Friday, July 18, 2014


The information below was taken from the following site...
The International Herb Association
Horseradish Herb of the Year™ 2011
 Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Horseradish,
But Were Afraid to Ask
Charles E. Voigt
Department of Crop Sciences
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

J.W. "Bill" Courter
Department of Horticulture, Retired

Horseradish is a hot crop, in more ways than one. Both gourmet chefs and fast food franchises have discovered this simple, ancient root crop.  In fact, horseradish, Armoracia rusticana, is a large-leaved, hardy perennial herbaceous plant of the cabbage family, cultivated for its fleshy, pungent roots.  Today, the roots are used primarily as a spicy condiment for meat or seafood dishes, while, historically, horseradish has also been used medicinally as a preventive or curative for various disorders.
The plant is believed to be native to an area of eastern Europe and western Asia, stretching from the Caspian Sea through Russia and Poland to Finland.  The Egyptians knew about horseradish as long ago as 1500 B.C., at the time of the Exodus.  It is one of the five bitter herbs that people of the Jewish faith are instructed to eat at Passover. Early Greeks used ground horseradish as a rub for lower back pain, and it was also thought to cure rheumatism.  Horseradish remains a very effective, non potassium-depleting diuretic, and references to its use as an aphrodisiac abound.
Its use as a condiment seems to have originated in Central Europe.  The name for the plant in German is "meerrettich" (sea radish) because it occurs naturally by the sea.  It is believed that the English mispronounced "meer" as "mare", calling the plant "mare"radish. This, in turn, was also corrupted to "horse"radish, a name which has stuck.  Through most of the sixteenth century, it was used only medicinally in England, though the English noted that ground horseradish mixed with vinegar was commonly used as a condiment with meats and fish by the Germans.
Not until the 1600s did horseradish become an acceptable condiment in England, and then only among the country people and strong laboring men, as it was "too strong for tender and gentle stomachs". By the late 1600s, however, all strata of English society had succumbed to the allure of this herb as the standard accompaniment to beef and oysters. It was grown at inns and coach stations to make cordials to revive weary travelers.
Settlers brought horseradish to North America early in the colonial period. It was common in the northeast by 1806, and reported growing wild near Boston. Commercial cultivation in America began in the mid 1850s, when immigrants started horseradish farms in the Midwest. By the late 1890s, a thriving production area existed on the fertile alluvial soil on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, east of St. Louis, Missouri. Today, there are around 6 million gallons of horseradish prepared and sold in this country annually--enough to season a line of sandwiches that would circle the globe 12 times.
The plant forms a rosette of erect, long-petioled leaves which superficially resemble dock plants (Rumex sp.). Roots are fleshy, tan to corky-tan externally, white inside, and branched to form an extensive system. Excavation studies on deep open soils have found root penetration on 10-year-old plants reaching to at least 15 feet.  Once established in a location, horseradish may be hard to eradicate. In a study at the University of Illinois, roots buried to a depth of 6 feet managed to sprout to the soil surface and grow.  Establish horseradish plantings in locations where cultivation of crops in subsequent years can contain weedy regrowth, or where the plants can remain.
Horseradish prefers a soil that is deep, moist but well drained, friable (easily crumbled), and fertile, however roots may be grown on a variety of soils, from alluvial sands to deep loose soils to high-organic (muck) soils. Root quality is poor, however, in shallow, hard, or clay-pan soils.  Digging the roots is also difficult on finer-textured, heavy soils.
     The plant requires a long growing season to develop an acceptable root system. A continuous supply of nutrients and moisture is necessary for best leaf growth during the summer months.  Most of the root enlargement occurs during the cooler temperatures of early fall. Locations in the northern half of the country, or higher elevations farther south are better for high quality and yield.

While horseradish is a long-lived perennial plant, for production of large, fleshy roots, it is most often treated as an annual crop. Large, marketable roots are produced in one season from root cuttings planted in late fall or early spring. As it grows, this large root produces smaller, secondary roots which are, in turn, used for planting stock the following year. Plants allowed to grow in one spot for many years will produce smaller, harder-to-peel roots. The ideal root cutting or "set" comes from disease-free plant material, is 10-to 12-inches in length, and varies in diameter from 1/4-to 1/2-inch (about pencil diameter or slightly thicker, and 1 1/2-to 2-times pencil length).  These cuttings increase in diameter and weight during the season, but not in length.

When planting root cuttings, the end which was nearer the crown of the mother plant is generally planted higher, with the whole cutting ideally at a 30° angle from the horizontal.  To maintain knowledge of the polarity of the root (which end comes from nearer the crown of the plant), the cuttings are cut off square on this end (perpendicular to the length of the root), and at an acute angle at the root end. This makes planting easier, as new shoots arise mainly from the shoot end of the planted root.

Because horseradish roots need loose, easily penetrable soil for best performance, soil preparation is extremely important.  The land chosen for planting is usually plowed deeply as soon as conditions allow in the spring. Organic matter, whether from cover crops, manure, or crop residues is also helpful, if incorporated far enough in advance of planting to have broken down well.  Some growers apply manure very heavily to the crop that precedes horseradish in the rotation to allow for decomposition. Horseradish plants require fairly heavy fertility, and tests have shown that fertilizer that is applied before plowing seems to be more effective than surface applications after plowing.

