tea dyeing

In the olden days, folks used all sorts of things to dye fabric . . . plants . . . minerals . . . and even crushed insects, although for bug crushing instructions you’ll have to look elsewhere. The Old School will not be covering that.

For eggshell and tan colors, using tea is simple and quick.

Sprog #1’s wife (sprog-in-law?) wanted to make a slip with antique lace edging, but her lace was eye-blazing white. Tea to the rescue.

What do you want to tea dye? Natural fibers will take the dye best.

Choose a pot big enough to comfortably hold your dyeing project and heat water in it. Add 4 or 5 chamomile tea bags (use black tea such as Earl Grey for a darker end result).

Loose tea is pesky because it can stick to the fabric, so bag that. Let it boil for about 5 minutes for an eggshell/very light color, longer for darker.

Remove the tea bags and add the thing you’re dyeing. Poke it around until it is well submerged and soaked, then walk away.

After 5 minutes, check the color by lifting the object out with tongs.

When it has achieved the color you like (with chamomile, it will probably take 30 minutes or so), remove from the tea, blot with an old towel and let it dry.

Rinse with cold water, and you’re done.

If you’d like a more uneven look, put the steeped tea in a spray bottle and spray the dry object. The Damsel sincerely advises you test this spray method first, on something other than the quilt top you’ve spent hours weeks on.

Bonus: your house will smell delicious and cozy.

sharpening tools

For today’s lesson, we will venture to the Knight in Shining Armor’s workshop, where he loves to hang out when he’s in between dragon slayings.

The Knight says that rusty tools are bad. If not taken care of, they’ll just keep rusting. Rust is more than just nasty looking red stuff. It actually eats away at the metal itself. So he de-rustifies his tools, sharpens them, and then paints them to keep them from rusting again. The following tutorial uses a hoe, but most garden tools can be taken care of in the same way.

A nice sharp hoe is a good thing to have, especially if you are a kid that has been told to hoe five acres of beans. The Damsel shudders to think how daunting that task would be and suddenly understands why fighting dragons seems like no big deal to her Knight.

First, you must remove the rust from the surface of the tool. A kitchen scrub pad will work, or steel wool. Make it wet, and add a little dish soap.

Scrub the metal until the red rusty evilness is gone, and you’re down to bare metal. Rinse.

Next, if you’re the Knight, you sharpen the hoe on your bench grinder, because you have pretty much every power tool known to mankind and you might as well use them. Plus it makes pretty sparkles.

If you don’t have a bench grinder, you do it the old school way, which is to stroke a metal file at an angle across the edge of the hoe. Create a sloping knife edge along the front side of the hoe’s edge, then turn it and file it on the back side too, just a bit.

Here’s how that edge might look after you finish sharpening it:

Now git yourself some nice rust-inhibiting spray paint…choose a color that scares weeds…

and masking tape.

Mask off the hoe where the wood meets the tool’s business end.

Spray the metal in nice, even strokes. When it’s dry, remove the masking tape, and you’re done! The Knight in Shining Armor would like to mention that hoeing weeds is all about cutting the weeds’ tops from their roots, and you don’t have to cultivate the ground. You can if it makes you feel happy, but that’s sort of a different task. Take it from the boy who hoed 5 acres of beans and lived to tell about it.

canning turkey

The Damsel and her sister went completely insane and bought 40 pounds of turkey meat from a farmer. It had been cut off the bone, in great slabs of quivery raw meat.

The Damsel is a tentative carnivore. She eats meat happily, but doesn’t like to think about it too much. She likes it cut and shrinkwrapped on a little styrofoam tray, sort of unrecognizable, so she doesn’t have to think about what it used to be. Her favorite way to look at a piece of meat is on a plate at a restaurant.

Being faced with this great blob of turkey was difficult, but the sister petted and soothed the Damsel until the worst was over. They canned 21 quarts, plus a little for the freezer. And canning meat is pretty darn “old school.”

It’s really not that hard, no harder than regular canning. But to can meat, you MUST have a pressure canner, and you MUST follow the simple directions in order for it to be safe.

