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Canning as Spiritual Practice

Why do the mundane and repetitive work of canning food?  What are the reasons that make it anything more than a hobby?

In our high velocity American culture that values speedy profit at the expense of quality and continuity, we increasingly hear complaints about food.  The vast majority of foods consumed in our country are unnatural ~ drenched in preservatives and other consumer pleasing chemicals, genetically modified, and highly processed from their original form.  Factory farming is quite rightly under attack by thinking people, and there’s been a movement towards ‘organic’ consumption for those who can afford it.  For people with open eyes and willingness to research their culture’s food, there have come shouts and demands for companies to be responsible and honest, even whole movements attempting to take down GMO giants.  Simply put, food has become highly political and much of it is no longer real food.

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Of course, this information isn’t new.  Having researched all these issues in the early ’90s, I made it a goal before having children to produce and preserve my own food to the fullest degree possible.  Reaching that goal doesn’t come easily.  The methods of growing and preserving aren’t obviously or readily available, and that is a major reason for this blog I write.  It’s definitely a learning curve, and the pantry becomes more packed with canning each year as I gain knowledge and efficiency.  T

he best information, as all veteran canners know, comes through heritage and word of mouth ~ what that back-to-lander mama showed us years ago, what grandma used to do in the kitchen.  Again, this is the very reason for writing Soul & Stomach.

Rather than shout and rant about the wrongness of companies and their chemical food production, my response is this: grow it, gather it, can it, cook it ~ myself.

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It is quite true that ‘buying organic’ is a great economic barrier for the majority of American families.  But it is even more true that if one’s mind is concentrated on growing and gathering without cost, it is a tangible reality.

I made a decision over a decade ago that whatever I was to preserve or can would be procured without payment, through growing my own, barter, good will or good finds.  And just by that force of decision, there hasn’t been a dollar spent.

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Here’s how: make it known to neighbors and friends that you want to preserve food and you’ll give them a sample of your work, offer what you can in barter for fruits and vegetables you can’t manage yourself, look for wild fruit trees on public land, find out who is at the end of their harvests with more than they can handle to process, cultivate good will, and above all, grow your own!

Preserving food is labor intensive, there is no way around it.  But here is the main point of that work: it is fundamentally good and joyful.

Say you have 10 gallons of apricots.  You can count on methodically washing, pitting, and sorting them for a good deal of a morning.  You may want to juice them, make jam or nectar so that all their nutrients are preserved for the dead cold of winter ~ it will take you all day.

But as you work, you find that your fingers become more nimble, more efficient, and your mind focuses on the beauty of your activity.  Suddenly you realize it is meditative, fingers and thoughts having found a rhythm.  What seemed mundane and repetitive has become peaceful, comforting, actually desirable and above all, natural.  You find yourself thinking about how you might procure more fruit for the next project.

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When done, the satisfaction with the work that fills your heart is not an empty pride but rather a wholesome fullness that matches the fullness of God’s creation of these beautiful fruits made to nourish your family and sustain your life.  The tiredness you feel is similar to the sweet muscle aches after climbing a mountain.  You know without a doubt that this work was meant to be, was done by many mothers before you, and it is good work.

It is all this and more that makes canning as necessary and worthy now as it has ever been.  Good food should feed the spirit as well as the body, and this is what makes canning a spiritual practice.

Love from our kitchen pantry to yours, Gina @ Soul & Stomach

NOTE: On Soul & Stomach you will find recipes and methods for all the canned goods you see in this article, applesauce, salsas, jams, juices, nectars, marinara, chutneys, and more to come.  Check the Recipe Index for these.

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Cherry Chocolate Oat Muffins

Cherries have dripped from their trees in a wonderful year of harvest.  Bings, Rainiers and sour varieties have filled our baskets and pails, processed and preserved in many ways.  Here’s a final method for the last of them with sweet, dried Bing cherries for snacking and baking.  IMG_2086IMG_2078Dehydrating cherries saves their sweetness and intense flavor and is a fairly quick process.  Successful processing has included halving, pitting and placing skin down on the rack, dehydrating according to timing and temperature of your device.

