Eating Sprouted Acorns

Eating malted acorns

I have read that if you wait until spring to collect sprouting acorns, you never have to worry about worms in the nut meat !

The first week of March we traveled up to our future homestead to install yet another water storage tank.  While removing the forest duff where we were installing the tank, I noticed that most of the acorns still on the ground were starting to germinate!

Hmmm………  I remembered somewhere back in the recesses of my brain that when seeds germinate, the starches turn to sugar.  When a brewer makes beer, he sometimes uses malted barley (which is sprouted barley) because the grain would have a higher sugar content to turn into alcohol. So, it would make sense that if I gathered sprouted acorns in the spring, they would be sweeter than the whole, just dropped acorns in the fall, and it would be easier to get the remaining tannins out of the acorn.

eating sprouted acorns

Don’t worry, there were plenty left for the squirrels, deer and turkey!

Right?

I did some research and found that when sprouting occurs, chemical changes naturally take place so that some enzymes convert carbohydrates into simple sugars.  The complex proteins within the seed are converted into simple amino acids and most of the available fats turn into fatty acids.  This makes the nutrition within the seed more readily available for digestion.

I also found this:  “Germination caused a decrease in the protein, carbohydrate and starch; it increased sugar content, and had varied effects on the lipids contents of the dry samples. The anti-nutritional factor-tannin concentration was decreased.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1546053

Eating "Malted" AcornsI figured it wouldn’t hurt to try, so I gathered several pounds of the sprouting acorn nuts and brought them back to our current home in the Sacramento Valley.   I decided to use the boiling water method of tannin extraction, using larger pieces of the acorn.

The first thing I noticed was that it was much easier to remove the acorn meat from it’s shell!  The acorns shells had (usually) three splits at the small end, where the future root was protruding from the shell. Just a little bit of pressure on the acorn shell along one of these fissures with pliers would crack the acorn shell in half.  In fact, I was able to get a lot of the acorn nut meats out of the shell whole and intact – which was nearly impossible to do with newly fallen acorns.

"malting" acorns to eat

The testa (papery skin) is easily removed with a slotted spoon when using the boiling method to extract tannin.

I decided to try boiling the acorns for 15 minutes at a time, transferring back and forth to fresh boiling water, and see how many water changes it would take to get fairly clear water – which is supposed to indicate that most of the tannin had been boiled out.   Knowing that my oak is a species of red oak (I figured this out when I read that white oak acorns germinate as soon as they fall to the ground and red oaks wait until early spring) and the fact that red oak carries more tannin than white oak; I didn’t start tasting the acorns until after the fourth boiling.  Ick.  Then the fifth.  Nope.  Sixth.  Maybe, but no.  Seventh.  Much better.  I boiled for the eighth time, just to make sure.  Success.

One experiment with removing the tannin from acorns that I have been toying with is using pH testing strips.  Since Tannin is an acidic agent, I thought it would follow that the acorn nuts themselves would become less acidic as the tannin was leached out.  So I bought some pH test strips from an aquarium supply store to check out the acidity level of the water after each boil, to see if, indeed, the acid levels dropped.  I think it worked.  As you can see from the picture below, the color of the water from each successive boil turned from bright yellow to orange, indicating that the level of acidity had decreased.  I plan to experiment with this method using several techniques of leaching the acorns including the cold water leach method and the combination of cold water/hot water leach, along with the hot water method as above.  According to my palate – the acorns didn’t taste very palatable until the pH had reached about 7, which is neutral. The eighth boiling showed a red color on the test strips (sorry, that one isn’t in the picture), which apparently was an indication that the water was no longer acidic, so I assumed no longer had any tannin. 🙂

leaching tannin from sprouted acorns

The bright yellow color on the bottom of the test strip on the left showed that the water from the first boiling was very acidic, with the seventh boiling on the right being orange, which is neutral, indicating that as the tannin is leached from the acorns, they become less acidic!

After I had some leached acorns I had to decide what I would do with them next.  Since I had leached the tannin using the hot water method, I knew that they would lend themselves to a recipe that was not flour.  If you would like to make acorn flour, cold leaching is best for this because the oils have not been cooked out and the resulting cake, cookie or pastry would be less crumbly.  Baked goods made from flour using hot processed acorns tends to have no structure and fall apart.  So, I thought I would candy them using a recipe I have for candied walnuts!

