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Wish List Wednesday: Cookbooks

Wish List Wednesday | Cookbooks

It’s Wish List Wednesday. I love all of the seasonal baking and cooking that happens during this time of year, which got me thinking about cookbooks I’d like to explore. So that’s exactly what today’s post is about! Keep in mind this is truly a ‘wish list’ rather than a list of recommended resources. I can’t recommend these books because I haven’t tried (most of) them personally – but I can definitely receive them, if you feel so inclined. :) Many of these cookbooks are in the Top 100 list of Healthy Diet Cookbooks on www.amazon.com. Hopefully you’ll find something on this list the tickles your fancy.

 For pictures, reviews and prices, click here.

Pure Michigan Cookbook: Eating Fresh and Local in the Great Lakes State

Source: mlive.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Cooking from the Farmer’s Market

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

1,001 Low-Carb Recipes

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

The Paleo Slow Cooker: Healthy, Gluten-Free Meals the Easy Way

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Gluten-Free on a Shoestring: Quick & Easy

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Practically Raw

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

The Fresh Energy Cookbook: Detox Recipes to Supercharge Your Life

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

The Indian Slow Cooker: 50 Health, Easy, Authentic Recipes

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Real Food Fermentation: Preserving Whole Fresh Foods with Live Cultures in Your Home Kitchen

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Start Fresh: Your Child’s

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

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Update: Hugelkultur on a Micro-Farm

Christmas is one week from today… but I’m still digging in dirt! Ever since the end of our CSA season I’ve been planning to double the size of our garden for 2013. The initial plan was to tackle this in the spring with a day full of volunteer help and free food! But then I learned about a new-to-me gardening method that requires a significant amount of fall preparation to be ready by spring – hugelkultur.

Hugelkultur is a German term that roughly translates to “mound culture”. The hugelkultur gardening method has been used in Eastern Europe for centuries and is essentially a sheet-composting method that involves burying woody debris (logs, branches, sticks) and other organic matter under a mound of earth to add nutrients to the soil and retain moisture. For more details on the definition, benefits and challenges of hugelkultur, hop over to this previous post.

If I had known earlier that I was going to want to implement hugelkultur principles into our expansion, I would have begun planning and implementing it back in October. Tackling this endeavor in November and December has provided its own set of challenges, but all the same, here’s an update on how things are going.

Hugelkultur Update

Recap

First a recap: I wanted to create 10 hugelkultur beds. Because we live in a suburban neighborhood, I felt it was important to partially bury the beds for the sake of appearance. The plan? Make them two or three feet deep, four feet wide and 12 feet long. That. Is. A. Lot. Of. Digging. I was already sooo tired of digging after creating our hotbeds that the thought of moving that many hundreds of cubic feet of earth one shovelful at a time made me want to faint! On top of that, I knew that time was of the essence since (at least in theory!) cold weather is on the way. So to avoid frozen earth and aching backs, I hired Luke Schemenauer and his bobcat to do the dirty digging work! [Luka (Luke) Schemenauer, 269-214-0837, luka@i2k.com]

Bring Wood!

Within a week of creating the pits, we had them all filled with old or rotting logs. The lumber came from our own property, including logs that had been lying around since we bought this house and wood from a dying maple tree we had to cut down a few years ago. We were also fortunate to develop a win-win situation with a number who has a brush pile that needed some clearing. We hauled off many logs and now he has that much less work! (Don’t worry – I asked first!).

This was an interim shot… they ended up more full than this.

How to Deal with Nitrogen Drawn-Down

Most of the wood we used is well-rotted, so it should retain moisture well and have a minimal incident of nitrogen-drawn down because it has already decomposed so much. (Because logs are carbon rich, they need a lot of nitrogen to decompose. Plants also need nitrogen and thus the log decomposition can ‘rob’ the plants of nitrogen they need.) There were three beds however that had somewhat newer wood (from the maple tree). From what I’ve read, nitrogen drawdown during the first year of planting can be an issue, but I’ve found very few people who actually experienced the dilemma. As a precaution, I did my best to add nitrogen-rich materials to these beds. This was one of the points where I wished I had developed my hugelkultur plans sooner – it’s hard to come by green, nitrogen-rich material at Christmas time!

