Here are a few of my favorite discoveries:
- Rubbing your hands with a couple teaspoons of salt then running them under cold water will get rid of painful onion and aromatic garlic oils. Many a time my children have found me, mascara streaming down my cheeks, eyes clenched tight, furiously scrubbing my hands with salt. They've quit asking me if I'm OK; they know that within moments I'll be happily cooking again.
- You shouldn't add liquids to any dry good mixture containing baking powder until the last possible moment before mixing, so whatever you're cooking will have the perfect texture and height. This goes for your pancakes, quick breads, biscuits and any other item in which you include baking powder.
- Baking cornbread in a cast iron skillet. I don't know why I love this so much, but it makes me happy each and every time.
- Canning. Magical. It's hot, long hours, and don't even think about doing the cost analysis between the amount of time it took you to plant, grow and can the food compared to what it would have cost to go to the Piggly Wiggly and pluck it off the shelf. That's not what it's all about. It's about staring at the beautiful jars on your shelf, knowing YOU did that, knowing none of the goodness was cooked out - it's all sealed right up there in the jars; knowing there's nothing artificial or mysterious in those jars. It's love and health and security all gathered under a shiny, sealed tight lid.
- Using honey in place of sugar in cornbread, pancakes and homemade buttermilk syrup means your family will be calling out to you from the table, singing your praises with their mouths full, while you're still pulling the last batch of pancakes off the griddle before sitting down with them. Usually, we wait till we're all sitting down to bless the food, but this is one meal where we bless the food before I'm done cooking, because once the syrup is done and the plate is piling high with pancakes, my crew can't stand the suspense any longer.
- Grinding popcorn for cornmeal. It's beautiful, fresh and so full of flavor. And a cost saver: I never throw away ancient, half-used boxes of expensive cornmeal anymore. I buy regular popcorn, grind a small handful at a time and throw any extra - no matter how little is left - in a baggie and into the freezer. Then, I use the remnants for tossing on a baking stone before popping rustic bread or pizza pies into the oven.
- Oatmeal pancakes. They must be served with homemade syrup, which is easy to whip up while the pancakes are cooking. Served alongside bacon and perhaps fried eggs, it's the best breakfast ever. But you better get those kids off their tushies and engaged in some strenuous project right after they eat, or everyone will be heading off for naps following this carb-packed meal.
But first, my final favorite discovery - not one I learned in recent years, but from my Grandma Potts, when I was a little girl: drop a slice of homemade cornbread in a bowl, cover it in fresh cream or milk, and sprinkle with sugar. It's a ridiculously rustic, country little treat and I've never eaten it without being transported back to Grandma's little single-wide trailer up on the hill in Pottsville, sitting at the rickety table looking out the kitchen window at Grandpa's beloved roses.
Love from the farm,
1 C flour (we use 1/2 C wheat, 1/2 C white)
1 C quick oats
2 T honey (or sugar if you don't have honey)
2 T baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1.5 C buttermilk (I always just add a teaspoon or two of vinegar to regular milk and let it sit for a few minutes to sour)
1/4 C oil
Sour milk and set aside. Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add buttermilk (or sour milk), eggs and oil (and honey, if you have it); mix well. Cook on a hot griddle or frying pan.
It'll Do Buttermilk Syrup
(this is good, but as soon as I find our favorite syrup recipe, I'll replace this)
2 C sugar
3 T honey (or white Karo syrup)
1/2 C butter
1 tsp baking soda
1 C buttermilk or sour milk (see above for how to sour milk)
1 tsp vanilla
Mix all ingredients in a large kettle or saucepan (think deep! The syrup boils up high). Bring to a rolling boil for 3 minutes. Stir frequently. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Serve over pancakes or French toast.