Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sourdough Workshop

We had one of our regular Saturday homesteading workshops here today.  This was the third workshop of a four-part "cultured kitchen" series which included four classes about creating live cultured foods at home - sauerkraut/kimchi, yogurt making, and sourdough bread (and apple cider vinegar is coming in the fall).

During today's workshop we walked through the steps of making and maintaining a sourdough starter, proofing the starter before bread baking (at least 8-12 hours), making the dough, and shaping loaves.  We were working with real sourdough (not preferments or recipes that use commercial yeast) - so ingredients are basic and wholesome - organic hard bread flour, cool filtered water, sea salt, and wild yeast!  The process really is quite simple, it's just a matter of making it part of a regular rhythm of your own weekly kitchen activities. 

Participants made their own sourdough starters to take home (which now need to be fed for the next 10 days, and maintained after).  We also sampled two sourdough breads I had made the night before, so that participants could see the full range of bread making from start (starter) to finish (eating) but still fit this all - a normally 2 day experience - into a 2 hour class.  We tried sesame caraway rye (made with a 100% organic rye starter); and wholegrain country sourdough loaf with millet & sunflower seeds.  Here are photos of the bread baking after today's workshop. 

Green & blue eggs

We absolutely do not need more eggs around here!  But who can resist blue and green eggs?  We traded a friend our handmade soap for a dozen of the lovely eggs that her Araucana hens are laying.  Perfect for Easter weekend coming up...

DIY Beeswax Wraps

We love these beeswax wraps!  They have so many great uses, and can replace any situation where you might have used plastic wrap before.  No more plastic wrap on food, no more plastic wrap to throw away.  For example, we wrap lunch sandwiches, halves of apples, blocks of cheese stored in the fridge, and to cover mixing bowls when proofing bread.  The beeswax wraps are slightly water proof and breathable.

Cleaning: These beeswax wraps can be used almost indefinitely, and if they do need cleaning just rinse gently with cool water and a biodegradable dishsoap or wipe with cool cloth, then let air dry (do not wash with hot water as this may melt the beeswax coating).

Note of caution: Making your own beeswax wraps at home is quite simple.  The key is to keep an eye on your oven temperature and not leave the cloths in the oven too long.  This is important since the hot wax in your oven could become a fire hazard. Work carefully, and in less than half an hour you will have your own set of beeswax wraps!  These beeswax wraps make great gifts as well. 

You will need:
  • A large piece of natural unbleached un-dyed fabric (e.g. cotton, linen, hemp)
  • Pure beeswax
  • Old baking trays
  • Parchment paper
  • Old grater or knife to cut beeswax 
  • Old paintbrush (reserved for beeswax from now on)
a) Cut piece of natural fabric to the size you want - it needs to fit on a baking tray.  Consider sizes that will be small or large enough to wrap the foods you have in mind (e.g. sandwiches, fruit, to cover a mixing bowl, etc)
b) Decide if you want to serge or sew the edges of the fabric to prevent fraying.  The beeswax will also prevent fraying so it just depends on how "finished" you want your wrap to look.
c) Line baking tray with parchment paper and lay cloth flat on this tray.
d) Preheat oven to 170F (NO hotter as this can become dangerous!).
e) Shred or grate beeswax.  You will need to have a thin layer across your entire cloth.  This amounts to several tablespoons of grated was for a medium sized cloth.
f) Sprinkle beeswax across the cloth evenly.  
g) Put baking tray into the oven at 170F for 10 minutes - NO LONGER than that!  Keep an eye on the melting wax.  If the was has melted sooner than 10 minutes remove baking tray earlier.
h) While wax is still hot spread it across the cloth with the old paintbrush.  Try to get a skim coat across the entire cloth.  
i) Let cool.  Beeswax will dry and harden slightly.  Then the beeswax wrap is ready to use!
j) You can add button and string loop closures, or other cloth or string fasteners onto the edges if you want to have a way to secure the cloths.  We just fold them around our food and secure with a rubber band.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Black Walnut Syrup!

On our small urban farm we've been busy collecting black walnut sap.  After about 2 weeks of collecting sap (from 10 spiles), and 20 hours of boiling it down, from a collection of about 120 litres of sap down to 4 litres of delicious, ultra sweet black walnut syrup - and our first pancake breakfast with fresh homemade syrup - we think that's not too bad, and definitely worth the effort! 

