Building an Earthen (Cob) Oven

As resident bread baker, I’ve wanted to build a cob oven for years. I finally got started in early 2010. Then I got a bad concussion that injured my neck, and I had to put the project on hold for a year. Now, at last, I’m back to playing in the mud. It is so much fun. If I could make a living playing in mud, I would switch careers in a flash.

Cob Oven

This is the oven with the final insulating coat. All the oven needs is the final plaster and cob around the door.

What I love about cob/earthen ovens (also called hornos here in the southwest) is that you can (sort of) make them from whatever soil you have available, or scavenge materials to make an almost free oven. The ovens are energy efficient (where wood is available) and can provide a cooking source if the power goes out. Plus you get that delicious brick-oven baked flavor!

GETTING STARTED
1. Start with Kiko Denzer’s Building an Earthen Oven. I read this for years, dreaming about my own oven, before I actually got started. Really. Buy the latest edition. If you’re in Albuquerque, you can get the older edition from the library.

2. Site your oven and gather materials. Kiko’s book goes into detail here, but some pointers: have the oven near your kitchen for convenience, door of oven should be facing away from prevailing winds (here that’s largely west and south), have a water source nearby in the unlikely event of fire.

MATERIALS
CLAY: Our soil is very sandy, so I bought clay from New Mexico Clay on Girard. I tried scavenging clay from the river and friends’ yards, but simply buying 25# of clay was easier and less expensive (considering all the gasoline I was using driving to spots to look for clay). Your soil may have enough clay in it already. Our soil is like beach sand.

SAND: You also need sand. For us, no problem. Your soil may also have plenty of sand. If you have to buy it, you probably don’t need much, just go to one of the big suppliers on Coors or Broadway. A more expensive option is to buy it at a Big Box Hardware store, but that works too.

Soil Test

Use the jar test to easily see how much sand vs. silt vs. clay you have in your soil.

To test your soil, fill a mason jar halfway with soil (save your precious topsoil for the garden!). Fill with water. Shake, shake, shake. The sand will filter out first, then silt, then clay. It takes what seems like forever for clay to completely filter out of the water, but you get the picture fairly quickly. More details are found in Kiko’s book (Do I keep saying that? It’s for a reason. Get the book!).

FIREBRICKS: I called everywhere looking for local firebricks. This is the one item I wanted to buy instead of using old bricks. You can use old bricks, but they may not hold up to the intense firing of these ovens. NM Clay had them for 6 or 7 dollars each, but lucky for us we have a brick manufacturer here in Albuquerque on South Broadway, Kinney Brick. The firebricks were just over a dollar apiece. Nice! When I have time, I’ll rummage in my notes to figure exactly what these are called -they have different kinds of firebricks. Folks at Kinney are helpful and friendly.

INSULATING, FOUNDATION & FILL MATERIALS: I used glass bottles, dryer lint, and cob for insulation; for the foundation, I used “urbanite” or broken pieces of concrete edging we had here on our property (we have more than we’ll be breaking up eventually in case anyone wants it). Concrete is very heavy, but it’s not hard to find rubble that people just throw out. Put out the word with friends. You can also buy a brick or concrete block. See Kiko’s book for other ideas. For the fill, I used broken up pieces of concrete waste from demo project here, plus a ton of ugly white landscaping rock.

STRAW: You will need straw for your cob (you could also use dried grasses, but straw is easiest). We always have straw bales lying around from various projects, and had some from insulating our goat hutches from the below zero wind chills we had this winter. The goats and chickens had torn up the straw bales and chopped them into pieces for us. Perfect! Plus the straw was mixed with goat manure -even better (see Kiko’s book or any other book that talks cob for the benefits of adding horse, cow or goat manure to your mix). You’ll probably need a bale of straw. I don’t know how much we’ve used, because we simply scoop it from the goat pen.

TOOLS: 5-gallon buckets (get them free from deli/bakery departments), wheelbarrow, tarp. The basic garden tools most people have on hand are all you need.

