Digging Razor Clams + a recipe

This article explains how to dig razor clams and how to clean razor clams. I've also included a recipe for our favorite way to eat them, fried!

Razor clams are one of those foods that is so delicious it makes you unable to do anything but mumble about how delicious they are and eat until you explode or the clams run out.
They can a bit of work to dig but trust me, you will not regret a single second of the time you spend out on the beach digging razor clams. The beach is beautiful and your collecting delicious nutritious food. What could possibly be a better use of your time?

Washington state regulations

This information may or may not be accurate for another state and could become outdated for Washington, make sure to check with your fish and game department for local current regulations.

Open beaches

First things first, you need to make sure there are open beaches and check to see when there are tides. You will be allowed to harvest in either the morning or evening. If it’s an evening tide you can’t start digging until after twelve. You’ll want to be there an hour or two before low tide. The razor clams are easiest to find while the tide is going out. You can pick up a tide book locally.


You can dig razor clams by hand, with a clam gun or with a clam shovel. Each person must have their own container for clams and you have to keep the first 15 clams you dig. You can share digging equipment and help each other but everyone has to be actively involved in the process.


Anyone older than 15 has to buy a license. You can a buy a year long- that lasts from April to March- or a three day license. The year long is only a few dollars more than the three day so it may be worth it for you to buy the year long.

Equipment for Digging Razor clams

Rubber boots or wadders, you’re going to get wet and sandy so come prepared and wear cloths to stay as dry and warm as possible.

Clam guns
The best kind of guns have suction holes on the handles; it makes them easier to work with (especially if you have small hands like I do) and you can get a better seal with them. I've seen clam guns made from metal or PVC; the material they are made out of doesn't actually seem to impact how well they work.
Clam shovels
Mesh bag
You can use a plastic bag, or a bucket but a mesh bag is the best way to go. They usually have a clip so you can attach them to a belt loop and keep them out of the way while you’re digging.

Digging Razor Clams

Finding razor clams

Razor clams are about a foot down in the sand, in the surf. They reveal themselves when they create a little volcano or depression in the damp sand. Watch as someone walks across the beach, most of the depressions that  form are made by razor clams pulling their necks back into their shells.  As the clams are feeding they’ll also build little volcanos in the sand. The size of the depression or volcano is usually correlated to the size of the clam, look for the bigger ones. Remember you have to keep the first 15 you dig, bigger clams equal more to eat.
Razor clams like to be where fresh water feeds into the sea so that’s always a good place to start looking.

Digging razor clams with a shovel

You need to dig quickly, on the sea side of the hole. If you’re really quick you can sometimes flip them right out onto the sand. This is not something I'm any good at.

Digging Razor clams with a clam gun

You’ll want to learn to use the gun on some tester spots because it can be difficult to use. There are one or two holes somewhere on the top of the gun. As I mentioned before, guns with holes on the handle are easier to cover and create a vacuum to suck the clams and sand up.


With the hole uncovered, you push the gun as far down as you can into the sand over the clam with a slight angle towards the sea. When you’re in as deep as you can manage, cover the hole to create suction and pull the clam gun out, drop the sand and go back in the hole for another core. If there’s a clam in your first pull you should see it easily, if you don’t it’s always worth taking another two pulls. After that the clam is probably too far down for you to reach. You can also do one pull with the gun and go armpit deep in the hole to grab the clam, either way works. Sometimes you have to rock the gun back and forth or twist it side to side to get it into and out of the sand, but be careful not to break suction or you can lose your clam.
Make sure to have your license on you, safe from the water, and make sure to keep track of how many clams you have.

If you’re only driving a couple hours and it’s not a hot day you can just put your clams in a closed container so they don’t dry out. If you’re driving a ways or it’s hot, you can put them in salt water, fresh or on ice. The best way to transport them is in an ice chest on top of ice.  If you put them in fresh water you’ll need to clean them that day since it will eventually kill them.

Cleaning Razor clams

  It’s always best to clean razor clams the same day they were dug but you can wait until the next day. People say it’s okay to clean and eat them after they die but we always prefer to make sure they stay alive until we clean them.

