After a few weeks of really fantastic warm weather the briskness of the fall has caught up with us in this neck of the woods. The trees are starting to turn and it won’t be long before low lying areas get hit by the first fall frost – so it’s the time of the year to race to put up the bounty of the season before the blankets of snow mantle the landscape.
That means in part the apple harvest that started a month or so ago continues – and will draw to a close soon enough. The cider press is now out and we’ve had our first tastes of many of the freshest cider – dripping right from the press cylinder – and incredible treat.
As the cider harvest picks up speed we’ll be canning lots and reducing a fair bit to apple cider syrup – which is a great thing to have in the kitchen, and a fair measure will find stability as hard cider. But this first pressing is destined to be gulped down – much of it eagerly consumed right off the press, and the rest within the next day or two from the fridge.
For all the fun – and the immediacy of the reward does make it fun – this is a good example of how a bit of investment in assets pay off again and again. This latest rendition of the cider press – the one perfected for the book – is now three years old. After that initial investment in the first year of time and materials it has just continued to pay dividends. I haven’t penciled down the figures, but I’d venture a guess that this investment has provided a better ROI than most folks stock portfolios, which is pretty cool when it also yields a lot of childish grins – on faces both young and old.
As easy as pie – just a bit longer to realize the result. Seriously. Really. You just need the right tools (which are reasonably priced) and to gain some insight into how to pull everything together with smart techniques.
Not really much different than baking a pie – and there are lots of folks who are seriously intimidated by the thought of pulling together a great pie crust and that perfect filling.
But, that’s why cookbooks and cooking shows are so popular – they provide both guidance and the insight into the techniques needed to effectively convert the ingredients into the finished product. Once you’ve done it once that initial hurdle of getting those techniques down is breached and going from making an apple pie to a peach torte is comparatively a breeze. That’s no different with metal working – get a handle on how to pull one project off and you’ll be well on your way to having the skills and confidence to pull off much more complex projects.
In terms of how high that bar to entry is – with modern power tools it really isn’t much more difficult than baking that pie in a home oven. Wire feed welders are not only easy to master but also low cost – as I write this Harbor Freight has their welders on for $110 for the smaller unit to $180 for the midsized one that I adore. Their angle grinders start at $20 for a 4 1/2″ “heavy duty” one that will do for the work you have to carry out on the project to $45 for a versatile 7″ unit all the way to $65 for a top of the line 9″ unit – but those prices are all before you apply the 20% off coupons that always seem to be floating around. Another $20 will get you the needed drill.
Homebuilt Grain Mill, Tortilla Press and the required tools
Add in the consumables and hand tools and even if you are starting your shop from scratch you’ll be able to buy the tools and the materials needed for the grain mill build and have money left over compared to buying a comparable mill with 6″ diameter burrs.
Now the economics of building your own tortilla press isn’t nearly as compelling – but if you’ve got the tools… well then building it is a breeze.
Of course, the prime advantage in my opinion isn’t the grain mill, or the tortilla press, ore even the nicely equipped shop – but the change in perspective that you’ll gain once you’ve seen how achievable these metal working projects are. That shift will see you empower your independence, and that
We were lucky enough to get our books on the barter blanket at the upcoming TSP event. For all those that won’t be able to make it there we’re offering a sale on our books – each one of them has been discounted for a limited time. I’ll also whisper a secret to you folks – business cards were recently printed up with a discount code on them. Even if you don’t have a card the code 10OFF will get you 10% off your entire purchase.
Build a tortilla press
These books drop the barrier to entry for those who want to have more handy skills, which combined with the current low low price for the tools you’ll need to make these projects combine to form a compelling argument to take these up.
Our most extensive project by far is the grain mill, and our book will walk you every step of the way through the construction of a unit that is every bit the equal of ones costing several hundreds of dollars – you’ll more than pay for the materials and tools by building just one, and you’ll have both the tools and knowledge to use them to jump to more advanced projects.
