...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


Fall Foraging

Highbush cranberry, wild apples, sumac berries

Sumac concentrate

My fall foraging adventures continued on Sunday.  I strapped Vera into the bike trailer and hit the trail for Sheridan Park where I'd harvested more wild edibles with my eyes on the way home from work on Friday.  We picked more wild apples--well, I picked them while Vera sat in the grass nibbling what we found--clipped staghorn sumac berries, and picked some samples of highbush cranberry, which I decided was better left for another month or so until it isn't quite so tart.  I will most likely cook the apples down into applesauce.  The sumac I "processed" today to make sumac concentrate.  Once you shake the debris off of four or five berry clusters, clip them off the stems and put them into a blender.  Fill the blender with water and puree until combined.  Let is sit for 30 min. or so then strain through cheesecloth.  Sumac has a lemony flavor; this concentrate can be turned into sumac-ade, which looks like pink lemonade, or it can be substituted for lemon juice.  I was thrilled to find this out not only because it's free, but because it's another local substitute for a food we receive from many miles away.  When I started my homesteading journal, one page was a brainstorm of currently used non-local ingredients that could either be eliminated from our diet or be replaced by something comparable that's locally grown.  Sumac concentrate fits the bill (now on to pawpaws instead of bananas...)  The highbush cranberries will hopefully be turned into cranberry sauce--plans for our Thanksgiving menu are developing and I think it would be awesome if everything came from within 100-200 miles of Milwaukee.

Our friend hoisting a bier!
Pigs on sticks
This weekend also found us enjoying the Oktoberfest festivities.  We danced--Vera and I found ourselves in a German "conga" line in front of the Alte Kameraden band--we had fun people watching--especially all those dressed in lederhosen and dirndls--and we savored some spit-roasted pork and chicken (Vera couldn't figure out why those little piggies were going round and round on that stick.) Oh, and we drank some good beer.

The garden continues to surprise us with its abundance.  This past week the potted variety of okra, Bubba, started producing "fruit."  I would definitely plant more next year.  I might reap enough for one pot of gumbo this season.  We're also excited about the huge loofah squash that seemed to appear overnight.  Upon finding it, I closely examined the rest of the sprawling vines and realized that all kinds of little squash are still growing.  If there are still enough warm days for them to mature, these could make great gifts alongside a  homemade herbal bath sachet or they could be fodder for bartering later.  I was just researching how to dry and whiten them.  This will be an exciting winter project.

Vera finds worms in the carrot bed
Today I harvested the rest of our carrots, washed and stored them in the depths of the fridge for the winter.  Soon our fridge will look like our farmer friends at Sandhill Organics who actually remove one of their fridge shelves for the winter to accommodate all the root vegetables stored there until spring.  The grand total is over 22 pounds, which should be enough carrots to last us all winter.  We usually buy three 5-pound bags of Tipi Produce carrots at the co-op throughout the winter, but I may not be needing them this year.  It's a small step towards self-sufficiency.

This week is about pickling for me.  I'm teaching a pickling class at the Urban Ecology Center on Tuesday and I'm hoping to preserve a batch of my favorite pickled carrots before the weekend.  Speaking of preserving (and shamelessly self-promoting while I'm at it), I was featured on the blog Haute Apple Pie today with some preserving tips.  Check out what these three modern homemakers are putting up this fall.

I've made my final garden list for the season and today I planted more fall seeds, which I will continue to do this week.  Though there is still a lot growing out back, it's hard not to think about it all winding down soon.  In the meantime, I'm enjoying this gorgeous sunny, slightly cool, not buggy weather we've been having.

And I'll leave you with another tomato recipe for those nursing the dwindling supply of this late summer fruit.  We still have many red orbs practically falling off our plants and I've preserved as many as my pantry and freezer can currently hold.  This soup is fairly quick to prepare even an hour before dinner needs to be on the table.  Get creative with garnishes.

Curried Cream of Tomato Soup
Serves 3-4

2 T. unsalted butter
2 T. grapeseed oil
1/2 c. finely chopped onions or shallots
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 c. vegetable stock
3 c. fresh chopped tomatoes
1/2 c. sour cream
salt and pepper, to taste
1-2 t. red curry paste, diluted in water until easily stirred into the soup w/o clumping

Heat 1 T. butter and the oil in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add onions and garlic; saute until soft, about 3 min.  Add broth and tomatoes; bring to boil.  Lower heat and simmer, uncovered, 25 min., or until tomato mixture begins to thicken.  Remove from heat and process in 2 batches in blender until smooth.  Return to pot and heat over medium until warmed through.  Stir in sour cream, 1 T. butter, and diluted curry paste.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note:  I garnished with diced mozzarella whips (like thinner string cheese), which softened slightly in the hot soup and tasted like the classic breaded mozzarella stix dipped in marinara.


  1. Great tips on Haute Apple Pie. I remember the discussion about ventilation during the tomato canning class. :) I've learned so many things about canning from making 'mistakes' so far.

    If you have a second, feel free to check out my baby blog (it's not about babies....it's just a young blog about my canning and kitchen experiments).


  2. Oh, and I wanted to mention that your foraging always blows me away. I don't know anything about wild fruit, so I wouldn't dare pick any.