Squeeky Clean

You can search natural household cleaners and come up with a long list of homemade cleaners. Each having the same ingredients, just different proportions. If you look long enough you can find the same recipes titled for different use. Here’s the skinny on things as far as I’m concerned.

vintage-cleaning

Hot water and elbow grease will go a long way. Commercial cleaners are made to work at a cold or room temperature and with little or no scrubbing. This is fine and dandy, but how harsh of chemicals do you want to have on hand? I would rather not have any. If my little guy gets into the cleaning supplies he may get sick but I won’t have to call poison control or make a trip to the E.R.

Because vinegar is very acidic it works well as an antibacterial and antifungal. Granted, I wouldn’t rely on it to kill absolutely everything, it will kill a fair amount. For a better smelling vinegar you can place any citrus peels in a jar and fill it with vinegar. Allow this to sit for a week or two. Strain the vinegar and use as normal. This will have a more citrus scent.

Baking soda or Sodium Bicarbonate is an alkaline and is a great scrubbing abrasive. Combined with vinegar you get a great fizz. This works well for unclogging drains. It will also loosen scum that is hard to scrub off. The benefits of both baking soda and vinegar are best not combined. Once the chemical reaction has occurred between the two, you are left with carbon dioxide and water.

I like the fizz when vinegar and soda are combined. So I will first scrub with the soda then rinse with the vinegar. Once the fizz is finished I then rinse with hot water. Everything gets nice and shiny clean.

Borax Washing Soda is another great cleaning product. This too works for almost everything. Chemically it is very close to Baking soda. I use it in my homemade laundry detergent as well as adding some to extra dirty laundry. It also makes a great scrubbing agent.  I like to use this in combination with baking soda as my scouring powder in place of Ajax or Bar Keepers Friend.

Salt is a cleaning supply that might surprise you. Not only is it great for scrubbing your cast iron but as a paste it will polish brass and copper. It will remove oil stains on fabric and coffee stains in your favorite mug, for a couple examples.

Cleaning supplies don’t need to be fancy or made of artificial chemicals to get the job done. The homemade alternative don’t need to be an extra long list of recipes either.

Happy Cleaning!

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All Things Lavender

LavenderLavender, native to the Mediterranean, is a rather tender plant. There are at least eighty varieties, some more hardy than others. The hardy varieties are also known as English Lavender. Most lavender doesn’t winter well in the north. I have a very nice plant in North Dakota that did well every year. I never got as big as most get but it produced blooms ok and never froze out, so I consider it a success.

I started my seeds a couple weeks ago (early February). This first one just popped up! I know this seems a bit early and according to the seed packet it is. Starting lavender from seeds is pretty straight forward, plant the seed, water it, and keep the soil temperature at around 70 degrees. However, I have never had good luck starting from seed with lavender and I am determined this year. Starting lavender from seed can be difficult, especially the hardier varieties. They can take over a month to germinate! Before I knew this I would give up watering after three weeks or so… no wonder why I never had good luck. We have also always kept our houses on the cooler side (around 65 degrees in the winter) so I’m sure this has played a role in the slow germination in years past. Our “new” house is even cooler, (set at 60 degrees) I keep the wood  stove going during the day and that heats the house to a balmy 70 degrees. To give my plants the little extra boost I set the by the wood stove. The tiles there get quite warm. When spring gets a little closer and the seed starting begins to take over, an electric blanket under the sprouting trays will keep the soil temps where they should be.

The goal over is to have lavender planted along the fence line that borders the drive way. I know this will take years because its a long fence line. Once I get the first few plants going and am sure I have the variety with the best chance of making it through the winter I can propagate with cuttings. To do this start with a well established plant that is at least a few years old. Cut a longer, healthy stem, cutting close to the ground getting some of the woody stalk. Dust with a little root promoting hormone if you wish, this can help prevent the stem from rotting before the roots establish. I use cinnamon instead. I always have it on hand and it works just as well. Then place the cutting in loose, sandy soil about 3 -4 inches deep. Keep the cuttings watered and they will soon start growing roots. Let the plants grow for a couple seasons before transplanting.

After a few years, when I have my cuttings ready for transplant, down the fence line they go!. I can easily fill in between the plants by simply bending a healthy stem to the ground. Cover a portion with soil, leaving the top above ground. This too with begin to sprout roots, thus giving me yet another plant! This way I don’t need to start 400 plants to cover the fence line.

Lavender requires well draining soil that is well composted. Pick a place where the plants get at least 6 hours of sun a day.

Once your plants are growing well they should be pruned. Cut  the plant back by about half in either the early spring or in the fall after the it has bloomed.

To harvest your lavender simply cut the stems when almost all the little flowers are opened. Don’t wait until they begin to fade. The flowers can be used fresh or dried. To dry them, tie the stems in bunches and hang, blooms down, in a cool dry place. Too much light and heat will evaporate the essential oils. Once the flowers are dry, carefully strip them from the stem, compost the stems and store the flowers in a dark glass jar or in another air tight container out of the light.

Now that you have flowers there are so many great things you can do with them! Here are just a couple of my favorites.

Lavender Truffles -See below.

