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It sounds like something a builder would use, but a mortar and pestle is one of the most important pieces of equipment a home cook can own.

The mortar and pestle began as two pieces of stone that were used for grinding grain. The mortar was a flat stone with a depression in the middle, and the pestle was a smaller stone used to grind. This method is still used in many parts of the world.

When you buy a mortar and pestle today it is offered in a variety of materials; stone or marble is still the best. The material to be ground is placed in the bowl (which has replaced the flat rock), and the pestle is used with a rolling or pounding motion to break it up into fine grains. It takes some physical effort, but it is great exercise for your upper arms.

These tools are easy to use, and once you get the hang of it, you will find daily uses for it, including crushing garlic, cracking pepper, mixing rubs and seasonings of all kinds. It’s all in the wrist action!

Here are a few recipes for you to try:

Herbal Salt

You can make small amounts of herbal salt to use quickly and easily. If you have a flourishing herb garden, you can create mixtures for your pantry and preserve your herbs. This recipe works well for any green herbs, such as thyme, parsley, dill or mint.

Ingredients:

dried herbs of any variety
good coarse sea salt.

Use dried herbs; if you have fresh, dry them in a microwave for two to three minutes (extra if they are still moist). Put 2 tablespoons of sea salt into the mortar bowl and crumble in the same amount of dried herb. You can use one herb or a combination, such as lemon balm and thyme (which is wonderful for salads and fish).

Using the pestle, crush the herbs and salt together. Don’t rush this, you want a well-blended aromatic mixture. Put the herbal salt in a tightly lidded jar or salt shaker, label and use with salads, barbecues and soups.

Garlic and Rosemary Rub for Roasts

This rub goes well with lamb.

Ingredients:

2 large cloves of garlic
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
2 teaspoons virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt

Place the garlic in the mortar and pound with the pestle until the garlic is broken up. Add the rosemary and sea salt and grind with the garlic. Add the olive oil and mix well. Make slits in the surface of the meat and rub well in, covering the skin and pushing into the slits before roasting.

Lemongrass and Lemon Balm Tea

This lemony tea is soothing and calming.

Ingredients:

1 cup dried lemon balm leaves
four, 7″ to 9″ sticks of lemongrass (available from Asian grocery stores)

Chop the lemongrass into small pieces and smash with the mortar and pestle to release the aromatic oils. Add the lemon balm and work the two together until the aromas blend. Spread the mixture out on a clean paper towel and let dry completely. You can microwave for about 50 seconds to aid the process, but be careful not to let the lemongrass burn. Store the tea in a lidded container or muslin bag. Steep a teaspoon in a cup with strainer for three minutes.

Clove and Cinnamon Potpourri

Placed in a pretty bowl, the mixture will scent your kitchen delightfully.

Ingredients:

1 stick of cinnamon
1 tablespoon whole cloves
2 tablespoons sea salt

Break up the cinnamon stick and place it in the mortar, then add the cloves. Pound and grind the mixture until the cloves are broken up and the cinnamon is reduced to small flakes. Mix with the sea salt. The salt acts as a preservative so your potpourri will last a long time.

It is important to clean the mortar and pestle after every use, as many spices and herbs are strongly aromatic and the flavor will carry over to the next task. This applies even if you grind up a dry material, such as clove pods.

More than a trendy kitchen decoration, the mortar and pestle is a useful tool for preparing many household and culinary recipes. By crushing and blending your own herbal mixtures, you will gain far more aroma and flavor than is offered in the bland packet mixes on the supermarket shelf. Experiment and enjoy. All you have to lose is a couple of inches off your upper arms!

by Gail Kavanagh

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Pigs on the Homestead: All Your Burning Questions Answered

When I was a little girl, I was absolutely terrified of Grandad’s pigs. In my opinion, they were big, loud, and scary, and not in any way cute! I blame Grandad, really, because he was always drilling it in to me that they could bite my fingers right off if I stuck them where they didn’t belong. No problem, Grandad! I wasn’t going anywhere near those pigs!

As I got older and started out on my own homesteading adventure, I realized that I love bacon! And pork chops! So, one year, I convinced my husband that we needed to raise a couple of pigs for the freezer. We did our research and built a good sturdy pig pen. And then we went out and purchased two little baby pigs to raise.