In large fields, horseradish is planted with the set roots placed 2 feet apart in furrows 30 inches apart, with the crown (flat cut) end slightly elevated. Planted at this rate, the population would be about 8,700 plants per acre.  Root cuttings are covered with 4-to 5- inches of soil.  Planting is usually done as early in spring as possible to maximize the growing season.  In extremely cold climates with late springs, late fall planting, immediately after harvest, may be preferable.

Horseradish Crop in the Field
Horseradish crop in Collinsville, Illinois.  photo by Susan Belsinger

During the growing season, the side roots and extra crowns produced by the set roots must be removed, for production of the largest, most desirable harvest. Even in commercial fields, this is still a hand operation.  Once or twice a season, roots are carefully loosened from the soil at the crown end and any side roots removed.  At the first lifting, done when the leaves are about 8-to 10-inches in length, all but the one strongest, best-looking crown are also removed to give a solid, symmetrical finished root.  After lifting, the root is returned to its normal position and covered with soil.

At the second lifting, usually about six weeks after the first, any side roots which have formed are again removed. Gloves are usually worn to protect the hands from chafing and blistering during lifting and trimming the roots and crowns.  Due to the enormous hand labor involved in the lifting process, many growers have gone to an untrimmed system.  Such roots are less desirable, since there is more waste and handling involved in peeling and grinding the roots.  Growers who use this system believe that avoiding the back-breaking labor of lifting and trimming roots is well worth any additional work involved in peeling smaller roots.

Weed control is accomplished mainly by mechanical cultivation.  Through the season, soil is mounded over the rows during these cultivations to cover and protect the swelling roots. Late in the season, the foliage of the plants begins to form a solid canopy and cultivation should stop.

Brittle root, caused by a spiroplasma, is probably the most destructive disease of horseradish. Infected plants develop a general chlorotic (yellowed) condition of the leaves which eventually causes collapse of the above-ground portion of the plant.  The phloem of affected roots is usually dark brown and forms a dark ring around the vascular cylinder, when viewed in cross section.  Starch accumulates in affected roots, which snap when bent, hence the name brittle root, which describes this symptom.  The disease is transmitted by the beet leafhopper.  In years when the leafhopper is not a problem, brittle root is usually rare.  When the leafhopper is a problem, quick and effective control of the insect usually minimizes damage from the disease.

Verticillium dahliae can cause severe damage on sites where horseradish has been grown over an extended period, or where infected rootstocks are used for planting.  This soil-borne disease causes an internal discoloration that lowers or destroys the value of the root.  Using disease-free planting stock and planting on clean land are the best methods of avoiding this problem, although research is ongoing to find a treatment or to develop resistant varieties.

While horseradish needs a long growing season to complete its growth, the bulk of the increase in root size occurs in the cooler weather of early autumn.  Therefore, harvest is usually delayed until most other fall harvest chores have been completed, to allow maximum sizing of the roots.  If cold storage is available, it is a common practice to dig as much root in the fall as will be used through the winter, and then dig the remainder of the crop early in the spring. Storage in the ground over the winter provides the highest quality roots in the spring.  Spring harvest must be completed before heavy growth commences, though there is a small niche market at Passover for large roots with a small amount of green top showing.

Since the root system penetrates so deeply into the soil, digging must also be deep to recover both the fully sized, usable root and set roots which are as long as possible.  Removing as much of the root system as possible also minimizes the problem of weed horseradish plants in the following year's crop in the field.

Today, most roots are harvested commercially with converted potato diggers which undercut, lift, and shake dirt from the roots, which are then moved by conveyor into a wagon.  Home plantings will most likely have to be hand dug.  Horseradish roots can now be stored for year-round processing in refrigerated storage with minimal loss of quality.  Temperatures of 32 to 35 degrees F and relative humidity of 90 degrees are near ideal for this storage.  Plastic bags help reduce water loss in storage.  Roots are available year-round in supermarkets now, but it is also an easy crop to grow in the home garden.

Horseradish Root Ready to Process
Horseradish roots at processing plant.  plant by Susan Belsinger

The Tri-County area in southwestern Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St, Louis, MO, produces over half of the US supply of horseradish roots on 1,500 - 2,000 acres annually. 

The University of Illinois, at Urbana Champaign has the most active program of horseradish research in the country. Both the Department of Crop Sciences and the Illinois Natural History Survey conduct studies of disease, weed, and insect control, plant nutrition, plant breeding, in vitro propagation, and other topics to service this localized but productive crop production industry.

Collinsville, Illinois, is the horseradish capitol of the world, and each year sponsors the International Horseradish Festival on the first weekend in June in a local park.  A variety of activities each year include horseradish golf, a 5-K run, a fun walk, a horseradish eating contest, and many exhibits, including grinding and preparing the product (best done outdoors, anyway), examples of equipment used to plant, cultivate, and harvest the crop, and processors' displays of all the bottled sauces available containing this powerful herb. The growers and processors of Illinois horseradish welcome one and all to the annual celebration of this root crop. 

