This is David & Susan Sifford's journal of what we pray is our sojourn of life (Hebrews 11:8-10) along the narrow way (Matt 7:14), even the old paths (Jeremiah 6:16), submitting to the Bible as a light unto both (Psalms 119:105). It is our prayer that these documented moments in our earthly time benefit whom God might choose to edify, but ultimately that God glorifies Himself through them.

Category: solar food dryer

The Orchard – Summer 2021

With the cold winter freezes, and especially with the artic blast week we had, we were hoping for some fruit from the orchard this year. Now, even with freezes typically playing a part of a good fruit harvest, we believe these things still only come about if the Lord grants them out of His graciousness.

And, accordingly to that, He has decided to do so, and we are very thankful!

Here’s a recent look at the orchard itself:

Orchard 2021
More of Orchard 2021

This is a pecan tree in the background, and you can get the size perspective with the fencing and goats. I believe this one even grew back from the root!

Pecan Tree 2021

And here’s most of the rest of the pecan tree line:

Pecan Tree Line 2021

Here’s a peach tree loaded with yummy goodnesses!

Peach Tree 2021
Peaches on Tree 2021

And then picked:

Picked Peaches 2021

We made a solar food dehydrator quite a few years back, and it’s still working pretty well, despite some cracks in the plexiglass, the big ones I believe coming from young goats jumping off the dryer! 🙂

And here it is with the fruit drying or about to start drying:

2021 Fruit on Solar Food Dehydrator
More 2021 Fruit on Solar Food Dehydrator
Still More 2021 Fruit on Solar Food Dehydrator

We rarely get apricots, but this year God granted a whole bunch, and here are some dried ones. They may not look like much, but fruit with the water gone condenses its natural sugars, so they taste great!

2021 Dried Apricots

And here is the collection of dried tasty morsels the Lord has granted so far:

2021 Dried Fruit

Once again, we are always thankful to God for granting food off the land, coming from His direct hand of providence!

— David

The Orchard – Summer 2018

The Lord has graciously continued the 2018 orchard bounty through Summer, with mostly nectarines and pears!

Looking good!

Nectarines

God’s gracious bounty!

Buckets of Fruit

Ripening…

Nectarines Ripening

Pears Ripening

And then cut up ready for the solar food drier:

Fruit Pieces

Here they are on the dehydrator:

Fruit Pieces on Solar Food Dehydrator

And showing dried vs. new. Sue did a great job of monitoring this and getting them off the drier before they were too far done…good job, Honey! 😀

Dried vs. New Fruit Pieces on Solar Food Dehydrator

These things taste great…it’s tough to stop eating them! 😀

Dried Fruit in Jars

God was so gracious, we had to pressure can some of the fruit to keep up. And with the pears, because their ripening schedule is difficult to guess (they don’t ripen on the tree, and the ripe period of time is a small window and hard to detect), we just canned them as well.

In a more sad note, we lost probably our biggest tree that had lots of peaches on it, but in God’s plan, it was time for it to be done. Like last time, it’ll go to firewood:

Dead Peach Tree

But, we are so very grateful to the Lord for granting these provisions directly off of the land! It is always our prayer that we bear much spiritual fruit by abiding in Christ deriving nourishment from Him for His graces to grow in us and outwardly for His glory!

— David

The Orchard – Spring 2018

With the previous two Winters being somewhat mild weather-wise, there wasn’t much activity with our fruit trees. However, this past Winter had quite a few more cold days, and I’m thinking that really made a difference, because by God’s graces we’ve had a very nice fruit bounty this Spring!

Here’s a current picture of the orchard, for which we are very thankful to the Lord:

Orchard Spring 2018

So far, God has granted plums and the first apricots produced from a couple of our apricot trees. We’ve been extra diligent this year in getting to the fruit before the birds do as we’ve had trouble with that in the past. Thanks to Sue for going out there 3 times a day! Here they are ripening:

2018 Plums & Apricots

Here’s Mimi keeping guard over them….sort of. She’s really just keeping cool on a hot day! 🙂

2018 Plums Ripening on Woodburning Stove

And here are more plums with apricots ripening:

2018 Plums & Apricots Ripening

The easiest way for us to preserve the fruit is to dry them on our solar food dehydrator. It works very well, and we are thankful for it! In the past, we have ended up leaving the plums on too long, maybe to make sure they were dry, but they end up very stiff; and so, this year with them, we’ve made slices in the sides, to help hopefully dry them out thoroughly without going too far. It’s closer to what we do with fruit out of which we can remove the pit, like peaches:

2018 Fruit on Solar Food Dehydrator

And here is basically all of the dried fruit so far. We are very thankful to God for granting these provisions!

