Lavender Farm Field Trip

This past weekend we had the opportunity to visit and tour the Lavender Ranch, a local farm that organically and sustainably grows a variety of plants and botanicals, then distills them into essential oils.  The Lavender Ranch, Biggs, CA  I have been driving by this ranch for years and have always loved the scent of lavender wafting off the fields in the heat of an August afternoon.  Lavender Cookies at the Lavender Ranch

When hubby and I arrived at the ranch we began our tour at the gift shop, which was located inside their quaint old farm house! When first walking through the door, we were greeted with a gorgeous little stand in the corner offering free lavender cookies.  I don’t know why, but I thought eating the actual lavender would be a bit bitter, but these were delicious!  Inside the shop were beautiful displays, including almost an entire wall of hanging bunches of dried lavender for sale.  It smelled so good inside!  Also on display were lotions, salves, soaps and sachets – all for sale at reasonable prices.   bunches of dried lavender

We were so pleased to hear that they were giving guided walking tours of their lavender fields, and so we eagerly waited the fifteen minutes for the next tour to begin.

As our friendly tour guide gave us some statistics (the Lavender Ranch was started in 1983 and right now has 30 acres devoted to botanicals to make essential oils) and several uses for lavender oils (heals skin maladies, promotes circulation, improves digestion),  I couldn’t help but take deep, cleansing breaths while we walked through the fields. And knowing that they grow sustainably and organically, I was even more impressed!  The tour guide said they even had agreements with local farmers not to spray on windy days, so that there would be no over-spray of pesticides or chemicals on to the Lavender Ranch.  On the highway side of the ranch are signs along the right-of-way stating that the ranch is organic and to please not spray herbacides or pesticides in the vicinity!

Although their name implies that all they grow is lavender, such is certainly not the case.

Flowering Lemon Verbena

Flowering Lemon Verbena

I was in seventh heaven when our tour guide asked us to rub some leaves of the plants in the rows we were standing in……… lemon verbena!!  Oh!  My favorite scent of all scents!  I could bathe in it, sleep with it and eat it!  I wanted to literally sit right in the middle of the row of lemon verbena and take a nap, but I’m not sure the tour guide would have thought too kindly of me doing that!  😉   I love lemon verbena and I wasn’t aware that I could grow this plant myself!  Oh Joy!

And then the lavender!

Somehow, walking through these fields of lavender and verbena, I felt so at peace and at ease!  I know that the scent of lavender is supposed to be calming, but to actually walk in a field of lavender is something you just must do.  An experience of a lifetime!

Blooming Lavender

Blooming lavender

Among some of the other plants they grow and distill into essential oils are rosemary, german chamomile, peppermint, and clary sage!  They even had a 153 year old orange tree that they use to get an orange essential oil!  That tree was massive and is a daughter tree to the “Mother Orange Tree” found in Oroville, California.  What history!

In fact, the Lavender Ranch is only a part of the larger Bayliss Ranch which is known for the rice they grow, commercially marketed as Lattitude 40 (the approximate lattitude where the ranch is located).  We got to try some of the brown rice and it was wonderful – nutty but kind of fruity at the same time. The area where the Lavender Ranch is now sited used to be part of a large walnut orchard within the Bayliss Ranch.  With the use of drip irrigation and a lot of mulch, they now use only 10% of the amount of water that was once necessary when the land held walnuts!

But back to the Lavender Ranch tour.

Lemon verbena and Lavender

Lemon verbena (in the foreground) and Lavender

Our guide told us that it takes about 800 pounds of lavender to make 1 gallon of essential oil.  They use a steam distillation process with both a water phase and an oil phase.  The lavender that is grown at the ranch is a proprietory variety developed with UC Davis for a higher camphor content.  They propogate their own lavender in greenhouses right there at the ranch because each lavender plant is replaced at about 15 years of age.

A distiller for essential oils

A distiller for essential oils.

The medicinal uses of lavender are many.  Of course, I am not a doctor and don’t claim to be any type of a medical practitioner, but you can find so many resources on the internet and in books in your local library that hail praises for lavender.

