Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Category Archives: Frugal Friday

Frugal Friday: Re-Growing Celery

We’ve tried growing celery from seed with mediocre results. Then I read that you can re-grow it from the base of store-bought celery. Seriously, all you have to do is plant the stump, ideally from organic celery, and keep it well watered! Some people suggest you root it in a dish of water inside first (directions and photos here), though I skipped that step and planted mine directly in the soil outside and it did just fine. You can also plant it in a container, though it seems they grow faster in the ground. Having it in a pot would allow you to bring it inside, which would be great for the winter. This one’s been in the ground for about two months and is just starting to produce stalks worth harvesting. The outside of the stump dried up fairly quickly, but with steady watering the center soon sprouted and produced new stalks.

There are a number of benefits to growing your own celery. The best thing, in my opinion, is that you can just cut what you need and leave the rest to keep growing, instead of having a whole bunch of celery taking up room in your fridge all at once (like we used to do).  Also fresh celery leaves are great for cooking and can be used as a substitute for celery seed or flakes. Plus the celery will continue to grow new stalks after harvesting.

We will probably transplant this celery and keep it inside for the winter ( in milder climates it can overwinter in the ground). Celery is a biennial, so it’ll produce seed in its second year. We may never have to buy celery again!

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Frugal Friday: Homemade Yogurt, Surprisingly Easy!

Working in a small, locally-owned grocery store that specializes in organic produce and other local products has its perks. The store itself has very little waste- everything that can be recycled gets recycled, produce at the end of its shelf life gets sent to the cafe, given to employees, or composted, and day-old bread and some expired products get passed on to local food pantries. But when it comes to dairy, people are wary of expiration dates. I’ve experienced the putrid, smelly consequences of not respecting those little stamped dates, but in my experience milk that has officially expired is still usable for quite some time, especially if it’s kept sealed.

Needless to say, this frugal girl takes advantage of the nearly continuous supply of milk. We’re not big milk drinkers, and there’s only so much baking I can do before an open container starts to spoil. I’ve made a simple cottage cheese, & I’ve been meaning to get my hands on some cultures to make other cheese (rennet-free, of course). In the meantime I’ve been making yogurt.

Making yogurt is really surprisingly simple. All you need to do is heat up the milk, introduce the yogurt culture, and then keep it at a constant, warm temperature to incubate for several hours. Here’s the basic process:

  1. Heat your milk to about boiling. I use a quart at a time. I’ve read that you can keep your yogurt “raw” by only warming it up to about 115ºF, warm enough to incubate the yogurt culture. I’ve been using pasteurized milk, and heating it to almost boiling (~180ºF) because it yields a thicker yogurt.
  2. Allow milk to cool to about 115ºF. If you don’t have a thermometer, dab a little on the inside of your wrist, if it feels hot it’s not ready. It should feel warm, but not too warm.
  3. Add your yogurt culture. You can purchase this, but the most frugal option is to just use previously-made yogurt, one tablespoon per quart of milk. You can use commercial yogurt as long as it says it contains active, live cultures. I froze some expired yogurt I got from work in ice cube trays and drop 1 cube in each batch I make. Once you’ve made your own you can freeze that and use it instead.
  4. Keep the mixture warm, ideally about 115ºF, for 4-8 hours. There are many ways to do this, the easiest being a yogurt-maker. I found one for free on Freecycle- it’s not the prettiest but it keeps a constant temperature. You can also try incubating in a crockpot (often bundled in towels for extra insulation), though my attempts were unsuccessful. The internet is full of other ideas for incubation too.

    Free yogurt maker!

That’s it. Seriously. Now you have yogurt! You can add vanilla or other flavors after incubation, but I usually leave it plain. I’ve been freezing some, too. The consistency suffers a bit after thawing, but it’s great for use in cooking and baking!

Frugal Friday: Preserving Peppers

We’ve been busy as ever working the gardens, harvesting and selling what we can. Last week the Cherokee Street International Farmers’ Market (which got an excellent write-up in the St. Louis Post Dispatch a few weeks ago) got rained out after an hour and a half, and we found ourselves with a ton of peppers (and tomatoes, but that’s a post for another day) on our hands. We’ve pickled peppers before but we just don’t use them often enough to justify all the work.

So we decided to freeze our extra peppers. It’s really the easiest way to preserve them. All you have to do is rinse, de-seed, and chop them before tossing into resealable bags. It helps to have a big enough bag that you can spread them all out in one layer, then store flat or roll the bag up to conserve freezer space.

