Category Archives: Living from Scratch

Three Horse Hitch

Sharing my photo and the story that I wrote to go with it, in honor of the beautiful wedding procession today!

Three horse hitch, 1998

I took this photo for my photography class in the fall of my senior year. Back then, I spent all day Saturday and Sunday at the farm, as I had since I was a small child. I did everything- put pumpkins in rows, waited on customers, stocked the big pile of sweet corn. By senior year I spent all day in the kitchen baking apple and pumpkin pies.

As I cut wheat designs in the crust, I’d gaze out the upstairs kitchen window to keep an eye out for our beautiful dapple gray Percherons coming back with the hayride. I’d sprint down the stairs, grab the cash drawer and tell my grandmother whether the next buzzer was to rotate the pies or take them out. I would help load the wagon, quickly making change for families. Rides were $2 a person back then so the math was easy. Then I’d get a few minutes to visit with Bob, Bill and Vinny, and of course my Dad, before heading back in to wash my hands and keep baking, with a quick eye roll at my mom’s “pumpkin lady” vest and jewelry as she waited on customers in the stifling greenhouse with a big smile.

As it got later in the day I would be able to slow down baking and could even go on the hayride. Sometimes I would just relax and enjoy the ride, and sometimes I would get to drive. I learned to drive the horses when I was in fifth grade, but they knew the route well and could probably have done just fine without me holding the reins.

When the customers finally left we could close up the store while my dad cleaned up the horses, and then have a little fun running around on top of the hay maze (though you’re not supposed to do that). We would go to a fair or a movie, knowing that I’d be back in the kitchen at 8:00 the next morning. In late October we would get ready for the Haunted Hayride and work until late at night. We had more fun in the woods than the people did on the rides.

It was hard work, and I didn’t appreciate then that I could pick and eat as many apples as I wanted, and I didn’t like the bees around when we made cider, and I sometimes wished I could do nothing on weekends like some of my friends. Looking back now, I’m happy I had all those experiences. Like parenthood, the days are long but the years were short. We do our best now to give our boys similar experiences.

When you go visit your local family farm this year, remember you are visiting that family’s home. They pour their hearts and souls, blood, sweat and tears into welcoming your family and giving them a good time. Enjoy yourselves on a hayride, picking apples, loading a wagon with pumpkins and grab a pie while you’re there. And for heaven’s sake, don’t complain about the price of pumpkins.

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Slow Cooker Chicken Wild Rice Soup

I like to make a big pot of soup every weekend. I usually cook it on the stove but sometimes I use the crock pot just so I don’t have to watch it as much. My first secret ingredient in this soup is butternut squash. It starts to break down as it gets soft and that helps to thicken the soup. The second secret ingredient is chicken legs and thighs, because they make the broth tastier than boneless skinless breasts. And the final secret ingredient? Better Than Bullion chicken flavor. It makes for a very flavorful broth. I’ve added mushrooms and celery to this soup in the past and both are yummy but I didn’t have them on hand today.

  • Chicken: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings (or any combo of those parts- this is how we package the chickens my in-laws raise so it’s what I use)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 large parsnip, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 small butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 3/4 cup wild rice mix
  • 1 Tbsp Better Than Bullion Chicken Flavor
  • Water to cover everything (6-7 cups)

Place all ingredients in the slow cooker and set it to high for 4 hours. Remove the chicken, shred it and add it back to the soup. Serve with fresh bread or crackers.

Anna loves bread with her soup. For her, I simply mash up the softened veggies and chicken to make it an easier consistency to eat.

What’s your favorite type of soup? Please share in the comments!

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Yankee Maple Sugar Apple Pie

After taking a few years off from entering any of my pies in the local fair, I decided it was time to get back to it. I entered the State Two Crusted Apple Pie Contest, because I figured go big or go home! The rules stated that you could have other flavors added in as long as it was predominantly apple, so I decided to mix it up a bit so that my pie would stand out to the judges. I chose to develop a recipe using maple syrup and maple sugar because it’s a little bit different but still a traditional apple pie. I did a few trials, with feedback from my parents, brothers and sister in law (who are all apple connoisseurs) and my mother in law (who used to win all the baking contests and then became a judge at the fair). I also had my husband and picky kids as enthusiastic testers! I loved all the constructive criticism they gave me, because that made the pie so much better. My goals were to have a flaky, buttery crust that was golden brown and cooked well on the bottom, and tender, juicy (but not too juicy) flavorful apples. I pulled out all my tricks and got a delicious pie!