You will need
Knife or scissors
Bucket or large bowl
Pot of boiling water

When you know you’re ready to clean your clams put them in a large bowl or bucket with fresh water. While they’re in water the clams will spit out sand making them easier to clean.  You’ll probably want to change the water once and then rinse the clams off one last time.

Scalding razor clams

To remove the clams from their shells you need a pot of boiling water big enough to submerge them in. This is a messy job that's really nice to do outside on a propane burner.

You can use your fingers, a pair of tongs or a big spoon to swish them around in the water and pull them out. The clams have been in the water long enough when they relax and the shell starts to open. At this point, they should pull easily from the shells, with the muscles staying attached to the clam. If not, they haven’t been in the water long enough. There’s a sort of mucous all over the clam that you also want to remove right now. Depending on the time of year and the size of the clam there might not be very much mucous.
Once the clams are out of their shell they need to go straight into cold water, ice water is best, this is to stop any cooking that might have started in the boiling water from continuing.

Gutting Razor clams

[caption id="attachment_2313" align="alignnone" width="553"] You can see my uncle doesn't clean his clams exactly the way I do.[/caption]

Take the clams out of the cold water and rinse them again. You’ll want to gut the razor clams near a running water source. This is easiest with a sharp pair of scissors but you can do it with a knife. Hold the razor calm with the neck facing you. The neck has two holes, cut all the way down the side of the smaller tube opening both tubes in the process but leaving the larger whole intact on one side so the clam neck is butter-flied open.

Continue your cut down the clam so you open up the body cavity and just the first half inch of the foot. You want to remove the gills and the dark brown digestive tract, you can also cut the tip of the neck off since it can be very tough. The foot is filled with what we call “fat” that is slightly darker than the rest of the clam but much lighter than the digestive tract. You want to preserve as much of that as possible because it’s fragile and delicious. As you work, rinse the clam regularly to keep from grinding sand into the flesh.

Cooking Razor Clams

You can eat the razor clams fresh, grind them or leave them whole, can them or freeze them.
Some people like to save the foot for frying or baking but grind the neck to use in chowder. Some of my family grind and can the necks so they can make clam chowder all year. Clams freeze well but like most seafood the quality starts to degrade noticeably after about three months in the freezer. Without a doubt our favorite way to eat razor clams is fried the same day they were dug.

Fried Razor Clams

You will need
Cleaned razor clams
Bread or cracker crumbs
Ground pepper
Garlic granules
Olive oil


Make a mix of two parts flour and one part crumbs. Lay your clams out and season both sides to taste with salt, pepper and garlic. Heat a large castor iron or stainless steel pan with olive oil and a couple tablespoons of butter over medium heat. While the oil is heating, coat your clams in the flour and crumb mix and set them aside. When the butter starts to sizzle you can add your first round of clams. Flip them when they are golden brown, it won’t take long. Add another tablespoon of butter before starting each batch and add more olive oil as necessary. You want enough fat that the clams are all setting in it.
We’ve eaten nothing but a pile of clams for dinner on more than one occasion without feeling the least deprived. They are also excellent along side rice and vegetables. We pretty much eat every kind of sea food you can think of with rice and vegetables, it’s always a good combination.

If you’re still on the fence about razor clams just go for it! Unless you’re one of those poor souls that doesn’t like seafood you will be in love with razor clams. They are delicious, easy to cook and worth every little bit of work involved.

















why is my grassfed and pastured meat tough?

Meat from grassfed and pastured animals can get tough and dry if cooked like conventional meat. In this article I'll explain why there's a difference and how you can keep your grassfed and pastured meat from being tough and dry.

Thinking of the sleepy peeping of chicks from the back seat makes me smile even now.  I hadconvinced AJ that it was time again to raise another batch of Cornish cross meat chickens. We made our way home with our talkative box on one of those cloudy Pacific Northwest days where you couldn’t say what time of day or even what time of the year it was. We spent the next two and a half months obsessing over their care, moving their pen to fresh pasture daily and awaiting the day they would fill our freezer.

Make no mistake, raising animals is hard work. The value we assign to our home grown meat is based on more than just the expense of producing it, and we don’t part with it lightly. You can understand my horror and confusion when AJ’s parents thought their first taste of our home grown chicken was a “little tough.” That chicken that we had so lovingly cared for since it was a day old chick. That chicken that we had carefully and compassionately butchered; taking pains to process in a way that would be the most humane and use as much of the animal as possible. That chicken, was tough.Why is my grassfed and pastured meat tough?

