Natural Egg Dying

We were back in the kitchen this week dying Easter eggs and enjoying a Natural Dyed Eggshighly speculative and interesting conversation about how and why the Easter Bunny brings eggs and hides them in one’s house.  In my childhood household,  the Bunny brought eggs with Him or Her and,  judging by the dye stains in the sink the next morning, used our kitchen to dye them.  He or She  then went around our house hiding them in difficult to find places along with baskets containing more colorful eggs and candy.   Each basket was labeled with the name of a child.  The Bunny seemed to have some general sense of each child’s capacity for hunting and finding based on age.   
In other households,  the children took care of dying the eggs ahead of time and stored them in the refrigerator in an egg carton.  Carrots were placed on top of the carton to ensure that the Bunny could find them.  While the children were asleep the Bunny would enter the house by unknown means and hide the eggs around the house.   

Who can understand the ineffable mind of the Easter Bunny?  What is the relationship between the Bunny, who delivers the eggs, and the Chicken, who creates them?  Who cares when you have a pile of chocolate and sugar in front of you after having abstained from both for the past 40 days?

Anyway I digress.  You probably tuned in to learn about how to use natural dyes to make beautiful eggs.  It’s pretty easy.  Start with clean, uncooked white eggs.   Put some pots of water on the stove to boil with natural dyes in them.  Use about one Tbsp spice or about 1 c of fruit or vegetable and 2Tbsp of white vinegar to 4 cups of water.  Make sure the eggs are very clean, then put it in the boiling dye mixture for 15 minutes.  Basically, anything that stains fabric or your fingers will dye eggs.  If you put more of the dye stuff in the water the eggs will be darker. 

Boiling water with beets

Boiling water with beets

Red or pink:  Beets, cranberries or raspberries
Orange:  Yellow onion skins or paprika
Yellow:  Tumeric
Blue: Blueberries, blackberries,  (We tried grape juice but it made the eggs sticky)
Brown:  coffee, or tea

Special Effects
Wrap a few rubber bands around the egg before putting it in the water.  The part where the rubber band is will stay white and you get a geometric design. Quite nice.
   Draw a design on the egg with a wax crayon.  If you have little egg dying kit from the drug store there is likely to be a wax crayon in there.  You can use it to write a name on the egg. 
   Wrap the eggs in onion skins and secure with rubber bands.  Boil it in plain water for a mottled orange effect,  or in with the beet water for a orange/red egg combo. 
     Wrap some interesting dried leaves around the egg and put it in an old nylon stocking.  Put it in any of the dyes.  The leaves will create a really interesting mottled pattern.  This is my favorite method. 

A note about dying eggs with someone who is 20 months old.  
She needs a full body bib; her own set of cold water dyes from Paas; hard boiled eggs; glitter and colorful stickers; and a spoon for stirring and dipping and stirring and dipping and stirring and dipping.

Finally More Information about Easter
The name “Easter” originated with the names of an ancient Goddess and God. The Venerable Bede, (672-735 CE.) a Christian scholar, first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similarly, the “Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility [was] known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos.” (From Larry Boemler “Asherah and Easter,” Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 18, Number 3, 1992-May/June)

Please post comments,  I’m particularly interested in hearing your childhood Easter Egg rituals.


Strawberry Jam

It's hot working making jam

It's hot working making jam

This weekend a couple of teenaged boys, our nephews, stayed overnight while their parents took off for parts unknown.  We had to think of something to entertain them that would at least as interesting as IPods, IPhones, and all things computerized and digital which are in short supply at our house. 

What would you do?  We came up with the brilliant idea of making Strawberry Jam.  Initially they were less than enthusiastic, but they warmed up to the idea after a while.  Especially when they realized there was no way they could beat me at Scrabble.

So we hauled about 8 pints of frozen strawberries out of the freezer. and a bunch of jelly jars and lids up from the basement.  We had put up the strawberries last fall when it was too hot  and we were too busy to deal with them.   Now it is March and although spring is coming, we still have several feet of snow on the ground and it’s still cold out.  A perfect day for heating up the kitchen.

After a couple of false starts, Seth set to work with the food processor and turned the frozen pints into 6 cups of strawberry slush.  Tyler carefully made calcium water and measured 4 tsp into the strawberry slush as it heated up on the stove.   His job was to watch the pot until it boiled and to stir occasionally to prevent scorching. In the meantime, the jars were sterilizing in the slowly boiling water in the canner, and the lids were sterilizing in their own separate little lid pan.

Seth then put together 12 oz of  frozen apple juice concentrate with a 1/4 c of honey and heated that up on the stove.  At this point we had all 4 burners going. When  the apple juice concentrate and honey mixture started boiling Seth went back to his food processor.  This time it was to thoroughly mix the hot apple concentrate and honey mixture with the pectin.  Tyler added 4 tsp  of pectin through the hole in the top of the food processor while Seth pulsed and mixed.  When it was well mixed, Seth added it to the hot strawberry slush and we brought it back to a boil.  At this point the kitchen was hot and steamy. 

