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Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Busy in the Kitchen for the Holidays

Between special meals and homemade gifts, we’re busy in the kitchen this holiday season. Click on photos below to read more about the recipe behind the image.  Happy Holidays!

homemade granola

elderberry-syrup

salve

marmelade

Read More!  Check out the following past posts to learn how to make these yummy homemade goodies yourself:

 

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Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

DIY Maple Sugaring

winter-maple-branch

sap-drip-sumac-spileUp here in Vermont, our temperatures have begun rising above freezing during the day and falling below 32 degrees at night.  That means it’s sugaring season!  Though specialized technology and expensive equipment have been developed to help large sugar-makers boost their production of luxurious maple syrup, it’s possible to make maple syrup in your back yard without spending much.  One thing is consistent for all scales of syrup production: it takes a lot of time!

hang-sap-bucket

It is early spring.  I’m itching to spend more time outside, am no longer excited by our local ingredients stored or preserved many months ago, and won’t start my garden for several months.  I find that tapping, collecting sap, and experimenting with this sweet ingredient in the kitchen is exactly how I’d like to spend my spare time.

sap-pour

Learn more by reading some of the posts I wrote during past sugaring seasons:

–> For more detailed instructions for how to tap a tree at home or school and boil sap down in a kitchen, check out this blog post.

–> Want to cook with sap, rather than taking hours to boil it down into syrup?  Check out this post.

–> Want to make your own tap, or spile, from a sumac branch?  It’s free and quite easy!  This post will teach you how.

–> Are you a teacher?  Here are several fun games and activities that can help students understand the science, history, and math behind maple syrup production.

2) Measure trunk circumference to determine how many taps can be drilled in the tree

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Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Drink for Good Health

elderberry-kombucha-1When it comes to drinks, I think I’ve found a match made in heaven: I call it Elderberry Kombucha Tonic.

elderberry-syrupI’ve been enjoying sips of Elderberry Syrup all winter long, especially when I feel a twinge in my throat or a tickle in my nose.  The recipe I follow, however, doesn’t have any sour flavors.  With the raw honey, it’s actually quite sweet.  Learn how to make your own by reading this past Growing Stories post.

KombuchaI’ve been brewing kombucha for a few years now and always have a jug of it in the fridge.  I think it’s a healthy, delicious, and refreshing alternative to soda or juice.  All the information you’d ever want to know about kombucha (and maybe more) is available at www.kombuchakamp.com, so I won’t go into too many details.

With elderberry syrup and kombucha sharing shelf space on the door of our refrigerator, I was bound to discover how well they mix sooner or later.  Mmmmm.  The flavors in both drinks are quite concentrated, so I like to add a few ice cubes or some club soda.  If you’re looking for a great alcoholic drink, dry mixing kombucha, elderberry syrup, and club soda with gin.

elderberry-kombucha-2

Cheers to your health in the new year!

Elderberry-Tonic

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Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Uncategorized

Maple Sugaring from Scratch: Sumac Spiles

Sumac-GroveLast year I had a lot of fun experimenting with maple sap in the kitchen.  We made sap tea, sap beer, sap poached sweet potatoes, sap soda, and maple baked beans… mmm!  I had borrowed buckets and spiles from neighbors to tap several trees with the students in my after school program.  We harvested more than enough sap to taste test, boil down, and cook with.

This year I missed having  sap to cook with, so I decided to try to tap a maple in our yard without buying any supplies.  Buckets or milk jugs are pretty easy to find around the house.  What I really needed was a spile, or tap.  Using a method common before metal was widely available, I hollowed out the inside of a sumac branch.

Sumac-BerriesStaghorn sumac is a common small tree in eastern North America.  It has big red clusters of seeds that have a great sour flavor and can be used to make tea or a locally sourced substitute for lemonade.  The centers of its branches are very pithy, making them easy to hollow out and make tubing or spouts.

hollowed-tubeMaking sumac spiles was easy, but it went below freezing and I have yet to see if they work well.  With forecasted temperatures above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, sap will flow and I’ll find out soon!  For more detailed instructions for how to tap a tree at home or school, check out this blog post.  For games and activities to liven up and inform the process for elementary school students, check out this blog post.

Cut-into-segments

Poke-out-pith

taper-one-end

tapping-maple-home

 

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Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Get Well Soon: Chicken Soup and Elderberry Syrup

It’s that time of year when many people are wondering: is that achy throat, dripping nose or sneeze a sign of sickness to come?  Whenever I feel like I might be getting sick, I turn to Chicken Soup and Elderberry Syrup.  Both have long histories of promoting wellness, with more and more rigorous studies proving their immune boosting and nutritious qualities.  Chicken broth freezes well and elderberry syrup can be kept in the fridge for months.  Keep some on hand all fall and winter to keep everyone in your household healthy!

