Growing vegetables and raising livestock is only the beginning of a successful homestead — that fresh food goes to waste unless you can properly prepare, cook, and preserve it. Andrea Chesman shows you how to bridge the gap between field and table, covering everything from curing meats and making sausage to canning fruits and vegetables, milling flour, working with sourdough, baking no-knead breads, making braises and stews that can be adapted to different cuts of meat, rendering lard and tallow, pickling, making butter and cheese, making yogurt, blanching vegetables for the freezer, making jams and jellies, drying produce, and much more. You’ll learn all the techniques you need to get the most from homegrown foods, along with dozens of simple and delicious recipes, most of which can be adapted to use whatever you have available.
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About the Author
Andrea Chesman is the author of The Fat Kitchen as well as many other cookbooks that focus on traditional techniques and fresh-from-the-garden cooking. Her previous books include The Pickled Pantry, Serving Up the Harvest, 101 One-Dish Dinners, and The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How. She teaches and gives cooking demonstrations and classes across the United States. She lives in Ripton, Vermont.
Read an Excerpt
Setting Up the Homestead Kitchen
The kitchen isn't just the heart of the home; it is also the headquarters of the homestead. This is where the fruits of all your labor outside are stored, converted, used, and preserved. If you have a good setup and the right equipment, the work of transforming the food you raised into breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack — not to mention preserving it for the future — will be much easier.
If I were designing a kitchen from scratch, I would start with a big table that could sit at least eight, preferably twelve. When you have a big table, kids can do homework and folks can visit while you cook, and it gives you a place to set down the baskets of freshly picked produce and to set aside projects you're working on. I would also design the space to include a walk-in (unheated) pantry with open shelves for canned goods and equipment only occasionally used. My spices and oils would stay cool in this pantry, and I could keep crates of winter squash and onions there, rather than upstairs in an unheated closet, as I do now. I would use the pantry to keep my ongoing vegetable ferments at a perfect temperature, at least through the winter.
I probably will never have that dream kitchen. Right now, my kitchen is too small for a table, and kids and visitors often perch on my one stool or even on the counter. My canning jars, canners, and dehydrators are stacked in a corner of the dining room during harvest season. The unenclosed porch off the kitchen that leads out to the garden is home to the grill, while the "river porch," outside my office, is where we eat during the summer and where my second refrigerator, used only during the harvest season, lives. I don't even have a dishwasher and don't know where it would go. But I make my kitchen work. We all make it work.
This chapter focuses on setting up a kitchen with the equipment and tools essential to — or extremely useful in — the homestead kitchen. You may already own much of it — the good news is that a lot of the cookware, canners, and appliances perform double duty or even triple duty in the kitchen. Single-use pieces of equipment, such as dehydrators, are covered in the specific chapters discussing the techniques that go with them.
The Big-Ticket Items
Kathy Harrison, friend and author of Just in Case: How to Be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens, among other books, built a screened summer kitchen in a separate outbuilding at her home in western Massachusetts. She has a two-burner propane stove and a large wash basin and still not enough counter space. (Counter space and storage are always an issue in the homestead kitchen.) She can work in her outdoor kitchen in relative comfort during the dog days of August. In typical fashion, her family constructed the kitchen from recycled parts and relied on their own labor, so the costs weren't excessive.
Even if you don't build yourself a summer kitchen, there are some big-ticket items that you will need starting out. If you buy brand-new and high-end items, you may need to spend some serious money, so shop wisely. Your needs as a backyard homesteader are not the same as those of most urban and suburban dwellers.
A Word about Stoves
If you are designing a kitchen from scratch and are looking for a conventional stove (as opposed to a woodstove), go for gas. The burners heat up faster and are easier to regulate than electric burners. An all-metal stovetop is better than one with an enamel finish. My enameled stovetop has deteriorated due to the high heat of boiling maple sap indoors, but this is just a cosmetic issue and not a functional one.
When I teach preserving workshops, I get a lot of questions about glass or ceramic stovetops. This style of stovetop is the first choice of high-end builders, but it doesn't work for home canners. If you have a glass or ceramic stovetop, you know that you are supposed to use flat-bottomed pots, including a flat-bottomed canner. Such a canner may work only if its diameter does not exceed the diameter of the burner. Check the stove's manual first. It may be possible to use a large canner on the stove, or then again it may void the warranty.
Refrigerators and Freezers
You cannot have too much refrigerator and freezer space. A second refrigerator, even if you run it only for a few months a year, is invaluable at the height of the harvest season, even though you can make do with picnic coolers and ice. The second fridge is a necessity for storing milk and really, really helpful for curing and brining meat.
Freezers are necessary for storing large quantities of meat. When it comes to vegetables, most people prefer frozen to canned, so that's another reason for having at least one freezer. The freezer compartment of most refrigerators simply does not provide enough space for meat plus vegetables plus fruit.
Whether you buy a new or used freezer, you will have to choose between a chest freezer and an upright freezer. There are several factors to consider.
