How to Make Kombucha

I’m a newbie to the fermenting world, and I’ve always wanted to try making kombucha, but I admit I was definitely intimidated by the whole process. Which is really silly considering how much canning and preserving I do, which is way more labor intense than home brewing. I love fruit-flavored tea, so I decided to make the plunge and brew my own kombucha. Kombucha has a world of health benefits, as the fermentation process develops good bacteria that your digestive system loves. As I’ve given up soda and am weary of drinking plain water, kombucha seemed to be the way to go for me.

I originally ordered 2 SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) from Amazon. This is what turns sweet tea into fermented kombucha and adds all the wonderful health benefits. When my family first saw a SCOBY , they weren’t too thrilled about the idea of something that looked like a blob of gelatin floating in their tea, but they’ve come around and really do like kombucha now.

There are literally hundreds of places to buy a SCOBY  (if you don’t have a brewing friend who can give you one to start). If you buy one, make sure the SCOBY  comes with enough starter kombucha fluid (about 1-1/2 cups). On my first purchase of 2 SCOBY , there wasn’t enough starter, so that batch didn’t ferment like it should. I found a different vendor on Amazon, however, and they sent me one huge SCOBY  and more than enough starter tea. The first batch turned out great, and it made a new baby SCOBY  (it grows on top of the original SCOBY ), just like it was supposed to.

You can do an Internet search and find multiple different recipes on how to make kombucha, and everyone has their own tricks of the trade. I read a lot before I decided to make my own. What I did may be different from someone else who brews, but here’s what I did, and it turned out very tasty.



You can see the SCOBY to the right side – the dark shadow is a new baby SCOBY that has yeast tendrils hanging from the bottom side. This is normal.



Floating SCOBY.


The first picture was taken right after I added the fruit.


This picture is after the kombucha sat for a day. The colors really deepened.


How to Make Kombucha

5 to 6 tea bags (I used black tea)

1 cup sugar

1 gallon water less 1 cup

SCOBY  and 1-1/2 to 2 cups starter tea

Gallon jar

Cover for jar (I used a coffee filter and a rubber band)


Boil 2 quarts of water in a stockpot. Turn the heat off and add 5-6 teabags. Let steep for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the tea bags, and add the sugar. Stir to completely resolve. Let tea cool to room temperature.

When the sweet tea is at room temperature, pour the tea into a clean gallon jar. Add the additional 2 quarts of water (room temperature), making sure you leave room in the jar for the SCOBY and starter tea. With clean hands, add the SCOBY and starter tea to the gallon jar. Cover the top of the jar with something that is breathable (kombucha needs oxygen to ferment), and let sit out of the sun for 7 to 10 days.

Fermentation time will depend how warm your room is. I brewed mine in mid-March with an average room temperature of 72 degrees, and my batch took 10 days. Obviously, cooler rooms will take longer, and it won’t take as long when it’s hot outside. You should smell a sweet, vinegar-like smell.

You have to taste your brew to see when it’s ready. Some people like it sweeter, and some don’t. After about a week, remove the lid. Carefully slide a straw underneath the SCOBY, and taste. When it tastes good to you, carefully remove the SCOBY and place it in a small dish. Remove about 1-1/2 cups of your fermented tea, and place it in the same dish as the SCOBY – this will be your starter tea for your next batch.

Now it’s time for the fun part – flavoring your kombucha 🙂

The flavor possibilities are endless. If you do an Internet search (and Pinterest is a great starting place), you’ll find both sweet and savory ways to flavor your “booch.” I’m more of a fruit tea person, so I experimented with peaches, red raspberries, and blueberries on my first brew. Now, you don’t need special equipment to do the second fermentation where you’re flavoring your kombucha. You can use Mason jars or whatever you have on hand – just make sure if you want it to be fizzy that you can cap the container to let the carbonation build up. I purchased Grolsch bottles on Amazon, which are pretty inexpensive and work perfectly for this.

When I was ready to flavor my kombucha, I chopped up peaches, blueberries, and red raspberries and added about 2 tablespoons of fruit into each bottle. Pour the kombucha into the bottles, and cap the lids. Let the bottles sit on the counter for a day or two (out of the sun), but keep an eye on the fermentation. The tea will interact with the sugars in the fruit, and it won’t take long for carbonation to take place. You may need to “burp the lids” to release some of the pressure – you don’t want your bottles or containers exploding (it can happen).

After a day, taste your brew. If the taste is pleasing, place the bottles in the refrigerator. Fermentation will still keep occurring, but it does slow down once in the cool.

