Heirloom Tomatoes, Cast-Iron Cooking, Soap Making Tips and More

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by Susan Abbott
Susan Abbott and family were one of several winners of our Homesteaders of the Year recognition.

Cast-Iron Love

Just a quick note to let you know that I really enjoyed your article on cast-iron cookware (“Cooking With Cast Iron” July/August). It is the only way to cook, and the cookware will make a great gift to pass on to the grandchildren.

Just recently I hit the jackpot at a garage sale. There were two stacks of cast-iron skillets, but halfway down the first stack was a Griswold No. 7 skillet in perfect condition. The sign said “All skillets $10.” That $10 bill came out of my wallet so fast it almost burst into flames. I love Griswold iron because it is so well-made compared to some of the iron cookware today. Cast iron will be around when all this nonstick aluminum stuff will be but a faint memory. Keep up the good work.

Cornbread forever,

Mike Lundquist, Underwood, Minnesota

Tomato Harvest

I’ve been an avid urban gardener for about seven years now. In September 2008, Hurricane Ike blew through my neighborhood and took down the maple tree that had shaded my entire backyard. With an abundance of sunlight, I dug in and caught the fever of urban farming.

Last year, my tomatoes didn’t do too well, and I bought a large box of heirlooms at a farmers’ market. They were so good, I saved some seeds. Here are a few photos of my crop from these seeds.

I enjoyed your article “Tomato Harvest” in the September/October issue. I’d love to try some of the seeds and varieties you mentioned. There’s nothing to compare to a good, homegrown, fresh tomato.

Dan Foster, Westerville, Ohio

Awesome, Dan! Grit is all about the resilience you show, and making the most of the circumstances that surround us. We love your attitude and ability to look on the bright side. – Editors

Cast-Iron Outdoor Cooking

You asked for photos and stories about cast-iron cooking in “Our View” in the July/August issue, so here’s mine. My husband, Pete, just finished making us an outdoor wood-fired oven. This morning we had fresh, hot, crusty bread made in a cast-iron Dutch oven. I can share the photograph, but I’m sorry you’re missing the smell and the taste!

Loving the country life,

Debby Greenlaw, Prosperity, South Carolina

Melt and Pour With Repellent

After reading your article “Practical Pest Control” in the May/June issue, I decided to experiment with my own version of the Vinegar Repellent recipe. I like the “melt-and-pour” method of soap making. I made two separate batches, one soap and another shampoo version of the repellent. I simply added the four essential oils to the melted soap or shampoo, and poured it into molds. I haven’t been as badly bothered by flying insects this year as compared to past years. I’m also thinking of adding the essential oils to a unscented baby shampoo that I could use every day. Thought you and other readers might want to make melt-and-pour soap. It’s easy and fun.

Nancy Cabaup, Whitefield, New Hampshire

Thanks for sharing, Nancy, and good to know that the application is far-reaching for the natural pest repellents. We dig the melt-and-pour method of making and customizing soaps. – Editors

Thanking Neighbors

I am writing to thank you for printing my request for fabric scraps for my Postage Stamp quilt that appeared in your March/April issue. I am thrilled to report that I have completed my quilt top thanks to your generous readers. I received 132 envelopes, mailers and boxes from 37 states. I was truly overwhelmed by the response and have never enjoyed getting the mail so much! The handwritten notes and letters included in the packages were so enjoyable to read. I feel like I have made new quilting friends all over the country.

The quilt top has 56 blocks made up of 8,064 little 1-inch squares. Many thanks to everyone who made finishing my quilt a reality by taking the time to gather fabric, package it, then take it to the post office and send it on its way.

I will always remember the spring/summer of 2015 when complete strangers were so eager to help me finish my project.

Amie Lobaugh, via email

Making Hay

Greetings from Paradise, California, from a transplanted Nebraskan. My personal experience with haying started at age 7 and continued until age 18. In today’s market, I would locate a small tractor (Farmall A or B or a small John Deere) and a John Deere No. 5 mower with a 5- or 7-foot sickle bar. Also, a small side-delivery rake. Dump rakes are cheap and take two people to operate.

I paid $600 for a Farmall B and found two No. 5 mowers (one was free, and I paid $10 for the other one, though that was some time ago). I would rake the hay into windrows and use a custom baler until the quantity of hay would justify a baler.

Select a tricycle-type tractor, as it is more agile for a small operation and works much better for mowing and cornering. Select used equipment that has no broken frame or castings. Parts are available at reasonable prices. I use mail order from places in Iowa, South Dakota and Minnesota. The shipping costs are much less than driving 80 miles to the nearest dealer. I am happy to share specific ideas and photographs to enhance the haying operation.

My first days of haying were with horse-drawn equipment and a homemade overshot stacker, which I would not recommend today. Have a great day, and best wishes to the Herberts.