Candied Acorn Nuts

Yes, I know, taking a natural good-for-you nut and coating it with sugar is counter-intuitive, but it sure is good!  🙂

These were pretty good!  But – next time I won’t add so much cinnamon.  You see, many plants contain tannin naturally, the most famous being grapes!  The tannin in the grapes added to the tannin in the oak barrels is what gives red wine it’s astringent, tannin flavor.  Another food stuff that includes tannin is cinnamon.  When I ate an acorn after the eighth boil, I did not taste any tannin.  In fact, the acorn was almost sweet.  However, after roasting the acorn, I could taste just a hint of tannin. I knew that roasting acorns will tend to bring out any tannin flavor left in the acorn, which is why I boiled once more, after I no longer tasted tannin.  Then, after they were candied, even through the sweet of the sugar, I could taste a stronger tannin flavor – presumably because of the cinnamon.

Will you have to boil your acorns eight times?  I don’t know.  Each oak tree is different.  Some people only have to boil once.  You never know until you try!

Will I make candied acorns again?  You betcha – just not with so much cinnamon.   In fact, I’m thinking of making some caramel acorn and popcorn next!  Anybody want some?

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Acorn Flour Cookies

Okay.  So I finally did it!  I made some cookies with acorn flour!

It did take me a while to get this last batch of acorns to release their tannin.  I got the last batch of acorns from a different oak tree on our future homestead, and apparently the acorns from this tree were really, really full of tannin.  I will avoid that tree next year if there is an abundance elsewhere.

Nonetheless, after 12 days I finally got to the point where the acorn meal didn’t pucker my mouth anymore!  Let me tell you – that is a very unpleasant pucker!

acorn flour cookies

I found that putting the acorn meal next to the wood stove dried it out better than putting it into an oven!

In fact, I think I am figuring out a way to tell if most of the tannin has been removed by using our swimming pool water tester kit!  You see, tannin is acidic and it makes sense that when I get most of the tannin out, the pH level would rise – Right?  Anyway, I am testing the level of the acid with the freshly crushed acorns versus the acid level of those that have been leaching for 10-12 days to see if I can figure out an optimum level of pH. I sure hope this works.

So, on to the cookies.  Some of my fellow bloggers and commenters out there (thank you very much) suggested that I investigate some of the Italian and/or Mediterranean recipes that use chestnut flour!  Apparently chestnut flour and acorn flour are pretty much interchangeable.  So, I did some investigating at the library and on-line and found some cookie recipes using chestnut flour!  Actually, I found a lot of recipes using chestnut flour, but the majority of them used wheat flour also.  Don’t get me wrong – that’s perfectly okay – just not what I am trying to do!  I want to be able to use both acorn flour (which is free and in abundance on our future homestead) and/or almond flour (I already made a spice cake with almond flour – delicious!) and not have to rely on wheat flour.  Why?  Not really because of the gluten in wheat flour.  I am not gluten intolerant and I don’t have celiac disease. And it’s not really about the fact that some grains are GMO’s now, although I am completely and wholeheartedly against GMO’s. Wheat flour is relatively cheap and at this time GM wheat is not being sold commercially – that we know of.  However, Monsanto has developed a GM wheat, and it’s only a matter of time folks. No, for me it comes down to self-sufficiency.  I want to be able to use what I have outside of my front door for my food. Acorns are free.  They grow on huge trees that give us shade, house a myriad of critters, provide firewood and building material.  You don’t have to water the oak tree, fertilize it, prune it or spray pesticides on it.  The only thing you have to do is gather, remove the nuts, leach the nuts and then eat them. And they are good for you!

So, here we go!

The first recipe was a sort of shortbread cookie with chocolate chips in it.  I know, chocolate chips aren’t growing on trees outside my front door, but I am in the experimental phase of cooking with acorn flour and that’s what the recipe called for. I figure, if I like the recipe, I can always tweak it later!  Besides, who can resist chocolate chips!

Here is the recipe I came up with:

1 cup acorn (chestnut) flour

4 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips

2-3 tablespoons strong coffee

Mix all ingredients together.  Knead for about 1-2 minutes, until all the flour is incorporated.

acorn flour cookies

The cookie batter was pretty crumbly, more than I think a shortbread cookie should be. But, it did hold in a clump when pressed together.

