The Homestead Cookbook

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"Has it ever occurred to you that nuts are edible wood?"  ~ Neil Shelton

Photo by Heather Paul


Munching on Milkweed

 It Hasn't Killed Me Yet

By Kathy Kish


     "I remember first having thoughts about living off the land when I was six years old. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my brother and a friend, and I told them I wanted to run off and live in the wild. Iíd eat wild plants and make milk, just like a cow. Following that statement, I went outside and gathered some grass, brought it in and mixed it with butter to help it slide down and then started chomping away. I was in the process of trying to swallow my first bite and smiling with tiny bits of grass sticking to my teeth, when my brother said, 'If you are really able to make milk, how are you going to milk yourself?' I looked down at my body trying to determine what might be comparable to a cowís utter. I have never been well endowed in that manner, so you can imagine what I was like at the age of six. That was the end of my endeavors at that point. Luckily, when I yanked that grass out of the yard, I didnít yank up anything poisonous along with it.
     Next, at around the age of fifteen, came my Euell Gibbons Days. Gibbons in the 70ís was like Bear Grylls is today, but he didnít scale cliffs, or bite the heads off insects. Instead of risking his life out in the extreme wild, he preferred to concentrate on those things that could be found on an innocent family hike. In fact, the book I read, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, was about as dangerous as it seemed to get with him. Lions and tigers and wild asparagus, oh my! Back then, I read that book and tried dandelions, not hard to recognize, and found that the roots might be edible, but they sure were bitter, and well, I tried the flowers and the leaves, too, and I guess you might say I was unimpressed.
     I didnít spend much more time tasting wild leaves and flowers after that, but I feel drawn back to different former interests every so many years, so here I am again, forty-some years later, and Iíve been thinking of what type of edible plants might be growing in my yard.



Give a Fig

New Facts on the Oldest Cultivated Plant

By Barbara Bamberger Scott


     "My connection with figs began early.  I would have been no older than four when we moved to a little brick house in Greensboro, North Carolina, with an enclosed backyard.  On the other side of our fence was our neighborís fig tree.  Our neighbor was a spinster (as the term was applied in that era), and perhaps she did not realize the intense lure of the ripe fig to a small, active tomboy (as the term was applied in those days), a lure so powerful that I risked all to get to the prize.  I clambered up the fence, scrunched perilously across the top rail, and secured two or three of the delicate wonders that had attracted me with their sweet aroma and their glowing pink and brown hues, not to mention the shapeólike a large teardrop, or something more mysteriously sensual that my little mind couldnít identify. 

     I was well on my way through the second of these delicious forbidden treats, hunched on the ground in the overhanging shade of the treeís large, deep green leaves, in my own backyard, when I heard a shout from the other side of the fence, and though I was only four, I knew the jig (or the fig) was up.  Hearing the imprecations of the spinster as she stridently strode up to her side of the fence, my mother slapped open the kitchen screen door and strode, perhaps a bit more cautiously, as the temper of our female neighbor was as yet unknown.

     I vaguely recall that I was hauled up by the scruff of my shirt and whacked on the butt to satisfy the fig-hoarding harpy, but worse, I was made to release the remaining fig, a bit smushed for having been squeezed in my fist behind my back.  I had learned my lesson, though: FIGS GOOD."



Equip Your Homestead Kitchen

...and Then Make Some Tasty Yogurt.

By Christopher Fotta


     "I recently set out to learn how to make yogurt.  In my initial information gathering, two things made an impression on me because they seemed at odds with each other.  First, the practice of storing milk in a goat's stomach is what most likely led to the discovery of yogurt.  Second it seems that if I want to make yogurt in 2012, I need to purchase a plug-in appliance along with countless other products or I would be doomed to immediate failure.  This was according to various voices of reason on the internet.  I know I am not the first person to come away from a day of online research feeling like I knew less than when I started.  It was as if I stepped into a never-ending information labyrinth.  A goatís stomach was the only thing that a yogurt-making website didnít try to sell me.  Luckily I had a goat, but she had her own needs for her stomach.  How could something so simple like spontaneously fermented milk have gotten so complex?   