The first bed received a modest helping of freshly cut grass clippings. (Yes, I mowed my Michigan lawn in December!) Despite having mowed about ½ an acre, this is all I got for my labor.

This wheelbarrow load of grass clippings came from mowing less than 1/3 of the lawn in December. I got about this much again after mowing the ‘Back 40? around the garden.

The second bed received all of the compost I could gather from this summer’s compost pile – around 9 cubic feet in all. I also continued to toss table vegetable scraps onto this bed right up until I covered it.

And the third bed got nothing. Not because the spirit of Scrooge came on me but because in the spring I’ll be planting beans in this bed. Since beans actually add nitrogen to the soil, I’m hoping it will be a sufficient defense against nitrogen-draw down.

All of these beds would have benefited from a layer of composted manure if time and my budget had allowed.

Add the Leaves!

With the beds full of logs and branches, I moved on to adding our fall leaves. I have to say I was a little hesitant about this since dead leaves are also carbon-rich and I feared they may contribute to nitrogen draw-down. But in the interest of adding other trace nutrients to the soil of my hugels, I took the leap. (Big thanks to my hubby for helping me with this!)

These beds are filled with rotting logs and branches, as well as a layer of fall leaves.

Hugelkultur beds that are partially buried. So far they’ve been filled with rotting logs and leaves.

To Water or Not?

My next challenge: Watering. The primary purpose of all this work is to develop raised beds which need little or no watering. And as I read online instructions for making hugelkultur beds, many people recommended ‘thoroughly wetting’ the logs at this point in the process. My challenge? It’s December. For a few hours a day, it’s warm enough to run a hose, but the freezing that happens to that hose after its use is a pain in the butt to deal with. Also it had rained during the week the logs had been in the pits (less than ½ an inch) and I wondered if that would be sufficient. I spent a morning researching and didn’t get any direct answers. One person commented on my question in the forum at www.permies.com that he thought the beds would probably retain more moisture from a good rain after being completed than from being hosed down in the midst of the process. With all of this in mind, I made the judgment call not to hose them down. *fingers crossed*

The logs had already been rained and snowed on several times, but with less than 1/2 an inch of precipitation.

Dirt Dilemma

Last but not least, we (hubby helped again!) worked on filling the holes back in with dirt. I knew it was going to be a major task to put that mountain of dirt back where it came from, but Ryan had an idea: We borrowed his father’s four-wheeler and used the snowplow to push the dirt back! In some cases, it worked really well. But then there was the awkwardness of figuring out how to fill the beds closest to the existing fence without driving over the beds on the outside. And then once all the small piles were gone, we realized that a snowplow is just not going to efficiently move a giant mound of dirt around.

Enter shovels. And a visit to the chiropractor. And then, well… I did something I hardly ever do. I gave up.

If I even see another shovel before spring, I may need therapy.

I owe you some ‘after’ pictures. Meanwhile, I thought I’d share a few shots of a little someone who came out to survey the work.

Marley came out to oversee our work.

Marley the Foreman.

I wonder if he approves?

Just before I gave up, I happened to look down a few lots and noticed that one of our neighbors has some manner of machinery with a big scoop on the front (a front loader?)!  I couldn’t say for sure, but I think there were angels ascending and descending on it… I promptly walked over to see if I could pay him to move some dirt, but no one was home. I’m planning to stop by again today and very much hope that he’ll be able to help us before (if?) the snow comes. If we haven’t been able to move the dirt before then, at spring time we’ll mound some up over the beds (six inches), add a layer of compost (six inches) and advertise the rest on Craigslist as free (come and get it!) fill dirt.

As it stands now, 8 hugels are level with the ground and filled with logs, leaves and dirt. Two more are dirt-less but otherwise level. And then there’s a would-be hugel pit that isn’t quite in the right spot so I plan to fill it in. So other than Mt. Dirtmore towering in the tree line, I think things look acceptable enough for the neighbors to tolerate through the winter. (As I’ve mentioned before, we want to be good neighbors!) Who knows, if the weather stays this mild, maybe I’ll eventually pick up a shovel again and chip away at that mountain bit by bit… maybe.

