Fluffy Buckwheat Pancakes

It has been months since I have been able to grab some computer time and write a post. Not because I dont have time here and there, but because my computer died and I just can NOT blog from my phone no matter how “smart” it may be. Not gonna happen.

What do you know about buckwheat? If you’re anything like I was, you know virtually nothing about it. I had tasted it a couple times in my life but that was the extent of it.

Well, fast forward to September of last year, when I started the anti-candida diet. Buckwheat is one of 3 “allowed” grains on the ACD (along with amaranth and quinoa) because it is a very low glycemic index grain and contains a lot of fiber. It is also low in phytic acid and is gluten free!! So, I decided it was time to get introduced to the world of buckwheat.

I had never used buckwheat before starting the ACD, so it took some experimenting and trial and error before I was a fan. At first I found it to be too heavy and grainy and nutty.  However, after a lot of experimentation and tweaking, I created a buckwheat pancake recipe that even people *cough* my siblings *cough* who arent into buckwheat, have been impressed with and BONUS: it includes a bunch of other healthy additions too!

I figured I might as well share it here.

IMG_20130219_174029

Fluffy & Moist Buckwheat Pancakes

 

Before starting I want to mention that I prefer to soak my buckwheat flour before using it. Phytic acid is an antinutrient found in grains and legumes which binds important minerals preventing your body from fully absorbing them. By soaking, sprouting, or souring my grain and flour. I produce phytase which negates the phytic acid, thus allowing the body to absorb more of the nutrients in tthe buckwheat. More info on soaking/sprouting here.
I choose to soak my flour overnight. Before bedtime I put the flour in a bowl and then add the almond milk to that (sometimes I use half almond milk and half water). I then add 1 tbs of lemon juice per cup of flour (so 3 in this case) and let it sit out overnight. The lemon helps to break down the acid. You can also use other things in your soaking bowl, but I had lemon on hand.

A huge benefit that I’ve noticed since soaking the flour, is that the pancakes are even lighter and less dense! Always a good thing!

 So all of that being said, here is the recipe:

  • 3 Cups Buckwheat Flour
  • 3-3.5 Cups Almond Milk (depends on what consistency you like)
  • 1 Large Banana (mash it up before adding)
  • 1 Tsp Baking Soda
  • 2 Lg Eggs
  • 1 Tsp Pink Sea Salt
  • 2 Heaping Tbs Almond Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Melted Coconut Oil
  • 2 Tbs Ground Flax SeedMix all ingredients in a large bowl by hand or with hand mixer until smooth. Heat skillet to medium heat and add a bit of coconut oil or butter to prevent sticking.Top with anything you want! We love almond butter, coconut oil, and maple syrup!

    *Makes 12-15 large pancakes*

    I like to play around with the recipe too – I often add in yogurt or applesauce or even some blueberries or nuts. Lots of options! Let me know if you try this recipe and what you think!

 

Making Coconut Flour

Since embarking on this mostly grain-free diet, I have done some experimenting with different types of flours. I made some almond flour a few weeks ago, and it worked well. I made some almond flour waffles and some very tasty almond bars.
Then one afternoon, I happened a recipe for these gorgeous looking cookies using both almond and coconut flour. I figured I would run to the store and buy some, but at $5.99/lb I thought I better figure out if I could make it instead!  Well, it turns out that its actually pretty easy to make coconut flour and along the way I got some pretty tasty coconut milk out of the deal.

I recently lost my phone. Sadly, the pictures of my coconut flour experiment were on that phone ::sniffle:: So, you will just have to imagine that I have posted, within this blog, some brilliantly composed photography that will make you all want to go and try to make your own coconut flour, ok? Its all about imagination, folks.

  • I began with 2 cups of unsweetened coconut flakes in a large bowl.
    To find unsweetened coconut you will likely have to go online or find a health food store like Whole Foods. Most grocery stores carry only the sweetened coconut flakes.
  • I used a 4:1 ratio of water and coconut.
    So, I poured 8 cups of water into the bowl with the coconut.
  • I allowed the coconut to soak in the water overnight.
    You don’t have to wait that long, but I wanted to give it extra time.
  • In the morning I strained out the water (which was now coconut milk), using my cheesecloth and wire rack.
    So if you want to make coconut milk, just follow the above steps. Super easy! I actually wasnt a huge fan of the taste and consistency of the coconut milk so I used it in baking/cooking rather than for drinking.
  •  After the water had been completely strained out, I spread the soaked coconut onto a baking tin and put it in the oven on 200 degrees F until it was completely dry.
    You could also use a dehydrator if you wanted to. 
  • Once it was dried out, I put it into my chopper (since I dont have a processor) and ground it as finely as possible.
     I tried using my coffee grinder as well but…I killed it in the process. ::moment of silence::
  • I had to grind the coconut in small batches since my chopper is small, but such is life.In the end I had some nice coconut flour and I made those cookies I mentioned above! They were very tasty.

