Scratch Cooking – learning by necessity

It seems few people know how to cook from scratch anymore. I even know a woman putting up with a relationship she doesn’t want – because he cooks and she feels like she and her daughter would starve without him. Seriously. That’s what she told me. Wow…

Well, over the years I had to learn how to make a many things from scratch, for both health and economic reasons. I just wish there had been affordable classes to shorten the learning curve, or at least someone I could have gone to (my family was far away). Sometimes necessity/life is the best teacher.

Anyway, I drive some friends to an independent food pantry that picks up food directly from the stores, with no government help (which ALWAYS comes with strings and restrictions). Consequently, choices vary weekly and you find yourself faced with the opportunity to try to figure out what to do with what was there. These are some very simple examples.

Occasionally they have some wonderful bread (soft crust organic whole wheat with interesting grains added) which makes excellent croutons, although regular bread is fine, too.

  • Stack a few slices at a time and cut in strips, then the other way for little squares.
  • Put them in as large a bowl as you have/need, and toss with “homemade” Good Seasons Italian dressing.
  • Put them in a casserole (or two) and dry in oven at 180-200 F, stirring occasionally until toasted to your liking. Remove and cool.
  • Store in large glass or plastic containers (like pretzel rods come in), re-filling a smaller, more convenient container as needed.

Occasionally there would be a plentiful supply of hard, crisp apples, but one can only eat so many without soon looking like a bear before hibernation. So you can:

  • Make and can apple butter (info available online, from library, at canning section of stores, bookstores).
  • Make dried apples rings (slice thinly, then toss with a little lemon juice to minimize browning and for flavor,then dry on very low temp in the oven).

Both have been successful and wildly popular with my family, which is nice.


Certain times of the year there is an abundance of oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes.

  • Lemons and limes can be squeezed then frozen in ice cube trays (each cube is about 1 oz, or 1/8 cup), then pop them into freezer bags and keep until needed for homemade lemonade or limeade, or added to iced tea.
  • Grapefruit and oranges can be squeezed and frozen in shallow amounts in freezer containers, then transfer the flats to a larger container (like gallon zip bags).

Buttercup (#1 for sweetness!!) and butternut (#2) are multipurpose. I cut them, scoop the seeds (to toast “cleaned” but unwashed in butter – yummy!), bake the squash and scoop it into freezer containers for later use in squash soup (best only if made from the above two), added to pancake batter and also to other soups for an interesting color and delicious flavor.

As a result of going there to help my friends, I have found and tried vegetables I never would have spent the money on in the first place, and I am glad I did!


Canning Collard Greens

I grow collard greens, but as much as I like them they can be time consuming to make, so I usually blanch and freeze them flat in gallon bags. I also freeze smoked turkey tails (precooked, picked and boned and defatted) in their cooking broth in plastic containers. Problem is, they can take up considerable space in the freezer.

So, a while back, I decided to try canning the two together, but had an inexplicable problem – liquid loss during canning. Although I had no failed seals as a result, it was messy to clean up and I wondered what had gone wrong.

My first batch was in pints and they were edible, but not suitable for public viewing because I had lost about an inch of liquid (and I had started with an inch headspace).

I checked online and learned that others had similar experiences. One woman thought she should have precooked or blanched the greens but I tried that and it makes no difference.

My second and final batch (so far) was quarts, and this time I tried 1-1/2 inches headspace – same disappointing result.

I reread all instructions, but the only clue I could find was the sentence: “Fill jars looselywith greens and add fresh boiling water.” Dang. I guess they only expect you to process raw greens.

Conclusion? I have found NO ONE who can claim to have successfully canned them with meat, so if you have, or have a link to someone who has, drop a comment – please!


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