Canning Jar Lid Pumpkins

There’s a certain type of person out there that loves the simple things in life.  I am one of them.  Just hearing words like trees, tire swing,  sheep, chickens,  or mason jars immediately brings a sense of peace to my soul.  Since simple things make me happy, it just makes sense to decorate my home with simple, rustic, country decor.  Enter mason jar lid pumpkins!  What more could a girl ask for other than mason jar rings, burlap, and sticks?

My beautiful girls are no longer satisfied with crafts that consist of scissors, glue, paper, and a bit of glitter.  While sometimes we do like to color and make paper crafts, we are sadly past the days of making turkeys from the outline of their hands.  Therefore, this year we decided to make fall crafts that enhance the beauty of our home, rather than cluttering it up (don’t get me wrong, I still have lunch bag pilgrims and other paper decorations they’ve made over the years).   This is how we found a wonderful little project that was quick, easy, and fun.  Here’s a quick and easy tutorial on how to make pumpkins out of canning jar lids.

First, gather your supplies.

Each pumpkin uses between 20 and 24 lid rings.  You will need something to form the rings into a round shape.  I like to use floral stem wire, but you can use a pipe cleaner or sturdy string.  Using wire allows for cute, curly vines on your finished pumpkin.  For the stem, let your imagination and creativity lead the way.  We used burlap ribbon rolled up for one and we used a stick we found outside for the other.   Finally, you’ll need a pencil (if using wire) and a hot glue gun.

Now that you have everything together, begin feeding the rings onto the wire.  I find that if all the lids are placed in the same direction they don’t curve the way they should and you will end up with a lumpy pumpkin.

Once all the lids are threaded onto the wire, twist the wire together so the rings form a circle.

 

 

Make it as tight as you can and the rings will fall into place pretty easily.

After the wire is twisted and you have a ring of lids, bend the wire into the center of the rings and out the top.  Wrap the end of the wire around a pencil, then slide the pencil out.

 

Now you have a cute curly-cue vine!

For the stem, tightly roll up the burlap ribbon.  Place some glue on the inside edge and hold for a few seconds until the glue cools and hardens.

 

Add some glue around the bottom of the stem and insert it into the center of the pumpkin.  Voila!  You now have a simple yet rustic mason jar lid pumpkin.

                                   

 

Thanksgiving Turkey-From Brooder to Table

Let’s face it, your food can only be as good as the ingredients you use to make it.  If you have ever raised your own meat chickens, you know what I mean.  There is no going back to store-bought chicken once you’ve raised your own!  While it is true there is an immense satisfaction knowing that you have provided for your family from start to finish, it cannot be denied that the food simply tastes better.  The flavor is stronger, more full.  Even more than organic store-bought chicken.  The same is for turkeys.

This is our second year raising turkeys.  Knock on wood, people say you should expect to lose half of your turkeys.  So, I’ve always ordered double what I anticipated needing.  Praise God, we haven’t lost any yet!  This year, we were able to sell our extra turkeys to friends, and that resulted in requests for next year (several people want chickens, too)!  Here’s the low-down on how we were able to raise pastured turkeys supplemented with non-GMO feed for less than the BIG turkey farm down the street.

Yes, it’s true.  Turkeys take a bit more care when they are in the brooder.  Because chickens can carry diseases that may harm turkeys, it isn’t recommended to raise turkeys and chickens together.  I have limited barn space, though, so they have been in the same room, just not the same brooder.  Unlike chickens, turkeys will not find water on their own.  Try dipping their little beaks in the water until at least one has figured it out.  I usually wait until I’ve seen at least two drink.    You may want to place a shiny marble or two in the water dish as well, since turkeys are curious and like to inspect shiny things.  I’m not sure if any of my turkeys ever learned to drink from the water because of the marble, but I’m not taking my chances on losing a turkey because I wouldn’t take the time to wash off my kids’ marbles.

Once you know your turkeys are drinking and eating (they do tend to find the food more easily than the water), raising healthy turkeys is pretty easy.  Keep them warm following recommended brooder temperatures.  Keep their brooder clean.  Have fun with them.  Turkeys are curious, and their’s nothing cuter than a curious turkey eyeballing you.  Once they are feathered, it’s time to head outside.  I like to take my turkeys out to grass as soon as possible, even if it means carrying them one by one to a pen for them to spend an hour or two outside on a warm day until they are able to be outside permanently.

Turkeys are hardy once they become a bit older.  They prefer to stay outside even in the worst of weather.  Due to a predator issue this year, we were unable to let our turkeys truly free range.  The solution:  use the chicken tractor for the turkeys.   We have two chicken tractors.  One is a small hoop model, the other is based off Joel Salatin’s model.  Once the turkeys outgrew the hoop model and the chickens were processed, we moved the turkeys into the larger chicken (Salatin model) tractor.  Every morning, I moved the tractor to fresh grass, fed them a little feed, and changed their water.  Every afternoon or evening I checked to make sure they had plenty of fresh water.  Pretty easy, right?

I have never used antibiotics on my meat chickens or my turkeys.  I do, however, use herbal supplements and colloidal silver.    I put colloidal silver in the water when the turkeys are in the brooder.  I also use a weekly herbal supplement from Molly’s Herbals.  In fact, I do this for all of our animals and I have never seen them more healthy.