For more information on the festival, phone: 
(618) 346-5210, or contact the Collinsville Chamber of   Commerce, phone: (618) 344-2884.

     Those looking for processors of this tasty root in their home regions should contact the:
Association of Sauces and Dressings Suite 500G5775 Peachtree-Dunwoody Rd. Atlanta, GA. 30342 Tel. (404) 252-3663Fax: (404) 252-0774

for a processor near you.

Monday, June 30, 2014


     Many of the people I know use home remedies such as  herbs, tinctures, poultices, and down right good nutrition (food from the garden) to maintain their health.  Sometimes we need a little extra help when we are put under the weather... the following is for my Neighbors who I know would like this on the blog.  (taken from


As I work on turning this one acre homestead into a self-sustaining Garden of Eden, I have two requirements for every single plant I consider putting in the ground: they must be either edible or medicinal. Preferably both.

Why? Because frankly I don’t have money or space to waste on frivolous landscaping. Everything from the plants to the animals must have a purpose.

More and more people are beginning to see the benefit of having a garden and growing your own food, but growing your own medicine could be equally as vital to your well being. What would you do if you couldn’t get the medical supplies or help you needed for a very long time? How would you manage?

As I plan my medicinal garden, I choose what to grow by studying different medical emergency scenarios and learning which plants I would be able to use if it ever came down to that.

One day as I was doctoring up one of my kiddos, the thought crossed my mind, “What if I couldn’t get any more of these band-aids? What could I use?” This question prompted me to delve into my herbal books and scour the internet for an answer. And I found a good one.
Wooly Lamb’s Ear.

It’s one of my favorites because it’s medicinal AND edible.

A Natural Antibacterial Bandage
Wooly Lamb’s Ear, botanical name Stachys byzantina, has been used for centuries as a wound dressing on battlefields. Not only do the soft, fuzzy leaves absorb blood and help it to clot more quickly, they also contain antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties. All of these factors make this plant a really great alternative to store-bought bandages (especially since many of them are made in China!).

Other Medicinal Uses
Wooly Lamb’s Ear actually has many medicinal uses. You can heat a few bruised leaves in a pot of simmering water, and use the cooled infusion as an eyewash to treat pinkeye and sties.

Drink a tea made from young, dried Wooly Lamb’s Ear leaves to help with fevers, diarrhea, sore mouth and throat, internal bleeding, and weaknesses of the liver and heart.

You can bruise the leaves so that the juices are released, and put them on bee stings or other insect bites to help reduce the swelling. The same effect can be seen when used for treating hemorrhoids, or for postpartum recovery.

Still More Uses
As if Wooly Lamb’s Ear isn’t awesome enough, the list of uses continues.

Being soft and super absorbent, Lamb’s Ear leaves can be used as menstrual pads, or in place of cotton balls. It can even be used as toilet paper!
You can eat it as well. Enjoy young, tender leaves fresh in a salad, or gently steamed as greens.

 Are you growing Lamb’s Ear yet?
If you don’t have any of this important medicinal plant growing around your home yet,get some. If you can’t find any plants locally, buy some seeds and grow them yourself. It’s super easy, and much cheaper that way anyways. Lamb’s Ear make a gorgeous landscaping border, and grows well in containers. Plant as much as you have room for, ’cause it’ll come in handy when your stash of tp runs out!

How To Grow Your Own Antibacterial Bandages (Wooly Lamb’s Ear) From Seed
Starting your own plants from seed really is easy. Here’s how…

1. Fill a well-draining container with Seed Starting Mix.  A yogurt cup with holes poked in the bottom works nicely.

2. Wet the soil thoroughly. If you’re on city water, use filtered water for your plants.The chemicals in treated water can inhibit plant growth.

3. Plant 1-2 seeds per small container (thinning out the weakest seedling), or plant seeds about 6″ apart in a larger pot, burying them 1/4″ deep.

4. Keep the soil moist and the containers out of direct light until the seedlings germinate. As soon as you see the tops of the plants emerging, put them somewhere where they can get at least 6 hours of sunlight daily, or under a grow light. It helps to set the cups/pots in a shallow tray of water to keep the soil from drying out.

5. When the plants have at least three sets of leaves, they’re ready to be transplanted to a semi-shady place in your yard. Space them 12″ apart. They will multiply readily in good soil.

If you haven’t started thinking about growing some medicinal herbs, Wooly Lamb’s Ear is a perfect one to begin with. And in my opinion, you can never have enough!

Once you have it, don’t stop there! There are so many medicinal herbs you can be growing no matter where you live. Check out Grow Your Own Antibiotics for more great suggestions.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


Marcus Tullius Cicero said:  If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.  

Thanks to those at common sense home. com  I retrieved  this information on Dandelions; I found it to be very interesting and thought you might also!

Harvesting and Using Dandelion Roots - The best time to dig dandelion roots, preserving dandelion roots, dandelion root home remedies.

When Should I Harvest Dandelion Roots?

