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In a Pickle

I can go a little nutty with canning. I tend to find something on sale and go totally apeshit with it. A few years back, it was pickle mixes.

Some store had on clearance OODLES of Ball pickle mixes. Dill and bread and butter pickles and oh my. I had about 30 packets of these things I swear.

After making some jars of pickles, which everyone just LOVED, there the rest of the packets sat in my pantry.

And after awhile I started feeling guilty. There was a sale on pickling cucumbers, they were SUPER cheap, so I decided what the hell. Let’s use up these packets. I enlisted the help of BFF and kids, and boy did we can up the pickles.

At first I started trading pickles with neighbors and freecylers for different things. Then I think everyone got sick of pickles. And remained sick of pickles for quite a few years.

Yes, I know, pickles stay good forever. But honestly, me and the Texan don’t really like canned pickles. I’m more of a hard, crisp, never cooked pickle person. As a matter of fact, I won’t even eat canned pickles unless it’s on a hotdog or something.

I needed the room in my pantry that was being taken up by the tons of canned pickles. I wasn’t canning any more because I didn’t have room, damn the pickles. So many pickles.

And what the HELL can you do with them? They aren’t really recipe friendly and quite frankly no one was going to eat them all out of the can so I had to get crafty.

I thought, well, why not dry them? But I knew better.

Cukes are almost all liquid with subtle flavor, so they’d dry basically into salty nasty flavorless chips. I already knew that. There’s a reason you never hear of dried pickles.

But then it dawned on me. You DO hear about pickle CHIPS. As in potato chips! AHA! There was something.

So I grabbed some of my pickles. Mind you, an entire dehydrator load (and my dehydrator is HUGE) didn’t even make a dent in my pickle stash.

And I laid them out on trays.

And I dried the shit out of them.

THEN! And here’s the crafty part. I ground them into a powder in my coffee grinder.

And I fried up some potatoes and coated them in pickle powder.

Was it good? Why yes, yes it was.

You REALLY have to coat the chips with it though. Like a LOT to get the flavor. It’s not as bold or salty as you’d think. It has more of a pickle after taste. But it’s pretty good, and I bet it’ll be pretty damn good on popcorn too.

Would I suggest this to someone just to do it? NO. It wouldn’t be worth it. But I have so many pickles that are going to go to waste otherwise and I just can’t have that. All that work! I had to come up with something. So, pickle powder it is.

I’m sure there aren’t many people out there that feel my pain with this one, but I was proud of my little creativity. Yes, I’m feeling a bit smug.

Course I  have no time to stand here and feel smug and let you adore my awesomeness because I have about 4, 928, 018 pickles that I now have to go dry.

Man, The Sh#* You Can Do With Orange Peels

I’m continuously amazed at some of the uses that I find for things. You see, I’m completely hell bent on having a homestead one day. Being a born and raised inner city girl who’s now in the suburbs, the idea never really sunk in that once we move there won’t be a grocery store within walking distance. Or I hope there won’t be.

I read and researched and flipping through homestead magazines and realized that these people all pretty much had the same thing in common: They used what they had. They didn’t make shopping trips every other day. Over the course of a few years, that’s what I’ve started to do as well. Call in in-house training. I’ve also come to realize that living on a homestead you have to second guess what you throw out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to save every scrap of paper, etc. The key to this is really to use less and hence waste less, not hoard garbage. But I’ve found some interesting uses for things.

First is my compost. Anything that can’t be turned into something else food wise gets composted. I have a massive twirly composter. It works great and I love it. So most kitchen scrap never really goes to waste. But tossing it in the compost isn’t the only way to go.

Mr. Super, my resident truck driver. used to work for a small trucking company that did odd loads from here to…anywhere really. One year right before Christmas he had a load in Florida delivering all kinds of citrus fruits. The owner of the company he was delivering to rejected a bunch of cases of fruit because they were blemished and the guy offered to let Mr. Super have it. I mean loads of it. Think about 100 pounds of fruit or better. Case after case. He ended up bringing it home with him. Being a country farm boy himself, he hated to see that stuff turned into the trash and he knew I could do something with it. Most of it was oranges, but in there were limes, lemons, grapefruits and tangerines.