Orchard Spring 2018 Dried Fruit

Finally, and sadly, earlier in the year, a storm knocked over one of our bigger trees:

Fallen Fruit Tree

You can see the size of it:

Size Perspective of Fallen Fruit Tree

The inside of the trunk was almost like paper. I assume some sort of disease got to it. But, not much around here goes to waste typically, so it has become firewood for Winter time. We are thankful to the Lord for all of the fruit He has granted from this tree over time!

Cross Section of Fallen Fruit Tree

The peaches and nectarine trees have many fruit on them, and so we pray God keeps them and allows us to harvest them in due time. Interestingly, one of our newer trees has had probably 100 peaches on it, but I believe in keeping Lev 19:23-25, which says:

23 And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of.

24 But in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy to praise the Lord withal.

25 And in the fifth year shall ye eat of the fruit thereof, that it may yield unto you the increase thereof: I am the Lord your God.

And, besides this being in the Bible, Puritan commentator John Gill, on the end of vs 23, says:

which was a provision partly for the benefit of fruit trees newly planted, whose fruit, when they first bear, gardeners frequently take off immediately, and do not suffer them to grow to any perfection, by which means a tree will grow stronger, and will bear more and better fruit another year; and partly for the health of man, which physical reason is given by Aben Ezra, who observes that the fruit that comes unto the third year there is no profit by it, but is hurtful; and chiefly because, as it is proper that the first fruits should be given to the Lord before any is eaten, so it is right that it should be given seasonably, and when it is brought to its perfection: three years were to be reckoned, as Jarchi and Ben Gersom say, from the time the tree was planted.

And Matthew Henry says:

3. We are hereby taught not to be over-hasty in catching at any comfort, but to be willing with patience to wait the time for the enjoyment of it, and particularly to acknowledge ourselves unworthy of the increase of the earth, our right to the fruits of which was forfeited by our first parents eating forbidden fruit, and we are restored to it only by the word of God and prayer, 1 Tim. 4:5

Now, since the priesthood is no more, some might argue the whole command has gone away, but for me, I look at it as the 4th year going away, and we still wait for after 3 years to harvest from a tree, discarding any fruit during those 3 years. Needless to say, it has been a little difficult to toss down so many, but we pray God glorifies Himself through these things.

Again, we are very thankful to the Lord for granting these provisions! May we bear much fruit, the fruit of His Spirit, by the graces He supplies to us!

— David

That’s Berry Nice!

Blackberry BushIt was about 25 degrees outside this morning, so I thought no better time to think of the warmth of the sun and our trip to a blackberry farm last Spring!

Most of us from our community one day drove in a caravan to a local pick-your-own blackberry farm in Cottonwood, TX. Neither Dave nor I had ever been berry picking of any kind before, so it was a new experience for each of us. Here are some of our community leisurely strolling down one of the rows picking blackberries as they go:

Community Folks Picking Blackberries

I was pleasantly surprised at how relaxing it was. Some of the bushes, however, didn’t relinquish their berries without brandishing their thorny weapons; but I prevailed and took the valued treasure with just a little blood shed (ouch!) But it was well worth it: 🙂

Susan Picking Blackberries

After a couple of hours, we had filled our buckets; and the farm owner and his wife weighed our haul and charged a very reasonable fee. Apparently, they also open their farm at other harvest times (eg. pecans, black-eyed peas, other fruit trees, etc.), so we look forward to perhaps returning again:

Buckets of Picked Blackberries

Afterward, many of us stopped at the farmer’s little picnic area and had a nice time of food and fellowship in the cool shade:

Blackberry Farm Picnic Area

When we returned home from our lovely outing, reality set in; and it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea how to make anything from berries; and we would probably get sick if we tried to eat them all before they went bad. Dave recommended doing something with them in the solar food dryer; and sometime just previously to that, one of our neighbors had suggested making fruit leather. Capital ideas!! So I did a little research online and gave fruit leather a try. First, I pureed some blackberries:

Pureed Blackberries

Then I poured the pureed mixture onto two sheets of waxed paper and shaped it into a thin layer on each sheet:

Blackberry Fruit Leather on Wax Paper

Then I placed the sheets out in the solar food dryer:

Blackberry Fruit Leather on Solar Food Dryer

I can’t remember exactly how long it took but not long (a matter of a couple of days in the hot sun), and the consistency of the blackberries was a bit sticky but dried where I was able to peel it off of the sheet. I then broke it up into small pieces to store in glass jars. It is December now, and I ate a piece yesterday that tasted fresh just like when I first stored it!

Removing Dried Blackberry Fruit Leather from Wax Paper

Then I took the remainder of the berries we hadn’t eaten or dried and followed a simple blackberry syrup recipe using very little sugar:

Simmering Blackberry Syrup

I was able to make several pints, and went ahead and pressure canned it (I forgot about the water bath option because I’m so used to pressure canning – oh, well 🙂 ). But it turned out fine anyway:

Pint Jars of Canned Blackberry Syrup

And we were able to have it on our whole wheat pancakes soon after. Delicious, and what a healthy change from the “faux” maple syrup sold in stores these days. It was more of a topping than a syrup but still delicious:

Pancakes with Blackberry Syrup

There is one thing I would do differently in retrospect. I was just trying to go the easiest and quickest route, and I didn’t take time to extract the seeds. The fruit leather and syrup taste fine but are obviously a bit “crunchy.” So I would definitely recommend removing the seeds; and I plan to do it next time, Lord willing. But we are thankful for such a wonderful opportunity to capture and learn to preserve more of God’s harvest bounty.

Susan

Providence’s Perennial Provisions: Agarita Berries

Agarita BerriesIn trying to live off of the land, we have learned to consider ways that God via the land already provides. There are quite a few native edibles out here, one being Agarita berries. They are small, red berries that ripen around this time, and can be fairly sweet if gathered at the right time. Even a bit tart, they’re not too bad.

And so, we decided this year to pick a few, to take advantage of the gift off of the land the Lord has granted.

This is a picture of a some Agarita berry plants with fairly ripe berries:

Agarita Berry Bush

And here is Sue gathering the berries. The Agarita plant leaves have very sharp points, and will stick you and stick in you; and so, she is wearing gloves:

Sue Picking Agarita Berries

When we picked the berries, we tried different methods, including using a fork to pluck them off, but decided to try to just grab as many berries as we could, which seemed to be the quickest way. However, when it came time to clean them, Sue had to go through the lot of them pulling out those prickly leaves; and in the end, it might have taken just as long to pick and clean them as it would have to just pluck them cleanly in the first place. Thanks to Sue for her patience in somewhat painfully going through all of those. Gary marveled at her patience too 🙂 :

Sue Cleaning Agarita Berries

And here are the results!

Harvested Agarita Berries

Since it’s only Sue and I here on our homestead, we have to make a lot of priority decisions as to what we spend our time doing. Because of how long it takes to collect them, we didn’t spend much more time doing that, although I went out one other time to try the fork-plucking method. And, to save time in the processing, and to continue to practice not relying on the world’s fuels, we put them in our solar food dehydrator to dry them:

Drying Agarita Berries in Our Solar Food Dehydrator

If you’re interested, here is a link to some details about the Agarita berry plant. And here is the Wikipedia entry for Agarita berries.

We are grateful to God for His provisioning of these perennial berries here growing natively off of the land.

— David

Garden 2009 – Spring – Update II – Sue-cchini


We didn’t know what to expect with our 2009 Spring garden, but the Lord has seen fit to provide us with plenty of water in our cistern with which to water the garden; and He has brought the increase, and what an increase! As me and my buddies Rogers and Hammerstein always say, “Zucchini is busting out all over!”

I went out to see what was available to harvest; and, boy, there was an abundance of zucchini ready to be picked:



I looked through our book, “Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning” by The Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante, to see if there were ways other than canning to preserve the zucchini. The book described a very easy, lactic fermentation method. I simply washed and grated the zucchini, skin and all, and put it into canning jars with a teaspoon of salt per pint alternating layers of zucchini and salt. Then I added water to each jar leaving 1″ head space, put on the lids and caps and……that’s it! I put the jars down in the root cellar and within days we had a very delicious and fresh tasting zucchini kraut:


I also read that drying zucchini is a very good way to preserve it. I was excited to be able to utilize the wonderful solar food dryer that Dave had made. So I cut up the zucchini into slices, and within a couple of days they were shriveled and crispy! They say you can eat them like potato chips with dip or use them in soups and casseroles.