Dandelion roots are best harvested from late fall through early spring, when the plant is dormant and has stored up energy in the root.  For medicinal use, most sources say fall harvest is best.   This is because the levels of inulin (insoluble fiber) are higher and the fructose levels are lower.

The freezing of winter converts the inulin to fructose, which makes spring roots more palatable for eating.  Spring roots will be less bitter and chewy – just make sure you dig them before the plants start to blossom. Spring roots are also higher in taraxacin, which stimulates bile production.

What’s the Best Way to harvest Dandelion Roots?

To dig roots, use a dandelion digger or a sturdy fork.  You want to break/damage the root as little as possible so you don’t lose much sap, which is where the medicinal properties lie.  Deep, rich soil will produce the thickest, easiest to harvest roots.  I always let a few dandelions go in the garden, as they are great for reaching deep into the soil to bring up nutrients.  Make sure to harvest from areas that have not been sprayed/treated with anything noxious.  Select large, vigorous plants – small, spindly plants will have small roots that are not really worth harvesting.  One session of garden digging produced the root in the photo at the top of the post.

How should I preserve dandelion roots?

Dandelion roots can be used fresh for cooking and medicine.  For long term storage, drying works best.   Roots should be well scrubbed before cutting.  Thick roots should be sliced lengthwise into strips of uniform thickness to decrease drying time and encourage uniform drying.
slicing dandelion roots
Preparing dandelion roots for drying

Use a commercial dehydrator to dry the roots at 95 degrees F  until brittle.  Alternatively, spread on a screen and place in a cool, dry location with good air flow, and dry for 3 to 14 days (until brittle).  Dried roots will keep for about a year.
dehydrating dandelion roots
Dandelion root in the dehydrator

How do I Use Dandelion Root?

To extract the medicinal compounds for the roots, they must be decocted or tinctured. To make a tincture, place dandelion root in a jar and cover with 80 proof (40%) vodka.  Cover tightly and allow to steep 4-6 weeks, shaking daily.  Strain out plant material and store in a dark glass bottle.  Label and date.  (Susun Weed has a lovely post listing a variety of tincture options and their uses at Be Your Own Herbal Expert – Part 4.)
To make a decoction, place one ounce of dried roots or two ounces fresh roots (by weight) in a pan with one pint of water.  Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.  Strain and compost the spent roots.  (From Dandelion Medicine.)   Root decoctions can be used to make simple healing teas.
*Note: Dandelion root should not be used if you have irritable stomach or bowel, or if you have an acute inflammation. (source)
Dandelion root is well known as a detoxifying agent, but has also been used to treat everything from arthritis to hangovers.
Traditionally, dandelion has been used a diuretic, to increase the amount of urine the body produces in order to get rid of excess fluid. It has been used for many conditions where a diuretic might help, such as liver problems and high blood pressure. However, there is no good research on using dandelion as a diuretic in people.
Fresh or dried dandelion herb is also used as a mild appetite stimulant and to improve upset stomach. The root of the dandelion plant may act as a mild laxative and has been used to improve digestion. There is some very preliminary research that suggests dandelion may help improve liver and gallbladder function, but the study was not well designed.
Some preliminary animal studies also suggest that dandelion may help normalize blood sugar levels and lower total cholesterol and triglycerides while raising HDL, “good,” cholesterol in diabetic mice. But not all the animal studies have found a positive effect on blood sugar. Human studies are needed to see if dandelion would work in people.
A few animal studies also suggest that dandelion might help fight inflammation.
To make a strong herbal infusion tea, use 1/2 ounce by weight of dried leaves or one ounce by weight of fresh leaves per cup of water.  Place the ingredients in a glass canning jar.  Cover with freshly boiled water.  Put the lid on and steep overnight.  Strain and compost solids.  For medicinal purposes, drink 3-4 cups per day.  Alternatively, use a French press, or steep (covered) for at least 20 minutes before straining.
Here are two recipes from Dandelion Medicine:

I’m-Sick-of-Cellulite Tea
Help your body metabolize fats and improve elimination of wastes with these cleansing herbs.
  • 1 part dandelion leaf
  • 1 part nettle (Urtica dioica)leaf
  • 1 part dandelion root
  • 1 part burdock (Arctium lappa) root
Decongestant Tea
This tea helps the body to clear phlegm and open the lungs and sinuses.
  • 1 part dandelion leaf
  • 1 part nettle (Urtica dioica)leaf
  • 1 part thyme (thymus vulgaris) herb
  • 1 part dandelion root
I hope you’ll give this humble weed a second look.  It was the featured plant of Weeder Weeder #17.

Monday, June 16, 2014


       Lard has received a bad rap... the truth of it is, lard is better for you than vegetable oils.  I remember growing up using lard, real butter and whole milk in the early 1950's of Los Angeles.  Yep, I am the product of an Arkie and an Okie who came out to California during the dust bowl years with their families.  They brought with them the eating habits of farm life in the south.  But then came the barrage of advertising campaigns on the radio and new-fangled TV telling us that store-bought milk, margarine, and Crisco was much healthier.  My parents for convenience sake fell into the same dark hole as the rest of America, thinking that this new way was actually better because it was cheaper, besides the science behind it, we thought, proved its health benefits.  I moved from home in the early 70's and bought pasteurized milk, Crisco, and margarine thinking I was eating healthier too, after all the FDA told us it was.  Lard became an archaic food reminiscent of a time gone by; it was something my grandma still used because she didn't know any better; she said that she just didn't like they way that new-stuff smelled.  But we were modern, up to date, wiser than previous generations, and scientific, so we went with technology.  Lard just melted away into the mental oblivion of our minds along with the horse and buggy, hauling water from a spring, and out-houses.  