So here I was, nearing Christmas, with a ton of citrus fruit scattered across my kitchen. Ok, first things first. Check to see if the insides were good and bingo, most of them were just fine. So I started canning them up. Orange slices and grapefruit slices, orange juice, lemon juice and on and on.

Course, then you are left with all the peels. Pounds upon pounds upon pounds of peels. Instead of crying my eyes out, I found some uses for them. I dried up most of them and used them like crazy.

To this day, I still dry the peel of an orange or citrus fruit when I use it because they are so versatile. They never go in the compost here. I highly doubt you’ll ever 50 pounds of oranges sitting on your counter, but it doesn’t mean you don’t eat an orange every once and again and drying the peels is really as easy as leaving them on the counter for a week or so. You don’t need a dehydrator, those that does make quick, even work of it.

You can slice the peel into thin strips or just leave it in chunks. It really doesn’t matter if you aren’t going to be eating them or using them decoatively, they’ll dry the same. If they aren’t for food use, you can leave the pith on too, makes no difference.

Here are some of the things I’ve done with DRIED citrus peels:

Put them on the stove in a pot of water in the winter time and simmer. Puts moisture back in the house and makes the house smell lovely. When they are spent, compost them or put them in the garbage disposal. They’ll freshen it up.

Make a potpourri with citrus peels, cinnamon sticks and a little cinnamon powder. Put it in a dish or a bag as a cute gift.

Grind them up with a coffee grinder. Grind it REALLY fine. You can then use it as a facial scrub once you add some jojoba, apricot kernel or very virgin olive oil to it. You can use the powder plain I suppose but it might be a little rough. You can also use the powder to scour counters, tubs or sinks. Ditto on making it super fine so it goes down the drain ok.

Put the peels in a jar next to your fire place, they make great kindling and smells wonderful!

Place a few in a bottle of vinegar and let it soak for a couple weeks. Replace it if needed. It’ll make a wonderful orange vinegar you can use for cleaning. Or add 3 tablespoons of the vinegar in a glass pint jar filled with water and use as a final hair rinse in the shower. No, you don’t have to rinse after using it. No, you won’t smell like vinegar once your hair dries. Works wonders for shine and removing build up.

Mix it in some baking soda as a carpet powder. Smells great when the vac hits it, again, make it super fine and soft though or it’ll clog.

Once powdered, you can also stick in a muslin bag with some cinnamon and nutmeg and make a spicy tea.

Zest the citrus fruit, removing all the pith, and dry them. You can store them in the cabinet in a jar this way.

You can make citrus sugar. Zest the fruit, like above, dry it and powder the ever living hell out of it, and mix some in a jar of sugar. It’ll flavor the sugar.

Some things you can do with FRESH peels:

I’ve only ever done this orange peels but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with most citrus peel: Cut fresh peels into thin strips. Blanch them (dip them in hot boiling water , then cold water again). Make a super thick syrup of sugar and water. Think 1 cup sugar to 1/2 cup of water. Stir this on the stove over low until totally dissolved. Add the peels and simmer 3-5 minutes. Pour the whole thing, warm syrup and peels, into a bowl with a lid. Place the lid on and stick them in the fridge overnight. The next day, drain the peels or use a slotted spoon, and roll the peels in more white sugar to coat. You can use them in recipes, but I’ve eaten them just like that and people love them. Mind you you can’t eat many straight like that but you can freeze them. Try dipping them in dark chocolate too after you’ve covered them in sugar. So Good! (Diabetic coma time!)

Zest the peels and freeze them for use in recipes. This skips the drying step and you can just wrap them in a bit of foil and store them in the freezer nearly indefinately.

You flavor sugar using fresh peels too. Just stick a fresh peel in a jar of sugar. The sugar should dry the peel out and leave you with flavored sugar.

Use the fresh peels to flavor teas! Lemon is great for this one.