Muscle Soothing Bath Tea -See below.

Tension Headache Relief
There are a couple ways to use lavender to relieve headaches. Just smelling lavender can relieve stress.
Balm- Combining oils, beeswax and some essential oils you can make a balm. Rubbing this on you temples and neck relieves the ache and tension, thus relieving the stress. (This is available for purchase in the Country Market.)
Tea- Lavender tea is another way to relieve and calm a headache. This also helps ease indigestion.

Soap
Kind of a given, adding lavender blooms and/or lavender essential oil to your favorite soap recipe is great too.

Lavender Salt
Add a couple drops of lavender essential oil to a cup of sea salt and mix well.
There are many uses for sea salt in bath products, cleaning products and even cooking.

Steamed Fish With Lavender Salt and Lemon
Cut circles out of parchment paper.
On each piece lay one fish filet.
Top the filet with a light pinch of Lavender Salt, a dusting of pepper, and a slice of lemon and a little butter.
Fold the parchment over the filet, then folding the top and bottom parchment edges together to form a pocket.
Place these in the oven and bake at 350 until the fish is done. (I can’t give a time because it will vary depending on the type of fish and size of filet.)
I like to serve this with steamed asparagus and a salad of arugula and shaved parmesan cheese.

Lavender Truffles
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Lavender Truffles
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Ingredients
  • 1 cup Heavy Cream
  • 2 tbsp Lavender Blooms
  • 2 cup Dark Chocolate
  • Cocoa
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Combine the cream and lavender, warm slowly.
  2. Allow this to steep. Once the cream has cooled, strain the lavender from the cream.
  3. In a double boiler, place the chocolate and the cream.
  4. Slowly melt the chocolate stirring often.
  5. Once melted, stir quickly until you can see your reflection in the chocolate cream. (this can be difficult if you use cheap chocolate that has a lot of fillers and additives in it.).
  6. Pour this into a shallow pan or container and let cool.
  7. Once cooled, scoop the truffle cream into small balls.
  8. Roll the truffles in the cocoa and serve
Recipe Notes

** Variations: Substitute white chocolate for the dark and use 1/2 c cream instead. Truffles can be rolled in nuts, sprinkles or anything you like.

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Muscle Soothing Bath Tea
Print Recipe
This is what my midwife recommended for me after the birth of our son. It was amazing how much this helped
Muscle Soothing Bath Tea
Print Recipe
This is what my midwife recommended for me after the birth of our son. It was amazing how much this helped
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup Dried Lavender
  • 3/4 cup Dried Comfrey Root
  • 1/4 cup Sea Salt
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Place everything in a sauce pan and add water.
  2. Boil for about 45 minutes.
  3. Strain the tea into a hot bath and relax.
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Deer Fat Soap Revived!

You may remember my attempt to make soap from the fat I rendered from my deer this fall. Found here. The soap was really nice but is crumbled slightly when I tried to slice it. I was going to call it quits and wait until next fall, hopefully get a deer and try it all over again. Well, I couldn’t wait until next fall. No, I didn’t shoot another deer.

I did a little searching and decided to try melting the soap and re-pouring it. I got it all melted down and added a fair amount of water. This activated the comfrey root and lavender I had in there. The soap turned into a dark tea color and the fragrance although  still subtle came through a little more. During the curing process the bars did shrink a little more that others I have made. I think this was due to the herbs soaking up a little extra moisture. That being said it has turned into a great, sudsy soap!

Deer Fat Soap

I do have a few for sale in my Country Market if you would like to give it a try! Comfrey Lavender Tea Soap.

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Liquid Laundry Detergent

A while ago I wrote a recipe for powdered laundry detergent. I like the recipe but grating the bars of soap into small enough flakes to dissolve in the wash takes a lot of time, I’ve ran it through our hand crank meat grinder. That worked good but by the time it was cleaned and put away I wasn’t ahead any time. I could wash all my laundry in hot water so the larger flakes would melt but I don’t find that economical.

I’ve made the switch to liquid laundry detergent. It takes a little time to make as well but most of the time doesn’t need my supervision. It works great too! (Maybe even better than the powder)

Liquid Laundry Detergent
2 oz plain Farmhouse Soap(Ivory, or Fels Naptha will work too)
1/2 c Washing Soda
1/2 c Borax
Roughly chop the bar soap.
Place the soap and 6 cups of water in a sauce pan and heat slowly to melt the soap.
Remove from the heat and add the soda and borax and stir until it’s dissolved.
Pour 1/2 a gallon (2quarts) of hot water into a pail (at least 2 gallon capacity).
Pour the soap mixture into the pail and stir.
Add 1 gallon and 2 cups of water to the pail and stir.

I then pour this mixture into 2 qt jars or into a container from store bought detergent and let it set for 24 hours. This will thicken to an egg white consistency gel. If you prefer it thicker cut back on the water.

Use 1/2 c for top load washers and 1/4 cup for high efficiency washers.

UPDATE: This works great for cloth diapers too!