Crust

  • 3 cups flour
  • 12 Tbsp cold butter
  • 1/3 cup cold shortening
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6-8 Tbsp ice water

1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients except water and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas.

2. With the food processor running, pour in the water one tablespoon at a time until it forms into a ball.

3. Separate the dough in half, form into disks, wrap in plastic and place in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

Filling

  • 6 large apples, Cortland and McIntosh, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup maple sugar (granulated)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup flour

Other ingredients for putting it all together

  • 3 Tbsp butter, softened and divided
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp water added
  • 2 Tbsp maple sugar (granulated)

Make the pie!

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and remove the dough from the refrigerator.

2. Grease a 10″ pie pan with 1 Tbsp of the softened butter. This is one of my tricks to get a nicely browned bottom crust.

3. Combine all the filling ingredients in a big bowl.

4. Roll out the bottom crust and place it in the pan. Pile in the filling, leaving behind some of the juices that accumulate in the bowl so it’s not too runny. Pile it high! I like a lot of apples.

5. Dot the top of the apples with the remaining 2 Tbsp of softened butter.

6. Roll out the top crust and place it on top. Crimp the edges and cut a hole in the middle for a vent. In my family’s farm market, we carve designs into the tops of the pies so we can tell them apart. The apple design is three sheaves of wheat, and I find it’s impossible for me to make an apple pie without that design on top! That’s how I know it’s apple!

7. Brush on the egg wash and sprinkle on the maple sugar. Place on a sheet pan lined with foil or parchment to catch the drips, and place it in the middle of the oven.

8. Bake for an hour, then move the pie to the bottom rack for 10 minutes to finish cooking the bottom crust. Finally, move it to the top rack to nicely brown the top for about 10 minutes. It’s done when the filling bubbles out and the crust is golden brown.

9. Let the pie cool for at least an hour before slicing so it’s not too runny. Or go ahead and eat it if you can’t wait! Serve with a couple slices or sharp cheddar cheese, or vanilla ice cream on top.

So after all that work, I got second place at my local fair. I was busy (I do have a job and three kids) and only baked one instead of doing a back up pie, and I got a huge crack in the crust! I lost points on the appearance, and ended up losing by one point! My pie scored highest for crust, flavor and texture though! Lesson learned, bake two and enter the prettier one. And eat the other! Next year I’m going to try again. The winner at the local fair goes on to compete at the state level.

I also entered my old favorite, Butternut Squash Pie, and won a blue ribbon for it. That pie is always a winner!

We brought the Yankee Maple Sugar Apple Pie to Thanksgiving this year and my family loved it. If you try the recipe, let me know how you like it!

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Pot Roast in the Slow Cooker

We buy a cow share from Ed’s uncle every year so I end up cooking a variety of cuts that I probably wouldn’t buy at the store. Chuck roast is one of those. This is the best one I’ve made so I wanted to share the recipe. There’s just something about being out on a winter afternoon and coming home to dinner already made. Love it! You could mix up the vegetables, this is what I had on hand. Parsnips are good in this recipe, too.

Ingredients

3-5 lb chuck roast

Steak seasoning or salt and pepper

1 onion

2 carrots

2 celery stalks

2 medium potatoes

1 small sweet potato

2 cloves garlic

2 bay leaves

2 cups of French onion soup (I made some a couple months ago and froze it. You could definitely use a different liquid like beef broth, water, or even beer.)

2 Tbsp cornstarch

Directions

1. Peel and roughly chop the vegetables and place them in the bottom of the crock pot. Place the beef on top.

2. Season the meat as desired. I used some Montreal steak seasoning but salt and pepper is fine, too.

3. Pour the liquid over the roast, add the bay leaves, cover and set the slow cooker to low for 8-10 hours.

4. At the end of the cooking time remove the meat and then whisk the cornstarch into the liquid to thicken it. Serve hot.

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Pick Your Own

Don’t those look like delicious raspberries?

Too bad they’re not actually raspberries… they’re unripe blackberries.  Joshua likes to pick and squish raspberries, so when he grabbed a berry from the blackberry bush I thought that was what he was going to do.  Instead, he decided that after days of squishing berries he was ready to eat one.  He’ll probably never eat one again!

Later that day, while visiting my family’s farm, we went for a wagon ride and picked some sweet corn and peaches.  I hoped a sweet, juicy peach would make up for the unripe blackberry incident.

