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

Prep Greens in Jars


Prepping spring greens like spinach, lettuce and scallions makes them easy to use for my family. Asian spinach straight from the garden, sits in my refrigerator, unwashed. It just sits there. My husband won’t grab it and toss it into scrambled eggs. My son won’t grab it and toss some into his stir-fry. I will think twice before using it for a quick lunch salad. It still needs prepping. It needs to be rinsed and chopped before it’s ready for easy use.

I used to leave heads of lettuce and spinach unwashed, but I’m starting to see the benefits of prepping in advance. I’ve taken to washing and chopping greens and storing them in glass jars or big plastic bins in the refrigerator, ready to use. Washed and drained and stored nicely, all ready to go. Prepped produce is convenient, ready to toss into a stir-fry, eggs, salad. Ready to be eaten.

Sometimes a lettuce goes limp in a bag, but it is keeping fresh and crisp in jars. It’s changing the way we eat. Grab a jar of chopped lettuce and add dressing. Toss some chopped tatsoi or nappa into a stir-fry or scrambled eggs. Ready to go.

The convenience of prepped vegetables in the store is all the rage. You can still reap the benefits with your homegrown or locally purchased produce, without the extra packaging and cost. Once chopped, produce does start to lose nutrition more quickly; however, if it also gets eaten in your house more quickly, the benefits are reaped.

Some of my favorite jar greens: Bok choi, nappa cabbage, tatsoi, lettuce, scallions: all prep well. Chop them in advance (they often fit into the jar better this way), or just break into individual leaves, clean and ready for chopping. Half gallon wide mouth canning jars are really useful. Consider using smaller jars to create jar salads, combined and ready to go for a quick lunch.

Bok choi can be washed and broken apart into edible spoons. The crunchy white scoop makes the perfect spoon for hummus or a rice filling. Or chop the bok choi, ready to toss into stir-fries. Small jars of chopped scallions and garlic scapes are ready too, adding zest to every dish.

Storing in jars is particularly helpful in early season, when the spring greens are bountiful. I wouldn’t prep a zucchini or cucumber unless they are being pickled in a jar of brine. They won’t keep well in a canning jar. Their skins keep them fresh and are so easy to chop as needed. It’s mainly the washing job that nobody in my house wants to do. Prepping that task jump starts the whole “use it” game.

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

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Dandelion Jelly Recipe

Jars of Dandelion Jelly 

As a homesteader, you may realize that one of the most important tasks for you during the growing season is storing your own food for later use. A lot of “non homesteaders” look at us with this dreadful image of us sweating over a stove steam rolling up from the pot into our faces, hair going crazy. And maybe half of that is true but they leave out the birds chirping and singing in the background, sun shining, tea sitting on the table next to you, spoon tastings. This is our life, and in between the jams or tomatoes processing away we’re writing this or some other article to share how beautiful this step in a homesteader’s life, or anyone’s life looking to add a bit of simplicity and the safety of knowing where your food is coming from and whose hands grew them.

Right now we are boiling up some apple blossom jelly and dandelion jelly. Not your usual food preservation, but in our household it is. We try to preserve any nutrients and little taste of spring and summer any chance we get, when you have 6 months of cold you tend to really  appreciate the warm weather. There is so much food around us, we’d be fools to let it all go to waste! Dandelions alone are tiny powerhouses full of Vitamins A, B6, C and K along with magnesium, potassium, and calcium. There are many ways to preserve dandelion, you could roast the roots or dry the greens, both for tea; you could pick the greens all summer long; infusing the leaves or flowers into oil for medicine; but our favorite way is to make jelly from the flowers.

The jelly is a bit more of a process than some of the others methods of preservation, but floral jellies are some of our favorite ways to store the taste and memories of bright and fragrant flower blossoms for a cold and gray winter day. They are delicious on a warm biscuit or a piece of toast, with honey, or by the spoonful for a sweet craving. This is a wonderful way to use dandelion blossoms and to utilize the abundance of free food that grows everywhere! Not to mention, you’re working with flowers, what could go wrong there? Note: do not consume plants foraged from areas that have been treated with chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or from less than 30-50 feet from the road to avoid potential health risks.