     How proficient was the advertising campaign of big business?  Even today, when inner-city children are asked the question "what is lard" they really don't know how to answer.  They may have heard someone older making derogatory remarks towards fat or obese people, therefore associating it with fat people.  But unless they had a great teacher or was raised on a farm they generally would have no idea what lard was or where it came from.  

     The modern housewife over the last century has been sold a bill of goods on the evils of pork fat and the healthiness of hydrogenated vegetable oil.  Yet it has only been in this last century that Cancer,  Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Diabetes have all reared their ugly heads and become more rampant, killing and immobilizing millions.  One may think as they read this "what's wrong with vegetable oil and what's so darn good about lard?"  First of all, throughout history man has used pork or animal fat for the cooking of their foods and historically as you may already know, obesity and these other diseases are a rather modern phenomenon.  New evidence proves that these diseases are scientifically attributed to all of the processed or engineered foods we ingest today, this would include modern day hydrogenated vegetable oils.  

     You may also say, "If vegetable oil is so bad for us, then when and why did we start using it if it wasn't better than lard?"  A little history first: William Procter departed for America after a fire destroyed his business in England, he was a candle-maker.  James Gamble left Ireland and came to America because of the potato famine, he became a soap maker.  They married sisters, but when the depression of the 1870's hit they joined forces to survive, they called their new founded company 'Procter and Gamble', a soap and candle manufacturing company.   In the early twentieth century this  company also produced great amounts of cotton, they were doing very well for themselves, but they had just one little problem... hoards of cottonseed as a byproduct that they could do nothing with because it was a very toxic substance.  They found that after pressing and heating it they could extract a very inexpensive oil, but it turned rancid quickly.  After more experiments it was discovered that hydrogenation would keep the oil from spoiling, in fact it had a very long shelf life, plus it looked just like lard, and after more experiments they solved their problems.  They gave it the name of Crisco and went on an advertising campaign.  They advertised it as healthier than lard, even handed out free cookbooks they had rewritten adding Crisco in and removing lard from its pages.  This new product was cheaper than lard so why not use it if it cost less and the experts say it was better!  
The Atlantic reported: 
     "Never before had Proctor & Gamble or any company for that matter put so much marketing support or advertising dollars behind a product.  They hired the J. Walter Thompson Agency, America's first full service advertising agency staffed by real artists and professional writers.   Samples of Crisco were mailed to grocers, restaurants, nutritionists, and home economists.  Eight alternative marketing strategies were tested in different cities and their impacts calculated and compared.  Doughnuts were fried in Crisco and handed out in the streets.  Women who purchased the new industrial fat got a free cookbook or Crisco recipes.  It opened with the line, 'The culinary world is revising its entire cookbook on account of the advent of Crisco, a new and altogether different cooking fat.'  Recipes for asparagus soup, baked salmon with Colbert sauce, stuffed beets, curried cauliflower and tomato sandwiches all called for three to four tablespoons of Crisco." 

     So why is cottonseed oil that bad for us?  One small reason is that it is not considered a food at all, so it is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, therefore Corporate farms can apply as much pesticides to it as they wish.  There are reports that disclose cotton has more pesticides sprayed on it than any other crop in the world!

  Here's a little information about cottonseed oil appearing in The Happiness Diet:

     Before processing, cottonseed oil is cloudy red and bitter to the taste because of a natural phytochemical called gossypol and is toxic to most animals, causing dangerous spikes in the body's potassium levels, organ damage, and paralysis.  An issue of Popular Science from the era sums up the evolution of cottonseed nicely: "What was garbage in 1860 was fertilizer in 1870, cattle feed in 1880, and table food and many things else in 1890."   

Now on to the hog!  How healthy is Lard? 
     Hog lard contains high amounts of vitamin D; just one tablespoon has 1,000 IU of it.  Some believe that they can get all the vitamin D they need from plants, this is true but you would have to eat in excess of fifty mushrooms a day to get what is needed because they, being the plant life with the highest vitamin D contains only 21 IU's .   Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium helping to keep osteoporosis at bay and is also known to improve oral health.  Vitamin D will also aid in the removal of harmful toxic metals from the body.  A little research will open your eyes to many benefits of lard.  

     Please do not run off to the grocery store and buy a can of lard; today's lard is hydrogenated and is not good for you.  If you don't live on a farm which most people don't, then purchase your pork chops, steaks, bacon, roasts and ribs from someone who raises organic pork.  Then either freeze, smoke or can it until you are ready to use it.  You can gather a few friends to go in on a whole hog and save quite a bit of money, but always ask the butcher for all of the fat and place it in the freezer until you are ready to render it.