Roll into a log, wrap in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for about 1/2 hour.  Remove from refrigerator, slice roll into 1/4 inch slices and place on cookie sheet.  Bake in pre-heated oven at 350 degrees fahrenheit for 8-10 minutes.

All went well with this recipe until I got to the part where you have to roll the log.  It was pretty crumbly, so I kneaded it for a little longer and that helped.  But, after it had chilled for 1/2 hour in the refrigerator, I tried to slice the log and found that this was impossible!  The whole thing just kept crumbling!  I let it warm up a bit, rolled it again and thought that maybe if it was a bit warmer it would slice easier.  Nope!  The chocolate chips were the problem!

acorn flour cookies

This cookie recipe was very crumbly, and the chocolate chips made it impossible to cut!

Now – who would have ever thought that chocolate would be a problem!

So, I decided these would have to be bar cookies.  I pressed the whole mess into a small baking pan, scored it (just in case the “cookies” turned out to be hard, like biscotti or concrete) and then cooked it in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes.   I let them cool down in the pan because I was afraid they would be really crumbly, but when I took them out of the pan they actually held together quite well.  Now it was the time for a taste test.

acorn flour cookies

My modified “shortbread” cookies made out of acorn flour!

Um – no

Well, let’s just say I won’t be making this recipe again!  It was dry and bitter!  🙁  Did you know that coffee has tannin in it?  Well it does.  So does chocolate, to a certain degree.  It seems that these two ingredients worked together to bring out the tannin flavor of the acorn flour!  I must say, the look on my hubby’s face was hilarious when he tried these.  I have been know to experiment with recipes before and I am quite famous for my sweet and sour chicken livers and my smoked salmon lasagna – and not for the right reason.  These were ghastly culinary failures in epic proportions.

I think this acorn bar cookie may have trumped my previous culinary infamy!

On to recipe #2.  I didn’t have much faith at this time in cooking with the acorn flour, but I had gone to the trouble to make the flour (and have 2 more batches waiting in the refrigerator), so I figured I wouldn’t give up just yet.  This one is more like a chocolate chip cookie recipe, yet again uses no wheat flour:

6 tbls of soft butter    1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla       1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt         1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg                           1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup chestnut (acorn) flour

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

acorn flour cookies

Well – they look like cookies, they smell like cookies, they bake like cookies………..

Instructions: Cream the butter, sugar, salt, cinnamon and vanilla together.  Drop in the egg and mix until the batter is lump free, about a minute. Add the flour and baking soda and mix just until the flour is completely moistened.  Add the chocolate chips.

Drop 2 inch balls onto cookie sheets with plenty of room for the cookies to spread out.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from cookie sheet to a cooling rack after about 5 minutes.

Makes 1 dozen cookies

acorn flour cookies

Success! These cookies are really good. REALLY GOOD!

Don’t they look pretty!  All festive and such with the blue plate and pumpkins!  Hahaha – that’s my feeble attempt at staging the picture!  Anyway……  we gave these a taste test.

Heavens to Mergatroid!  Hallaleujah!  I think I actually heard a few angels singing in chorus somewhere.  These things were GOOD!   Wow!  Really GOOD!   🙂     🙂

Okay.  So you CAN eat acorns!   Yup.  There’s no stopping me now!   I have a few cake and bread recipes I want to try.  And I still haven’t given up on making acorn noodles.  I think I will also try adapting some of those almond flour recipes and see if they will work with acorn flour!  Once I figure out some good recipes using acorn flour, I want to start trying them with the stevia syrup I made (see instructions how to do that here) or honey, instead of the cane sugar.  Wish me luck!  I will let you know how it goes!

Thanks for reading!  Now I have to go and do the dishes!

 

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Eating Acorns, Round 2

Cooking with acorn flour

It is a very good year for an acorn crop. Even the squirrels can’t keep up!

I don’t know where my last experiment with acorns went awry, but I am determined to find a way to use the acorns that litter the ground on our future homestead for food!  Acorns, as you know, are a type of nut from the oak tree, and probably one-third of the trees on our five acres are oaks.  Still not sure what type of oak trees we have, but they produce the most bitter, foul tasting, wash your mouth out with hot sauce, nasty tasting nuts that I have ever tried!