Chest vs. Upright Freezers
Using bins in either a chest or an upright freezer makes it easier to organize. If you want vegetables, you pull out the veggie bin. If you want meat, you pull out the pork or beef bin. If you have only one type of meat (beef, lamb, or pork), then consider organizing the packages by the type of cooking the cuts are best suited for, with the chops and steaks (to be grilled, pan-fried, or broiled) in one bin, the cuts for braises and stews in another, ground meat in another, fats in another, and so on. Leftovers and precooked dishes go in their own bins. And while you're at it, stock up on masking tape and permanent markers. Never trust yourself to remember what a package holds even if it is in a clear plastic bag and looked so distinctive going in (I speak from hard-earned experience here).
The bins also help you rotate your stock. When you want to bring older containers or packages to the top, it's easier to rearrange a bin than to do all that finding and rearranging with the door or lid to the freezer open and leaking cold air.
It is a good idea to maintain an inventory list of the contents of the freezer. Some freezers have a surface that allows you to use dry-erase markers right on the lid or door to record your inventory. How easy is that! The difficult part is getting everyone in the house on board to maintain the system.
Small Equipment, Cookware, and Utensils
Most people already own an assortment of pots and pans, but some pieces of cookware are truly helpful for the homestead kitchen. I'm not saying you have to buy everything on the lists that follow, especially if you are just beginning to produce your own food. Just be aware of the items to keep on your wish list, and look out for good buys at yard sales, on Craigslist, and at kitchen store sales. When you are ready to take a step deeper into homesteading — say, deciding to raise your own meat birds — having the right equipment can make all the difference. You better have a very large pot to use for scalding those birds, because dry plucking is a slow process, too slow for a whole flock (and it is hard to avoid tearing the skin).
Take a long, hard look at your kitchen and see if you can solve some of your storage issues, because in the end storage can be a limiting factor, whether you are looking at root cellar capacity, freezer and refrigerator capacity, or equipment storage.
The equipment on the following list includes multipurpose pots, appliances, and tools. They are matched with some of their potential uses. Of course, you will find other uses for these items in your day-to-day cooking. Knives and sharpening tools are covered later.
* 5-gallon stockpot. Making big batches of stocks, soups, and stews; scalding birds to remove feathers; cooking down tomatoes and apples to make sauce; boiling down maple sap to make syrup; using as the bottom of a double boiler for cheesemaking.
* 2- to 3-gallon stockpot. All of the same uses as the larger stockpot, in smaller batches, along with blanching fruits and vegetables, making jams and jellies, and culturing milk for cheese.
* Cast-iron Dutch oven. Long cooking of tough old birds or tough cuts of meat, rendering fat, baking beans, baking no-knead breads.
* Boiling-water-bath canner. Canning fruits and high-acid vegetables and sauces; culturing milk for cheese.
* Large colander/fine-mesh strainer. Draining and straining everything from produce to cheese to honey.
* Large metal steaming basket. Blanching and steaming.
* Large-capacity bowls. Mixing and soaking.
* Half-sheet pans. Roasting, baking, oven-drying.
* Food processor. Chopping, slicing, mixing, puréeing.
* Digital thermometer. Cooking birds and meat; making cheese, jams and jellies, maple syrup and apple cider syrup.
* Kitchen scale. Weighing produce and meats (especially important in pickling, curing, and sausage making, and helpful in determining cooking times for meats); weighing freshly ground flour for accurate baking.
* Insulated coolers. Keeping produce chilled after harvest; using with heat source to make yogurt.
* Vacuum sealer. Freezing fruits, vegetables, and meat; preserving cheese in the refrigerator; storing dried foods. Some vacuum sealers come with attachments that allow you to seal canning jars for long-term storage of dried foods, grains, and leftovers bound for the refrigerator. (This is not intended to replace either water-bath canning or pressure canning.)
* Butter muslin or grade 90 cheesecloth. Making butter, cheese, and jelly; straining rendered fat; filtering honey and maple syrup.
* Food-grade buckets, assorted sizes. Filtering honey, collecting maple sap, curing meats, storing grains.
About the Dutch Oven
The Dutch oven is a deep pot made of heavy cast iron that comes with a tight-fitting lid. It is designed to be used on top of the stove or in the oven and can withstand very high heat. It holds its heat well and allows food to cook evenly. Some Dutch ovens are coated with enamel and some are not. They range in price from about $50 to $300.
Dutch ovens are essential for people who do a lot of cooking from scratch. Although long-cooking braises and stews can be made in a slow cooker after the food is initially browned in a skillet, it is easier to do it all in a Dutch oven, and then there is less cleanup. Dutch ovens are also great for cooking beans, incubating yogurt, and baking no-knead breads.
When choosing a Dutch oven, there are several considerations.
* Size. The most useful sizes are between 5 ½ and 7 ½ quarts. On the one hand, bigger is better if you regularly are cooking for crowds or like to make big batches so that you have leftovers. Bigger is also better if you want to be able to oven-braise a large bird or a tough cut of meat. On the other hand, you will get a loftier loaf if you bake your no-knead bread in a smaller Dutch oven. (I have a large one, but I wish I also had a small one for my breads.)