Building a cold smoker
The tortilla press build is an especially good project to take on if you are new to metal working. You can in reasonably quick fashion construct a tortilla press that won’t just work wonderfully, but that your grandkids will be proud to have in their own kitchen – and fresh tortillas are awesome.
Build a cider press
The cold smoker offers up a simple project that will allow you to produce mouth watering foods at a fraction of the price they would sell for in stores for under $20 – and it’s simple enough that you can be smoking food this weekend.
The cider press is a simple and rewarding woodworking project – and this unit is built like a tank. It will enable you to make use of the abundance of apples that grace so many neighborhoods but go unharvested.
Like all of these books the price is low enough that the savings you’ll enjoy from not having to toss wasted material from a wrong cut to the side more than pay for the book – discounting the savings in time and energy entailed in perfecting your own designs since at all of these projects are the result of at least the third generation of design evolution.
These projects aren’t as intimidating as they may at first appear – so what are you waiting for? IF you aren’t lucky enough to be busy at the nine mile farm, then grab the books and start embarking on projects to bring manufacturing back not just onshore but to your home today.
Among the food preservation techniques dehydration has to be one of the easiest, and that alone should merit it’s incorporation into your household, and the dehydrators sold by Harbor Freight offer a reasonable entry point to do just that.
I’ll say right now – these five tray units run about $20 when coupons and the frequent specials get figured in. That’s cheap. Now the current models aren’t anything fancy – just basically a 125 Watt heating element in the bottom, five plastic trays and a top. The previous model which featured a fan and a turntable type setup for the trays was about the same price, but in my experience does and equally OK job.
Current HF dehydrator, and previous model (L & R)
Now, it appears some folks have received units that overheated pretty much at startup. I’ve never had that happen but you’d probably do well to start it up for the first time during a period where you could observe it and if problems happen bring it back and swap it for another one. The other issue has to do with the durability of the trays. To be sure these trays are fragile – you have to treat them carefully or they will break. BUT, this is a $20 dehydrator. Spend five times as much and you can get the bottom of the line Excalabur… or you can build one easily enough, but even that approach is likely to run you more than $20 not factoring in your time.
I have a really big homebuild dehydrator – but it only really gets called out when we’re in prime harvest season. Otherwise one or both of my Harbor Freight dehydrators are going to be doing the work for me. During the summer that is often drying tomatoes or zucchini for fall soups and dressings. In the fall and winter more often than not they are drying apple slices we’ve peeled, sliced and frozen or making apple leather from some of the apple sauce we’ve put down. It doesn’t take much time to pay off the $20 investment when you are making dried fruit.
So if you don’t have a dehydrator or want another one consider the Harbor Freight units – they aren’t fancy, they aren’t really solid but the price factor means they possess significant value.
Try these and it will forever ruin your experience with donut shop fritters, they are awesome. Now, they aren’t quite as easy as just tossing the ingredients for bread into the bread machine and walking away, but if you have a handle on the processing steps they don’t take that much more time and the result at the end of the process is well worth it.
Start by making the whole wheat dough. This is a rich sweet dough that is oh so sticky. As such it’s best mixed in a stand mixer or in the bread machine on the dough cycle.
Apple fritter filing
While the dough is going through the cycle – which takes about an hour and a half – prepare your apple filling. If you can choose apples with a crisp firm flesh – those hold together best – but I find I’m often grabbing bags of softer fleshed apples we’ve gleaned and put down. Irrespective of the type of apple don’t cook them into a mush – you just want to soften them and get them to absorb some of the cinnamon caramel greatness.
When rolling out the dough make sure your work surface is well floured to keep the dough from sticking. Roll the dough out into a rectangle about 1/2″ thick, and then put the apple mixture on one half and fold the other segment over the filling.
Cut up dough and filling ready for forming
Now, in order to get that structure of dough and apple that fritters are known for you need to chop the material up cut on the diagonal about 3/4″ apart, and then cut the opposite diagonal in the other direction. Then take a scoop of the cut up dough and apple mix and firm it into a solid ball about 1″ thick.