Dried cherries and chocolate combine with heart healthy oats making these nutritious muffins taste like a treat.  For breakfast or snacking, this is a simple, speedy recipe.  Easy to double up, we often make a large batch of oat base muffins and freeze for breakfasts to come.  They taste great pulled out of the freezer and thawed at room temperature overnight in a sealed container.  Or a 30 second reheat in the microwave makes moisture return for a bit more enjoyment.

We’ve made different variations of oat muffins, combining leftover chunky cranberry sauce and white chocolate chips ~ awesomeness ~ or sugared chunks of rhubarb.  These are winners worth testing as well.

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~Cherry Chocolate Oat Muffins~

3/4 c oats

1 1/3 c flour

1/3 c sugar

1/4 t salt

2 t baking powder

1 egg

1 c milk

1/4 c vegetable oil

1 c semi sweet chocolate chips

1 c dried cherries, coarsely chopped

granulated sugar for topping

Yield: 12 muffins

~Preheat oven to 400 degrees F; grease or line 12 muffin cups.

~Combine all dry ingredients, make a well in center and set aside.

~Combine egg, milk and oil in a separate bowl and mix well; add to dry ingredients and stir to combine.

~Fold in chocolate and cherries.

~Fill muffin cups to 3/4 full and bake for approximately 18-20 minutes or until knife inserted comes out clean.

~Remove from muffin tin and cool on a wire rack; eat fresh or store sealed at room temperature or freeze.

Love from our kitchen to yours, Georgina @ Soul & Stomach

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Sour Cherry Jam

It’s like a bit of cherry pie in every bite.  Jam on toast has never tasted closer to the well loved desert.  And this canning jam is easy as pie, even for the novice canner.

Unlike the sweeter varieties, sour cherries are a breeze to pit.  So preparing this jam is a matter of a little gouge with the finger and a pop of the pit, a course chop, and the recipe is on its way.

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We enjoyed using this jam in some experimental mini pies with leftover dough from a real-deal cherry pie.  It worked well for a quick sweet treat.

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As with all canning processes, set out all supplies ahead of cooking.  Use fruit that is fully ripe for proper acidity level, and discard any fruit that is marred by insects or significantly browned.

This recipe and method is a double batch, which has been made multiple times with good results.  Often, jam recipes call for not doubling, and this is true because boiling times change based on amounts processed.  So, the key to success in this double batch, designed to efficiently fill a standard seven space canning pot, is to follow the recipe and timing exactly.

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~Sour Cherry Jam~

8 c sour cherries, pitted and chopped

9 1/2 c sugar

2 packages pectin

1 T butter

7 pint jars, new lids and bands

Yield: 7 pints (plus a little extra for immediate tasting)

~Set out and have ready: funnel, jar lifter, large spoon, cloth to set hot jars, clean cloth for wiping jar rims.

~Rinse cherries; pit and chop cherries, measure and place in a large sauce pot.

~Fill canning pot and place all jars inside, setting burner on high to boil; this sanitizes, heats them for jam and gets your water going.

~Measure sugar into large bowl and set aside.

~In a small bowl, place lids and bands, ready to pour boiling water over to soak.

~Add pectin and butter to cherries and combine; turn on high heat and be ready to constantly stir.

~While stirring and checking mixture, remove hot jars to a towel and pour boiling water over lids and bands.

~Bring cherry mixture to a full rolling boil (a boil that does not lessen when stirring) while stirring and scraping bottom of pot; stir in all sugar.

~Return to a full rolling boil, careful not to get splattered, using oven mitt or large lid to shield yourself; boil for timed 3 full minutes, again constantly stirring and scraping bottom.

~Remove jam from heat and immediately pour into prepared hot jars using funnel; leave 1/4 in headspace.

