Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dried Apricots and Blueberries

One of nature's best fruits.  The Apricot is hardy, mostly disease resistant and great tasting.  There are few fruits that require as little work as an apricot.

We harvested from our Goldcot Apricot and other varieties.  The fruit is relatively small, but it does not have to be peeled and they are easy to de-pit.  We wash them, cut them in half and throw out any bad parts.

The halves are then soaked in orange juice to help the apricots keep their color as they dry.

Any citrus juice will do.  Use whatever is convenient.

We spread them out on the drying racks.  This is a simple air movement drying system with a small fan that blows air up through the racks stacked on top of each other.  I still want to build a solar dehydrator, but have not gotten around to it yet.  Some day I will find the time.

The finished product is beautiful and incredibly tasty.  We also did blueberries at the same time.  Blueberries do not require any added citrus juice to prevent discoloration.   After they dry for a while (overnight) I will gently shake them to keep them from sticking to the trays.  I will also exchange the top tray with the bottom to keep some from drying faster than others.  After 2-3 days they should be dry enough to last for 6+ months in a zip-lock.

As expensive as dried fruit is, you can save a fortune by doing it yourself.  They are a great snack and the taste gets better and stronger when the moisture is removed.  You want to dry the fruit until it is leathery and just a little but crispy where it is thin.  The blueberries are much dryer as they are a lot smaller.  They do not take nearly as long either.  You will have to experiment with how long your system takes and when you want to remove them based on your taste and texture preferences.  The dryer it is, the longer it will last without molding.  The moister it is, the juicier the texture.  Good luck and have fun.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How to make a reflector oven

How cool would it be to bake whatever you can bake at home on  a campout?  Reflector ovens are fun and a great way to impress new campers.  We have cooked bread, biscuits, cookies, brownies, and cake on campouts using the below described system.  Good luck amd have fun.

Start with straight green (sticks cut from a live tree) sticks about 2' long and 1/2" diameter.  Sharpen one end to enable it to be pounded into the ground.

Pound the four green stakes into the ground to create a rectangle reflection area facing the fire.  You also need stakes to support the pan of the item to be baked.  The support stakes can either be green wood or tent stakes.  These stakes will support the pan of the baked item.  Stretch aluminum foil around the four stakes and then create a piece that will cover the top after the baked item is placed on the support stakes.

A good cooking fire will have areas for coals and an area where there will be a lot of reflective heat of the fire near the oven.  Notice in the photo above, the bread is rising as it warms next to the fire before baking.  In the foreground you have fried chicken and vegies cooking.

The bread as it starts baking.  The flame should be close enough to reflect heat into the aluminum area, but not so close that it burns the baked item on the near side.  I will not lie, you must experiment with this skill many times before you understand how it works.  Occassionally, you will need to lift the top off and rotate the baked item to make sure that it is baking evenly.

The loaves of bread are almost done.  If the loaves are cooking mostly on top and the bottom is raw, you can add coals below the stakes that support the baked item.

Have fun with what you try.  Cherry pie was actaully very easy.  Note we did not make a fancy top.

Cherry pie cooking.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Starting a 1 match fire

Starting a 1 match fire is a fun trick to impress your friends on a campout or when you are grilling and you have run out of lighter fluid. People who think you have to have a ton of newspaper or gasoline to start a fire just don't understand how fire works. This skill will also help when you are camping in wet conditions and everyone else can't get their fire started because they are trying to start a fire with a pile of big wet wood.

The trick is to start with small (tooth pick size or smaller) dry wood. This is critical. If you try to start with large twigs, the match will burn out before the wood catched fire. If it does not snap, it is not dry enough. In Missouri and over much of the United States, Eastern Red Cedar is a great source of dry small kindling, but in other parts of the country other trees (Pine) will work. You just have to do a little experimenting to see what works best for you. Even in a down pour you can find dry dead interior twigs that are dry enough to start a fire with.

Air movement it critical. Place your small kindling up off the ground so that you can easily place a lit match under the kindling. Here I have used 2 larger branches to support the kindling. Note the size of the kindling in relation to the match. If it is windy, use your body to block the wind from blowing out the match.

You will want to have the next sizes of wood ready to go (already gathered, broken and next to the fire site) before you start the fire. The kindling will burn out fast so if you have to run around looking for more wood, your fire will be out when you return.

Hold the match horizontal so that it does not go out and so that it does not burn too fast. Fire burns up so if you hold it vertically it will burn out before the kindling is burning.

Once the fire is going, gently add more small kindling until you have a fire that you feel comfortable the wind will not blow out or the wood will not burn out if you walk away. Do not add large wood too quickly. Teach kids to place the kindling on the fire, not throw it, as that will disturb the fragile small fire.