Make vinegars, just like above.

Make a flavored liquor. Pour vodka over some fresh citrus peels to infuse it with flavor. It won’t be sweet, but it’ll be seriously citrus flavored.

Put them down your disposal, it’ll fresh it up!

Rub the peels on your counters, lemon works great for this, it’ll clean them and give them a beautiful scent.

You can put some zest in a food processor with some sugar and olive oil for an awesome body scrub.

Stick a piece of peel, lemon works best for this too, in some brown sugar to keep it soft!

Ok seriously, I could keep going. And going. And going. But by this point you are either snoozing OR itching to go run to the grocery store and buy a bag of oranges. (HEY! Now’s the time! They are on sale this time of year!) But these little buggers are really versatile. So consider me the devil on your shoulder and go do it!

Mother of…Vinegar

I’m a Midwestern girl through and through. This inevitably means that I LOVE Autumn. And with Autumn comes falling leaves, beautiful scenery, corn festivals and blah blah blah. But most importantly with Fall comes APPLES!

I’m an apple addict. Hello, my name is Jess, and I’m an appleholic.

In my crazy ass opinion, apples are the perfect food. They can be sweet or tart, served alone or with meat, cheese or salad. They can be baked, eaten raw or fried. They can be turned into just about anything. Quite literally.

Mind you, there are apples that ripen during summer as well. I have a small apple tree that produces wonderful golden apples come mid to late summer. This year’s harvest I used to make mini apple pies. I froze about 12 of them, along with a full size apple pie, and they are GONE. They didn’t last long. Sadly, this small apple tree doesn’t cut it for my apple needs over the year. HEY! You try meeting the apple demands of yourself and nearly 700 pounds of male over the course of a year having only 1/4 acre suburban plot to work with!

Mini Pies

Come Autumn images of apples dance in my head and I start thinking of what I will make this year. Homemade canned applesauce? DUH. Canned apples rings, apple pie filling, apple jelly, apple butter, apple chunks. And I’ll make baked apples, apple pie, apple danish, apple juice, apple cider, apple cake, dry some apples for snacks. I’ll bake them, fry them, saute them, butter them, make them into donuts, fritters and all other sorts of awesome delicious things that are bad for you and that I can’t eat anyway.

It’s torture, yes. But life is pain, right? Don’t start feeling sorry for the poor diabetic here who can’t have her favorite thing in the world. I eat apples, but they are better for me raw. They are better for YOU raw too. Moderation is everything and I sneak bites here and there. Ok, sometimes I sneak more than a bite but my blood sugar always pays for it. Plus I like makin the stuff and thank goodness I’ve got guys here who seem to process food as if their bodies are always starving.

So generally, I head to the farmers markets during the summer and fall. There are NO farmers markets here in winter because, well, it’s damn cold and there is no produce. I’m also very specific about the farmers markets I will go to, or more specifically, the vendors within those markets. I’ve seen them whip out crates they got at Costco and refill their very “family farm” looking container with store bought produce and sell it at 12x’s the price. Why would they do such a thing you ask? Because yuppies will pay for it, that’s why.

There’s one specific Apple Dealer (yes, they are my dealer) that I go to in a very small farmer’s market up the road here. They are only here June to November and they have apples. Tons of glorious apples. And that’s all they do is apples, nothing else. Beautiful-no-funny-business-organic-real-true-sized-anti-genetically-modified apples. To channel Joni Mitchell: Hey farmer farmer, put away that DDT now. Leave spots on the apples but give me the birds and bees, ppllleeeaassee!