~Using a clean cloth dipped in the boiling water bath, wipe rims of each jar (even a speck of fruit unseen on the rim can compromise sealing); secure lids with bands finger tight.

~Place pints in boiling water canner for 10 minutes; remove back to towel and tighten bands when cooled enough to touch.

~Let stand without movement for at least 12 hours.

~Love from our kitchen to yours!  Gina@ Soul & Stomach~

 

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Bing Cherry Chicken Marinade

This is the first of three recipes utilizing the year’s bounty of cherry goodness.

The spring came early, spared us frosts that devastated last year’s harvest, and blessed us with abundance.  Now is the time to preserve, bake and cook up the cherries.

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This recipe recommends itself as simple and flavorful, using a substantial ammount of cherries.  The method written is for a slow cooker, however, it would work just as well to marinade the chicken chilled for 2 plus hours and then grill.

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~Bing Cherry Chicken Marinade~

1/2 c honey

2 c pitted and finely chopped bing cherries

2 T balsamic vinegar

1/2 c onion, finely chopped

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/4 c lemon juice

1 t thyme, crushed

1 t salt

1/4 t black pepper

6-8 pieces chicken on the bone

Yeild: about 6 servings

~Pit and chop cherries; chop onion and garlic.

~Combine well with all ingredients in a small bowl.

~Place chicken in slow cooker; pour marinade over chicken and set on low for 4 hours.

~Serve over rice or with vegetables.

~Love from our table to yours! Gina @ Soul & Stomach~

 

 

 

 

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Classic Chuck Roast with Herb & Wine Deglaze

The savory winter roast ~ can you be topped?  According to the teenage boys who shoveled out our snow socked driveway, there is no beating this recipe.

Of course there are many versions and methods of the chuck roast, but this recipe received its honing from years of many experiments and further consultation with Thomson’s Custom Meats.  Praise to the local butcher and ranchers providing us with all natural, home bred beef of finest quality and cut for this amazing, winter entree.

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In the meat shop this week the conversation centered on chuck roast methodology, with butcher Chris Thomson confirming the method herein.  Searing until almost burnt allows the meat to hold it’s moisture and reach maximum tenderness while wine brings out the natural flavors in the beef, providing just enough sweetness to compliment savory herbs.  The deglaze, often left out of recipes I find, is a must for bringing out the best of your slow roast.

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In the deep winter months, this rich, balanced meal rightly uses available roots left in the pantry, and gives us the adequate energy to keep on shoveling.

Thank you to Chris and Diana Thomson at Thomsons Custom Meats for only the best, locally bred, https://www.facebook.com/Thomsons-Custom-Meats-213625848678720/.

Classic Chuck Roast Recipe

~Crock Pot method recommended but a Dutch Oven also works

1 beef chuck roast, 2 1/2-3 lb.

2 T olive oil

salt and pepper

2 large onions, halved then sliced in 1/2 in. wedges

6 cloves garlic, halved

5 good sized potatoes, pealed and sliced in 2 in. pieces

1 1/2 c carrots, baby or chopped

3/4 c red wine

2 c beef broth, hot

1/2 t additional salt

herbs: 2 T total crushed, dried oregano and marjoram, 2 pinches of thyme or 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme

Note: if using dried herbs, sprinkle liberally on roast as it sears; if using fresh herbs, add to slow cooker along with vegetables; both are recommended.  

~Prepare vegetables by cleaning and chopping and set aside; prepare hot broth, add wine and salt and set aside.

~Heat olive oil in cast iron skillet; pat roast dry and cover liberally with salt, pepper and herbs if using dried varieties.

~Sear roast until almost burnt on both sides and edges; remove roast from cast iron to slow cooker and set on low.

~Add all vegetables to slow cooker, nestling garlic atop and within the roast and root vegetables around edges and atop.

~Deglaze skillet with broth combo, scraping all bits from edges and pour over roast.

~Add fresh herbs if desired.

~Cook on low for 5 hours; turn to warm until serving.