 
 

Square Foot Gardening Planting Spacing

Our first garden was a Square Foot Garden. We’re talking about an authentic by-the-book (written by Mel Bartholomew) SFG. There are so many reasons why Square Foot Gardening is a great method for growing, especially for those who are new to gardening (that was me!) or have modest-sized gardens. As we’ve continued to grow vegetables, we’ve made some changes to our methods. For example, we no longer use the Mel’s Mix gardening soil recipe and we’ve exchanged six inches of soil in a box for hugelkultur mounded beds. But one thing has remained constant – we follow Mel’s concept of intensive planting. This intensive planting method follows the logic that if a plant can handle certain spacing in a row (i.e., 2 inches apart) the same spacing should apply in all directions (2 inches to the side, but also above, below and on the other side). So if you look at your seed packet, you can use the recommended spacing to determine how many plants will fit per square foot (1 foot x 1 foot).

But who wants to stand around doing silly math when they could have someone else do it for them? Maybe I’m just lazy, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been about to plant something in the garden and thought “Oh wait, can you plant four or six heads of lettuce per square foot?” Invariably, I pull out my smart phone and fire up Google so that someone else can remind me. I did this so often that it occurred to me that others might be doing the same thing. And that if they (and I!) were going to be searching for this info frequently, it sure would be a handy service for Arcadia Farms to provide a lickity-split answer.

Square Foot Gardening Plant Spacing Cheat Sheet

So here it is – a SFG Cheat Sheet to let you know how many plants to sow per square foot. As a bonus, its designed to be easy to read from your mobile device. Bookmark this one – trust me, you’ll need it later.

 
 

Hugelkultur on a Micro-Farm

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that we’re planning to double the size of our market garden this coming spring. The plan is to have one or two volunteer days in the spring where we can build raised bed frames, move compost from the front of the house to the beds and put up the fence. Might sound like a lot of work but with five to ten volunteers (and a farm provided lunch!) it’ll go by super fast!

Then something happened that put a kink in my plans. I learned about a new-to-me gardening method called hugelkultur which requires a significant amount of fall work to implement in time for spring.

What is Hugelkultur

Hugelkultur is a German term that roughly translates to “mound culture”. The hugelkultur gardening method has been used in Eastern Europe for centuries and is essentially a sheet-composting method that involves burying woody debris (logs, branches, sticks) and other organic matter under a mound of earth. This gardening method mimics nutrient cycling that occurs in nature. When trees and branches fall to the floor of a forest, they act like a sponge as they decay. That sponge-like property allows the wood to soak up rainfall and then release it slowly into the soil use by surrounding plants. Hugelkultur beds are designed to take advantage of this natural water-retention cycle – so much so that some gardeners who use this method claim they never water at all. (Others say they have to water every few weeks or just once per season.) Wouldn’t that have been a handy drought-fighting benefit this year?

Click here for a video explanation and examples of low- or no-watering hugelkultur beds.

Benefits of Hugelkultur

In addition to water retention, hugelkultur has other benefits. The composition of the bed helps to improve drainage. The use of rotting logs and brush provides a way to turn what would otherwise be a yard work nuisance into a naturally occurring resource. As the wood breaks down, it adds nutrients to the soil and it also leaves behind small air pockets which are essential for root health. (Think of this as the ‘self-tilling’ benefit of hugelkultur.) Decaying wood also attracts worms to the bed, which help to till the soil and leave behind more nutrients as they eat. And in the first couple of years, the bed may provide for longer growing seasons since the massive amount of decomposition happening below will warm the beds slightly. And don’t forget that this is still a raised bed, which means all the benefits of raised beds come into play as well – no soil compaction (you don’t walk on the bed and squish out the air pockets), warms faster in the spring, is more ergonomically accessible (don’t have to bend all the way down to the ground to tend it) and allows for intensive planting (i.e. square foot gardening). [For source info for these proposed benefits, see the list of resources at the end of this post.]