We lifted the sterilized jars out of the hot water bath and set up an assembly line.  I filled the jars, Seth put on the sterile lids using the nifty magnetic lid lifter, Tyler screwed them down, and Naomi put them back in the canner to boil for another 10 minutes.  

Tyler and Seth took a break and went off to play with the dog who had been banished from the kitchen for being underfoot and was feeling somewhat neglected.

Finally, when the timer went off to tell us that they were ready, I took the jars out of the canner and set them on a towel to cool.  It only took about 3 minutes for us to hear 8 satisfying pings.  Hurray, all of our jars sealed!

We didn’t eat the jam right away, although I did take advantage of the warm jelly that didn’t get in to the jars.  Very tasty. This morning the parents returned, a little bleary eyed but happy enough and collected their kids, dog and a couple of jars of jam.  Maybe we will do it again next year.

Disclaimer:  This post is not intended to be instructional on how to make jam.  I used the recipe in the box of Pamona’s Universal Pectin.

Christmas GreetingsNaomi, the saver of all things old, had a box of very old Christmas cards that her grandmother had saved. (Yes the practice of saving things runs in her family).  Those might be worth something someday – Right?   Actually – Wrong.  On eBay similar old cards were listed for about $10/dozen, and nobody was bidding on them.  So, what does one do with all these very lovely and very old cards?

She came up with the idea of remaking them into Christmas cards for this year, and I must say that I am impressed.  She went to the local art store and bought a package of different colors of light weight cardstock, and set to work.  She appropriated the dining room table for the project. 

First she selects a card and trims it to a size that will fit into an available envelope.  (We also have an assortment of various sizes of envelopes collected from half used boxes of stationary, garage sales and who knows where else). 

She has a good quality paper cutter and an exacto knife that she uses for precise trimming.  I know there are other kinds of special sissors that people use, but these are the tools that we have on hand. The trimming also involves removing the signatures of the previous sender and any personal messages.  Then she selects a card stock to match, and artfully glues the old pictures to the new paper.  Usually she cuts the card stock so that it is slightly wider and a little more than twice as long as the picture.  Then she folds the cardstock neatly in half and glues the old picture on the front of the card. 

She sometimes trims up the old text from the inside of the old card and puts it in the new one.  Sometimes she matches the text with a different card.  Sometimes she just writes her own little sentiment inside the card.  She uses a white pencil to write on the darker card stock.

Part of the fun is reading the old cards, with the sweet personal notes inside.  These came from the era when written communication was very common and you can tell that often the senders of these cards put time and effort into selecting just the right card with just the right message.  It puts us in the mood to try to do the same thing.  So if you receive one of these hand made cards from us, know that it was made especially with you in mind.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New YearBest Wishes for Christmas and the New Year

Merry Christmas

Easy Sauerkraut


I just used up the last of  the sauerkraut from last year’s batch, so it is time to make more.  Here is the recipe.

Makes 1 quart
From Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon – New Trends Publishing 2001

1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded, reserve the core and a couple of outer leaves.
1 Tablespoon caraway seeds
1 Tablespoon sea salt
4  Tablespoons of whey* (If whey is not available add an extra Tablespoon of salt)

Mix cabbage with caraway seeds, sea salt and whey in a large bowl.  Pound it all with a wooden pounder or meat hammer for about 10 minutes.  I have just used my hands to squeeze and kneed the cabbage.  The point is to release the juices, so just pound and kneed until the cabbage is very juicy. Then put it in a wide mouth quart jar and press it down with your pounder until the juice comes over the top of the cabbage. The top of the cabbage should be at least 1″ below the top of the jar. Place a leaf on top of the cabbage and add the core to the top.  This holds the cabbage down in the juice.  Put on a tight cover and let it sit on your counter at room temperature for about three days.  Then put it into the refrigerator.  You can use it immediately but it improves with age.  Six months in the refrigerator is best. 

I have added small amounts of other grated vegetables for extra color and flavor. Carrots are nice.  I also really like to add a finely chopped jalapeno pepper. 

*Whey is just the liquid that is strained out of yoghurt. I use cheese cloth in a strainer over a bowl.  Put a good quality plain yoghurt in the strainer and let the whey drain through into the bowl.  What is left in the strainer is cream cheese or creme fraiche.  I especially like the creme fraiche stirred into a squash or pumpkin soup when I am serving it. It adds a little zip to the soup and looks really pretty.

Honey Harvest, Part I

Honey Harvest, Part I

Naomi Jackson/September 2010

Super: a small hive box in which bees store honey
Frame: shaped like a picture frame; holds a rectangle of wax-coated plastic
Propolis: bee glue, made of plant resins

Choose a golden fall day, when the breeze is warm
and the sun is high, and the bees
are out gadding in the goldenrod.

Plan carefully, for you must move quickly
to dodge kamikaze warriors
left behind to guard the gold store.

Take two friends; three is better.
Don your armor: white suits with balky zippers,
rubber boots, jungle helmets, leather gloves.