    The truth is, I wish I had something that ground the flour a lot finer. The stuff I made was definitely useable but not as fine as I would have liked.  However, if you have a food processor or a high quality blender, you would probably get some great results.

So there you have it. Making coconut flour is actually a very easy endeavor and it saves a lot of money. If you are looking for a grain free alternative, or just a more delicate flavor in your baked goods, this is worth a shot.

 

Health Benefits of Oil of Oregano

I have always enjoyed oregano. It adds a nice light spicy flavor doesn’t it? Especially to mediterranean dishes like homemade greek pizza! Yum! I have a nice big oregano plant in my herbin garden and was trying to think of a way to harvest and use it.

Then I was diagnosed with Candida and my whole outlook on oregano changed.

Candida Albicans is a type of internal yeast/fingus that is necessary to a healthy digestive system and gut flora. However, when that healthy balance is compromised (whether through a food intolerance, leaky gut issue, or strong medications) candida often gets out of control and takes over the gut and eventually proliferates throughout the body. It can cause numerous health issues and is often left undiscovered for years. See, I started getting this weird rash on my hand and arms. I chalked it up to eczema or some type of allergy.  But after a few months of no progress I knew something internal needed to be dealt with. Through a LOT of reading and research I diagnosed myself with an candida overgrowth.  And yes, I also went to our family doctor for a more professional diagnosis. He confirmed my suspicions. I have 22 out of a possible 34 strains of this stuff! can you say YUCK!?

So, I continued reading and researching. I literally spent hours finding articles, websites, and books on candida, the anti-candida diet, the cause of candida, treating candida…etc etc.   I started taking a number of anti-fungal herbs like garlic, grapefruit seed extract, coconut oil, and caprylic acid. I found some good probiotics and eliminated all diary, starch, grains, and sugars from my diet. Trying to starve out these suckers.

As I researched I kept running into oil of oregano and its healing properties. I found a lot of information on its ability to help rid the body of candida, so naturally I was curious.

Here are some of the health benefits of oil of oregano:

  • Anti Bacterial
  • Anti Viral
  • Anti Fungal
  • Anti Oxidant
  • Anti Inflammatory
  • Anti Parasitic
  • Anti Allergenic
  • Helpful for digestion
  • Aids in balancing hormones in women
  • Can help in healing skin issues such as psoriasis, eczema, and athlete’s foot. Assists the body in fighting the flu and colds. It can be used to treat bacterial infections like E Coli, Giardiasis and food poisoning.
  • Many studies have found that it is a very effective pain killer and many use it to treat migraines and other chronic pain.

Essential oils a.k.a. “oil of ___” have been used medicinally throughout history. Today many people use a variety of essential oils for their cooking, beauty, fragrance and health benefits. Most common essential oils like lavender or eucalyptus are distilled with hot water, steam, and condensation. You can also use ethyl alcohol or a carrier oil to extract the oils.

I decided that this would be a perfect way to use up some of that oregano that was staring me in the face!! It was time for an herbin experiement!

I found a number of recipes online for how to make your own oil of oregano. I decided to use olive oil as my carrier oil because I had it on hand and it seemed simple enough.

Here is the method I used to make my Oil of Oregano, or OoO. :)

  • I picked about 1/2 cup of oregano leaves from my herbin garden. I put it in a little jar so you can see how much I picked. Pretty huh?

Fresh Oregano

  • I then washed the oregano and put it into a large plastic bag. I used a large wooden spoon and my rolling pin to crush and beat the leaves in the bag. Bruising the leaves causes the oil to bleed out a bit.
  • I then warmed some olive oil in a pan of boiling water (not on the stove) until the oil was warmed thoroughly.
  • I poured the warmed oil into the bag with the crushed oregano leaves, mixed it all up together, and then poured it the oregano/oil mix into a small mason jar. I covered the jar and then set it in a cool dark place for 2 weeks to “steep”.