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I love giving homemade gifts for Christmas. In the past, when I actually had time to do crafts, I would make cross-stitched wall hangings or something quilted like a quilt to curl up under while watching TV, table runners, or placemats. Something the receiver could keep and reuse during the holidays. This year, unfortunately, I just didn’t have any extra time to do any crafting, but I still wanted to give something homemade. Then I stumbled across a few recipes for how to make limoncello, and my dilemma was solved.

I love limoncello. It’s great to drink after a meal, and it’s super easy to make. I had sampled some homemade limoncello at Red Vespa in Solon, IA, when my husband and I went there for dinner. Not only do they make a mean wood-fired pizza, but they make their own limoncello and a killer tiramisu. I was inspired to make limoncello after that, and this recipe comes pretty close to what I had there.

I doubled the recipe below—everything except the number of lemons I used, that is. I wanted to make one bottle to keep and one bottle to gift this Christmas. Ten lemons are definitely enough to infuse 2 bottles of vodka.

I’ve seen recipes where you only soak the lemon peels for a few days, and I’ve seen recipes where you soak them for 4 weeks and every time length in between. I went with 4 weeks. I figured the longer the peels soaked, the more lemony the drink would be. I bottled the limoncello last night, and it was definitely worth the wait.

After this success, I’m going to try my hand at other vodka-infused liqueurs. I have a bunch of frozen blueberries, and in the summer and fall I have lots of fruit just waiting for me to do something fun with. I might even try to make homemade Kahlua, so I’m sure I’ll be posting future do-it-yourself liquor recipes in the future.


10 organic lemons

750 mL good-quality vodka (the better it tastes by itself, the better the limoncello will be)

3 cups sugar

2 cups water

Using a peeler, peel the yellow rind from 10 lemons. Make sure you don’t get any of the white pitch beneath the rind, as this will make the limoncello bitter. Place the lemon rind into a large glass container (I used a 2-quart Mason jar), and fill the container with the vodka. Place a lid on the container, and keep the mixture in a room temperature area out of the sun. Every day give the container a stir (or a shake in my case with the Mason jar). Let set for 4 weeks.

After the vodka mixture has sat for 4 weeks, strain out the lemon peels using a coffee filter or some cheesecloth. Set the vodka aside, and discard the peels.

In a small saucepan, combine the water and the sugar. Heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.

When the simple syrup is cooled, combine it with the infused vodka. Pour into bottles or some other decorative decanter if you’re gifting the limoncello. Store in the refrigerator or freezer.


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Pressure Cooker Beef Stock

I love making homemade soups and stews, but I’m kind of picky about the stocks I use in them. If I go grocery shopping in the city, I can usually find decent organic beef and chicken stock that doesn’t have a lot of salt in them, but the taste is usually meh. I’ve made homemade stock and bone broth before, but doing it the traditional way is extremely time consuming. I guess it’s really not that bad—if you have an entire day that you can devote to watching your pot. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of time, so when I got my Instant Pot, I thought I’d give stock making another go, and I’m so glad I did. The pressure cooker does all the work, and in the end, I had a flavorful, delicious beef stock to use however I wanted.

I have the 6-quart Instant Pot, so I really didn’t end up with a bunch of beef bone broth. After filling the pressure cooker to its limit, I ended up with just under 3 quarts of stock, just enough really for a good batch of soup. One day I might get ambitious and make several batches of bone broth and pressure can it, but for now, this small-size batch works for me. I can make up the stock and keep it refrigerated for a few days until I’m ready to use it. Instant flavor just sitting there ready to be used—if it makes it to soup anyway. I like to heat up a cup just to drink in all that collagen goodness.

You can make bone broth or stock with whatever you like as far as vegetables go. Just remember that using the pressure cooker intensifies the flavors of what you put in it. If you’re used to making stock with lots of veggies, you can cut back to just one stalk of celery or 1 piece of carrot. The cooker will infuse the broth with the flavor just fine. I make my stock without salt, but feel free to add some if you wish. I like to control the salt level when I’m making a recipe, and the salt-free stock helps me do this.

To help pull out all the goodness in the bones, you need to have some sort of acid in the pot. Most recipes call for adding some apple cider vinegar, but I’ve also seen a recipe that added a tomato. I’ll try that this summer when I have fresh garden tomatoes available, but this time I used a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, which added some really nice flavor.

I pressure cooked my stock for 120 minutes. I’ve seen recipes that will cook for just an hour, and you’ll still get great-tasting bone broth, but since I had the time, I wanted to get as much flavor as I could. A lot of recipes call for roasting the bones in the oven before making the stock. I’ve done that, and it does add a richness of flavor, but you can simply sauté the bones in the Instant Pot until nicely browned, if you want, and you’ll get the same result plus save a bunch of time. Or you can simply add everything to the pressure cooker, seal the lid, and cook. That’s what I did.

