it had all gone according to plan in the first place.

I placed a colander lined with a couple layers of cheese cloth on top of a slightly bigger bowl. I knew there would be a lot of whey draining out so I made sure it was a bowl that was big enough. Then I kept an eye on it so it didn’t overflow onto the countertop.

After the whey dripped out I set it aside for other uses and gathered the curds in the muslin and washed it underneath running water from the tap squishing and kneading the curd until it was cool.

squeeze resize

 Rinsing the curds. Photo by Renee Benoit.

salted resize

Then I crumbled the curd into a bowl and mixed in a little salt and cream to taste.

Photo by Renee Benoit

If you want to add chopped fresh chives or pineapple this is the time to do it. It’s ready to eat now or you can refrigerate it and eat it later. My cottage cheese hardened up in the fridge but setting it out at room temperature brought it back to the crumbly texture.

Homemade Cottage Cheese Ingredients and Utensils

Makes about a pound.


  • 1 gallon skim milk (preferably raw but pasteurized may be used. Never use ultra-pasteurized. Whole milk may be used but the fat in it will be discarded with the whey)
  • ½ cup buttermilk (again pasteurized may be used. Never ultra-pasteurized)
  • 1 cup more or less of heavy cream
  • A little salt to taste
  • Herbs (such as fresh chives to taste)

Tools (cleaned and sanitized)

  • Large heavy bottom stainless steel pot
  • Cheesecloth and colander
  • Stainless steel slotted spoon
  • Stainless steel knife (a bread knife will do)

My take-away from this is that making cottage cheese is not a precise process and that any method probably works. The result is more delicious that store-bought, in my opinion, and you can control how much salt intake you have.

Renée Benoit is a writer, artist, ranch caretaker and dedicated do-it-yourselfer who homesteads a small ranch in the southeast corner of Arizona near the Mexican border. Connect with Renée at RL Benoit, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Video: Make 2-Ingredient, 30-Minute Cheese for a Farmstead-Style Queso

me milking 

Milking a goat
Photo by Aur Beck

Do you have milk that you think is past the use by date or starting to be sour? Don’t throw it away. Make cheese! One gallon of milk will produce about one pound of cheese.

Directions for Farmstead Cheese

1. Bring milk up to 180 to 190 degrees (the older the milk, the lower the needed temp). Use a thermometer.

2. Keep stirring to avoid sticking and getting a film on the top. 

3.To test if it is the right temperature, using a big spoon, take out a little of the milk and add a little sour (lemon juice or vinegar) to see if it curdles in the spoon.

4. When you pour in the sour into the warm milk, do so as slowly as possible, while stirring, until it curds. If you put in too much sour the cheese will be sour. We ate so much sour cheese when mom was first learning how to make it I now prefer it with a little sour zing.

5. Set up a pot with a colander or strainer filled with a cheesecloth. Pour the cheese mixture through the cheesecloth/colander/strainer.

6. Save the whey. Boiling the whey will free the stuck- to-the-pan burnt milk. No matter how much you stir there will be milk browned to the pan unless you use a double boiler which I never do as I use the whey. I used to laugh at my mom for reusing the whey (liquid left over) but now follow the same process to clean the pan.

7. While the cheese is very hot it is the best time to add your flavors to be baked in. The flavors tend to be savory like garlic or Italian seasoning but my favorite is cinnamon raisin. I highly recommend flavoring the cheese as it is very hard to not have some sour taste. Although the cheese is immediately ready to eat, the longer it drips the more solid the cheese will become. You can even hang the cheesecloth above the sink or a bowl to drip for a while or just put in a container for a soft spreadable cheese.

8. Start eating right away or form it up and store in the freezer. Freezing it doesn’t seem to change texture or flavor. In the spring when we had tons of milk from our goats, we would make lots of cheese and freeze it in pound chunks. This is so simple to make we never got around to making the more common aged hard cheeses.

Here is a video of the whole process.

Aur 'DaEnergyMon', is a NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installer. His name Aur (pronounced "or") means light or to enlighten in Hebrew. Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for more than 35 years.. He can be reached at . Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International  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.

Cooking with Edible Flowers: Recipes for Nasturtium Balsamic Chicken, Beans with Flower Confetti, and Violet Coconut Cake

Daylilies stuffed with chicken-artichoke salad

Daylilies with Chicken-Artichoke Salad Photo by Sheryl Campbell

Edible flowers are used in recipes and as garnishes at many restaurants these days, but have you tried them in your own garden and kitchen? There are so many edible flowers to choose from, and you may already grow many of them in your ornamental or vegetable beds. There may even be some growing wild on your property as there are in mine.