I’ve been going to the same vendor for years. It’s a mother father team who are about in their 60′s and their adult daugther, and her son. They are wonderful. Beautiful smiling eyes and bright faces and always so friendly. They know by now who I am and what I do because, well, I think I’m the only one who ever buys actual bushels from them. All the yuppies that come into the booth with their aerobics pants and freshly highlighted hair, all done up in make up because they can’t possibly drive their kids to school without it, rushing to get to their Yoga class but trying to appear cool and collected as if they are having some “me” time, driving their huge SUV’s and carrying some god awful canvas bag adorned with a kitty on a branch that says “hanging in there” with them because they saw on Oprah that canvas bags save the environment and they wanted to feel “green” today probably stick out pretty far from me when I head to the farmer’s market: It’s usually about 8am on a Wednesday so I trolly in with unbrushed hair, stinky breath, in my pj pants and a Pantera shirt from 1992 that I used the bottom of to clean up my coffee spill that morning, pulling up in my compact that’s completely ridden with mud from driving INTO not AROUND the shooting ranges burm the following weekend, my wallet and my keys and my checkbook falling out of my pockets, grumbling about my next apple fix.

I grumble “How much for a bushel.” And generally, the light of recognition appears on their face and the apple conversations start.

“Wow, what are you gonna do with it?” they ask me

“None of your business, now you got the stuff or not, man?”

Just kidding.

I usually tell them: I’m gonna can it up for over the winter. And the awesome stories begin. Feels like I’m being handed down tradition when they start telling me their recipes and their plans for their own apples.

This year the nice man told me that they generally make applesauce and sell that too. Tons and tons of it. And over the winter, they store the apples they didn’t have time to can up in coolers in an unheated garage with a damp paper towel inside. Whenever they run out of applesauce, they just grab more apples from the cooler. I will do this next year. An entire bushel will be dedicated to this next year because, damnit, that’s a good idea.

“Have you ever made applesauce with Empire Apples?” the man asks me. Well, no, no I haven’t.

He proceeds to tell me to ditch the Ball Canning Book, which is the bible for every canner every where. Don’t worry about using different varieties. I usually use a mix of macintosh, granny smith and a sweeter apple because I like my applesauce tart and I never add sugar (don’t fancy a diabetic coma every time I open up a jar). He says Empires make a wonderful sweet tart sauce that’s heavily with cinnamon. By this point I’m drooling and handing him all the money in my bank account.

He then tells me: Don’t peel them. Just quarter them, cook them, and push them through a food mill to prepare the sauce, the only difference is that the sauce will have a pretty pink hue to it. This is interesting to me. My first thought was oh no! I won’t be able to use my handy dandy apple peeler! Ok, I’m a kitchen gadget junky, just live with it. Everyone has a vice.

My next thought is: That would be much easier. I have a food mill. But not the kind of food mill he’s talking about. He goes to explain what a food mill is. As if I don’t know. But I figure he probably runs into mostly food ignorant dumbasses all day who tell him they are going to make applesauce but don’t know how and eventually just go to the store and buy some Mott’s anyway. So I politely listen. Even though I have a food mill. It’s electric. It attaches to my glorious Kitchen Aid stand mixer. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s name is Dennis.

Yup, I’ve got a name for my food mill. This isn’t entirely my fault however. A conversation from a dear foreign friend of mine who’s nearly as insane about this kind of stuff that I am asked me what the hell it was used for. I proceeded to explain that it hooked to my KitchenAid and you put the prepared food in the hopper, pushed it down, and it forced it through a mesh kind of sieve where the “good” stuff (the sauce) came out and the “bad” stuff (the peels, cores and seeds) were forced out through a hole in the front. He must have made me repeat the word “hopper” twelves times. Guess he thought it was funny. Ennamored by my machine, he proceeds to name it Dennis. Hopper. Get it? (Save your groans for the end of the post!)

So, I buy my big old bushel of apples. I struggle to get this thing in the house because at about 5’0 tall, the things basically bigger than me. And I do what the nice man says. I quarter the apples, I cook them until soft, I push them through Dennis, I heat the sauce, spice it, put it in jars and into the boiling water canner they go. And they all turned out wonderful. Last count I got 20 or cans of it up, and it’s tasty stuff.