Pressure Cooker Beef Stock

3-1/2 pounds meaty beef bones (my butcher had nice neck bones)

Half an onion

1 stalk of celery

1 carrot, unpeeled

1 clove of garlic, peeled and smashed

1 sprig thyme

1 sprig rosemary

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

10 cups water (or enough to cover everything but not go past full capacity of the cooking pot)

Yield: I ended up with almost 3 quarts of bone broth.

Place all ingredients in the pressure cooker pot. Seal the lid. Select the manual setting, and set cooking time to 120 minutes. When the pressure cooker beeps, turn off the cooker, and let it naturally release the pressure. Mine took about 2 hours to come down to normal pressure. If you’re in a hurry, you can use the quick-release venting option.

Ladle stock through some cheesecloth into another large container or straight into glass Mason jars. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Can keep in the refrigerator for a few days, or place in freezer containers and freeze until ready to use. If you make large batches of stock, you can also pressure can it. I recommend the Ball website for canning instructions.

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Coconut Oil Sugar Scrub

Winter weather is super harsh on my skin. I have very dry skin to begin with, and when it gets cold and windy like it has been the past few days, my skin takes a beating. I think I’ve used every lotion and potion you can buy at the local drug store and have even tried a few prescription concoctions along the way, but what I’ve found that works the best for me is something I can make myself from ingredients I already have at home: coconut oil, sugar and essential oils.

I made the switch to using coconut oil in my baking a couple of years ago, and I also use it to make homemade lip balms and soaps. This time I decided to use coconut oil in a sugar scrub for my dry skin. Coconut oil is extremely hydrating – you can use this as a simple moisturizer straight out of the jar if you like. Good coconut oil is becoming easier to find these days too – even my local grocery store carries a good brand, and that’s saying something for a small town grocery store in a town that has roughly 3,200 people.

Making a sugar scrub is super easy to do. In the wintertime, coconut oil is generally in solid form, which makes it great for this recipe. However, since we heat with wood, our house tends to be a bit warmer than most in the winter, and thus my coconut oil is in a semisolid state. That doesn’t hurt the scrub a bit, but it does make it runnier, almost more of a lotion consistency that’s grainy because of the sugar.

You can use whatever essential oils you like in this scrub. Citrus makes a great scent to use in a scrub, but since I may use this sugar scrub on my face, I decided against using any citrus essential oils. Instead I used a combination of frankincense, myrrh, geranium and rose, all of which are great for dry skin. Use your favorite oils based on your skin needs, or simply choose a fragrance you enjoy.

coconut oil sugar scrub and EO box


coconut oil sugar scrub


Coconut Oil Sugar Scrub

1/2 cup coconut oil

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon (about 50 drops) of your favorite essential oil


Combine all ingredients until thoroughly combined. Store scrub in a glass jar for up to 6 months.

To use: Rub sugar scrub over hands, feet, elbows, face or wherever you have dry skin patches. Rub for 30 seconds, and then rinse off the scrub with lukewarm water. Pat dry. The oil will soak into your skin, making it feel silky smooth.

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How to Make Corned Beef

My family loves corned beef, and not just for St. Patrick’s Day. We could probably eat corned beef and cabbage on a monthly basis, but it’s not always possible to find a good corned beef when we get a craving for it. And when you do find it in abundance, especially around March, the price can sometimes be cost prohibitive.


Shop Taste of Home

We like to buy meat in bulk and repackage it into meal-sized portions. We do this with pork loin, ground beef, sirloin when it’s on sale and brisket. We stumbled across a large beef brisket that was on sale, so we picked one up and portioned it into several different meals. With what was left, Kevin decided he wanted to try making corned beef. I have no idea where he found his brine recipe, or I’d link a credit to the site, but the smell of it when he was finished made my mouth water, so I think he found a good one. The brine he used is plenty for an 8-pound brisket.


Homemade Corned Beef

8-pound beef brisket, trimmed of excess fat

2 quarts water

1 cup kosher salt

1/2 cup white vinegar

4 tablespoons sugar

3 bay leaves

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon mustard seed

Pinch ground cloves

4 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped or smashed


Trim beef brisket of as much fat as you desire. Fat does add flavor, so you may want to leave some on the brisket.


corned beef 2


Combine all ingredients except for the garlic cloves in a large saucepot, and bring the mixture to a boil. Cool to room temperature (or cool quickly in the refrigerator).