Put seven quart mason jars in the dishwasher (along with the breakfast dishes) while you:

. . . cut the meat. It’s up to you if you want it bite size, like the Damsel, or bigger hunks.

When your all finished cutting, perhaps the jars are finished washing. Stuff the meat in to the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Sprinkle in a teaspoon of chicken bouillon into each jar, if you’d like. The Damsel likes.Here’s our handy headspace picture . . .

Put on the jar lids and rings, screwing the rings on finger-tight. Now it’s ready to process.

Put three inches or so of water in your pressure canner on to heat. Put the rack in the bottom (this keeps the jars from being in direct contact with the bottom of the pot, which can break the jars) and then the jars . . . seven will fit in one batch. Check the water level. It should be about up to the shoulders of the jars . . . where it starts to curve in. The jars shouldn’t be immersed as they are in a water-bath canner. Add or subtract water as necessary. Then put on the canner lid so it’s tight.

Adding a glug or two of vinegar to the water will keep the jars from getting cloudy during processing. Doesn’t affect the meat–just the look of the jars.

There is a gadget called a “petcock” that fits over the pressure canner’s steam valve. This shouldn’t be put on yet. Let the canner continue to heat until a steady plume of steam is coming from the valve. When the stream of steam is steady and plentiful, start counting ten minutes. Let the canner vent in this manner for ten minutes.

Now place the petcock over the steam vent. It should settle into place so that steam no longer escapes, but instead builds up pressure inside the canner. The Damsel admits she was scared when she did this the first time. Just be careful not to burn yourself.

Now it’s time to do a little quick google-fu. You need to find out how long you should process the jars, and at what pressure. This depends on your altitude, and whether you’ve used quarts or pints. There are plenty of charts online with this info, or you can call your local extension service. The Damsel lives at 4500 ft, so she processed for 90 minutes at 13 lbs. pressure.

Now you babysit the canner. Watch the dial carefully, and adjust the temperature on your stove up or down to maintain the correct pressure. Remember it takes time for stoves to react, especially electric ones. It’s better to have a little too high pressure than too low, but don’t let it get too high. Pressure canners can be dangerous if they aren’t watched.

A “cool” idea: the Damsel’s sister has this groovy campstove, so they did the canning outside. This worked out great, especially because it’s VERY HOT in the Damsel’s village at the moment, and a kitchen can become a sauna pretty fast after blowing hot steam for 10 straight minutes, and then 90 more minutes of hot, hot, hot.

When the 90 minutes of babysitting are over, remove the canner from the heat source and let it cool. You aren’t supposed to hasten it . . . just let the temperature drop naturally. It takes a while. The Damsel hates waiting, but there’s nothing for it.

Finally! A glimpse of the finished product. The turkey has formed its own broth. Take the jars from the canner and set in a non-drafty spot to finish cooling. Carefully check the rings. If they are really loose (this sometimes happens with the violence inside the pressure canner) you can retighten them gently, but it’s best to not disturb the lids as they begin forming the seal. After 24 hours, check the lids. If they are depressed, it’s sealed. If the middle bops up and down when you press on it, it isn’t sealed, and needs to be reprocessed or put in the fridge.

Now the hard part is trying to get yourself to open one of these babies and use it, because it’s so precious to you by now.

picking corn and removing silk

How can you tell if corn’s ready to pick?

You peek. Pull the husks back gently and see if the kernels look plump. It won’t hurt the corn if you pull it back a ways, far enough that you aren’t just seeing those little tiny kernels around the top. If they still look small, just smooth the husks back into place. And, before you’ve picked much corn, you’ll get a feel for how the cob feels in your hand when it’s ready.

But keep in mind that people often wait too long, and fresh corn is best when it is young. Plump, yes, but not bulging. It’s better to err on the young side. The corn in the above picture might look good, but it’s actually a few days too old.

The Damsel likes to shuck corn right in the garden, in case there are bugs. Especially the dreaded earwig, which in the Damsel’s opinion could be erased from existence, and the food chain would survive just fine.

