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The Texas Pioneer Woman

Dehydrated Sugared Apple Slices

The Texas Pioneer WomanWhen I have too many apples that I cannot eat up before they spoil, I like to preserve them by dehydrating or drying them. Then I can store the dehydrated apples without using any electricity until I want to use them as a snack, make them with oatmeal, add them to cereal, or use them in my baking.

Making dehydrated sugared apple slices is pretty simple. We sliced the apples making sure not to use the apple core or seeds. Since apples have a tendency to discolor and darken during storage and drying we pretreated them. To pretreat them, we dissolved 1 tablespoon citric acid powder into 1 quart water. Then we put the sliced fruit into this solution for 2 minutes.

Pretreating Apple Slices 

We then drained the apple slices for a few minutes. Afterwards, we placed the apples in a plastic food storage bag with a couple cups brown sugar. We sealed the bag closed and shook the bag until all apple pieces were coated with brown sugar.

Afterwards we placed the fruit on the dehydrator trays. Depending on the humidity it takes about 24 to 36 hours for the apples to dry. Dried apples should not be dehydrated to the point of brittleness. Instead apples should be dried to the point where you are not able to squeeze any moisture out of it. Also dried apples should remain pliable, but should not be sticky.

After dehydrating the apples, allow them to rest for 30 to 60 minutes before packaging to avoid moisture build up inside the closed container. I store my dehydrated apples in sterilized, dry canning jars with tight-fitting lids. I then place the containers in a cool, dry, dark area (my pantry). I check the dried apples often in the pantry to make sure the apples are still dry and that no moisture is seen on the inside of the canning jar. If I do see moisture, I need to use the apples immediately or re-dry them. If I ever see mold I know to discard the food immediately.

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Check Out Your Local Seed Lending Library

The Texas Pioneer WomanDuring my rainy spring break I happened to stumble upon a seed lending library at my local public library. The basic premise of “borrowing” seeds from the library is that at the end of each growing season, the borrower will be asked to replenish the seed collection with seeds harvested from crops grown that year.

Borrowing seeds from the library is a great way to get free seeds. All of the seeds at my library are heirloom seeds, which I am excited about. They even provided planting instructions and seed saving instructions. I ended up borrowing three packets of seeds: watermelon, tomato and sage.

Heirloom Seeds from the Seed Lending Library

I took them home and planted them in the greenhouse. After they sprout and grow a bit, I will transplant them out to the garden.

Greenhouse Seeds

I hope you are encouraged to go to your local public library to check out your seed lending library. I believe this is a great way to encourage gardening, encourage growing heirloom varieties, and encourage gardeners to save seeds.

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Make Your Own Instant Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

The Texas Pioneer WomanI love the idea of instant oatmeal, especially on a cold winter day when I am trying to get out of the house in the mornings. I usually use two packets of the stuff to fill my mug. At my house we can go through instant oatmeal quite quickly.

My daughter and I recently made some homemade dehydrated apples that we decided to add to our own homemade instant apple and cinnamon oatmeal. The cost of this recipe is 18 cents a packet, but we usually use two packets a piece, so the final cost to fill our mug is 36 cents.

We stored the dry oatmeal mixture in a clean glass canning jar with a tight fitting lid. This recipe would also make a good gift in a jar for a friend or family member. I hope you enjoy this frugal and natural homemade instant apple and cinnamon oatmeal.

Apple and Cinnamon Oatmeal

Homemade Instant Apple & Cinnamon Oatmeal

This recipe will make a 1-cup serving.

1/3 cup instant oatmeal
1 tablespoon dry milk
1 tablespoon homemade dehydrated apples, cut small
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 small pinches cinnamon (to your taste)
1 very small pinch salt

Boil 1 cup of water, add homemade instant apple oatmeal, and stir until thickened.

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Grow Your Own Potatoes

The Texas Pioneer WomanI went to take a bag of russet potatoes out of the pantry a couple of weeks ago and noticed they had started to sprout, so instead of cooking them I planted them.

It is quite easy to grow your own potatoes. Potatoes are actually tubers that grow from the stem part of the potato plant that is underground. I cut my potatoes into 2- to 3-inch diameter pieces making sure each piece have several eyes from which to sprout. I then store the pieces in a cool dry location until the seed pieces sprouted and appear slightly shriveled. The key to growing your own potatoes is to ensure that the potato has sprouted before planting. This is called chitting.

Potato Seed Chitting

Once the seed potatoes have sprouted, I dug a trench about 6 inches deep and dropped the seed pieces into the bottom of the hole making sure that the sprouts are pointed up. I spaced them about 8 inches apart and covered them with about 3 inches of soil.

As the plant grows I will keep adding or hilling up soil on the stem of the potato plant making sure not to cover the leaves of the plants with soil. Another key to success for growing your own potatoes is to keep the soil evenly moist, so that they do not dry out. Potatoes will be ready to harvest when the potato plant leaves start to yellow and die.

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Rustic Outdoor Supper

The Texas Pioneer WomanWinter has been cold and gray, but last weekend we finally had a bit of sunshine. I ran outside and got my wood grill fired up to make an outdoor supper. I love cooking outside. Food cooked outdoors always taste so much better! I made rustic cornbread, a vegetable medley and grilled beef steaks. It was a delicious weekend supper!

Rustic Outdoor Supper

Rustic Cornbread
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup homemade lard melted

Rustic Cornbread

Stir together all ingredients until blended well. Pour into greased baking pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake on indirect heat with grill lid closed until knife inserted off center comes out clean.