* Coated or uncoated? If the cast iron reacts to the acid (tomatoes, chiles, wine) in a braise or stew, it will impart an off-flavor. Enamel-coated Dutch ovens do not react to acids and so are definitely better for braising than uncoated ones. But they also tend to be more expensive. If your uncoated Dutch oven is very well seasoned, you can risk cooking acidic ingredients in it, but it takes patience and care to develop that seasoning of the cast iron.
* Shape. Dutch ovens can be oval or round. Round ones fit on the burner better and are a good shape for breads. Oval ones accommodate whole birds and rabbits better than round ones.
About the Thermometer
There are all kinds of kitchen thermometers out there, including both digital and analog (with spring-loaded dials). My preference is for a battery-operated digital thermometer with a probe connected by a long cord to the digital display. The probe and cord are heatproof; you can insert the probe into meat in the oven, set the digital display on a counter nearby, and at a glance find out the internal temperature of the roasting meat, without ever opening the oven door. I also like this thermometer because it will measure the temperature of cooking liquids (boiling sap, jams and jellies, warming milk for cheese) without steaming up the display. (When leaving it in a pot on top of the stove, you will have to rig up a way to hold the probe in the liquid, but not rest it on the bottom or side of the pot.) You can also use it to monitor the temperature of yogurt or cheese culturing in a container or the temperature inside a refrigerator.
Another feature I like on a thermometer is an alarm that sounds when the desired temperature is reached. With many temperature-sensitive processes, such as making cheese, you can set the alarm for a few degrees shy of the target, so you will be ready to remove the pot from the heat at the moment the target temperature is reached.
One thing to remember about using a probe thermometer in a roast is that the meat near the probe will cook faster than the meat farther from the probe because the metal probe conducts heat (like sticking a nail in a baking potato). So after the alarm signals that the desired temperature has been reached, test the temperature in a few spots to be sure the whole roast is at the desired temperature.
The temperature range for a good thermometer is 32°F to 392°F (0°C to 200°C), which is a wide enough range even for making candy.
The most important thing to remember about using a thermometer is to check its accuracy from time to time. Bring a pot of water to a boil and test the temperature of the boiling water. The thermometer should read about 212°F (100°C), but it will vary depending on your elevation and the atmospheric temperature. Adjust the temperature you are seeking accordingly. When making candies or maple syrup, test the thermometer that day if you want accurate results.
About the Vacuum Sealer
Do you really need one? I think: it depends. You can suck most of the air from a zippered plastic bag when the food is regularly shaped (such as a bag of peas or blueberries) just using a straw. But there is no way to suck all the air out of a bag that holds a bird. If you are freezing a lot of meats, it is a really, really good idea to use a vacuum sealer, provided you use thick plastic bags (the thinner the bag, the more air permeable it is). If you are freezing whole birds, but not meats, there are special poultry bags that shrink around the bird when immersed in heated water (see Freezing Poultry).
As food freezes, moisture migrates to the surface and forms ice crystals. Over time, the food dehydrates, discolors, and loses flavor. Even with a good supermarket ziplock freezer bag, the food eventually develops freezer burn. Vacuum sealers make a big difference. Meat, poultry, and fish go from having a viable freezer life of 4 to 6 months to 1 to 2 years; fruits and vegetables go from 6 to 8 months to 2 years. Cheese in the refrigerator in a vacuum-sealed bag will last for 4 to 8 months.
Vaccum sealers are also good for sealing up dehydrated foods and anything else you want to keep dry — like important documents.
Vacuum sealers range in price from about $60 to $400 and require special plastic to use for bags. The less expensive models tend to burn out with heavy use, but it still might be more affordable in the long run to replace a less expensive one a few times than to buy an industrial-strength model (and the less expensive ones are smaller and easier to store). There are handheld units and ones that are supposed to work with ordinary supermarket plastic bags, but these have mixed reviews, and I have no experience with them.
You can buy both precut plastic bags and rolls of plastic that you can cut to any length. Some of the plastic is BPA-free, but some is not. Fruit, vegetables, and leftovers are easy to package in the precut bags, but meat and fish usually require bags cut to fit. You will probably have to order these bags and rolls of plastic online, so buy an assortment of sizes until you figure out what size works best for you.
Berries, peas, and other delicate foods should be tray-frozen first to avoid having them turned into mush by the force of the vacuum.
Excerpted from "The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How"
Copyright © 2015 Andrea Chesman.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Preface IntroductionPART 1 GETTING THE MOST FROM FRESH FOOD
- Setting Up the Homestead Kitchen
- Fresh Vegetables: Harvesting, Handling, Cooking
- Fresh Fruit: Harvesting, Handling, Cooking
- Grains and Beans
- Homemade Sweeteners:Honey, Maple Syrup, and Apple Cider Syrup
- Eggs, Birds, and Rabbits
- Fresh Milk
- Meat: Goat, Lamb, Pork, and Beef
- Cold Storage
- Canning: Boiling-Water-Bath and Pressure Canning
- Making Fruit Preserves
- Culturing Milk and Making Cheese
- Curing Meats and Making Sausage
- Breakfast and Egg Dishes
- Vegetable, Cheese, and Bean Dishes
- Poultry and Meat Dishes
- Desserts and Baked Goods