Getting the silk off the ears is a pesky problem. If you are careful, you can get nearly all the silk off when you are shucking the corn. Don’t pull off one husk at a time, like you were peeling something. Try to get all the way down to the corn with your fingers, and bring off sections of husk and silk all off at once. Very little silk will remain.

The Damsel has heard various silk-removing methods. There’s the dry paper towel method, in which you rub the cob in a circular motion with a paper towel. The Damsel tried this and thought “meh.” You can rub the cob with your hands under running water, which works about as well as anything. Brushing with a vegetable brush works well too.

You can buy a special corn silk brush but if there was ever a “unitasker,” that is one. A “unitasker” is a tool that does only one thing, and the Damsel doesn’t like them. Granted, a corn silk brush is not as bad as this unitasker:

This behemoth does one thing…make pancakes. And take up your entire kitchen. (As seen on http://www.unclutterer.com)

A soft vegetable brush will probably do just as well. The Damsel likes hers because it even has a peeler on the side, making it more of a “multitasker.”

The Damsel has heard of people meticulously going over their corn with an old toothbrush, getting out every last bit of silk. But for her, this would turn a fun food into a nightmare. She’s learned she has to pick her battles, and there’s a lot more oogie things on the earth than a little corn silk.

Like earwigs.

going to seed

It’s still summer for a little longer, but some things are already going to seed.

Besides the Damsel herself, that is.

It’s been soooo hot, which often means a short life span in the Plant Kingdom. Take for example, this marigold, that usually would be going strong for at least another month:

The blossoms are already drooping and drying. Time to gather seeds.

Marigolds are practically the easiest plant to gather seeds from. When the blossoms die, they become crispy. Pull the dried flower parts gently from the blossom end, and there’s the seeds.

Make sure they are dry. If not, they may not be mature, plus they can mold during storage for next year, and you don’t want that.

Same thing goes for the other plant the Damsel gathered seeds from today–cilantro.

The little round thingies are seeds (did you know the seeds of the cilantro plant are called coriander?) and in this picture you can kinda see some of them are dry, and some are green. You want the dry ones. Leave the green ones be. They’ll get there.

Rub them from the stems with your thumb. When they’re dry they come right off, ready to be stored or planted immediately. Because there can never be too much cilantro in the world.

You can store seeds in little jars, ziplock baggies, or even *cough* plastic poptop drink mix thingies. Keep them dry and cool and it’s a good idea to label and date them.

Got a favorite plant you like to collect seeds from? Speak right up. No need to raise your hand in Old School.

banana bread–are you nuts?

The Damsel received a request for a post about making banana bread, and since it came from her cutie patootie newlywed niece, she could not refuse.

Besides, this recipe uses a couple of things Old School classmates should now have on hand.

dun dun dun . . .

Remember the bananas in the freezer? Yeah, they’re still in there, and the Damsel could have used those. But the banana problem at the Damsel’s cottage is ongoing. Sometimes the Damsel’s fruit bowl is nothing but a place bananas go to die.

Miss Mrs. Niece asked for a recipe that didn’t turn out dry. You got it, baby.

Measure 1/3 cup soft (not melted) butter into a mixing bowl. The Damsel loves to measure butter, and wishes everything in her life was this easy.

Add two eggs, and 2/3 cup plain white wicked sugar. Beat this until it’s fluffy. Now, people want to know: wuts with the non-KitchenAid mixer? Don’t all food bloggers have a KitchenAid?

  1. This mixer is the Damsel’s best little helper, since it can make 6+ loaves of bread at a time and not break a sweat
  2. The Damsel doesn’t consider herself a food blogger, especially since those people seem to all have mad photo skilz. Sigh. Someday.


Take yer speckled bananas and squish them into a 1 cup measure, thereby measuring and “mashing” the banana at the same time. Don’t worry if it’s not totally mashed. It’ll all be okay in the end. Scoop this glop out into the mixer bowl.

The Damsel used a little more than 2 bananas to get 1 cup, but your mileage may vary.