Turkeys take anywhere from 18 to 28 weeks to mature.  Using this method, we raised four turkeys over exactly 16 weeks.  When we picked them up from the processor, they ranged from 14.7 pounds to 24.9 pounds.  We could have let them go longer, but I’m glad we didn’t because that big one barely fit in my roasting pan!  We have processed our turkeys at home, and we have taken them to a processor.  Obviously, processing them at home reduces your overall costs.  This year we just weren’t able to fit in the processing between work and activities, so we let someone else do the plucking for us!

Depending on the size of the turkey and whether or not it was frozen, you’ll need to thaw out your frozen turkey.  Twenty-four hours prior to cooking, I like to brine my turkey using Fire & Flavor Turkey Perfect Apple Sage Brine Kit.  I stumbled upon it at the local hardware store (go figure) a few years ago.   Thanksgiving morning, I remove the turkey from the brining bag, brush the skin with some oil or butter, and pop it in the oven.  A few hours later, my family enjoys the best turkey we’ve ever had.  Seriously, each year our turkeys seem to be better than the last (even though this year I let the turkey get a little too browned)!

Thanksgiving Turkey

And there you have it-the secret to best Thanksgiving turkey your family will ever have!

 

Canning for beginners…Strawberry Freezer Jam

My first foray into canning was an attempt at pickles.  All flavors of pickles, from basic dill to spicy garlic.  After hours in the kitchen and a month of staring at jars of pickles waiting for the flavor to develop, I was devastated when they didn’t turn out.  Some were too salty, some weren’t salty at all, and the rest were just plain not pickles.  Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and seriously disappointed.  It would be two years before I tried my hand at canning again.  Enter the world of freezer jam.    If you have the desire to start canning but aren’t sure where to begin, strawberry freezer jam is an excellent jumping off point.

When strawberry season hits, there aren’t many people around here that haven’t paid a visit to the local U-Pick strawberry fields.    My mother-in-law first taught my two daughters and me how to make freezer jam several years ago.   The first year seemed to take forever, especially since my children were still quite young at the time.

Now we can hit the strawberry fields, pick gallons and gallons of strawberries, wash, mash, and fill 15+ jars with jam by tea time.  We even manage a strawberry pie or two.

Strawberry freezer jam has just a few simple ingredients: strawberries, sugar, pectin (I use the Sure-Jell for low sugar or no sugar recipe), and water.  There are old-fashioned (non-freezer) jam recipes out there without pectin that I intend to start tackling later this year.  Or next year.  Remember, baby steps.

Mason jars can be quite an expense if you intend to make a lot of jam your first time around; but, remember, once you make the initial investment, good jars will last years if you take care of them.  Other than that, you need a bowl for mashing the berries, a potato masher, measuring cup, large saucepan, spoon, and canning funnel (though not necessary, it reduces the mess).  It helps to have the items laid out and washed beforehand.  Especially the jars.  It’s even better when I remember to line up the jars near the stove.

The first step to jam making is picking the fruit.  If you choose to pick the fruit yourself, you’ll want to make sure you head straight home and start washing those berries.  If you pick on a warm, sunny day, the heat seems to continue ripening those berries all the way home.  We always end up with a handful that we can’t use because they seem to have over-ripened during the short car ride home.  Although it could have something to do with having a four-year-old help pick the berries . . .  If you don’t have a U-pick farm around you, the grocery store has great sales on strawberries during early summer.  I have a friend that prefers to buy the strawberries from the grocery every year.

Once you’ve washed the berries, it’s time to cut the tops and any bad spots off.  The tops go to the chickens and the rest of the berry goes into a mashing bowl.  The difference between jam and jelly is the consistency.  Jelly is made from the juice, while jam is made with juice and the crushed fruit.  When you mash the strawberries, be sure not to mash too much or you’ll end up with runny jam.

Once you have 4 cups of mashed strawberries, it’s time to measure out 3 cups of sugar.  Mix the sugar and pectin in the saucepan.  Stir in 1 cup of water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Boil and stir for 1 minute, then remove from heat and add the strawberries.  Stir for 1 more minute or until blended well. 

Using a funnel, fill the jars to within a ½ inch of the top (the lower ledge is just over ½ an inch down).  I aim for the ledge, so when I get a little over the ledge, I know I’m still within the ½ an inch requirement.

Wipe off the top of the jars and place the lids.  Once your jars have sat at room temperature for 24 hours, they are ready for eating or freezing.  My mother-in-law insists we make jam at her house so that she can hear the lids pop as they seal.  FYI: when making freezer jam, the seal popping is not a requirement since the jars will be frozen.  That’s it!  You now have delicious strawberry jam to enjoy on toast, banana bread, zucchini bread, biscuits, or straight out of the jar when you get the hankering for something sweet and fruity.

 

For the love of food….

Canning and preserving food sounds, to me, like a step into the past.  Kindred spirits such as Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne of Green Gables, and the steadfast frontierswomen of our nation’s past are just a few who float through my mind’s eye as I imagine a pantry full of beautifully arranged jars of colorful and delicious homemade food.  The idea of being prepared for a disaster, natural or economic, is a great comfort and motivator that adds fuel to our desire to be more self-sufficient.

Food did, and still does, conjure romantic images of great gatherings of family and friends in which everybody is laughing and smiling as they enjoy life around the table.  Inspired by an intrinsic longing for good food that nourishes the body and soul, we began our journey toward self-sufficiency and natural living.  Nothing is more satisfying than a home-cooked meal that was grown, harvested, and preserved on our homestead.  We know what’s in our food and where it came from.