     I am after a simpler life.  Getting by with the basics is part philosophy and part necessity as a homesteader.  More research eventually led to a few sensible souls both online and in some good old fashioned books.  After sifting through the lower-tech approaches, I looked around my kitchen and took stock of what I had that would work.  At the time, I was living in a trailer and working on a dairy farm.  It was about as bare bones of a kitchen as I have ever lived with, at least indoors; but because I outfitted my kitchen correctly I should have all necessary utensils to make yogurt.   

     Before I got bit by the homesteading bug, I worked as a professional chef, so I had a fairly well-equipped kitchen.  I am going to share with you my simplified yogurt technique, but first let me suggest some guidelines for outfitting your homestead kitchen."



Bottle Lambs

Reality vs. the Cute Factor

By Anita Gerber


     "We have replaced their mothers and it is to us, directly, that they look for nourishment, warmth, cleanliness, and affection, the latter being what heightens their cute factor.  Bottle lambs like to be cuddled, they like the closeness of our voices and our body heat, they like being scratched and stimulated physically and, even in this, we have replaced the bottle lambís mother to some degree.

     There are many reasons a lamb may become a bottle lamb.  It's mother may have died giving birth, or the lamb may have been rejected at birth by a mother drawn more to the other siblings.  Some lambs become bottle lambs after the first few days of their life simply because their mothers are unable to produce enough milk, perhaps because she has given birth to two or more lambs, perhaps because half of her udder is non-productive.  Then there are the young ewe lambs giving birth for the first time, who may simply have no idea about motherhood and walk away from their young.  The bottle lambs that have never suckled at the nipple have not received colostrum from the mother and, during the first 24 hours of their lives, they have special needs beyond just milk.  Colostrum is the thin yellowish fluid secreted by the mammary glands at the time of parturition that is rich in antibodies and minerals, preceding the production of true milk.  Newborn lambs, even those destined for bottles, must have colostrum to survive and flourish.

     Whatever the reason for the lamb needing to be bottle-fed to survive, most shepherds have a strong motivation to keep these young lambs alive.  We keep sheep in order to, with hope, make money each year.  We raise meat lambs.  Everything born here is destined for the meat market, except our breeding stock and any ewe lambs that we consider good enough to include in our herd.  In order to get them to market, they first have to survive."



The How and Why of Free-Range Chickens

By Regina Anneler


     "If you have purchased eggs from a retailer recently, then you know that the most expensive eggs for sale are the ones known as 'cage-free' or 'free-range.'  Why should these eggs have a higher value than the average commercial eggs?  Part of the reason for this higher value is because these eggs cost more money to produce; however, they are better, healthier eggs all the way around.  They have a higher nutritional value and the hens themselves are healthier than the caged birds kept under artificial light and fed a steady commercial diet.  True free-range chickens are those that range outdoors on pasture.  Meaning they do what all chickens do naturally: eat bugs, greens, and whatever leftovers they can scrounge or scratch up.  The challenge for the homesteader, however, comes in the form of keeping and managing a flock of free-range chickens in order to reap the benefit of their eggs.

     Besides the obvious nutritional benefits, free-range eggs simply taste better!  The most likely cause of the differences between free-range eggs and those from caged, commercial-production hens is the diet the hens consume every day.  Basically, you are what you eat.  After all, the free-range chickenís diet is all natural and varied, while the caged hen eats only what is placed in front of her.  Free-range hens are also usually healthier than their cousins kept in crowded cages in commercial poultry houses.  The feeds given to commercial hens are the cheapest possible mixture of corn, soy, and/or cottonseed meals, with many types of additives mixed in.  These additives often include growth hormones, meat and bone meals, as well as antibiotics and chemicals, like arsenic, to keep the chickens awake longer and producing more.  The commercial chicken has a much shorter lifespan due to stress, illness and general disease than does a free-range henóunless, of course, the free-range hen falls prey to a natural predator."