     How do you render the precious lard?  I started by purchasing an organic hog from my good neighbor Max Hale, it was a scrumptious tasting hog but unfortunately the butcher didn't get the memo to save all of the fat for us.  When we got home with our hog, what we thought was a big bag of hog fat was nothing more than a bag of bones; it sat in the freezer for months before we came to that realization.  There was still ample fat on the cuts of meat for us to render our own lard as we ate the pork.  Here is how we did it:  

      I believe that our forefathers knew the best way to render hog fat, they always used a large thick cast iron cauldron.  Since I have not purchased a large cauldron as of yet and realizing that I didn't receive large amounts of fat from the butcher, we only rendered enough lard from the trimmings of the pork we used.  

     Cut the fat from the pork whether it is chops, roast or steak and slice into small pieces for the quickest results.  Place the fatty pieces into a well warmed cast iron skillet (medium heat), then turn the flame down to low (very low) for the duration of the rendering process for the best results.  It will take a while so don't get overly anxious.   

As the fat begins to heat up it will bubble slowly, so keep stirring it so it does not burn... it can burn even on low.

     If you want extra white lard, ladle the oil out of the skillet before the fat pieces begin to turn a golden color.  We use it so fast that it doesn't really make that much difference to us.  But the darker the fat pieces gets the slightly darker the lard will be, but it all still tastes relatively the same. For canning it always looks great to see snow-white lard on the shelf.


     When you have decided that the oil should be removed, which is a personal decision because there is no set time (except it should be removed before the fat pieces are turning really dark brown to black), pour or ladle the liquid through a fine sieve to remove minute chunks of fat residue.   


     I poured the melted fat on top of our old lard that we were currently using, you can also pour it into jars and keep them in a cool pantry or root cellar for whenever you want to use it.  Some say that it will only last 6 to 9 months in cold storage so they recommend that it be frozen.  One man said that he had put some fresh rendered lard in his pantry uncovered, and over a five year period he has continued to check on it, and he found that no change in the lard has occurred.  There was even a story recently in the german news telling about a gentleman that received a can of lard in 1947 when the U.S. was sending aid to a war torn Germany.  He saved the can thinking it would be needed later... fast forward 67 years (2014) when he opened the can and had it tested... it was just fine.  

     We do not refrigerate our lard.  We set it out on the counter and use it, but again we only render as we need.  I am sure next year we will render our lard all at once and can it.  I believe (I do not know for sure) that the whiter the lard is the longer it will last.  It seems to me that it is the impurities in the oil that causes it to spoil, so the first oil taken out of the cauldron or skillet before the fat begins turning brown is the best.  

      I wanted to get a shot of the finished product but it was being used faster than I had thought it would be.  So I can only give you a picture of the lard bowl that the new oil was poured into over the old lard.  Although this lard is not snowy white it still tastes great. 

     Lard makes everything taste great especially pie crusts, we cook with it extensively now we have learned that all of the negative press over the last century has been nothing more than false advertising.  This process is easy and not too messy at all.  

     Caution:  Even if you are a pro at rendering a whole hog into lard using the old fashioned cast iron cauldron be sure to put the lid on it or at least keep small children away.  My grandfather was 23 in 1920, he was helping his father butcher hogs on a cold 2nd of January day.  His five year old brother Sammy, tripped and fell head first into a boiling cauldron of hog fat, the pain laden little child cried loudly for several days and then passed.  What started out as a festive new year filled with fun and games, where children ran, played, and occasionally stopped to pick out a floating cracklin' from the top of the pot to enjoy what we call pig skins, ended up in tragedy, leaving a huge void in the family.  The family rumor has it that his mother never recovered from that incident. 

     Be cautious even in the safe confines of your own kitchen... many a child  has stumbled under the foot of a busy mother by a hot stove to receive severe burns, I know, I was one of them.


Monday, June 9, 2014


     Each year I reluctantly make the proverbial pilgrimage down the mountain to my local nursery in quest of obtaining  onion sets, ones that will produce those beautiful golden onions we all love to use.  I have almost weaned myself entirely from buying other types of garden seed from the nursery after learning how to collect and save them for myself, therefore onion sets are practically my only purchase.  Unfortunately, my reluctance in leaving my beautiful mountaintop abode is often more than apparent by the  limited acquisitions I come home with.  Some of my family will actually struggle to maneuver themselves into a position so as to not be required to go to town at all, while others will jump in the truck or car at the drop of a hat, acting as if they are escaping an extended sentence of incarceration.  

     When I arrive at the nursery and reach the bins of what should have been a plethora of perfect little golden sets, a quick perusal shows that most of the community had already been there and gone, which exemplifies the old adage that the early bird catches the worm!   So the once overflowing coffers of picture perfect yellow nuggets of gardening joy, after being extensively pilfered by the public, are often reduced to a dismal bastion of refuge.  In other words, all that is usually left are a few dried up puny looking semblances of what were supposed to be onion sets...  that is if they had been grown a little longer and cared for a whole lot more.  