Allow the fritters to double in bulk and then fry them up. When they are still warm dip one side in the glaze you can make up while the fritters are rising.
My favorite glaze is made using my homemade apple cider syrup which really punches up the apple flavor, but maple syrup or vanilla are also great options.
I like cast iron cookware. The large cast iron frying pan that I use so much it usually just sits on the stove rather than getting tucked into one of the cupboards dates back to my grandmother and was produced in a foundry not far from here that is long gone. Unless it gets thrown out it will be just as useful for one of my grandkids – now that’s longevity. But a large part of why we see cast iron cookware stay around is because it isn’t just durable but functional. That same large frypan is so well seasoned I have no problem baking thin crepes and can tell when the crepe is ready to flip by picking up the pan and tilting it – the crepe is ready when it starts sliding on the bottom of the pan. You aren’t going to get a surface that slippery with stainless, and I doubt those fancy surface coatings like Teflon will be durable enough to last a decade let alone my lifetime.
Texsport Waffle Iron
So it’s into that matrix that the Texsport Waffle Iron enters into the mix. Unlike the Teflon coated electric waffle irons this one will last generations. Now is it good enough that your grandkids will list it among the things they want from your estate? Yes – if you get it right.
The first part of getting the use of this waffle iron right is making sure it stays well seasoned. A little oil goes a long way to building and maintaining that surface. Unlike cast iron frypans and griddles the projections on a waffle iron make it very unforgiving if not properly seasoned – there is no cheating possible.
Whole grain waffles with barley flour
The other part of getting it right is making sure that you don’t treat this unit as if it is solidly held together. Both sides of the iron come apart and the ring that hold the iron is free too. When you flip the iron from one side to the other you need to hold the ring steady – I just use the dishtowel that usually hangs on my oven door since the ring does get hot. You also need to hold onto the upper half of the iron when you open it up to put in the batter or to remove the waffle – don’t get lulled into thinking that you can lean it back and have it stay in place – it won’t.
In terms of what cooktops it works with – it works with induction tops, with resistance tops and I’ve even used it on propane camp stoves.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely for less than $50 it’s a great buy, even if it only lasts five generations that’s still only $10 per generation – so pick one up and fancy up your breakfasts while acquiring a future heirloom. Check this out for a great whole grain waffle recipe.
I’ve always liked hanging laundry out to dry – sure it’s a bit more work than tossing them in the dryer but it’s cheaper, the clothes last longer and they smell better.
When I moved into my current home a number of years ago there was no outside clothesline. When I started examining the options I quickly dismissed both the long line and the square lines that sit in the middle of the lawn as too intrusive. Instead I wanted a clothesline that could be bolted to the side of my garage and folded out of the way when not needed.
Folding Clothesline stowed flat
Now there does exist such a creature – a few models in fact – but all of them are rather pricey and some looked downright delicate. Delicate is a definite non-starter here, I wanted to be able to load it up with a few loads of laundry without worrying about the potential for collapse.
So, instead of buying I build and installed an alternative in an afternoon from materials I had on hand. Over the past seven years it has served exceptionally well – especially considering its low cost and the little time needed to fabricate and install it.
The heart of the unit is a frame made from 1 1/2″ angle iron – in this case the material is actually from bedframes that folks have tossed out. The frame is made up of two segments 7′ long and another two segments 3′ long. The two three foot segments form the sides of the frame while one 7′ segment forms one end, and the other 7′ segment forms the other end – but is inset 4″ from the end of the 3′ sides. Welding the frame together is a quick and easy matter.
Measurement along the side of the frame for the folding clothesline
This frame is bolted at one end to the portions of the assembly that are bolted to the house. These were made from some 3″ alumimum angle – but steel material could just as easily suffice. If you have only narrower material that will work just fine, but you’ll want to install a wood spacer behind it to allow the clothes frame to pivot freely rather than bind against the house.