In fact, I found a couple of websites and blogs that have a lot of information about lavender – just click on one of the links below and through the magic of technology you will be whisked away to their website!  No worries, though – you will be able to come right back to mine!   🙂

This one is great and has a lot of information:  How to make and use lavender flower extract by Frugally Sustainable,  and if you want to cook with lavender (who knew? not me!) you can click on this one:  Desserts using lavender by The Kitchn,   For the final fun site involving lavender, how about a recipe for home made playdough scented with lavender at The Chaos and the Clutter.

I hope you enjoyed coming along with my hubby and I on our field trip to the Lavender Ranch.  I just wish we were able to send the wonderful scents of all these botanicals from our computer to yours!

Thank you for all your comments, suggestions and questions – I try to answer every one!

 

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Eating Acorns

Let me preface this story to say that I am proud, very proud, to have Native American blood coursing through me.  My great grandmother was full-blooded Osage.  I grew up knowing this, but was never able to talk with my grandmother about her heritage.  Why?  Because grandma lived during a time when being American Indian was not so popular.  She detested being called a “squaw”.  When grandma and grandpa came to California from Missouri, they left most of their family ties, and stories, back at the old homestead.  Too bad.

I have often thought that my interest in getting back to nature and living a simpler life may be, in part, because of my heritage.  So, the other day when Ray and I were up on our future homestead working on the roof of the outhouse, I began to take note of all the acorns on the ground around us.  Lots of acorns.  In fact, one dropped right on my head!

Acorns

A bowl of some of the acorns I gathered. I think these are from a Black Oak, but I’m not sure.

But wait!  Indians eat acorns!  In fact, humans have survived on acorns for thousands of years – right?  They are  tree nuts, afterall, and nuts are nutritious!  Perhaps while living up on the future homestead we could harvest the acorns, roast them and eat them as a nutritious snack.  Right?

acorn 8

I think the acorns on the left are Black Oak and the ones on the Right are Canyon Live Oak, but I am not sure. I will have to do some more research to find out what kind of trees these came from.

I decided to gather some acorns to take back to our valley home and give it a try.  I gathered acorns from two different trees.  I really have no idea what kind of oak trees they are, but the one with the white trunk that keeps it’s leaves all year (Canyon Live Oak?) had fat acorns with velcro-like caps.  The other tree (Black Oak?) had long, slender acorns with the more traditional looking cap.

I did a bit of research on the internet and found that the tannin in the acorn MUST be leached out before the nut can be consumed.  Apparently, if one eats too much of the tannin, it can do a real number on your kidneys!  Some acorns need more leaching than others because there is a different level of tannin in each species of oak.  Centuries ago, the Maidu indians used to live in this area, and the preferred way for them to leach tannin out of acorns was to crack the acorn open to retrieve the meat, roughly crush the nut and then place the nuts in a fibrous basket in a flowing stream for several days.  This was the most natural way to do it.  Believe it or not, modern experimenters have found that you can do basically the same thing by placing roughly ground nut meats in a cloth bag into the water tank of your toilet.  Not in the bowl, mind you!  Every time the toilet is flushed, the rushing water simulates the flowing stream!  Unfortunately, the tannin in the acorns are likely to stain the tank and the bowl, and since I hate to clean toilets, this was not an option for me.

So I tried the most sane method I found – successive boiling.

Peeling acorns

Getting the meat out of the acorn shell is not an easy task Ray’s vice and a sharp knife did the trick!

First, I had to get the meats out of the acorns – which is no easy feat!  I wanted to try the long skinny acorns first.  I tried pounding them and they just squished.  Then I tried using a pair of pliers – no go.  I figured that if I could somehow get through the shell in one spot, then I could chip off enough shell to get the nut meat out, but when I tried to cut the end off with a knife to make an access hole, I almost cut my finger off!  Those things are slippery!  Finally, I placed the acorn into my husband’s vice and with the acorn secured, cut a slit down the side with a very sharp knife.  Voila!  It took a while to do this.  I have new respect for my ancestors!  I didn’t bother with the smallest acorns – I have crafty plans for those!

Acorn nut meats ready to be boiled to leach out the tannin.

Acorn nut meats ready to be boiled to leach out the tannin.