Well, that’s when the trouble began! It turns out that baby pigs are cute! Like really, super cute! And they can be sweet, entertaining and very smart, too. You really need to remember their purpose, otherwise you’re going to end up with a couple of pet pigs in the pasture, and no bacon or pork chops in the freezer! We had a similar problem with rabbits… but that’s another story!

Over the years, I have learned a lot about raising pigs on the homestead. Here are the answers to all your burning questions!

Are pigs dangerous?

It turns out Grandad was right. Some pigs do bite, and they can really do some damage! And pigs are really big… like 500 to 1000 pounds when grown. Just like any other large farm animal, they need to be treated with respect and handled carefully. Children will need to be taught boundaries, because sticking little fingers through the fence to pet a hungry pig could have disastrous results. Don’t get me wrong, most pigs are very sweet, but they are also very large and very food motivated.

Are pigs destructive?

Pigs have amazing digging abilities, and they love to root. The more room they have, the less destructive they will be, but even pastured pigs will tear up the ground pretty good. You could use this to your advantage by enclosing them on the garden or a field that needs to be plowed under and cleaned up. That’s what we do, and it saves us a lot of hard work. The pigs are happier, too.

What kind of housing and fencing do pigs need?

I like to use a hutch that can be moved around the property. It can be pretty simple, just something to give them shade when it’s hot, and somewhere to go to stay dry when it’s raining. We use straw for bedding in their hutch. They will probably eat the straw and move it around, but you just throw in some more. If you plan on keeping your pigs through the winter, you will have to beef up their shelter a little bit to keep them warm.

For fencing, my preference is electric fence. I use a solar charger so I can move them around. You should start training them to respect the electric fence when they are small. If you decide to go with traditional fencing, you will need to use heavy duty posts and hog panels because pigs are very strong, and they are notorious for breaking out of their fencing. If they do, they can be very hard to catch, and you can probably kiss your garden goodbye, too.

What do I feed my pigs?

Your pigs will eat all of your kitchen scraps, as well as any surplus milk, whey from cheese making, or extra fruits and vegetables you may have around. Pigs raised for meat require a diet that’s high in protein if you want quality meat. You will want to give them a good, high protein, non-medicated pig feed at the rate of 1 pound per day for each month of age, stopping at a maximum of six pounds per day. Divide their feed up into two feedings to prevent waste.

How many pigs should I start out with?

Start with two feeder pigs. Raise one for your own freezer and sell the other one at butchering age to cover the cost of feeding both pigs and processing your own for the freezer. Butchering your pigs at around 250 pounds will give you the best feed to meat ratio.

What breed of pig should I get?

You may have to just settle for whatever is available in your area. Purchase from a local farmer, and avoid livestock auctions wherever possible. If you do have options, go for a heritage breed.

My favorite heritage breed is Red Wattle pigs because they are docile, hardy, and good foragers. If you want to raise your own piglets, Red Wattles make excellent mothers. Just keep in mind that an average litter is 10-15 piglets and they can have two or three litters a year. You could become overrun very quickly if you don’t have a good plan for getting rid of your surplus.

If Red Wattles aren’t available in your area, look for Berkshires. They are super friendly and adaptable. Berkshires are coveted for their delicious meat and they also have great mothering skills.

Other great heritage breeds that are friendly and good on the homestead are Gloucestershire Old Spots, Hampshires, and Yorkshires.

Can pigs be trained?

Absolutely! Much like dogs, pigs are very food oriented and intelligent. They can be trained to walk on a leash and come when called, and I’m sure lots of other things, too. Just be careful of forming too strong of a bond with your pigs. That will make it a lot harder at butchering time.

Do pigs get bored?

Yes, they do, and a bored pig can become destructive and possibly even aggressive! Bored pigs will chew on their pen and possibly even each other. It’s best to never keep just one pig by itself. Try to give them plenty of room to root and forage. Even their food can help to keep them entertained. Provide lots of straw for them to root around in and different types of foods like salt licks, kitchen scraps, root vegetables, chemical free grass clippings and whatever else is available. They will even eat acorns! Providing something for them to chew on, like logs or even really tough dog chews, might help to keep them from chewing on their pen.

Raising pigs on the homestead may not be for everyone, but there’s nothing like having a freezer full of homegrown bacon and pork at the start of winter. If you can manage it, they are well worth the trouble, and can be quite entertaining and enjoyable!


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