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  (Portage, Michigan)
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Processing Pie Pumpkins

One of the few (possibly the only) crop I grew solely for our family this year was pie pumpkins. I only used one bed and ended up with about a dozen pumpkins. The pumpkins have been sitting around the house for a couple of weeks now, just waiting to be processed. After doing a little research (bless you, Google) and talking to a friend (bless you, Carrie) I decided to process our pumpkins using a combination of methods. I’m roasting my pumpkins in the oven and then dehydrating them to be stored in powder form. Here’s how…

Step 1: Roast the Pie Pumpkins

Dehead the pumpkin. (For those of you who don’t live with an 8-year-old boy or like to pretend you’re Eowyn, that just means “cut the top off.”)

how to process pie pumpkins

how to process pie pumpkins

Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and stringy mess. The goal is to get rid of as much stringiness as possible. If you set the seeds aside you can roast them alongside the pumpkin!

how to process pie pumpkins

Cut the pumpkin into quarters by first cutting it in half and then halving the halves.

how to process pie pumpkins

Place the pumpkin pieces on a cookie sheet with the skin side up. This will help to retain moisture as the pumpkin pieces roast.

how to process pie pumpkins

how to process pie pumpkins

Roast in the oven at 350* for 45 minutes or until the pumpkin pieces are fork-tender. They will look like this.

how to process pie pumpkins

Step 2: Puree the Roasted Pumpkin

When the pumpkins are done roasting the skin will be soft and somewhat withered. Allow the pumpkin to cool enough that you can handle it without being burned and then peel away the skin. Don’t be impatient or you’ll burn yourself! I used both a knife and my bear hands to remove the skin. It was an easy process.

The next step is to place chunks of the roasted pumpkin into a blender or food processor. After some experimenting I found that I needed to add about 1 tablespoon of water to each batch to obtain a smooth consistency.

how to process pie pumpkins

Since I plan to dehydrate my puree, a little extra water is no big deal. If however you are planning to freeze your puree, be careful not to make it too runny. If needed, you can remove excess moisture by placing a cheesecloth in a colander and letting the puree drain.

Also here’s where our freezing friends get off the train: Carefully scoop your puree into freezer-safe bags. Seal all but a small corner of the bag then lay it on the counter to smooth out the puree into a flat layer and push out excess air. Seal her up, label that puppy and stick it in the freezer for up to six months.

Step 3: Dehydrate the Puree

For those of you riding this train all the way into the station, it’s time to dehydrate your pumpkin puree.

Spread the puree out evenly onto a tray of your dehydrator and dehydrate for about 12 hours. I tried using both the mesh liner and the solid liner that came with my dehydrator. The mesh liner was a disaster – there was no way to get all of the dried pumpkin off it and the small bits I did retrieve accounted for a teeny portion of the entire tray. Boo. The solid liner, however, worked brilliantly.

how to dehydrate pumpkin

how to dehydrate pumpkin

Dehydrating in the Oven
Unfortunately I only have one solid liner which means I can only dehydrate a small amount of puree at a time (about 1 pumpkin). As an alternative I attempted to dehydrate puree in the oven. It worked very well! Here’s how: Lay a Silpat baking sheet (or parchment paper) onto a cookie sheet. Next spread an even layer of puree onto the Silpat and ‘bake’ at 170* for 5-6 hours. Mine dehydrated for 6 hours (I was working in the garden and forgot about it) and was slightly on the burned side, though still usable. If I dehydrate this way again I’ll aim for closer to 5 hours.

how to process pie pumpkins

how to process pie pumpkins

Once the puree has fully dehydrated it should look and feel like a thin crispy wafer. Peel away and place the pieces into your blender. Then blend away until your crispy wafers are pulverized into tiny little bits (powder is the goal). Here’s what mine looks like…

how to process pie pumpkins

how to process pie pumpkins

Store your dehydrated pumpkin away from heat and light in an air-tight container. According to the food preservation section of you can store dehydrated pumpkin this way indefinitely. In addition to a longer shelf-life, dehydrated pumpkin takes up much less storage space then several freezer bags of puree. Also when if we have a power outage this winter I’ll have one less thing to worry about moving to a friend’s freezer while I wait for the power to return.

How do you cook with dehydrated pumpkin?

Does the idea of dehydrated pumpkin sound unappealing? I get it. But you can use dehydrated pumpkin for all of the same recipes as pumpkin puree: Pie, cookies, bread, cheesecake, pancakes, ice cream and smoothies. I’m looking forward to trying this one: Spicy pumpkin hummus. Yummy!

Here’s how it works. For every ½ cup of dehydrated pumpkin you should add 2 cups of boiling water. Stir the mixture up well and allow it to sit for at least 20 minutes. This will enable it to fully rehydrate and also to cool. The mixture should be completely cool before you use it in your baking.