To my surprise, Joshua ate half of that very big peach, skin and all! He loved it!

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Scalloped Potatoes and Leeks

As far as I’m concerned, the best part of eating ham for dinner is having scalloped potatoes alongside it on your plate.  We have a freezer full of ham steaks that need to be used up before December, when our next round of pigs will be all grown up.  Have I shown you piglet pictures yet? I can’t remember, so here you go!

Anyway, I had a big bunch of local leeks in my fridge, so I decided to add them into my normal recipe and it was delicious! I don’t measure when I make this recipe, since it’s all about the layering, so these measurements are just estimates.  Seriously, you want to make this recipe!

Scalloped Potatoes and Leeks

  • 1 clove of garlic
  • half stick of butter
  • 3-4 large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced OR 8-10 small red potatoes, washed and thinly slided (no need to peel them!)
  • 2 large leeks, well washed, halved and sliced
  • 4-6 Tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used cheddar this time, but any cheese you like will do)
  • salt and pepper to taste (I like LOTS of black pepper, and add a little bit to each layer)
  • 2 cups whole milk

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Cut the garlic clove in half, then rub the cut side on the inside of the a 9 x 9 pan to flavor it, then use 1 tsp of butter to grease it.  Begin with a layer of potatoes by placing them in the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and about a Tbsp of flour, then dot with about 1 Tbsp of butter.  Add another layer of potatoes, more salt, pepper, flour, and butter.  Next layer in about half of the leeks.  Add another layer of potatoes, salt, pepper, flour, and about half the cheese.  Add another layer of potatoes, salt, pepper, flour, and butter.  Add the remaining leeks, then another two layers of potatoes, salt, pepper, flour, and butter.  Pour in the milk until the potatoes are mostly submerged, then press the layers down with your hands.  Top with the remaining cheese, some more pepper, and maybe even some more butter.  Bake for an hour until bubbly and the cheese is nicely browned, then let sit for about 15 minutes to cool and thicken before serving.  I’ve found that if I double the recipe I need to bake for up to an additional half hour to make sure the potatoes aren’t crunchy.

Ham? What ham? Pass the scalloped potatoes and leeks, please!

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World Breastfeeding Week

It’s World Breastfeeding Week! When a friend asked me if I was going to be blogging about it, I said probably not. I’m kind of all blogged out when it comes to breastfeeding, having written for a year now at the Breastfeeding Diaries.  My monthly check-in column “Yes, We’re Still Nursing!” is just about the perfect amount of writing.  Breastfeeding is part of our normal life now, as normal as me snacking on berries, eating fresh-caught fish, or having a big glass of water by my side at all times.  It’s how we live, it just IS.

That’s not to say that I don’t think about it or talk about it.  I’ve been happy to help out some of my loved ones who are new mommies with questions about nursing and expressing.  I laugh about it, like when the UPS man encountered my nursing bra-turned-swimsuit drying on the front porch.  I’m also really proud of the fact that I have nursed Joshua every single day for the last 16 1/2 months.  That’s just amazing to me.  I wish I had that kind of endurance in other areas of my life (dieting, exercise, laundry…).  I’m very happy with how our nursing relationship is right now. I nurse Josh when we’re together and don’t worry about it when we’re apart. There’s no pumping, bottles, measuring, washing dishes, or any of the stuff that stressed me out about being a nursing, working mom.  He nurses way less now than when he was a newborn, but I’d say he probably nurses about 10 times a day, just usually for shorter periods of time.  But to me it’s no big deal. It’s just what we do. 

I’ve thought about night weaning, but I don’t think Joshua’s ready for that yet.  I do believe that he’ll wean when he’s ready, but I see no reason to push it at this point.  I joke that I have no idea how I’d ever get him to sleep without nursing, as he nurses to sleep every time he’s with me, with the exception of falling asleep in the car a few times.  Though he falls asleep fine when we’re apart. 

Over the past 16 1/2 months, I’ve lived and breathed breastfeeding.  While eating, in my sleep, in public, in private, without a cover (but sometimes with), in the bath, in the pool, at the beach, at a parade, at a tractor pull, at picnics, in a parked car, in the shade, in the sun, on the couch, lying down, walking around, sitting on the floor. Whenever, wherever.

So what’s the plan? There is no plan. I have no plans to wean him at X age, just as I have no plans to keep going until X age.  If I had to make a prediction, I’d guess that his nusing duration would be measured in years, but we’ll see.  We just go with the flow.

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