Next, I got two pots of water boiling.  “Two?” you say.  Yes, it takes several successive boilings to leach the tannin from the nut meats, and once you start the process the meats should never be put into cold water.  This would close up the pores of the nut meats and prevent any further leaching.  So, you boil the nut meats in one pot for about 15 minutes, then transfer them to the next pot, which is already boiling.  While the nuts are boiling (and hopefully leaching) in the second pot, you have refreshed the water in the first pot and are heating it up to boiling.  Continue in this fashion, tasting the nut meats after each change of boiling water, to see if they have leached enough.

Boiling acorns to leach out tannin

I used the two pot method to leach the tannin out of the acorn nut meats.

So, that’s what I did.  I tried tasting a nut after the third pot of boiling water.

Holy.  Mary.  mother.  of.  Jesus.     That was bad.  Really bad.  🙁

I decided to try it again after the fifth boiling. Yuck.  Ick.  Pthooey.  Then the sixth.  Not good, but not horrible.  The seventh was a bit better, but certainly not good yet.  I decided to try one more pot of boiling water.  Eight pots of boiling water for fifteen minutes each!  These poor acorns had been through enough.  Once the  acorn nuts had cooled off, I tasted one.  Meh.  Not bad, but not really good either.  Kinda bland.  And mealy.

Leaching tannin out of acorns

No, this is not a sampling of home made beer.  This is the water I saved from each successive boiling, starting from the left (the lightest) all the way to the last (eighth) pot of boiling water – trying to leach the tannin out of the acorns

I saved the water from each pot because I wanted to see if the water would get lighter and lighter as the tannin leached out.  No, the water actually got darker!

Now what to do with these bland, kind of mealy nuts?  I decided to roast them with a little olive oil and sea salt.  I roasted them for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  The results – well, less than stellar, but palatable.  I suppose if there came a time when food was scarce, I could always cook up a pot of acorns – eight times – and eat them.  Besides, they are an excellent source of protein, and minerals!  See this website for more information HERE

I decided to try the other acorns, the fatter ones, to see if they were any better.  First, they were much easier to get the nut meats out!  They actually cracked with a bit of muscle and my husband’s pliers.  Well, that was refreshing.  Then I started the same process that I had used with the other acorns, and tried them after the fourth boil (see, I learned not to try them too early).  Whoa.  I really have no words for how bad these were!  Even after eight pots of boiling water, these acorns never leached enough tannin to be remotely palatable!   No No No No No

roasting acorns

After boiling, I decided to roast them with a little olive oil and sea salt, just to see if I could jazz up the flavor a bit!      Uh, no.  Not really.

I think I will stick to using acorns for decorating and crafts!

Thank you so much for reading.  I try to answer all of your comments and questions, so please, feel free to speak your mind.  But please – be nice!

 

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10 Garden Lessons Learned

Last spring my hubby and I decided to rip out our backyard lawn (it was all weeds anyway) and plant a “practice garden”.  The intent was to grow everything from heirloom, organic seed, not use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and grow varieties of vegetables that we have never grown before.

The first lesson learned was how hard it is to get pepper seeds to germinate.

Growing Chile Peppers

These Anaheim Chile Peppers were necessary to buy because, as I found out, peppers are not the easiest vegetable to germinate from seed!

I tried three times to get some pepperoncini pepper seedlings, but I could never get them to cooperate with me.  I had a bit more luck with the Anaheim Chile peppers, but not much.  In fact, I ended up buying  a couple of pepper plants from our local nursery.  We had prepared the ground for at least four pepper plants, but I was able to get only two Chile plants to germinate.  We  needed wanted Anaheim Chiles because we adore BBQ cheese stuffed Chile peppers and chile relleno casserole!  You can see the recipe HERE

The second lesson was to not count your zucchini before they grew.  Our squash started out like gang-busters.  We had zucchini and yellow summer squash coming out our ears (and refrigerator) and we were giving them away to family, friends and neighbors!

Squash Mosaic Virus

Nuts! The squash on the left has squash mosaic virus, which is fatal for the plant. We ate them anyway. They tasted the same as the normal ones and we haven’t died yet!