For dandelion jelly, we want to make sure that we remove all of the green parts and use only the yellow petals/white fluff (not the seeds!). The green parts are full of alkaloids that while aren’t harmful can be unpalatably bitter. This is more easily accomplished as soon as they are picked, if you let them sit for too long they will wilt and it will just be a bit harder to separate the petals from the green. We want at least 4 cups — loosely packed — of dandelion heads per 4 1/4 cups of water. We usually just break the flower open and pick/scratch the petals off, but play around with it and see what works best for you! It may seem like a lot of work, but if you have some music or a good friend, this is a great way to practice being present!

After separating the flowers, we will make an infusion from them. We use about 4 1/4 cups of water for the amount of dandelion we have picked out. To make an infusion, pour hot (not boiling)  water over the dandelion petals and steep for at least 30 minutes, and up to 8 hours (24 hours max). The color will become darker the longer it steeps, and a short steeping time will cause a lovely light yellow color. We prefer to let it steep longer for more of a concentrated jelly. After steeping the tea, you must strain out the solids, then put on medium heat. Now, you’ll start making the jelly. Prepare your water bath canner and sterilize jars and lids in boiling water. In a bowl mix 1 cup of sugar with 4 1/4 teaspoons of pectin powder, make sure these are thoroughly mixed.

Next, add 1 tsp of citric acid, or 1/2 cup of bottled lemon juice (we used 1/2 cup of juice from fresh lemons, and 1/2 tsp of citric acid and it turned out fine — you just need a certain amount of acidity for it to store, and bottled lemon juice has a set amount of acidity) to the tea along with 4 1/4 tsp of calcium water (this comes with Pomona’s pectin which allows you to use less sugar in a recipe). Allow the tea mixture to come to a boil, once it does, slowly add the sugar and pectin mix and stir as you add the mixture. Skim what you can if foam forms on the top, it’s not a big deal if you can’t get all of it. Then let the mixture return to a boil once all sugar is dissolved. Once the mixture has reached a boil, remove from heat.

The next step is to put the jelly into jars. Once your jars and covers have been in the boiling water, remove them and ladle the jelly into jars leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. After ladling the jelly into the jars, wipe off the rims with a napkin or towel and put the covers on, screw rings on until they are finger tight, no need to crank them. Place the jars back in your water bath canner and process them for 10 minutes at sea level at a rolling boil (consult canning processing charts for increased time as altitude increases). Remove after the 10 minutes and let sit untouched for 12-24 hours after processing to cool. Check the seals by looking at the button on the lids, make sure they are sucked in.

After that, you should have some beautiful jars of tasty dandelion jelly for your pantry! Store these in a cool, dark place out of direct sunlight and they should keep for at least a year — even longer in most cases. We hope you decide to make some, and let us know how it comes out! Check back for more recipes as the growing season rolls along!

Dandelion Jelly Recipe


  • 4 cups loosely packed dandelion petals, greens removed
  • 4 1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 1/4 tsp pectin powder (Pomona’s Pectin brand)
  • 1/2 cup bottled or fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp of citric acid (see information above pertaining to acidity)
  • 4 1/4 tsp calcium water


  1. Make sure you remove the greens from the petals and use the petals of the dandelions.
  2. Pour 4 1/4 cups of hot (not boiling) water over the dandelion petals and steep from 30 mins to 24 hours.
  3. Start your water bath canner and place 5-6 jars, rings and lids in it.
  4. Strain the tea to remove the solids.
  5. In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix sugar and pectin powder.
  6. While the tea is heating, add the calcium water and lemon juice or citric acid and make sure everything is dissolved.
  7. Allow the tea to reach a boil, once it has, slowly add pectin/sugar mix and stir thoroughly to make sure it has dissolved.
  8. Skim off whatever foam you can if it forms, you don’t have to get all of it unless you want to.
  9. Allow to return to a boil and then remove from heat.
  10. Ladle the jelly into jars, wipe the rims and put on covers.
  11. Process for 10 minutes at a rolling boil (longer for increased altitudes).
  12. Let sit for 12-24 hours and check seals.

We hope you have fun making this, and let us know how it turns out!

Michael Perry and Schikoy Rayn operate Sacred Circle Homestead, a small-scale, low-tech perennial nursery focusing primarily on medicinal and edible species utilizing principles of permaculture and indigenous wisdom. Learn about the classes they teach at their website or at The Trillium Center, a healing center where they hold workshops in Burlington, VT. Read all of Michael and Schikoy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Creative Ways to Use Dandelions

Dandelions grow just about everywhere in the world, dotting lawns and defiantly sprouting through sidewalk cracks.  Though dandelions are incredibly common, they’re also powerful herbal medicine and tasty edibles at the same time.

