Building a better world… with tomatoes and goats

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Sometimes it’s hard to feel anything but angry about the current state of things, but there are lots of positive actions that can be done that boost personal resilience and wellbeing as well as reducing ecological footprints.

There’s a new book all about this, currently on Kickstarter here. My new book ‘Backyard Dairy Goats‘ is included as a stretch goal on it!

Preserving tomatoes at home

This year I did something I’d been thinking about for a long time. I bottled our entire tomato supply for the year…

I’d delayed this in the past due to annoying finicky instructions that insist on peeling the tomatoes, removing seeds, putting them through an expensive single-purpose gadget, and all kinds of stuff, but in the end I thought it was about time I tried this myself, using nothing more than a kitchen knife.

Our own garden harvest was not that big this year, for a few reasons that I’ve hopefully learned from, but rather than buying in bottled tomatoes from the other side of the world, I found a local organic grower, bought more than 30kg of sauce-grade tomatoes and bottled them all.

This is how we did it:

Step 1:
This step is only worth doing if you have too many tomatoes to fit in your pot at once. Sort through all the tomatoes and separate the damaged and super-ripe ones from the ones that can wait for a bit longer. Put the ones that can wait aside for another day (we preserved our 30kg+ of tomatoes over 3 days).

Step 2:
Wash the tomatoes, remove any leaves and stems (this is a good job for little helpers).

Step 3:
Roughly chop the tomatoes and put them in a big stainless steel pot (I used my 20 litre one).

Step 4:
Heat the chopped tomatoes over medium-high heat, smashing them up as you stir every so often. Once the tomatoes are bubbling you can either bottle them now, or reduce them for a bit. The jars I used were a bit smaller than the passata bottles I’m used to, so I chose to boil them to reduce them by around 1/4 to 1/3, to make for a more concentrated jar of tomato goodness. If you’re using plum tomatoes or paste tomatoes you’re more likely to get away with boiling them for less time, but ‘sauce tomatoes’ here just means any tomatoes that aren’t quite perfect, so they can use a bit of boiling to get rid of the extra liquid.

While you’re waiting for the tomatoes to heat up or reduce, sterilise your jars and lids and keep them warm.

Step 5:
If you’re concerned about the tomatoes not being acidic enough on their own to store safely, then add a tablespoon of cider vinegar or lemon juice to each 500-600ml jar, or 2 tablespoons to larger jars.

Put the hot tomatoes in the warm jars and seal them with their clips or rings, depending on which jar type you’re using. Put a big canning pot with a false bottom or canning rack on the stove (or use a tea towel or some cutlery at the bottom of a normal pot), put a small amount of warm water in it (so that the hot jars aren’t shocked by a sudden change of temperature), then carefully add your jars. Add more water, so that the jars are surrounded by water either to just above the top of the lid, or at least 3/4 of the way up.

Put the lid on the pot and bring it to the boil, or at least above 90ºC (195ºF). Hold it at this temperature for 40-45 minutes, then allow the pot to sit with the lid off for 5 minutes. Carefully remove the jars using a jar lifter and allow them to cool on the bench before storing.

Fill up the next batch of jars for the pot and repeat until you’ve run out of hot tomatoes, making sure that the water in the pot at the beginning is around the same temperature as the jars. You can do this over two or more days, as long as the tomatoes are brought to the boil and kept hot for a while before bottling, and put into hot sterilised jars.

The result:
Bottling my own tomatoes at home has reduced the amount of far-away foods in our diet, reduced our tomato costs by half, made us more resilient, reduced waste, and they taste better than factory-bottled ones. It was an enjoyable time with family, with all of us appreciating the process and the results.

Spiced Elderberry Oxymel (a herbal cold and flu medicine)

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Here is a simple way to make a healthy medicine for the cold months ahead. I can’t say enough good things about elderberries, and this way of preserving them for the winter can be used either as a daily boost to health to prevent colds and flus, or as something taken when you are sick to relieve the symptoms and get rid of the cold or flu quickly. This recipe is cheap to make, using stuff that’s always in my kitchen.

You will need:
Elderberries
Optional spices (see step 3)
Raw apple cider vinegar
Raw honey

1. First you will need to find an elderberry tree in fruit. I found these in the first month of autumn and in the garden of an old homestead we were visiting. Sometimes trees are on the side of the road, or branches are hanging over someone’s fence. Elder trees are beautiful to look at and many people have them growing in their garden as ornamentals that don’t end up being harvested. They’re supposed to be quite easy to grow, and the leaves and branches are good goat food.

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Photo credit: here

2. Carefully harvest the bunches of fruits off the trees, gather as much as you’re likely to use. I started with around 2 litres of loosely packed bunches and ended up with around 1300ml of oxymel.

3. Wash the berries and gently strip the berries from the twigs into a cooking pot, it doesn’t matter if a few small twigs get in too. Mix in a small amount of water (for around 1200ml of berries at this stage I added half a cup). Add some spices now if you wish, I added 1/2 inch of grated fresh ginger, a pinch of ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.

4. Bring the berries to the boil with the lid on, then remove the lid and continue to cook, while squashing the berries with a wooden spoon to extract the juice and evaporate some of the water. Do this for 10-20 minutes, being careful to not evaporate too much of the liquid, until it looks like you’ve squashed the berries as much as they can be squashed.

5. Filter the juice through a fine mesh sieve, then continue to squash the berries into the sieve to extract the last of the juice. Pour the juice into a measuring cup or jar to see how much you have. I ended up with 400ml of juice. Allow the juice to cool down to a blood-warm temperature.