So – at least in theory – using hugelkultur can dramatically reduce my irrigation needs, help me fight back against drought, improve my site drainage, improve my soil fertility, avoid tilling, continue intensive planting and get rid of several unsightly piles of rotting logs that can’t be used for anything useful otherwise? Sign me up!

Challenges of Hugelkultur

So this gardening method has a hip-sounding foreign name and a long list of potential benefits, but there are two sides to every coin. What are the challenges?

First, there’s the initial work involved. Lots of digging and moving of resources like compost, grass clippings, leaves, logs and manure. (Does your back hurt thinking about that, because mine does…) But like a lot of gardening methods that are popular today, the purpose of all this upfront work is to setup a system that can maintain itself going forward with minimal gardener intervention. In other words, more work now and less work later!

Next, there’s the size of the beds. In essence, the bigger they are, the greater the water-retention benefits. And I’m talking B.I.G. – upwards of six or seven feet tall!  That size requires a lot of resource (logs, soil, organic matter, etc.) and could be considered unsightly by neighbors. Of course smaller (2-3 feet tall) hugelkultur beds still have water retention abilities (weeks between watering) but those who claim to go without any water at all love to be called Big Poppa. The enormity of the height can be decreased by partially burying the bed. It is also mitigated by the fact that the bed will shrink in size as decomposition takes place, although I’m not sure how much. You can read more on all of that in the How To section of this post. I know we’re talking about challenges here, but I do want to point out that although there are challenges to a six-foot tall garden bed, the benefits are that you have more surface to plant in and the height makes for super duper easy harvesting (see picture below).

Woman harvesting from tall hugelkutur bed

One advantage of a tall hugelkultur bed is that harvesting and generally tending becomes much less of a back-straining task.Image credit:
The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia

The next challenge has to do with the type of deciduous (woody) matter used. First, in most of the reading I’ve done, it is recommended that you use big logs rather than a large amount of smaller branches or brush. I presume the bigger logs retain water better. Also, some types of lumber work better than others. For example, you would want to avoid black walnut as it contains a natural herbicide. Other lumber like pine or oak may contain significant tannins that might ‘sour’ the bed. And still others like cedar take a loooong time to decompose and would significantly delay the benefits of hugelkultur. In the case of lumber that contains tannins or takes a long time to decompose, you can avoid most (possibly all) of their drawbacks by using well-rotted wood. For example, pine that has already rotted substantially has probably lost a lot (most?) of its tannin. You would also want to avoid lumber that has been treated as this will introduce chemicals to your garden bed.

The last challenge I’d like to discuss has to do with nitrogen drawdown. Nitrogen drawdown refers to the fact that the logs (which contain much carbon) will need lots of nitrogen to decompose. That means during the first couple of years of a hugelkultur bed, the decomposing logs may rob your soil of some of the nitrogen that would otherwise be used by the plants growing in it. There are ways to mitigate this as well. For starters, using wood that has already been rotting for a while helps. This wood will likely have already taken on a significant amount of nitrogen – so much so that it may now be carrier of nitrogen rather than a taker! Also, adding lots of nitrogen-rich matter to the bed along with the wood will help to feed both decomposition and plant growth. This includes adding manure or ‘greens’ (like grass clippings and table scraps) to the bed. Another way to add nitrogen to the beds is to plant nitrogen fixing crops in it during the first growing season. These plants include crops like alfalfa, clover, rooibos, lentils, beans and peas. And lastly, you can fight back against first-season crop nitrogen deficiencies through natural fertilizers.

How to Build a Hugelkultur Bed

So now that you’ve read the benefits and challenges of hugelkultur, want to know how to build one? It’s pretty easy. The basic steps are:

  1. Create a pile of logs and branches that fits the dimensions of the bed you want.
  2. Add other organic matter such as grass clippings, leaves, kitchen scraps and manure. This step is option but highly recommended.
  3. Water thoroughly.
  4. Cover the entire pile with soil/compost to create a mound and then mulch the top. Use a mulch that will add nitrogen as it breaks down, like grass clippings or compost, rather than a carbon-rich mulch like wood chips that might take even more nitrogen out as it decomposes.
  5. If desired, you can use logs, rocks, boards, etc. as retaining walls, but these are not necessary.