Basket of dandelion flowers

Medicinally, whole dandelion plants are often made into a dandelion tincture, which has traditionally been used for skin and urinary tract problems.  Herbalists use the blossoms as a treatment for sore muscles, in the form of a dandelion salve or dandelion infused oil.

Beyond herbal medicine, dandelions are just plain tasty.  Dandelion roots can be cooked like carrots or roasted and brewed into dandelion root coffee.  The greens are eaten fresh in salads or cooked with a bit of oil or salt.  Dandelion blossoms can be made into simple dandelion fritters without much effort too.

dandelion fritters frying in a pan

Making Dandelion Fritters from Simply Beyond Herbs

Year after year, we make a few basic things with dandelions, but I’m always looking for new and creative ways to use them.  Our land in Vermont is a dandelion paradise, and we’d have to work full time just to put a noticeable dent in the dandelion crop. 

While it’s true that dandelions are an important food source for pollinators, deadheading some dandelion blossoms as they pop open actually encourages the plant to produce yet more blossoms.  Remember to harvest sustainably and leave some for the bees, but also have fun and enjoy all the wonder that dandelions have to offer.

Creative Dandelion Blossom Recipes

The blossoms are by far the easiest way to make use of dandelions.  They’re easy to identify, simple to harvest and most recipes only require a few flowers for a really unique treat.  How do dandelion flowers taste you ask?  Like sweet honey…

Be sure to remove the bitter green parts and only use the yellow dandelion petals.

Dandelion Candy

A simple hard candy flavored with dandelion blossoms, this dandelion candy will put a smile on anyone’s face.

dandelion candy from the homestead lady

Dandelion Candy Image Courtesy of The Homestead Lady

Dandelion Gummy Bears

My kids absolutely love gummy bears, and it’s incredibly easy to make them at home with just a few ingredients.  As a bonus, the homemade ones are much healthier and you can choose to sweeten them with raw honey for a healthier treat.  Dandelion gummy bears are fun to make, and there’s something about watching my 2-year-old harvest dandelions for his own treat that makes them extra special.

dandelion gummy bears

Dandelion Gummy Bears from Adamant Kitchen

Dandelion Wine

An old school classic, dandelion wine has been made in country households for generations.  If you make a small batch, it doesn’t require too many flowers.  A five-gallon batch is a serious time investment, not in the harvesting of the flowers but in separating the flavorful petals from the bitter greens.

My husband and I made dandelion wine on our first date, and spent a whole afternoon getting to know each other over a mess of plucked dandelion petals.  Now 10 years later, we still drink a bottle of that first batch on our anniversary.  Nothing like a little dandelion wine to spark a lasting relationship, both with foraging and with each other.

homemade dandelion wine

Dandelion Wine from Practical Self Reliance

Dandelion Shortbread Cookies

Shortbread is incredibly simple to make, with just three ingredients: flour, sugar and butter.  Mix in dandelion petals and you take a simple cookie and add wild foraged excitement.  My little ones really loved helping with every part of this dandelion shortbread recipe.

dandelion shortbread cookies

Dandelion Shortbread from Adamant Kitchen

Dandelion Bread

Want to add beautiful color and a subtle honey flavor to your homemade bread?  Dandelion bread is really unique, and I bet the kids will love homemade sandwiches made with this sunny loaf.

homemade dandelion bread

Homemade Dandelion Bread from Homespun Seasonal Living

Dandelion and Honey Marshmallows

Homemade marshmallows are easy to make, no corn syrup or special equipment required.  These dandelion honey marshmallows just need a few dandelions, honey and gelatin.  For equipment, all it takes is a stand mixer and cake pan.  Who knew you could make your own (healthier) marshmallows?  And they taste even more like honey with dandelion petals…

Dandelion and honey marshmallows

Dandelion and Honey Marshmallows from Adamant Kitchen

Dandelion Infused Vinegar

Dandelion infused vinegar is one of the few dandelion blossom recipes that doesn’t require separating out the petals.  The hint of bitterness from the green sepals plays well against the sweetness of the petals.  Use it on salads, or take a bit like a spring tonic.

Dandelion infused vinegar

Dandelion Infused Vinegar from Grow Forage Cook Ferment

Still need more inspiration?  Check out this list of ways to use dandelions from root to flower, or read up on more than 40 types of edible flowers that may already be growing in your yard.