I couldn’t understand it; I had already cooked one and it was delicious and tender. My brain raced to find a solution, and then I remembered: AJ’s parents are used to eating store bought conventional, or as we call it “concentration camp” chicken. Our chickens don't cook the same as store bought chicken.

It was one of those moments that makes clear how far we’ve come on our real food journey, and because of that, how differently we eat from the average American. I realized that people cooking pastured and grass-fed meat for the first time may face the same disappointment as my in-laws. How terrible would it be if they wrote off such an awesome food because it cooks differently than the meat they usually eat!? That, my friends, would be a tragedy.

I’m here to give you a science lesson so you better understand why grass-fed and pastured meat cooks differently. I’ll also give you some ideas to deal with it. Buckle up, it’s about to get nerdy around here.

Why is my Grass-fed and Pastured meat tough?

What does Grass-fed, pastured and CAFO mean?

The typical animal in the American food system in raised in a Confined (or Concentrated) Animal Feeding Operation commonly referred to by the abbreviation CAFO. Think feedlot beef, caged layers and pigs in gestation crates. Animals raised this way get minimal exercise and are fed a diet specially formulated with the cheapest ingredients so they gain the most fat and muscle or lay the most eggs as quickly as possible.

Animals that could be grass-fed but that are in CAFOs are commonly fed animal protein or grain to increase their production. Animals that should be eating vegetation can only handle so much animal protein and grain in their diet. When they get too much they start to get sick. High grain diets change the pH of the cow’s rumen making the cow sick and allowing E.coli to grow; potentially exposing anyone who consumes products from that animal to the bacteria.  Strains of E.coli that regularly put people in the hospital develop in the rumen of cows that eat excessive amounts of grain.  Just a short time back on hay or pasture allows the rumen to regulate its pH and eliminate the E.coli.

These systems don’t consider the animals’ natural behaviors or long term health. The conditions are cramped, filthy, and sometimes dark. The days are an endless monotony of frustration and fear. When you eat CAFO chicken, beef and pork you’re eating misery. Chew on that.
Grass-fed and pastured animals live and eat very differently.

Grass-fed animals are ruminants and hind-gut fermenters. This means they are biologically intended to be herbivores that eat mainly vegetation. Grass-fed animals can theoretically survive on nothing but pasture but since most of our soil has become deficient in key minerals a source of supplemental minerals and vitamins are frequently fed.
Cows, sheep, rabbits, goats and geese, are all examples of animals that could theoretically be grass-fed.
.why is my grassfed and pastured meat tough
“Pastured” is a term as unregulated in the food industry as the term “natural”. In my opinion it should refer to omnivorous animals that live on pasture or with daylight access to pasture but that need additional feed. These animals can theoretically forage for all their nutritional needs by eating things like nuts, roots, small animals and bugs but in reality they rarely have access to a large enough area to provide sufficient forage.
This includes chickens, ducks and pigs.

When a farmer raises grass-fed and pastured animals with sincere intentions of providing them with a biologically appropriate life they live very differently than they would in a CAFO. The animals have space to express their natural instincts to root, graze and scratch; things they wouldn’t be able to do in a CAFO. Unfortunately, some farmers don’t raise grass-fed and pastured animals with sincere intentions.

The regulated USDA definitions leave a lot of room for interpretation and the USDA doesn’t even have a regulated definition for “pastured.” No matter what the label says it’s important to ask the farmer or butcher exactly how the animal was fed and raised

Here are USDA definitions taken directly from this and this public USDA internet document.

Free-range: This label indicates that the flock was provided shelter in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle. The outdoor area may or may not be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material. This label is regulated by the USDA.

Free range or free roaming: producers must demonstrate to the agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.

Grass-fed: Grass-fed animals receive a majority of their nutrients from grass throughout their life, while organic animals’ pasture diet may be supplemented with grain. Also USDA regulated, the grass-fed label does not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. Meat products may be labeled as grass-fed organic. *** The USDA as of January 2016 has retired thier grass-fed label. There are other independent labels for grass-fed though, read this for more information***

Pasture-raised: Due to the number of variables involved in pasture-raised agricultural systems, the USDA has not developed a federal definition for pasture-raised products.