I started freezing the zucchini for use in the winter. But we had so much squash that I became complacent and let some squash get soft and start to mold in the refrigerator.  I thought it didn’t matter because I would have plenty of squash for the entire summer, right?  Wrong!!!  The squash plants got squash mosaic virus, and within a few weeks produced only shriveled, really mottled and ugly looking squash.  We ate some of the better looking mottled squash, and it tasted normal (and we didn’t die), but I wish I had frozen more squash when I had the opportunity.  If you would like to see how I froze the squash, along with a wonderful recipe using zucchini and yellow summer squash, click HERE

Another lesson we learned was to be wary of the soil and/or compost you use in your garden if it doesn’t come from your own yard.

Our local garbage company composts all of the green waste and then gives it away to customers in the way of a coupon.  We didn't even think about the fact that it may carry diseases - such as the squash mosaic virus!

Our local garbage company composts all of the green waste and then gives it away to customers in the way of a coupon. We didn’t even think about the fact that it may carry diseases – such as the squash mosaic virus!

When we were preparing the beds for our garden, we were happy to go to our local landfill which offered 50 gallons of free compost for each coupon! Our son gave us two coupons and we had our own, so we got 150 gallons of the stuff! Wow, we thought that was a great deal!  But then our zucchini got  squash mosaic virus.  I did some research and found that many times the virus is already in the soil and can also be brought in with compost or mulch.  Oh, great.  That compost we got for free may not have been such a great deal after all!  From now on, we will use only the compost that we produce on our own property – and NEVER throw in diseased plants!  Those will be burned.

I think there is an entire village of trolls living in this tomato jungle!

I think there is an entire village of trolls living in this tomato jungle!

The fourth lesson is one that probably every novice gardener encounters – not enough space for too many vegetables!  When I started the seeds for our tomatoes, I assumed that I wouldn’t get 100% germination and would plant whatever came up.  Well, I got almost 100% germination.  I actually planted up to 3 tomato plants on several of the mounds (silly me) and also accepted some volunteer tomato plants from my sister!  Well, now I have a tomato jungle and can’t even get to most of the ripe tomatoes without trampling on, and breaking, some of the vines.  I guess moderation is the key here.

Fifth lesson – don’t plant all your corn at the same time!  Why?  Because they all ripen at the same time.  Seriously!  Stowell's Evergreen Corn  We love roasted corn on the cob, but only got to eat it a couple of times this summer.  I ended up having to freeze most of the corn before it got tough – which will be great for this winter – but shortened our corn on the cob season.  The good thing I learned was that heirloom corn tastes every bit as good as hybrid corn.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t save any seeds from our corn this year because two of my neighbors were also growing corn, which means my corn was more than likely cross pollinated with theirs.  Oh well.

One of the best lessons we learned was how prolific bean plants are!  We planted both black turtle beans and a pole bean named McCaslan 42.  Believe it or not, we are still getting beautiful green beans from the McCaslan plants – and it’s October! Separating the black turtle beans from their pods  The final tally from the black turtle bean plants was a whopping 2 pounds, 3 ounces – from only 7 plants!  That may not sound like much, but remember, these are dried beans!  Right now I am letting the rest of the McCaslan beans mature on the vine.  Apparently they make a really good, nutty flavored white bean.  I can’t wait to make some soup this winter!

Lesson number seven – grow melons vertically!  Our grandchildren helped us plant two varities of melons this past spring and we ended up with five healthy melon plants on three mounds.  Those plants almost took over the entire garden!  Who knew they got so big?  Apparently not me!

Planting melons

Here is Mia, my oldest granchild, planting some melon (cantaloupe) seeds.

The melons, in particular, grew everywhere we didn’t want them to, including under the tomato plants.  Unfortunately, they decided to grow most of their fruit under the tomato plants also.   Well, if you read lesson four above, you know that getting into the middle of our tomato plants is next to impossible.  Unfortunately, we realized a bit too late that most of the melons were forming in the middle of the tomato jungle, and had already started to rot before we found them!  🙁     I saw this cool trellis system for melons where the vines grew vertically up and over, and the melons were supported to the trellis with pantyhose!  We will have to try that one next year, especially since I have a bunch of pantyhose I refuse to wear anymore!   🙂

Peruvian Purple Potatoes

Peruvian Purple Potato harvest!

Number eight is a simple one.  We like potatoes.  Potatoes are easy to grow.  Purple potatoes are fun to eat. Grow more potatoes.