Now please go to your fridge and get your homemade buttermilk that you learned to make at the Old School and have kept refreshing after using it. You have it, right? RIGHT???? Don’t make the Damsel give you detention, now.  Put in 3 tablespoons of the gloppy gloriousness.

Okay, now, remember the Damsel said she is the Anti-Sifter? She gives you permission on this recipe to Not Sift. Shhh! Don’t tell the food bloggers. Just turn the mixer on and sprinkle the dry ingredients in so that they don’t clump: 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. soda, 1 tsp. baking powder, and 2 cups flour. Mix well. If you are of the nut persuasion, add 1 cup chopped nuts. The Damsel has heard there are people in the world who don’t like nuts, and she’s trying to be understanding about that, but it’s really hard.

Find yourself a large loaf pan and grease/flour it. Pamming it might work but since this is a dense batter, the Damsel didn’t risk it. Scoop the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake for 55-60 minutes at 350, until it passes the toothpick test. (It took 65 minutes for the Damsel)

Maybe it’s the buttermilk–but this bread turned out perfect . . . not dry, not goobery.

Go nuts, try it.

crockpot chicken rice soup

The Damsel looked through some recipes and saw one for chicken rice soup that looked delicious. Then she looked at the directions. You were supposed to cook it in the crockpot for an hour on high, then eight to nine hours on low, then another hour on high.

Ha! ha!

That means the Damsel would have had to start cooking dinner at 6AM! Ha! ha! There are many, many things the Damsel isn’t doing at 6AM and cooking dinner is right at the top of that list.

So the Damsel is adapting this recipe for your eating pleasure and convenience.

Maybe three hours before you want to eat, fire up the crockpot. Crank it to high, baby.

Chop an onion and throw it right in. Right in the bare naked crockpot. It’s okay. Everything will turn out all right.

Chop some celery. About a cup, but this isn’t exact science. The Damsel apologizes about the violent color felony of this photo. In real life it was regular grocery store celery, not atomic glow-in-the-dark celery.

Has the Damsel confessed to you before her love of celery leaves? She loves them dearly, and cuts them right up with the rest. Salt and pepper this, with full acceptance of the fact that you’ll have to taste this later and perhaps add more. Mmmm pepper.

Now miscellaneous herbs. The Damsel put in chopped fresh basil and sage, and some dried thyme. She used about a tablespoon each of basil and sage, and a scant teaspoon of thyme, using the “Palm” brand measuring spoon. Did you know dried herbs are stronger, teaspoon for teaspoon, then fresh? It’s because it’s more concentrated. So you use less if the herb is dried.

Add chopped carrots, as many as you like.  The Damsel reached out her hand to her Knight in Shining Armor, and said, Go thou to the garden, and pull me some carrots, my love. And he did.

Oh yeah! 8 cups of water. Don’t worry about making it exact.

Now take some chicken. Method #1: If it is chicken pieces with bones, just put it right in, just like that. The Damsel would prefer you pulled the skin off first, but she won’t force you. Method #2: If it is boneless chicken, stand over the pot and cut bite size pieces with kitchen shears, right into the pot. The Damsel used two chicken breast halves. Or, er, well, one whole breast.

Put the lid on. Walk away. Come back one hour before you want to eat. If you used chicken with bones,  fish the pieces out, let them cool enough that you don’t burn yourself, pick the meat from the bones, and return the meat to the pot. (Throw away those bones.)

Now add a cup of rice, put the lid back on and find something to do for an hour. Taste the rice and make sure it’s tender.

Add about 2 cups frozen peas, and let them warm through. Taste. How’s that salt and pepper? Then eat that soup.


freezing herbs

If you have herbs growing in your garden and want to preserve some for later, yes, it’s very “old school” to dry them as we did in this lesson.

But dried herbs are one thing, and fresh herbs another. Here’s one method of preserving more of that fresh taste: freezing.

This method works with most any herb. The Damsel is using oregano in these pictures.

First harvest your herbs. The Damsel uses kitchen shears, and since most herbs are perennials, you can use this as an opportunity to shape the plant and encourage it to branch the way you want it to.

If only it were so easy to guide and shape the sprog.