AMOUNTS/RATIOS: Kiko’s book goes into detail about how many buckets of this or that you will need. Buy the book or get it from your library. It’s well worth the $10 or $20. No, I’m not getting a commission!

Step 3. Dig your foundation, test your soil. Since our soil is very sandy, I didn’t dig down to the frost line. I  just dug maybe 4 inches to create a rubble trench foundation to secure the urbanite. It’s the clay in soil that causes so much expansion and contraction with water (never rains here) and freezing. If you have a lot of clay and want your oven to more permanent than temporary, then do a rubble trench to the frost line (18″ here in ABQ with climate change?)

Cob Oven Foundation

I dry stacked the urbanite (concrete curbing) and filled with rubble.

4. Create your foundation. Use any materials for this. You can build your oven much closer to the ground than I did, but as a farmer, my back is tired enough as it is to have to bend over. If it was on the ground, I would be worried about the dogs getting into the oven. Build your foundation “one over two” like you’re laying bricks. I dry stacked the urbanite, but you could also use some sort of mortar, whether commercial or earthen. Use your imagination. Fill the center with rubble. This is where being a hoarder comes in handy. I had been saving rubble from various projects since we moved to our new place, much to the concern of my partner (are you ever going to use that?). You don’t want to fill the center with earth or cob because you want a break between the oven and soil, so moisture doesn’t seep up and wick away heat when you’re firing your oven.

Cob Oven Bottle Insulation

Set your bottles in cob, fairly close together to create an insulating layer.

5. Add insulating layer. I use bottles set in cob. Put a thin layer of cob/mud mix over the fill, just to make it level, then set empty bottles as closely together as possible. I also used dryer lint and animal hair in the mud. Don’t have any bottles? Come down to my neighborhood, you can collect them from the sides of the road. Or ask your friends to save them for you. Or go to a bar and ask for empties. You don’t need many. Cob over the bottles, so that the bottles are just barely showing. I actually ended up cobbing over this insulating layer and creating a second layer because I wanted my oven opening to be at a more comfortable height.

bottle fill cob closeup

Here is a closeup of the bottles being set into cob. You can see the straw strands in the mud.

6. Creating your Cob/Mud Mix. Look at Kiko’s book or any other cob book for details on making cob (Ianto Evan’s Cob Building Book, Earth Bag Building, Building Green. All of these books are available from our library. My ratio is sort of 1 bucket soil (I ended finding an area of fill dirt that had a higher clay content than our native soil), 1 quart powdered clay, 4 huge handfuls of chopped straw/manure.

How to make cob: put the soil in a wheelbarrow or bucket or on a tarp or (use your imagination). Add water to make a slurry (clay slip). Think cake or thin pancake batter. Add clay. Moisten and adjust water as necessary. Add straw and work in till you have a much drier mixture. Think dry cookie batter. (Can you tell I’m a baker?) Again, check out a book on cob for more details. There isn’t one way to do this. You will figure out the right ratio for your soil as you go. Really. You will.

cob oven tree mixing mud

The work goes so much faster when you have someone to help. Here Tree is mixing up the clay slip for the insulating layer.

Testing the mixture for moisture/clay content. Make a cob ball (softball sized). If water is oozing out between your fingers you have too much water. Add clay or soil or straw. Once you have a well-formed cob ball, drop it from shoulder height. If it breaks apart, it’s too dry. If it oozes all over the place, it’s too wet. If it holds its shape and just slightly flattens, then it’s about right.

7. Building the base for your hearth. So now that you’ve cobbed over your bottles, create a ring around the edge of the foundation (use cob or bricks or whatever). I used cob. Into this ring you will pour sand or more cob to set in the firebricks. In the 3rd edition of Kiko’s book, he indicated that he was starting to use cob instead of sand to set the firebricks. I used sand, because, well, we have so much of it!

cob oven hearth base

I made a ring of cob “bricks” to hold in the sand base for the foundation. Note the concrete rubble I laid around the base of the foundation to hold the cob plaster. Also note that I started cobbing in the gaps in the foundation. Dont do this, just cob it in as you go.