Our ninth lesson is a tricky one.  We wanted to grow all heirloom vegetables in a completely organic environment.  This sounds great in theory, but in truth, the caterpillars got a lot more lettuce than we did.  I kept picking the caterpillars off the lettuce every morning, but it seemed like they were multiplying faster than I could get rid of them. And then the slugs and snails started eating the pepper and tomato plants.  I started wondering about the concept of sustainability regarding growing organic foods.  When does the addition of a pesticide outweigh the importance of organic growing?  Afterall, if we had only the food we grew to eat, I think I would rather eat food that has some pesticide on it than starve to death!  This is a concept I have been struggling with this summer, and something I will have to consider in future vegetable gardens.  I would really enjoy your thoughts on this.

The last lesson I learned was that I thoroughly enjoy gardening.  Give me a plot of weeds to pull any day, rather than washing laundry!  I will tie up bean plants and tomato plants or any other plant until the cows come home (though I’m not very good at it yet) but please don’t make me clean another toilet!  I will admit it:  after preparing several meals for hubby and I that consisted solely of vegetables that we grew, we were quite proud of ourselves!

Unfortunately we won’t be able to plant a garden in the backyard this next spring.  We have to  re-plant the lawn because we are putting our home up for sale! According to the real estate agent, buyers like lawns.  How sad.   But the good thing is that this will be one of the last steps before my husband retires and we move up to our future homestead!  Unfortunately the area where our garden will be on the future homestead isn’t prepared yet, but I will find a few places here and there to tuck in a tomato plant or some pole beans.  I will also continue to research the best way to get peppers to germinate, a better trellis for growing melons on, and how to prevent squash mosaic virus!

Thank you so much for your comments, questions and suggestions!  I try to respond to each and every one!   Vickie

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Almond Milk Ice Cream

Mmmmmm…..  Ice Cream.

Harvesting just four cups of shelled, raw almonds from the almond tree in my backyard certainly got my  creative juices flowing!  Last week I made some almond cheese, this past weekend I made apple muse with some my son using homemade almond milk, and today I am making almond milk ice cream!

Apple Muse

This was the apple muse my son Michael and I made this past weekend: apples, almond milk, bread crumbs, honey, cardamom. Cooked until a very thick apple sauce pudding consistency. Delicious! I got the recipe from Lydia’s Flexitarian Kitchen.

For someone who does not eat animal products of any type (no dairy or eggs), this is a wonderful way to make ice cream.  Or for those that worry about Teotwawki scenarios (the end of the world as we know it), this would be a great treat (as long as you still have a freezer going) without a lactating mammal around. For me, I just wanted to try it out.  🙂

I did a lot of research online and found quite a few recipes for almond milk ice cream!  Some included regular cow’s milk (or cream) to make it more creamy (not necessary) and others included coconut milk (a good alternative, but not very sustainable).

So, as I have done many times in the past, I gathered several recipes that looked good and tweaked them into something that sounded good to me!  First I found this recipe for Vegan Almond Milk Ice Cream.  It sounded really good, but two tablespoons of sugar sounded like a lot – at least to me.  Then I found another recipe called Voluminous Vanilla Ice Cream, but again was bothered a bit by the addition of so much sugar – 1-2 tablespoons per serving?  But the addition of salt – just a smidgen – intrigued me.  Another recipe I found was Dairy Free Chocolate Ice Cream.  This one added egg yolks and xantham gum, the latter of which I do not have hanging around my kitchen right now.

So, after a day of researching dozens of website recipes, I learned that you can make almond ice cream with just plain almond milk, though it might be a bit “thin”.  However, to thicken the ice cream and make it a bit creamier, the addition of coconut milk and/or a banana will do the trick.  And, since both almond milk and bananas are naturally sweet, the addition of sugar isn’t really necessary.  Cool.

I decided to dive right in.  I have almonds, so I can make almond milk.  I have a couple of bananas on my countertop getting kinda brown and spotty (don’t judge me please), and I have some wild blackberries in my freezer that are calling my name.   So, that’s settled.  I am going to make almond, banana, blackberry ice cream.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ Here we go ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

First things first – make the almond milk!

Almond Milk Ice Cream

Soaked almonds. I didn’t bother taking off all the skin.