When a friend asked how to know when the sap is syrup (so as not to keep boiling too long and get taffy or maple sugar!) we found that it becomes fairly obvious - the bubbles become brown and foaming, and it's important to watch that the pot doesn't boil over.  We tried to capture a photo of this in the 3rd photo down below.  For the first 15-18 hours of boiling there was still a lot of water evaporating so if possible this is a good stage to do outdoors (or with good ventilation or kitchen range hood fan going).  For the last hour or so it goes much more quickly.  With lots of stirring needed at this point so the near-syrup doesn't burn on the bottom of the pot, and a candy thermometre handy to read the temperature, the sap has become syrup when it reaches 219F.  At that point, pour into hot sterilized (clean) mason jars, scrape out the pot and lick the spoons!  Then start a batch of pancakes.  Yumm!  We keep a good stockpile of syrup in our fridge and store the rest for longer storage in mason jars in the freezer.  This keeps well for many months. 

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Seedlings are starting!

The past weeks we have been working on garden plans, seed orders, cleaning the greenhouse and organizing garden trays and supplies.  Seeds have been planted and it finally feels like spring is underway!   This week we planted some of our favourite herbs & flowers with seeds saved from our own garden last fall - calendula, marigolds, zinnias, snapdragons, bachelor's buttons, lavender, sage, summer savory, malva, tulsi basil...(my helper was so ready to start her sunflowers but it's not quite time yet, but she had lots of opportunity to decorate our seed packages instead).  These seedlings will be available at our May 24 Annual Seedling Sale! 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Practical Herbalist Series * Starts in June!

Cost: $200 ($140/workshops plus $60/materials)  - Pre-registration required

An exciting unique 4-part series, that includes 12 hours of instruction and hands-on learning, plus some "home" assignments between sessions.  Workshops will be held on 4 Saturday mornings, from June to September.  This series is led by Karin Kliewer (Master Herbalist) at Little City Farm in Kitchener.

  • confidence and knowledge of growing and using basic medicinal herbs at home
  • a well-stocked pantry of simple effective herbal home remedies you have made
  • hands-on experience making 10+ herbal products (e.g. oils, salves, poultices, liniments, decoctions, tinctures, cough syrups, etc)
  • familiarity with 20+ medicinal herbs (see list of “focus herbs” for each session below)
  • guidelines for herbal dosages, basic herbal first aid for home use
  • general understanding of plant identification and ethical wild harvesting
  • hands-on experience harvesting, storing, drying and using medicinal herbs including leaves, blossoms, roots, berries, seeds and bark
  • basic understanding of herbal gardening, herbal propagation, planting and seed saving
  • simple outline for starting your own medicinal herb garden at home
  • knowledge of where to source quality herbs and herbal product-making supplies
  • a collection of herbal recipes, hand-outs and other useful resources
  • a network of other community members interested in natural herbal healing
Please see below for more details on topics we will cover in each session

This Practical Herbalist Series is limited to 10 participants.  One goal of this series is to create a continuous small-group shared learning environment, so priority will be given to participants who can commit to taking all 4 sessions. For questions, or registration please contact Karin at: / or 519-575-9174.

Session 1: Spring Leaves - Sat, June 14 from 9-12 noon
In this session you will learn: how to properly identify and harvest herbs; ethical wild harvesting; basic herb gardening (planting and propagating herbs); 10 medicinal herb teas to grow at home; drying & storing herbs; general guidelines for using herbal leaves, flowers, roots, berries, seeds and bark; setting up your herbal home medicinal making space; and making herbal infusions.  Our focus herbs will be red raspberry leaf, lemon balm, peppermint and nettle.

Session 2: Summer Blossoms - Sat, July 12 from 9-12 noon
In this session you will learn: guidelines for using herbal remedies externally; making herbal medicinal oils, salves, poultices and liniments; basic herbal first aid.  Our focus herbs will be calendula, lavender, red clover, marsh mallow, comfrey and plantain.

