Monday, March 28, 2011

6 Things You Should Know Before Making Homemade Food

What exactly is homemade food? It seems strange that we have to ask that question.  But in our culture today, homemade means different things to different people. At a women's website recently, a survey was taken on what women considered homemade, and the answers were remarkably varied:
1.  Homemade means anything made in the home, from "assembled" packages of frozen dinners, to processed box items, or even heated-up restaurant foods. 
2.  Homemade means only items raised at home, processed at home, and then cooked at home.
3.  Homemade means any meal made with only natural or organic ingredients. 
4.  Homemade means any items cooked or baked at home using any kind of ingredients from scratch, but does not include pre-packaged items (like brownie mixes).
Homemade to me is kind of a mix of some of the above ideas.  While a lot of what we eat is raised or grown here at home, then processed here at home (chickens for example) and then cooked here at home, there are obviously a lot of things I can not raise or grow here at home.  So my next choice would be to use mostly natural or organic ingredients, but I find that can be financially restricting and sometimes out right impossible.  The nearest 'organic' seller we have where we live is a good 60 mile round trip, and even then it is extremely limited to only a couple of selections of fruits and vegetables and no meat choices at all. So I have found myself to be a 'local food' scrounger, and while I enjoy the challenge of finding folks close by that are growing foods or raising animals that I can purchase, it's sometimes exhausting with my work schedule here at home with our business.  In those cases, the next best thing is to try to find the best ingredients I can.  Homemade to me does not mean processed foods like macaroni and cheese in a box, brownie or cake mixes, or cans of fruits and vegetables.  That doesn't mean I don't use those things sometimes, it just doesn't mean "homemade" to me. 
If you are going to start making homemade food, there are a few things you should know about, or you might as well be eating at a fast food joint or a greasy spoon. These ideas are brief and perhaps over-simplistic, so if you want to know more about these individually, do a good internet search, check out,, or read Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. 
1.  Use the best oils.  Vegetable oils are bad fats.  You need the best fats --coconut oil, olive oil, palm oil. Use real butter.  Get rid of the crisco. Get rid of the margarine or oleo.  Animal lard is good. 
2.  Use the best sweetener. Raw honey is the best.  You can both cook and bake with honey instead of white or brown sugar. Honey is full of nutrients and vitamins, while white sugar has none. Artificial sweeteners are bad for you.  Stevia and real maple syrup is a good option as well.  
3.  Use stainless steel cookware. Or cast iron.  The cheap stuff gives off noxious fumes or flecks of metal into your food.  Aluminum can actually be absorbed into your food when you cook with that metal.  You must cook at lower temperatures with stainless and is more expensive, but it's better for you and your health. 

4.  Use whole grains.  None of that white flour.  It's best to freshly grind your wheat every time you use it because it can quickly go rancid (and did you know that when you do buy white flour it has to be frozen first to get rid of the bugs?).  Better yet, sprout or soak your grains, nuts ,and beans before using. 

5.  Use lean proteins, organic/free range/humanely raised.  This does not include hot dogs, luncheon meats, etc. Don't get any meat that has an ingredient list to it!

6.  Stay away from processed foods.  Processed foods can't be real food.  There are mile-long ingredient lists for these foods that you can't possibly even understand what's in there.  Many items are fake and man-made additives.  Processed foods come in boxes, cans, cellophane bags, plastic jugs, etc. and are found typically in the middle aisles of a grocery store. Processed foods have expirations that date far into the future.  If you must have these, use them as emergency foods for disasters, etc. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

The First Day of Spring in an Apiary

Spring in the apiary
Woo Hoo! Spring has sprung and here in Illinois, it felt  like spring today.  The temperature was well into the 60's, the breeze was light, and the bees were flying.

Here's a picture of David out in the queen yard.  We need to get things ready to start off our queen year next month.  You can see how bare the trees are and how brown everything still is in Illinois, so you can understand why queen season for us is still a ways off. 

David found our honey hives in good shape after a cold, cold winter.  These are the ones that we graft winter hardy queens out of, and these hives have survived our winters for years now.  We graft out eggs out of these and make the hives turn them all into queens, and then separate them out into mini mating nucs.

Sweethearts checking out the bee yard

The weather here is so nice that I got a picture of a pair of sweethearts walking down the long country lane in front our of house. In this picture is Karee, who is David's apprentice in the queen yard, along with Jesse who is going to be a first year beekeeper in an urban area, which has been gaining a lot of popularity lately. 

All of us spent the Saturday teaching and helping at our Spring Basic Beekeeping class in Danville.  The class was large, and a whole lot of fun.  Beekeepers always tend to be a fun lot of people, crazy to boot as well, so we usually find ourselves making friends, and having a good time at these classes. David taught beekeeping classes this week also in Decatur, at Parkland College in Champaign, and in Danville, IL.

David teaching a new flock of beekeepers for 2011

We also got to spend a little time with our oldest daughter and her family this week.  Her husband Dustin is starting Olive Branch Apiaries, under David's tutelage, and they have been spending time out here getting things ready to be launched. I was able to snap my youngest granddaughter chasing the chickens, who were glad to be out in the spring air and finally getting to nibble at some early fresh grass.

Be careful around that rooster!

That was our weekend.  I hope yours was as good as well.

Monday, March 14, 2011

An Old Fashioned River Baptizin' and Amish Land Again

A baptizin' on the Salt Fork
It was a chilly day on Sunday when we were gathered down at the river bank for a baptism.  It was only 32 degrees that day, but our friend Jared knew "it was time".

Not many people today have seen a river baptizing.  At least not in the North where we live.  Most people get all fancied up in a nice smock, go into a baptistery that is pH-balanced with thermostatically controlled temperature and go down and come back up with a choir and organ benediction.  Afterwards, they can go into a nice, cozy changing room with fluffy towels and hair dryers.

