In todays world, the desire to get back to basics is becoming more and more desirable. Our hope is that you will find some of the knowledge we share a benefit to you, to get closer to your dream of a healthier lifestyle, less dependent on assembly lined, processed, manufactured items.

Our goal is to help you find ways to use modern conveniences to allow you to live the life you want to live, and raise your family with the traditions that are important to you.

Grab a cup of coffee, or a glass of tea, and join us as we share our lives, our family and our knowledge with you.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Homemade Convenience

I've been putting together several homemade mixes. I love the convenience of pre-packaged foods when the days are busy, I'm not so in love with the price tag or the additives that I can't even pronounce.  So far I've come up with several things that I love!  I have my own pepper gravy mix, that makes delicious biscuits and gravy a snap. I have a mix for cornbread that tastes every bit as good as the blue and white box from the grocery store shelf. Homemade brownies are a snap to bake from my brownie mix. And, just today I found an awesome way to create my own chocolate milk mix that should keep the grandkids happy when they visit Nana and Papa.  I've also made my own taco seasoning, Brisket Rub and Ranch dressing mixes.  Having all these things I mix myself on hand makes cooking convenient and satisfying for the Modern Pioneer in me.  I get the modern convenience along with the satisfaction of making my own, not to mention the fact that I know what goes into each and every mix.  All these things are important to me when feeding my family and staying within a frugal food budget.  All of these recipes can be found on the internet and in other sources. Some have been passed on so many times that there is no way to give the proper credit to the original creator.  With that being said, know that each of these is something I have found and tweaked to meet the needs and tastes of my family. After the recipes I will share some of my storage suggestions.

Pepper Gravy Mix
5 Cups Flour
2 Cups Powdered Milk
1/8 - 1/4 Cup Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Cornstarch
1/8 - 1/4 Cup Salt

Mix together and store in an airtight container.  Use 2 TBS bacon drippings or other fat, heat over medium heat. Add 3 - 4 TBS mix sprinkled over bacon grease using a fork or whisk, consistently blend until well incorporated and no lumps.  Add 1 1/2 Cups water or milk and whisk well.  Cook until thickened, stirring constantly.

Cornbread Mix
7 1/2 Cups Flour
4 1/2 Cups Cornmeal
1/3 Cup Baking Powder
6 tsp salt
2 Cups Sugar

Mix together and store in an air tight container.  Preheat oven to 350.
2 1/3 cups mix
2 eggs
1/4 Cup melted butter
2 TBS vegetable oil
1 Cup milk
Pour into a 10" iron skillet. Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Brownie Mix
8 Cups Sugar
6 Cups Flour
1 1/2 TBS baking powder
1 TBS salt
2 Cups Cocoa Powder

Mix together and store in an airtight container.  Preheat oven to 350.
2 1/4 Cups Brownie Mix
2 Eggs beaten
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 Cup nuts or chocolate chips (optional)
1/3 Cup melted Butter
Combine ingredients and mix until smooth. Pour into a greased 8" square pan. Bake for 30 - 35 minutes until the center is set.  Cool, Cut, Serve.

Taco Seasoning
1/2 Cup + 2 TBS Chili Powder
2 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 1/2 tsp Onion Powder
2 1/2 tsp Dried Oregano
2 1/2 tsp Paprika
1/4 Cup + 1 TBS Ground Cumin
1/8 Cup Salt
1/4 Cup Black Pepper

Use 2-3 TBS + 3/4 Cup water for each pound of browned ground beef.

Brisket Rub
2 TBS Brown Sugar
2 TBS Chili Powder
2 TBS Paprika
2 TBS Salt
1 TBS Garlic Powder
1 TBS Onion Powder
1 TBS Black Pepper
1 TBS Cayenne Pepper
2 tsp Dry Mustard
2 tsp Ground Cumin

Mix ingredients and store in an airtight jar. Prepare meat for slow cooking in oven, on grill or in smoker. Rub dry mix over all exposed areas of the meat. Refrigerate overnight. Cook until done.  This mix has a slight kick that is outstanding!

Ranch Dressing Mix
1/4 Cup Black Pepper
1 1/2 Cup Parsley Flakes
1/2 Cup Garlic Salt
2 TBS Salt
1/4 Cup Granulated Garlic
3/4 Cup Granulated Onion
2 TBS Dill Weed

Mix and store in an airtight jar.  Mix 1 TBS mix with 1 Cups Mayo, 1 Cups Buttermilk, 3/4 Cup sour cream and 1/2 tsp lemon juice.  Refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving and refrigerator any remaining dressing.  Makes a little less than 1 quart.

Chocolate Milk Powder
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt

Mix together and store in an airtight container. Use 1-2 Tablespoons per cup of milk.

Hot Chocolate Mix
11 Cups (8 quarts) powdered milk
3 Cups (6 oz) coffee creamer
8 Cups (2 lbs) Chocolate milk mix
3 3/4 Cups (1 lb) Powdered Sugar

Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container.  This makes a MASSIVE amount, thus making it a great project for a friend or two to bring the ingredients together and share the end result.  Add 1-2 TBS to a cup of hot water, stir to thoroughly mix. Enjoy!

Now that I've shared a few of the recipes, let me share some of the ways I store them.

I prefer to use glass containers because there is nothing to hold an odor that could taint a flavor in any of the mixes. However there are times that due the quantity of the mix, and/or the availability of glass jars I may use my Tupperware containers.   When I try something new, and am not sure it's a keeper for the pantry, I will just write directly on the glass with a permanent marker.