Yet every year without fail I’m left with more peels than freakin sauce. Just bowls and bowls of peels that Dear Dennis puked out for me, all going to waste. I knew I could shove it in the compost so it wasn’t REALLY wasted but, still. That’s not my style. If something can be done with it, I’ll do it.I do realize that apple seeds have arsenic in them. However, from years of having peels and seeds leftover, I’ve researched this: It’s such a minimal amount that there’s likely no way I could contaminate anything I make with it enough to harm any body. I don’t really like the idea of poisoning my family with applesauce. Today, anyway. (JUST KIDDING! GOD! RELAX!)

So, for the years I’ve been doing this I always try to find a use. And frankly, none of them had been anywhere near satisfactory. Let me save you some fails:

Apple Peel Jelly: No, all this turns out to be is apple scented gelantous sugar stuff with a pink hue.

Apple Peel Juice: No, all this turns out to be is apple scented water. With a pink hue.

Apple Peel Potpourri: I’ve dried the peels and added dried orange slices and cinnamon to it. I then boiled it on the stove in some water. I smelled mostly orange and cinnamon and the apple peels don’t dry all pretty, they kinda curl up, so it made it ugly anyway.

Apple Peel Leathers: Ok, super no. It was chunky and chewy and just…no.

Apple Peel Liquer: Infuse some vodka, then add sugar and cook. Pretty color, but not nearly enough apple taste for me. Though this was the best one of the above.

So finally, I decided a few years back: Apple Vinegar. It’s basically Apple Cider Vinegar. I know most people are ignorant to the amazing uses of Apple Cider Vinegar. It’s not just for cooking, it’s so versatile. I love the stuff. Uses, you ask?

Cleaning: Put it in a spray bottle dilute half and half with water. It cleans like a dream. No, it won’t smell like vinegar once you are done. The vinegar scent dries leaving no smell at all. But if you are THAT worried about it Princesses just go ahead and add a couple drops of fragrant or essential oil to the bottle. Then once it dries it’ll smell like that. Ditto for washing the floors. Just dilute 1 cup per gallon of water. Works fabulous.

Hair Rinse: Yes, put it in your hair. No, you won’t smell like a salad. Well, once your hair dries you won’t. It leaves you hair super soft, shiny, helps get rid of dandruff and controls those freaking serious painful pimples you may get in your hairline from time to time. God I hate those. Dilute about 2 TB in a quart jar full of water once you’ve washed your hair. Use that as your final rinse water. Don’t get it in your eyes. Ow.

Facial Toner: I know I get flack for putting food on my face all the time. But I’m nearly 32 years old and I frequently get mistaken for 10 years younger, sometimes even a high schooler (no, I’m not kidding. Ask anyone. It’s REAL annoying when you are trying to buy beer). Just mix 1-2 tsp in a 16 oz bottle of water and cotton ball it over your face. Once a day if your face is dry, twice if it’s not. Again, avoid your eyes unless you like the pain of a thousand suns in them.

Fabric Softener: Ok, well, white vinegar works better for this since it’s not brown and it’s cheaper, but still, it’ll do in a pinch. Use this instead of fabric softener (if you are using apple cider vinegar, don’t use it on whites, derp). It’ll soften up your clothes.

For Stinky Dog Breath: Put a couple drops in your dog’s water dish to help battle old stinky dog breath. It really does work too. And no, the dog won’t reject it. I have the pickiest dog on the face of the planet (100 pound Akita who refuses to walk on wet grass. Really?) and she doesn’t mind it.

For Stinky Human Breath: Same concept. It’s supposed to help kill bad bacteria in your stomach or something, I dunno, but it works.

To De-Stink Nearly Anything: Vinegar is really good about getting the stink out of stuff. Like dishes, boxes, bottles, old spice jars, just about anything. Just pour it in and leave it sit. It sucks up stink.

Alright, I’ll stop here, you get the idea. It’s useful stuff.

So, instead of tossing all the peels, I make apple peel vinegar. And it’s wonderful. So if you ever find yourself with a mess of apple peels…

Grab yourself a jar. I recommend a jar and not a bottle because it’s a pain in the ass to get the peels out of a bottle. Don’t ask me how I know. A mason jar works best. And make sure NOT to use metal. Metal and vinegar react!