Ashley lives in a solar and wind powered home in Vermont with her husband and two young children.  She writes about gardening, foraging, DIY and all things off-grid aPractical Self Reliance.  You can find pictures of her homestead adventures on Instagramor follow along on Facebook or Twitter.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Using Excess Asparagus

abundance of asparagus 

Have a glut of asparagus? Me neither. In fact, I can’t imagine ever having too much asparagus. Now a couple of empty-nesters, my husband and I have expanded our asparagus bed not once, but twice. That’s how much we love the stuff.

We usually harvest a decent-sized helping for each of us every day or two. When we find ourselves with more than a day’s worth, we freeze the extra in meal-sized batches. Frozen is as tasty as fresh, and the green taste of springtime in the depths of winter can’t help but brighten the spirits.

Freezing Excess Asparagus

Asparagus is quick and easy to freeze. The National Center for Home Food Preservation says to heat one gallon of water for each pound of vegetable. Once the water is boiling vigorously, add well-washed asparagus stalks and cover, keeping temperature high. Begin the countdown as soon as the water returns to a boil. (If you use the right proportions, that should be in a minute or less). Thin spears only need two minutes of blanching time; medium, three; and thick, four.

(You can heat the asparagus in a wire basket inside a larger pot to make quick removal easier, especially if you plan to reuse the water for more batches. However, for a small batch, it’s easy enough to lift the veggies out of the water and into a colander using tongs.)

Quickly transfer asparagus to an ice-water bath to stop the cooking process. Let it cool in the ice water for at least as long as the blanching time.

Remove vegetable to a flat, dry, clean kitchen towel and pat dry. Store in the freezer in airtight freezer containers.

Check out this site for more information.

Cream of Asparagus Soup Recipe

This year, we’ve had an especially generous crop of our favorite early spring vegetable and have found ourselves with as much as two pounds in one picking—too much for the heartiest asparagus eater. We decided to make soup—our first ever homemade cream of asparagus soup. We were not disappointed. Here’s my recipe. Note:

Although this is the recipe I use, measurements do not need to be precise.

Yield: 4 servings


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon each salt and black pepper
1 pound of asparagus, tough ends removed
3 cups vegetable broth (have an extra cup on hand in case you want to thin soup later)
½ teaspoon fresh or reconstituted lemon juice, or to taste
Heavy cream, crème fraîche, or sour cream


1. Cut well-washed asparagus spears into one-half inch pieces.

2. In large pot, melt butter over low heat, add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about five minutes.

3. Add garlic, salt, and pepper, cooking for another minute.

4. Add cut asparagus and cook on medium-low heat while stirring for five minutes.

5. Pour three cups broth into mixture and simmer, covered, for fifteen minutes or until tender.

6. Remove pot from heat; using an immersion blender, blend mixture until smooth. (Alternatively, use a blender, but be careful with hot liquids in blenders. Keep blender safely covered and add only small amounts of soup at a time.)

7. If soup has cooled, reheat. At this point, you can thin the soup if you prefer by adding more broth.

8. Turn off heat and stir in lemon juice. Taste to determine if additional juice, salt, or pepper is needed.

9. Ladle soup into individual bowls. Add a dollop of sour cream or a couple of tablespoons cream or crème fraîche to each bowl, or to taste.

My prize-winning cornbread recipe is a perfect accompaniment. Check it out here


Grated Parmesan cheese is another excellent topper for this soup.

You can make this soup ahead and chill, covered, for up to two days, reserving lemon juice until reheated.

This soup also keeps well frozen. Just don’t add lemon juice and cream until after you thaw and reheat. Or thaw frozen spears to make soup from scratch in the off season.

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Springtime Planting & Buckwheat Banana Muffin Recipe

Gluten-Free Buckwheat Banana Muffins

We are so busy on the homestead! This is our first year living outside of a big city, in a rural wilderness full of big predators and also hummingbirds, squirrels, and foxes with the occasional bald eagle.

Our big plan for our first year is somewhat boring: fencing. An underappreciated topic for farming and homesteading, fencing is essential for growing food, protecting livestock, and in our case, protecting ourselves and small children from bears and wolves.