We ended up with 3 gallon-size bags of peppers, mostly sweet banana but also some hot banana peppers. Once frozen they won’t be good raw, but we’ll throw them into stir fries, egg dishes like omelettes and quiches, and Mexican dishes throughout the winter.

We also roasted some peppers, by de-seeding and halving them before broiling them in the oven for 15 minutes, until the skins blackened. After cooling, the skins are easy to remove- more so in the meatier bell peppers than the thinner banana peppers. We have one serving in a plastic container in the fridge and one in the freezer to enjoy later.

As for our jalapeños and cayenne peppers, we’ve got big plans- dehydrate, crush into a powder, and use as seasoning… better than hot sauce when you don’t want the vinegar-y taste. We’ve already exhausted our supply of hot pepper powder from last year!

Frugal Saturday: Homemade Goat Cheese

Sorry, dear readers, for the lack of posts lately. Have no fear, we’re still working tirelessly in the gardens, it’s just my blogging time has been constrained since I’ve started working (outside the home) again, at a small, family-owned grocery store. I have a huge amount of respect for the owners and all of the employees there; the store’s slogan is “Know Your Food” and everyone is committed to the mission of supporting local farmers and providing organically grown, sustainably-raised products.

You probably know that I identify as a vegan, though I do sometimes use the eggs from our own chickens in cooking or baking- I know they have a happy life. My ethics haven’t changed, and I will always vehemently oppose factory farms and CAFOs, but I have started consuming dairy products, in very limited quantities. I’m not talking about straight-up buying Velveeta or Cheez-Whiz or anything- at the very least the dairy at the store is nearly all produced humanely and sustainably, though I’m still hesitant.

The thing is, given the time and energy that goes into producing the product and its packaging (plastic is made from petroleum after all, and petroleum is inevitably used in the production of glass and cardboard as well), it hurts my soul way more to see that product go to waste. In most cases, expired dairy products from the store aren’t just discarded like at most grocery chains- they’re up for grabs by employees before being donated to a local food pantry. However, this week there was a whole case of organic goat milk that expired, which the food pantry didn’t want. So what’s an ethical vegan to do?

Make goat cheese, that’s what!

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Frugal Friday: Alternative Methods for Preserving Peaches

We’re super lucky to have access to a highly productive peach tree this year, thanks to the owners of one of our new garden spaces. With all their friends and neighbors invited to pick peaches from the tree, there were still loads to be picked! We took more than we could eat fresh and wanted to preserve the rest… the only problem? We were out of canning jars.

So how can you preserve peaches without having to can them? We figured out quite a few great options!

1. Freezing.

One of the easiest ways is freezing.  It seems like most people prefer to peel their peaches before baking with them or freezing them. You can do this by dropping them in boiling water for a couple minutes, then running under cold water- the skin should slip right off (we do the same for tomatoes). However, our peaches weren’t uniformly ripe and didn’t always peel easily, so we just left some of the skins on- the texture didn’t bother us. Either way, remove the pits and slice the peaches, then place them on a baking sheet in the freezer so they can freeze individually- otherwise you’ll end up with a mass of frozen peach that you have to chip away at. Once frozen on the sheet you can transfer them to a container in the freezer. We’ve been using them in smoothies and instead of ice cubes in juices and drinks (they’re especially great in mimosas!).

2. Sorbet, sherbet, or ice cream. 

I do think that the peaches lost some of their flavor in the freezing process, so after my first batch, I decided instead to try to enhance the flavor by making peach sorbet. I pureed some peach slices in a blender and added sugar, vanilla, and a bit of non-dairy coconut creamer. Then I added the mixture to my ice cream maker and waited for it to become the right consistency. It didn’t make it past the slush stage, but I grew up on Philly water ice so it was fine for me! There are loads of recipes for peach sorbet, sherbet, and ice cream on the internet that could get you better results…

3. Dehydrating.

Turns out my favorite way is dehydration- the peach flavor is better preserved. I didn’t bother peeling, I just removed the pits and sliced the peaches thin, then used our electric dehydrator. (In the future we hope to have a solar dehydrator!) You can also do this in the oven at the lowest temperature for several hours, placing the fruit on a wire rack over a baking sheet so the heat can flow around and under all the pieces. I’ve been snacking on the dried peaches on their own and also adding them to my granola.

4. Infusing Alcohol.

Did I say dehydrating was my favorite preservation method? I take that back. We infused about 1/4 of a bottle of our favorite locally-distilled, environmentally-friendly vodka with some peach slices by letting them sit at the bottom of the bottle for a couple of weeks. After straining the fruit out, we were left with a deliciously smooth, subtle peach vodka, and some seriously strong vodka-infused peaches. Both made some tasty summer drinks!