Chicken Broth: Bone broths are healing and nutritious, and they’re very simple to make.  Making broth does take a while – it’s the perfect activity for a cozy day at home.  The warm steam will make your whole house smell delicious.  You can use a chicken carcass or parts of the chicken that your local butcher would otherwise throw away.  Feet are especially great for making sure your broth has plenty of gelatin!  The pictures below show a broth I made with chicken necks and feet.

chicken-stock-Chicken bones with some meat and skin
-Onion, garlic, carrots and/or celery
-Sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley and any other favorite green herbs
-4 quarts of water
-Sea salt and pepper to taste
-Optional: 2 T. vinegar

This works great in a crock pot or on the stove.  If you want to get even more minerals out of the bones, soak chicken parts, water, and vinegar for 30 minutes before cooking.  Next, bring all ingredients – excluding the green herbs and seasoning – to a boil.  I use the old limp veggies from the back of my refrigerator to flavor the broth, so the exact amounts and ingredients change every time.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 3 to 6 hours.  Strain to remove solids.  I compost the veggies because they loose most their flavor.  Pick the meat off the bones.  Put the broth back into your pot and add picked meat, green herbs, and any additional vegetables you want.  Bring back to a boil and season to taste.

Elderberry Ginger Syrup:  Elderberry season is over, so you may have to save this one for next year.  It’s great to have in the back of the fridge at this time of year to help keep your family from getting sick.

elderberry-syrup-2 c. Elderberries
-3 ½ c. Water
-2 T. Ginger Root
-1 t. Cinnamon Powder
-½ c.+ Honey (to taste and preserve)

Bring all ingredients but honey to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered to reduce  for about ½ hour. Cool slightly, smash, and strain.  Add honey while warm.  Refrigerate to store.

Categories
Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

A Short and Sweet Week of Sugaring with Students

I learned an incredible amount from coordinating The Somerville Maple Syrup Project, but in the end, too many of the lessons were about testing my limits and endurance.  This year, however, I was thrilled to be in Vermont and be able to bring a short and sweet week of Maple Madness to my after school students.

What I learned?: Any group of kids with access to sugar maples can participate in fun sugaring activities without requiring any money or superhero feats from the adults coordinating the program.  If you work with a group of young students, I strongly encourage you to build in maple programming next March!  Here’s what to consider:

Materials: Taps, hooks, buckets, and covers (about 4 each); cordless drill with a 7/16″ bit, hammer, measuring tape, and several food grade 5 gallon buckets.  In Vermont, many sugar makers have upgraded to smaller taps or tubing, rather than the older buckets and taps.  Make friends with local sugar makers and your cafeteria director!  A chat with your local maple producers association or neighbors and friends who tap trees may reward you with valuable tips and information.  What random supplies do they have laying around?  Cafeteria directors usually get some foods in 5 gallon buckets.  They also have large stoves with hoods and broiler pans, which will come in handy in the boiling phase.

Tapping:

1. Learn to ID Sugar Maple trees in the winter.  Look for silvery vertically flaky bark and opposite twigs.
1. Learn to ID Sugar Maple trees in the winter. Look for silvery vertically flaky bark and opposite twigs.
2) Measure trunk circumference to determine how many taps can be drilled in the tree
2) Measure trunk circumference to determine how many taps can be drilled in the tree (for chart, click here)
3) Drill a hole 1.5" into the sapwood using 7/16" bit.  Tapping on a day above 32 degrees will reward you at this step!
3) Drill a hole 1.5″ into the sapwood using 7/16″ bit. Tapping on a day above 32 degrees will reward you at this step!
4) Have students gently hammer in the tap (also known as a spile) until it is snugly in place
4) Have students gently hammer in the tap (also known as a spile) until it is snugly in place
5) CRUCIAL step: Taste the maple sap!  Again, try to pick a day above freezing so this is possible
5) CRUCIAL step: Taste the maple sap! Again, try to pick a day above freezing so this is possible
6) Any age student can help hang the sap bucket and put on the lid
6) Any age student can help hang the sap bucket and put on the lid

Collection:

Collect sap each day temperatures rise above freezing.  Store in refrigerator or outdoors where it is below 40 degrees
Collect sap each day temperatures rise above freezing. Store in refrigerator or outdoors where it is below 40 degrees.

Boiling: With permission from your cafeteria staff, boil sap exposing the most surface area possible.  We boiled in pans on the stove top, with the hood fan on to pull steam up and away.  In 2.5 hours, we’d reduced 5 gallons to 5 cups!  Our final product was very sweet and mapley.  If we’d reduced it further to 2.5 cups, we’d have official maple syrup.

Five gallons of sap boiling on the stove in deep baking pans
Five gallons of sap boiling on the stove in deep baking pans

Maple-taste-testTasting! and Learning Extensions: We did a group taste test of sap (I brought some to a quick boil to sanitize it), carbonated sap (made with a Soda Stream Machine), and our final boiled almost-syrup product.  We then generated “description words” (or adjectives) that described the smell, taste, feel, and look of sap vs. syrup.  We’ll use these words to write poems for our next After School Newsletter!

Refer to my Maple Syruping with Kids blog entry to get ideas for games, activities, and curriculum connections.  In the end, we had way more sap than we could drink or boil, leaving plenty to play with.  Check out different experimental recipes from my Cooking with Maple Sap post.

sap-syrup-adjectives