It doesn’t take long for those who get involved in the homestead movement to become interested in the lost kitchen skills of our grandparents and great-grandparents. Cooking from scratch is where most of us start, even if we start by cooking only one or two meals a week from scratch. As we master more cooking techniques, experience a few successes, and start reading more of the labels on “healthy foods” we buy at the grocery store, we are ready to experiment and expand our kitchen knowledge.
It sure didn’t take too long for me to move from cooking meals from scratch to making ingredients from scratch. Things like vegetable and bone broth, baking extracts, flavored sugars, yogurt, butter, and lard can be made from home. They taste better and are free from the chemicals and unnecessary ingredients found in the store-bought version. Remember, the closer you can stay to the natural state of real, whole food, the better. Not only better for your physical and financial health, but for the environment as a whole. The more you can DIY from leftover products or scraps, the less food has to travel, the less packaging has to be used, and the more self-sufficient you will become. Zero-waste cooking costs less and makes more. It helps you become a more creative cook and it fights food insecurity at the basic level.
If your family eats meat, it makes good sense to learn how to render your own lard and make your own bone broth. Lard has gone out of fashion, but it is a completely natural food, unlike cottonseed and canola oil. Lard has a very high smoke point which makes it perfect for frying and a high melting point which makes it ideal for making flaky crusts and pastries. It is also very simple to make and, if you use pasture-raised animals, much healthier than the lard you buy at the grocery store.
You can make lard with any animal fat. Simply trim the fat from the meat as cleanly as possible. Store in a large freezer bag until you have filled the bag. When you are ready to render the lard, remove from the freezer and dice as small as possible.
- Place the fat in a slow cooker on low. Leave the lid off. The cracklings will eventually sink to the bottom and rise back to the top. When they rise back to the top, your lard is ready.
- Strain the contents of the slow cooker through a colander to remove the cracklings. Strain the liquid through a double layer of cheesecloth to remove any bits of meat and sediment. The liquid will be pale yellow and will turn white as it solidifies.
- Place in a glass jar or non-reactive metal container. Let it set up at room temperature until cool. Lard has been used long before refrigeration so it is shelf-stable, but it will last longer if you store it in the refrigerator.
If you overcooked the lard or burnt it around the edges, it will still be fine to use for frying. It will have a stronger flavor and will not be suitable for crusts and pastries.
Bone broth is equally easy to make. Save chicken bones in the freezer until you have a large bag of bones. When you are ready to make the broth, take the bones from the freezer and let thaw.
- If you are using vegetable scraps in your broth, place them at the bottom of your slow cooker. Place the bones on top and cover with water. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar. Cover with the lid and cook on low for 24 hours.
- Place a colander over a large bowl and strain the contents of the slow cooker through the colander. Strain the broth through a double layer of cheesecloth into a clean jar. Store in the refrigerator and use within a week.
If you do not eat meat, you can make a vegetable broth by saving vegetable scraps in the freezer and processing the same way.
Dairy products are another group of mysterious products that seem impossible to make at home. Items such as butter and yogurt are becoming increasingly expensive, so I was happy to discover how easy they are to make at home. If you have your own cows or dairy goats, you can make these products for next to nothing.
There are several different types of butter, all easy to make at home. Sweet butter, clarified butter, and cultured butter. Cultured butter is made from cultured cream, or cream that contains live bacterial cultures. Live cultures are good for your gut health and cultured butter is much more flavorful than sweet butter.
Making Cultured Butter from Scratch
- 1 qt. heavy cream – do not use ultra-pasteurized cream
- 3 T. cultured buttermilk, plain unsweetened yogurt, or cultured sour cream
- Combine the heavy cream and cultured buttermilk in a lidded container. Let the container sit at room temperature 24-48 hours. The mixture will thicken and develop a tangy flavor. Transfer the container to the refrigerator for at least one hour.
- Place the chilled mixture in a lidded glass jar and shake until it becomes the consistency of soft-peak whipped cream.
- Once thickened, place a sieve over a clean glass jar. Strain the liquid from your butter mixture into the jar. Place the butter in the sieve and press gently to release any more liquid into the jar. This is true buttermilk and will keep in your refrigerator for up to two weeks.
- Transfer the butter to a mixing bowl. Wash with very cold water, pressing liquid out through a sieve. Repeat this washing process several times. Once the water pressed from the butter runs clear, repeat once more.
- Divide the butter in half and shape as desired. Wrap in waxed paper and store in the refrigerator.
Homemade yogurt is even easier to make than butter.
- 1/2 gallon milk
- 1/2 c. plain, unsweetened yogurt
- To make yogurt, heat ½ gallon of milk in a large Dutch oven. Stir while heating, as you do not want to scorch the milk. Allow the milk to heat until just before it begins to boil. Turn off the heat and allow the milk to cool to a temperature of 112-115 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Remove one cup of the slightly cooled milk and pour it into a deep mixing bowl. Gradually add ½ cup plain, unsweetened yogurt, whisking constantly until the yogurt is dissolved.
- Pour the thinned yogurt into the large pot of warm milk. Whisk to combine.
- Put the lid on the Dutch oven and place the pot in a warm area overnight.
- Strain yogurt through a double layer of cheesecloth. Once most of the liquid has drained from the yogurt, gather the corners of the cheesecloth and squeeze out excess liquid. This liquid is whey and will keep in your refrigerator. It is a nutritional boost to baked goods and smoothies.
- Transfer yogurt to storage containers and store in the refrigerator. Remember to save back ½ cup of your homemade yogurt to use as a starter for your next batch.
Lard, bone broth, butter, and yogurt are fun cooking projects but there are a lot of ways to reduce kitchen waste that don’t take any time at all. We all have food scraps, and the more you cook from scratch, the more scraps you collect. They don’t all have to hit the compost pile. When you are saving food scraps, the best practice is to keep them in the freezer until you have enough to use.
Vegetable scraps can include peelings and the ugly tops and bottoms that usually get tossed out. Broccoli “trunks” can be saved and used to make cream of broccoli soup or broccoli rice casserole. Wilting carrots and zucchini are perfect to grate up and add to pancakes and quick breads. An assortment of vegetable scraps can be added to winter soups or used to make a vegetarian stock. Potato skins lose something in the freezer, but they are delicious fried in a little oil. Top your mashed potatoes with those crispy treats.
Fruit scraps can make a delicious fruit vinegar that is really tasty on fruit salads or pilafs. Simply fill a jar with fruit scraps, add one tablespoon sugar, and cover with water. Cap tightly and shake daily. It will go from a fruity water to a slightly alcoholic drink to a fruit vinegar.
Citrus peels can be candied, made into marmalade, dried and turned into zest, or added to a container of granulated sugar. The lightly citrus sugar is terrific in hot teas or used in sugar cookies. Spent vanilla beans can be placed in a canister of sugar as well, or use them to make your own vanilla extract.
Old bread can be turned into croutons or breadcrumbs. Past-its-prime bread is also perfect for bread puddings or French toast.
The more time you spend learning these lost kitchen skills and cooking from scratch, the more ways you will find to use everything you have, and the closer you will be in your quest for self-sufficiency.