6. When you can put some of the juice on the inside of your wrist without it hurting, pour the juice into a mixing bowl and add the same volume of raw cider vinegar and raw honey, so that you have 1 part elderberry juice, 1 part cider vinegar, and 1 part honey.

7. Pour into sterilised jars and store in a fairly cold and dry place. Take 1 tablespoon at a time, either on its own or mixed with water. It’s also good mixed with boiling water as a hot drink.

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Zucchini Pickle

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There’s not much that gives a feeling of abundance like zucchini does. It grows easily and prolifically, some people complain that it provides too much food, and then end up gifting some of their harvest to me. I end up picking most of mine before the flowers have dropped off, eager to make all kinds of zucchini cakes, zucchini gratin, minestrone and other soups, and making this zucchini pickle to accompany cheese and cold meats for the year ahead.

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Ingredients
1.3kg zucchini
200g onions (2 small-medium ones)
150g salt
Water for rinsing the salt off
5 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon dry turmeric or 3 teaspoons freshly grated
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger, or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
85g honey (around 2 tablespoons)
500ml cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

Grate the zucchini and finely dice the onions. Mix with the salt in a bowl and set aside for at least half an hour, or overnight. Drain the liquid, rinse the vegetables, and then drain again, squash them into a fine sieve to remove as much liquid as possible.

Sterilise some jars and lids and keep them warm.

When the vegetables have been drained and rinsed, put them in a pot with the spices, vinegar, and honey. Bring to the boil with the lid on, reduce the heat, and simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another ten or twenty minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the onion tastes cooked. Put into the sterilised jars, put the lids on, then turn them upside down for a few minutes. Turn the right way up again and leave them to cool.

This pickle will taste best after it’s been in storage at least a month. It keeps for around 12 months in the cupboard. I’ve opened ones that were two years old and they were still good.

One day I hope to have enough zucchini to make this recipe and this recipe. This year we’ve had two plants, next year I think we will have four or more.

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How to Make Butter

All you need to make butter is a bowl, a whisk, and some cream.

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The cream should have no additives, just cream, and if it’s créme fraiche for making cultured butter, then it will have cultures as well (here’s my recipe for culturing cream at home).

Put the cream in the bowl and whisk. After a fair amount of whisking it will become whipped cream. Continue whisking and whisking and the whipped cream will become more yellow. Soon after this you’ll begin to see some liquid forming. Continue whisking, more of the buttermilk will separate from the butter.

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You don’t have to do all the whisking at once, you can come back to it every now and then. Or you can use a stand mixer or hand mixer.

Once it looks as though all the buttermilk that’s going to come out has been released, strain the butter over a mixing bowl, reserving the buttermilk for recipes.

Put the butter in a bowl of very cold water. Knead with your hands a few times to release even more of the remaining milk.

Drain the water and replace with more very cold water. Knead again.

Remove the butter from the water, kneading as much water out of it as you can. Shape it and store it in beeswax wraps or glass jars. Enjoy!

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Cultured butter with buttermilk scones, créme fraiche, and honey-sweetened jam.

This post has been shared with Wonderful Wednesday, Friday Favourites, Party in your PJs,

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Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach Salad with Cheese

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I’ve never successfully made a hard cheese with a natural rind before.

On a biodynamic fruit day, back when we still had Buttercup the cow, I mixed some of her milk with some of our goats milk, cultured it, sort-of followed an asiago recipe (I am not so good with all the continuous stirring), pressed it, salted it, and put it in the makeshift cheese cave to age. Roughly once a week, mostly on other biodynamic fruit days, I would tend to the cheese. I would rub more salt on it, brush it, to keep the growth of some things in check, and to help it form a rind. For months I looked at this cheese every week, wondering what it would taste like.

After around five months I cut into it. It’s probably the best cheese we’ve ever tasted!

Today I made this salad with it. Feta is really good in this, as is any hard cheese, or you can use chopped walnuts instead. This is a good salad to make ahead of time, it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, just make sure the squash has fully cooled down before you add it to the spinach.

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Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach Salad with Cheese
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An easier way to make soft cheese

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Chévre. After fermenting for 12 hours you can see the curd has separated from the whey.

Chévre is pretty easy to make to begin with, but it usually begins with boiling water and sterilising everything in the boiling water, which adds extra time and hassle to the process.

I’ve been getting massive cravings for chèvre, so much that I even looked at soft goats cheese in the shop (before quickly moving away, knowing that I can make better stuff at home) and knew I had to make some soon, so instead of my usual method of boiling water, sterilising everything that’s going to touch the milk with the boiling water, then heating cold milk up in a saucepan to the right temperature I just added some milk kefir (around 2 tablespoons) and diluted rennet (the tiniest amount possible, a drop or less diluted in a bit of water) to a jar of fresh milk warm from the goat, moved the jar around a little to mix it in, then left it to sit for around 12 hours, before draining for around 6 hours, mixing salt through, and letting it drain for a little longer. Great cheese with less trouble than the other way.

We’ve sold the cow. I have mixed feelings about this, but it’s something we had to do, and I’m glad she has a good home with another family. I have one hard cheese aging in the makeshift cheese cave that I made from her milk, an asiago with a natural rind. I’ve never been successful with natural rinds before, mainly from forgetting to brush them every week, but this one seems to be going well, and we can probably start eating it next month.

This post is a part of Simple Homestead Blog Hop

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Simple Wonderful Lamb Burgers

These are the perfect burger. They’re juicy and full of flavour yet they hold their shape.

Minimally seasoned with garlic and herbs to let the taste of lamb shine through they can be served in a variety of ways; with tzatziki and greek salad, with gyros or kebab toppings, with traditional burger accompaniments like fried eggs, salads, and sauces, or with any vegetable side dish…even Swedish braised red cabbage.

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