Here they are put out to dry on trays in our solar food dehydrator:

Here are the dried chips after 1-2 days in the dehydrator (the orange looking pieces are apricots which turned out delicious as well!):

I preserved the dried zucchini chips in glass jars. And I didn’t have to use the pressure canner or a drop of propane!

I also harvested a bunch of yellow summer squash I was hoping to preserve. I read online that one woman didn’t like the “mushiness” of hot packed canned squash, so she and her family started raw packing it with no water. This way it could be dipped in egg and crumbs to fry it or be used in soups and casseroles. Well, I went ahead and tried it that way, and it worked great! I’m very excited to have found this method, which opens up a wider variety of ways to use squash in meals.

In addition to canning, I also processed some of the yellow summer squash with the lactic fermentation method, as I had done with the zucchini; and it turned out fresh and tasty as well, without any freezing or canning used.

What a huge blessing to be able to capture and preserve the freshness of these garden vegetables without canning or freezing. We are careful to thank God for the bounty of this harvest as well as His many spiritual provisions.

1 Cor. 3:6 – “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”

Susan

Air It Out

In trying to continue to get away from dependency on the world, we have looked into preserving food without canning or freezing. One of the methods for doing this with fruits and vegetables is drying. There are food dehydrators available for purchase, some electric, some solar; but it seemed to me this would probably be pretty easy to construct. And so I searched for plans on the Internet and settled on these solar food dehydrator plans, partially because the design was very specifically laid out (which I need), and also because it appeared to be the most compact for the process behind the drying and still large enough to be able to dry quite a bit of food.

Here are some pictures of ours as I built it:




I decided to use 1″ wood screws and 2″ coarse drywall screws for most of it, and 1 5/8″ deck screws for the legs. I found that a 1/8″ pilot hole worked best with the 1x2s.

On the top I didn’t use a miter joint on the ends; I simply used butted joints and alternated them for the vertical vs. the horizontal frames. Also, for strength and longevity, I decided to use .93 plexiglas instead of 4-6 mil clear plastic sheeting. I tried to find a 48″ x 48″ piece but couldn’t; and so I thought I would use two 24″ x 48″ pieces with a support in the middle, but the store I was at was out of them. I went to another store, and they didn’t have 24″ x 48″ pieces; and so, I had to buy 30″ x 60″ pieces and a scoring tool. However, that was good because the distance from edge to edge of the top was for me 49 7/8″ (which means the other sizes would have been too small); and so, I was able to cut each piece to fit very nicely. Before I did that though and because of the extra plexiglas I had, I was able to practice scoring and drilling the plexiglas so as to not crack it when setting the real pieces in place. This was good because my first attempts did not work well. After practice though, I was able to get the hang of scoring and drilling, which worked pretty well on the final product:

I learned a few things with plexiglas: the scoring tool would cut into my 4′ level when using it to guide my scoring, and so I switched to a straight piece of wood; I would score only a few times with the wood guide in place and then would do it free hand as I was able to apply much more pressure causing the scoring process to be finished quicker; and I found that quick speed and light pressure was the best way to drill a hole. Also, the drilled hole should be at least the full diameter of the screw so the screw doesn’t put pressure on the hole, which I believe can cause the plexiglas to crack.

After the dryer was completed, I let it sit in the sun with the top off for a couple of days before putting food on the trays to allow the paint to bake in so the fumes would be hopefully removed.

Here is some food drying in it:

I added casters (swivel wheels) on the bottom of the legs to make it easier to move, and also added some handles which I attached to the sides where the inside food frame supports where located so that the handles would be more firmly secured and the handles’ screws wouldn’t be poking through the plywood siding:

And here are the banana and apple results. Quite tasty!

At this point they can be bagged and stored in the root cellar, and should last for some time.

We thank the Lord for His provisions in being able to make this food dryer, and for His provisions in creation to allow us to preserve in this way the food He grants us.

— David