Outdoor Vegetable Medley
2 medium potatoes
1 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow squash
1/2 onion
1 celery stalk
1 carrot
2 teaspoons homemade lard
Rosemary, salt, pepper, sage to taste
Cilantro to taste
Handful of favorite cheese

Vegetable Medley

Precook 2 medium potatoes over hot coals for about 40 minutes, or until almost done, or microwave on high for about 8 minutes until almost done. Set aside.

Cube zucchini, squash, onion and celery stalk. Grate carrot and add to cubed vegetables. Top with homemade lard, or a bit of oil, to prevent sticking. Season with rosemary, salt, pepper and sage. Top with almost baked cubed potatoes. Sprinkle cilantro over vegetables to taste.

Bake with covered lid over medium hot wood coals with grill cover closed until all vegetables are soft. Remove from heat, top with cheese and replace dish lid until cheese is melted.

Grilled Steaks

Season meat with salt and pepper. Grill on direct heat then move off direct heat to finish cooking until desired doneness. Enjoy!

Grilling Steaks

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School Gardens Teaching the Next Generation of Gardeners

The Texas Pioneer WomanThe art of growing food to feed your own family, the ability to be self-sufficient in successfully providing nutritious meals for oneself and others, and the knowledge of growing these healthy foods is dying with our older generation. Gardening edible foods was once held at the highest esteem; it meant the difference between having food to eat and starvation. We were once independent producers of our family’s food. We grew and tended to plants, knowing, if treated correctly, they would produce food for our family and fodder for our animals. (Read more: Reclaiming Our Food Independence )

Stem Cuttings 

My husband and I, along with two dedicated teachers at a local elementary school in my corner of the woods, are teaching several students how to garden in an after-school garden club. We recently talked to them about making new plants through propagation using stem cuttings. My husband and I brought stock plants from our farm such as camelias, roses, English ivy, wisteria, rosemary, crape myrtle, house ivy, azalea, blackberry, euonymus, spirea and grapes for the students to use.

We taught them that taking a cutting involves removing a piece of a leaf, stem or root and placing it in a growing medium where it then develops the other parts that it left behind. For example, a stem will then grow roots. Stem cuttings have about a 50-percent success rate, so we have to make more stem cuttings than we need because not all of them will survive. We also explained why we propagate from stem cuttings; it is a simple and frugal way to get more plants.

We showed the students how to take a stem cutting by using clean scissors and making sure that each cutting measures 4 to 6 inches long and has at least four leaves. We explained that the cuts were made at a 45-degree angle and should generally be made just below a node, the point at which a leaf joins the stem and the point at which roots form most readily. After cutting, we showed the students how to remove the bottom leaves from the cutting, immediately dip into rooting stimulator and insert it in water or soil depending on each plants' required growing medium.

English Ivy Stem Cuttings

Rose Stem Cuttings

We explained to the students how to care for their stem cuttings, explaining that the soil needs to remain moist and they will need to mist the plant leaves with water. We also discussed the necessity of monitoring the plants and checking for root growth, which could take a few weeks to a few months to develop. The students agreed to add more water to their containers if it dips below the original level and they also will make sure the potting mix in the pots remains moist.

Planted Stem Cuttings

The students enjoyed the stem-cutting activity. When their parents came to pick them up, they eagerly showed their parents what they learned. They even explained to younger brothers and sisters how to do it. I even heard one student tell his mom excitedly, “When we get home let’s make more plants! I know how to do it!”

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Butchering Season

The Texas Pioneer WomanThe weather has been awfully cold in my little corner of the forest, so that means it is butchering season. The children are almost all grown up, and it’s just me and the mister on the farm now, so we just butcher one large animal each year supplemented by poultry every now and then. When the children were still at home, we butchered one pig and one cow every year. Butchering our farm animals is how we get all of our meat for the year.

As I’m writing this, the temperature is 18 degrees outside, which is mighty cold in Texas. The coyotes are howling in the woods, but the farm animals have been fed and are locked in safely for the night. Having a freezer full of homegrown meat sure puts my mind at ease, provides a sense of security, and is a real testament to American farming and independence.

Slaughtering a cow or slaughtering a pig is not that difficult. It just requires a bit of planning and willingness to do a bit of work. After slaughtering and the carcass is cooled down comes my favorite part of butchering a cow, which is cutting up the steaks and making ground beef. My favorite part of butchering a pig is making sausage. I have also made hams and fresh homemade bacon from the pig as well, including rendering lard.

Here is a simple pork sausage recipe you might like to try to make this season.

Pork Sausage

12 pounds combined pork meat and pork fat *
4 tablespoons kosher salt
6 teaspoons dried sage
3 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

* I do a 75-percent meat and 25-percent fat blend. You can control your own ratio but, sausage has to be mixed with sufficient amount of fat to cook properly.

Pork Sausage Making


I mix the seasonings in a bowl and then sprinkle the seasonings over the pork meat and pork fat a bit at a time, blending it well with my hands to cover all pieces of meat and fat.

Next I cover the container with plastic wrapping and label. I then place my seasoned meat into the refrigerator overnight so the spices and herbs have time to permeate the meat.

Next day, I freeze the sausage for a couple of hours before grinding the meat. I use an electric meat grinder to grind up the pork to make sausage. I fry up a small sausage patty to taste to see if I need to add any more seasonings. Once I am content with the taste, I grind up the entire remaining sausage. I place a plastic meat bag at the end of the sausage funnel. I then feed small amounts of meat through the electric meat grinder. I pack the bag firmly.

After packing each meat bag, I twist the top and tie off with meat bag tape. I pack the sausage in 1-pound packages, label and date the packages, and place them in the freezer.

Pork Sausage Packing 

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