A couple of key safety rules to remember when growing and using your own edible flowers is that you must not put any chemicals on them. That means no chemical fertilizers, and no insecticides. Also don’t use flowers grown close to the road as car exhaust can be taken up in them while growing.

Edible Flowers and Where to Find Them

Here are all the edible flowers that I use in cooking for my family and friends. I’ve divided them out by where you are likely to find them in your gardens and on your property. Go to Bouquet Banquet’s Listing for details on each type of edible flower, including its Latin name (important for safe identification), information on taste, and suggested uses in the kitchen.

From your vegetable garden, use the flowers of:

  • Okra
  • Peas
  • Runner beans
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Kohlrabi
  • Radishes
  • Squash
  • Fennel
  • Mustard
  • Sweet potato
  • Onions
  • Shallots

From your herb bed, use the flowers of:

  • Anise hyssop
  • Tarragon
  • Bee balm
  • Chives
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Borage
  • Mints (each type has a different taste)
  • Basils (each type has a different taste)
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Savory
  • Sage
  • Dill
  • Lemon balm

From your ornamental flower beds, use the flowers of:

  • Violets
  • Tuberous begonias
  • Tulips
  • Calendula
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Fuchsia
  • Violas
  • Dianthus
  • Nasturtium
  • Dahlia
  • Sunflower
  • Tulips
  • Daylily
  • Roses
  • Gardenia
  • Gladiola
  • Lavender
  • Hibiscus
  • Marigold

From the wild, use the flowers of:

  • Red clover
  • Dandelion
  • Wild purslane
  • Wood sorrel
  • Wild strawberry
  • Wild violets

From your trees, shrubs, and vines, use the flowers of:

  • Apple
  • Wild rose
  • Japanese honeysuckle
  • Elderberry
  • Crab apple
  • Plum
  • Lilac
  • Red bud
  • Orange

Ways to Cook With Edible Flowers

Edible flowers are flavorful, they are textured, and they are colorful. There are flowers that taste of cloves, of cinnamon, of pepper, and anise. Bite into other flowers for the taste of beans, asparagus, and cucumbers, but not from the plants that give you those actual vegetables. You can find a large number of Edible Flower Recipes here to start your own kitchen experiments.

Edible flowers add taste, color, and texture to casseroles, sandwiches, frittatas, and salads. Mixed with vinegar, oil or butter they make lovely glazes or toppings for meats. Daylily, gladiola, and tulip flowers can be used as individual serving dishes while adding flavor and crunch to whatever you put in them. Edible flowers are used to create better appetizers, meat dishes, side dishes, and desserts. They liven up your oil and vinegar infusions, and make lovely flavored sugars and salts.

To get you started, here are some new recipes to try right now. Edible flower availability changes with the seasons. Seek to grow a wide variety of edible flowers and you’ll be cooking with them spring through early winter.

 nasturtium balsamic chicken

Chicken with Nasturtium Balsamic Glaze Photo by Sheryl Campbell

Nasturtium Balsamic Chicken

I love to make my own flavored balsamic vinegar using edible flowers or the juice from fruits grown on my farm. Go beyond garnish to make this delectable chicken dish using both nasturtium petals and nasturtium vinegar in the marinade.


  • 8 chicken thighs, skin on
  • 2 T. butter
  • ½ cup Rosemary Nasturtium White Balsamic Vinegar (see below)
  • 3 T. dark honey
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup nasturtium petals, separated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup whole nasturtium flowers

Rosemary Nasturtium White Balsamic Vinegar

Fill a jar with nasturtium flowers, lightly, and then fill with white balsamic vinegar. Seal the jar tightly and shake vigorously every couple of days for 2-4 weeks. Store in a cool cupboard away from light. When the vinegar has reached the strength you desire, strain out flower petals and pour into a vinegar cruet. Stored away from light this will last for months.

Directions for Chicken

1. Whisk together vinegar, honey, garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir in nasturtium petals.

2. Rinse chicken thighs and pat dry.

3. Place chicken in a baking dish and pour marinade over top. Let sit for 1 hour at room temperature. Remove chicken from dish.