Helping to extract the oils

  • I shook the oil up every 3 days or so just to make sure there was no settling and to peek in on my project.

After 2 weeks I took the jar out and strained the mixture through a cheese cloth. Well actually it was a mesh-like pink favor bag. But that’s beside the point. I poured the oil through the cloth and then squeezed every last ounce of oil from the leaves.

Leaves after oil is strained out

  • I then put the light green oil into a clean jar for use. And there you have it. Oil of Oregano!

    Oil of Oregano, folks!

 

Keep in mind that this stuff is rather potent so its best to take only 2-4 drops per day in a glass of water, juice or another beverage. You can also purchase capsules if you wish. It can also cause skin irritation if used topically (remember this is an extract so its very concentrated) so test a small area of skin before applying to a larger area. If you dont want to make your own Oil of Oregano, but are interested in its many health benefits you can purchase it online here.

**Pregnant women should not take oil of oregano as it is a uterine stimulant. If you are breastfeeding please discuss it with your care provider. Many women have seen a drop in their milk supply from taking Oil of Oregano. **

 

Arnica Montana: duct tape for childhood

I have had a number of people ask me what some of my “go-to” herbal/homeopathic remedies are. And, while I’m no herbal guru, there are a few things in my medicine cabinet that are definitely worth sharing and that have worked for me and my family. I’ll start with arnica montana.

Move over Icy Hot, there’s a new sheriff in town!!

Arnica Montana

I have decided that arnica montana or “ahn gock” as Norah likes to call it, is basically the duct tape of childhood. There have been many occasions where one of my girls will fall and bump their head and I’ll think “oof, that’s gonna leave a mark”. So, like a good herbin mama, I slather on some arnica cream and chances are that there wont be anything to show for that owie by the next day.

 Arnica is a small yellow flower with woody stalks that has been used for medicinal purposes since the 1500′s. The benefits of arnica montana are many. Arnica can be used both internally and externally, in adults or children. Many people find that, when taking arnica internally they have better focus, less anxiety, and gain relief from headaches and abdominal pain. When used topically (or internally), arnica acts as a natural anti-inflammatory, natural anti-biotic, has pain relieving qualities. It also helps prevent bruising by helping to disperse trapped blood and fluid from the site of injury. Arnica should not be used on cuts or open wounds, but is hugely beneficial when used on strains, sprains, bumps, or bruises.

If you have kids, you need this stuff. Not even kidding.

Arnica is also great for sore and strained muscles. I have used it often after a game of soccer or hockey, or when I returned home from a long hike. One study performed in Norway actually showed that marathon runners who applied arnica to their skin before the event felt less pain and muscle stiffness afterwards. When used topically in gel form at 50% concentration, arnica montana was found to have the same effect when compared to a 5% ibuprofen gel for treating the symptoms of hand osteoarthritis.

Some mothers choose to take arnica tablets after giving birth to aid in healing and to lessen swelling and bruising. It is very safe and effective and has no dangerous side effects unless taken in very high quantities. I took arnica after giving birth to Norah and could definitely tell a difference.

our oft used arnica gel

Many commercial anti-inflammatory creams now contain arnica as an active ingredient because…well… because herbs work!!

You can purchase arnica in tablet form or gel/cream form at your local health store or online. It is an inexpensive herbal remedy that you will use at least a couple times per week. I’d say go for it.

Making Almond Milk

Shortly after my youngest daughter was born, we realized that she could not tolerate dairy. Since I was breastfeeding, I choose remove dairy from my diet so as not to upset her little tummy. It was a challenge at first, but I gradually came to enjoy my non diary options and found lots of tasty alternatives to cows milk.

Chocolate almond milk was one of those alternatives. See, I love chocolate almond milk. A lot. I could easily chug a half gallon in a day. My girls love it too, so I often freeze it in little popsicle molds to make healthy fudgesicles. 

Yesterday I went shopping and nearly bought some but, I refrained because, well, its pricey. And wouldn’t you know, as soon as I got home I immediately wished I had a big glass of chocolate almond milk. Cold and refreshing, coupled with a cookie or two maybe? Why oh why didnt I buy it?! Saver’s remorse hit hard.

Thankfully, I have people in my life (Hi, Sara!) who are resourceful and like to say, “hey why don’t you just make your own almond milk?” instead of listening to my whining.

So, I hopped online and found a recipe for chocolate almond milk. Much to my pleasure, I found that making almond milk is actually pretty easy! And it tastes really good, too. Bonus!