Most of my dehydrating information came from Dehydrate 2 Store, which also provides a video tutorial for creating a pumpkin pie from dehydrated pumpkin.

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A Little Trick for Measuring Honey

baking trick for measuring honey

Yesterday I made pancakes. I usually make a large batch and freeze them for easy breakfast options later in the week. My recipe called for sugar but on a whim I decided to use honey instead. Fortunately for me, I had just used the same measuring cup to add cooking oil. Why so fortunate? Because I discovered this little trick: A wee bit of cooking oil in the measuring cup helps alllllll of the yummy, sticky honey slide right into your recipe!

Perhaps some of you are thinking “Duh… I’ve always known that.” It certainly makes sense, but I never thought of it before. So today while making bread, I tried it again. I added a drop of cooking oil to my 1/4 cup measuring cup… I added the honey… and lo and behold – allllll of the honey made it into my recipe lickety split! No waiting around for it to ooze in… no leftovers lingering on the measuring cup… no ultra-sticky mess to clean up. So if you’re cooking something that can handle a drop of oil… go for it!

Why didn’t I think of this before?

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You Can Make Washing Soda at Home

convert baking soda to washing soda

About a month ago I shared info on how to create your own homemade laundry detergent and fabric softener. We’ve been using this detergent since mid-February and it works great! Even though we won’t run out for months, I recently bought supplies to make another batch. This time I’m going to try making detergent with Fels Naptha soap. (I already had three bars of soap so I just needed to buy borax and washing soda).

To have a full year’s supply of homemade laundry detergent, I’m going to need to make a third batch. When I get there I’m gonna break all the rules {BWAHAHAHAHA!} and use baking soda… well… kind of…

While meandering around the world wide web checking out detergent “recipes”, I happened upon this little gem: A tutorial for making your own washing soda!

Click here for the tutorial.


Chemical Cocktails & Clean Clothes


Today I’m going to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a while – I’m making my own laundry soap. I’ve done this before, but only in small amounts. In fact, I’m going to show you how to make enough laundry detergent to last you a whole year* for less than $30. If you’re a cut-to-the-chase kind of person, you’ll want to scroll to the end of this post to find instructions for natural laundry detergent and fabric softener. If you’re like me and  you want to know more about how and why this is a better alternative to the processed soap you buy at the store (and how much you’re going to save!) read on.

Why Make Your Own Laundry Detergent?

You should make your own laundry detergent because it’s cheaper and more natural. In general, laundry detergent available on the grocery store shelf contains “a cocktail of potent cancer-causing chemicals, some of which the manufacturer doesn’t even have to list on the label. This loophole reduces the odds that you’ll ever discover what’s in there” according to an article at (The article cites specific scientific research and can be found by clicking here.)

The article goes on to explain that “Not only are these chemicals potentially damaging to your health, but they are also contaminating waterways and harming the environment.”

When time permits I’d like to share with you what I learned about the laundry detergent we’ve been using (All Free & Clear). Until then, the general point is that commercially made laundry soap often contains harmful (and often unnecessary) chemicals.

Those unnecessary ingredients also make store-bought detergent unnecessarily expensive. As you’ll see at the end of this article, you could be washing your clothes for pennies a load without sacrificing cleaning power.

Liquid Detergent vs. Powdered Detergent

If you search the web you’ll find sundry articles on how to make your own laundry soap. Some instructions help you create liquid soap while others result in powdered detergent. I’m an advocate for powdered detergent. Why? Because it takes less space to store, less time/effort to make and cleans just as well as liquid detergent.

What’s In This Stuff?

If we’re doing to make a big deal about what’s in store-bought detergent, we should definitely talk about what’s in homemade detergent. As I mentioned above, a quick Google search will result in many different ‘recipes’ for homemade laundry soap, each of them just a smidge different.

What’s consistent? They all include borax and natural soap. Nearly all of them include washing soda. Some substitute baking soda for the washing soda. While substituting baking soda for washing soda might seem like a non-issue, washing soda is definitely more useful as a laundry detergent. Why? So glad you asked…


Baking Soda vs. Washing Soda

According to Dr. Knowledge at The Boston Globe’s website, “Washing soda, or sodium carbonate, is two sodium atoms attached to a carbonate group (a carbon atom and three oxygens). Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate (and sometimes called sodium hydrogen carbonate) has one of the sodium atoms replaced by a hydrogen atom. Both occur naturally as minerals and are often prepared in factories from more commonly occurring minerals like calcium carbonate (chalk) and sodium chloride (salt)… Both sodas are alkaline, meaning they will neutralize acids, but washing soda is the stronger. Alkalis react with the chemicals in many stains, particularly those involving oil and grease, and help take them out. Washing soda is better at removing stains, but both can be used for this purpose.”