8. The next step would be to set your firebricks, but instead, I have been working on applying a rough coat of cob/plaster to the foundation so that it looks more pleasing to my eye. I set pieces of concrete rubble at the base to serve as a foundation for the cob (so the cob wasn’t just sitting on dirt/gravel. I don’t know that this was necessary, but I felt like a capillary break between soil and cob was a good idea. I will mortar river rocks to the base using an earthen mortar to hide the concrete pieces sticking out. It took me about 3 hours to plaster the base with Tree mixing all the cob for me.

cob oven base firebricks

Notice the cob “ring” to hold in the sand base for the firebricks. Also note the slightly darker ring of cob in the center of the base. That particular batch of cob was wetter than I liked, but I didnt correct it. It “splooged” slightly and took longer to dry but worked out fine in the end.

My next step was to build a sand mound on the firebrick using damp sand. This went fairly quickly, but took much more sand than I would have thought. I used over 5 buckets.

cob oven sand mound

I ended up adding more sand to make the mound more round.

Immediately after creating the moist sand mound (this was like building sand castles at the beach!), wrap the mound in wet newspaper. In our climate, the paper dries almost immediately. I kept spraying it with water to stay moist while you put the “oven mix”/cob over the mound.

sand mound newspaper

The paper was tricky to apply in our windy weather. I soaked the paper in a bucket of water before applying.

The oven mix doesn’t have straw. It’s just a mix of clay and soil.  After you apply all the oven mud, you can wait and let it dry or go ahead and apply the insulating mix over the oven mud (the insulating mix is more of a straw-rich cob). I let the oven mix dry for a few days (I was also tired and needed a rest!). My next step was to carve out the door, and scoop out the sand. The door is not finished. I may make it just a little wider, but it was very neat to scoop all the sand out and have the oven retain its shape.

cob oven opening sand

Next step after scooping out the sand is applying the insulating cob mix.

Today, I applied the insulating mix, so the oven is almost done! I just have to make the door (really this should be done at an earlier stage), and then I will do a final plaster.

I will continue to update this post, adding photos, as I make progress on the oven and test it out. I had planned to do a workshop around building this oven, but since I’m learning my way through it, and I have only small windows of time to work on the oven, I decided to not have a workshop and simply share through the blog. Next oven, I’ll offer a workshop. Promise!

Happy cobbing!

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Backyard Chickens & FREE Herb Workshop this Weekend

Saturday I’m teaching Kitchen Farmacy, a FREE workshop on medicinal uses of culinary herbs, at the Celebrate Seeds NM event being held in Old Town Albuquerque. 10:30 AM. See the Gardeners Guild website for more information.

Sunday, I’m holding our first workshop of the season here at Sunstone. Our annual Backyard Chickens workshop starts at 10 am. Call or email if you’d like to register or see our workshops page for more details. PLEASE remember to leave your dogs at home!$15. 2814 Long LN SW, 87105.

Also on Saturday, I’ll be talking up the farming life on Carol Boss’ wonderful radio show Revolutionary Soup. 12 pm. KUNM Public Radio. I’ll add the link to listen online when I have it.

This year’s workshops are now online, and there are still more to be added! I hope to see you at the farm or at one of the Open Space Backyard Farming workshops at the Gutierrez-Hubbell House.

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Sweet Dumpling Squash Soup

Usually butternut squash is my go to winter squash for soups. It’s so easy to peel, reliable in the garden, long storing and tasty. But we had a bumper crop of sweet dumpling squash this year. These little “personal” sized squash are equally delicious, but they don’t store quite as long as butternut. I had about a dozen sweet dumplings in a basket on the counter that looked like they should have been used up by new year’s. So off to the soup pot they went (by way of the oven).

Sweet Dumpling Squash

Lucky me. These squash are ready for the soup pot. Another few weeks and they’ll be mush.

