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Easy Cast-Iron Apple Pie

Candi JohnsWhat make this apple pie so amazing? It's fast, delicious, and sugar-free. Don't worry, it's naturally sweetened with maple syrup so you'll never guess it doesn't have the white stuff in it.

I have to say, of all the desserts I have made "sugar-free," this one wins.

You would be hard-pressed to figure out there was no sugar in it. The filling is sweet, creamy, and bursting with apple. The crust is flaky, buttery, and crisp on top. If I handed you a slice of this with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream, I'm pretty sure you'd be happy.

Apple pie in skillet

Making this pie is as simple as it gets. All you're going to do is:

1. Make the dough.
2. Make the filling (in the cast-iron skillet).
3. Roll out the dough and place it over the filling (in the cast-iron skillet).
4. Shove it in the oven.

So easy.

If you like apple pie, you will love this.


• 1 cup flour — I use fresh milled, but do not use self-rising
• 1 tablespoon maple syrup
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 8 tablespoon butter, room temperature
• 3-4 tablespoon ice water — add 1 tablespoon at a time until dough comes together
• Cinnamon sugar for sprinkling

Apple pie ingredients

First, make the crust dough. This will be the top crust of the pie.

Add room-temperature butter (not cold; you want to be able to smash it with a fork) to a mixing bowl. Add flour and salt and cut into the butter with pastry cutter, fork, or food processor. You want pea-sized bits of butter covered with flour. Add maple syrup and egg and stir. Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough comes together. Wrap dough disk and refrigerate.

Once the crust is made, it's time for the filling.


• 5-6 apples, peeled and sliced
• 1/2 cup maple syrup
• 1/2 cup butter
• 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2-3 tablespoon flour more or less to desired thickness
• 1/2 egg — scramble, and use half

First, peel and slice 5-6 apples. Gala and Granny Smith are my favorites for pies.

Apple pie ingredients

Toss the apple slices, butter, maple syrup, salt, and cinnamon into the cast-iron skillet.

Let cook on medium until the apples are getting soft.

Apple pie ingredients

Stir in the flour. The sauce will thicken. Remove the apple filling from heat and set aside. You are going to place your crust right on top of this filling and bake it. There is no bottom crust.

ROLL OUT CRUST and PLACE IN SKILLET (on top of filling)

Next, grab your dough from the refrigerator.

Apple pit crust

Placing a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap under the dough disk will make it easy to move after it's rolled.

Lightly flour the surface, place your dough, flour the top of the disk, and roll out with your rolling pin. Start from the center and roll out toward the edges. To move pie crust, roll crust loosely over a rolling pin and unroll into the cast-iron skillet. Trim any excess crust off.

Cut slits in the crust to vent. Brush with butter. Dust with cinnamon. If you are not avoiding sugar, a cinnamon/sugar sprinkle on top would be wonderful!


Bake at 350 degrees F until it's done (about 30 minutes).

Apple pie in skillet

Serve warm with fresh whipped cream, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or by itself. You'll never miss the sugar, promise.


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– Candi

A Collection of the Best Flavors of Christmas

Candi JohnsHustle and bustle — this pretty much describes my life this week. I am loving having an entire week to plan, bake, wrap, and savor the days before Christmas. I don't know if it is because Christmas is on Sunday or because my children are getting older and I no longer have to wipe various parts of their bodies anymore ... but Christmas has slowed down a bit and I love it.

I am baking and roasting and decorating like an elf. My Christmas menu is coming to fruition, and it's so exciting. I have wonderful things planned to make for this weekend. I am thinking of mixing things up a bit, yet staying true to the traditions we have around here.

As I was going through all the fantastic flavors I indulge in every year at Christmas, I was thinking of you. Tis the season for giving, and I have some goods for you!

Not only are these ideas treasured in my home, these are some of the hottest recipes off my personal blog. They have been around for years, are tried and true, and are sure to be a success at your table, too.

How to Brine Your Turkey and Why You Should


If you have never brined a hunk of meat, or do not know what brining is, or think brining is a waste of time, then this is for you — the whys and hows of brining. Once you understand the goal and process of brining meat before cooking it, you can get wild. Make it your own. Add your favorite herbs and be blown away by your turkey. Brining is amazing. You won't be sorry!

How To Roast a Turkey the Old Fashioned Way

roasted turkey

If you're gonna brine a turkey, you should probably go ahead and cook it. Here's the only way I cook turkeys. Mamaw taught me how to do it, and it's a can't-lose. Moist, flavorful, crispy skin and you'll have a pan filled with the most glorious broth you've ever seen.

Scalloped Potatoes with Cheese

Cheesy potatoes

If you want a change from the standard mashed potatoes, this may be the answer. This dish is so good. The best part is that it all happens in one giant, cast-iron skillet. From stovetop to oven to table in one pan. Delish.

Meringue Shell Cookies

meringue cookies

If you've ever wanted to eat an angel, here's your chance. I can eat 20 of these in one sitting (which causes me to have a problem with my pants). These are light, crisp, and they melt when they hit your tongue. There is practically nothing in these but egg whites and sugar. My youngest daughter ate 6 yesterday and said, "Mommy, this is how I like my eggs."