You have started a 1 match fire. This is a fun challenge for a Boy Scout group or a great way to teach kids/adults how to build a fire without using newspaper or lighter fluid.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Primitive Cooking - Boy Scout Skills

This is my first post in a new section of this blog that I am calling "Boy Scout Skills". Being a Boy Scout has been one of the best experiences in my life and has taught me how to plan meals and activities, survive through tough challenges and learn old-fashioned skills. A lot of my posts seemingly have very little to do with Modern Sustainability, however primitive cooking is skill that brings us closer to our origins. Anything that slows us down and teaches us old fashioned skills not only makes us think about things differently, but makes us more capable as people. I hope the new section on Boy Scout Skills will teach you some good camping skills, but also make you feel closer to your roots and feel more capable. Future topics will include; how to build a 1 match fire, how to build a reflector oven, how to camp comfortably in winter and primitive shelter building among other things.

I also hope this post may inspire some Scout Troops to do a primitive camp out or get back to old-fashioned scouting. Too many Troops these days camp out of pick-up trucks at camp grounds instead of hiking into primitive campsites. Patrol Dads tell the kids what to do instead of the older kids teaching the younger kids, learning leadership skills in the process. Or worse, the Dads cook over their Coleman stoves and the kids learn nothing about cooking. Scouting has embraced our high tech world allowing the boys to camp with cell phones and GPS units instead of learning to navigate by map and compass. A Scout will only learn how to plan when he has to carry his pack for a mile or two before choosing a camp site. You learn quickly what to bring and what not to bring if you have to carry a 50 lb. pack 3 miles. Kids learn how to patiently cook and clean their cooking gear when they have to function as a patrol. When the patrol Dad is giving out the orders they learn nothing about cooperation and team work. Boys learn that when you take care of your gear, your gear takes care of you when you camp in the rain or snow and you are warm and dry because you packed your sleeping bag and clothes in waterproof stuff bags. I could go on and on, but lets talk about primitive cooking.

You will hopefully never have to cook primitively, but it is fun and it makes you feel proud to know you can. Kids love it.

Here is pretty big fire with eggs cooked inside green peppers, bacon on a stick and cinnamon bread cooked inside a hollow orange peel. This is a typical breakfast on a primitive campout. First you build a big fire to create coals that you can pull aside in a flat area to set your peppers and oranges on. Fill them with eggs and bread prior to placing them in the coals. I cannot emphasize patience enough, especially when kids are involved. When people lose patience, food either gets burnt or gets spilled. Keep small fires going around the peppers and oranges by adding small (pencil size) sticks carefully around them without knocking them over. They will take at least 30 minutes to cook.

Here is a nice spit we built for cooking chickens. All wood that is close to the fire must be green wood (newly cut from a living tree) or else it will burn up. The tripod supports give the spit stability as the chickens may take several hours to cook.

Place the chickens on a long green stick that is intentionally rough because you want to be able to rotate the stick without the chickens spinning around only cooking one side. We use natural twine to tie the bird to the spit to keep the legs and wings from cooking too fast. The twine is also used to lash the spit together. This is a pretty advanced meal to cook over a fire, but nothing tastes better over a fire than a well-cooked chicken. Usually to accompany the chicken we will prepare indian ash bread and mud potatoes. The indian ash bread is just the dough from about 3 biscuits that are rolled into a ball and cooked in the coals. Rotate them in the coals and the outside will be dirty and burnt, but the inside is very tasty. They only take about 20 minutes to cook, so put them on last. The mud potatoes are really fun. You take large potatoes and pack them in mud. About 1" of mud all around the potato. Carefully place the mud packed potatoes into the coals and build a small fire above them so they are heated on all sides. In about 1 hour the mud will crack off and you have a perfectly cooked potato. The skin peels off cleanly and the white inside is perfectly clean and tasty. Everything tastes better over a fire, but I can eat these potatoes without butter or salt.

Bacon on a stick is a real treat for breakfast. It is easy and fun for the kids.

Eggs and cinnamon bread slowly cooking in the coals. When cooking over a fire it is almost like you have several different fires in one. You must keep flames going under the bacon or chicken and the coals cooking the bread, potatoes or eggs need to be away from the flames so that they are not disturbed when the wood is added below the meat. It takes practice to do this well.

We had better luck with the eggs cooked in a pepper with a lid on. We put two eggs in each large pepper.

A close up of the cinnamon bread cooked inside an orange. Of course we ate the orange as an appetizer before using the peel as a bowl to cook inside. Take care not to break the peel apart.