Session 3: Fall Harvest - Sat, Aug 9 from 9-12 noon
In this session you will learn: herbs for radiant hair and skin care; herbal baths for children; making herbal shampoos, face creams, scrubs, and facial cleansers. Our focus herbs will be rosemary, chamomile, yarrow, witch hazel and rose.
Session 4: Winter Roots - Sat, Sept 13 from 9-12 noon
In this session you will learn: herb seed saving; guidelines for using herbal remedies internally; general herbal dosage information for children and adults; herbal winter remedies for colds and flu; making herbal decoctions, tinctures, cough syrups and lozenges.  Our focus herbs will be sage, elderberry, rosehip, slippery elm, fennel and echinacea.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sauerkraut & Kimchi Workshop

We are back into full swing of our workshop schedule with classes taking place most Saturdays until June.  Today's session was on lactic acid fermentation, specifically making sauerkraut and kimchi.  This workshop would be good to offer in late summer just in time to preserve/ferment all the bounty coming out of backyard gardens, local farms and CSA's.  However, in late winter we are also glad to revive our cabbage and root vegetable flavours by fermenting them, while biding our time for the fresh garden veggies that are still a few months to come.  We used organic local produce, including carrots from our favourite CSA (Fertile Ground) that we have stored since the fall buried in a large container of damp sand.  They are still perfectly crisp and juicy!

What is lactic acid fermentation?  Live cultured, probiotic, unpasteurized vegetable and fruit ferments that are health promoting foods packed with beneficial bacteria and enzymes.  The lactic acid creates the sour flavour and preserves the food, preventing spoilage. 

A few key tips:
~ shred -- salt -- submerge
~ use only good quality sea salt, filtered chlorine-free water, whey (from live cultured yogurt)
~ use top quality organic produce
~ keep fermented veggies submerged under brine 
~ salt water brine is made of 2-4 Tbsp sea salt per 1 litre water
~ season and salt to your taste - add spices, herbs, garlic, ginger, green onion, cayenne, chili, etc
~ keep ferments around 18C (65 F) during fermentation
~ check ferments often to taste for flavour and watch for mold, etc
~ when ferments are ready (at desired flavour) store in cold cellar or refrigerator
~ use ceramic crock or glass mason/gallon jars for fermentation
~ eat and enjoy your ferments often!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Making Mozzarella

It was another rainy day outside.  Perfect for cozy indoor kitchen project, and today we made a batch of mozzarella. We love making mozzarella, though don't do it often since we usually turn our gallon of milk into yogurt instead.  However, today there was a request for making cheese, and it was a treat! We like to use supplies from the New England Cheese Making Supply (which are available locally at Vincenzo's).  The 30-minute mozzarella works beautifully - all you need is a gallon of good non-pasteurized (or at least not ultra-high pasteurized) milk.  It's always a fun project to do with kids, since they can help with every step of the way, and the cheese is delicious and ready to eat in only half an hour.  For variety, we like to mold it into shapes, add herbs and spices, or just eat it plain, or with freshly ground pepper and fresh tomatoes & basil when the garden is in full swing.  I'm already dreaming of ripe juicy tomatoes warm off the vine...(while our greenhouse walls and cold frames are currently still covered with snow!)  To make your own cheese, just follow these steps below:

Easy Mozzarella at Home Recipe

  • 4 litres (1 gallon) whole milk 
  • 1/4 rennet tablet + 1/4 cup cool (chlorine-free) water
  • 2 tsp citric acid + 1 cup cool (chlorine-free) water
  • 1/2 tsp cheese salt (or finely chopped herbs or sea salt)
1) Dissolve rennet table in 1/4 cup cool water (in glass jar or cup).
2) Dissolve citric acid in 1 cup cool water (in glass jar or cup).
3) Pour milk into large stainless steel pot and add citric acid solution.
4) Heat on low, stirring constantly until it reaches 90F (or 88F if using raw milk).
5) Remove from heat, then stir in the rennet solution carefully.
6) Cover with lid, and let sit on counter for 5 minutes (10 minutes if using raw milk).
7) Now check for curd - press back of hands carefully down on curd and you should see whey liquid clearly separating from the curd.
8) Cut curd into cubes using a long stainless steel knife (cut while curd is still in the pot).
9) Now reheat pot and bring to about 110F, continuously stirring while it heats.
10) Take off heat, continue stirring for a few minutes.
11) Then transfer the curd into a colander lined with cheesecloth, and let whey drip down into a stainless steel bowl or pot.  Gently press with a wooden spoon to press out all the whey.
12) Now heat whey in pot, or hot water in a new pot, until it reaches approx. 185F.
13) Remove from heat, put on rubber gloves (to help protect your hands from the heat) and dip your curd into the hot whey/water bath.  You can use a slotted stainless steel spoon for this as well. 
14) Allow curd to become soft, then stretch and fold it gently and repeatedly. 
15) Add cheese salt (add more or less to taste). 
16) Keep dipping and stretching curd, folding and pulling it until it becomes smooth and shiny. 
17) When you have it at desired consistency put curd into an ice water bath and it will hold it's shape.
18) Eat and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

