Salvaging a Bradford Pear, from Useless to Fruitful

When we moved to start what would become chestnut acres farm, on the property, right in the front yard, were three Bradford pear trees.  There are multiple reasons why I dislike Bradford pears.  The first that comes to mind is susceptibility to wind damage.  In 2011, when a number of tornados came through our area there were a number of neighborhoods that while spared from major damage had an abundance of downed Bradford pears.  The second is the smell, think rotten fish, when flowering they smell awful.  

I considered ripping them out of the ground, but heard that they were vigorous and would keep coming back from the roots.  After further reading, I learned that the Bradford pear has one redeeming quality.  It is similar to the standard fruiting pear tree root stock.   So there was my answer, graft fruiting pears onto the base of the Bradford pear.  Make them useful!

So, my first attempt was last year about this time.  I tried cleft grafting.  In short, I sawed off the top of the tree, used a wedge to split the top, inserted a piece of scion wood, covered with wound paint and hoped for the best.  Unfortunately this resulted in 100% failure. Fortunately I didn’t kill the trees, providing a second chance.

In February, I made a second attempt.  This time, I enlisted a friend with training in grafting, a passion for permaculture and two pear trees that were ready for pruning.  The two pear trees provided the scion wood. 

Experiments are always better with a friend.  Especially one who knows what they are doing.

We tried two methods, namely the splice graft and the bark slot method.  I’ll show you both of these and in a few months, I’ll report back in the results.

Basic Grafting Supplies:

Knife (I used a sharp kitchen knife)

Parafilm Wax Tape 

Splice Graft Method

The splice graft, sometimes called a whip graft, is performed by cutting matching angled cuts in the scion wood and the root stock, lining up the cambium layers and then securing with grafting tape.

Cutting the root stock (Bradford Pear)

Matching the scion wood, ensure the cambium (area between the bark and the wood) of each are touching.

Taping the graft with Parafilm tape.
Graft complete!

Bark Slot Graft Method
The bark slot graft is a method that allows smaller scion wood to be grafted onto a larger branch or rootstock.  In this method you make a shallow cut into the bark the width of your scion wood.  You cut the scion wood on two sides to create a slender wedge.  Then you insert the scion wood into the bark slot.  Finally, you cover with grafting tape or wax.

Make two small cuts in the bark, the width of the scion wood.

Insert the scion wood whose end has a tapered wedge.
Apply grafting tape, Done!

This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something after clicking on a link, Chestnut Acres Farm will make a small percentage while you still pay exactly the same amount as you otherwise would. Thanks for your support.

Soap Making – Using the Whole Hog

We are lucky that we know someone that raises goats. April is a wonderful person and a soap making guru. In good ole bartering style, we swapped goat milk for pig fat so that we could make soap. Win Win.

Now this was our first time trying cold press soap. We are definitely still figuring things out. With the help of my soap making friend, I used soapcalc.net to determine the weights of lard, goat milk, essential oil, and lye we needed for our soap.  <Warning…using lye can cause burns. Please wear appropriate gloves and goggles and work in a ventilated space. I worked at my stove and had the vent running.>

We had to buy a few things from Amazon for our soap making:

1. We bought a stick blender to mix the lard/milk/lye mixture until trace. Trace is when the mixture turns from liquid to pudding consistency. I will say that the stick blender I bought burned up the first time I used it and wont turn on again. So either 1. buy a better one or 2. don’t use it continuously when mixing. Take a few breaks with it and stir with a regular spoon.

2. Soap Mold. You don’t have to use a commercial soap mold. Some people use empty orange juice cartons or make a mold out of wood. We tried the commercial mold and a orange juice carton and my pick is the commercial mold. We don’t drink a lot of orange juice so it isn’t a “free” option for me. And it made very large bars of soap but if cut in half still seemed an odd size. And my cutter wasn’t long enough to cut all the way through so it wasn’t as pretty.

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3. Soap Cutter. I used a pastry scraper because I had one already and it looked very similar to the official soap cutters I saw on amazon.

4. Essential oils. I used what I had on hand which wasn’t much. I definitely need to find a good source for essential oils in bulk. My soap recipe that used 32 oz of lard needed 1 oz of essential oils. The bottles I had were 0.3 oz. So I used as much as I had but should have used more.