I normally don’t roast squash for soup since I’m usually making meals at the last minute, and that is an extra step, but I had roasted all the sweet dumplings so that I would have abundant squash on hand, roasted, for eating and using in cooking. Plus, squash with ridges are a pain to peel, so roasting is a great first step to be able to easily scoop out the creamy flesh sans peel (though you can eat the peel on this squash -it’s very thin).

To roast sweet dumplings or other squash, cut the squash in two around the “waist.” If handling knives and squash is not one of your skills, here is a tip to keep from chopping your fingers off. Use a large chef’s knife and gently stick the tip into the “waist.” Then lever the knife around the waistline letting the knife serve as a wedge to pop the squash open. Don’t try to saw or hack it open. Scary!

To roast squash: heat your oven to 400. Rub a baking sheet with olive oil. Put the squash face down. I don’t bother to scoop out the seeds. It’s easier when they’ve roasted anyway. Roast 20 minutes or so until a fork pierces the outside of the squash easily. Remove from heat and scoop out the seeds, then scoop out the flesh into a measuring glass.

Sweet Dumpling Squash Soup

The drizzle of cream in this soup makes it look tie-dyed. Delicious, but tie-dyed.

Sweet Dumpling Squash Soup
Serves 4

1 large butternut squash or 10 sweet dumpling squash, roasted or peeled (about 4 cups roasted/mashed)
butter and olive oil (about a tablespoon minimum each)
1 large onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
thyme, dried or fresh, to taste (I add about 1/2t dried)
sage, dried for fresh, to taste (I added about teaspoon dried)
1 quart stock (I use a homemade unsalted rooster stock. If using store bought stock, take care with how much salt you add).
fresh cream, optional
maple syrup, optional

  1. Heat butter and olive oil in a pot. Add chopped onions and salt and saute until tender. Add garlic, thyme, sage. Saute for another few minutes, adding vermouth, wine, cider, stock, water or other liquid if the pan gets dry.
  2. Add squash and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer till flavors are melded (or the squash is soft if you’re using raw squash). Puree. Reheat and adjust seasoning. Drizzle with cream and maple syrup. I usually don’t add syrup since I find squash is sweet already, but if your squash is not very flavorful, then the syrup can be a nice addition.
  3. Enjoy!
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Thai Seafood Curry with Winter Squash

I love curry, especially Thai curries. Growing up, the closest I came to Asian food was American-style sweet and sour pork (which, I know, is not all that close to Asia). When I moved to San Francisco after high school, I encountered a whole new world of hot, sweet, and spicy. I was hooked.

Thai Seafood Curry with Winter Squash

I make this curry year round, varying the ingredients to what’s available in the garden.

This favorite recipe of hot, sweet, and spicy curry love is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s  Nigella Bites: From Family Meals to Elegant Dinners. I’m posting her ingredients with my variations in parentheses. The instructions are mine.  If you have a few basic ingredients in your freezer and pantry, you can whip this up in 30 minutes. I use whatever vegetables I have on hand in the garden or pantry to make this, and it can be made vegetarian too. Just omit the seafood and substitute a vegan fish sauce. How to find Asian ingredients? Read my note below the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 to 2T yellow (or red) Thai Curry Paste (I prefer red)
  • 1 1/2 cups fish stock, chicken stock or water (I usually use water)
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce (called nuoc mam or nam pla)
  • 2 tablespoons palm sugar (or regular sugar)
  • 3 lemongrass stalks, each cut into 3 sections
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves, or grated zest of one lime (I use 5 leaves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 medium winter squash or pumpkin (1-2#), peeled and cut into chunks (I’ve used both winter squash and sweet potatoes. It’s all good!)
  • 1 pound wild Pacific salmon, cut into chunks (I leave the skin on)*
  • 12-16 ounces peeled raw shrimp or langoustines (I usually use a bag of frozen langoustines from Trader Joes)**
  • Large head of greens (kale, collards or chard, or any other green vegetables of your choice)
  • 1/2 to 1 lime, juiced, or more to taste
  • Cilantro (I occasionally add basil also)
  • Jalapeno, chopped, optional (in case you want to spice things up more)
  • Jasmine or other rice