Load your truck with hive tools, frame clamp, nails,
two empty supers with flat lids,
a smoker and a sticky-bristled bee brush.

 Remember to turn off the electric fence.

Fill the smoker with pine needles and paper.
Light the paper, squeeze the bellows, close the lid.
Gather your tools and approach the first hive.

With your hive tool, pry off the outer cover,
then the inner cover, and apply a layer of smoke.
Smoke alarms the nurse bees, who crawl inside.

Loosen a frame of honey from its propolis bonds.
Lift the frame, dripping bees and honey,
and gather round to inspect the stores.

If most of the cells are filled with honey and capped with wax,
brush off the bees and give the frame to the runner.
If not, replace the frame. It belongs to the bees.

The runner, dodging waist-high daisy fleabane and
loose fence wires, runs to the truck, brushes off
the last bees, slips the frame in a super, slams on the lid.

And repeat, through each super, through each hive,
lifting each frame, examining each cell
as warriors pelt your helmet and smoke fills your lungs.

When the last full frame is stored in the truck,
nail the lids on the supers that hold your harvest,
and turn back to say thank you to the bees.

Remember to turn on the electric fence.

Fifteen Hundred Servings

DSC00047 The Fifteen Hundred Servings project started with the question, “Why are we doing this?”   It was July, and we were just getting started with preserving the early harvest of black raspberries.  I had read Barbara Kingsolver’s book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”, and was acutely aware of the Miracle that is fresh produce.   So I started to wonder about what exactly we were trying to accomplish with this preserving.  Was it to save money?  Somewhat maybe.   Was it for health reasons?  Probably yes.  We think that the food we grow and pick ourselves is healthier than pesticide grown food.  Was it fun?  Depends on when you ask.   Is it satisfying?  Definitely yes!!  It’s immensely satisfying to grow, harvest, preserve, prepare, serve and eat your own food.  

And there is something else.  I was interested in the question of what it would take to put away enough produce to feed outselves all winter.  So we embarked on the Fifteen Hundred Servings Project.  We figured that that was the number of servings of fruits and vegetables we would need for two people for five months of winter December through April.  The arithmetic is as follows:  5 months x 30 days = 150 days x 5 servings per day = 750 servings x 2 people = 1500 servings. We decided to make a general rule that one cup of fresh produce would equal one serving, whether it was berries, squash, or tomatoes. 

So with the goal of 1500 servings in mind we set out to can, freeze, pickle, dehydrate, and store every bit of produce we could get our hands on.  We picked bushels of pears from our neighbor’s tree (with their permission of course); took away all the extras we could manage from our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share; combed the local farmer’s market for bushels of apples, and agreed to take any excess produce off the hands of our gardening friends.  We devoted most weekends to the project and managed to rope a few friends into helping out.

On November 30, 2008, we tallied it all up.   We estimated that we had 1,327 1/2 servings, 172 1/2 servings shy of the 1500.  We were delighted.  If we had had room for more squash and potatoes we would have made it. 

So we ate our way through the winter.   We gave quite a bit away as gifts and were able to serve quite a few local/home grown meals to our guests.  The best thing was to be able to open a jar of our own canned pears in February.   Really, there is nothing better.

Here are a few things we learned.  Nectarines need sweetener.   Use stored beets by the end of December.  Butternut and orange squash go by fastest.  It is best to store squash in the kitchen where it is warmer and they can get good air circulation.  Don’t make so many dill pickles.  You can never have too many carrots.  Grape leaves need to be harvested early in the season.

This year is a little different.  We are going at it a little more slowly. At this time last year we had 528 1/2 servings put up.  This year we are at 365.  I think maybe it is because we don’t have the 15oo servings goal as firmly in our minds as we did last year, or it might be the new grand baby is taking up more time.  I expect we will reach at least 1000 servings this year when all the pumpkins, squash, potatoes are stored, and the last of the beans have been frozen.   We still have to figure out how many servings one garlic is worth.  There is always more to learn.  How much squash do we want?  I’d love to write more, but the broccoli is calling.

       Dare I say it.  I think it is time to shift away from fireworks as a way to celebrate America’s independence. 

      When fireworks were invented the idea of lighting up the night sky with fire was totally awesome.  Celebrations with lights and noise made sense because prior to that time the nights were usually dark and quiet.    Even in 1950, when I was a girl, nights were usually dark and quiet, and  I loved sitting on the edge of the lake surrounded by the community of friends and family and joining in the chorus of appreciative aaaahhhs and ooooohhs.

      Today, at least where I live in the city, the night is always lit.  Street lights, city lights, parking lot security.  Blinking, twinkling non-stop lights and noise.   

      With the Green Revolution upon us I look forward to the day when the world is a little dimmer, quieter, and cleaner. 

       I love America.  Home of the Brave, Land of the Free.    On July 4th I would love to be able to go out into the street, stand with my neighbors and look up and be awestruck by the beauty of deep, peaceful, starry night.    AAAAAHHH,     OOOOOOOHHH. 

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