5. Accurate food scale. Soap making is an exact science. Each part needs to be accurately measured by the weight. If not some of the lye could remain in the final product and cause burns!

6. Lye

My friend that swapped me the goat milk gave me a tip for mixing the lye into the goat milk. She said to measure out the weight of goat milk you need into a mason jar that is big enough and then freeze it. Then you add the lye to the frozen milk a little at a time and stir stir stir. This way the milk wont overheat and burn. Burnt milk soap is still usable but will be a orangey color and might have an off smell.

So I did just that. I froze the milk in the correct weight and added the lye a bit at a time.

Soap making is not for those in a rush. It probably took me close to an hour to add the lye a little at a time to my frozen milk all the time stir stir stirring.

Meanwhile I was heating up my lard because I had kept it in the fridge. One thing I realized after my first batch is that I also needed to store the lard in the exact amounts I needed. I was thinking I needed 32 ounces of lard so I just needed a quart. Well a quart of lard in VOLUME is actually less than 32 fluid ounces WEIGHT of lard. So in the middle of everything I realize I was short on heated lard and I was microwaving some to mix in. Which is not ideal. But recall that it is important to have enough oil to bind with the lye mixture otherwise the soap could cause burns.

I heated the refrigerated mason jar of lard in a pot with water. I thought that would be the gentler way to get it back into liquid form. I had a hard time getting my soap to come to trace. I believe this is because my lard was a lot hotter than it is supposed to be. I believe the lye mixture and lard are supposed to be within 10 degrees of each other around 90 degrees F. My lye mixture was around the right temperature but my lard was too hot. I think I should have gotten my lard to liquid earlier and let it cool before starting to mix the lye into the frozen milk.

It did eventually get slightly thicker but never true pudding stage for “trace”. And I mixed it for at least 45 minutes. So learn from my mistakes and have your lard liquid and near room temperature.

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All in all for a first attempt at soap making I think it went pretty well. I made this soap around Thanksgiving and let it cure for at least 6 weeks (see picture below).

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We have been using the bar soap now for a few weeks and we really like it. It has a small amount of lather, but is creamy and a very hard bar (which is nice because it lasts longer).  A good experience and I can’t wait to improve my soap making skills. If you are a soap expert I would love to hear your tips/tricks! Below is a picture from a bar from the real soap mold.

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Chestnut Flour 

Chestnuts have been called a grain that grows on trees.  J. Russell Smith in his book “Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture” makes direct comparisons between chestnut production in Corsica to corn production in the U.S in the 1920s. He argues, I think successfully,  that chestnuts can provide an viable alternative to corn that in many ways provides a more sustainable approach.  If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.   The electronic version is free.

So what is a good use for this tree grain? Chestnut flour of course! It is gluten free!  From epicurious “it can be used to replace part of the all-purpose flour in a standard recipe or all of the rice flour in a gluten free recipe. It lends a nutty, earthy note to anything it’s added to.”

Here was our approach to making chestnut flour.

First, we roasted and peeled. See our previous blog post on this subject.

Next, we chopped the peeled nuts into smaller chunks and dehydrated them using a dehydrator. We set it on the “Nuts and Seeds” setting (105F) and allowed it to dehydrate overnight.  Your oven on its lowest setting could also be used to dehydrate the chestnuts.

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We couldn’t get to the grinding of the dehydrated nuts right away, so we placed them in the refrigerator for about a day.  It took some experimentation, which may have resulted in almost killing the food processor.  Let’s skip the experimentation and proceed with a recommendation.

Two kitchen appliances were used for the grinding, a food processor and a coffee grinder.

We recommend using the food processor to cut the nuts to chunks about the size of coffee beans or smaller. And perhaps we just should have used the food processor to chop the nuts into bean size pieces BEFORE dehydrating them (they are softer before dehydration) then we could have skipped almost killing the food processor.

Then, run the smaller chunks through the coffee grinder.


Depending on your coffee grinder you may want to run the resulting flour through a sifter or sieve to ensure the flour is fully ground.

We started with 2.25 lbs of dried chestnuts which yielded about 6.5 cups of flour.  The first recipe for the chestnut flour will be biscotti.  What do you like to make with chestnut flour?


This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something after clicking on a link, Chestnut Acres Farm will make a small percentage while you still pay exactly the same amount as you otherwise would. Thanks for your support. 