NEW! Felted Soap Kits

For any of you who love wool, soap, or wool & soap!  We absolutely  love the texture and feeling of working with pure natural wool roving...and now we are excited to offer our new felted soap kits through the Homestead Herbals etsy store.  These are made with our own natural handcrafted soaps and pure hand-dyed merino wool roving!  These kits make 4 good sized bars, and come with 8 colours of wool roving plus white wool as a base colour, all instructions and supplies you need to make your felted soap at home.  All you need is warm water, a bowl and a dash of liquid dish soap and you are set. 

We'll also be offering a felted soap workshop on April 26 here at Little City Farm, but for those who already know how to felt or want to continue to make their own at home we now have kits ready to go with all the supplies you need.  Felting is such a great activity to do with kids, especially on chilly days when dipping our hands into warm soapy water is so satisfying.  Today's weather (a surprisingly snowy and blowy mid-March day!) is just such a day.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tapping trees!

We decided it was time!  The days have been warm and sunny, so we got all our maple syrup gear together and tapped our trees this week.  The sap was already running well, especially on the most southerly facing sides of our trees.  To get good sap flow we have noticed that it really makes a difference which side of a tree is tapped.  Given we are tapping here in our yard in the city, we have limited tree options (so we area again tapping our black walnuts and manitoba maples).  We also have  buildings and other obstructions keeping full sun off the trees, but last year yielded several litres of delicious finished syrup, plus loads of learning opportunities - we called it a success!  Funny though, living in southern Ontario, you never really know what the spring weather is going to be like - for example, tomorrow, there is an unexpected snow storm blowing in.  But this is March and the weather can still change every day.  We are hopeful that this snow will melt quickly, and the days will warm up again by the end of the week...we'd like to get back to tapping!

There are lots of great books and websites giving details instructions on how best to tap trees.  Better yet, ask someone locally who has done it (or follow along while they are tapping) to learn hands-on.  We offer a few basic tips that are geared toward the small-scale novice home based tree tapper:
  • ideally, tap the south side of your trees for the best running sap
  • sap runs when day times are between 0-10 degrees C, and night times drop to just below freezing
  • tap above a thick root or below a strong branch
  • tap healthy trees (stay away from hollow or diseased trees)
  • tap at least 6 inches away from last year's tap hole
  • tap approx. 3 feet up from the ground
  • when drilling use a 7/16 inch drill bit and drill tap hole on a slightly upward angle
  • clean out sawdust from tap hole before inserting spile
  • some trees that can be tapped include birch, black walnut, sugar maple, manitoba maple 
  • black walnut syrup is made from a ratio of 60:1 (60 litres sap to 1 litre syrup)!
  • sap can be collected in food grade pails or containers, but should be kept cold until boiling time
  • sap will run for several weeks (4-6 weeks) in a good year
  • boiling down takes many many hours, and is best done outdoors do to the high moisture content that is evaporating from your sap (it will make your kitchen quite humid)
  • invest in good spiles and hooks, but you can rig up plastic pails instead of sap buckets (if you are on a shoestring budget) - but use some kind of filter or screen to catch residue falling into your sap

Monday, March 10, 2014

New Workshops for Spring! Homesteading Skills, Fermented Foods, Permaculture & More...

Our new 2014 Spring Workshop Series is now posted and open for REGISTRATION HERE.

Improve your homesteading kitchen skills with topics such as cultured foods (sourdough, sauerkraut & kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt/kefir making); learn more about how to identify and use wild edible plants; work on a permaculture design for your yard!  We look forward to hosting all these workshops again and hope to see you there.  All workshops are held right here at our little homestead in the city Little City Farm, in Kitchener.