4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

5. Melt butter in a heavy skillet over medium high heat.

6. Sear chicken for 2 minutes per side.

7. Brush marinade over chicken and bake in oven for 20-30 minutes until chicken is cooked through.

8. Garnish with whole nasturtium flowers and serve.

garden beans with flower confetti

Fresh Beans with Flower Confetti Photo by Sheryl Campbell

Mixed Garden Beans with Flower Confetti

Green (or yellow or purple) beans by themselves, or even with butter, become old over the summer. Here’s a way to liven them up with a myriad of flavors from edible flowers.


  • 3 cups fresh green beans
  • 2 cups fresh yellow beans
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1/4 cup each calendula petals, nasturtium petals, runner bean flowers, and thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup herb flowers (your choice of mixture)


1. Fill a large pot with water and heat to boiling.

2. Cook the beans for 4 minutes until color brightens.

3. Stir in butter. Cool slightly.

4. Mix in flower confetti with the beans and serve immediately.

Violet Coconut Layer Cake

Violet Coconut Layer Cake Photo by Sheryl Campbell

Violet Coconut Cake

Coconut cake is one of my favorite desserts. Over the years I’ve combined recipe ideas from my grandmother, one of my cousins, and my best friend. Wanting to take this amazing dessert even higher, I recently added violets to it – but not just as a garnish! Read on.

Ingredients and Directions for the Cake

  • Cream together ½ canola oil, ½ cup unsalted butter, 2 cups sugar, and ½ cup violet petals
  • Add 3 egg yolks, one at a time, and beat until fluffy
  • Gently beat in 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Sift together 2 ½ cups cake flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. baking soda, ½ tsp. salt
  • Mix ½ cup coconut milk with ½ cup buttermilk
  • Alternately add dry ingredients and milks to the butter mixture
  • Stir in 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • Beat 3 egg whites until stiff and gently fold in to the batter
  • Grease and flour 2 9-inch cake pans
  • Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes until an inserted pick comes out clean
  • Cool 15 minutes in pans and then on rack until completely cool

Ingredients and Directions for the Frosting

  • Cream together 16 oz. of cream cheese and 2 sticks unsalted butter, both softened
  • Gently beat in 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 pound sifted powdered sugar
  • Stir in ¾ cups sweetened flaked coconut

Building the Cake

  • Place one cake layer on a pretty cake plate
  • Top with some of the frosting
  • Add the second cake layer
  • Frost the top of the cake
  • Now frost the sides of the cake, creating a textured pattern
  • Top with candied violets (see below), putting a few of the violets around the sides of the cake as well

How to Make the Candied Violets

  • Beat one egg white until very frothy
  • Put 3 T. confectioners sugar in a sifter
  • Line a baking sheet with paper towels
  • Harvest 25 violets leaving some of the stem intact
  • Dip each violet into the egg white and shake off excess
  • Place each violet right side up on lined baking sheet
  • Sift powdered sugar over violets, turn them face down with stems upright
  • Sift more powdered sugar over them
  • Put the baking sheet in the refrigerator for 24-36 hours until the sugar glaze is dry
  • Remove from the refrigerator and let site out at warm room temperature for another 24 hours
  • Snip off the stems and use immediately or store in an airtight container for 1-2 months

Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth Gardener and Grit 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.

In Defense of Food Liberty: The Right to Farm in Our Communities

Watering a vegetable garden. Photo by Flickr/Lisa Jacobs

The COVID pandemic traumatized the American economy as well as citizenry, exposing vulnerabilities (and dependencies) in the nation’s food distribution system. More Americans are now alert to the issue of food security as well as food quality — what if the nation had been as completely dependent on China for basic foods as it was for medical masks? In times of crisis, local farmers and locavore consumers are a vital part of the solution to this problem. But in today’s highly regulated world, the legal parameters of the “liberty” of farmers to sell food to their customers — or even of citizens to grow vegetables for their own consumption! — continue to be defined.

Americans’ profound dependence on a fragile, fossil fuel-gobbling, industrial food supply has increased with technological advances, globalization, and expanding government regulation of the hitherto sacrosanct “family farm.” As the factory food supply has grown, the health and safety risks of those “modern” and often inhumane facilities have been employed as justification to expand regulatory restrictions of smaller farms.

Less than six decades ago, barely one-third of states required meat that was slaughtered and sold on the farm to be inspected. Disease outbreaks from “factory meat” have since been used to greatly expand costly regulation of non-offending small farms. This compels an unhealthy trend: Younger would-be farmers and new ventures are discouraged from investing in the localvore economy.