We are also busily planting a lot of tree seedlings. We picked for this year to plant hazelnuts, oaks, edible pine nut trees, and a few heartnuts. With the latest heat wave, it’s been challenging to keep up with watering them all but we’ve noticed that once they get into the ground, they have opened their leaves and already some have grown about 1.5” in two weeks! We’ve noticed that hazelnut trees are quite tough. We learned this after getting some big seedlings from a friend who chatted with us while the trees dried out in the back of the truck for about 2 hours in the hot sun. They still survived just fine and are about to open their beaks (the flower on hazels), with lots of new growth. The wild hazelnut (called beaked hazel) is shown to be an “aggressive colonizer” of disturbed forest and forest edge areas, so that corresponds with our experience.

I’ve also been starting my tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, onions, cabbage, and other annuals out on our balcony. It will be nice to bite into that first tomato and harvest a basketful of lettuce from my acreage garden.  

It is so wonderful to watch the sunset and see the hummingbirds flit back and forth at 9pm. And then to go to sleep with the sun and watch the glorious heavens open up with stars dotted and twinkling everywhere. Living out in the wild is like nothing else.

Springtime Planting

There are lows too, like having to wait three weeks for fence posts to get stocked in the nearest town and losing some plants due to drought. But it is all worth it in the end. And if you can wake up every morning and be grateful for where you live and how you live, then life is good. I’m grateful that we are all healthy and no one has gotten injured other than minor bruises and soreness from working hard physically.

I’ve been working on a new book, a journal or diary of food choices, exercise routine, and overall mental health. It’s been fun to design pretty pages that inspire me to make good choices. I’m sending a sample of my book to all my newsletter subscribers, so it’s been neat to hear how people enjoy it. And I’ve made up a small survey to get everyone’s opinion on the cover and design features. I would love your opinion if you have 5 minutes!

60 Day Food and Life Journal

My latest recipe is a tasty gluten-free and dairy-free muffin recipe that I made for a friend who has a lot of allergies. I love the nutty flavor of buckwheat flour; it’s something I discovered about ten years ago and I like to mix it into my sourdough recipe every once in awhile for a different flavor. For these muffins, You don’t need a cast-iron muffin pan, but I love using mine! No need for muffin cups with cast-iron, just grease the pan and you’re ready to go. Currently I have to use a toaster oven for baking until we get a better kitchen set up. But luckily a cast-iron muffin pan fits perfectly in the toaster oven! Please let me know if you like this recipe and enjoy.

Buckwheat Banana Muffins


1 cup buckwheat flour
3 tbsp arrowroot starch
1 tbsp chia seeds
3 tbsp Water
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp sea salt
1 ½ tbsp coconut oil, melted
3 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 ¼ cup)
¼ cup water or non-dairy milk
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp apple-cider vinegar
1-2 tbsp honey
½ cup raisins or chocolate chips or chopped nuts


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

1. Mix together chia seeds and water and let stand for 5-10 minutes until it gels. Or use 1 pastured egg as a substitute.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Then add remaining ingredients (bananas mashed, chia seed mix, non-dairy milk, apple cider vinegar, honey, and coconut oil) and mix thoroughly.

3. Add raisins/chocolate chips/nuts or any other favorite ingredient (such as coconut flakes, dried cherries, dried cranberries, chopped ginger candies, blueberries, etc.)

4. Grease cast-iron muffin pan or if using a normal muffin pan, put muffin paper cups inside.

5. Spoon mixture into prepared muffin pan, only filling ¾ of the way full.

6. Bake for 20 minutes, but check frequently after 12 minutes to account for elevation differences.

Let cool and enjoy!

Rosemary Hansen is an author, homesteading Mama, and a chef. She has spent the last 10 years “homesteading” in the city. She and her family have just started their off-grid homestead in rural British Columbia, Canada. Her books, Grow a Salad In Your City Apartment and Rosemary’s Natural Cosmetic Guide are a great way to ease into a healthy, pure lifestyle. Her books are 10% off until June 1st, 2019 for newsletter subscribers! You can connect with Rosemary at her website: or on her YouTube channel. Read all of Rosemary's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Making Maple Syrup in the 21st Century

 1 Across the fields and into the snow

In late February and early March, denizens of the Driftless moved through the woods, from tree to tree preparing for another harvest of sap from the maples nestled in the couleesof the western Wisconsin.  It has become a tradition for maple syrup producers to host maple syrup parties and open houses when the sap starts to run, so we headed out into the wintery weather to join in the fun.  Kickapoo Gold tours begin with a pancake breakfast followed by a horse drawn sleighride to the sugar shack.

