The Last Pickin’

Harvesting tomatoes is over! Tomato Sauce, here we come …

We had a freeze here and that has put an end to our garden’s production. I must admit, I am not unhappy about it–maybe even a little glad?

Please do not get me wrong. I have been so thankful for all the produce. I am just ready for a break! After all, we were so blessed, we even bought a third freezer. Even it is now full! I could give you a complete inventory of the freezers, but, I think it would be a bit overwhelming! It is amazing how much food it takes to keep our family going!

The tomatoes pictured are just a fraction of the ones we harvested. I had already given one bucket away! We have harvested 8-10 times getting about four, 5-gallon buckets full each time!

What, you might ask, have I done with all these tomatoes? Well, I have made tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, dehydrated tomatoes, and of course, enjoyed eating them fresh. I do not plan to buy any tomato products this year!

It is very easy to make your own tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes. I realize it is late in the year, but if any of you have gardens that are still producing you might try it.

Tomato Sauce From Fresh Tomatoes

First, wash the your tomatoes cutting out any bad spots.

Then, place the tomatoes in the your blender.

Next, blend tomatoes coarsely. I like to have a chunky sauce.
After each batch is blended, pour the liquid into a large boiler. I use either a 5 or a 10 gallon pot, or sometimes both! I prefer to process in large batches to save time.
Bring the sauce to a boil on the stovetop (uncovered) and allow it to boil until the desired thickness is obtained. I usually boil about 1/3 of the water off.
Turn off the heat and allow to cool. At this point, I usually cover the pot as it takes my large batches overnight to cool.
When cool, place the sauce in freezer containers and freeze. I use gallon sized freezer bags.
To use, thaw sauce, place in boiler and add Italian spices to taste.

As you can see, I have plenty help in the kitchen!

How Do You Do It?

One of the most frequently asked questions is, “How do you do it with so many children?”  My response—You do what you want! We have never driven new cars, followed the latest clothing fads or had a large entertainment budget for dining out, going to the theater etc.

OK, I admit that with 8 still at home, living on a tight budget until our house sells, we have cut back on extras. But, I have willingly accepted this challenge and enjoy seeing how far things stretch!
My advice to anyone wanting to live within their means and have financial freedom is:
Write All Expenditures Down. I mean everything! It does not matter how large or small–BE HONEST!

Being an old fashioned, pen and pencil sort of gal, I have a  notebook (my Budget Book) with columns spanning 2 pages to organize my spending. Categories include:

  • Standard (tithe, rent, insurance, utilities, phone)
  • Food
  • Gas
  • Clothing
  • Pets
  • School
  • Medical
  • Cleaning
  • Miscellaneous

Under each category, I make notes beside each entry as to what or where it was incurred (ex: Misc-$4.50-batteries or Food-$20.00-Walmart) I know there is software available that is very effective but then… it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks!

Be honest and write it all!

Analize Your Expenses. After a month, look at where the money is being spent. Begin looking for areas to cut down. I will post personal examples of this in the future.

Simple measure often help tremendously, such as, turning off lights or ceiling fans to decrease the electric bill (which can be a task with little ones around!), not window-shopping in front of the refrigerater…..

Distinguish Needs vs Wants. This can be difficult in our culture! Peer pressure and selfishness can make this distinction very cloudy. Simplifying our lives has helped me as we have gotten back to quality family time and viewing “treats” as just that, treats for special times.

There are great financial resource available to help anyone who desires to live in financial freedom.

There are many methods of organizing your finances, for example: envelopes with the category and amount of money placed inside at the beginning of the month. When the envie is empty–that’s all until next month!
The notebook works for me and that is my point.: Use What Works For You and Stick With It.
Like many things in our lives, self-control is needed. It takes self-control to go through receipts and organize expenses and it takes self-control not to make spontaneous purchases. Form the habit of thought-out, deliberate purchases as opposed to those made on a whim.

When Our Grapes Come In…

Two years ago, a lifestyle change? You would never have convinced me that our lives would take such a turn!

Back then, my hubby was employed in a well paying job, home educating was going smoothly, I even had all the children’s music lessons scheduled on 1 day (quite an accomplishment, as this was the most efficient use of time!). THEN….