If that list of definitions doesn’t have you scratching your head you should probably read it again. Please ask your farmer and butchers exactly how the animals were raised and fed; don’t depend on a label.

Let’s walk through those definitions briefly.

For the Free-range definition it says “access to the outdoors during their production cycle.” For the months before the birds start laying producers are not required to let them out of the building. Our birds are outside during the day starting as soon as they can be without a heat lamp.
Chickens are creatures of habit, not allowing them access when they are young means they are going to spend less time overall outside foraging. I visited a commercial egg farm with a college program here in Washington. This particular farm has a major organic and free range project. They drove us down by their free range houses in their tour buses. There were no birds outside. They never let us close enough to the house to smell if there was ammonia, a sign that manure needs cleaned up, or to see what condition the birds were in. We were never closer than a mile from their caged layer facilities. We only got to see those as distant, white windowless buildings.

On the beef side of things, read the grass-fed definition again. Did you notice that organic grass-fed beef can be supplemented with grain? What the heck is that about? There also aren’t any specifications about how they are living. They could be in a feedlot just like any other CAFO beef cow.
Moral of the story?
If you want to know how they are really being fed and cared for you need to talk to your butcher or farmer.why is my grass-fed and pastured meat tough?

How does this affect the meat?

For starters animals grass-fed and pastured in the true sense of the word are moving around a whole lot more. Used muscle is tougher than unused muscle, that’s why veal (confined baby cow) is more tender than an old milk cow. Muscle that’s used more is also darker because mitochondria, the energy producing organelle in a cell, multiply in harder working muscle.

CAFO animals are fed diets high in carbohydrates that put fat on the animal more quickly. A cow eating grass takes much longer to put on fat.

All of us animals put fat on in a specific order. It’s first laid down around the organs. Fat around the organs is a good thing, up to a point of course. It acts as padding and insulation. Next, it’s laid down under the skin and last, in the muscle.

[caption id="attachment_2158" align="aligncenter" width="426"]cow and calf on pasture photo courtesy of my friends at Pasture Deficit Disorder, please go visit there website and say hi! http://www.pasturedeficitdisorder.com/[/caption]

That marbling that makes meat tender is from fat in and around the muscle. Since grass-fed and pastured animals aren’t getting the calorie loaded diets they don’t always have as much marbling and it takes them longer to have any marbling.

There are other factors that can make your meat tough that have nothing to do with if the animal is eating grass or not.
Animals that are stressed before and during slaughter don’t age well so the meat doesn’t become tender. This happens when animals are not slaughtered in a humane and quick fashion. No matter how it was slaughtered, improperly aged and overcooked meat will not be as tender as it should be.

How to deal with it?

Before you buy it:

Talk to your butcher or farmer about how the animals were raised, slaughtered and processed. If you’ve had a bad experience with meat you’ve bought there before, be honest. They should care and offer advice. If they don’t, you may want to consider buying your meat elsewhere.

You might want to ask:
If and how the meat was aged
What the animals were fed
How the animals were housed
How old the animals were went butchered
What cut they recommend for the meal you’d like to cook

When you get it home:

Let it rest

Instead of cooking the meat that night let it set in the fridge a couple days covered on a plate. During that time it will continue to go through the aging process and become more tender. Before you cook meat allow it to warm on the counter. Cooking meat when it's straight from the fridge makes it loose more moisture and stops a good browning from happening.
Brine, marinate, rub or cure

The acid, salt and sugar help breakdown muscle fibers in the same way that aging meat does. For meat you know is going to be tough; such as old hens or old cows, this is the best way to go.
Cook it low and slow

Lowering the cooking temperature and lengthening the cooking time can prevent the meat from drying out so it stays moist and tender. You can accomplish this by covering meat for the first part of the cooking time in the oven, by cooking in crock pots and by just dropping the cooking temperature.
Cook it rare or cook it precise

For red meats the easiest way to retain the good texture is to cook it rare. This is probably why you don’t hear a lot of people complaining about tough grass-fed beef.