Homemade Chex mix

Homemade Chex Mix courtesy of my grandmother. Crunchy, salty, yummy. Feel free to cut this recipe in half, because you will have enough to feed the neighborhood (or county depending on your whereabouts)!

Roll Cookies

Sugar cookies

These are the bomb. I usually like to admire these decorated, covered-in-icing, sparkly cookies. At all bakeries and cookie exchanges, I applaud the artwork, but I don't eat them. It's always a letdown.

But not these. These are rockin’. Buttery, crisp, sweet. Yum.

German Roasted Nuts

roasted almonds

Not only are these the best snack in the world, they are super easy and make a great gift.

Cranberry Sauce

cranberry sauce

This is a festive side dish that will get along with a turkey, a chicken, a leg of venison, or a standing rib roast.

Pumpkin Pie

pumpkin pie

I don't know if it's because of Bing Crosby, or the songs, or what, but I want a pumpkin pie to pass around on Christmas.


homemade fudge

This one can be knocked out in five minutes and saved in the refrigerator for days. My youngest daughter always makes this for special occasions.

Coffee Cake

bundt cake

Christmas morning would not be complete around here without this incredible cake. It's a sour cream cake, so you know it's gonna be moist, soft, and creamy.

Sausage & Rice Casserole

sausage and rice casserole

It sounds so weird, but you must make this before you judge! It's not like anything else I cook. It is so full of vegetables that you'll get your vitamins and not even know it because it's so dang delicious.

Apple Tart

apple tart

If you want a fresh ending to a heavy meal, this is the right dessert. It's light, refreshing, filled with cinnamon and spice, and just sweet enough to be a dessert. Oh, I also eat this for breakfast — you could have this Christmas Eve and Christmas morning!

Wilted Salad


I haven't decided yet on the salad for our Christmas menu, but this one is in the running. It's a classic, and everyone loves it. Cold greens, warm dressing, bacon — so satisfying!



This is the easiest appetizer to pull off. I usually eat it in warmer months, but love it anytime. If you want to set out something for your guests to munch on while you finish roasting the turkey, then this is incredible.

Pumpkin Bread

pumpkin bread

Yes, I think pumpkin goes just as well with Christmas as it does with Thanksgiving.

I have lots of cooking and baking on my agenda this week.

In addition to living in my kitchen, I will be spending my afternoons selling assorted firearms at our pawn shop, because “Nothin' says ‘love’ like a new gun."

Oh, one more thing, I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate you this Christmas. I am so blessed to be a part of the GRIT blogger community.

I am so thankful for everyone who has followed along to hear all my shenanigans in raising food, adventures in farming, and delightful, tasty recipes. If you aren't following yet, you should! I send out a post or two a week. It's totally fun, usually helpful, and always free. Topics I generally rant about fall into three categories:

Growing Food (vegetarian style): garden, roots, herbs, berries, veggies, fruits, and everything else

Growing Food (carnivore style): farming, raising livestock, small animals, feeding, fencing, housing, keeping, processing, etc.

Enjoying all Your Food: cooking, preserving, freezing and canning all your hard-earned groceries.

You can expect all things homesteading and lots of fun from this blog. Go here to send me your email address, and I'll put you on the list.

Merry Christmas, Y'all!

Have a great week!



Can You Eat Potbelly Pigs?

Candi JohnsCan you eat a potbelly pig?

This is a great question.

Potbelly pig

I have owned potbelly pigs. Not too long ago, I had twelve.

My sow was your run-of-the-mill, standard potbelly. My male was something else entirely. He came with papers. He was a Juliana micro-mini potbelly pig ... who weighed 200 pounds. The story of my boar is unusual; go here to see it.

It wasn't my fault he weighed 200 pounds. Like many potbelly pigs, he was intended to be a pet, indulged on too many groceries ... and ended up being homeless. He lived on a couple of farms before making his way to our place.

The world of potbelly pigs is adorable and sometimes sad. I love those cute, tiny pigs. I want one in my living room! The problem is that without constant management of their caloric intake, those tiny piggies can get large. This is where the problems happen. More potbelly pigs find their way to animal shelters than people realize. Poor pigs.

I know there are many people who raise, keep, and love potbelly pigs. These pigs are typically pets. They live, sleep, and dwell in the living room alongside the family dog, or maybe in the yard, but they fall in the category of "pet" not "food." I'm not suggesting you eat your pet pig who thinks they are the family dog.

There are also people who don't eat meat, or maybe they do eat meat, but not pork. If you fall in that category, you will probably also not want to eat a potbelly pig. This post isn't a consideration on whether or not to eat potbelly pigs; this post is not trying to decide if eating a potbelly pig is right or wrong. This post is not determining whether or not potbellies are Kosher. I'm pretty sure they aren't.

For the purpose of this post, I'm assuming you eat pork ... Your pig is not your dog ... And you just want to know if you can eat the meat from a potbelly pig.