So while you certainly can use baking soda for your homemade laundry soap, you’ll get more cleaning power from washing soda. Very soon I plan to post about how you can easily and safely convert baking soda to washing soda right in your home. Come back for that!


Borax is not a short mythical mustached creature who speaks for the trees. Borax (according to Crunchy Betty, who is much more likely to speak for the trees) is “also known (most predominately in the way we’re talking about right now) as sodium tetraborate, is a boron mineral and salt that’s mined directly from the ground. Borax is not boric acid.”

Borax is used in laundry detergent to:

  • whiten your whites
  • soften hard water
  • remove soap residue from your clothing
  • neutralize any laundry odors
  • disinfect clothing
  • increase the stain removal ability of your detergent

How in the world does Borax do all of those things? If my educational background was in Chemistry rather than Human Resource Management I could tell you. Since it’s not, you’ll be better off looking for the answer here. (But if the Borax ever complains to you about workplace conditions, you know who to call!)

 Natural Soap

Part of what makes the world wide web of laundry detergent instructions so varied is the wide variety of soaps you can use. The key here is to look for something natural, especially if you have sensitive skin like me. Some soaps are marketed as “laundry soaps” like Fels Naptha and Zote. Other soaps I have seen as recommended for laundry detergent are Ivory (which I personally am allergic to), Dial Pure & Natural and castile soaps. I’ve also read that some people who make their own lye-based soaps at home use this in their detergent as well.


Natural Laundry Soap/Detergent Instructions

Now that you’ve got the dirt (ha! I love puns) on natural laundry detergent, here’s how you make the stuff:

Homemade, Natural Laundry Soap

1 Box of Borax (76 oz)

1 Box of Washing Soda (55 oz)

3 Bars of Natural Soap, shaved

Optional (and not natural): 2 Containers of “Oxy Clean” (buy the off brand at the dollar store)

Mix all components together in a double-plastic garbage bag and then pour carefully into glass or plastic jar for storage.

{Psst! Check our blog again soon for information and instructions for creating your own natural fabric softener!}

DSC03544 DSC03536 DSC03541

Penny-wise Washing

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that homemade laundry detergent costs less than the store-bought alternative. Here are the numbers to prove it.

All Free & Clear Detergent

  • 150 ounces (96 loads)
  • $11.97 ($0.12 per load)

Homemade Detergent

  • 143 ounces ( 143 loads)
  •  $9.90 ($0.07 per load)
    • Borax $3.38 for 76 ounces
    • Washing Soda $3.24 for 55 ounces
    • Kirk’s Castile Soap $3.28 for three bars

This cost could be slightly reduce by using Fels Naptha soap (instead of the Kirks Castile soap I used) and by converting baking soda to washing soda at home ($0.06 per load).

Even though there are only three of us, I average about 1 load of laundry per day. Three batches of this detergent would get me through the year with 64 loads left over. *So for $29.70 and about 15 minutes of work, I can have natural laundry detergent set for an entire year. Not too shabby…

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Minimally Process Cookies

cookies on plate

Earlier this month I shared this post about how to make natural, homemade vanilla extract. I had no idea it would be such a hit! After posting it, one reader emailed me with the following question:

“I have a question for you in regard to a comment you made about getting rid of all your artificial stuff. I was wondering the cookie recipe you used and if you would share it? My desire is to get rid of the artificial and harmful and make as much as possible from scratch. Thanks for the help.”

First of all, I was pretty excited to get this email because it was my first reader-I’ve-never-met-responding-to-a-blog-post email I’ve ever received. Second, I’m afraid I had to respond and let this dear lady know that the cookies I referenced in my vanilla post were… in fact… deliciously filled with processed food. I did get rid of all of my artificial “baking stuff” but the way I got rid of my white chocolate chips was by making (delicious) cookies with them. The cookies I made that day tasted unbelievably amazing! Besides highly processed white candy chips, they also contained processed white flour and processed sugar (both white and brown sugar). Here’s the original recipe:

Chocolate Chip Cookies

(These are NOT minimally processed – keep reading for the minimally processed recipe)

2 ¼ Cups Flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon water

2 eggs

12 ounces chocolate chips


  1. Combine sugars and margarine with handmixer
  2. Add vanilla and water then beat until creamy
  3. Beat in eggs
  4. Add flour mixture (all dry ingredients)
  5. Stir in chocolate chips
  6. Bake at 375* for 10-12 minutes

Make Them Healthier

Despite the fact that the original recipe tastes amazing, this reader’s question sparked a desire in me to develop a less-processed recipe. To make the cookies healthier, I thought I would:

  • Substitute natural/organic whole wheat flour for white, processed flour
  • Use organic butter (I did this originally)
  • Use farm-fresh eggs (I did this originally)
  • Use natural/organic, minimally processed chocolate chips
  • Find a substitute sweetener to replaced the processed sugar

Possible contenders for sugar substitutes included:

  • Stevia
  • Honey
  • Pure maple sugar
  • Pure maple syrup

I decided not to use stevia because I frankly don’t care for the aftertaste it leaves. I don’t have any maple sugar and it’s a wee bit expensive, so I skipped on that one too. Because I have a plethora of both honey and pure (made by my father-in-law) maple syrup at home, I decided to use these as substitutes for the white and brown sugars, respectively. But then riiiight before I mixed the cookie dough I remembered that I’m also not a huge fan of the aftertaste honey sometimes leaves when baked so I decided to go all in with the maple syrup.

When I was planning to use honey I did some research on baking with honey and found the following common tips:

  • Substitute 2/3 cup of honey for each cup of sugar in the recipe
  • Reduce the amount of liquid (i.e. milk) by ¼ cup for each cup of honey used
  • Add ½ teaspoon baking soda to the recipe for every cup of honey used
  • Bake at about 25 degrees lower than called for to prevent over-browning

Maple syrup is obviously different than honey, but I decided to follow these guidelines all the same. They seem to have paid off, although you may be able to get away with just 1 teaspoon of baking soda. (Git it a try and let me know what you think.) With all that in mind, I put together the following recipe. Is it good? Yes!! Is it as delicious as the first recipe? Not so much. But if you’d like something sweet and are eager to eat minimally processed foods, they will be very satisfying. The sweetness of the cookies is very subtle while still readily satisfying that sweet-tooth desire for something sugary.

I used Semi-sweet Chocolate Mega Chunks from Enjoy Life Foods and I purchased them at Sawall Health Foods for $5.19 (10 ounces). They are dairy, nut and soy free, are certified gluten free and are also vegan. The mega chunks of chocolate contain no artificial colors, preservatives or additives. (And they’re delicious!)

Minimally Processed Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 ¼ organic whole wheat flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup organic butter, slightly softened

1 ¼ cups real maple syrup

1 teaspoon homemade vanilla extract

2 natural, homegrown eggs

10 oz natural or organic chocolate chips


  1. Use a hand mixer to cream the butter
  2. Mix maple syrup, vanilla and eggs together on low speed
  3. Add liquids to butter and mix for about 1 minute on medium speed (be careful!) or until well blended
  4. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt
  5. Add dry ingredients to liquid and mix (with hand mixer) until smooth
  6. Stir in chocolate chips
  7. Spoon cookies onto un-greased baking sheet and bake at 350* for 10-13 minutes

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Homemade Vanilla Extract

homemade vanilla extract in jar

We do a lot of baking at our house. Because we don’t eat artificial food dye and are trying to avoid artificial everything-else, I recently purged all of the unnatural additives from my baking cupboard. I pitched things like neon food dye, regular food dye, artificial vanilla and a slew of other flavorings like “butter” and “root beer.” All that remained was some pure almond and pure peppermint extract.

If you like to bake as much as I do, you know that a touch of vanilla is an important ingredient in many different recipes. In some cases I was able to substitute the almond flavoring, but you know that’s just not the same. Lucky for me I made a neat little discovery about homemade vanilla extract around Christmas time. (I wanted to share this with you earlier but since I was giving homemade vanilla extract as a gift, I decided to wait.)

The recipe for homemade vanilla extract is below. I’ve baked now with the recommended recipe (2 beans) and my own “recipe”, which really is just double the vanilla beans. Last week I used my double-vanilla extract for the first time. I could not believe what a huge difference it made! These were seriously the best cookies I’ve ever made. Ever.

view of homemade vanilla extract in jar from top

When you look straight down into the jar, you can see all of the vanilla beans laying on the bottom. It looks like there are more than four, but that’s just because I cut them in half so that they would lay beneath the vodka in the jar.

closeup of homemade vanilla extract in glass jar

Looking from the side, the homemade vanilla extract is much darker than artificial vanilla flavoring I’ve used.


Vanilla beans can be expensive. For those of you who are in the Kalamazoo area, we purchased our vanilla beans from Sawall Health Food Store. Don’t let the price per pound scare you! I don’t know exactly what it is, but the price is somewhere around $150/pound! I bought four tiny, practically weightless little beans for somewhere between $1 and $2. Vodka can range in price from $10/bottle to $60/bottle. In theory, the higher the quality of your vodka is, the higher your vanilla extract quality will be. We used a $20 bottle and I’m very pleased with the result.

Making your own vanilla extract is super easy!

Click here for the recipe!

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