For either red or white meats keeping close tabs on the temperature can make a huge difference. Meat continues to raise as much as ten degrees from the temperature you read in the oven or pan. So take your cuts out ten degrees before your ideal temperature. Meat thermometers are easy to use and there are endless temperature guides online so don’t let this intimidate you. This is also why it's so important to let meat rest before you cut it up. That little bit of time lets the juices redistribute throughout the meat.


For further reading on cooking grass fed and pastured meat check out this book, The Grassfed Gourmet

Hopefully this will help you cook a nice tender grass-fed steak or pastured chicken the next time around. Let me know how it goes!why is my grass fed and pastured meat tough?



Seed Catalogs I recommend for Heirloom, Open pollinated and organic varieties

It’s that amazing time of year where the seed catalogs come pouring in and I dream about the garden. Okay, Its more like I obsess about the garden. How many square feet can I plant? How much and what kind of seed do we need? What do we have room to start early? How many pounds of potatoes do we actually need to plant to feed five people? The endless questions I ask myself!
I spend a lot of time planning the garden and as much or more time reading reviews on companies and varieties, and comparing catalog offerings. I thought since I’ve already done so much leg work I might as well put together a list of companies to buy heirloom, open pollinated and organic seed from for you.
This isn’t a complete list, it’s just the companies that I’ve bought from or done some looking into already.

Seed Catalogs I recommend for Heirloom, open pollinated and organic varieties

seed catalogs I recommends for heirloom, open pollinated and organic varieties

Baker Creek

I love this company. They have some of the best prices around. They often have varieties that are not available anywhere else but on the other side of the coin they don’t always carry popular varieties. I highly highly recommend Baker Creek.

seed catalogs I recommends for heirloom, open pollinated and organic varieties

Seed Savers Exchange

I always drool over this catalog but I haven’t bought anything from them yet. Their prices tend to be on the high side but you can order large quantities of many varieties which is great if you want to grow a lot of something.

seed catalogs I recommends for heirloom, open pollinated and organic varieties

High Mowing Organic Seed

Great selection, generally good prices and large quantities available.

seed catalogs I recommends for heirloom, open pollinated and organic varieties

 Bountiful Gardens

This is part of the John Jeavons company which does the “grow biointensive” method. They have lots of varieties you can’t find elsewhere and lots of Permaculture type plants. Check them out!

Grow Organic

This company has excellent prices, however buyer beware. The word on the street is that the customer service and live plants are hit and miss on quality. I have yet to place my order with them but I will be ordering seeds from them this year. It seems from reviews that this company is fine as long as you order seeds or small not alive items and you order early and don’t need your order to show up when it is suppose to. But GrowOrganic has a horrendous reputation if you’re ordering live plants or large items. The prices are really good so I think it’s a risk worth taking.

Territorial seeds-

Lots of selection but sometimes on the more expensive side. There has been much concern about territorial being owned by Mansanto. That is in fact a panic induced overstatement of the situation. A large seed supplier, Seminis, which sells seed to many catalogs was bought by Mansanto. Last I knew Territorial no longer buys seed from Seminis, if you’re rightfully concerned Territorial seed will happily answer your questions. For more information on this topic read this article by Northwest Edible Life-a brief history of Mosanto and the seed houses who got screwed

Potato Garden

This is a great little company that just does potatoes, garlic, onions and shallots. They have great prices but sell out pretty fast.

Filaree Garlic Farm

This is another small company that does potatoes, garlic, shallots and sweet potatoes. I love them because they are local, just a drive away in Omak Washington.

Now, go forth and order seeds!

Is there a seed company I missed that you love? Tell me about them in the comments! I might add them to my list.

seed catalogs I recommend for heirloom, open pollinated and organic varieities.

Whole Again: Wrapping up 2015

Hello my lovely folks,
I hope you all had an excellent New Years, Christmas, Thanksgiving and anything else you celebrated. It’s been quieter than normal around here; our life on the other hand has been some form of chaos for the last six months. I thought it was high time I filled in the large- er, huge may be more appropriate- gaps for you and gave you a look around our new place. Be forewarned, you might want to settle in with Kleenex and a hot drink, this isn’t exactly a rainbows and unicorns story. This has been hard for me to share because I want to inspire you, not discourage you. Rarely is the whole honest version of a story without sorrow even when it ends happily, this is no exception.