Chestnuts Roasting 

For Christmas, my family brought chestnuts from their Chestnut orchard in Oklahoma. Most folks have never had a chestnut (we hadn’t until we were adults), but they have heard The Christmas Song which includes the familiar line “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”.  It’s been sung by everyone from Nat King Cole to Garth Brooks to Justin Bieber.  With our recent gift from Oklahoma we decided to roast some chestnuts. Did I mention that they are delicious?  If you’ve never tried one, you’re missing out.

The chestnut trees we grow for nut production are select Chinese Chestnut varieties. They were chosen specifically due to their ability to grow in our soil types, their excellent branch development for heavy production; plus their very large and  very sweet, nuts. And from a harvesting perspective, these nuts drop easily while the burr is in the tree. And that’s really important, considering how sharp the outside of burrs can be! 

Now it’s time to begin the process for roasting chestnuts in your kitchen. First, preheat your over at 400F. Next, score your chestnuts. This is done to allow the moisture to release from inside the chestnut.  This can be done a couple of ways. The most common is to take a sharp knife and make an “x” as shown in the picture below.  The knife I’m using is not the best knife, this knife is a bit safer and easier to use.  


For Christmas a few years ago, my lovely wife bought me a chestnut cutter.  This makes the job a bit easier and quicker. I’ve found that placing the round side towards the cutter works well.

By the way, this task is best done in good company, even little hands can help.


Next, place the scored chestnuts on a cookie sheet and place in the oven. Cook for 15-25 minutes until the skins start to peel back.


Now to peel the chestnut, first squeeze them like a baked potato where your fingers are in line with the score mark.  I did about 100 nuts before realizing that I should be squeezing them and my thumbs paid the price!  This loosens the meat inside the shell substantially and makes it much easier to remove the meat from the shell. After you’ve loosened it up pull it out of  the shell and the pith (the thin papery covering).  If the nuts cool and become difficult to peel you can put a few cups in the microwave for 30 seconds and they will loosen back up.  

It can be a bit of work, but it’s very rewarding to enjoy eating  and cooking with roasted chestnuts. 


With these chestnuts we’ll be making Chestnut Flour and Chestnut Butter.  Keep an eye out for these upcoming posts.

This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something after clicking on a link, Chestnut Acres Farm will make a small percentage while you still pay exactly the same amount as you otherwise would. Thanks for your support.

Smoking Pork Shoulder, TIMES FOUR

Recently, while spending time with Family for Christmas we decided to smoke some of our heritage pork. The meat used comes from a Black Mulefoot American Guinea Hog cross that we raised at Chesnut Acres Farm. We had four cuts of meat, one whole Boston butt, two half Boston butts, and one picnic roast.  So of course, being the experimenters we are, we tried four different recipes:

1. Bib Bob Gibson’s Recipe listed on BBQ Junkies website.

2. Bob’s Pulled Pork on a Smoker Recipe

3. Sugar Free Chic’s Smoked Pork Butt Recipe

4. The new, experimental Chestnut Acres Farm Recipe (provided later in the post)

These provide a good spread of options. One is sugar free with only a rub, one used a brine (12 hours) followed by rub, two used an injector to apply the marinade followed immediately by a rub.

Here’s a video showing the different cuts:

Now the application of rubs, brines and marinades.  I picked up a meat injector at the grocery store, the only way it was sold was as part of a kit that included the marinade.  It was a bit flimsy, if you look closely in the video you can see it flexing.  I’m going to put one of these injectors on my wish list. This injector looks sturdy and has two different options for injectors.  Here’s the video of the three recipes:

And the video of our experimental recipe:

Here’s our recipe, 

Injection Marinade:

1 cup Apple Cider

1 tsp. Balsamic Vinegar

1 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce

1/4 cup Honey

Rub (applied with Dijon Stoneground Mustard):

1 tsp. Cayenne Pepper

1/3 cup Paprika

1 Tbsp. Chili Powder

1 Tbsp. Cumin

1 tsp. Oregano

1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder

1/2 tsp. Black Pepper

1/2 tsp. Ginger Powder

1/3 cup Sea Salt

2 Tbsp. Onion Powder
After the brines, marinades, and rubs were applied we put the meat in the fridge until the next morning (about 10-12 hrs). Then, we started smoking early the next morning.  We used apple wood chips, a pan of apple cider and apple juice, and targeted a temperature of 230 deg F.  Here’s Matt getting things kicked off

A few hours into the 11 hour smoke.