1. Put rice on to cook (2 cups water per 1 cup rice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to lowest setting, stir once, cover and let simmer until done, usually 15-30 minutes. On my electric stove, I usually turn off the heat about 10 minutes before it’s done. The residual heat on the burner will finish the cooking without scorching. )

2. In a heavy pot, heat a few tablespoons of the heavy cream part of the coconut milk over a medium heat (if there is no heavy cream, just use the milk. Add curry paste and saute briefly to bring out the flavors. Add stock, fish sauce, lemongrass, lime leaves (or zest), and sugar. Bring to a simmer.

3. Meanwhile, cut up squash. Add to pot. Let simmer, covered, until squash is nearly done (about 10-15 minutes, depending on the variety of squash). Add roughly chopped greens. Cover the pot and let the greens steam while you cut up the salmon.

4. Once the greens are wilted, add the shrimp and salmon. If the shrimp are frozen, add them with the greens because they’ll need more time to cook. Let simmer for 3-5 minutes or until salmon is cooked. I add cilantro, basil, and juice of 1/2 a lime now, and put more cilantro and quartered lime on the table. Adjust seasoning for salt or fish sauce. Serve over jasmine rice with garnishes.

How to find Asian ingredients? Curry pastes and coconut milk can be found in most urban grocery stores in the international section. But your best bet for one-stop shopping is to go to an Asian market and stock up. Here in Albuquerque, we have Ta Lin (on Louisiana and Central). Here you can find fresh lime leaves and lemongrass stalks. I buy several at a time and keep them in the freezer. Your Asian grocer might already have the lime leaves in the freezer. Look for fish sauce in the Vietnamese or Thai aisle or adjacent to the soy sauces. When I lived in the Catskills, I would occasionally go to an Asian grocer in New Jersey or NYC’s Chinatown to stock up. Palm sugar is either sold in hard disks or in a jar as a thick paste. I prefer the jars but lately, have only been able to find the disks. These can be incredibly difficult to shave or cut off sections.  So what I like to do is put one disk in a jar and fill it with boiling water to melt it. Then I just keep it in the fridge to spoon out as needed.

*I only buy wild Pacific salmon. All Atlantic salmon and Pacific salmon that is not labeled “wild” is farmed which is not a good thing. You are not getting the health benefits touted for salmon if you are eating farmed salmon. You could use other fish, but the salmon really holds up to the bold flavors of this dish. Try it.
**There is a lot of environmental degradation involved in the fishery industry. Shrimping is not always sustainable. It’s a tricky dance figuring out what’s “okay” to eat. I just try to minimize the seafood I eat unless it’s line caught or sustainably farmed (for shellshish). Mussels are a good example of a shellfish that is okay to eat when farmed. Salmon is not okay.

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Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys by David Tanis

I have to preface this book review with a quick mention that the Dinner Event with David Tanis (celebrated chef from Chez Panisse) at the Artichoke Cafe on November 15th is almost sold out. Call Bookworks ASAP for details and one of the few remaining tickets! 505-344-8139. Now back to our scheduled programming….

I love cookbooks. I read them like novels. I read them not just for the recipes, but for inspiration and to be taken on a journey. So when I got my hands on David Tanis’ new cookbook, Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys, I eagerly sat down with a cup of tea and started reading.

Heart of the Artichoke

This gorgeous and useful cookbook doesn’t just look pretty. The recipes are fantastic!

It felt like meeting an old friend that I hadn’t seen in years, where we talk about what we used to eat together as kids and compare new delicacies. The first section, Kitchen Rituals, is filled with refreshingly simple tips, more story than recipe, sometimes focusing on a single ingredient like apples, on how to easily put a dish or meal together. I found myself saying “I do that too!” or “What a good idea!”

