Sunday, April 26, 2009

Farm Baking

It is still too wet here to start work in the vegetable garden and we often
have cold and rainy spring days. This is a good time to work indoors in the
kitchen. Baking is very much appreciated by all of us! Biscuits and pies are
favourites in our kitchen, so I am going to cover the basics of both here.


Biscuits are quick and easy to do. We especially like them made with either sour dough or sour cream. Both are acceptable. You can add sour dough to a biscuit mix to make stunning biscuits, which we will do in a pinch, but we usually make them from scratch. (I say "we" here because we both bake and cook in the kitchen. The man of the house is a better cook than the woman in our home.)

For those of you who do not keep sour dough on hand, I have also included the sour cream recipe and instructions. We like them both equally but don't always have sour dough on hand or remember to feed it after use, which restricts the amount that is ready for baking. These recipes are made with basic white flour, not self rising or whole wheat.

Directions are the same for both recipes and are listed below.

Sour Cream Biscuits

Bake in 425F preheated oven for 15-18 minutes, depending on size of biscuit.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk

Sour Dough Biscuits

Bake in preheated 375F oven for 15-20 mins, depending on size of biscuit.

1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup shortening
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sourdough

Directions for Sourdough and Sour Cream biscuits:

Please use a dish with a light coloured bottom. These recipes are for using a glass dish which usually prevents dark bottoms on biscuits and cookies.

Mix together all dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, sugar, cream of tartar and salt until well blended. Cut in the shortening. This is not pastry so you can cut it in until it is well mixed. Add wet ingredients called for in recipe of choice (milk, sour cream, sour dough) to make a very sticky, wet dough. You will use a lot of flour on the rolling surface and on your hands and utensils but it is worth it. Moisture is very important to make moist biscuits.

Flour a flat, clean surface with a layer of flour. Dump out the dough onto the floured surface. Liberally flour your hands and gently shape the pile of dough into a cohesive lump. Do not use a rolling pin. This dough is very soft and easily shaped with your floured hands. You will need to add more flour to your hands from time to time. Flatten the lump of dough until it is about 1" thick and shape it into a square with fairly straight sides and corners. Flour a sharp knife and cut into 2" squares. You will need to continuously add more flour to the knife to keep it from sticking to the dough, probably a few times just cutting one line.

Squares are much more practical than circles. You don't need a glass or cutter to make squares, so you have one less dish to wash. Also, when making round biscuits, the leftover dough will need to be reworked slightly and flattened again, making those last few biscuits tougher and dryer.

Grease a glass dish. It is important to use a glass dish when baking biscuits and cookies to prevent the "dark bottom syndrome". I know I have said this already, but it is important. Gently lift the biscuits and add them to the greased, glass dish, separating them by at least 1". These will flatten and spread a bit in the pan, so make sure they are taller than you want the baked biscuits to be, shaping more with your hands as you add them to the pan. Add a tiny piece of butter to the top of each biscuit. Bake in a preheated oven for about 15-18 mins. Take them out when the top is lightly browned. If the biscuits are the usual size, the inside will be done. If you have made them very large, you may need to bake a bit longer.

Make sure you are familiar with your oven. Most electric ovens get hotter with wear and your oven may not be baking at the desired temperature. If you are unsure, put an oven thermometer inside the oven when it is preheated to see what the temperature inside the oven is, and adjust the baking temperature accordingly.

(Yes, I know. That's a Christmas tablecloth still on my table in April. Quit laughing! Some of us are busy, you know...)

Sour Dough Starter

1 package active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup water. Stir in remaining 2 cups water, flour and
sugar. Let stand at room temperature until bubbly, stirring 2-3 times per day.
Keep in lidded container in refrigerator. Feed after use: 1 cup flour, 1 cup
milk, 1/4 cup sugar and stir. Leave overnight before sing again.


This is an unusual pastry recipe. I have never talked with anyone who uses a
recipe like this one. It is an "easy, no-fail" pastry recipe. It makes 5-6 single pastries, so we freeze some in single pastry balls.

If you heat one of these frozen balls in the microwave on high, forgetting to put it on a lower level to thaw, it will melt into a liquid. If you then put it back into the fridge until it is firm and roll it out to use as regular pastry, it will have "failed" and will be tough and unusable. ("How do I know this?" you ask. Well, uh, hmmmm. I just do and that's all I'm saying!)

Pastry Recipe:

5 cups flour
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lb lard or shortening
1 egg
1 tablespoon vinegar
3/4 cup milk, approximately

In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients together until well blended. Cut in fat with pastry blender, leaving it fairly rough and not totally mixed, sort of like baby peas in flour.