The taste problem is with the tannins, naturally found in acorns.  Some people can tolerate a bit more tannin than I can.  That’s why I generally don’t like red wine – because of the tannin!  It leaves my tongue feeling all shriveled up and furry.  Ick.

So, my task is to find the best way to leach the tannins out of the acorns.  The first experiment was using a boiling water method.  You can read about that method HERE.  This time I thought I would try the “refrigerator” method.  Although it takes longer, it sounded much gentler on the acorn and without cooking the nut, it seems like it would result in a more nutritious flour – right?  I’m going to go with that theory.

cooking with acorns

Blended acorn meal. After it sits in the refrigerator for an hour or two, the acorn meal settles down to the bottom and there is a 2-3 inch layer of water on top.

So, here’s what I did:  gathered acorns, cracked them open and removed the nut meats.  Then I chopped them up fairly well, place them in a mason jar with clean water and then set the jar in refrigerator.

Okay.  That sounded easy enough.  Done!

cooking with acorns

Dump the acorn meal into three thicknesses of cheesecloth in a colander. Rinse, rinse, rinse to get the last of the tannin out!

Then every day (twice a day if you can handle it) the water needs to be drained out of the jar without losing any of the nut meats, and fresh water added back in.  Put the lid back on, shake,  and then put back in the refrigerator.  How many days it takes to leach out enough tannin to make the acorn meats tolerable depends on the amount of tannin in your acorns.  Generally, it takes four to ten days.  After day four, taste the acorn meats.  If they are bland and have generally no flavor – good!  You are done!  If, however, you can taste the tannin, then pour out the water, shake, and put back in the fridge.  After the sixth day I put the whole mess into the blender and gave it a few pulses, just to break up the bigger pieces and help with the leaching process.  I let mine go for the full ten days.  Yup – my acorns have lots of tannin, folks.

cooking with acorns

Acorn meal drying on a cookie sheet.

When I couldn’t taste the tannin anymore, I drained the acorn meal through a few thicknesses of cheesecloth in a colander, rinsed the meal one more time with my sprayer in the sink, let it drain again, and then poured the whole mess onto a cookie sheet.  The cookie sheet then went into a warm oven to dry the acorn meal.  Don’t let the oven get too hot – just let it start to heat up, then as it gets warm, turn it off and let the almond meal sit in the oven with the door just slightly cracked open.  You can also use a dehydrator.

Once the meal is pretty dry, it’s time to make acorn flour!  I put about 1/2 cup of the meal into my coffee grinder at a time, pulsed it a few times until it looked like a coarse flour, dumped it into a bowl, then repeated.  It took a few minutes to grind the meal into flour and I finally ended up with about 3 cups of the flour.

cooking with acorns

My first attempt – 1/3 acorn meal and 2/3 whole wheat flour. Tasted okay, but became a congealed blob when it got cold. Would be fine cooked in a beef broth.

So, for my first experiment cooking with the flour, I thought I would go simple and some acorn noodles.  Acorn noodles are very popular in Korea and are called dotori gooksoo.  I followed one of the only recipes I could find which said to mix 1/3 acorn flour to 2/3 whole wheat flour with salt and water until a soft pastry consistency.  Knead for about 10 minutes then let the dough rest.  Once the dough had rested for about 1/2 hour, I pushed the dough through the hopper of my handy, dandy Kitchenaid with the noodle maker attachment, and out squiggled some noodles!  I got of pot of water to a simmer and added the noodles.  I thought I would just end up with mush, but I didn’t!  The noodles actually stayed in the noodle shape even after boiling for about 4 minutes!  Cool!

Now came the taste test.  Hmmm.  Well, they tasted very rustic – like whole wheat flour noodles.  Kind of bland but also kind of earthy.  But once they had cooled just a bit on the plate they became more of a mass of squiggly mush, sticking together and becoming more of a clump than noodles.  I figured these these would be really good in a rustic beef broth soup with vegetables, but it would definitely have to stay in the cooking liquid.  This was not spaghetti and meatballs material.

cooking with acorns

Acorn meal on the left and acorn flour on the right.