Do you have any other alternative methods for preserving peaches or other fruit? We’d love to know!

Frugal Friday: Sage Flower Pesto

Way back in our flowers post we talked about all the benefits and uses of flowers in our garden, and I mentioned sage flower pesto. I finally got a chance to try it out. The verdict- delicious! Served over pasta and garnished with goat cheese and cilantro sprigs, alongside local, organic asparagus (not ours), it was the perfect spring meal.

I looked to this recipe as a guide. Here’s what I used:

  • 1  1/2 cup fresh sage flowers
  • a handful of cilantro flowers
  • 1/4 cup walnuts (or pine nuts)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, give or take depending on consistency
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 small white or yellow onion
  • salt, pepper, fresh lemon juice
  1. Toast nuts. You can do this in the oven (5-7 minutes at 400° F), but I find it quicker and more efficient to sauté them in a pan with a little oil. You can sauté the garlic, too, if you don’t like it too strong.
  2. Place sage flowers, cilantro flowers, nuts, garlic, and onion in a blender or food processor, and process until a smooth paste is formed.
  3. Add olive oil a little at a time and process until desired consistency is attained. Add salt and pepper to taste. If it’s pretty bitter like ours was, you can squeeze in some fresh lemon juice.
  4. Stir into cooked pasta or use as you like. Any leftover pesto can be frozen in small containers or ice cube trays for future use!

Nothing better than getting a tasty meal out of something growing in the garden that is often overlooked when it comes to harvesting!

Frugal Friday: Grape Jam

The Jewish holiday of Passover begins tonight at sundown, meaning no leavened bread- or any grains used to make leavened bread- for 8 days. We don’t buy much processed food, but it’s still difficult to avoid corn products- high fructose corn syrup in particular- that turns up in the most unlikely places. So when I saw we had some extra grapes in the fridge this  morning, I decided to make some fresh, corn-syrup-free jam for Passover.

The process is surprisingly easy, and you don’t need to buy pectin or any other gelling substance. Sugar can be used to preserve fruit, so you just need equal amounts (in weight, not volume) of grapes and sugar (we’ve also done cherries this way). Or you can make grape jelly by using grape juice instead of whole grapes. Lots of people use concord grapes that are easy to take the skin off of. I don’t even know what kind of grapes we had, but they weren’t easy to peel so I just left the skins on.

I threw the grapes in a big pot over high heat and mashed them up a little to get some juices flowing. No need to add water, since more liquid gets released as the grapes cook. Once everything was nice and soft, I pureed the mixture to get a more even consistency, then added the sugar and returned to the heat.

Since this process doesn’t use pectin, the thickening is achieved by continuing to boil the mixture to cook off the liquid. It took about 20 minutes to get to a good consistency. To test, take a cold plate (I put it in the freezer) and drop a spoonful of jam on it, then return to the freezer for a minute. This will give you a good idea of the consistency your jam will be once cooled, and you know it’s done when it holds its form and wrinkles when you push on it.

If you’re making a lot of jam, you’ll want to use a water bath to can it all. We made a small batch this time: two-and-a-half pounds of grapes and two-and-a-half pounds of sugar made exactly one quart of jam. We poured it into a mason jar and will keep it in the fridge.

Now all we need is a great peanut harvest this season- PB&Js from scratch!

Frugal Friday: Vegetable Broth

We eat a lot of vegetables. We try to use every last bit of a vegetable before sending it to one of four final destinations: the compost pile, the worm bin, the dogs, or the chickens. To really get the most out of our veggies, we use scraps and peels to make our own homemade vegetable broth.

All you have to do is fill a pot of vegetable scraps with enough water to cover everything, then simmer for a couple hours. We like to keep the water level about 2 inches above the top of the scraps, and add water if needed while simmering. We’ve tried simmering with and without a lid and both yield a decent stock- you will need to add water while simmering if you leave it uncovered.

The great thing is you can use virtually any vegetable scraps, even those you wouldn’t want to put in the compost bin (like onion skins). You’ll definitely want to make sure you use scraps that have been washed and scrubbed clean. We also highly recommend you use scraps from organic produce, as non-organic fruits and veggies can carry high amounts of pesticides and other chemicals in their skins.

We’ve used carrot tops and peels, the tops and bottoms of celery stalks, kale stems, onion skins, garlic peels, broccoli stalks, squash rinds, beet greens, tomatoes, and the like. Some people advise against adding potato peels because they’ll make the broth murky and earthy, but we like it. Dried or fresh herbs like thyme, basil, oregano, and parsley add great flavor, and of course we add salt and pepper toward the end. We’ve even added whole hot peppers or crushed red pepper for extra spice.