Ingredients:

1.5-2 C Raw Almonds (soaked overnight)
4-5 C Water
4 Tbs Organic cocoa powder
4 Tbs raw honey

Directions:

  • Pour raw almonds into a jar and fill with water and soak overnight
  • Pour out the dingy water and rinse the almonds off
  • Put the softened almonds into a blender.
  • Add 4-5 cups of water
  • 4 tablespoons of organic cocoa powder
  • 4-5 tablespoons of organic honey or stevia (or whatever sweetener you might like)
  •  Blend, blend, blend
  • Strain the liquid into another container

And wala, chocolate almond milk!

You can keep this milk in the fridge for about a week. But I doubt it will last through the day at our house ::gulp gulp gulp::

**you can also dehydrate the leftover almond meal in the oven on low for 2-3 hours and use it for baking!**

The Health Benefits of Mullein

If you live in Colorado, chances are that you have seen a mullein plant. They are everywhere! As kids, we used to pluck the long stalks and use them as pretend swords. What I didnt know, was that this plant is a real herbal weapon!! We called the big soft leaves,”indian toilet paper” because…well… it came in handy when there wasnt a bathroom around. TMI? Sorry.

The girls and I were on a walk the other day (looking for rose hips…which I still need more of) and I looked over at the hill side and noticed lots of familiar mullein plants standing tall amidst the folliage and autumn leaves. So, I decided to take the opportunity to harvest some. Plus, I knew the girls would love the soft cozy feel of the leaves. See how nice they are? Just like slipping into flannel sheets at night.

Until recently I didn’t know much about mullein (in fact I didnt even know its formal name for years) other than the fact that my mom used to put warmed drops of mullein oil into our ears when we had earaches. After reading up on the health benefits of mullien, I can honestly say I am pretty impressed with this herbin’ weed. Here are some of the things I have learned about “indian toilet paper” ;) .

  • Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is known by many names and is commonly thought of as a weed and a nuisance by gardeners because it grows just about anywhere and is very hearty (it is even insulated by the hairs on its leaves so it can live beneath the snow during winter).
  • It can grow up to 7 feet tall and, when in bloom, has small yellow flowers at its top.
  • The leaves and flowers can be used medicinally in oils, tinctures, and even topically for burns. The roots are also useful for bladder issues such as incontinence.
  •  Verbascum (Mullein’s latin name) is an expectorant, meaning it is used to expel mucus from the lungs and throat.
  •  It is also a demulcent, which means that it has soothing elements and reduces inflammation.
  • Mullein aids in the promotion of cell growth and repair and assists in pain relief. It is often used to treat earaches and migraines.
  • It contains antiseptic agents and is used for chest ailments including bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, pleurisy and even whooping cough!!All of this from a weed? Yessiree!

The more I learned about the mullein plant, the more I wanted to use this awesome resource. So, I looked up some ideas on what to make and how to use it. I decided to try my hand at some garlic infused mullein oil. I found this recipe and whipped it up in no time. It was seriously so easy. You can also buy mullein oil in almost any health food store or herbal store. I posted the recipe below in case you would like to try it for yourself. Cold season is coming quickly, oft accompanied by the dreaded earache/ear infections.

Mullein and Garlic Ear Oil

Pick 1/4 to 1/2 cup of mullein flowers (I used some of the leaves as well)
Finely chop 3-6 cloves of garlic
Cover both with olive oil in a jar
Place cheesecloth or a similar type of fabric over the top to allow moisture to escape
Allow to infuse for 3-4 days
Once infused strain through the cheesecloth and pour into dropper bottles
Store in the refrigerator for longer life
Usage:
Warm the oil in hot water or leave at room temperature during periods of ear pain
Add 2-3 drops several times a day to ear canal
*Do not use if you have a perforated ear drum or if your ear is already oozing fluid*
God’s garden is so full of useful things, isnt it? I am truly enjoying the adventure of learning about the resources around me and using them in the interest of my family’s health. :)

 

Homemade Whole Wheat Bread

Did you know that, of our 5 senses, smell is the most closely related to memory?
One of the smells that brings back the best memories for me is the glorious fragrance of homemade whole wheat bread. Mmmmm…

My mom used to make bread every week (6 loaves at a time!!) and the smell of her homemade bread would welcome us home after many snowy play days. There was nothing quite walking in the door, pulling off our snow gear, and sitting down to a fresh slice of warm bread slathered in butter. This woman can make some bread!