Nothing wrong with that! But when folks don't have access to all that fanciness, we get baptized in the river, and sometimes, like this past Sunday, it doesn't matter what the temperature is! 

Our son and granddaughter
checking out lumber choices
We had to go to see our Amish friends in Arthur IL again this week to talk to a local carpenter about our lumber needs.  Marlin and his family are great people and do excellent cabinet making (Little Creek Woodworking, Arthur IL) and we enjoyed seeing them all again.

We ate at a good barbecue place called Pauly's in downtown Arthur.  Next time you are there, get the hog trough, it is good.

David and Christian meeting a local. 

And maybe while you are there you can pet a horse too!

Friday, March 4, 2011


One of our many thousands of employees
at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
Apitherapy is a growing sector and a fascinating one as well. Apitherapy is the use of the various elements of the hive products, as well as bee venom therapy to treat numerous health ailments that include a vast array of things from burns and wounds, to arthritis, allergies, MS, and rheumatic diseases.  People have always known that upset tummies, sore throats, the occasional constipation issue and insomnia can be helped greatly with the use of honey.

Specific bee products for health care have been used for centuries in different cultures. For instance, Hippocrates, in the fourth century BC, used bee venom to treat joint pain and arthritis; ancient Greek athletes used honey to boost their energy.  The Roman scholar, Pliny, wrote about the healing properties of propolis, claiming that it reduces swelling, soothes pain, and heals sores.

Bee pollen is said to aid in weight loss; cosmetic companies routinely use the revitalizing and moisturizing qualities of honey in hand creams, lotions, balms and salves. In Europe, bandages are now impregnated with honey, and royal jelly has been associated with controlling abnormal cholesterol. 

One of the most interesting of medicinal uses from the hive is bee sting therapy, or bee venom therapy (BVT).  While most mainstream doctors may equate bee sting therapy (or the use of the other products of the hives) with old wives' tales, there are many doctors and naturopaths who do use BVT in their practices. Bee venom therapy is done by actually catching a honeybee, holding it against a person's exposed skin and letting it intentionally sting the person. How long to allow the venom sack to stay in a person's skin and how many times to sting depends on various things.  Making a bee sting someone in an affected area works because it increases circulation, reduces inflammation, and stimulates the immune system. It is said that there are no old beekeepers who suffer from arthritis!

Finding someone who will sting you is hard at best.  Members only (at a cost) can access that information at Note: Bee venom therapy should be left up to a knowledgeable person on the subject and not undertaken yourself. There are many variables that affect a good outcome. There are some people allergic to bee stings! Conferences and classes on apitherapy can also be found at the website  

More informaton on apitherapy news can be found at

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Long Lane Honey Bee Farm honey
When you see that green USDA sticker that says "organic" on honey, do you believe it? Why wouldn't you? If something has been labeled organic that must mean it's been inspected, by certain standards, by someone who is well versed in organic foods.

It also must mean the hives have been tended to without the use of antibiotics or other medicines or other artificial feeds.

Or does it?

Actually, in the US, the standards for labeling honey organic seems to be ambiguous at best. And just like health inspections, different states may have different standards.   Our organic farmer friends have told us stories of how hard it is to make their farm land organic for vegetables and fruits and what a struggle it is to get that label. In fact, the best natural farmers we know have completely foregone trying to get that label because it is so impossible. If it this hard to get farm land labeled organic, how much harder it must be to label honey organic when the bees can fly anywhere to gather nectar that is beyond the beekeeper's control?

Joel Salatin writes in his book "Everything I Ever Wanted to Do is Illegal" that he doesn't consider himself "organic", but calls himself "beyond organic".  The reason for this is because the organic label isn't good enough for him, and doesn't agree with the standards as set forth by the government to call it that.

The green USDA organic sticker on honey can be pretty meaningless.  One "standard" says that the hive boxes can only be painted with latex and if plastic foundation is used, must be coated with an organic beeswax.  Easy enough for someone to simply say "yes it is" and for there to be no real way of checking this for compliance. Hives must be kept 4 miles from any farm fields where chemicals are used, but it would only take a nearby neighbor one time to spray his apple trees, or for the lady down the road to throw a pesticide on her tomatoes to null and void this. There are very few areas in the industrialized US where bees would not be subjected to pollutants or chemicals. Since bees can fly anywhere, and we can not follow them, the "organic" label is only a relative guess at best. 
Organic honey can also be heated and processed, all things that you don't want to happen to your honey.  Once honey is heated, we lose the beneficial enzymes, antioxidants, minerals and nutrients that it has.
Pure, Raw honey without the organic labeling, comes from a beekeeper who has chosen to take the honey directly from the hive and bottle it, with minimal filtering. There is no heating or processing involved before it gets into the bottle. Choosing raw honey from a local beekeeper also means you are shopping local which contributes to supporting your own community, keeps beekeepers in business and has greater benefits to the environment--not to mention you should buy only local honey if you are using it to help with allergies. 

So which is the best to choose? Organic or raw? We know that store honey is not a good option because it can have added water and is almost always heated to high temperatures so it does not crystallize.  Check the labels and you will see that it more often than not comes from other countries.

Organic is fine, but the green USDA sticker does NOT mean you are getting better honey than raw straight from a beekeeper. But, in order to get the best raw honey, you need to know your beekeeper.  Find out how he or she keeps bees: Do they use natural means of disease and pest control? Does he or she heat the honey for easier bottling? Does he or she use GMO corn syrup or some other type of questionable feed in the hive?

 Do your own research on this subject so you can pick the best honey from the best beekeeper for your family.