2 Sleigh ride to the maple woods

We quickly found that making maple syrup is not done like it used to be done.  Used to be that buckets were hung on trees to collect the sap and they were carried to a wood fired evaporator.  Third generation sugar maker Phil Gudgeon of Kickapoo Gold provided the following photo of the way it was when the sap was cooked down out in the open over a wood fire. The term sugar maker dates back to the days when some or most of the sap was cooked down to make sugar.  Maple sugar.

3 Harvesting in the early Eighties

The art of making maple syrup was known by the original inhabitants of North America.  Immigrants who arrived from Europe soon learned the ways of the maple trees and how and when to harvest the sap for a much cheaper source of sugar than was available at the time.  For a brief history with speculation on how sap harvesting began see here.

On days when the temperature is around 40 degrees following a night when the mercury drops below freezing the sap starts flowing allowing for collection. It takes 40 – 60 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup.  The sap is about as clear as water when it comes out of the trees and it has a taste that almost reminds you of what it will become.  There is a barely detectable wisp of maple flavor in the pure sap.  The sugar content of the sap is about 2%.  When the sap has been boiled down so that the sugar content is between 66% and 68%, it is officially maple syrup.  At BandE’s Trees they aim for a sugar content of 66.7%.  Measuring the sugar content is easy to do and a hydrometer calibrated to the Brix scale is used.

Traditionally maple syrup was collected by hanging buckets on a tree that had been tapped with hand carved spouts.  A small hole is drilled in the tree and a spigot or tap was hammered in allowing the sap to leak out of the tree into the bucket.  The amount of sap being collected is minimal compared to the overall flow and three hundred years of observation indicate that this practice does not harm the trees.  Tapping is shown below. 

4 tree tap

Third generation sugar maker Phil Gudgeon conveyed to us that there is still a lot of bad information in the literature and on the web about drilling for taps.  The holes in the tree must be horizontal and not drilled at an angle.  Phil told us that back in the day, taps were made from sumac (see here) and the center hole was reamed with a #9 wire. The holes are moved each year to the left or right of last years hole in the tree.  The holes are self-sealing and do not harm the tree.  If you think about it, trees are well equipped to handle violent storms, loss of branches, and survive for hundreds of years, so the tapping is minor issue for the tree. 

5 Tree tap close up

Tapping up to 4,000 trees on a hillside of 80 or so acres requires miles of collection line.  Once the tree pushes the sap into the line it runs downhill to a collection tank and from there it is pumped back up the hill with an elevation change of 350 feet or more to the sugar shack. The small lines in the picture below run downhill to the collection tank and the larger line is connected from the pump at the bottom of the hill to the sugar shack where it enters another tank for storage before being routed to the evaporator.

6 Lines in the forest

Before going to the evaporator, maple syrup production today makes use of reverse osmosis (RO) technology to improve the efficiency of maple syrup production.  RO separates the water from the sap.  This is the same technology that can fit under a kitchen sink to purify water but these systems take up a room as shown below at Cecil Wright’s sugar shack. 

7 RO unit

The water from the RO process is stored and used to wash down the piping and equipment at the end of a processing run.  The sap minus the water is then moved to an evaporator.  At the B&E's Trees open house, Bree Brickle explained how the evaporator drives off more water until the sugar content reaches 66.7%.  The evaporator has been upgraded from a pan over a wood fire out in the woods to a major piece of equipment in a sugar shack out in the woods.  The evaporator temperature must be precisely controlled.  The energy input in the form of fuel oil or propane must be modulated as the ambient temperature changes during the day and the local barometric temperature changes. The boiling point of water can vary up to 3 degrees with changes in barometric pressure.  These changes require constant monitoring and adjustments to the process.  Sugar runs can keep sappers busy to 3 AM in the morning and the season can last as long as two months to as short as nine days all depending on the weather.

8 Bree explains the process

Once the syrup has been boiled down to a consistency and sugar content suitable for bottling, it is passed through a filter.  In the photo below, Phil Gudgeon of Kickapoo Gold explains the process to students from the University of Wisconsin Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems(CIAS) 

9 Phil nd Philter

 A high pressure filter is in the lower right side of the photo and prepares the syrup for bottling.

A Maple Syrup Co-Op

In 2007, Cecil Wrighrt co-founded the Maple Valley Cooperative to help support maple farmers and secure a market. You can find their maple syrup in 462 locations produced by 18 farmer members of the Cooperative by clicking on their logo below.