Here are some optional steps you could insert.

  • If a super high mound doesn’t work for you, consider partially burying your hugelkultur bed. Dig 2-3 feet down and then start at step one above.
  • If you’ve dug a trench for your bed, add the freshly dug sod face down on top of the logs as step 3½ before adding soil to create the mound.
  • If you know where your walkways are going to be, consider digging up that sod as well and placing it on top of your logs. Double bonus – you add nitrogen rich material to your bed AND you don’t have to worry about controlling the grass and weeds in the aisles! (I would mulch the pathways after you dig up the sod so that new weed seeds can’t make your freshly cleared walkway their new home.)

Although you can plant in them directly after creation, hugelkultur beds work best if they cure for a while. As a best practice, build them in the fall for use the following spring. This allows time for some decomposition to take place before you begin planting.

Hugelkultur at Arcadia Farms

As I’ve mentioned, I planned to double the size of the garden in the spring of 2013. I’ve been focusing most of my efforts on converting our existing raised beds to hotbeds for winter growing, and let me tell you, that has involved no small amount of work! I could care less if I ever dig another 2 foot pit again!! (I’m thoroughly sick of digging!) But all this fall as I’ve been digging up earth and replacing it with manure, I’ve been learning about hugelkultur and came to terms with the fact that it would be a beneficial method to use in our garden expansions. Yeah, that’s right – in mid November I decided that it would be a good idea to dig up 1,728 cubic feet of earth before the ground freezes, then fill all the holes with logs and move the dirt back. (Have I mentioned how thoroughly sick of digging I am???)  I was convinced this was the best way to expand our garden for all the reasons I’m about to share with you, but I practically fainted at the idea of doing all that digging by hand. (Have I mentioned how thoroughly sick of digging I am??????)

Enter Luka Schemenauer of Schemenauer Farm! Looking at the enormous task before me and the reality of my time constraints, I realized I needed some serious earth-moving machine power to make this work. I looked into renting a bobcat but it would have cost $200 and with my non-existent experience, I imagined it taking ten million years to get the job done. So I hopped onto www.craigslist.org and found Mr. Schemenauer listed as someone who could do bobcat work. He was accommodating, pleasant to work with and has very reasonable rates. (He got the job done for about half the money as it would have been to do it on my own and in considerably less time than ten million years!) If you need similar work done in the southwest Michigan area, I highly recommend him. He also shared a little bit about his farm with me – you should look him up during blueberry season for a great deal on u-pick berries! [Luka (Luke) Schemenauer, 269-214-0837, luka@i2k.com]

I think hugelkultur will be helpful at Arcadia Farms because it:

  • Is a helpful defense against drought, which was a significant burden in season one
  • Can potentially reduce our water usage and expense
  • Can increase our soil fertility
  • Provides a way to get rid of lots of rotting wood we inherited when we moved here
  • Costs less than building conventional raised beds because we have most of the resources on hand and don’t need to build retaining walls
  • Is overall more sustainable than our conventional beds (will require fewer resources in the future)

Some of our site-specific challenges include:

  • Lumber type – our logs are primarily maple (good) and pine (not as good)
  • Suburban setting – I imagine that six-foot tall mounds would draw some unfavorable attention and we desire to be good neighbors
  • Nitrogen draw down – because it’s December already, we have a very limited amount of ‘greens’ to add to the beds to reduce nitrogen draw down. In addition, I don’t have enough manure to add to the beds. The time it would take to find and get more manure is desperately needed just to finish the beds.
  • Time. It’s December for Pete’s sake! Thank God for unseasonably warm weather, but I’ve got to get a move on if this thing is going to happen, mainly because the ground could start to freeze any day now.