I soaked one cup of whole, fresh, unpasturized almonds overnight in water in the refrigerator.  This is supposed to hydrate them so that the resulting milk is creamier, but I have made almond milk before without hydrating the almonds first, with barely a noticeable difference. To make the almond milk I added 1 cup of hydrated almonds and 2 cups of water to the blender and processed until the almonds were pretty much pulverized!  You can use more almonds for a thicker milk or more water for thinner milk,

How to make Almond Milk

Just plop the almonds and 2 cups of water in your blender and whirl away!

but 1 cup of almonds to 2 cups of water is pretty much the standard recipe for almond milk.  Strain the milk through the a strainer to get 1-1/2 cups of almond milk.  If you don’t have enough milk, just put a little more water into the blender with the remainder of the almond meal and process again.  Then strain.  You should have enough almond milk now.

To blanch or not to blanch – that is the question.  Either way.  I have found that when you soak your almonds for at least 12 hours, the skins slip off pretty easily without blanching.  If you make almond milk with fresh almonds and leave the skin on, the milk is strained off the pulp anyway and doesn’t effect the color much.

How to make almond milk

Separating the almond milk from the pulp. I use a strainer. You could also use cheesecloth.

So, do whatever floats your boat!

DON’T THROW OUT THE ALMOND PULP!!!!!  Spread out on a cookie sheet and let it dry, either in a dehydrator, low oven or your kitchen countertop. Mix it around as it dries so it doesn’t form big huge clumps. This makes a wonderful addition to pie crusts, quick breads like banana bread, fried chicken coatings, etc..  The uses are endless!  Here’s an idea:  toast the almond pulp to bring out more of that “almondy” flavor, then make chocolate truffles and roll them in the toasted almond pulp!  Mmmmm…. sounds delicious doesn’t it!

How to make almond milk

This is the left over almond pulp drying on a cookie sheet. It’s about the consistency of corn meal, so I call it almond meal. Wouldn’t this be great with a little bit of brown sugar and butter over an apple pie?

Once the almond milk was made I put it back in the blender (I cleaned out all of the pulp first) and threw in a banana.  Oh – and a smidgen of a pinch of sea salt.  This was blended until smooth.

Almond Milk Ice Cream

Whirl it all in the blender.

That’s when I added in about 1/2 cup of partially thawed wild blackberries and blended again, blending just enough to get some purple color, but leaving the berries partially intact.

I put my Kitchen Aid Ice Cream Bowl in the freezer last night, so it would be good and cold, and with the machine running, the ice cream mixture was poured into the Ice Cream Maker Bowl.  No, I have not been paid or rewarded in any way from Kitchen Aid to say this.  I wish!  I let it go for about 10 minutes, until I could see that the ice cream was pretty much set up.  This is just a judgement call – you have to experiment a bit to see when you think your ice cream is finished.    How to make almond milk ice cream

The ice cream is then put into another container and then into the freezer to harden up a bit more.  You could serve it right out of the ice cream maker, but it isn’t really hardened up yet and melts really fast at this point.  It’s better off in the freezer for at least an hour or so.  If you need to store the ice cream longer, make sure you put it in an airtight container, otherwise the ice cream could pick up some funky smells from your freezer.

How does it taste?  Fantastic – especially if you like banana ice cream. It has a distinct flavor of banana overlying blackberries.  Can’t really taste any almonds.  It is really smooth and creamy though, so I have no problems with the texture. The next time I do this (tomorrow?) I am going to try just using the almond milk (no banana) so I don’t get such a pronounced flavor of banana.  Or, maybe not use such a ripe banana.  Or I could go with the flow and make Banana Chocolate Chip or Black Walnut Banana ice cream.  The possibilities are endless!

How to make almond milk ice cream

My final results! So good!

You should really give this a try.  Then, come back and tell me what you think.  You may have some suggestions or a better recipe – or both!  I want to know about your success and your failures – good and bad – so we can all learn more!

 

UPDATE:  I have been experimenting with making Frozen Yogurt from Almond Milk Yogurt.  If you would like to read about my process and how to make Almond Milk Frozen Yogurt (I think it’s better than the Almond Milk Ice Cream) you should click HERE.

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