Some people say you should do this first thing in the morning for best flavor, but if you don’t get to it until later, don’t fret. There’s not a huge difference that the Damsel can discern.

Wash the bugs off, and then strip the leaves, if that’s appropriate for the type of herb you are using. Oregano has little leaves, but if you are using something with larger leaves, chop them a bit.

Pack the herbs into an ice cube tray. Put in as many leaves in each section as you think you’d use for a single usage, like a pot of soup or spaghetti sauce. To use these, you’ll be simply dropping an ice cube into the pot. It would be hard/silly to split an ice cube. So restrain from putting more leaves in each section than you’d use at one time.

Pour water into the ice cube trays, filling them just as you would for ice cubes. If herbs are sticking out, just poke them down into the water as best you can, but don’t fuss.

Fussing just gives you wrinkles.

Slide these into the freezer and let ’em freeze just like you would for ice cubes.There’s something cool about how they look.

Pop them out into a ziplock freezer bag to store them. When you next make a pot of something, it’s so easy to just take one out and plop it in.

And, if you don’t have an herb garden, you could use this same idea for leftover herbs you buy from the store. How many times have you needed only a little of that bunch of parsley or cilantro, and the rest gets slimey in the drawer of the fridge? Cube ’em.

Thanks to Green and Chewy for the post idea.

Ironing a shirt

How to iron a shirt: buy permanent press, and take it out of the dryer while it’s still hot. There.

But if you have an old school 100% cotton shirt, here’s the way to iron it. The Damsel uses the “Good Enough” method. It’s traditional to use this order:

First heat the iron nice and hot, and use steam or a spray bottle. Spread the shirt out on the ironing board, flattening out the collar. Press the collar from the points inward. The Good Enough method says just look at the other side and see if it looks “Good Enough.”

Iron the cuffs a bit and then the sleeves. The Damsel likes to make hard pressed lines along its edges, because if she’s going to all the trouble to iron a shirt she’d like people to take note. Look at the back side of the sleeve. Have you ironed any creases in? If so, iron them out. If not, maybe it’s Good Enough and you can go on to the other sleeve.

Pull the sleeve onto the end of the ironing board, so that the shoulder is at the end. This should make the yoke of the shirt sort of flat so you can iron that. Then put the other shoulder on the end of the board and repeat, so you can get all of the yoke.

Now iron the back of the shirt. The Damsel tries not to obsess about the bottom hem that often is all crumply. The Good Enough method says that part will be tucked into someone’s pants, so don’t stress.

Now do the front side that has buttonholes.

Last is the front side with buttons. Nose the iron around the buttons, but don’t iron over them, or they might break. All done! Look it over…is it Good Enough?

This is Good Enough for the Damsel, especially since this is the ten-year-old sprog’s shirt. Five seconds after he puts it on it will be wrinkly and dripped with ketchup.

freezing bananas

Y’all know about this, right?

“This” being putting whole bananas in the freezer?

Sometimes the Damsel is enticed by banana displays at the grocery store. They look so perfectly perfect, and the Damsel buys them for her sprog.

Who sometimes eat them. And sometimes the bananas get looking, well, less pristine. And no matter how much better a very ripe banana might taste, her sprog aren’t likely to eat one that looks a little freckled.

Ever hopeful, the Damsel tells herself she’ll make banana bread. Her purchase is not a waste. But the day gets busy, and then another, and the bananas get blacker. The Damsel will console herself by recalling someone said bananas can never be too ripe for banana bread: the riper the better.

The Damsel is here to sadly inform you that there is indeed a point where bananas are too ripe. When they are liquidy and the buzzards fruit flies are circling, you’ll know that time has come.

Once upon a time, the Damsel thought she’d rescue some bananas about to go around the corner by peeling them and putting them in freezer bags. These could then be used for smoothies…or yes, thawed for the banana bread that never seems to happen.

But it doesn’t have to be even that hard. You can just Put Them In The Freezer. In their skins, as is. The skins may darken or even turn totally black, but the flesh inside is fine.

The best part about this is the guilt that is taken away.