Cost: $50 - Limited space - pre-registration required.
With Karin Kliewer, from Little City Farm.
Learn to make beautiful all-natural healing soaps using nourishing oils, organic botanicals, and pure essential oils. During this popular busy hands-on workshop each participant will make their own 2 lb batch of cold process soap from scratch using recipe and ingredients provided. We'll talk about various soap making techniques, where to source ingredients, and the properties that various ingredients such as clays, botanicals, oils and essential oils add to your soap. Participants will need to bring a few simple supplies.

NEW THIS YEAR: Participants have the option to purchase a handcrafted wooden soap mold from Little City Farm in advance. More details about what to bring will be provided upon registration.


Cost: $35 - Limited space - pre-registration required.
Learn about the health benefits of making live-cultured ferments at home. In this practical hands-on workshop we'll be making a batch of sauerkraut and kimchi from scratch. You'll leave with all the knowledge you need to make delicious successful cabbage ferments at home. Take home jar of sauerkraut/kimchi – all supplies, instruction and recipes provided. Please bring an apron, cutting board and knife.

Cost: $35 - Limited space - pre-registration required.
Learn about the benefits of live-cultured foods, including homemade yogurt. In this practical hands-on workshop we'll be making a batch of yogurt, and yogurt cheese. Take home jar of live cultured yogurt and bowl of yogurt cheese! Please bring apron, thick towel, stainless steel bowl and colander. All supplies, instruction and recipes provided.

Cost: $35 - Limited space - pre-registration required.
Make beautiful healthful sourdough bread from your own starter at home! The sourdough process uses wild yeast and fermentation, and often this type of bread is more digestable than bread made with commercial yeast. Learn how to maintain a sourdough starter, benefits of eating sourdough bread, and other ways to use your starter (e.g. pancakes, muffins). Experience the sourdough bread making process from start to finish, take home your own jar of sourdough starter and taste samples of sourdough bread. All supplies, instruction and recipes provided. Please bring along an apron.

SAT, APRIL 26 - from 10-11:30 am - FELTED SOAP!
Cost: $25 - Limited space - pre-registration required.
Felted soap combines soap with washcloth, all in one! Learn the art of making beautiful felted soap with natural wool, dyed in colourful shades. In this hands-on workshop participants will learn about wet felting, and each make 2 small bars of felted soap to take home. All supplies and instruction provided. Bring apron or old clothes. Children aged 5+ welcome if accompanied by an adult (if you wish to bring your child please notify us in at time of registering).

Cost: $25 - Limited space - pre-registration required.
With Tracie Seedhouse of Earthchild Design
Permaculture is a design system that incorporates agriculture, culture and sustainability to create a self-sustaining, life enhancing landscape/lifestyle. In this practical workshop you will be walked through the basic principles of permaculture, look at some examples of permaculture at Little City Farm, and have the opportunity to use these concepts to work on design ideas for your own garden/yard. Supplies, instruction and resources provided. Bring along a pencil/pen/marker and coloured pencils for simple sketching. This is an outdoor workshop, so please dress for the weather (we will move indoors in case of extreme weather)

SAT, MAY 10 - from 1-3 pm - WILD SPRING EDIBLES
Cost: $25 - Limited space - pre-registration required.
With Jackie McMillan, local wild foods educator.
This popular annual workshop teaches you all about how to find, safely identify, carefully harvest, and prepare wild spring edibles for eating. We'll talk about wild foods such as wild leeks, dandelion, fiddleheads, wood sorrel, violets, burdock root, and many other commonly found edible greens, flowers, roots and herbs. Taste delicious samples as part of this workshop. Please dress for the weather as this is an outdoor workshop.

Cost: $35 - Limited space - pre-registration required.
With Jon Spee.

Kombucha is an ancient probiotic tea beverage that is delicious and nourishing.  Luckily it just takes a few ingredients and supplies and can be made at home.  Learn about the art of fermenting Kombucha, taking care of a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), adding flavours, and bottling, as well as a few other naturally fermented beverages that can be made at home.  Workshop will be hands on and attendees will leave with their own batch of Kombucha started and ready to ferment at home.  Instruction, recipes and supplies provided. Please bring an apron.

Friday, March 07, 2014

The sun today!

All day long we tracked the glorious sun.  From our sunny dining room art table, to melting snow dripping off rooftops, to happy chickens frolicking in the yard, to squishy warm mud and puddles for splashing in!  Spring is in the air today.  Welcome!