Things began changing at the workplace and the question came up, “if we were ever going to make a life change–was now the time?”

Now to me, a change meant possibly going back to school (John not me!) or a company change. I never ever, and I mean never, dreamed that I would wake up saying “yes”  to a move across the USA to the high plains of west Tx to become farmers. Well, grape growing is a type of farming, viticulture to be more precise.

So, we put our house near Mobile, Al. up for sale, just in time to be too late. The market went downhill as soon as we did it!  Oh well, it has still not sold but I am sure there is someone, somewhere, that will see the beauty of living in a secluded pine forest, away from the busy city life in a large made-for-a-big-family house!  Where oh where are they?

Oh well, I find us now renting a small house (about 1400 sq ft) very close to the vineyard. I must admit though, the smallness is not so difficult to deal with as only having 1 bathroom! Now, maybe, to most people this would not present a problem. But, when you get 10 people, who have been accustomed to 5 bathrooms, faced now with only 1, day in and day out, it has its challenges!

The funny thing about this situation is, we are actually happy. I know it sounds crazy. But working together (and I mean hard physical labor) has been good for us as a family. I call this our “character building” time. There is such a feeling of personal satisfaction at the end of the day—if you can feel past the soreness of your muscles!

I find myself, surrounded by not only children, but 2 corgies, Sophie and Scruggs, a family milk cow, Buttercup, 2 calves that will eventually be milkers, and about 35 chickens. I say “about”  in reference to the chickens because they are difficult to count. I know a couple died and Buttercup stepped on one–she didn’t mean too!

You have probably heard the old saying, “when our ship comes in…”, well, our family saying has become, “when our grapes come in…”.

When our grapes come in, we plan to build another big house overlooking the vineyard. When our grapes come in…

Until then, though, we are enjoying our adventure together.

Pumpkin Soup with Dumplings

pumpkin soup close up

Pumpkin Soup with Dumplings is a recipe that is a great way to use excess pumpkins during pumpkin season. From the beginning of October until Halloween, pumpkins are relatively easy to find in the grocery store and farmer’s markets. But, on November first, well, pumpkins are hard to find – at least here in west Texas.

Pumpkins normally grow very well in our garden. In fact, all winter squash do well! They are so prolific, that I would be unable to use them all! So, I freeze our pumpkins by slicing, baking and peeling the shell (see how-to details in Pumpkin Preparation).

Another way to obtain pumpkin if your garden is not cooperating, is at pumpkin patches. On November 1st, our local pumpkin patch closes up and the pumpkins are left to rot! We spoke with the owner of our local pumpkin patch and he allowed us to come and pick as many as we wanted! The pumpkins that we did not use (and we used a bunch!) went to the cows – they thought it was dessert!

Because of our family size I start with a med-lrg, fresh, pumpkin, remove seeds and skin and then cook it according  to the following recipe in a 3 gallon stockpot.

The recipe is, however, very flexible, and works well either increasing or decreasing the amounts given.

pumpkin soup from above

Pumpkin Soup with Dumplings
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 20 c pumpkin pulp (from med-lrg pumpkin)
  • 2 -4 c water
  • 2 Tbsp. salt (from my affiliate -where to buy REAL salt)
  • 3c raw sugar
  • 2 c. milk (preferably raw)
Dumplings
  • 2 c whole wheat Bisquick
  • 1 c milk (preferably raw)
Instructions
  1. Pumpkin has a lot of water so add only enough water to prevent sticking. Bring to a boil stirring frequently.
  2. Cook until pumpkin is soft and mushy--about 1 hour. (Cooking time depends upon the ripeness of the pumpkin.)
  3. Add the salt, sugar and milk
  4. Stir and simmer while preparing the dumpling mix.
Dumplings:
  1. Mix ingredients and spoon on top of simmering soup.
  2. Cover stockpot with lid and simmer for 20 min. or until dumplings are fluffy.
To serve:
  1. Dip dumplings out of stockpot and place into separate bowl.
  2. Ladle soup into serving bowls and top with dumplings.

 

Pumpkin Pie

 

serving pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie.