     Is it just me or has anyone else ever suffered from this reluctance to leave home?  Sickened at the prospects, I usually just grab the best of the worst, make a mad dash to the truck, put the pedal to the metal and race home as I scare most of the wildlife in the area.  Once there I quickly make my way to the garden in hopes of resurrecting these practically dead onions. Unfortunately, I am not a vegetable EMT, but I frantically try my best to make due with what providence has provided, or should I say what the providence I created had provided... all for the sake of growing onions one more season.  

     However, last year (2013), I decided in July to sow my own onion seed, ones that I had collected from the previous year (2012), and, with great confidence, believed that I was smart enough to actually grow at least a few sets in my own garden.  This procedure I knew absolutely nothing about.  I had never read about or tried it before, but I became super motivated to produce these home-grown sets after the sets I did purchase from the nursery refused to flower at all.  Surmising that these new flowerless sets may not have gone to seed because they were some sort of a highbred, I did however  grow some great onions from them.  Yet, not really having an answer to this dilemma, I found out later that only second year bulbs will bold and flower, and since store bought sets are second year bulbs they should have flowered, so I am still not sure the reason for them not to flower????  I cannot imagine companies selling onion sets in the same year they are produced, because typically growers plant seed in August or September to create sets for the following spring sale.  Any way it was at this point I felt very fortunate to have sown my own seed that year as well as buying these flowerless sets.  I figured that even if my seed did not produce good enough sets I could at least eat them as blade onions all year long; this was a win-win proposition for me!  
     I waited all summer and into the fall for the results.  I felt that there should have been at least some sizable sets produced by the end of the year from my seeding efforts, but to my dismay all of them were still very, very small.  I threw my hands up in the air and concluded that I was not an 'onion set grower' after all, and this now made just one more thing I could scribble off the short list of an already shrinking job resume.  My problem, I learned was that I needed to break the blades over when they were two months old so the bulbs would begin to swell to form nice little bulbs, but I didn't know that at the time.  Still, I could not bring myself to dig up or turn under 2 1/3 beds of very miniature onions, so I just left them.   As winter quickly approached I decided to cover the bed that showed the most potential, leaving the others to accept the fate of a wintery death.  To my great astonishment all of the beds not only survived the winter but seemed to flourish in the cold snow we had at 3500 feet!  The bed that was covered had substantially more growth over the other beds and had already produced larger bulbs (half dollar to dollar size).  I left it alone in hopes that we could eat these immature little bulbs throughout the year as they grow, which we have been doing and love them.  The others I had no clue what to expect!

  Fast forward to June of 2014, which is when I started digging one of the other beds in preparation of drying the bulbs for sets.  Yes, they did grow and they are worthy of being labeled as "onion sets", yep still rather small,  (Should I pencil 'onion set grower' back in on my resume?)  I figured that even if I planted them in July, I should hopefully still be able to produce some late fall storing onions. 

The beds are 4x8 foot 
Allow me to digress for a moment and reflect on that old garden fork in the above picture: 
     I have a few mementos given me by my father before he passed away, which his father had owned, like a double barrel shotgun, a straight razor, and a garden fork, to name a few.  My dad often used and treasured that old garden fork, and now that it is mine, I do too.  I really didn't realize just how much I loved it until a good friend asked to borrow it.  I hem hawed around like I was being asked to sign away one of my children as an indentured servant, and maybe that would have been easier for me to do, who knows? He must have thought I was acting very strange, after all it was just an old garden fork.  But, because he was a good friend, I finally acquiesced to his request and handed over my granddad's garden fork, only after rendering a set of rather strenuous restrictions, so much so that he must have felt very uncomfortable using it once he took it back to his garden because the very next day he brought it back unused.     Even though I felt like a jerk placing such a burden on him, I was like a kid in a candy store when it returned home.  I will never loan it out again, so don't ask!  