My amazing mother!

Growing up, I made bread a number of times with my mom. I always told myself that when I had a family I would make our bread every week “just like mom”. Well, for the first couple years of marriage I didnt make bread weekly like I thought I would. Whatever my excuse, I just didnt do it. Well, at the beginning of this year I decided that it was time to suck it up and just DO it!  I wanted to make all of our meals from scratch and I wanted them to be healthy, inexpensive, and fresh. Sure, there is work that goes into it. And planning. And budgeting. But let me tell you something. It is so worth it.

So, here is the recipe that I use every week now. I started out using a my mom’s recipe and then I tried a recipe on allrecipes.com or epicurious.com (I can’t actually remember now). I gradually tweaked things and changed a few ingredients or methods to fit my preferences to fix the issues I had.

Before today I never measured or documented how I make bread, but I decided to take pictures of every step this time.

This bread is easy, tasty, moist, and it rises like a charm. It is also whole wheat, non-GMO, and organic. 3 things that important to us as a family.

(Most of) the ingredients

Ingredients:
3 C Water
1 Tsp honey or sugar
1 Tbs Active Dry Yeast
2 Tbs Olive Oil
4 Tbs Honey
1 Tsp Salt
5-6 Cups Whole Wheat Flour (keep 1/2 cup out for kneading)
A couple dabs of butter
2 loaf pans

 

Directions:

1. In a medium-large bowl, add 3 lukewarm cups of water. This means that its just above your body temperature without being too hot and killing the yeast.
2. Add a teaspoon of honey or sugar and stir into the water (a bit of sugar helps the yeast to proof).

3. Sprinkle a heaping tablespoon of active dry yeast into the water. I use dry active Redstar yeast. Stir the mixture until the yeast is mostly disolved and looks like this.

4. Let the yeast mixture sit for about 5 minutes. This gives the yeast time to proof and activate- it will look more fluffy and bubbly.

5. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 4 tablespoons of raw honey, 1 teaspoon of salt and mix well.

6. Gradually add 5 to 5 1/2 Cups of Whole Wheat Flour. I use a fork to mix the flour in.  Add enough flour that it starts coming away from the sides a bit but is still doughy. Like this.

7. Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm-ish spot for about 45 min (until its doubled in size) I accidentally bumped the bowl before taking this picture, so this was already starting to deflate – you get the idea though, right?

8. Sprinkle about 1/2 Cup of flour onto the dough and mix it in so its not super sticky.

9. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured counter top and begin kneading

10. Knead the bread- sprinkling on flour as you go to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.

 11. Here is a step that I made up to help keep the dough moist and still prevent it from sticking to the counter: I add a dab of butter to my hands or on top of the dough and continue kneading. I alternate kneading with flour and butter a few times until I’m satisfied with the texture and feel of the dough. I usually knead for about 8 minutes and until the dough is no longer sticking to my hands and the counter, but is still moist and soft.

Butter on dough

12. Add a couple of drops of oil to your (cleaned) bowl, and set the dough in the bowl. Then turn the dough over so that the top is oiled and doesnt dry out while it rises.

13. Cover the bowl again and let it rise for about an hour or until its doubled.  Like this.

14. Take the dough out and separate into 2 even parts. Preheat the oven to 350f now so that its ready.

 

15. Flatten out both sections of the dough with a rolling pin or something similar – I used an empty container since I dont have a rolling pin. Then roll the dough up (as if you were rolling a sleeping bag or a tortilla). The reason I flatten and then roll the dough is to prevent any air bubbles from causing holes in the loaves.

16. Place the rolled dough into the pans and let the dough rest for a few minutes (5-10) before putting into the oven.

17. Place in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. The top of the bread should be hard and if you press on the crease (where the top and side meet) it wont give way. Then, 5 minutes before you take the bread out, brush on a tad of olive oil or butter to help it darken up a bit without getting too hard. Its really just to make it look pretty :)

18. When its ready, take the bread out of the oven, place on the counter, and let cool for a minute or two. I then use a rubber spatula to make sure all 4 sides are loosened from the pan before tipping it out.

19. Tip the bread out of the pan and lay it on its side or on a cooling rack for a bit.

20. DIG IN AND ENJOY!!

Top with butter, jam, peanut butter, honey, vegemite….whatever your heart desires. And watch out because this stuff disappears FAST!

Mark, enjoying some fresh bread.

Let me know if you try this recipe and how it turns out! Or if you have another recipe you love- I’d love to try it!