Yield: 8 servings

Stay warm and enjoy!

~Love from our table to yours, Georgina @ Soul & Stomach~

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Saucing the Whole Tomato

The tomato is truly one of the finest edible creations. And the succulence of the garden ripe heirlooms we’ve been picking urges using every little bit of the fruit.

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Finding a way to use seeds, skins and all is always the preference in terms of nutrition content.  Peel or seed a tomato, and some of the best nutrients are thrown away.   It takes a good recipe to accomplish the goal of wasting naught.  From this year’s garden harvest we’ve done everything from sun dried, to salsas to many marinaras for plentiful sauce throughout winter.

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There are many methods for marinara sauce, and in the past there were many hours spent peeling, seeding and cooking that marinara base down until it reduces by half, watching, monitoring, stirring and waiting for thickness.  But, no more.  With this recipe, marinara production time is cut in half with an easy, slow roast oven method that turns out delicious every time.

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It seems that the reasons for this sauce’s success lie in 1) the use of the entire fruit and 2) a slight caramelizing of the tomatoes on low temperature that lends the roasty flavor, reduces excess moisture and preserves the fresh tomato taste.

DSCF4231~Roast combo complete and ready to blend~

Oven Roasted Marinara Recipe

5 lb tomatoes

10 good sized cloves garlic

bunch of fresh basil

extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

Note: The ratios of this recipe are designed for two standard sized baking sheets.

~ Preheat oven for 225 degrees; wash and drain tomatoes; remove stems and any large imperfections.

~ Cut tomatoes in 1/2 inch slices and lay flat, skin sides down, packing tightly on parchment lined baking trays.

~ Place whole cloves garlic atop tomatoes; drizzle olive oil over all and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

~ Bake for 2 hours, and remove from oven to cool.

~ Blend with fresh basil  in a blender or food processor until smooth.

~ Serve and enjoy fresh, or store by freezing or boiling water canner for 25 minutes at full boil.

Yield: about 2 quarts

DSCF4172~Sauce with a serious thickness~

Love from our garden kitchen to yours! Georgina @ Soul & Stomach

 

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Fruit Bars with Fall Preserves

Jams from fall still stock the pantry, and this recipe utilizes any to satisfaction.  Aside from grill glazes and jam on bread, food creativity with tasty preserves can grow to be a challenge by spring.  This recipe makes jam or jelly canning in the autumn months seem worthy of the effort, making a ‘healthy’ desert or tasty snack  to pick up and savor any time of day.

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Our jam canning utilizes the gamut of fruit grown and gathered in our high mountain climate: plums, cherries and pears from our own yard, apricots from rogue trees on public land, peaches from friends with orchards overflowing, strawberries and rhubarb from the ever growing patch.   Any of these work well for this recipe.

For preserves, I promise myself each summer that only fruit I can gather for free, barter for our garden goods or be given will make the canning cut.  Buying a box of fresh organic fruit for preservation simply cancels the cost and reason for canning itself.  We use three options: barter, grow or gather.

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Fruit Bars with Preserves, Recipe

We’ve created many different fruit bars from this recipe, amenable to just about any pint of choice preserves.  Generally jam has done the trick: plum, apricot, peach, maple-apple, rhubarb and berry varieties have all been used with success in this simple recipe.

1 pint fruit preserve filling

1 c flour

1 c whole oats

2/3 c brown sugar

1/4 t baking soda

1/2 c butter

~Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well; cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender until resembling course sand.

~Reserve 1/2 cup pastry mixture and set aside; with remaining pastry mixture, spread on bottom of an ungreased 9 x 9 ” baking dish or pan; press down with hands to make one even layer.

~Top first layer evenly with fruit preserve filling of choice; sprinkle remaining pastry mixture on top of fruit.

~Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until fruit bubbles and top begins to brown.

~Allow to cool fully, then cut into 2″ x 2″ squares and serve.