When I am ready to create my label, I include the name of the mix for easy identification in the Pantry. I put the recipe for the main mix directly on the label so that when I run out, I can mix it up without having to hunt down the recipe.  I also include the instructions for its use, so that, again, I don't have to track down a recipe to use the mix.  Yep.....guess I'm a little lazy organized when it comes to the kitchen.

For a jar that has an opening that will fit a canning jar ring, I can save the top of my salt boxes to place under the ring, giving me a convenient pour spout.  I started out with the instructions hand-written on this lid.  This is not as "pretty" as being on the label, but is just as useful.  I later added the label with directions included.

Enjoy! I will share more mix and other recipes as I think of ones you might find useful. If you have any special mixes you would like to share, feel free to post them in the comments. I am constantly looking for new ideas.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pork Butchering 2015

Last year we bought two young piglets for the sole purpose of having them fill our freezer. In the past, butchering was done in the fall, and today many people still butcher in the fall.  We had planned to, but let the time get away from us.  There were times when we wished we had not over-wintered the pigs. Chopping ice and carrying water in the winter time is not my idea of a good time, but it didn't take much more time to take care of the pigs than it did to take care of the chickens, turkeys, rabbits dogs and milk cow and every day added more weight which added more meat.

Historically, butchering was done in the fall for many reasons.  In the pioneer days, you "laid away" for the winter months when the weather made it difficult to hunt, impossible to garden, and foraging was minimal.  The cold weather also made long term storage more probable.  With modern conveniences, the time of year you butcher is not critical as it used to be. We can put meat in the freezer at any time and not give a thought to the current and upcoming weather conditions.  However, if you plan to cure pork, having the cool days of Fall on your side it nice. This year we chose not to try to cure all the hams from the two pigs, as they need to remain 40 degrees or below during the curing process.  If your ham is 14" thick, it takes a minimum of 14 days in a row that must be below 40 degrees, not likely in the spring time.  As Modern Pioneers, we can use a cooler or refrigerator to maintain the temperature at any time of year, making the time for butchering much more flexible than in times past.  But we could find ourselves short on refrigerator space if Serena calves and freshens and we start to get fresh milk before the hams are finished.

With the day's weather predicted to be sunny and in the 60's, we prepared to start the days activities.

We began by visiting Pork and Chop in their pen, one last time.  It was muddy in the pen, and Pork got a last laugh on us, by rolling in the mud and getting VERY dirty, just before his demise.

It took JD lots of water and several minutes to get Pork cleaned up enough to be skinned.

The skinning is done in two steps. First step it to use a razor sharp knife and cut just through the hide in strips from neck to tail about 2-3" wide then cut through the hide around the neck.

Then grab the top of the strips, using the claw skinning tool, and pull downward.  The picture above is not the best example. There is normally minimal, if any, fat that is removed with the hide.  

Obvious difference in the the skinned side and the un-skinned side and it only takes a few minutes to remove the tough hide and the meat remains clean. It's easy, quick and clean. Win! Win! Win!

After the hide is removed, the feet are removed, as is the head.  The pig is then gutted, but I will spare you those pictures.  From the hogs guts, the liver, heart and kidneys are considered a delicacy by many. In our family, although, I do not feel we are wasteful, we choose to bless the dogs and my sons hogs with those healthy tid-bits.  The entrails can be carefully removed, washed and used as sausage casings.  I chose to buy some at the store this time, another option that Modern Pioneers have over our forefathers.  Pork is now ready to be taken to cutting table and made freezer ready.

The men made quick work of cutting off the hams and shoulders and removing the tenderloin for boneless pork chops and chunks of tenderloin.

Justin and JD made separating the tenderloin from the ribs look easy.  All the fat scraps were chunked up and placed in a tub for grinding to render lard for use in frying and baking.  The cracklings are saved to flavor beans, cornbread and various other dishes.  The various meat scraps were chunked up and saved in a different tub to be ground into sausage.

The meat scraps were seasoned for sausage, ground and placed in 1 pound packages.  Melody and I  ground all of Pork on the same day we butchered, but Chop wasn't ground until the next day.  If the meat is allowed to become very chilled, to the point of being almost frozen it seems to grind much easier.

Morton's sugar cure was worked into the belly meat that will become bacon.  It will "cure" in the refrigerator for about 1 day per inch of thickness, then be soaked in fresh water daily for 3-5 days to remove the extra salts and spices.  We will then hang it in the smokehouse and give it a good dose of hickory smoke for flavor.

While grinding the sausage from Chop, we decided to try some sausage links.  The only casings I found locally were large, so that is what we used.  By placing the casing over the sausage tube, the meat/fat/spice combination was put directly into the casings. We let them sit in the refrigerator overnight, then I hung them from the oven rack and cooked them at 150 - 200 degrees for 3 hours. The results are what you see below.

We learned a few things. First, we did not fill the casing tightly enough. Second, we should have pricked the casings just enough to let the fat escape and the casing draw in around the meat. Third, we will want a coarser grind with less fat added next time. And finally, we loved the seasoning....I bought some packaged seasoning from our local Price Cutter's meat department and added my own extra red pepper flakes and sage and it came out perfectly seasoned.  Maybe one of these days I will perfect my own seasoning, but you can't learn everything at once.

It was a full day of work, good time with friends and family, and very rewarding.  We hope to make it a tradition at our place, and are glad we have the modern conveniences that make it possible to get so much done in one day, and the convenience of picking the time that is convenient instead of letting the seasons dictate our lives the way they did our forefathers.  I am proud to gain the knowledge and the skills to keep the past alive. You never know when the past will come in handy in the future. At one time our ancestors were the Modern Pioneers.