Grandma’s Frugal Ways — In Style Again

Farm Grove Cookbook Grandmas LegacyMy winter project is to update and re-publish our restaurant cookbook entitled Seasons of Farm Grove – Recipes from a Heartland Restaurant & Family.

One of the chapters is entitled Grandma’s Legacy.  In addition to some of her recipes, I include her own method for making soap–lye soap.  It sounds harsh, but when lye and water are combined with clean fat, a symbiotic relationship between the simple ingredients produces big, creamy yellow bars that were a frugal staple of my grandmother’s lifestyle.

  • My grandmother would collect all of her day-to-day fat from cooking in an apple-shaped grease saver on top of her gas stove. To clean the fat, she would boil it in water, strain it through a wire sieve to remove any debris, then cool it and remove the hardened fat from the water.  To have enough fat for soap making, she would add lard from the butcher shop.
  • Her notes said she would buy a can of lye [size not noted] and dissolve it in 1 quart of cool water in an agate or metal pan. When working with lye, she would place paper bags over her hands but rubber gloves are a definite modern improvement.  Add lye slowly to the water; do not splatter. Stir slowly with a wooden spoon or stick. Let the lye and water cool.
  • Heat the fat in a pan over low heat just until melted. For every 1 pound of clean, unsalted warmed fat, add 14 ounces of the lye solution. Grandmother noted that 14 ounces was half of the lye and water mixture. She would add Borax to the mixture at this stage for extra cleaning power, if desired.
  • Stir the fat and lye mixture with a stick until the mix is thickened like honey. Pour liquid soap into a wooden or heavy cardboard box lined with wax paper. The soap can be cut into bars the next day. Stack the bars to continue drying and hardening.

Grandmother would shave the bars into the hot water of her old wringer washing machine. She used it to clean just about everything, including grubby grandchildren.

My mother-in-law, Donna, also used to make lye soap and enjoyed making it for our Farm Grove Country Store. We sold all she could bring to those who also had fond memories.

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Time to Start the Seeds



Four months from now, I am hoping my Rutgers heirloom tomatoes look like this 2015 picture.  But first I need to plant those baby seeds in some nice, warm potting soil, set them in a sunny window, and hope they sprout.



1.  Last summer I saved a ripe tomato, smeared some of the pulp with seeds on newspaper, and let it dry.  After drying I rolled the newspaper sheet up,  labeled it and stored it in a dry, cool place.  Rutgers is an heirloom tomato which means the seeds will produce the same variety when planted.  Hybrid seeds will not reproduce the same tomato as they are a cross of more than one variety.



  2.  Look for a seed starter kit that includes the peat pots, tray, and lid.  It contains everything you need to germinate seeds.  



3.  The instructions say to pour 7 cups of warm water into the tray.  The water expands the peat from disks into pots.  After about 15 minutes, they are fully saturated and swollen.  I pulled the fiber around the top of the pots away slightly and used a pencil to ruffle the soil.  Scrape seeds from the paper and plant about 4 seeds per pot, lightly covering them with soil.

4.  Place the clear plastic lid on the tray and set in a sunny window.  The wet peat moss inside the container will create a moist, greenhouse-like environment for the seeds to germinate.   After the seeds begin to sprout, rotate the tray in the window once a week to expose all sides to the sun in order for the shoots to grow straight.  Add water as needed to keep pots moist.

5.  When the seedlings are about 2 inches high, snip all  sprouts but the strongest in each pot.  When seedlings outgrow the lid, remove it.  When the lid is removed, the pots will dry out faster; check them for moistness more often.

6.  The end of April, the plants should be about 8 inches tall.  I begin hardening off the seedlings by moving them outdoors in a sheltered area away from direct sun.  The potting bench on our back porch is ideal.  Bring them inside if evenings are too cool.  After about 2 weeks, I move them to direct sun.  By Mothers’ Day, after the soil warms up, they should be ready to plant directly in the garden.  The fiber covering the pots is biodegradable; the whole pot can be planted.

This will be the second season I have planted my Rutgers tomatoes from their own seed.  I love the fact that they re-produce themselves–endless tomatoes, forever!


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Wacky Self-Sufficiency Projects


Home made vinegar 002Have you ever done something just to see if it works?  Last September, I decided to make my own vinegar.  Why not?  We had plenty of apples from our orchard to work with and I use gallons of vinegar in cooking, canning and cleaning.  But vinegar is so cheap already, you say.  Ahhhh, but the satisfaction of knowing you can do it…if you had to.

All you need is a gallon glass jar, honey, and about 4 cut-up apples.  Some recipes say you can even use peels and cores and whatever is left after you prepare apples for sauce or pies.  I used whole apples the first time but I will make vinegar in conjunction with preparing pie filling and sauce for canning next time.  All the trimmings will go into the vinegar batch.