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~Love from our pantry kitchen to yours!  Georgina @ Soul & Stomach~

 

 

 

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Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque ~ Velvety Smooth with Subtle Spices & Cream

Squash bisque: divine to taste, huge on vitamin content and a winner for a crowd.  This recipe is designed after creating several versions through the years, much back research of comparative online recipes, and a combining of the best of several with elimination of easy mistakes, found in many.

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Squash is a favorite root vegetable as winter ends, as it remains one of those that lasts in the pantry.  Butternut squash often proves the best to work with for several reasons.  It is large so goes far, with a thin, easily removable peel; it packs a lot of flavor, lacking in many other squash varieties; it is hard and substantial but never sinewy or stringy like an acorn or banana squash.  For all these reasons, butternut is the variety that works best for a bisque.

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The ratios of subtle spicing also contribute to the quality of this recipe.  It is quite easy to either under or over season a bisque, and the ratios herein may be counted on for goodness.  Since my son and I were preparing a double recipe batch for a crowd of 14, we spread out the process into two days, and this worked to the recipe’s advantage.  Roasting the squash and cooking it with all seasonings on one afternoon, then refrigerating one day ended up benefitting the blending of flavors before puréeing, a final heating and addition of cream.

Though the bisque easily stands on it’s own as is, we choose to garnish it with green onion, sour cream and croutons for a complete flavor bonanza.

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Butternut Squash Bisque Recipe

1 large Butternut Squash

2 T olive oil

salt and pepper, for roasting

1 large onion, chopped

1 T fresh ginger, finely minced

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 T butter or olive oil

salt and pepper, for sauté

1/4 t nutmeg

3 c chicken or vegetable stock, hot

1 c heavy or whipping cream

scallions, sour cream and croutons for garnish

~Begin by roasting squash in the oven, set for 400 degrees; wash and dry squash, chop off top and bottom and split in half; remove seedy innards; coat with olive oil, salt and pepper and place skin side down on a greased baking sheet; roast for about 20-25 minutes or until fork inserted in all parts of squash is easily inserted; remove from oven and allow to cool before handling.

~While roasting, sauté onions for 5 minutes, then add garlic and ginger and continue sauté for a couple minutes more, season with salt and pepper and set aside.

~In a large sauce pot, scoop out squash meat and combine with vegetable sauté; add stock and nutmeg, stir to combine and bring to a simmer; keep at a low simmer, stirring from bottom to ensure squash doesn’t stick until all the vegetable is broken down, about 1/2 hour (add more stock or water if necessary for desired thickness); at this point the soup is ready to purée but must be cooled to handle safely with either egg beaters, a food processor or blender.

~Once puréed, bring bisque to a low simmer, add cream, salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

~Love from our kitchen to yours, Georgina @ Soul & Stomach~

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Valentine’s Cookies with my American Girl ~ Made Bright with Beet Extract

She came skipping up, her American Girl Magazine in hand and a bright smile on her face, full of ideas for valentine’s day, and a plea to make particularly bright pink carnation cookies.

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Agreement was quick, seeing that the recipe would make excellent valentine favors for her classmates and a lovely mother~daughter project.  These cookies make a stunning presentation with rather minimal effort.

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Modified a bit from the magazine’s original form, we removed the red food coloring and added our often made beet extract.  It is a simple process of slowly simmering chopped beets to make a bright fuchsia coloring that is virtually flavorless.  We find beet extract useful for valentine’s day baking and girl’s birthday party cakes and treats.

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When valentine’s day treats become standard, try this recipe to delight the eyes and tastebuds, and spark up children’s interest for baking in the kitchen.

Valentine’s Cookies Bright with Beets Recipe

~(Modified from American Girl Magazine)

2-4 beets, peeled and quartered

water

1/2 c butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 c powdered sugar

1 egg

1 t baking soda

1/2 t baking powder

2 t vanilla

2 c flour (our local Blue Bird Grain Farm’s Organic Methow Hard Red Wheat is excellent)

pink sugar crystals

1 package chocolate striped or other candies, unwrapped and chilled in freezer

~Cover quartered beets in water and bring to slight simmer; place burner on low and simmer for 15 minutes until water reduces by at least 1/2 and beets begin loosing their color; drain beet extract into small container and set aside.