Or maybe you've already decided to eat it and you would like to know how it's gonna taste. Should you have the whole hog made into sausage? Can you get bacon? Is it gamey? Is it weird? Does it taste like chicken?

Well, here we go!

Farm life is an ever-changing adventure. There's a blurry, fine, almost non-existent line between pets and food at our homestead. Our dogs and cats are probably nervous. The chickens are probably in a constant state of panic. There is just no telling when we may wake up and decide to eat someone.

When roosters turn mean — we eat them. When there's not room for seven rabbits in the four-rabbit habitat — we eat them. When you have 8-inch tusks and charge my baby — guess what? You're dinner.

So why would someone want to eat a potbelly pig?

I can think of a couple reasons. I'm sure there are more that aren't coming to mind.

Potbelly pig

Price: Potbelly pigs can sometimes be purchased for 15 dollars (or free); a "feeder pig" can cost 90 dollars or more.

Small Space: If you have a small homestead or just a little area for pigs, potbelly pigs may be a good fit. They don't get as large as most feeder pigs.

Small budget: because potbelly pigs are smaller, they generally don't require as much feed. They can be raised on garden scraps, vegetable scraps, grains, milk, and many other inexpensive food items.

Size: If you want to raise a pig that won't get too big, a potbelly could work.

Temperament: If you have potbelly who turned mean and aggressive, eating them can be a viable option.

Circumstances: Somebody was given a potbelly pig and they don't want it any longer.

But can you eat a potbelly pig?

Short answer: "Yes. It's a pig. You can eat it."

It reminds me of the movie Home on the Range. The cow was explaining to all the other animals that the farm owner was going to have to sell them. Then the cow explained to the chicken that if she (the chicken) is sold, she will most likely be eaten. To this, the shocked and offended hen replied, "Who would eat a chicken?"

Ha! Everyone! Chickens are about as close to the bottom of the food chain as you can get.

So the answer to the question, "Who would eat a pig?" is, "Lots of people."

"Who would eat a potbelly pig?" Lots of people.

Some even boast that they are the tastiest, best, cream-of-the-crop, most fabulous pork you'll ever eat.

I'm no expert; I'll stick to my experience and what I know. We have eaten Berkshire crosses, Yorkshire crosses, Poland China crosses, standard farm pigs, and potbelly pigs. I have not raised a full-bred Heritage breed, quite frankly because I haven't been able to find a breeder near me. I would love to.

There are many different breeds within the category of "potbelly." I hear some potbelly pig breeds are more suited for eating than others. I wrote an article about "How to Buy a Cow" last year. In it, I talked about buying meat in bulk and things like that. Go here to read it. I also discussed a variety of livestock and how much eating meat you can expect from different animals.

One of the remarkable things about pigs is the sheer amount of usable product you can get from a feeder pig. Whatever your hog weighs "on the hoof," you can expect to get 71-78 percent of that number back in the form of meat inside vacuum sealed packages. This means that a 250-pound hog can yield 195 pounds of pork. That's impressive! When you compare the "usability" of the hog to other animals (deer, cow, lamb, etc), it wins without any competition.

Our experience has been that potbelly pigs do not fall into the same "consumable" category as feeder pigs. They are heavy on the fat and low on the meat.

Does this matter? Not really. It doesn't make them any less edible. It doesn't make them any less yummy.

It did effect the bacon & lard situation for us. Where the bacon should have been there was nothing but fat on the potbelly. This meant two things: less bacon and more lard.

I have also read that if you raise the right potbelly pig breed and feed it the right diet, you can get bacon and not just fat.

Potbelly pig

How do they taste?

Like pork.

My processor falls into the wonderful, beloved category of "lived 70+ years and has earned the right to say whatever he wants." For more on that and why some of my favorite friends are over the age of 70, go here.

When we showed up at our processor, he took one look at the massive, potbelly boar with 5-inch tusks and said, "You're gonna wish that one fell off the truck."

I said, "Can't you just throw the meat in with the others when you make sausage?" (We were having 2 feeder pigs processed at the same time.)

He said, "I don't recommend it. He'll ruin your sausage."

I said, "OK, so should I just have the potbelly ground into sausage and packed separately?"

He said, "I would."

So, we agreed. I didn't want to ruin 100 pounds of wonderful sausage by mixing in a bunch of strong, gamey boar into it. If the boar sausage turned out horrible, I could deal with it separately. Our processor marked all the "boar" sausage so that we would know which was which.

A couple weeks later, when I picked up my pork, he explained how strong the boar smelled during processing. He said it was awful. He said it was probably gonna taste as bad as it smelled. Then he looked at me and said, "You're not gonna be able to stand to be in your kitchen while you're cooking that boar."

Then he told me to be sure to call him as soon as we ate some of the boar sausage and let him know how bad it was.

I cooked some that night. I had to know.


It tasted like sausage. Seriously. It was great. And I didn't have to leave the kitchen to cook it.

Just in case you think I've gone "taste-blind" to normal food and my taste buds have become accustomed to eating all things weird — I don't think I have. I do not like gamey meat. I don't eat "old" bucks (deer). The bigger the "rack," the less inclined I am to eat it. I am super sensitive to that "gamey" flavor and smell. Ick. No thanks.

The boar sausage wasn't gamey. It wasn't strong. It tasted like sausage. It tasted like pork. It was more "fatty" than the sausage made from the feeder pigs, but the flavor was the same. In the future (if I process another potbelly), I would probably try to get more cuts (chops, steaks, hams, or other cuts).

There are lots and lots of people who would find it disappointing that a potbelly pig found his fate as food. But I am not one of them. If you want to roast your potbelly pig, I am behind you. If you want to raise a potbelly to eat, it's OK with me! It's a pig ... you can eat it.

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Pumpkin Pie with Real Ingredients

Candi Johnspie slices infographic

If you want to enjoy pumpkin pie without the processed ingredients, then this is for you. This is everything you expect in a pumpkin pie — it's creamy, pumpkin-y, and wonderful.

I avoid all things processed whenever possible. I like food made by people like me and Mamaw. I don't like food made by companies. However, I love Libby's Pumpkin Pie. I have always made the Libby's Pumpkin Pie recipe. As my diet has changed, though, I have had to adapt many of my favorite recipes to include real food instead of processed foods.

If you want to eat the best pumpkin pie ever, but don't want to eat evaporated milk  or pie crust with hydrogenated, non-food substances, you have come to the right place!

pumpkin purees

You can use the pumpkin from a store, or you can use the homemade stuff. I grew a pumpkin patch this year and have been having all sorts of fun with pumpkin from the garden lately.

What I've learned about homemade pumpkin puree:

1. Homemade pumpkin is definitely healthier, fresher, and more organic (since I know exactly how the pumpkins were grown, harvested, and handled as they became puree).

2. Every blog everywhere says that homemade pumpkin puree makes a better tasting pumpkin dish.

3. Homemade puree is more colorful, brighter, and less firm than the canned stuff.

4. It tastes just like squash baby food.

5. In the pumpkin bread contest we had earlier, the homemade stuff beat the canned variety.

6. A wonderful bi-product of making pumpkin puree is a crunchy, salty, tasty snack in the form of roasted pumpkin seeds.

Just for fun, we have been having a friendly, pumpkin puree contest in our home. So far, the homemade puree is leading. In our pumpkin bread competition, the homemade pumpkin puree beat the canned stuff by a nose. The color was a bit brighter and the overall bread tasted a little sweeter. The homemade variety definitely won the first round.

Today, I am making pumpkin pie from scratch.

I'm baking two pies, which will be identical except for the origins of the pumpkin. The contest will end with a blind taste test and we'll see if homemade pumpkin puree is superior to the canned stuff once again!

pumpkin pie ingredients


• 1-1/2 cups cream (I am using raw cream from my Jersey cow; you can use heavy whipping cream if you prefer)
• 2 large eggs
• 3/4 cup sugar (I am using organic cane juice crystals)
• cinnamon
• salt
• pumpkin
• pie crust (homemade)

First, I made the pumpkin pie filling. I am basically making the Libby's recipe with a few adaptions:

• Instead of evaporated milk, I am using raw cream.
• Instead of sugar, I am using cane juice crystals.
• Instead of using cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, I am using just cinnamon. (When pumpkin pies have too much spice, they taste like a clove cigarette to me.)

pumpkin pie process

Combine cream, eggs, and sugar and whisk. Add salt, cinnamon, and pumpkin and whisk again. Done!

pir crust process

Next, it's time to roll out the pie crust:

1. Lay out a piece of foil.
2. Sprinkle on some flour.
3. Plop down your pie disk.
4. Sprinkle it with more flour.
5. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, beginning in the center and rolling toward the edges.

To move the crust into the pie pan:

1. Lift one side of the foil up and drape the pie crust over the rolling pin.
2. Continue to let the pie crust drape over the pin until it is balanced and you can move the entire piece.
3. Slowly unroll the pie crust off the rolling pin over the pie pan.
4. Press crust gently into the pan.
5. Trim off excess pie crust with a knife.
6. Crimp edges if desired.

pie crust

Time to pour the pie filling into the unbaked pie crusts.

pumpkin pies

Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 for 50 minutes to 1 hour. It's done when the edges are brown and only the very center of the pie is a little jiggly.

The long awaited moment is here. Drum roll please ...

Who will be our winner, homemade pumpkin puree or the canned stuff?

pumpkin pie slices

I am going to burst the bubble of every homesteader raising pie pumpkins everywhere with my next words:

There wasn't a difference.

Two pies — one from homemade pumpkin puree, one from a can — identical flavor.

Some of our taste-testers chose the homemade, some chose the canned, but everyone had the same remarks: They were both delicious. They were so similar that it took several bites from each pie to even try to pick a favorite. Three people couldn't choose because there was so little difference.


I was really surprised. The pumpkin bread from the homemade puree was better; I thought the homemade-puree pie would be a landslide winner.

I can say that homemade pumpkin puree is still fresher, healthier, and more organic. I know how my pumpkins were raised and processed. I feel better about eating the homemade variety, but as far as flavor goes...

It's a tie.

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Happy Baking!

Small Changes. Big Impact.

Candi JohnsI went on a personal challenge to raise all the food I ate for 101 days. It was quite an adventure, and you can read all about it if you want:

Homesteaders Food Challenge – What it is.
Headaches, Cravings, Cooking & Starvation – Survival – Week 1
Can I Grow All My Own Food – A Diet is Born – Week 2
Never Diet Again – Weight Loss, Sugar Detox & Finding your Ideal weight – Week 3
One Month – No preservatives, no additives, no artifical ingredients, no sugar, no GMOs, nothing but homegrown goodness – Week 4
• Growing all my Food – What Country Does Your Food Come From?
Can You Say, “NO?” Losing Weight, Feeling Healthier & Having more Energy
10 Days Left!!!
A New Way to Live
Homesteaders Food Challenge Wrap Up

I made it past the finish line and have crossed over to a new way of eating and thinking. I haven't felt this good in a decade. I lost over 10 pounds. I ate what I grew and raised and picked on my own farm. I learned to cook new foods. I learned to eat new foods. My skin and hair even improved. I have increased energy. I sleep better.

Most of all: my sugar cravings are gone.

You don't have to move to the country and grow all your own food to experience amazing changes in your life. I think we can all work toward making healthy choices each day. Even if you only make a couple of these changes now, I believe it will matter. You don't have to change your entire life in a day. You can implement bits at a time.


My 101-day Homesteaders Food Challenge was also a bit on the extreme/radical side and partially miserable. I thought I was pretty healthy before I started it, but my eyes opened. Now that I'm here, on this side, leaner, healthier, better ... I don't want to go back. I don't want to fall back into old habits.

If you want to make some changes that can remodel your health — this is for you. There are some easy things you can do to improve your overall wellness. Most people do not have the ability to raise everything they eat. Most people would not consider trying to raise everything they eat.

The good news is that you don't have to.

Here's a look at eight simple changes you can make that your body will thank you for:

Small Change #1: Eat at Home

Before any of the other seven changes can happen, you probably first need to start preparing and eating your foods.

It won't make much difference if you are buying organic flour, grass-fed beef, and coconut oil if you continue to eat your meals at restaurants — unless you are eating at all organic establishments.

Eating at home doesn't have to be hard or time consuming. For me it means: just go home.

I'm not saying never eat out; I'm saying if you want to reclaim your food and change your health, you're probably gonna need to prepare some meals.

Small Change #2: Flour

ground flour

Flour is in so many things I cook. It thickens sauces. It's in bread, pasta, muffins, pancakes. Flour is a part of our meals, and I don't want to stop enjoying it.

If you are like me and want flour, it is important to know what's in your flour and what's not.

There are two choices to getting healthier flour:

Grind your own wheat. Every six weeks or so I mill my own flour and bake 24-30 loaves of bread. Did you know that fresh-ground flour has over 40 vitamins and minerals in it? Of the 44 known essential nutrients needed by our bodies, only four are missing from fresh-ground wheat. It even has protein!

I also use my fresh ground wheat for sauces, gravies, batter, and whatever else calls for flour.

If grinding flour and baking bread sounds daunting, you can still improve the flour you are feeding your family.

Buy organic. What is done to "non-organic" grain before it is ever ground into flour is enough to make a girl reach for the organic every time. You can read about it here. I think organic is worth the investment.

Small Change #3: Sugar

maple syrup

I don't eat a lot of sugar, but I need something sweet in my coffee every morning.

If you are like me and want a little something sweet, one of the best ways to get some sugar without eating sugar is by using maple syrup or honey. Both are sweeter than sugar (so you will use less), and both are healthier. They both contain vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants.

If you happen to be baking a cake for your child's birthday and need some sugar, a healthy option is to reach for the raw cane sugar (sucanat) instead of the white stuff. Sucanat hasn't been through the over-processing of white sugar and even contains trace minerals. There are arguments that cane sugar is not "raw" enough. There are many "healthier" and "less processed" alternatives to sugar. Turbinado, rapadura, or molasses are a few.

Remember, even healthy raw sugars are not health foods, so they still need to be used within reason.

Small Change #4: Fat

If you cook, you will need fat. Sometimes some good, old-fashioned butter is the perfect solution. Other times (like in breads and baked goods) you need something lighter, like oil. Changing to healthy fats will go a long way to improving your health.



We eat around 3 pounds of butter a week. It completes me. Our butter is raw. It has not been homogenized, pasteurized, or changed in any way. I know this because I spend part of every Sunday making it. It comes straight from the cows in my front yard, it is never heated, treated, or altered. Just churned and eaten.

My butter is a different color than the pale stuff at the grocery — it is yellow. This is from vitamin K. Raw butter has all the vitamins intact, so it glows. The reason the butter sold at most stores is a creamy, light yellow is because it is made from milk that has been pasteurized. The pasteurization process not only kills bacteria (good and bad), it also kills many of the vitamins.

If you don't have a cow and don't want to make butter, it's OK. You can still purchase good butter. Look for raw butter, cultured butter, or even Amish butter.


Another healthy cooking fat I love is lard (not the stuff from the store, only pastured and organic). Boy oh boy. If you haven't yet heard me scream and shout about how stinking healthy pastured pig fat is, you should. It isn't just "not bad" for you; it's actually good for you.

More on pig fat:

Why you should save the bacon grease
Introduction to raising pigs
How to make lard

Other Oils:

Other oils I use include: olive oil, beef tallow, bacon grease, and coconut oil.

The only other fat I use occasionally is grapeseed oil for baking bread. I make most of my bread products from scratch, and they require a light oil for baking.

The truth is that sunflower oil, corn oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oil are all terrible for you. For more on bad oils go here.

Small Change #5: Eggs

basket of eggs

The key word is "pastured eggs." This is what you want. Free-range could mean they have a small outdoor area they never see. Cage-free could mean 2000 chickens are crammed into a building instead of cages. Organic could mean the chickens were fed a diet that was organic. Omega 3 means the chickens were fed a diet high in Omega 3.

These are not the best eggs. The best eggs come from pastured chickens who are allowed to scavenge, scratch, and peck for food. They eat a diet of bugs, grubs, green things, and such.

Instead of yellow "yellows," pastured eggs will usually have bright orange "yellows." The color of the yellow in the egg is a reflection of the quality of the hens' diet. Hens who eat an insect-rich diet will have the darkest yellows. Our chickens, which are literally all over the place, eat whatever they want. They have no cages, no yard, no boundaries whatsoever. This of course means they are in my flowers, eating my tomatoes, and pooping on my driveway. It also means I have some pretty healthy eggs with yellows that glow in the dark.

I have heard an argument that the reason free-range eggs have the brighter color yolk is because they are fresher. This is not true. When DH attempts to grow grass, we always lock our chickens into a fenced in area. During this time, we feed our chickens a healthy diet of bagged chicken feed from our local feed mill. All the yolks turn pale yellow during confinement. All of them. Guess what happened when we let the chickens back out? The yolks went orange again.

So, it's the confinement of the chickens that affect the color, not the "freshness."

Small Change #6: Milk

strained milk

We have two jersey cows who eat grass everyday. This is where our milk and dairy products come from.

If you live in a place where you can get your hands on raw, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk, you are blessed. These diary products are illegal to buy and sell in many states (including mine). Which is why I own milk cows.

If you haven't heard of CLA — the wonder fat — let me introduce you. CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) increases muscle growth, decreases body fat, improves insulin sensitivity, inhibits and prevents various cancers, enhances immune system, and lowers cholesterol. Top natural sources for CLA in the diet are meat and raw milk from grass-fed animals.

CLA alone is enough of a reason to drink raw milk from grass-fed cows. It's a miracle. I have a friend who's father grew up on a diary farm. That man drank raw milk his entire life; he has never taken antibiotics.

For more on the benefits of raw milk go here.

So many of the foods we prepare have some sort of dairy product in them. If you begin using healthier dairy products, this one change will overflow into many of the meals you prepare.

Small Change #7: Pastured Meat

You don't have to move to a farm and raise pigs in order to eat healthy, pastured meat — you just have to find a farmer (or market) who does.


Raising pigs is an adventure. They have personality, are easy to raise, and can grow from a 30-pound piglet into a 300-pound hog in 3-4 months. If you like dogs, you will probably like raising pigs. They bark, growl, and want to play with you. Raising pigs is also a good idea if you like bacon, sausage, ribs, pork-chops, and ham.

If you can raise pigs, you should. If you can't, go buy some pastured pork.


There are good feeder pigs for sale if you want to find them. I see them at the sale barn. I see them on Craigslist. I hear about them at my local feed mill. Many farmers markets even have folks raising & selling pastured pork. If you do some looking, you will probably be able to purchase a pastured hog or 1/2 a hog for your freezer.

Possibly the best part of pasture-raised pork is the lard. Lard from pastured pigs is not the same as the stuff sold in cans at grocery stores. Lard from pastured pigs is incredibly healthy. It is high in cancer-preventing nutrients, Vitamin D, and CLA. It is very good source of monounsaturated fatty acids — that same heart-healthy fat found in olive oil and avocado. Once you have jars of lard in your basement, you can use it for everything! Frying eggs, baking pies, french fries, chap-stick ...

I think it's worth the search and expense to invest in a healthy hog for your freezer.


We let our cow raise our beef for us. Our steers are raised on pasture and mamma's milk. They spend their days grazing and napping on the soft grass in the sunshine. Research has shown that meat raised on pasture provides up to five times more nutrition than meat raised in confinement.

cow and farmer

Finding pastured beef is even easier than finding hogs. If you have the freezer space, buying a cow or a half of a cow is always the cheapest way to buy steaks. Go here to learn how to buy a cow and what you'll get.

A phone call to the local extension office may be all it takes to find a list of farms in your area raising grass-fed beef. Because of the growing demand, pastured beef is pretty much readily available.


Organic, pastured, antibiotic-free chicken is pretty easy to find these days. We raise our own meat chickens, but if I ran out I wouldn't hesitate to purchase the good ones from the supermarket.


To get the most for my dollar (or efforts), I will use one chicken to make several meals. The first baked. The leftover meat as chicken salad. The leftover bones as bone broth.


It just doesn't get any more organic, natural, or chemical free than shooting your own meat in the woods. Fall is deer season here in Kentucky. Even before we moved to the country, DH made it a point to find areas he could hunt. We were eating fresh venison for years before we owned our own land.

Small Change #8: Grow a Garden


One of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to obtain healthier foods is to start a little garden. It doesn't have to be fancy or huge. It could just be a few vegetable plants added to your landscaping or a few pots on the back porch.


I love, love, love my garden. There are few places I would rather be. I enjoy growing food and preserving it, too.

When you grow your own veggies and fruits, there is no question as to how it was grown, what was sprayed on it, when it was harvested, or how far it traveled to get to your plate. It's fresh, farm-to-table food at its finest.

Imagine how healthy your meals, baked goods, and even desserts would be if you only changed these four things:

• Fresh organic flour
• Honey or maple syrup instead of sugar
• Raw dairy
• Free-range eggs

You could eat chocolate muffins for breakfast and it would be healthier than just about any box of cereal.

A lot of work and expense goes into eating healthy. Although it is not an easy road, I think it's worth the sacrifice. Even just making a few changes can have a big impact on your health.

Start small, start today. You'll be glad you did.

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Why You Should Have a Milk Strainer (Even if You Don't Have a Cow)

Candi JohnsUsing milk strainer

I've been milking for years. I've been straining milk for years. First, I would like to add that a milk strainer is, by far, the best way to strain milk.

I tried to use a coffee filter among other things to strain my milk. Go here if you would like to hear me complain about those experiences. There are other DIY hacks for straining milk, but I don't like any of them for one reason or another.

A milk strainer makes life much easier and I have found more uses for my milk strainer than just straining milk. It has helped in so many ways.

Here are my top 6 Reasons to Consider a strainer:

1. You can will do a lot more with your strainer than strain milk. What can you do with a milk strainer?

Milking a cow

... Strain milk

Straining jelly

... Strain berries (for making jelly)

... Strain tomatoes (for canning tomato juice)

Straining lard

... Strain lard (to get the whitest, cleanest lard

... Strain beef tallow (for clean, white tallow to eat, make candles, or repurpose)

... Strain curds from whey (when cheesemaking)

Straining syrup

... Strain maple sap to make syrup

...Strain maple syrup after cooking

... Strain bone broth (for clear broth)

... Strain anything!

As you can see, there are many more homesteading uses for a strainer than just milk. If you happen to own a diary animal, I think a strainer will make your life easier.

2. I want clean, debris free, hair free, floater free, raw milk.

To read why we went "raw" go here.

Milk strainer

I don't pasteurize or homogenize my milk. I drink it raw, straight from the tap, so it needs to be perfectly clear, clean, and lint free. Using a "milk filter" to strain your milk is the answer. It is made for clarifying milk. It catches it all.

3. Consistent results.

These items do more than just net me perfectly clean milk — they also can indicate if there are any problems with my milk.

Slow straining? Won't strain? Mastitis? All these symptoms are clear to see by using milk filters & strainers regularly. Problematic milk may work itself through cheesecloth or other lint free cloth without notice, but it won't make it through my milk strainer undetected.

Which is a great thing! If my cows are sick or in need of attention, I want to know ASAP. If there is a mastitis flare up teasing an udder, I can often keep it at bay with frequent milkings. My straining setup is the indicator I sometimes need to let me know something may be wrong.

It's not perfect, and certainly can't diagnose any illnesses, but can give me a warning when the milk is acting odd.

4. It's quick and easy to use.

When we lost the centerpiece to our old strainer, I was scouring the internet looking for other methods to straining. Let me tell you, if they work (some didn't) they can be a royal pain.


Trying to balance the coffee filter, or the mesh strainer, or the towel, or the cheesecloth over the container catching the milk is miserable at best. If it teeters off balance, you are cleaning milk off the world. If it falls, you are cleaning milk off the world. If you don't stand there and hold it, you are cleaning milk off the world.

Did I mention that the DIY solutions took approximately 10,000 times longer to strain the milk (than a real strainer), so not only are you babysitting the apparatus you just created, you are babysitting it forever.

I have other things to do.

5. It will make your life simpler.

If you're going to do this homesteader thing and milk your own cow (or goat or sheep) and make your own dairy products, cheese, lard, tallow, and food for a foreseeable amount of time, it makes sense to invest in the right products to make it as easy and simple as possible.

Homesteading is hard. It is a lot of work. It takes a lot of time to do these things by hand. If there is a tool available (like a strainer) that will streamline the process, make it easier on you, or get the job done faster, I think you should take advantage of it.

6. Easy clean-up.

Just stick the thing in the dishwasher and send it through a sanitize cycle. Done. Clean.

If you are milking something and need to strain milk every day, and you are using a homegrown concoction, you may want to consider a real strainer.

Milk strainer

I am sure there are even more reasons to justify purchasing the right milk strainer. I know it makes my life on this farm easier. I know that living four months without it was agony; it took me and one of my children to get the milk properly strained each day. I'm pretty sure neither of us wanted to be standing there watching the milk strain.

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Happy Milking!

Make & Can Your Own Pizza Sauce

Candi JohnsIf you are like me, you have a couple of bushels of tomatoes in the garage waiting to become something. This sauce is a perfect way to use them up. The best part — no blanching, no peeling.

I don't want my pizza sauce to be spaghetti sauce. It is not chunky, lumpy, or full of green peppers and odd stuff.

Making pizza sauce

Pizza sauce is simple, smooth, spreadable, and not complicated. This pizza sauce is simple, and you're sure to love it.


• tomatoes
• onions & garlic
• olive oil
• fresh basil
• salt
• lemon juice (for cans)

It doesn't take a lot of fancy ingredients to make fabulous pizza sauce. I grow pretty much everything I eat, so this sauce is no exception. Almost everything in these jars came from my garden. Which brings me endless joy.

Homemade pizza

Homemade Pizza: handmade crust from fresh flour, fresh pizza sauce from the garden ... This will not last long!

I have made two batches of sauce this summer, and we are quickly inhaling the first batch. If I don't want to run out by next summer's harvest, I'm gonna need to keep making this.

Perfect, Simple, Homemade Pizza Sauce

First, let's prep the tomatoes.

The great thing about pizza sauce is that peeling your tomatoes is completely optional. I peeled my first batch. I left the peels on the tomatoes when I made my second batch. Guess what? I can't tell a difference. If anything, the batch with the peels is more appealing because it's more of a red color than orange. The taste is the same.

The reason peels don't matter in pizza sauce is because everything is going to get blasted with an immersion wand. I emulsify this into nothing but a thick, red-orange sauce. You will never know there was a peel in the pot.

Making pizza sauce

Begin by washing and removing the cores from the tomatoes.

Next, quarter your tomatoes & squeeze out most of the seeds and juice.

You really don't want to skip this step. If you make your pizza sauce with all that juice, then you will have some seriously watery sauce ... or you will have to cook your sauce for 6 hours to get rid of all the juice .. or you will have to add a can (or 10) of tomato paste to get it to be sauce.

You could use a food mill. If you are like me and do not have a food mill, you can just shove all the seeds out with your thumbs and toss the tomato meat/flesh into your giant sauce pot. No need to get EVERY seed out, but try to get most of them (they will make your sauce bitter). We're going to puree this with the wand, so the seeds will be turned to paste like everything else.

Go here to see how I can the juice.

Now, we have a giant pot of clean, quartered, de-juiced tomatoes.

Making pizza sauce

Wash your hands and dive in. Squish all the 'maters into mush. When all the big hunks are squashed into goop, move the sauce pot to the stove top and turn the heat to medium.

Go grab a cutting board — we need to chop the garlic and onions.

Making pizza sauce

Chop your garlic and onions and saute them in a hot skillet with the olive oil. Once the onions are clear, dump it all into the pot of tomatoes.

Add the three tablespoons of salt and bring it back to a simmer.

Making pizza sauce

This is the time to get out your immersion wand and go to work. Blend the contents until you have ... sauce. There will no longer be hunks of tomato, bits of onion, or pieces of garlic. It will be a wonderful, full-flavored sauce.

Now we add the basil!

We blended everything before adding the basil on purpose.

You do not want to blend the basil with an immersion wand, or anything else for that matter, or you will have green pizza sauce. It would taste the same but look like it died last year. To avoid green sauce, add the basil AFTER you blend everything else up.

Making pizza sauce

Wash fresh basil, remove stems, and chop into bits. Shove as many of the basil bits as you can possible get into a 1/2 measuring cup. You want lots of basil — it's wonderful. Toss the chopped basil into the sauce and continue to simmer.

Making pizza sauce

The sauce will have a red-orange color with pieces of fresh basil floating around and making everything fabulous. Taste your sauce; add more salt if needed. Cook until desired thickness (if you removed most of the juice, it won't take long).

Add one tablespoon bottled lemon juice to each pint jar. Ladle hot sauce into hot jars. Leave 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe rims clean and adjust two-piece lids. Process in boiling water bath for 35 minutes. Begin timing after water boils.

For a step-by-step guide on hot water bath canning go here.

Making pizza sauce

Now we just need to make some pizza crust, and we'll have dinner!

Homemade pizza for dinner (or lunch) is always a hit.

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Happy Canning!