Thanksgiving.

What do you think of when you think of pumpkin pie?

For most people, it would probably be Thanksgiving or at least Fall. That it what I use to think of! But now, since our garden produces pumpkins so well, and I have learned how easy it is to prepare and freeze pumpkins, we have pumpkin pies throughout the year. They are no longer reserved for once or twice a year!

The following Pumpkin Pie recipe appeals to an efficient type-A personality like me – it is all mixed up in the blender making for very little clean up! And, it is delicious. I am working on my type-A tendencies and having a large family has really helped. But, nevertheless, I tend to be obsessive about dirty dishes and trying to get things done the most efficient way possible!

Oh well, back to pumpkin pie…here’s the recipe!

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Pie Crust

pumpkin pie

A good pie crust recipe is a “must have” for all kitchens!

When we were first married, I tried to make pie crust. Wanting to be the good wife and impress my husband with my culinary skills, I wanted the perfect pie crust! But, it was not to be. Not then anyway. In fact, the whole pie crust shrunk down to the center of the pie pan and looked like a pitiful little disc of crust. It was so humiliating! Then what was not funny then but has given us so many laughs now, year later ….

I turned to toss the pie pan with the disc of would-be pie crust into the trash can.

He said, “WAIT!”

Startling me and interrupting the toss, the disc of pie crust ended its short life by breaking on the side of the trash can crumbling all over the floor.

I cried.

He laughed.

I cried more…He cleaned up!

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Pumpkin, Freezing – Alternative Method

Freezing is the only answer!

Today, as I looked at the mound of pumpkins in my laundry room, swarming with fruit flies, I decided it was time to step up the processing! Now, they are not going bad, mind you, but I have discovered that fruit fly swarms are one of the hidden (and not talked about) beauties of west Tx. in Sept. and Oct.!

I had done the microwave method with butternut squash and it works well with small pumpkins also! For larger pumpkins the oven method of prep before freezing works better.

Microwave Pumpkin

Simply slice a small pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds (don’t forget to save the seeds for toasting).

Place the pumpkin halves face down on a plate and microwave on high for about 10 min.

Test for tenderness with a fork. When tender, allow to cool and scoop out meat with a spoon.

The meat may then be frozen or used immediately.

PS. the rest of the pumpkins are now outside on our front porch an the fruit fly problem is resolving!

Pumpkins, Pumpkins, and More Pumpkins…….

See, updated how-to’s with photos in Pumpkin Preparation.

Yes, it is October and pumpkins are prolific, if not from your garden, in the stores. They are not only economical but delicious!

Freezing pumpkin is so simple and a great way to save money while enjoying their great taste in the winter.

My newly found “favorite” way to freeze pumpkin, is to simply clean out the seeds and pulp, cut the pumpkin into slices, place in baking dish with water in the bottom to prevent sticking, and bake at 350F for 1-1 1/2 hrs until tender (test with fork). Allow to cool, peel, place in freezer bags and freeze.

Don’t forget to toast the seeds: Place on cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 10-15 min. stirring frequently. Add butter, salt, and enjoy!

Pumpkin Bread or Muffins

pumpkin muffins served

If you have a garden or a source of pumpkins, I hope you have learned how easy it is to prepare pumpkins!

Having frozen pumpkin is invaluable when it comes to last minute desserts. Whether it is pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins or  pumpkin pies, desserts are ready in a flash when frozen pumpkin is available.

In the winter, we eat a lot of soups and what goes better with soup than bread or muffins? Pumpkin bread is an easy answer to last minute meal additions. And, the aroma created from their baking is mouthwatering! The cinnamon and cloves baking in the pumpkin muffins or pumpkin bread is better than any potpourri! It whets even the toughest of appetites not to mention, conjuring up feelings of homeyness.

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Why I started this….

This Blog was inspired by family and friends who thought my family’s experiences would benefit others if they only knew of them.

So, instead of writing a book, I’ll be posting various things I and my family do and why.

If any of this helps you thru a hard time or expands your vision, GREAT! Please drop me a line.

If you have a question for more info, drop me a line.

If you want to encourage me or just say hello, drop me a line.

Dina-Marie