This is a set of panorama type photos of the property

[gallery size="full" type="slideshow" ids="2210,2215,2211,2216,2212,2213,2208,2217,2218,2219,2220,2221,2222,2214,2226,2227,2228,2229,2230,2231,2232,2233,2234,2235,2236,2237,2223,2238,2200,2201,2197"]

If you’ve been following along on facebook you know some of what has transpired since I graduated in June. The week of graduation was spent in frantic packing and distracted graduation party planning. Then we were loaded up and gone just two days later.
That morning was clear and beautiful. The birds were carrying on in the tangled forest just across the fence from the barn. The horses hadn’t been fed yet and watched us expectantly. The trailer and trucks were crammed with as many of our earthly possessions and small angry animals as we could fit. It was an adult version of the closet crammed so full that opening it again is dangerous to life and limb. As I finally climbed into the truck I was surprised to find myself crippled with emotions; perhaps exhaustion took the legs out from under my usual resolve. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to be moving but it wasn’t that simple. We were writing the very last page in the book that contained all our married life, and my entry into adulthood. We were leaving a community of people who had supported us during our time away from or families and the community that we grew up with. The folks in Thurston County became dear to us. We were also leaving Cal, buried there under her A-frame dog house. I was saying good bye to a college that had not just given me knowledge and skills but made me a better person. And, what were we headed to?

Yes, we had a plan, but plans rarely match the reality they try to direct. We were going to a place that was not prepared for us and there was no time left for preparations. I felt a great since of trepidation and excitement. My dreams were so close I could almost wrap my fingers around the barns, pastures, gardens, orchards and greenhouses. Very few of us start out living on the piece of heaven we dream about. Instead we save and we plan and hunt for “the place”. And then we move. Full of dreams and hopes. Excitement and confidence. And, just a little exhausted and sleep deprived. We are neither the first nor the last to have this experience. Such were my thoughts as we raced the sun home. Home. Home to stay after five years.

We might have been going home but that didn’t mean we had a house to live in. AJ’s relatives gave us a camp trailer; the first of many acts of generosity we were blessed with this summer. The camp trailer has actually worked out better than I could have dreamed. We only gained 55sqft but it feels big compared to the 240 sqft apartment in the barn.

This set includes an arial diagram, property lines and our trailer

[gallery type="slideshow" size="full" ids="2209,2225,2203,2204,2205,2202,2206,2207"]

Since there wasn’t a coop the chickens stayed in their transport crates or moved into empty rabbit cages. That was a couple miserable weeks for all of us. The temporary coop we managed to set up couldn’t have kept a half dead 20 year old Pomeranian out, let alone the predators we know call this place home. This summer was one of the hottest and driest. Rabbits don’t do well in hot weather. I had them under a pop-up with improvised feed bag walls, on the north side of a building, and I still had to battle to keep them comfortable. Every morning the chickens would migrate from their coop to the cool recesses under our trailer. They would stay there until it cooled off again at dusk. We had, and still have, stacks of storage containers, piles of animal supplies, irrigation equipment, tools, my set of good dishes, keep sakes and recycling- oh and don’t forget the chickens!- shoved under the trailer we call home.
Our permanent chicken and rabbit building, The Racken House, wasn’t finished until a few weeks ago. The morning after I moved the rabbits into the Racken House, by head lamp no less, the pop-up they had been under collapsed from our first heavy snow.

This summer I took to wearing sport shorts, tank tops and a wetted heavy cotton button up shirt to stay semi-functional through the hottest days. During our time in western Washington we had forgotten how hot the hot days are here. We forgot about the dust that coats everything. The reality of this summer was fire kill black and red pines. Blackened crumbs of wood, ash, dust, sand; that all billow up and run off to the neighbors. Dead plants parched for water. Wind that steals the moisture from your lips and the soil from under the trees but disappears on the 104 degree days when you most desperately want it.

It seemed like every day was some kind of battle. Against the weather, the dryness, the shortness of hours in a day. During all of this my husband lost an uncle, great uncle, a previous boss and his grandfather while two sets of my grandparents were in the throws of divorce. Unfortunate times?
It’s been a head down, pull the wagon up the mountain sort of time. More than once I found myself wondering if we were all going to make it to winter.