In my case I fixed 2×6 members to the wall since my studs didn’t line up with the spots for the placement of the fixed pieces.
You’ll need to loosely bolt the clothesline frame to the piece of angle that will be fixed to the house. Another bolt or block needs to be secured at the lower end of the fixed piece of angle to hold up the free end of the arm that is bolted to the far end of the frame.
Fixed portion of the folding clothesline
In my case this arm is 39 3/4″ long, but frankly this was established with all the other pieces in place and measuring the length of member needed to hold the frame level.
When everything is ready drill holes 4″ apart on the sides of the frame. Then bolt everything in place and paint any steel pieces to protect against rust. My preferred paint in this application is aluminum anti-rust paint. It will last for several years and does a really effective job while also being cheap.
When the paint is dry thread your clothesline through the holes and get ready to hang your first load of laundry out.
If you don’t have a welder you can use angle iron to bolt the frame together, but if you look at the price of buying a commercial folding clothes line compared to the price of a wire feed welder from a place like Harbor Freight or Princess Auto it will become clear quickly that you can pay for the welder and needed safety kit on the basis of this project alone – and wire feed welders are exceptionally easy to use so don’t let that dissuade you. After this project I am sure you’ll start envisioning more potential projects for your new-found skills around your home or homestead.
I’ll jump right to the chase and piss of a bunch of folks – Nope. Now for the good reasons to back that statement up.
Widemouth mason jar with a metal lid contrasted with a regular mouth jars with tattler lids
The price premium is significant – in Canada at least wide mouth mason’s cost nearly double what a regular mouth generic mason jar would run. The latter at this time are going for just under eight and nine dollars a dozen for half and full liter sizes at the local Walmart. Widemouth jars for the same sizes run thirteen and fifteen dollars.
So, cost is one factor, but more important to me is logistics. I do a lot of preserving, and I like having loads of standard sized jars. For me that means half and one liter sized golden harvest regular mouth mason jars and loads of the same size of tattler lids and gaskets.
That means when I get working I don’t have to fool around with an assortment of jar sizes or look to match lids and rings to jars – it might seem like not such a bid deal, but when you do a lot of canning it can add up to frustration that you could otherwise avoid.
Canned salmon and lactic pickles work just fine in regular mouth mason jars
The other factor at play here is that I’ve never found wide mouth jars to be a really significant advantage. Usually they would find more use with canned fish and meats, but I’ve always found regular mouth mason jars to be just fine – though I do make an exception to my focus on standardizing on half and full liter jars to include 250ml regualr mouth jars for canning up salmon as I find this to be the perfect size. My other canned meats and stock work just fine in the larger regular mouth masons.
The other area in which wide mouth masons seem to dominate is pickles, but here I actually prefer regular mouth masons for reasons beyond logistics and cost. The majority of my pickles are made using lactic fermentation – which requires you to keep the material submerged in the brine. I can fill a regular mouth mason with the spices, garlic, grape leaves and pickling cucumbers or zuchinni slices and then wedge in another cucumber just below the narrow neck of the regular mouth jar. When the brine is added to halfway up the jar neck this keeps all of the material submerged, allowing me to ferment the pickles right in the jars. Note, while I use tattler lids for these I don’t fasten them down tightly so that they can vent the fermentation gasses – you don’t want your pickle jars blowing up.
I really enjoy preserving the bounty around us – and while it can be a significant amount of work a few techniques such as standardizing jar sizes can make processing days much easier.
There is just something special about this jam – capturing that rich summer flavor with the hint of spice that melds so nicely with the sweet peach. It is the next best thing to biting into a perfectly ripe summer peach – with the advantage you can enjoy it year round.
I often find peaches come on sale for a crazy low price towards the end of the season. They arrive in store as hard as baseballs but in a day or two they will have all softened up with some even skipped juicy and gone straight to rotting. Toss those ones into the compost pile and get ready to work like crazy to process the remainder.