Then I thought, “what if I didn’t have wheat flour”?  These noodles are 2/3 wheat flour and there may come a time when wheat is a very expensive commodity!  Could I make egg noodles with just the acorn flour and no wheat flour?  Besides, if I am to become as self sufficient as comfortable (not gonna sacrifice comfort in my retirement, folks!), and since we don’t have a wheat field around the corner, I need to figure out how to make noodles without any wheat!  I decided to try that next.

cooking with acorns

Fettuccini strips. Uh……..no.

I knew that I would need something to bind the acorn flour together and the first thing I thought of was eggs.  So, after reading several egg noodle recipes, I discovered that the standard is 3/4 cups of flour per 1 egg.  Also a little salt and oil.  So, this is what I mixed: 1-1/2 cups of acorn flour, 2 eggs, 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil.  I mixed it all up pretty good, rolled it into a ball and let it set under a wet kitchen towel for about 1/2 hour – just to make sure the flour was well moistened.  After I felt 1/2 hour was long enough, I put the glob down into the hopper of my kitchenaid pasta maker and turned it on.  Well.  Hmmm.  It came through the noodle maker thingy okay, but as each strand got an inch or two long, it broke!  When I tried to pick up a noodle, it just fell apart in my hands.  Okay – so that didn’t work. I think it’s the lack of gluten (wheat glue) that made the noodles more crumbly than noodley (I think that’s a word – isn’t it?)

How about fettuccini?  Most of the wheat flour egg noodles are supposed to be rolled thin and then cut into strips!  I got out some parchment paper, rolled the blob of failed spaghetti into a ball and flattened it, put another piece of parchment paper on top, and rolled it out pretty thin.  Then I cut it into strips.  It looked pretty good and I thought it would work, but…. well…….  No.       After I let it dry just a bit, I tried picking it up and it just fell apart again!  Heavens to Betsy.

cooking with acorns

The pasta maker was making pasta – the pasta just didn’t want to cooperate!

I decided to think about it for a while.  Hmmmmmmmmm.

Potatoes! Don’t Germans make noodles out of potatoes?  Yes!  The noodles are called badische schupfnudeln.  Try saying that three times!  It uses eggs and potatoes with a little bit of flour – so all was not lost – yet.  I boiled a medium sized yukon gold potato until tender, drained it, mashed it, and when cooled a bit I added it to the acorn mixture.  I wasn’t worried about having an overworked mess at this point because – remember – there isn’t any gluten in it.  So I made sure the potatoes and acorn mixture were incorporated together really well.  Then I tried it again.  Well.  Nope.  It STILL fell apart!

The strands coming out of the pasta attachment looked okay, but when I tried to pick up a noodle off the plate, it just pretty much fell apart!

UGH!

Why!  Shouldn’t the egg make it stick together?  Oh, wait – not until it’s cooked!  Hey, what if I made it like spaetzle (another type of German noodle), where you drop the noodles right into the boiling pot of water as they are being made??!!  That might work!

cooking with acorns

It’s edible – but doesn’t it look like that dog food that you pour out of a foil pouch!!??

So I tried it.  Well , it did sort of work – kinda.  The noodles still fell apart as they went into  the pot, but once in the boiling water they pretty much stayed in a noodle shape.  The longer noodles were about 2 inches long.  How did it taste?  Let’s just say that with a heavily flavored sauce these would be good.  They are pretty bland.

spice cake made with almond flour

Spice cake made with almond flour and raisins! Mmmmmm good!

By this time I was out of acorn flour.  I have more leaching in the fridge, but I will have to think this process over a bit more before I try making noodles again.  Perhaps my next experiment should be with baking the acorn flour – maybe muffins or a cake.  I have experimented a bit with almond flour and made a delicious cake with the almond meal that was left over from making almond milk – which in turn was made into almond milk ice cream!  I think I will try modifying one of the almond flour recipes by using acorn flour instead of almond flour.  I will probably need to add a bit more spice, as the almond flour is naturally aromatic and the acorn flour is not.

If any of you have any ideas or suggestions, please share them!  Just click on the bubble thingy next to the title of this article up top, or down below where it says “replies”, and let me know what you think!  Thank you so much!

 

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