This isn’t just another celebrity chef cookbook with glossy photos of the chef’s grinning family enjoying perfectly constructed food, accompanied by insipid or impractical recipes. This is a book about using fresh ingredients simply to make the best food possible. And Tanis doesn’t belabor the point about eating organic or seasonally. His audience gets that by now. So instead of a lecture, we get a mouth-watering recipe for fresh peach ice cream (I can’t wait till August!) or easy apricot jam (I can’t wait till July!).

No fancy equipment, no glamorous kitchens, or exotic ingredients are required here. Ok, there is one recipe that calls for kumquats (which we had growing outside when I lived in California, but are going to be harder to find here in Albuquerque or the rest of the country). But instead of being annoyed with one exotic ingredient, I thought, “Wow, I haven’t thought of kumquats in years, I wonder if they have them at the local Asian grocer?” The recipe took me on a journey back to my childhood where we could snack on ripe kumquats right from the bush. In season, naturally.

The recipes are all doable, and as an experienced cook, I found myself tempted with foodstuffs I have shied away from, like tripe and squid. With Tanis’ tips on selection and preparation of these not so ordinary ingredients, I feel confident enough to finally try cooking with them.

Some cookbooks take you on a journey, but you don’t end up actually using the recipes. Not so with Heart of the Artichoke. Every recipe looks good. I’ve already made half a dozen of them and look forward to personalizing the rest of the pages with dribbles of spices and smudges of flour.

Tanis is a chef after my own heart. This is the kind of cookbook I would write if I were a celebrity chef and lived half of the year in Paris and half in California. Heck, it’s the kind of book I would want to write even if I lived on an urban farm in Albuquerque full-time (Oh, that’s right, I do). Starting with spring (and Lamb with Rosemary), Tanis takes us from simple recipes for one or two people to simple delicious meals for a crowd. Heart of the Artichoke is a beautiful follow-up to his previous cookbook, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipesand I give it my highest recommendation.

And for those of you living in Albuquerque, wait, there’s more! There will be a dinner with Tanis held at Artichoke Cafe on November 15th in celebration of his new book. What is sure to be an entertaining (and delectable dinner) event is only $75, and includes a signed copy of the book, three courses with wine pairings and dessert (for 2, $115). What a deal! See Bookworks for tickets and details and don’t delay. This dinner is almost sold out! If you miss out on tickets, Tanis will be at Bookworks on the 15th from 5-6: 30 pm for a reading and book signing.

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Think You’re Eating Farm Fresh Eggs? Think Again.

With the recent salmonella egg scare, it’s more important than ever to know where your food comes from. A photo of a happy chicken on your egg carton does not mean much more than you have a pretty egg carton.

Cuckoo Marans Chickens

Cuckoo Marans Momma Hen and Her Just Hatched Chicks: “Oh My Stars!”

If you can’t raise your own flock, try to purchase your eggs from another backyard grower, or read this article from Mother Jones to find out who NOT to buy eggs from. And the Cornucopia Institute has a very helpful scorecard rating local to national egg brands (including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods).

And, by the way, the term “free range” doesn’t mean those chickens have access to fresh air, sunshine, grass, and bugs. Unless your eggs are from a small backyard or family farm or the carton says the hens are pastured, the eggs are more than likely coming from hens that are, yes, cage-free, but crammed into hoop-house like structures where they don’t have access to all the things that make chickens really happy. Fresh air, sunshine, bugs.

Buff Orpington Hen Cuddling with her Cuckoo Marans Chick

We keep a flock of chickens for eggs, meat, pest patrol, their manure, and for the life they add to our farm. We know our eggs are safe and healthy.

Oh, and chickens aren’t vegetarians.

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Last Workshops at Sunstone for the Year this Week!

Our workshop series is rapidly coming to a close for the year. It’s been a fun season meeting so many people! Here are details for the last workshops I will be teaching in 2010.

This Wednesday, October 13, I will be teaching a FREE workshop on Gardening and Eating through a New Mexico Winter at the Agricultural Collaborative monthly meeting at the MRCOG offices. 9am-10:30. I’ll offer my favorite tips for extending the growing season, growing during the winter and preserving your harvest, tips on lacto-fermentation included!