Examples from the Frontlines of the Fight to Grow Food

The steady urbanization of America, encouraged by regulations and subsidies that favor industrially-produced food, continues to detach modern man from connection to the soil and food supply. This has resulted in bizarre regulatory restrictions that would be (properly!) seen as absurd a few decades past. Consider these reports back in 2014:
  • In 2011, a woman in Oak Park, Mich., faced the possibility of jail time for having kept an edible garden in her front yard. The city claimed the woman’s vegetable garden didn’t fit its definition of “suitable live plant material.”
  • In 2012, a Newton, Mass., resident was forced by the city to dig up the tomato garden he planted in his front yard or face a fine.
  • That same year, Tulsa, Ok., code enforcement officers trampled onto an unemployed woman’s front yard and ripped up the edible garden she had planted to help feed herself during lean times.
  • In 2013, Miami Shores, Fla., amended its ordinance to prohibit front yard vegetable gardens and informed Hermine Ricketts and her husband Tom Carroll that they faced fines of $50 a day if they did not destroy their beautiful garden.

This battle between municipal zoning laws and gardening has heightened due to COVID, but conflicts in the countryside have raged for years to protect traditional farms from newcomers who prefer the visual to the olfactory dimension of rural agriculture: “right-to-farm” laws have been widely enacted in response. (Not content to inhibit the self-reliant from growing vegetables or rearing chickens in suburbia, the city mice have expanded to surrounding agriculture lands; food-hostile zoning edicts in tow).

Claiming health and safety powers, government has regulated “unhealthy” foods based not only on production but on consumption — taxes and bans on sugary or fatty foods abound. If universal food provision is a basic human entitlement, what kind of food? And how can any right be preserved when humans’ connections to the land and food are artificially severed? Does the right to “receive” food exist via government provision, or is there an individual right to produce one’s own that is sacrosanct and untouchable by government?

Food Choice is a Fundamental Liberty Right

It does not seem controversial to state, as did Attorney Ari Bargil of the Institute for Justice, that “We have the right to use our own properties to grow our own food, as long as that use doesn’t impinge on someone else’s freedom to enjoy their property.” Yet that is precisely the frontline of the battle: government has impinged that liberty.

As 2015 Report by the Institute for Justice warned:

Today, from the federal government on down to states and cities, elected officials and regulators are cracking down with increasing relentlessness on the lives and livelihoods of the farmers, chefs, artisans, restaurateurs, food truck operators and others who raise, produce, make, cook and sell the food we eat—and in the process, undermining their right to earn an honest living and provide for themselves…. Food freedom is under attack…. The Founding Fathers fought against British laws just like these, and sought in the Bill of Rights to ensure that no American government would ever mimic Britain’s wayward colonial attacks on food freedom…..It’s time to remind our elected officials of the lessons of food freedom and to demand the return of our intertwined rights of food freedom and economic liberty.

Co-author Dave Berg published a Law Review article in 2013 titled Food Choice Is a Fundamental Liberty Right, (9 J. FOOD L. & POL’Y 173), which argued for constitutional support for an individual’s right to purchase meat and poultry directly from the person who raised and participated in the slaughtering of that meat or poultry without mandatory governmental inspection.

Dave Berg. Photo by John Klar

Some have suggested granting such a right post-Citizens United would expand corporate power at the expense of individual liberties, but it is hard to imagine Monsanto claiming it has a “personal corporate right” to choose what foods it eats any more than Nike could credibly claim it has a right to an abortion. We Americans witness our neighbors being prosecuted not for chopping up a cow in their front yard, but for planting zucchini! Are we to deny people the freedom to garden under the pretense that corporations would abuse that right?

Moves Toward Regenerative Economy

During the trauma of the COVID pandemic, citizens of all political persuasions witnessed the industrial nature and Orwellian dependency that is their modern food supply. Homesteaders (and would-be homesteaders) are the antidote to a growing effort to transfer responsibility to the government and mega-corporations for that which we once did ourselves — grow healthy food and eat it. COVID has revealed the folly of industrial food, but also armed many more with the desire and awareness to respond regeneratively.

With increasing dependency on Chinese and other foreign food producers that are often subjected to lax regulation, it is dubious to further curtail local farmers and consumers from their centuries-long traditions of commerce in the name of protecting their health. As increasing awareness of the importance of healthy local food motivates more people to try their hands at home gardening, chicken-rearing, or milking a family cow, the collisions with ubiquitous stifling regulations — zoning laws, meat inspection regulations, labeling requirements, etc. — will increase. It is imperative that the right to grow one’s own food be granted its proper priority for human health and pursuit of happiness.