Put the beef brisket in a large, sealable plastic bag (or use a large plastic container like we did). Pour in the brine, and add the peeled and chopped garlic cloves. If using a plastic bag, squeeze out excess air and seal.

corned beef in brine


Place the sealed bag in the refrigerator for 6 to 7 days, turning the bag every other day. Remove the brisket from the bag, and discard the brine. Cook brisket as desired, or package meat for freezing for a later date.
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Canning 101: Kidney Beans

kidney beans canned 2


Canning isn’t just for summertime and fall when the gardens are overloaded with fresh vegetables. While I do most of my canning then, I also do some canning in the winter. If the guys are lucky to get a deer during hunting season, I’ll often can quarts of venison, which makes a quick meal. Last winter I decided to try my hand at canning dry beans, and since then, I’ve been canning a lot of them. It’s so easy to do, and I can’t believe I’d been canning for over 20 years before I even tried it.


I’ve canned chili beans, pork and beans, black beans, and now I’ve canned kidney beans. The grocery store had packages of kidney beans in its discount bean – why I can’t figure out because dried beans don’t go bad or spoil – and being the frugal grocery shopper that I am, I scooped all they had to can. I came home with five 1-pound packages, each marked down to $0.50 – cheap eats when you consider a single can of kidney beans can be around $1.


The hardest part about canning dried beans is waiting. While you can do a quick boil on the beans the same day that you can them, I like to soak them overnight and process them the next day.


To can any kind of dried bean, first rinse the beans. You’d be amazed at all the dirt, little rocks and other debris that lurks in those packages. Once you’ve rinsed them, pour all the beans you want to can in a large container, and cover them with water, having about 2 to 3 inches of water above the beans. Let set overnight.


The next day, drain and rinse the beans. Place beans in a large stockpot, and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 30 minutes.


While the beans are cooking, prepare pint canning jars, leaving them hot until ready to use. When the beans are ready to can, fill pint jars 3/4 full with the beans. Cover with boiling water, or use the hot liquid the beans cooked in (which is what I do). Add lids and rings, and tighten the rings just until finger tight.


Process pint jars in a pressure canner at 10 pounds of pressure for 70 minutes. Once the pressure reduces, remove the jars, and let set undisturbed in a cool place for 12 hours. Test lids. If a jar hasn’t sealed, place it in the refrigerator and use it fairly soon in your favorite recipe.


kidney beans canned


I started with 5 pounds of dried beans, and I ended up with 20 pint jars of processed kidney beans.

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Stringtown Shopping Spree

It’s a good thing I don’t live closer to Kalona, or my budget would be in a world of hurt. For those of you who don’t live in eastern Iowa, Kalona has a huge Amish influence, which you can see when you drive from Iowa City to Kalona. Houses dot the highway, and you can tell, especially in the summertime, where the Amish live, as you can see the horse-drawn buggies, beautiful vegetable gardens and windmills in place of electric lines.

While I really enjoy visiting the Amish-run quilt shop in downtown Kalona, which has gotten a lot of my money over the years, the best place to shop, other than the quilt shop, the bakery and the meat locker, is the Stringtown grocery store just outside Kalona. It’s located next to the old cheese factory, which unfortunately closed a few years ago.

I absolutely love this store. If you love to bake or can, this is a dream store. They buy in bulk, and they pass on the savings. You can find homemade pasta (made locally). You can buy bulk macaroni, rice, spices, different flours, pectin and ClearJel for canning, raw honey – you name it, they’ve probably got it. They even have a produce section that carries local produce in season (it’s where I get my strawberries for jam). I even picked up farm-fresh eggs for less than $3 a dozen – they’re over $7 a dozen at HyVee! I’ve gotten other canning and butchering supplies there too, like large-sized freezer bags when we were butchering chickens last year. And they sell canning lids in bulk, something I forgot to pick up today, but I know I’ll making another trip there before canning season in the spring.


stringtown 2


stringtown 3

Today I got jasmine rice, macaroni, homemade egg noodles, lasagna noodles, bulk kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans (to make my chili beans). I found whole wheat pastry flour, high-gluten bread flour, dark rye flour, pumpernickel flour, ClearJel, dry pectin, organic rosehips (for my elderberry cold tinctures), bay leaves, Italian seasonings, hickory smoked salt (for smoking fish and other meats), dried chicken stock, ground cinnamon, raw honey, dark brown sugar, blackstrap molasses and jumbo pasta shells for stuffing. We also picked up some smoked horseradish cheese, a wheel of cheddar cheese and cheese curds (of course) – and all of this was about $100. Bulk shopping is the way to go, and this store blows shopping at Sam’s or Costco out of the water.


stringtown 1


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Year in Review

I can’t believe it’s New Year’s Eve already. 2015 has flown by so fast. I guess it’s true that time really does pass by faster the older you get.