This Sunday, October 17, is Artisanal Bread Baking,  the last Urban Homesteading workshop here at Sunstone for the year. If you’ve heard the rave reviews about my bread, come and see how it’s done. This is a fun hands-on workshop, and there will be plenty to taste! 10am. $15 day of, $12 advanced registration.

I hope you can join us before our long winter’s rest!

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Beneficials in the Garden: Yellow Garden Spiders

I was just asking Tree if she had noticed any of my favorite black and yellow garden spiders in the garden this year. I hadn’t noticed any Argiope guaranties (even their name is gorgeous) and missed seeing their big sturdy webs spun between stands of Echinacea.

The very next day I went to turn the water on and saw a beautiful specimen right by the water faucet. Delighted, I welcomed her (only the females have the striking black and yellow coloring) and went to get the camera. She was nonstop busy catching huge grasshoppers that made the mistake of getting entangled in her web.

You can still see the grasshopper’s face underneath the spider’s silk.

These spiders are so amazing. They can take prey up to 200% of their own size and will eat a variety of insects night and day from aphids to flies to grasshoppers (which is what I usually see in their nests). They’re not considered dangerous and are unlikely to bite unless harassed. Unfortunately, they can also be predated on by birds, lizards and dauber wasps.

I welcome all spiders -they are amazing insectivores, but if you lean towards the arachnophobic, try to give these beneficials space in your garden, you might be surprised at what good garden companions they are.

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Goat Milk Soap Now Available at Sunstone

Goat Milk Soap

We handcraft our goat milk soap in small batches using raw goat milk from our trio of sassy Alpine dairy goats: Tosca, Desdemona and Betty!

Luscious goat milk soap made with fresh milk from our goats and honey from our bees is now available for sale at sunstoneherbs.com.

We hand cut each bar and package them in a simple compostable brown paper bag. We aim for minimal packaging to reduce our environmental footprint. Due to the handcrafted nature, each bar will be uniquely shaped.

We use no fragrance oils or perfume oils in our soap. Fragrance oils are often synthetic, and we like to keep our soap as pure and environmentally friendly as possible. The only scent comes from the honey and the goat milk. Many people with sensitive skin tell us that they love our gentle soap. Try it and see for yourself!

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How to Make Goat Milk Yogurt

I’m lucky enough to own three dairy goats. I have a constant supply of delicious raw goat milk, and, no, it’s not goaty tasting. It’s sweet and creamy. I make lots of cheese, ice cream, and yogurt. I love yogurt, and with the store bought good stuff costing $5 a quart, I save a lot of money.

Yogurt is very easy to make, but there are a few tips to making good goat milk yogurt since goat milk has different qualities than cow milk. I think our homemade yogurt is the most delicious yogurt I’ve ever tasted. I encourage you to try making your own yogurt whether you have access to raw goat milk or if you’re using store bought cow milk (I wouldn’t use store bought pasteurized goat milk). You’ll be surprised at how easy it is! I’ll give the basic instructions first, then go into detail about, well, the details.

Goat Milk Yogurt

Delicious Goat milk yogurt with strawberries, blueberries and a drizzle of maple syrup. My favorite summer breakfast. Yum!

Ingredients and Equipment for Two Quarts of Yogurt:

2 quarts of raw goat milk (or raw or pasteurized cow milk)
2 tablespoons high-quality yogurt or two frozen cubes of yogurt in a glass measuring cup or jar
2-quart saucepan
thermometer (optional)
Yogotherm or small cooler with 2 mason jars and lids

1. Heat milk to 180. Remove from heat and let cool to 115.
2. When milk has cooled, pour a little milk into the jar containing the starter yogurt and stir well.
3. Add the starter back to the cooled milk, stir well and immediately pour into the yogotherm container or into two-quart mason jars. Seal.
4. Put the yogotherm contain into the insulator and let sit for 8 hours. If using a cooler, put the jars in the cooler and fill with warm (not boiling hot) water to insulate the jars. Let sit for 8 hours. Then refrigerate. The yogurt will continue to solidify slightly overnight.