The work was so all consuming and merciless that I had forgotten why we were even doing this. What was this dream we had anyway?
We are doing this for the green pastures where fat and glossy animals graze, for the trees with birds, bugs, buzzing bees, ripening fruit and nuts. For the chickens hunting in the grass and people laughing in the shade. We are doing this to feed ourselves, to feed our community, to teach people how to be stewards of their land and animals. That is the dream.

Less than a month after we transplanted ourselves my mom was given an abrupt eviction notice. Our own unpacking and preparation for winter slammed to a halt as we shifted gears to focus on her. I’m not sure what we would have done if someone hadn’t donated a gutted trailer house for us to move to the property and set up for her. Moving my mom is a string of blurry days that lasted from before dawn to well after dark. I felt like I was chipping away at a mountain with a tooth pick. We greeted the end of her move with what can only be described as hysterical exhaustion and relief. When we finally moved the last load I thought to myself, it’s going to get easier after this. I sort of caught a glimpse of that pasture and those trees through the moving boxes.
On a Monday morning not long after I sat holding one of my cats as the last shudders of life left his soft sweet body. I was overcome with fury. Why the HELL does this have to be so hard? Yes, I really said that, and some other choice phrases. I'm no saint, hopefully you aren't too scandalized.

I thought of Jobe’s wife who told him to curse god and die.
That morning I buried my friend on a south east slope and stacked a carren that points to nowhere over him. I scratched wildflower seeds into the dirt and decided it was a good place to plant a chestnut tree. I didn’t curse god. I wanted to. But I couldn’t. My little friend had a good life from his first breath to his last. Death is an inescapable reality of life. As someone who has decided to bind themselves to the raising of food I see a lot of death. I bring about death. Knowing how starkly fragile life is has made me value life all the more.

In my frustration and anger over the direction our life seemed to be spiraling toward I made myself, the animals and the land a vow, and prayed, that things would get better. That it would not be this bad, this hard, anymore. And it wasn’t.

It seems to me that there is a force of evil, call it what you will, that works overtime to derail and destroy good things in our life, our dreams and our joys. After that, in spite of the bad that continued to happen, all the good in the universe came to our aid. We were given copious building material, everything from roofing and lumber to windows and woodstoves. Materials that helped us build the Racken house and set up my moms new house. At some point late in the summer a trickle of produce turned into a flood and I spent days on end canning produce we were given and I was thankful. Its felt like there was a haze of negativity here since my grandparents separated and the Carlton Complex fire swept through. This fall it finally started to lift. We were blessed, blessed beyond measure.
In the fall things started to slow down some. In the empty hours I faced some serious self examination. I realize that I had baggage to unpack. I had spent five years away from this place in a form of self-imposed exile while I was at college. This land is part of my soul in an inexplicable way. In order to survive those five years I had to pack away parts of myself. I used to paint, draw and write poetry. All those things had been tucked away both because college required all of me and because homesickness sucked the creativity out of me. I avoided admitting how homesick I had been for the last five years because it only could have made it unbearable to stay and finish college. I missed every rocky snow peaked mountain, every hill, shadow, sunbeam, dust moat, tree, snag, bush and creature. Being back in this place has made me whole again.


Here on the other side I look back and find it was worth every second of hardship because I am happier than I have been in years. Don’t get me wrong, I loved college. I have a slightly irrational love of learning that made college rewarding and actually fun, even though it was hard work. Now, I still learn whatever I want but I’m also finally getting to start projects I’ve been waiting to start my whole life. In 2016 I’m going to plant a small market garden, or a huge regular garden, either would be a true description. I will be figuring out the farmers market gig and hopefully find some folks who want to commit to CSA shares. I’m also planning to start selling rabbit meat for-reals, but first I have to find farmers to buy feed ingredients from, build feed storage and set up a slaughter system that works for butchering more than a litter at a time. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, we have lots to do!

And where is that all heading? What’s our plan for this place? Why, I’m glad you asked!
My goal is a farm that is focused on providing CSA shares, preserving heritage breeds, improving the land and teaching classes. Enabling people to live better by offering education is extremely important to me. Life From Scratch will continue to play a role in that, hopefully working along with classes we will be able to offer on the farm.