In a measuring cup mix together vinegar, egg and add enough milk to make 1 cup of liquid. Add wet ingredients slowly to dry ones, stirring as gently and as little as possible. It is these tiny, unmixed pieces of fat that make the flakes in the baked pastry, so you want to keep them intact and not make it any smoother than you have to while working it and rolling it out. It will take a bit of work with floured hands to get it into a cohesive dough that can be rolled. Do not add more liquid, just take the time to gently knead it with your hands until it is blended enough. It will form a good dough when mixed enough. Do not use a food processor for this or you will end up with hard bread, not pastry.

Divide this dough into five equal balls. Use one ball for one pastry. If making a pie with a pastry top, use another pastry ball for the top. Keep the trimmings, as the trimmings from all five balls should make a good sixth pastry, if gently handled. If you want to do this, don't use the left over pastry for little turnovers filled with jam. Put each ball into a small freezer bag and freeze until needed. Take out the day before to thaw. Keep refrigerated until needed. (Microwave thawing is not recommended as it is too uneven.)

Heavily flour a flat surface for rolling. This is not a cake. You can mix as much flour into it as you need to and it won't affect the outcome. Pastry is meant to be dry. So use a lot of flour and it won't stick to the rolling surface. Another trick to keep it from sticking while you roll it is to keep it moving. Turn the circle continuously while also adding more flour underneath as needed. If you are rolling and it feels like it might be starting to stick in one area, gently lift that corner, add more flour and turn the dough to spread out the flour under it.

If the dough starts to crack while rolling it, roll it in the other direction, leaving that crack on the outside edge. Watch the dough carefully while rolling to prevent large uneven cracks and keep it turning. When you have a ball rolled out that is the right size for your pie tin, roll it up onto the rolling pin. Lift pin and dough onto the pie tin and unroll in place. Trim edges around outside of pie tin, with about 1/2" left over outside edge. When the top pastry is added, fold this extra edge over the top and seal with water and a fork.

This pastry can also be used for turnovers, apple dumplings, etc. etc. It's just very good pastry.

Fruit And Berry Pie Filling:

Measure how much your pie tin will hold by filling it with water and pouring that water into a easuring cup. Most 9" pie plates will hold about 4 cups of filling.

Wash, peel, core, pit, seed, chop and generally prepare fruit and berries as you would for pie. Make enough berries to fill your pie tin, measured as above. Add from 4-8 tablespoons of flour depending on how watery this particular cooked fruit/berry usually is. Add 1-2 cups of sugar depending on the tartness of this fruit/berry and how tart you like your pies. (Any type of berry will usually need the full 2 cups.) Stir together in pot on stove and bring to a boil before adding to
pastry. Do you often find that you have to overcook the pastry to get the filling completely done? This step will avoid that. You can even cook it halfway before putting it in the pastry. Don't add cold filling to a pastry shell and expect it to cook before the pastry burns.

If you are pre-baking the pastry shell for a custard type filling, bake it full of dried peas to keep it from losing shape in the oven.

Optional ingredients:

- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon - always add this to apple pies.
- REAL butter in small bits under top pastry (Please people, use real butter here. It's PIE, after all. What's a few more calories...)
- Small amount of sweetened, condensed milk for creaminess or REAL cream (see
"butter" above.)
- Nuts or shelled sunflower seeds
- Raisins - good with apples and nuts
- Pineapple (What goes well with Pineapple?)

I think a pie made with a mix of cherries and blueberries, with chopped walnuts would be Heavenly! Why don't people put nuts in pies? Or chocolate chips. What's wrong with chocolate chips in a fruit pie? You can just add them on top under the crust, after you put in the hot filling. They would certainly go well baked with bananas. Has anyone ever made a hot banana pie - probably not. Hot fudge pie is certainly delicious, as is butterscotch pie!

Saturday, April 4, 2009


With the onset of spring, comes renewed hope for the future year. This is the time to bring out the seeds we have harvested from our own land, as well as the seed we purchased, traded for and actively sought after. It is a time to decide what to plant and where; and to generally plan for the season to come. Spring is an exciting time for us, with great expectations for the new growing season upon us!

Many of our seeds need to be planted early indoors, as our growing season is somewhat short and we like to grow many things from warmer climates. To this end we have installed a cold frame. This will be our first year to use it and we plan to fill it to the brim with early seedlings. We have already started planting many seeds for germination in the seed window which faces south and has a large sill with shelves.

While we do use small commercial peat pots, when we have them, I have begun to make my own using newspaper. It's so easy, free and it breaksdown in the soil so the roots can grow through. This means no transplanting is necessary. Just plop the newspaper pot into the ground or a larger pot, fill with soil and water.