Place 1 cup honey in your jar and cover with a few cups of water.  Stir until honey is dissolved.  Add the apples and fill the jar with water up to the top.  Cover the top with a triple layer of cheesecloth tied on with string.  That’s it…except for patience.  Place your jar in a warm dark place.  I put mine in my kitchen pantry which worked well.  My original recipe said to stir it daily but this gal is more the make it and leave it type, and it worked.  After about 3 months–yes, 3 months–when it starts to smell like alcohol or hard cider, you can strain out the fruit but return the “mother” to the vinegar jar.  What is the “mother” you say?  Well this is where it gets interesting.  It is not mold; it is the result  of the transformation the apples and sweetened water go through to get from there to hard cider and then to vinegar.  The mother is a whitish, rubbery layer that is a natural by-product of fermenting.  Vinegar that has remnants of the mother is very healthy and I know many who take vinegar with the mother medicinally–but that’s another blog.

Leave the cider with the mother for another couple of months until the vinegar no longer smells like alcohol but like vinegar.  Strain the vinegar through cheesecloth and bottle.  I saved the mother and put it in another glass jar with water to save it to add to this falls vinegar.  Store it at room temperature.  The process is faster with the mother.  Now that I know how easy this is to do, I will make as much vinegar as I have jars to fill this September.


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Winter Sunlight

January 20 snow in Groveland 001

Sun on winter snow.

January 20 snow in Groveland 002

Winter sun even makes the winter porch look warmer.

January 20 snow in Groveland 004

Strong winter sun warms the great room.  Bliss.

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Winter White Cupcakes With SUPER Ingredients

What makes these white cupcakes different?  I am using only the GOOD oils like avocado oil in place of the vegetable, corn, canola or other oil.

White-on-white cupcakes are a family favorite any time of year.  On snowy winter days they are especially seasonal.  What makes these cupcakes different is the oil.  I use avocado oil in place of Crisco oil, canola, vegetable oil, etc.  Avocado oil is one of the GOOD oils for control of cholesterol and weight.  I find it at Costco.


The cupcakes baked up high and light.

The cupcakes bake up high and light; I do notice the texture is a bit firmer, but hardly noticeable.

A secret in the frosting...

There is another SUPER OIL in the frosting and it is delicious.  I substitute coconut oil for butter in my buttercream frosting recipe.  My frosting ingredients are powdered sugar, generous vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, extra-virgin cold-pressed coconut oil softened to room temperature [not liquid] and enough cream to make the frosting nice and spreadable.

Yes the icing has a very slight coconut flavor, which seems to enhance the vanilla.  Coconut oil is also recommended for cholesterol control and helps to control weight, not put it on!  These cupcakes are not completely sinless–but close to it.

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Determining Winter TIME

Snow through the sunroom window

Snow through the sunroom window

It is winter TIME = determined TIME to get started on winter projects and prepare for spring.  To experience success is to master the art of seizing the day and making the most of it.  I find it to be true that setting goals within a framework of specific time usually results in goals being accomplished in half the time.  I am often asked how I get so much done.  Having a plan and determining to do it definitely helps, but there is more to it.

A truly successful person is one who embraces spiritual life and time in Christ.  Our TIME becomes His TIME.  The concept of TIME–what to do and when and how to do it–takes on an entirely new dimension because we have submitted to the aid of a partner with extraordinary skills.  As the Bible says in Ephesians 5:16–redeem the time because the days are evil.  Loosely translated, the author Paul cautions us to make the most of our time, walking wisely in it, especially in light of evil days.  The wisdom in the walk comes from our partner, Christ.  He is our spiritual GPS system.  We need guidance as the days become more evil.

So I begin a new year with the usual goals–starting my Rutgers tomato seeds next month, outlining a book for a new Bible study, beginning another publishing project, and maintaining the weekly teaching responsibilities I have with prayer and study.  But my ear is attuned to the leading of Christ who redirects and perfects my days perfectly. A successful person is one that redeems the time, making the most of their days while walking in Christ.



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Decorating for Winter

January 2016 Chapel 001

After taking down the Christmas greens in Old Towne Grove Chapel, the space needed a bit of warmth to carry it through the winter.  We opted for a “winter woodland” look.  The recent ice storm provided birch logs and plenty of dark birth twigs for natural decorations.

January 2016 Chapel 002

I anchored the altar arrangement with an oval winter-white crocheted runner for contrast and warmth.  Do you like the look of bundled birch logs?  Me too.  I bound them with burlap twine and brown and natural tweed ribbon–which I found for 70% off in holiday clearance.  A swag of twigs centered by a bow of the same ribbon and clustered with pine cones sits at the base of the cross.  To balance the arrangement, a tall candle in a heavy glass holder sits on the right with a black leather Bible and a bundle of cover-less books wrapped with cream crocheted edging.  The cream of the books accents the cream of the logs.

In place of the Christmas wreaths on either side of the stained-glass window, I bundled bouquets of birch twigs to create fans of branches.  Matching bows hide the hooks and twine holding the twigs together.  To make sure twigs do not fall out of their wrapping, use plenty of hot glue to secure the clusters.  All is hidden under the bow.  A matching arrangement of books, twigs and tweed lies on top of the antique pump organ.  I also covered a spare accent pillow with a chocolate brown, cream and green striped canvas fabric to add more warmth to the walnut pew to the left of the altar.  The browns and creams add richness to the natural wood.  Welcome Winter!

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