 

Quinoa: Packing a Protein Punch

Its a meal, its a snack, its quinoa!

Quinoa still on the stalks – beautiful isnt it?

When I was pregnant with my second daughter, my midwife talked a lot about eating a healthy diet and emphasized protein as an important part of every meal.

Diets that are high in protein have been proven to help a pregnant mothers avoid pre-eclampsia, lessens the chance of preterm birth, and it helps keep one’s energy levels up, so I was all for it!

Since I’m not a huge fan of meat, she suggested that I try adding quinoa into my diet. Quinoa is a grain-like crop that is grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is gluten free and contains 8 grams of protein in a 1 cup serving. It is light, fluffy, easy to make, can be eaten alone or added into foods. The kids love it, its healthy, and BONUS – its not very expensive!

As soon as I tried quinoa, I was a convert.

Even after I gave birth, I remained a huge fan of quinoa. One of my favorite quinoa dishes is this awesome mediterranean quinoa salad. I love to bring a big bowl of it to picnics or whip up a batch for a weekend get-together.

If you want some other ideas for how to use quinoa, check out my pinterest board. I have pinned a number of fun recipes. Like the curried quinoa pictured below.

Curried Quinoa – Yum!

Another quinoa-based meal that I recently discovered, and has become a staple in our home, is the “mini quinoa egg quiche”. That’s probably not the real name, but since I kinda just make it up as I go that’s what I call it. My friend Beth introduced me to the concept, and I love it!! I dont have a picture for you because we gobbled them up too quickly. But if you make some and send me a picture, I’ll put it in here!!

Ingredients:

Heat oven to 350

In a large bowl, combine:

  • 1 Cup cooked quinoa (you can also soak quinoa overnight so it sprouts)
  • 1/3 C milk (optional)
  • 6-7 Eggs
  • 1/2 Cup chopped spinach
  • 1/4 Cup salsa
  • 1/2 Cup grated cheese
  • 1/3 C corn
  • 1/3 C black beans
  • A sprinkle of salt and pepper
Mix all of the ingredients together and then scoop into a muffin tin.
Bake in the oven for about 15-18 min or until you can press the top and it springs back. Nice and spongy-like.
Let them cool a bit so your don’t scald your tongue. Then top with some salsa and enjoy!
The nice thing about this recipe is that you can play around with it and add other ingredients while still using the quinoa/egg as a base. You could easily add bacon or sausage for a breakfast version. Feta and tomato for a greek version. Peppers, onions, and chicken or beef for a dinner version. Anything goes. You can also make a double batch and freeze some to warm up at a later date. Easy peasy. 
If you’ve never tried quinoa, now is the time! If you are already a quinoa fan, these recipes are sure to give you some more fun ways to add it to your meals.
Happy Eating! 

 

Making and Canning Elderberry Syrup

More Elderberries!!

Just a short time ago, I wrote a blog post about making elderberry tincture. Near the end of the post, I suggested that elderberry syrup is much more palatable and is a great way to boost the immune system – especially for kiddos. A couple of weeks after our tincture extravaganza we were on yet another walk. Once again, we happened upon a boat load of ripe elderberries. Hooray!

Ripe elderberries, still on the umbrels

These bushes were actually the same ones we had harvested from previously, but since we were harvesting later, the berries were even more ripe! As soon as I saw the masses of berries I began to picture little jars of elderberry syrup sitting on my kitchen counter. With cute little labels on them. Awwww.

Here is how I went about making and canning elderberry syrup. 

1.) Harvest and Separate Berries
Our second batch of berries was much easier to de-stem than the previous batch because they were more ripe. It only took an hour or two this time, instead of 5 hours. Whew! If you want some info on how to properly take the berries off the umbrels, you can find out here on my previous elderberry post.  Here is what the berries look like after they are separated and de-stemmed.

2.) Boil
Once the berries were separated, I poured them into a large stock pot (I actually used 2 pots because I had so many berries). I then covered the berries with water. Not a lot of water, just about an inch above the berry line. The goal is to add water without diluting the berry juice too much. As you can see in the picture above- there were still some bits and pieces of stems left in the pot, but any leftover stems or flowers will rise to the top once you add the water, so you can spoon them out. I then reached in and squished the berries up by hand. You dont have to do that- I just felt like it.  :) Anyway, I then turned the stove on and brought the water/berries to a boil. After removing my hand of course.