Homemade Pectin for jam making
As jam is able to be processed in a boiling water bath you aren’t going to need expensive kit to put this bounty away, a rack that can fit in the bottom of a pot deep enough to submerge your resealable jars and a canning jar gripper will suffice – but you won’t regret spending a few extra dollars to pick up a canning funnel at the same time. The latter will cut down on mess and by helping to keep the rim of the jar clean will reduce the incidences of failure to seal.
Mason Jars of Peach Jam
The first step is to remove the skins of the peaches – I like to put the peach in a pot of boiling water, then using a slotted spoon remove it and put it in cold water for a few seconds to cool. Get the timing right and with a slit from a paring knife the skin will be quickly removed, and you can cut the now skinless peach into slices.
Since I usually have a lot of peaches to peel, I tend to peel them into a diluted lemon juice solution before removing them to either start processing right away or if time is limiting for refrigeration to process the next day.
Deli meat – that is thinly sliced cooked meats are rather expensive. Now some of those meat products are processed to a considerable degree and often loaded with lots of preservatives, but others are fairly standard meats.
Home deli slicer pays for itself
Now it appears based on the price that a lot of folks hold the act of slicing big hunks of meat into thin slices with a significant level of reverence because they are certainly willing to pay a lot for the conversion. Compare the price of whole turkey – often on sale for less than a dollar a pound to deli sliced turkey breast, or roast beef, or even ham… wow. On a per minute basis the deli slicer dude is probably creating more value that a brain or cardiac surgeon. .
But today I come today bearing great news – you too can become a man or woman or even a child capable of engaging in this magical and lucrative transformation from big meat chunk worth comparatively little to thin meat slice worth great riches, and it can all be done for about a hundred dollars in investment and without more than a half dozen years of education.
Ok, now seriously a home deli meat slicer is a great buy. I have a kitchener brand unit from Princess Auto – I purchased it for less than a hundred dollars on sale and it’s served me well for a number of years now, more that recouping its cost in savings. It definitely isn’t industrial quality but it’s more than adequate for home use – even significant home use.
Packaging sliced meat in butcher paper in preparation for freezing
I usually find I pull out the deli slicer about four or five times a year to cut up significant quantities of meat that has come on deep discount. For instance I just cut up five big black forest hams that were on sale for about two dollars a pound. When the stores run their Christmas and Thanksgiving promos offering turkeys for silly prices, last year the lowest they went was 77 cent per pound I will buy up a bunch. I’ll cook them, cool them off and then cut off and slice the breasts for lunch meat – use the rest for a meal or two but more or less toss a meaty carcass into my big pots and boil them for a few hours, and then once cooled I’ll pick the meat off the bones, cut it up into smaller chunks and pressure can some hearty turkey soup base. The same thing goes for roast beef though even on sale it usually is pricier than turkey.
The sliced meat gets divided up into portions that cover the needs of about a week, are wrapped in good butcher paper and frozen. Getting pulled out a few hours or the night before sandwiches need to be made in order to thaw, with the remainder getting stored in the fridge.
Now, I’m not going to knock the fact that it’s nice to have thinly sliced deli meats – but seriously you can pay for the deli slicer very quickly – probably on your first slicing venture if you pick it and the meat up on sale.
The amount of work and time it takes to prepare, slice and package the meat isn’t all that huge, but the savings certainly are significant. The time required to do the work is also less pronounced when you start to realize that with a deep larder you needn’t run out to do last minute shopping which saves time in addition to money.
Now, the real pain is the cleaning of the unit – it involves unscrewing the machine screws that hold the blade in place – on my model anyway. It isn’t complex or involved just not as easy as might be necessary. This is part of the reason that I tend to do bulk runs of meat slicing – because the time needed to clean the machine is fixed irrespective of if I slice one small ham or six large ones.
So if you use deli meats in your household consider getting a deli slicer and putting the earnings from the magical task of slicing thin in your own pocket.