10 Mape Valley Logo

Best Maple Syrup You Will Ever Taste

If you can get it, when you are on a tour of maple syrup production, or you make it yourself, the syrup coming off the evaporator, before being filtered for bottling, will knock your socks off.  There is a noticeable taste of woodland essence that you will not find in store bought maple syrup.  In the next photo Cecil is sampling the brew before it hits the filter.

11 Cecils Brrew

Aged for a Year

Does maple syrup get better the older it gets?  If it’s aged in bourbon barrels it does.  Bree and Eric of B&E’s Trees describe their product as rich, complex, and incredibly delicious.  This is a niche market and unique in that they age their maple syrup for a year & then return the barrels to the Central Waters Brewing Company which in turn ages beer in the maple soaked bourbon barrels. 

12 BE with Barrel

Maple Syrup Nutrition

Maple syrup is high in minerals and antioxidants and has a high ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) Here’s the data.  In the alternative health field, maple syrup is a key ingredient in the Stanley Burroughs Master Cleanse for Detoxand consists of the following:

2 tbsp organic lemon or lime juice
2 tbsp organic maple syrup
1/10 tsp cayenne pepper
8 oz spring or purified water

Drink 6 to 12 glasses per day.

Maple Syrup and Climate Change

Maple Syrup production is affected by changing climate.  The winters are getting warmer and shorter.  Anyone who disputes that the climate is changing only needs to look at the maps of the USDA plant hardiness zones here. It is easy to see that the zones are shifting north up to 100 miles every ten years. For a review of the science of climate change, please see my previous comments here, here, and here.   During the tours I asked about how climate change would affect maple syrup production.  Sappers, as I call them, say that it just moves the beginning of the season closer to the start of the new year.  They may be out in the woods in January rather than in March.   As I left woods, in other parts of the world, outside the forests, those who would save them, shut down cities in attempts to slow climate change.  It occurred to me, that it is the job of the old, to post bail for the young.


Maple Sugaring Basics  From Mother Earth News, September, 2015.

The Master Cleanse

Stanley Burroughs, The Master Cleanser, 1976. 

Toby Grotz is an electrical engineer who has been involved on both sides of the energy equation: exploring for oil and gas and geothermal resources and in the utility industry working in coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. He has been a community garden advocate and organizer ever since. Recent projects include lecturing for the Food Not Lawns classes sponsored by the University of Missouri, Kansas City Communiversity. He is a member of the Sierra Club and past officer of the Kanza Group. Read all of Toby's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Clean Produce for Longer Storage and Less Food Waste

farmers market fresh vegetables

Recent data indicates that Americans waste up to one-half of our fresh fruits and vegetables. When handling fresh produce, you can adopt a few simple habits to eliminate food waste in your home:

One of the simplest steps you can take to reduce food waste is to buy only the fresh produce you can use within a week.

If you routinely throw out spoiled fruits and vegetables, keep a running list of items you discard.

Adjust your shopping list and eating habits according to the amount of your food waste. Perhaps you need to buy less fruit. Or, eat more salad.

Use the following ideas to clean fruits and vegetables so they stay fresh longer or to use up excess produce in creative and delicious ways.

How to Clean Food Preparation and Storage Areas

Cleaning removes microorganisms that are naturally present everywhere: around the home, on your hands, and on fresh fruits and vegetables. Before you wash produce, first wash your hands with soap and running water. Then clean the food preparation areas (counter, cutting board, etc.). Don’t forget to clean the storage area, including the refrigerator bin or shelf where fresh produce will be stored.

To clean the food preparation and storage area, use soap and warm water. Rinse the soapy solution with clean water. Air dry clean items or if needed wipe with a clean towel.

Thorough washing takes care of most dirt and germs. Foodborne illness is more typically caused by eating raw or undercooked meats or fish, cross contamination during food preparation, and leftovers that are not properly refrigerated or reheated.

Why and How to Sanitize Work Areas

Sanitizing is an additional step to further reduce harmful bacteria. Sanitizing is helpful if you are pregnant, have small children or elderly persons in the household, or have medical issues that compromise your immune system.

Sanitize the work and storage areas using plain distilled, white vinegar. Spray or spread vinegar using a clean towel on clean surfaces. Let the vinegar stand at least 10 minutes. Air dry sanitized items or if needed wipe with a clean towel before beginning food preparation.