3.) Simmer
Once the berry mixture is boiling, let it simmer gently for 25 minutes or so. This will help to soften the skin of the berries and extract the glorious purple juice within.

This is how the berries looked after I squished them up a bit, just before being boiled.

4.) Strain
After the berries have simmered, strain the elderberry juice into a large container. We are not going to use the berries in our syrup, so the goal here is to get as much juice out of the berries as possible and leave behind the skins and seeds etc. Here is the contraption I came up with. Costa Rican coffee maker + organic cotton bag = great straining device!

Pour the berry juice through a sieve or cheese cloth to catch all the juice

Another good way to strain the juice out,  it is to lay a clean cotton cloth over a colander and pour it through. This will allow all the juice to be used but none of the other debris will make it through. After all the juice has been poured out, I would recommend you put all of the berries into a cheese cloth or a mesh bag, and squeeze the life out of them. Milk those babies for all their worth!!

The berries, after being squeezed to death. (and Norah’s hand)

5.) Add Ingredients
I then added approximately 48 ounces of honey to the juice. I had about 2.5  gallons of elderberry syrup and I basically did it to taste. I have a tendency to ignore recipes and just do my thing. But I tried to stick to a method this time. Tried. I also added 4 cinnamon sticks to the mix because cinnamon is just amazing and is also a great cold killer.

6.) Re-boil the syrup
Once I got every ounce of juice out of the berries, I poured the elderberry syrup back into the large pot to boil again for a short time. As you can see, I am by no means an expert pourer. Sadly, I spilled a couple of ounces during the transfer. Sad day.

No use crying over spilled milk- but ederberry syrup? That’s a different story *sob*

So, after I dried my tears and cleaned up the mess, I then re-boiled the syrup.

Look at that beautiful purple syrup!! Mmmmm

6.) Prepare Jars
While the syrup was heating up again, I prepared my canning jars. The jars need to be sterilized so that all bacteria is dead. For long term storage, this is a vital step. Its actually important even if you plan to use your syrup within the week. Just better all around. You dont want a bunch of nasty bugs getting into that liquid gold. I also sanitized the lids by pouring boiling water over them.

7.) Distribute
Once the jars are clean and the syrup has boiled for a few minutes, I let it cool for a bit and then poured it into the jars and put the lids on.

If you dont wish to can/preserve your syrup, you can stop reading here. The following steps detail how to can the jars for long term storage. If you plan to use the syrup within a month or so, you can keep it in the fridge and take it daily or as needed. Skip to the bottom for some suggestions on use and dosage.

8.) Canning
We choose to preserve our syrup.  #1 We cant see ourselves using 2.5 gallons of elderberry syrup within 3 month’s time (3 months is about as long as you can keep elderberry syrup on the shelf/in the fridge). #2. We want to be able to give it away to friends without a “use by date” printed on the label. We dont have a pressure canner. In fact, all I have is a huge stock pot and some jars. Guess what? It works! Simple, affordable, and fun!

Here is how to use a water bath canning method for your syrup:

  • Fill a stock pot halfway with water
  • Once the water is heated add the filled jars
  • The jars need to be separated with a wire rack like this. Or with random objects you find in your kitchen. Like we did.
  • Add more water until the water level is about an inch above the top of the jars
  • Bring the water to a boil
  • Allow the jars to boil for 20-35 (the amount of time depends on the size of the jars and your current altitude.) Here is a chart that details the various boiling times.
  •  Remove the jars from the water. Most people like to use these handy dandy jar grabbers if they dont have a rack, but since I dont have either, we just tipped some water out and grabbed the jars with a pot holder. Only a few minor burns were sustained :) Kidding. We are fine.
  • Let the jars cool and check the seals before storing
  • Store in a cool dry place and use as needed.Here is the fruit (literally) of our labor! *sigh* Looks good, eh?

    Tada!!! 21 jars of canned elderberry syrup! Ain’t she a beaut?

If you dont have elderberries, or dont feel like buying any and making your own syrup- you can also buy elderberry syrup online. It’s pricey, but boy does it work!! Kicks those germs right out. Not to mention the other benefits that I mentioned in my tincture post.