Indian ash bread and mud potatoes on our primitive table we lashed together. For the primitive campout we are not allowed to bring electrical devices so we use candles and the campfire for visibility. We also have to build our own shelters for the primitive campout, but that is a future post. Have fun.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bitter Melons

Bitter Melons are a beautiful vining plant that many researchers are finding to have incredible health benefits. There is a lot of research in Cancer prevention and Diabetes using Bitter Melons.

Here is a good website that summarizes the benefits and ongoing research. My Dad has cancer and we have been making Bitter juice for him all summer. He loves it and thinks it is helping him immensely. The juice by itself is hard to drink, but add a couple of ounces to other fruit juice and it is pretty good. There are varieties from different parts of Asia. The ones I grow came from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They refer to it as Delica Thorn Bitter Melon. Whether you want it for Cancer, Diabetes or other health benefits, it is a beautiful plant to grow.

A mature plant growing on tomato baskets. It is an aggressive vine and produces about 1-2 gallons of juice per plant.

Beautiful flowers are a bonus.

Here is a young fruit developing.

We seem to have about 5-6 fruit ripen at a time from our two vines. This is enough to make about 30 ounces of juice each time we process the fruit.

You want to harvest the fruit right before it starts turning orange. About 12" long.

Soak the fruit in water and clean all dirt off the skin.

The fruit has beautiful seeds inside varying from yellow to a deep orange.

Cut them in half to remove the seeds. Remove the stem and any blemishes on the skin.

Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and insides.

Cut the fruit into chunks to pack them into a blender or juicer. Fill the voids with water up about 2/3 full with water. The water helps liquify the melon and separate the juice from the pulpy flesh.

This is what the juiced product looks like.

Filter out the green juice with a fine strainer leaving behind the concentrated Bitter Melon juice. It is a beautiful green color.

The final product!

Shake well each time you add a few ounces to other sweeter fruit juice. Keep it refrigerated and it should last a couple of weeks. I have not been able to determine what a days dose should be for various health benefits. My Dad drinks a couple of ounces a day.

Don't forget to save the seeds. Dry them out for a couple of weeks on paper towels and then put them in a container for storage until late Spring. Good Luck! I think this beautiful plant holds a lot of promise.

Boy Scout Skills

Scouting has been a formative experience in my life and the skills I have learned have helped shape me to be a capable person. Planning for campouts, camping, and leadership skills that I have learned in Scouting have served me in real life like nothing else could have prepared me. Thank you Boy Scouts of America. Thank you Greg Scott and all the great Scout Masters of all Great Scouts.

Primitive Cooking

Reflector Oven

How to choose a camp site

Primitive shelter construction

Winter Sleeping: How to stay warm

Sleeping bag liner

Canoe packing: How to keep your gear dry

1 match fire

Small fire cooking

Drinking water evaporation trap

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summerization July 1, 2011 Garden Photos

We went on vacation the first week of July so prior to leaving we had to summerize our garden. (This is a good idea to do even if we did not go on vacation as it is always a good idea to reduce water and weeding needs). We purchased 6 bales of hay to mulch all of our garden rows to prevent the ground from drying out too fast and to reduce weed growth. Here are some photos of where we are with the garden as of July 1, 2011. A lot of our plants are really small as we had an exceptionally cool and wet spring.

View of the west half of our garden.

View of the east half of our garden.

View of the middle row and hoop house.

Our asparagus producing well for several months.

Asparagus and Okra.

Okra about to start blooming.

Bush beans don't produce as well as pole beans but don't require support.

Pole beans starting to bloom. The turnips below are flowering.

Pole beans starting to climb the hoop house.

Our cool season stuff inside the hoop house is starting to die out although the carrots, Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce, carrots and Oakleaf Lettuce are doing well.

Cabbage and Deer Tongue Lettuce.

Kale and Chard produce all summer long.

Cucumbers starting to flower.

Our grapes are looking good for early July. We are having big problems with Japanese Beetles.

We have grape vines above our berry bushes and strawberries all around our garden.

Good looking grapes! We have Concord, Norton and other varieties.

A volunteer Gourd growing amongst newly planted Blueberry bushes. The strawberries below are hard to see withthe new straw mulch.

Peppers, Asparagus and Cucumbers.

Asparagus, Cucumbers and Okra.

Garden view.

Tomatoes and Okra.

Peppers. They are small because they were all grown from seed and I got a late start with our cold wet spring.

Tomatoes and Peppers.

Tomatoes and Peppers. Our strawberries (behind) produced about 25 pounds of berries this spring.

Tomatoes starting to flower.

Tomatoes freshly mulched to lessen watering.