     My granddad, the original owner, was born in Lee County Virginia, in 1883.  This area is also known to most history buffs as the Cumberland Gap, and is where Daniel Boone blazed the wilderness trail into Kentucky.  My granddad lived on and roamed the land where the son of Daniel Boone was killed by Indians.  
     James Burgin, my granddad's maternal great-grandfather, traveled with his brother and Daniel Boone through this area in the late 1700's, which was the time Boone was establishing the settlement of Boonesborough, in the heart of Kentucky.  James decided to settle in Virginia instead of going on to Kentucky with his brother and Boone.  Hunting and growing food was the order of the day and  was an essential aspect of life during those times.  Even as little establishments began popping up where people sold produce and other goods to travelers who were traversing the rugged wilderness trail, the traveler knew that eventually they had to settle down and grow and hunt to survive.  There was little difference from that era to my granddad's early years of the late 1800's, everyone had to grow food or perish then as well.  I traveled through the Cumberland Gap in 2005 and it was still just a small spot on the map, a place where few stopped on their way to more important places to go, and it is still a very back-woods place.
     Farmers needed large families to help work the ground but, as these children transformed into adult men and women, their parents couldn't supply all of them with enough land that would provide a living, so many traveled west.  Granddad traveled into the new frontier of the west to be with several of his older brothers who had participated in the Oklahoma land rush, which transpired just before the turn of the twentieth century.  Unfortunately he came a little too late in order to acquire land for himself.  I guess I should get to the point I am trying to make, which is, although my granddad gardened out of  necessity, he also loved it, it was ingrained in him.  As a little boy I remember seeing that old garden fork out in his garden.  I didn't give it as much thought then as I do today.  In my father's generation he gardened as well, but strictly for the love and taste of good food, and although he was not required to do it to survive like his ancestors, he continued to till the ground when he could, just for the fun of it.  Also, as a boy, I remember living in the suburbs of Los Angeles having chickens, rabbits, pigeons, fruit trees and a big garden, even an aviary of colorful canaries to sing songs of joy every day.  I was a young man before I noticed that the old garden fork belonging to my granddad had quietly moved to my father's garden.
     Now I am the caretaker of that old garden fork that sports a slightly bent tine.  When I work my meager little garden with a tool that has transcended generational garden plots it is something of a miracle to me, which when reflected upon, sometimes brings a tender feeling to my soul,  especially knowing that when I place my hands on the handle of that old garden fork, both my father and his father had placed their hands in the exact same spot many times before.  It's like having my dad and granddad hold and guide my hands as I use it, and who wouldn't want a little extra help, especially from experts?   I can only imagine that my father may have had these same feelings when using it, but he never related those kinds of thoughts, for he was raised in a time when men didn't show much emotion, at least they didn't in his family.
     My dad didn't give me that old garden fork until he had stopped gardening altogether.  I occasionally wonder with great interest as to who will become the fourth generation caretaker of it and, as they take it by its well worn handle for another lifetime journey into their own  garden, will they have the same feelings as I have had?  Will they feel the love of gardening deeply imprinted into the sun-baked wooden handle of the previous three generations?  I hope so.  I also wonder at what point will I stop gardening myself, if ever?

Now back to reality!
     Note: Look closely at all of the onion blades lying loosely on the ground in the above picture!  My daughter April and I tried and tried to bend the blades over so that they would begin the process of drying, as one would typically do when preparing mature onions before pulling.  Those little buggers just refused to stay bent; neither would they turn yellow and die, so I cut them down with a pair of hedge clippers.  More than one way to skin a cat, which reminds me of another grim but funny story about my dad, but that's for another time.  This intense surgical procedure I dubbed "onion hedging" is not exactly on the list of authorized practices the experts suggest implementing to professionally grow onion sets, but we only live once, so why not try something new... right?

     When uprooting the sets from the ground I found that they were tightly bound together by a tremendous root ball, sort of like the feeling one would have after eating too much pizza on free bowling night.  Anyway, the abundance of roots only allowed them to be dislodged from the soft soil in large clumps.  As can be seen there are many different sizes of bulbs; the larger ones should be eaten as shallots and the extra small bulbs may not be useful at all, but I'll plant them anyway if there is room in the garden.  There were plenty, perhaps hundreds, that should produce some great onions.  Always lean towards planting smaller bulbs.

     As I began shaking off the soil I found it to be quite easy, so much that I was almost amazed.  This ultra loose soil, made up of compost and well rotted sawdust, was a treat to work in.  And even though I have religiously wood chipped most of my growing beds after viewing the 'Back to Eden' DVD and visiting Paul at his home on the Washington Peninsula, I still  leave one or two beds un-chipped for jobs like this... or at least until I learn how to properly drop microscopic seeds into a conglomerate of fibrous wood chips and have them successfully grow through six to eight inches of these woody deterrents to become onion sets.  The problem I see is that sets begin with seed and are sown very close together, so wood chips are not the ideal environment for this process... If I am wrong please correct me!

      Next I  placed the sets on an unplanted bed of wood chips.  The reason for this was not only convenience since the chipped bed was right next to the onion sets, but because I hoped that by laying the sets on the rough chips the irregularity of the surface would provide a little more air circulation beneath them, thus accelerating the drying period.  In the picture below I had only extracted half of the sets from one bed; many are covered up by the roots of other sets and are hard to see.  The roots on these small sets were enormous.  The framed bed cover over the onions is to give protection in the case of rain or overnight dampness, which often occurs because, after all, this is Idaho and the old saying still used today is "If you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes".  
     Even in June the weather was cool when I harvested the would-be sets; if the sun were to get too hot I would drape a shade cloth across the top of the cover to keep the tender little sets from cooking... drying is that which is desired, but sometimes there is a very fine line between drying and cooking!  You must keep an eye on them if you desire success.  What happens when the sun beats on them too much is that the outer layers will begin to dehydrate or break down, causing rot or disease to occur. 

     Remember that these are second year bulbs so they will have the tendency to bolt easier.  When planting try to select only the smaller bulbs about the size of a dime; never get drawn into the misconception that bigger sets make bigger onions, that is  just not true.  And I would not plant the larger sets unless I needed more seed, which I do.  Most large growers plant their seed out in August to make sets, then place them in climate controlled environments waiting to be sold the following spring.  Our climate control is operated by the hand of God, and if He decides it will rain, I can guarantee that it will rain and if He thinks we should have scorching hot weather, well just get used to it!
     Later I will conclude this blog by showing how well or poorly the outcome was on my first attempt in growing onion sets.