The results:

The finished product, resting.

So, Amy selected The Big Bob Gibson recipe.  Matt picked the Experimental recipe.  What did the family choose?  The winner is “Experimental”, 4 out of 6 adults chose this recipe, one chose the Sugar Free Chic recipe and one chose Big Bob Gibson.  

One tester said they thought the experimental it tasted like it already had sauce on it. We thought about that and the Experimental recipe has both honey and vinegar (balsamic vinegar) injected in it and vinegar and sugar are the major ingredients in BBQ sauce. So our recipe is a winner for no sauce as well.

Funny story, we let the kids (4 kids, between ages 3 and 5) have a separate vote.  All voted for Sugar Free Chic. The oldest chose this one and they all followed.  He stated later during dinner that he wanted more of the sugar one.  Apparently “sugar free” was interpreted as “free sugar”.  

Since the experimental version was so popular, we’re going to have to rename it.  Any suggestions?


This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something after clicking on a link, Chestnut Acres Farm will make a small percentage while you still pay exactly the same amount as you otherwise would. Thanks for your support.

Making Lard – Using the Whole Hog

In an effort to make room in the freezer for the meat that came back from the processor we rendered 3 GALLONS of lard from the fat from the August 2016 hogs.  On average, a hog yields about 10 lbs of fat or as it’s also known suet.  There are two basic types of fat, leaf fat and regular fat. Leaf fat comes from around the kidneys and renders into lard that is prized by pastry chefs.

So let’s render some lard!  There are three steps to rendering lard from pork fat:

1. Grind or cut into small pieces the fat.  We use a meat grinder attachment for our KitchenAid mixer.  Honestly, the grinder works poorly on meat, but it did a good job on the fat.

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Fat after being processed through the grinder.

 

2.  Heat the fat until it separates.  This can be done in a crockpot or in the oven.  Do exercise caution, lard is flammable.

We did some in a crockpot and in a huge cast iron dutch oven like this we bought in a yard sale. I believe its original purpose was a fish fry. My preferred method, is the dutch oven in the oven but both worked well.

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3. Strain the resulting liquid into jars.

We used a metal strainer like this. You could use the large one over a bowl. Or what I found works well is using a metal canning funnel over the mason jar you are going to store the lard in and have the small metal strainer on top of the funnel.

The small one fits quite well and makes it easy to pour directly into the funnel. Using all metal or glass is important because the lard will be very hot. I just poured through the metal strainer but if you really wanted as “pure” lard as you could get you could put a layer of cheesecloth on top of the strainer.

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Cracklings

There is one byproduct of lard rendering that you should know about, it’s a wonderful thing called cracklings.From that 3 gallons of lard we made about a casserole dish full of cracklings. Cracklings are the bits of meat left after making the lard. You fry them up and they are super tasty in cornbread or salads. But this is still a ton of cracklings.  We put them into 1 cup portions, sealed them with the food saver and put them in the freezer.

Let me introduce you to a new way of using cracklings I’ve found. As a topping on spaghetti!! Adds a slight crunch and almost like bacon bits on top. Might sound weird but it’s fantastic.

One common use for lard is soap making.  Look for a blog post in the near future on making soap.
This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something after clicking on a link, Chestnut Acres Farm will make a small percentage while you still pay exactly the same amount as you otherwise would. Thanks for your support. 

Ranch Pork Chops

Y’all I burnt these and they were still FANTASTIC. My 2.5 year old came in the kitchen grouching she was hungry and distracted me (can any of you relate?) and I had the skillet on too high and left them too long before flipping. Worried I ruined dinner I took off stove and put in the oven on 350 for a little to make sure inside was cooked without cooking outside much more. They were amazing and all farm hands declared the meal delicious.
(Check out our products for availability on USDA pork chops, as of this writing we have them in stock!)

What I did:

1. Dredged the pork chops in dry ranch dressing (I get mine in bulk from Azure Standard)

2. Put a little olive oil in the pan on high (this is where you should do med/high or watch it well). 

3. Flip after a couple min

4. After a couple min of other side put in glass casserole in oven on 350 for 15ish min. (You can cut into one and check it for done-ness).

5. Feed ravenous children

6. Receive praise from all that ate it 😜