~ Unwrap and place chocolate kisses in freezer before beginning cookies.

~Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl; add egg and beat in; add baking powder, soda and flour and beat until dough is smooth; beat in beet coloring; chill, covered in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

~Set oven for 350 degrees; shape dough in 1 ” balls, roll in sugar crystals; place 2 inches apart on baking sheet; bake for 7-9 minutes and immediately press chocolate candy kisses into center of each cookie; remove from baking sheet to cool completely before eating or storage.

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 Love from our kitchen to yours, Georgina @ Soul & Stomach 

 

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Emmer Farro with Elk Sausage, Roasted Yams, Parsnips, Almonds & Onions

Elk is perhaps our family’s favorite game meat, provided this year by our god father’s fall hunting expedition and made more delicious with Hank’s Harvest Foods processing into delicious, sweet sausage.  This extremely low-fat sausage lends marvelous flavor to emmer farro, grown locally by friends at Bluebird Grain Farms.  Roasted root vegetables and onions mixed in with a touch of olive oil and garnished with fresh thyme and almonds round out the mixture so that each bite is balanced and delectable.

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The key to quality in this recipe is preparation of each ingredient separately and with care to detail.  Cutting root veggies into consistent bite sized pieces and roasting carefully so that each chunk is done through yet not over-cooked is essential.  Similarly, chopping onions into even pieces and browning over a well  tended sauté matters as much as cooking the emmer farro so that the grain is not mushy but cooked to it’s ideal popping, chewy texture.

This hot grain dish needs no dressing with its many natural flavors and is ideal as a winter one-pot meal.  All food groups are covered, but the best of the dish is most certainly the elk meat, seasoned mildly, but to perfection by our local butchers.

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Hot Farro with Elk Sausage and Root Vegetables Recipe

2 1/2 c whole grain emmer farro (1 package)

1 lb elk sausage (buttermilk or sweet works best)

1 T butter

2 small yams or 1 large, peeled and chopped in 1 ” pieces

4-6 parsnips, peeled and chopped in 1 ” pieces

2 medium onions, chopped in 1 ” pieces

4 T extra virgin olive oil

1 c roasted almonds, coarsely chopped

4-6 T fresh thyme leaves

Salt (preferable sea) and pepper (preferably fresh ground)

~Set oven to 400 degrees.

~Begin with a careful roasting process of vegetables; place parsnips and yams in a large bowl, drizzle with 2 T olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and mix to coat well; spread veggies on baking trays, evenly spaced and roast until barely soft pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes; remove from oven and let cool on pans.

~Leave oven on to quickly roast whole almonds; cool, then chop and set aside.

~Place emmer farro in a large sauce pot covered with at least three times water to grain and bring to a boil, adding a pinch of salt; simmer 5 minutes uncovered, then turn down heat to low, cover and simmer for about 50-55 minutes or until farro is soft and chewy but not mushy (berries should pop as you chew); when done, drain and return to pot, mixing in 2 remaining T olive oil.

~While farro simmers, saute onions in olive oil with a bit of butter, salt and pepper, consistently watched and turned until fragrant and browning; set aside.

~In the same sauté pan, brown elk sausage with an additional bit of butter; I found it helpful to cut the sausage in small pieces because unlike beef burger which crumbles and separates easily when browning with all its fat, elk is so lean that it benefits from pre-separation; this also ensures consistent sizes of meat pieces for the final dish.

~Stir onions, almonds and elk sausage into farro first; add root vegetables and carefully combine, so as not to smash them; season to taste with salt and pepper; serve hot garnished with fresh thyme.

~This is a large recipe, made for approximately 12 servings and is easily halved for a smaller group.

 Love from our kitchen to yours, Georgina @ Soul & Stomach