DETAILS:

Starter Culture
You can purchase a starter culture. That works great. Bulgarian yogurt is my favorite starter, producing the thickest yogurt. However, it gets expensive, so I just purchase plain whole milk yogurt and freeze it in an ice cube tray and use one yogurt cube per quart of milk as a starter. I don’t bother defrosting the frozen yogurt before using. When the milk has cooled to about 120, I pour some milk over the cube to melt it. My favorite store bought starter yogurt is Dannon. I’ve tried all the organic, greek and Bulgarian yogurts as starters over the years, but here in Albuquerque, Dannon has proved to be the most lively starter. When I lived in New York, I would use Seven Stars Farm or Hawthorne Valley yogurt as a starter. Don’t use low/non-fat or flavored yogurts. There must be live cultures in the yogurt. Old yogurt with not so lively cultures will not produce good yogurt. It will make yogurt, but the flavor may be very tart or runny.

Incubation/Insulation

You need to keep your yogurt at a steady warm temperature (not over 115 degrees). Some people do this with towels and pilot lights. That’s too much for me. For a long time, I used a small Igloo cooler, pre-heating it with hot water, but I recently purchased a Yogotherm non-electric yogurt “maker,” and I love it. It just makes the process so much easier for me. My yogurt is much more consistent, and I’m more inclined to make it regularly with the Yogotherm. They cost around $30. And since I go through a few quarts of yogurt a week, it’s already more than paid for itself.

Temperatures
You don’t have to bring the milk to 180 if you want a “raw” yogurt. But your yogurt will be thin because the yogurt cultures have to compete with the naturally occurring bacteria in the milk. Bringing the milk to 180 doesn’t really pasteurize the milk, but it kills off enough of the natural bacteria so that the yogurt bacteria can culture the milk without competition. This is important if you want additive-free thicker yogurt.

Cooling the Milk

I fill a sink with cold water and frozen plastic water/soda bottles in order to cool the milk quickly. This saves me time and produces a sweeter yogurt in my experience. To let the milk cool from 180 to 115 would take hours in my hot kitchen. You don’t want the milk to cool down much below 110 (yes, you can make a thin, yogurt beverage by simply adding the culture to just warmed milk, but 110 to 115 is ideal).

Thick vs. Thin Yogurt

Goat milk yogurt is naturally more delicate and thinner than cow milk yogurt. If you are used to store-bought yogurt, especially cow yogurt, you should know that it is usually so thick because of additives, usually pectin, carrageenan or non-fat milk powder. This yogurt, even the organic stuff, is gross to me. Why would I go to the trouble to make a healthy homemade cultured dairy product and then put something like dry milk powder into it? I don’t get it. But I do get that some people are so used to the sludge-like thick store yogurt that they think goat milk yogurt is too thin or delicate. (Think Yoplait, what used to be gourmet yogurt!). To get the thickest goat milk yogurt you need to heat the milk to 180 so that the yogurt culture doesn’t have to compete with the milk bacteria. The competition weakens the yogurt culture so that it is not able to fully act on the milk. So, heat your milk if you want thicker yogurt. Also, you must have an active culture. In my experience, dry Bulgarian culture (you can buy them online) and Dannon plain whole milk yogurt produce the thickest yogurt.

You also need to consider how long you let the yogurt incubate. Sometimes I leave my Yogotherm out for 24 hours. It’s still yogurt, but it’s usually thinner and more tart. If you refrigerate (to stop the culturing process) too soon, then the bacteria doesn’t have enough time to work their magic on the milk. The result is thinner yogurt. It’s still yogurt, just thinner. For me, 8-10 hours work the best. Once you get the hang of the process, experiment with different times to see what works best with your milk and climate and taste.

Have fun and enjoy! – Jen

Yogotherm yogurt insulator/incubator and a quart of homemade goat milk yogurt.

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