Henry Kissinger famously said Control oil and control the nations; Control food and you control people. One need not point to nefarious intentions by Big Brother Monsanto to see the logic of Kissinger’s proposition -- and the imperative to oppose any control of one’s food liberty by Big Government or Big Ag (the two are often aligned). Stay tuned as Americans strive to retain liberty in their own food production and distribution: the battle is just heating up.

John Klar

John Klar raises grass-fed beef and sheep, and seeks to educate people about where their food comes from and how large corporate interests wish to dominate food production. He moved to Vermont and began farming in 1998. John and his wife, Jacqueline, built and operated an artisanal raw-milk cheese house, and have raised pigs, chickens, sheep, horses, cows, and goats, and grown many varieties of vegetables and herbs. Connect with John on Facebook, and watch his farming videos on YouTube. Read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Dave Berg worked as a maritime lawyer in Boston for almost 20 years and now is a lawyer and legal writer in Milwaukee. He has been interested in food choice and food rights for some time and, several years ago, published an article in the Journal of Food Law and Policy that proposed that food choice is a fundamental liberty right and that laid out a framework for challenging food regulations as an infringement on consumers' liberty rights.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

42 Frugal Homestead Breakfasts for an Extreme Budget

Breakfast Shopping Haul 

Breakfast shopping haul
Photo by Kerry Mann

Normally we try to feed our family farm fresh eggs and tasty produce from our homestead garden, but we wanted to challenge ourselves to see how frugal we good be buying everything from Aldi before our homestead garden comes in.

Breakfast Sandwiches

Breakfast sandwich
Photo by Kerry Mann

On our road to becoming homesteaders, we pinched all of our pennies and learned a thing or two about stretching our dollar. We also have the homestead skills to make our own bread, tortillas and english muffins and more. So we challenged ourselves: Could we feed our family of six, for one week a delicious homestead breakfast for under $20? That’s six people multiplied by seven days or in other words 42 homestead breakfast for under $20. That is under $0.47 cents per meal.

Normally we would use eggs from our chickens, produce from our garden, but for this challenge we did not allow that and used only our $20 worth of purchased groceries to see if its possible for most. We created a list and started shopping around. We have a local Aldi and the prices and selection seemed doable within our tight budget. Our strategy was to focus on cheap made from scratch staples. We started by buying a bag of flour for $1.15 and a package of yeast for $0.89. This would provide us with homemade bread, cinnamon buns, English muffins and tortillas all for around 10% of the entire budget.

Here are some items we purchased below and we breakout precise costs in the video below for each meal.

  • All Purpose Flour
  • Yeast
  • 10lb Russet Potatoes
  • Premium Sausage
  • 4 Dozen Large Eggs
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Original pancake syrup
  • Cinnamon 
  • Powdered sugar
  • Pure vanilla

* Grand Total $16.29, see the video for breakout per meal.

Cinnamon Buns

Cinnamon buns
Photo by Kerry Mann

To stretch our budget we started on day zero by preparing a bunch bread, cinnamon buns, english muffins and tortillas using our flour and yeast.

Please watch the video to see the meals in all of their glory but here is a quick summary:

  • Day 1. Meals 1-6. Egg sandwiches
  • Day 2. Meals 7-12. Cinnamon bread
  • Day 3. Meals 13-18. Simple Oatmeal
  • Day 4. Meals 19-24. French toast and some powdered sugar along with some syrup
  • Day 5. Meals 25-30. Sausage Egg tacos with some potatoes
  • Day 6. Meals 31-36. Omelettes, Leftovers, Cinnamon buns, Simple Oatmeal, French toast
  • Day 7. Meals 37-42. Broccoli Quiche

Overall we had 7 days of delicious meals. The homemade bread was 10 times better than store bought bread! We also made tortillas and Alyssa had a blast making them... and again, they tasted way better over store bought tortillas. Overall we were amazed with how well these meals turned out on such a tight budget. It was a lot of extra work making everything from scratch but well worth the effort. All of these meals could have been improved by adding some homestead flair. If your homestead is looking to stretch your meal budget, you can really go a long way and still enjoy some amazing breakfasts especially if you are willing to cook them from scratch and can compliment them with produce from your own homestead.

Kerry W. Mann, Jr. moved to a 20-acre homestead in 2015, where he and his family use modern technology, including YouTube and, to learn new skills and teach homestead projects. Connect with Kerry on his Homestead How YouTube pageInstructablesPinterest Facebookand at My Evergreen Homestead. Read all of Kerry’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.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters