The Texas Pioneer Woman

A Cabin in the Snowy Woods

The Texas Pioneer Woman 

We have been snowed in for two days now! Schools have been closed, as well as many businesses. It may be a normal winter for people up North, but we are in east Texas! Come to think of it, our whole winter so far has been fairly frigid.

Cold weather on our farm is both good and bad. It is good for the fruit trees. It helps them to set fruit for the spring. It is also good to help cut down on our pest problems. Living in the woods of east Texas comes with a whole lot of summer insects such as mosquitoes, June bugs, stinkbugs, and a whole bunch of other pests that just make a terrible nuisance of themselves. This cold weather helps us keep those numbers under control.

I reckon one of the best things about cold weather is that it offers more time to sit and contemplate. With less chores to do in the winter, we have more time to plan what has got to be done through the upcoming year. We are planning what fruit trees need to be added to the orchard, what vines need to be replaced in the vineyard, and what herbs and vegetables need to be planted this spring. We have also had spare time to start a good couple of books, mainly books about farming.

One of the so called “bad” things about cold weather is that sometimes there is no avoiding it. There are daily chores that involve being outside in the cold, such as collecting firewood and feeding livestock. Also a cold snap signals the time to slaughter animals to fill the freezer.

We have been laying on the feed to keep the livestock warm through this frigid time. Thank goodness our cow numbers are low to help us save on how much hay we are having to go through. Our cow numbers are lower because last week we sold two yearlings at the livestock auction and butchered one to fill the freezer for the year.

We also have taken to collecting eggs as soon as we possibly can after the hens lay them to keep them from freezing. Unbelievably, the hens have not slowed production because of the cold. They have been troopers to keep us supplied with eggs for breakfast and enough to sell to our community.

We are suppose to start thawing out tomorrow. Well enough chit chatting. I’ve got to put some more wood in the stove and start supper.  Stay warm my friends!

Photo by Getty Images/AmyKerk

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.

To learn more self-reliant skills, please visit my website.

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.

To learn more self-reliant skills, please visit my blog.

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.

To learn more self-reliant skills, please visit my blog.

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!”

To learn more self-reliant skills, please visit my website.