Anton Hansen, via email

Osage Orange Wood

Hank, I always enjoy your articles. Glad to see you use Osage orange, too. I make primitive bows out of Osage, and enjoy doing the bow-making booth at the Moundville Native American Festival each October.

I see several thousand fourth- and fifth-graders over the four days, and try to mold some minds. It’s always rewarding to me if I can see that I have lit a candle in a few of them. Better go “stretch a string” before it gets too hot. I have to defend my Alabama state primitive longbow title this coming weekend – don’t expect to be champ next year, but will give it a shot.

I’m getting a little “long in the tooth,” but still enjoy putting meat on the table with my homemade bow and river-cane arrows. Keep those good articles coming.

Steve Pate, via email

Paper Boy Days

On Page 15 of the January/February issue, you showed a photograph of a boy selling the Grit newspaper. It brought back memories of when I was 11 years old and sold the Grit newspaper in south Albuquerque to about 25 to 30 customers. I sold the paper for about 15 months, and I believe that is where I obtained a youth violin. This was back in 1944. Thanks for your Grit magazine.

Richard Beckman, Aurora, Colorado

Always a pleasure hearing from former Grit delivery boys and girls, Richard. You all ushered the publication through a critical era in our history, and it’s an honor to get to look after it today.
– Editors

Trees for Tomorrow

Having grown up in a Wyoming valley, under large old cottonwoods with the backdrop of a cedar-covered mountain, moving to the barren flats of southeast Idaho was harsh. Being on a limited budget, I nonetheless began creating a welcoming environment with infant and juvenile trees 10 years ago. I now have a wonderful variety of trees that invite birds to visit, find shelter and nest in.

My neighbor parks his discarded stuff along my property line, so now I am planting trees and shrubs as a screen. Because of cost, it is a work in progress. Six years ago, my grandsons and I built a bridge of what we could scavenge. Imagine my delight last weekend when I discovered eight Amur maple saplings growing under the bridge. They will be a great addition to my privacy screen.

Some of the other trees I have started on my property include a small orchard, along with larch, mulberry, weeping white spruce, butternut, hazelnut, spruce, and a 24-inch-tall little-leaf linden that I just planted last weekend.

Trees are among the great wonders of the world.

Mary Martin, Rexburg, Idaho

Jellies and Jams

Hank, you and I both have great memories of jelly making during our childhood. Mine, however, was with my grandmother. She made the best jellies, and I had forgotten about the wax seal, but that’s just how it was sealed up in the days before canning lids. The regular jars were sealed with some kind of bulky-looking galvanized lid that used a rubber ring to seal the jar. I don’t remember pressure canners back then, but I do remember that the water-bath canners would boil away for a long time on some of the produce jars. My grandmother would even can chicken in the water bath, but I think that took the longest with a 90-minute boiling procedure. No one got sick from her cooking, so as risky as it was, it must have worked. I really wouldn’t try that today.

I’m not going to can much this year. The garden was really a total failure here due to unusually cool temperatures and the pounding it took during June with the extreme weather conditions. A few tomatoes, along with a handful of green peppers, is what the Urban Ranch garden produced. The potatoes are yet to be dug, so I’m not sure about them. I did manage to harvest a couple eggplants from Terra Nova Gardens, and the tomatoes there are struggling to ripen. With temperatures continually dropping into the 50s and 60s at night, the tomatoes are having a difficult time ripening. I haven’t checked the onions yet, but I think they will be OK. This year was kind of a test run for onions, as I started them from seed. That seemed to work great, so next year I’ll plant more.

Nebraska Dave, Urban Farmer, Omaha, Nebraska

Homesteaders of the Year

I wanted to let all of you at Grit magazine know how much we appreciate the wonderful prizes we received as one of your 2015 Homesteaders of the Year. The excitement level was high when the giant box from Hoss Tools arrived, and a few days later, the box of beautiful and informative books relating to homestead living. I phoned the extended family to come over for the “grand opening” of the prize boxes. Some folks have Super Bowl parties: We had a “Grit party” and celebrated your generous gifts.

I have made several recipes from the Comfort Foods Cookbook, and each night I read the books. Enclosed is a photograph of the peach cobbler that was so delicious. As pretty as it looked coming out of the oven, the photo just couldn’t capture the delicious taste and aromatic smell!

Just looking at the cover photo of Plowing With Pigs brings me a sense of peace and tranquility. My sparked creativity is now a full-blown flame of clever projects I’ve been learning about in the publications. The morning after the Grit party, my son, Judd, and I set to work assembling the Hoss Tools. Later that week, the extended family gathered again to watch “Hoss” (as we have affectionately named this latest garden tool) help prepare a patch in the raised bed for fall turnips. The enclosed photo is of Judd and me taking Hoss for his inaugural run in the raised bed while my husband, Bob, and my stepson, Cameron, observe. The Hoss Tools wheel hoe has been such a help because I can easily lift it into my raised beds and get right to work.

Susan Abbott, Schell City, Missouri