Let the Wind Howl

Living Six Years Without an Electric Bill

By Chris Devaney


     "Over six years ago, I put up a rooftop-mounted wind generator, and then another the following year, and then a third a year or so after that.  It wasnít hard to do and didnít require any special-function tools, just the regular ones everyone has.  Even so, I figured that I better leave the tools handy.  Those mechanical whirlygigs, I supposed, will need attention, and more than likely, lots of it and real soon.  I get a typical wind of 10-15 mph almost every day, stronger in the winter, and much stronger in a storm.  Notice the weather beaten and wind eroded appearance of the stain on my homestead, certainly in need of a fresh coat.  I even had a hurricane back a year or so ago.  No one liked that.  Not the house, not me, not even the wind generators.  But nothing broke, so those tools still lay dormant!
     Normally, due to a genetic flaw from somewhere in the past, I seriously lack organizational skills.  I just leave my tools wherever the last project was.  This tool filing system came about from having to drop everything and quench the fires typical of every do-it-yourself homestead.  Then, of course, there were those especially special fires, the hot ones, the ones you canít put off, not even for a moment.  We all have them...
     So, it comes down to this: when the wind generators get broken, I have to hunt for the tools because I know they are not on the roof.  That could take days; it could even take weeks, but the doggonnest thing is... the dang wind generators donít break!  So much for tinkering.  So much for chaos, one less need for duplicate cheap Chinese tools or choice words because the tools are not on the roof where, in a perfect world, they should have been left.  Who needs tools if the dang things donít break?  Well, I suppose, thereís still the tractors... they are always broken, or rusted, or... well, never mind!



The Deadliest Homesteading Mistake

By Neil Shelton


    "They came from the city.

     They were prepared.

     They were prepared for the complete collapse of world civilization, and with it the demise of the banks, the governments, the plumbing fixtures; all the institutions modern man relies upon.

     They were prepared for the Next Ice Age when a giant meteorite crashes into Earth and tilts the planet on its axis, plunging life on Earth into a thousand years of winter.

     They were prepared for times of mass starvation, when folks would shoot you for your food, because they knew that if they were starving, theyíd shoot someone for their food.

     It didnít matter that none of these things had ever happened, they didnít have their heads buried in the sand, and they werenít taking any chances.

     But there was something they werenít prepared for; something that has been a constant threat for approximately 4.5 billion years."



Pigeon Preliminaries

 Getting to Know the Magnificent Rock Pigeon

By Armani Tavares


     "I truly believe that our modern day decedents of Columba livia (rock dove/pigeon) are some of the all-time greatest game-bird species, and yet seemingly, they have been overlooked by most poultry and game-bird enthusiasts.  Consider the following attributes which the pigeon masterfully displays: minimal space requirements, extremely simple housing needs, simple and easy to feed, can be allowed to free-range or be kept in total confinement, producer of delicious meat, raises its young up until butchering time (no need to use incubators and brooders), fun and entertaining, intelligent and beautiful, as well as being healthy and hardy.  Thatís pretty good, huh?  I can think of a few other species that match these criteria, but I do find that many birds which are much more popular than the humble pigeon come far from reaching them.  I am left to sit and wonder why.

     Requiring no specialized feed, the pigeon can thrive on anything from straight grains and legumes to pellets designed for chickens or turkeys.  Plus, you only need a square foot of space per bird (more is always better, of course), which means they take up a minimal amount of room.  The housing can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish.  Give them a recycled rabbit hutch or a loft that can hold a hundred birds with self-cleaning nests and theyíll be happy and healthy all the same, on solid flooring, or wire for optimal sanitation.  Even better, where city ordinances prohibit the keeping of other poultry, pigeons are most often legal.  So, you can enjoy some birds of your own whether youíre keeping them in a window-box, on a balcony, in the front yard, or amidst hundreds of acres.  Now thatís adaptable!  

     If kept as pets and ornamentals, or an additional source of meat on the homestead, the pigeon fits its place well and is not nearly as popular as it deserves to be.  Letís look now at some more practical subjects." 


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