Here’s my plan to take advantage of hugelkultur benefits while addressing our site-specific challenges:

  • Beds will be buried three feet below ground and raised up approximately two feet above ground. This results in a five foot deep bed that only appears to be two feet tall and that can be added to over time with new organic matter.
  • Most of our pine lumber is well rotted (at least seven years old, but probably much older) and our maple is two or three years old. This should decrease the amount of nitrogen draw down. Also the tanning should have leached out of the pine many moons ago. Four beds will contain only very rotted wood so that hopefully nitrogen draw down is a non-issue. After that I’m out of really old wood. The remaining six beds will contain newer (2-3 years old) wood so that I can concentrate the limited ‘green’ organic matter I have to those beds that need it most.
  • Planting in the fall (winter?) rather than spring should get the process of decomposition going, which hopefully means a portion of any nitrogen draw down will take place before I plant in them.
  • Beds will consist of logs and branches on the bottom, leaves and any greens we have next, topped with upside down sod (from digging up trenches and from the aisle ways) and then a layer of dirt from the holes. In this spring we’ll add composted manure and plant compost for planting in and to add nitrogen. I may also plant some nitrogen-fixing plants in the beds this winter. If we have a mild winter (which I actually hope we don’t!) these will add some nitrogen to the beds as they grow, even if there is no harvest.
  • To address the time issue, I enlisted the help of an experienced contractor with a bobcat to save me from the dreadful task of hand digging 14 holes that are each 144 cubic feet in size. (Ohh… the thought of it makes me ache…)

Resources

Interested in creating your own hugelkultur beds? Here are some resources you might find helpful.

Hugelkultur: The ultimate raised garden beds by Paul Wheaton (start here!)

The Art and Science of Making a Hugelkultur Bed – Transforming Woody Debris into a Garden Resource

Hugelkultur: Using Woody Waste in Composting

Hugelkultur: Composting Whole Trees With Ease

Half-Ass Hugelkultur

Hugelkultur on the Prairie (Or Learning from Our Mistakes)

Here are some photos of progress so far. I’ll be back with more soon!






 
 

Dye from Natural Causes

Straining natural blue dye through coffee filter

I heart food (and my belly shows it!). I hate food dye (and my baking shows it!).

Well, I don’t hate food dye – I hate artificial food dye. My distaste for Red 40 and other unnatural food colorings began when our son started having major issues with hyperactivity, attention deficit and unexplainable mood swings. His school was convinced he had A.D.D., needed to see a doctor and should be on medication. We were convinced that he was an energetic BOY with a very creative imagination… but agreed that he did have trouble following directions, often for no explainable reason because he knew what he should be doing and all signs pointed to the fact that he wanted to obey. While I concede that medication is a good choice in some situations, we much prefer to look for natural answers to issues before jumping for pills.

So we started doing some research… it didn’t take long before we discovered the link between artificial food dye/coloring and health problems in children, especially hyperactivity. Attention deficit and extreme mood swings were also in the list of symptoms.

According to www.cspinet.org “the three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens [cancer causing substances], says CSPI. Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen, yet is still in the food supply.”

We did an experiment – no artificial dye for the little guy for as long as possible and then we’d see what happened. What did we see? Several things! First, his ability to follow directions, pay attention and control himself was markedly improved after we cut artificial dye in his diet. Second, when he did eat artificial dye – even a relatively small amount – we could see a spike in problem behaviors. And lastly, we saw that artificial dyes are (expressly and sometimes covertly) in a significant number of things that simply don’t need coloring! (Marshmallows have blue dye, some ‘fresh’ tomatoes have red dye on them, meat sometimes has red dye to make it look fresh, etc.)