As I consider where the last year has taken us I feel like I could take on anything. Famous last words, right? It’s been a tough slog and I’ve gained new muscles and endurance, both mental and physical. Whatever 2016 brings I feel a peace and confidence grounded in knowing that I didn’t just survive 2015, I’m better because of it. The new year is a blank book and I’m eager to start writing.  025

Raw Cranberry Relish

This raw cranberry relish is sweetened to taste. The whole lemons, limes and oranges mellow raw cranberry relishand sweeten as they soak up the sugar but keep the relish bright. Raw cranberry relish is simple, great to make ahead and gets better with age. Make a batch of raw cranberry relish for Thanksgiving and save some to eat at Christmas too.



Certain things make it the holidays for me. Snow and wood smoke, are big. Citrus,           pumpkins, squash, Christmas music, sugar cookies and mincemeat cookies, pumpkin rolls and Brussels sprouts. But, I know the season is really beginning when its time to make cranberry relish.

raw cranberry relish       

Raw Cranberry Relish

5 bags –or 17 ½ cups fresh whole cranberries
10 oranges - unpeeled, quartered and seeded
5 lemons - unpeeled, quartered, and seeded
5 limes - unpeeled, quartered, and seeded
sugar to taste ( I go for 7 cups of sugar)

base recipe ( small batch)

1 bag or 3 ½ cups whole fresh cranberries
2 oranges- unpeeled, quartered and seeded
1 lemon- unpeeled, quartered and seeded
1 lime- unpeeled, quartered and seeded
1 1/3 cup sugar

Prep Your Fruitraw cranberry relish

Rinse your cranberries and let them drain.
Vigorously scrub your citrus with dish soap or    vegetable soap. Really put your back into it.

Maybe it’s just me, but at the store it seems like everybody and their kid has to touch the citrus. You will be grinding whole fruit up for this raw           cranberry relish so you want squeaky clean skin. If you can manage it, it would be best to make this recipe with organic citrus and cranberries. I can find organic citrus here but not cranberries. Do the best you can and don’t sweat it.

raw cranberry relishIf there are stem pieces attached to any of the fruit pop them off. Just ’cause this is a raw cranberry relish doesn’t mean it needs to have wood chips in it. Just sayin’.

Quarter the citrus and remove the seeds.


Grind Your Fruit

raw cranberry relish

I prefer a fine grind for raw cranberry relish because it helps mix the flavors and allows the sugar to really soak into the fruit.

I use an old school hand grinder ( like THIS) to make my cranberry relish but you could use an electric grinder or a food processor. You could probably use a blender if you could manage to not liquefy everything. I know I couldn’t pull it off.

raw cranberry relish

If you use a grinder make sure to put a bowl under it to catch the juice you’ll make. The cranberry relish won’t be the same without it! Just a kind suggestion, make sure the whole grinder is clean. Because the juice is going to run down it and you aren’t going to want to put that juice in your relish if it just dripped over a scuzzy clamp that hasn’t seen water in three years.

Sweeten, Stir and Wait

Once you grind your fruit mix it well and taste it, before you add any sugar. This way you’ll know the base sweetness of the relish. Keep adding sugar, mixing and tasting until you’re satisfied.

raw cranberry relish

It’s best to make this a week or so ahead. Of course, I procrastinated so this year ours will only have three days to age before thanksgiving. As it ages the fruit really soaks up the sugar and let their flavors mingle. This batch will be eaten at Thanksgiving and a few times between then and Christmas. At Christmas it will hit its peak. Sometimes there’s even a little left for new years. This relish won’t go bad easily because it’s very acidic and has added sugar. Instead it just ages and mellows and becomes more delicious, until you’ve eaten it all.
This is a simple, fun recipe. Go ahead and play with the fruit. Maybe add ginger, or pomegranate seeds even. Have fun! Get the kids to crank the grinder and don’t stop them when then want to taste everything. You’ll get a few priceless faces out of it, trust me. I have fond memories of making raw cranberry relish with my grandma, I would love to share the experience with your family.

raw cranberry relish


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