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Deer Fat Soap

This fall, as I mentioned prior, I was blessed with a small deer. When we were cutting up the meat for steaks, sausage and canning there was lots of fat trimmings. Most red meat leaving some fat on the meat is a good thing, venison fat has a much higher melting temperature. I don’t know the exact temperature but I do know that having a piece of fat on a venison steak is quite unpleasant compared to beef. Also I’ve been told the fat can give the meat a “gamey” flavor. I don’t know that that would be the sole reason for a deer to taste as such, but may play a role.

Anyways, we were getting the meat cut and trimmed and I asked my dad if he had one more bowl I could use. Unknowingly, there wasn’t another one in the shop so he headed to the house to find one for me. After he left I chuckled as I said to my husband “he’s gonna roll his eyes when he finds out I want the bowl to save the fat”. In years past the fat has always been discarded for the animals to eat. He got back with the bowl, rolled his eyes as expected and said “Why am I not surprised…”

I put the fat in the freezer for a mid winter batch of soap. In doing some “investigative journalism” otherwise known as tea with grandma and reading though a few family history books she wrote, I found out how she and great grandma used to make soap. As usual I find the old ways better than new, but there hasn’t been much of a change in homemade soaping over the years with the exception of the availability of different oils and fats.

Soap making on grandma’s farm was always done in the spring for a couple reasons. Butchering was done throughout the winter due to the lack of refrigeration. Lye, a toxic poison necessary for soap making, gives off fumes that you don’t want to inhale.

If you look up soap making today you will find you need a soap mold. They come in various sizes and shapes. Grandma said they used cardboard boxes lined with paper. My next batch I plan to do the same; I still haven’t invested in any fancy soap mold and I have boxes.

Soap was made with the rendered fats from that years butchering. Today you can order all sorts of wonderful fats and oil such as jojoba, coconut, olive, palm, and shea butter to name a few. I enjoy using the “fancy” fats, but there’s something about making some down home farmhouse soap with rendered fats.

Last year I had the treat of using pure duck fat to make a very small batch of “Duck Fat Soap”. A chef friend of mine Loves, with a capital “L”, duck and duck fat. He gave me the fat and I made him soap. It turned out pretty good. Light lather, hard bars but soft feeling soap and pure white color.

This winters experimental fat soap was deer. I know they’ve been making soap from rendered venison for years long before my time, but for me having no recipe it was an experiment.

rendering fat

Rendering the fat took a couple days because I didn’t want to warm it too quickly and have it scorch. I know it has a high melting point but I also know if your fat gets too warm and the color darkens even a little it will affect the end product of soap. To render any fat put it in a heavy bottom pot, I used my enamel coated cast iron, add a couple inches of water to the fat and warm very slowly. You can warm the fat on the stove or in the oven, whichever works best for you.

rendered fat

 

Once the fat is completely melted let it cool. It will then turn back to a solid on top of the water. break the fat and dump the water. Most of the bits of meat and anything else that was on the fat should have sank to the bottom. If the fat is not as clean as you would like repeat the process. Venison is by far the worst smelling fat I’ve rendered so far.

Now the fat is ready for soap. I had planned to just use the venison for this batch but for some reason I decided to use some coconut oil I had too.

Coconut Venison Soap
14 oz Coconut oil
16 oz Venison fat
4.3 oz Lye
12 oz Water
4-5 tbsp. Comfrey Root
2/3 c Dried Lavender

Combine and heat the fats slowly at this point I added the lavender and comfrey because I wanted them to have time to steep. Generally I don’t like “chunks” In my soap. I had planned to let this steep and strain it before adding the lye. But as luck would have it I didn’t realize I was out of cheese cloth before it was too late. If I were using essential oils I would add them later.

lyeVery carefully add the water to the lye in a glass container, outside.
**This should be done with extreme care because getting the lye on your skin will severely hurt you. This should be done outside because of the fumes it lets off. Lye also heats itself to a hot temperature. This is  why I make soap in the winter.

soap

I cooled both the fat and lye water to 120 degrees, Then added the lye water to the fat.
Stir briskly for about 20 minutes, until the mixture traces.
**Tracing is when you can see the path of the spoon after you stir.
Pour the soap into a mold of your choice.
(I used an enamel coated jelly mold, I have  spent enough time in the kitchen that I can do almost any household and construction project with things only found in the kitchen! I can mud and tape sheet rock like nobody’s business. 🙂 )

soap

Let the soap sit in the mold for a day.

soap

After a day remove the soap from the mold and cut into bars and let set for about 3 weeks to cure.

soap

I have to say I can make soap but I am not the best soap maker the world and this batch proved it. The soap turned out ok. It had nice color, good lather and scent (not like the fat when it was rendering thank goodness.) The only problem I had was cutting it. One cut would like nice and the other would kinds crumble. From what I can tell it was due to my cooling temperature. Soap made solely with venison fat should cool to  120 degrees as well as the lye. Soap made solely with coconut oil should be cooled to 130 degrees and the lye at 70 degrees. So I guessed at the temperatures and guessed wrong. Everything else about the soap turned out great. So if you know the right temperatures I would love to be able to edit my recipe if your willing to share.

Next year hopefully I will get another deer and another chance to get this right.

I couldn’t wait until next year to try and fix this, here is part two.

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