Here are some great ways to use your elderberry syrup:

*For adults: Take 1 tablespoon per day, or 3 per day if you feel a cold/flu coming on.
*For kiddos: Take 2 teaspoons per day, or 2 tablespoons if you feel a cold/flu coming on.
*In homemade yogurt as a sweetener and an extra immune boost
*In carbonated water- the girls love it! Just add a couple of tablespoons to a glass of seltzer water. It makes a wonderful and healthy “soda” as a treat for the kiddos
*Pour over pancakes, baked oatmeal, or in tea instead of honey
* Drizzle over ice cream
*Use as a sweetener in baked goods

What would YOU do with elderberry syrup??

Picking Wild Apples: Fun with Foraging

Orchards in the Wild

Oodles of Apples!!! 75 pounds to be exact.

If you had asked me last year, or even last month, whether there were a lot of fruit trees in the area, I would have laughed and said, “No, not much grows around here”.  I would have been wrong. At the beginning of the summer, Mark and I were talking about foraging and using the resources around us. We decided that our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to explore the land a bit, look for edibles (herbs, fruit, veggies) and then do something with them. You know, living off the land type stuff! We are going all pioneer-ish on you. Well, all I have to say about that is: seek and you shall find!!! In the last month alone, we have stumbled upon more than 15 wild apple trees, countless crab apple trees, a few pear and plum trees, and at least 10 elderberry bushes – all while exploring and having fun! So, we have gotten busy picking wild apples and eating, canning, and baking with them too. We still have about 50 pounds of apples sitting in the kitchen ready for peeling too. Oy. Now, let me be honest. I have never been the canning type. More specifically, I have never even tried to be the canning type. I’m all for homesteading, preserving, storing, and being resourceful (I even have a cute little apron!), but I have just never gotten into canning. Until this week. See, here’s the thing. When you pick 75 pounds of wild apples, like we did, you have a choice. You can either pick them and let them sit in the bags and look pretty or you can make use of them. If you decide to use them, like we did, its time to get out the knife sharpener and start peeling, cutting, stewing, cooking, boiling, etc.  After a few hours of work, you end up with a lot of apple-y goodness! Here are some of the tasty treats you can make with your foraged fruits!

  • Apple Sauce *Peel and cut the apples into halves or quarters (depending on the size) put them in the crockpot overnight with a couple inches of water, in the morning when the apples are super mushy you can add some honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg to taste. I didn’t put mine in a blender or anything because I like it chunky, but if you prefer your apple sauce smooth and without chunks you can just throw it in the food processor and blend until it meets your demands :) Easy peasy!

Apples in the crockpot for apple sauce. You can see the big boxes of canning jars in the background :)

  • Stewed Apples *Peel, cut, and boil apples in a couple inches of water. Add a cup or two of sugar (if you’re using a huge pot like we did!) and a couple teaspoons of cinnamon. Boil gently until soft. We boiled for 25 minutes or so because wild apples tend to be a bit green and firm with less water content. Once the apples have softened, let them cool and then eat with custard, in a pie, or with baked oatmeal! Yum! If you want to can/preserve the stewed apples you can follow these directions. Or download this PDF, from the University of Tennessee which details all the ins and outs of canning and preserving.

    All stewed and canned up. We used waterbath canning method and it worked great.

  • Apple Crisp/Pie You can use fresh apples (peeled or peel-less) or you can use stewed apples. Mix the apples with a bit of sugar and cinnamon and a tablespoon of flour. Pour it into the whole wheat crust and then top the apples with some oats and butter mixed together. If you use stewed apples you will have to use more flour in the apple mixture to prevent too much liquid runoff.

    Whole wheat pastry bottom, apple filling, oat topping.

     

  • Spiced Apple Cake *Here is a super yummy recipe for apple cake. I subbed the all-purpose flour with whole wheat and the sugar was raw, but I left everything else the same.*
  • Zucchini Apple Bread *I used this recipe but I substituted the canola oil with 1/2 C. olive oil, and 1/2 C. coconut oil. I also used organic whole wheat flour instead of all purpose, and 3/4 C. raw honey instead of sugar. The end result was 2 moist and delicious loaves of bread. We gobbled them both down in a day!*
  • Raw Apple Juice *We just threw a few in the juicer with some carrots. A tiny bit tart, but tasty!*
  • Apple Butter (coming soon after I peel more apples…)
  • Dried Apples (nutritious snacks without much of a mess)

Here is what I suggest you do. Take a walk down your street- or better yet- go exploring in the woods. I bet you will be surprised at how many edibles you find. And if you dont find any apples or elderberries….dandelions are also edible. Yummy, right? Ha. Foraging is a great way to get out, have some fun as a family, and enjoy the amazing things God has created for us!