After a couple hours of simmering, the water should look darker. Results will vary depending on the amount of water used and the cooking time.  Once we’ve reached our preferred flavor-to-water ratio, we strain out the vegetables with a colander in the sink. Then the broth is poured in containers and frozen.

And here’s a super duper Frugal Friday bonus:

The ladies got to enjoy the warm, cooked veggie scraps on a cold day!

Frugal Friday: Homemade Seitan, a Versatile Meat Substitute

Seitan is a high-protein, vegetarian meat substitute that has, along with tempeh, allowed us to minimize our consumption of processed tofu, which is best eaten in moderation, as there are several studies debating its health effects. Seitan is wheat gluten that has been separated from the starch, leaving a protein-rich, elastic material.

You can buy seitan already formed and flavored (expensive), make your own using vital wheat gluten flour (still somewhat expensive), or make your own from flour (cheap!). We had been following this recipe to make a tasty seitan log from vital wheat gluten until yesterday, when we finally made our own from flour. It was incredibly easy. Here’s how we did it:

dough ballWe followed the process from this how-to on Forkable, though we changed it up a bit. We mixed 12 cups of unbleached flour and 6 cups of water to form a ball of dough, and kneaded it for a few minutes. We put the dough in a large bowl and covered it entirely with water and let it soak for about half an hour. The water turned milky white as the starch started to leach out of the dough. We put the bowl in the sink and kneaded the dough in the water until it started to feel rubbery.

making seitanAfter the underwater massage, we dumped the dough into a colander in the sink and began a half-hour long rinsing and kneading session.

As you knead and rinse to remove the starch, the dough starts to get denser and more elastic. You can control the texture of your seitan by kneading more or less. For our purposes, we wanted a chewier result so we aimed for a texture like the smaller ball at the top right, while the the bigger mass in the middle still needed some kneading.

Most seitan recipes at this point will instruct you to form the gluten into a ball and boil it in broth. Then you can pack it into containers with the broth and refrigerate or freeze it. We had a different plan.

not the most appetizingWe wanted to try an approach more like the above-mentioned seitan log recipe. So once the gluten was formed, we worked in a marinade of tomato paste, olive oil, soy sauce, and seasonings, then oven baked it in a loaf pan at 325°F for about an hour and a half. We had it wrapped in foil like the log recipe but saw the seitan wouldn’t hold its form and the foil began to stick, so we dumped it in the loaf pan, added more marinade, and covered it with foil. Every twenty minutes or so, we stirred and turned the seitan to keep it from sticking to the pan. We also split some of the bigger pieces into smaller chunks to cook more evenly.

seitanWe ended up with about 4 cups of chewy seitan chunks from the original 12 cups of flour. Overall, the process took about 3 1/2 hours, most of which was cooking and waiting time. Next time we’ll try incorporating the marinade and seasonings before the gluten is completely formed so the seitan will be more infused with flavor and maybe achieve the log texture.  To be extra frugal, we’ll also re-use some of the starchy water from the rinsing stages to thicken soup stocks and sauces, instead of letting it all go down the drain.

We love to make protein-rich wraps with sauteed seitan chunks, quinoa, cucumbers, red onion, avocado, hummus, and parsley and salad greens from the garden.

You can use seitan to substitute any sort of meat, or tofu for that matter. Throw it in a stir fry instead of cubed tofu, crumble it in pasta sauce or add it to chili like the commercial soy crumbles, bread it and fry it for a chicken nugget type snack, we might even slice it in strips and put it on a barbecue pizza! With bulk flour from our co-op, we may never have to buy meat alternatives ever again.

Frugal Friday: Oven-Dried Tomatoes

We picked our last harvest of yellow cherry and pear tomatoes in mid-December. Many of them were still green, so they sat in a paper bag and kind of ripened on their own with their natural release of ethylene (adding apples or bananas is supposed to help). To preserve our tomato harvest, we popped some of the ripened ones in our oven at the lowest temperature (170°F) to make oven-dried tomatoes.

yellow cherry and pear tomatoes

We cut them in half and put them on wire racks over baking pans to allow heat to circulate underneath.

After several hours…

oven-dried tomatoes

We checked the tomatoes regularly and removed them individually when done- smaller tomatoes dried more quickly.

This can also be done in an electric dehydrator, or, even better, a solar dehydrator like the one Maya Creek has. We’re storing the dried tomatoes in a small jar of olive oil in the fridge. They’re wonderful tossed in our pastas or topping our homemade pizzas, and so much cheaper than store bought sun-dried tomatoes!

oven dried tomatoes