Angry Grocery Shopping

We quickly discovered how difficult it is to feed kids without giving them artificial color. I had recently become a label reader because of my concern and curiosity about what’s in the ‘food’ we eat. Now I do it religiously. Grocery shopping takes longer. It drives home the point for me of how important it is to produce the food my family eats. And to be honest, grocery shopping has evolved into a task that makes me angry. I love capitalism like most people love the Beatles (seriously) but I just can’t fathom how people working for corporations who put these chemical-ridden, processed health hazards with pictures of dinosaurs and princesses onto grocery shelves can sleep at night! It makes me mad that I have to scour the label to make sure I’m not poisoning my family – and that even after reading I can’t be 100% sure I know what’s in there. (Have you ever read the ingredients list for lunch meat? Yeah, I said ‘list’, as in five or six things other than just ‘turkey’.) Grrr…

Happy Frosting

Cupcake with red raspberry dyed frosting

This pink frosting is made using dye from red raspberries.

So there. Every two weeks when I go to the grocery store I get a little hot under the collar. But let’s move on to something a little more sunshiney-puppies-kittens-balloons-and-smiles-ish, shall we? I like to cook and bake so I haven’t minded that whenever Owen is invited to a birthday party, I have to bake some dye-free cupcakes for him to take along. (He doesn’t mind either – he’d rather eat a separate cake than deal with the affects of artificial dye on his behavior!) So far I’ve had a chance to experiment with different homemade cake mixes and frostings. (We especially like this frosting recipe – I substituted almond extract for the vanilla and it was delicious! We’ve had it with and without cocoa.) Once we used the chocolate frosting, otherwise it has been plain old white. Owen doesn’t seem to mind, but I think we would both enjoy a little color.

Owen was invited to a birthday party today, so today I whipped up some butter cream frosting along with natural food dye – red, purple, blue, and orange! Hooray!

Wouldn’t you like to try baking with natural food dyes? Not only are you avoiding chemical health risks, you’re also adding a teeny bit of nutritional value to what would otherwise be a delicious lump of creamy sugar! Scroll down for recipes and my thoughts on how they taste.

How to Store Natural Food Dye

But one quick note before we get to the recipes: Those tiny squeeze bottles of artificial dye sitting among your baking supplies don’t spoil or go bad. {Selah} Natural food dye won’t last a decade like the fake stuff. You’ll need to store it in the fridge in a sealed container (mason jar with a tightly closed lid?). I can’t say for sure how long it will last, but one article I read said it will go bad after two weeks. Signs that the coloring has gone bad are an odd odor or mold spores. If you want to refresh the coloring after one week has gone by, try bringing it to a boil for 30 seconds which would kill any mold spores but will likely deteriorate the color. Consider this your excuse to bake more sweets so you can use it all up in the two week window!

Another idea: Freeze the coloring in ice cube trays for on-demand, small quantities of color at a later time!

Pale purple forsting on cupcake

This pale purple frosting is made using dye from a red cabbage.

Natural Food Dye Recipes and Reviews

When using natural food dyes, substitute the dye for liquids used in your recipe. I’m currently working on developing some concentrated dye that can be used more like conventional dye and that is preserved with ascorbic acid or vodka for long-keeping. I’ll update you when I have those experiments figured out!

Natural Dye Recipe

2 cups chopped fruit or vegetables

1 cup of water (approximate)

* Add chopped fruit/vegetables to small saucepan

* Simmer on medium heat until desired color and consistency is reached

* Once fruit/vegetable is soft, mash with fork or potato masher to expel more color

* Strain mixture through coffee filter or cheesecloth into a glass container

* Clean saucepan; return strained juice to saucepan and boil down to further concentrate color

* Allow dye to cool before using

RED – RASPBERRIES

Taste: There’s definitely a raspberry taste to the frosting when using this dye. I’ve read that beets are the way to go when you want red dye with very minimal taste. However at the time of writing this post I decided to use only things I had on hand, including frozen raspberries. Perhaps I’ll go dig up some beets for a follow-up post.

PURPLE  – RED CABBAGE

Taste: No cabbage taste but there is a cabbage smell to the dye all by itself

BLUE – RED CABBAGE

* Follow same instructions but add small amounts of baking soda to the dye as it cools to obtain the desired color.

Taste: No cabbage taste but there is a cabbage smell to the dye all by itself

ORANGE – CARROTS

Taste: No carrot taste

GREEN – SPINACH

Haven’t had a chance to try this yet!

 
 
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