After having a record warm November and December (and a green Christmas), we finally got our snow the Monday after Christmas. We had an early snowstorm in November, but it quickly melted, and it was warm enough the weekend before Christmas that the boys and grandkids were outside playing football in short sleeves. Glad it’s finally starting to act like winter.


Looking back over 2015 and our garden and my canning, I didn’t get near enough done this year. It was a wet spring, so while we did get an early garden planted, not much grew this spring. I think this is the first year since Kevin and I have been married (23 years) that I didn’t have any of our own tomatoes to can, and I had to buy green beans so I could can those. Thankfully one of Kevin’s co-workers had some extra tomatoes, so I was able to put up some salsa. On the other hand, our apple and peach trees went berserk, so I was able to do a bunch of applesauce, pie fillings and jams to put on the shelves. All this means is that next summer we will have a huge garden, and I’ll be canning up a storm to replace everything we’ll eat this winter. The shelves should be pretty bare by then. Thank goodness I did extra last summer 🙂

I was also able to try several new canning recipes this year. With the boatload of apples, I tried a new apple pie filling, Caramel Apple Pie Filling, which is a new favorite in our house. I also finally got to try canning pickled mushrooms, and this is a recipe I’ll be making a lot in the future.



This year we raised chickens, and while we lost a few along the way, we now have a full freezer, for which I’m very thankful. The guys were also successful fishing for catfish this summer, so there’s plenty of that in the freezer as well. No venison this year, as they just didn’t have any luck, but between the chicken, the catfish and the couple of huge turtles they caught, we aren’t short of meat this year.

All in all, 2015 was a pretty good year. My family is healthy and happy. There’s food on the shelves and in the freezer. Life is good. Happy New Year everyone!

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Canning 101: Homemade Horseradish

My husband likes to make homemade horseradish. He may not make it every year, depending on how quickly we go through it, but it’s something that’s easy to make, although it will “scent up” your kitchen if you work it up inside 🙂 He got his recipe from a co-worker, and it’s a good one to have on hand, especially if you grow your own horseradish like we do.

In the fall, dig up the horseradish roots – as much as you want to prepare. Kevin always digs in late fall, and this year he was able to wait until Dec. 11 as it stayed warm enough that the ground hadn’t frozen, and he could still get the spade in the ground. Here’s one of the largest roots he dug up this year:

horseradish root

After digging the roots, cut off the crowns, but don’t throw them away. You can save them and replant in the spring, or share with your family and friends so they can start their own horseradish patch in the garden. Scrape or peel the roots as you would a carrot.

horseradish scraped

Cube up the roots into manageable pieces, small enough that they won’t ruin a food processor. Believe me, these roots are tough, and we’ve gone through several commercial-grade food processors making horseradish in the past.

To each cup of cubed horseradish root you add to the food processor, add 1 cup of white vinegar and 1 teaspoon sugar. Pulse the ingredients until smooth and creamy. You’ll want to have an open window in the room you’re working – when you open up the lid to the food processor, you’ll understand why 🙂

Pour prepared horseradish into clean pint jars. Add lids and rings. Store horseradish in the refrigerator.

horseradish prepared all jars

When horseradish is fresh, it will be snow white in color, and as it ages, it turns creamy white in color. The intensity of the flavor will mellow as it ages, but this keeps for several months in the refrigerator. Use it as you would use store-bought horseradish: in cocktail sauce (add to ketchup) or add to mayonnaise and sour cream to make a tasty dipping sauce for prime rib or roast beef. I even use it in my barbecue sauce for a little extra kick. Enjoy!

Canning 101: Easy Applesauce

It’s apple season here in eastern Iowa, and I’ve already made some caramel apple pie filling, but I have scads of apples yet to work with. I haven’t made applesauce in years, so I thought it was high time I did. Our sons love it, as do our granddaughters, so I know I won’t have any problem getting rid of it.:)



20 pounds apples, cored and sliced
2 cups apple juice, apple cider or water
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Place cored and sliced apples and the 2 cups of liquid in a large stockpot, and cook the apples until they’re soft and mushy, approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Using a food processor or stick blender, blend the apples until you reach the consistency you want. I like smooth applesauce, so I blended for approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon, and stir the apple mixture until everything is well combined.

Pour hot applesauce into sterilized, hot pint jars. Process in a water bath canner for 20 minutes.

Yield: 13 pints

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