Put all your peels in the jar. Fill the jar about 1/4 way with prepared vinegar. You don’t, strictly speaking, HAVE to do this. But I do. It’s security in my OCD mind. Somehow I think that the exsiting vinegar gives the new vinegar a start. I realize there’s probably no scientific basis for this, ok? It’s my island, my rules!

Fill it up with water leaving LOTS of head space. I would say fill it only 3/4 of the water, if not just enough to cover the peels. Otherwise it’ll explode in your garage before it’s made into vinegar and there will be little magic jelly beans (maggots) crawling all around the juice. Again. Don’t ask me how I know this.

DO NOT put a cap on it. It WILL explode! It’s gonna ferment and build up gas. Thrice now, don’t ask me how I know this.

Put instead a paper coffee filter on the top and secure it with a rubber band. Leave it in a dark, room temperature or slightly cooler place for about a month. If it’s too warm, you’ll get mold or critters. Vinegar is a natural bug and mold repellent, so if you ever see mold or critters, THROW IT OUT! I put mine in the garage. And just leave it sit. It’ll bubble, it’ll fizz, it will smell really good, then it’ll smell like booze, then it’ll smell like vinegar. Awesome vinegar. If in a month it still doesn’t have the vinegar smell, leave it sit a little longer or move it to a slightly warmer place.

Apple Vinegar After A Month

The liquid will be reduced after a month. Don’t worry. It’s supposed no. Now onto the straining. This isn’t a quick process so if you decide to this, cancel your Friday night plans.

Ok, dump out liquid, peels and all into a big plastic or glass bowl. Get another big plastic or glass bowl and strain it through a fine mesh strainer. Do this in batches if you have a lot so you can rinse the strainer between loads. Mash it in there real good. I use my grandmothers potato masher for this.

Mushy Apple Vinegar Peels

You may have to do this more than once. Once you are done mashing your peels you can toss them. In the compost of course. The liquid you should get out of this will be brownish pink and kind of the consistency of really liquidy applesauce. You aren’t done yet.

Now you are going to strain the liquid. Do this through the same mesh strainer (that’s rinsed off, duh). When you do this, you’ll notice the strainer is straining out what looks like applesauce kind of. Spin it around in the strainer. It’ll help get the liquid out but it’s also really cool because it kind of forms a ball of soft applesauce. Yes I’m easily amused.

Apple Saucey Ball Thing

Ok, now you’ve got essential cloudly liquid. Good. That’s what we want. But DON’T throw out your applesaucey stuff, you’ll need it. Now you’ll need a final mason jar for storage purposes. I use several mason jars to filter because I’m impatient and I want it to go quicker.

Take your mason jars and place a coffee filter inside them, folding part of the filter over the mouth of the jar to keep it secure. I find the cone shaped coffee filters work best for this. And start straining the final liquid through this. You might have to change the filter several times depending on how much sediment is in it.

Mason Jar Coffee Filter Strainer Mechanism

Strain all the liquid through it. This will take longer than you think. But once you are done, you’ll have an awesome jar of apple vinegar. Once the liquid is all strainer through add just a LITTLE bit of the applesauce ball to the jar. Again, there’s no scientific basis for this, but I like to think it helps develop the mother. The Mother Of Vinegar, that is. Again, I chalk this up to magic, but in my limited research the mother is that kind of cloudy apparition looking thing in apple cider vinegar, and it helps convert the alcohol to vinegar. It’s also a great way to start MORE vinegar.I find adding a little bit of sediment (not too much or it’ll go bad) helps that along rather nicely.

Now put a lid on it. But NOT a metal lid. The plastic mason jar lids work great BUT it’s also equally effective to put a piece of plastic wrap on the mouth of the jar, then attach the metal lid and band. You do NOT want metal and vinegar coming in contact with one another. It corrodes, and then you are eating that. Ew.

Final Vinegar

Step back and be all proud you made apple vinegar. And yes, it’s ok to be depressed that that whole LOAD of peels made that itty bitty jar. Nature is cruel.