I wrap a piece of newspaper, cut to the right size, around a pill bottle so that both sides overlap a bit, and tape it. I use a tiny piece of paper masking tape to hold it in place at the top and bottom of the side. I don't put tape on the bottom of the pot as it is folded over and I want the roots to have the freedom to grow through. I like the paper pots because you can jam more of them into a space, since their shape can be somewhat warped and they can be forced to fit. Here are several placed in a clear plastic cookie container from the grocery store. The lid will be closed until they sprout then propped open for air flow, or removed altogether. These containers are marvelous for winter sowing of seeds needing winter stratification outdoors, as well.

Some seeds will need special treatment before being planted in the soil, such as the winter temperatures mentioned above. These canna seeds must have the seed coat removed in one tiny spot before planting, so the water can enter. I had to use the drill with a rasp to thin the seed coat on these babies! These are very hard seeds! I also soak them for a few days in warm water to start them off. This makes for a much quicker germination than direct planting. Many other seeds need special treatment.

Some need the seed coat nicked or thinned, some need just soaking in warm water, some need winter freezing temps. These we either put in the freezer or winter sow in containers outside on the deck. There are a few, such as strawberry and impatiens seeds, that need light to germinate. It is a good idea to know your seed before planting time comes. These seeds have gone through the winter outdoors and should be sprouting soon.

I know gardeners who spread the seeds out between damp papertowels until they sprout. Then they cut them out with the paper towel and plant the whole piece. This way the seeds absorb moisture, swell and germinate before planting, letting you know if they are viable. This is a good practice with old seeds. You can also put them in water for a day to see if they are still viable. The dead seed will float. The ones that sink will likely sprout if given the right treatment.

This is a plastic serving tray rescued and reused as a seed germinator. Recycling is great for the invironment and the pocketbook!

We have already planted many of the early seeds, the hardy ones that can go out into the garden as soon as it is dry enough to walk out there. Most brassicas can be planted directly into the garden as soon as May is here. We have kholrabi and broccoli already up and growing in the seed window, both brassicas. Also in the brassica family are cabbage, brussel sprouts, turnip and rapini. I will be planting brussel sprouts as soon as I get the seeds. (It's a time issue. I have none!) We love young, tender brussel sprouts!

Also recently planted, are the dwarf white and orange canna seeds discussed earlier, candy lilies and 4 O'Clocks, soaking here in water for a few days. I have never grown candy lilies before and I am looking forward to it. Directly seeded just this weekend are garlic chives, red currents, ground cherries and bell peppers of all colours. I have plans to sow the tomatoes, luffahs, ornamental gourds, giant Halloween pumpkins, watermelon and canteloupe tomorrow. I have some seed for special coloured decorative corn that I would like to start early but I don't know if there will be room for it.

Most of these seedlings will go into the cold frame, if it ever gets warm enough for them. (We had more snow this morning.) Our new coldframe, pictured below, has a glass top .

Labelling the seedlings is a bit of a problem. Most ink and marker will be worn away and faded by the rain and sun of the outdoors. I use coloured paper clips from the dollar store to mark groups of pots, or individual pots, then record the colour clip with the type of seed planted in my garden journal. I do use other lables for my plants. Many are made from old horizontal window blinds that I have taken apart and cut into short pieces. Some ends already have a hole in them for tying it to a small shrub branch. I use cut up plastic ice cream containers and cut styrofoam pieces. I like these because the pen leaves an indentation in the styroforam. This indentation remains even if the ink fades and it can still be read in good light with glasses on...and maybe a magnifying glass. I am continuing my search for the perfect marker that will last through the sun and weather without fading. I may try nail polish on wood this year, if I have time.

A garden journal is priceless for those of us with poor memories. I record what I plant, and where, so there are no surprises and no seedlings pulled because I forgot I planted them there and thought they were weeds. I lost an entire package of primrose seedlings like that last year! Darn! (Um, if anyone has primroses to divide, I would love some pieces...) I also do my large garden planning for crop rotation in my journal. I record a list of the seeds that I have to trade, a list of seeds I am looking for, seeds that I have wintersowed, growing tips that I want to remember to use and creative ideas that suddenly come to me. You know...the ones you get in your sleep when you have nothing to write on. When I'm feeling the need to garden in the dead of winter with ten feet of snow and minus 100 temperatures (slight exaggeration) I can always read my garden journal from last year and remember summer. A garden journal is a great tool and a must for anyone with a large garden.

Altogether so far we have planted for the windowsill: bell peppers (yellow, orange, red, green), broccoli, kholrabi, brussel sprouts, garlic chives, red currents, ground cherries, Holloween pumpkins, luffahs, matrimony vine, watermelon, cantaloupe, cannas, 4 O'clocks, incarvillea, candy liles, sage, comfrey and 3 kinds of tomatoes.

Collecting and growing new things from seed is always a great experience! Seedlings don't grow exactly like the parent. Some see this as a drawback but I see it as an adventure. A handfull of seeds is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get!