Alternatively, you can heat vinegar to 130°F, spray or wipe, and let stand one minute. Hot vinegar kills more types of microorganisms, including Salmonella, Norovirus, Campylobacter, E. coli, and Listeria.

Vinegar works because it lowers the surface pH (a measure of acidity) on work surfaces or on produce. The increased acidity is inhospitable to microbes, including bacteria, yeasts, and molds.

fresh apples

To clean firm produce like apples, scrub with a stiff brush under running water

How to Wash Produce Effectively

While many sources suggest that you wash produce just before consumption or food preparation, cleaning produce before storing it in the refrigerator has two advantages:

Saves time later. Washed fruit and vegetables are ready for snacking or cutting for recipe preparation.

Stays fresh longer. Clean produce stays fresh a few days longer in the refrigerator.

The exception is fresh produce that is typically stored at room temperature, rather than in the refrigerator. This includes potatoes, sweet potatoes or yams, onions, and garlic.

To wash produce, use plain, cold water. Do not use detergent, soap, bleach, or commercial produce washes. These products won’t significantly reduce contamination beyond what thorough cleaning with plain, cold water can do.

How to Wash Different Types of Produce

To wash firm produce, rinse well under running water, while scrubbing lightly with a vegetable brush. Firm produce includes fruits and vegetables such as apples, carrots, melons, oranges or lemons and other citrus fruits, and winter squash or pumpkin.

To wash soft produce, rinse well under running water. Handle carefully to avoid bruising or damaging delicate produce.  Soft produce includes those with soft or uneven surfaces, such as broccoli, leafy greens, mushrooms, peaches, and tomatoes.

To wash soft berries such as raspberries, dip berries gently in a basin of cold water. Repeat two or three times, or until no more debris is present in the rinse water.

Drain washed produce in a clean colander. Let produce air-dry if possible. If necessary, pat the surface dry with clean towels.

Why and How to Sanitize Produce

Like the work area, you can use vinegar as a sanitizer to rid produce of harmful bacteria. Vinegar is a great food sanitizer because it’s inexpensive and perfectly safe to eat.

Sanitizing produce is an optional step that can further eliminate microorganisms that washing may have missed. But it also works to delay spoilage. 

To use vinegar for sanitizing produce, prepare a solution of one part distilled white vinegar and three parts water. For example, one quart vinegar and three quarts water.

To sanitize produce, first be sure to wash it thoroughly and let dry before sanitizing. Fill a clean basin with sanitizing solution. Soak clean produce for two minutes. For soft berries, you may wish to skip the sanitizing step since it tends to break them down.

Drain produce in a clean colander. Let air-dry if possible or pat the surface dry with clean towels.

assorted fresh berries

To wash delicate produce such as fresh berries, gently rinse in several changes of water

Storing Cleaned Produce

Place clean produce in a clean container or bag and refrigerate.

To avoid cross-contamination, never store washed and unwashed produce in the same container or with other foods.

Fresh produce, even when carefully cleaned and refrigerated rarely has a storage life longer than one week, often less.

Fresh produce begins to wilt and become limp after a few days. Eventually it will spoil, evidenced by mushy or slimy areas, dark spots or mold, and pungent odor.

Recipe Ideas for Using Excess Produce

Before it spoils, be proactive and use the following recipe ideas to use up produce rather than let it go to waste.

Almost any kind of vegetable can be made into soup, even lettuce, greens, and cucumber. Vegetable soups are delicious and filling as a snack or before a meal.

To make simple soup, cover vegetables with water or stock and simmer until tender. Puree cooked vegetables (using a stick blender is easiest), add seasonings to taste, and a touch of cream or milk, if desired. If you’re not going to eat the soup within a few days, freeze it for another day (preferably before adding cream).

Other ideas for using vegetables include eating them as a snack with dip, using them in a salad or stir fry, making an omelet or frittata, topping a pizza, or preserving as a pickle—cut vegetables immersed in a seasoned vinegar or lemon juice solution.

Use the above techniques and recipe ideas to help reduce the amount of produce you discard. You will substantially reduce your food waste and save some money in the process.

kale bunches

Almost any kind of vegetable can be made into soup, including lettuce, greens, and cucumber.

Carole Cancler is the author of The Home Preserving Bible. She has traveled to more than 20 countries on four continents to attend cooking schools and explore food markets. She studies the anthropology of food with a focus on how indigenous foods have traveled and been integrated into world cuisine. Read all of Carole's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

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