Tag Archives: harvest

How to Make Frozen Aronia Berry Wine

November 14, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you’re anything of a forager, after summer and fall, you have a freezer full of frozen berries. They can keep for a long time, and it’s easy to pick more than is necessary once you get into the bushes. Foraged berries are great. But when the next year rolls around, you need to make room. It’s time to use up those frozen berries.

Producing wine can use up quite a few. Frozen berries are easier to ferment because the freezing and thawing breaks down the cell walls of the fruit, making it easier to juice firmer berries. And just about everyone loves wine. It makes a great gift, and the wine will be done just in time for the holiday (if started far enough in advance in the fall). Clearing out your freezer will make room for fall berries, winter trout, and other game.

Personally, I had a freezer full of aronia berries from Kurt and Tina Geschwender, who live in Ponca Hills, and were gracious enough to let a friend and I pick their excess. The berries are firm and tart, a bit like cranberries, and are loaded with antioxidants. Because they are so sturdy, freezing helps to pulp them, lending to a better wine with less effort.

Finished aronia berry wine is crisp and dry with a beautiful dark maroon color. It retains the flavor of the berry.

The aronia berry wine is simple and uses the same equipment and basic knowledge discussed in my previous article “Foraging and Fermenting Wild American Grapes,” which can be found in the August 2016 issue of Omaha Magazine online. The same basic equipment used to make grape wine can be used for aronia berries.

It is essential to have a fermentation bucket, fermentation lock, and straining bag—all of which must be sanitized.

Plenty of berries, sugar, and other items are also necessary.

My recipe is modified from Winemaker’s Recipe Handbook’s cranberry recipe (the Blackberry recipe is also a solid option). The following makes one gallon of wine—or step up the quantities to make more:

  • 3 pounds aronia berries
  • 7 pints water (preferably not tap)
  • 2.5 pounds sugar
  • 0.5 teaspoon pectic enzyme
  • 0.5 teaspoon yeast energizer
  • 1 Campden tablet (crushed)
  • 1 package wine yeast (EC-1118 yeast best tolerates the antioxidant-rich aronia berries)

Adding half a pint of red grape concentrate is preferable to some, but I like to let the aronia berries shine.

First, place washed, frozen berries in a straining bag in your fermenter. Mash and squeeze the thawing pulp in the fermenter. This would be difficult with fresh, firm berries. Tie the bag and leave it in the fermenter. Stir in all other ingredients except for yeast. Cover the fermenter. Twenty-four hours later, add the yeast and cover. Stir daily. When fermentation slows to a near standstill (after about five days), remove the straining bag and pulp. After about three more weeks, siphon the wine into a sanitized glass secondary fermenter. A hydrometer is useful for assessing the progress of fermentation. In about two months, if it is clear, bottle it.

A deep, red bottle of aronia berry wine is sure to be a memorable Christmas gift to anyone lucky enough to receive one. More importantly, there’s room in the freezer for that fall turkey.

See omahamagazine.com/articles/foraging-and-fermenting-wild-american-grapes for more information on basic winemaking with wild grapes. Visit fermenterssupply.com for more information.

This article was printed in the November/December edition of Omaha Home.

Living with 
Livestock in Omaha

June 19, 2017 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Hungry for a taste of the simple life? You don’t have to sacrifice the convenient luxuries of living in the Omaha metro.

Nick Batter, a lawyer who raises livestock in the Ponca Hills area, knows how to get the best of both worlds.

From left: Nick Batter and Jill Stigge

Batter owns five acres near Hummel Park, just outside of the city limits. He says he can’t imagine any other place where a young professional can raise a pig or shoot a shotgun in his or her front yard, and then drive 10 minutes to have sushi or see a Broadway show.

Urban Logistical Hassles

After first determining whether barnyard animals are allowed in your neighborhood, Batter says there are some challenges to raising livestock in the Omaha metro.

“There’s not many people to buy livestock from,” he says. He has to go on road trips to get animals. He must be selective about breeds due to space limitations: He raises a more docile breed of pig and a shorter-legged sheep (it runs slower). He doesn’t have space to overwinter animals either.

Batter’s livestock selection changes throughout the year to accommodate his space. He gets baby animals in spring and slaughters them after the first frost. By the end of April, he already had sheep, lambs, goats, rabbits, laying hens, and was expecting four pigs to arrive soon.

Limited access to feed stores presents another logistical challenge in the Omaha metro,  he says. For a variety of reasons (including his professional schedule), he has to buy feed on Sundays, and only one store is open when he’s available—and it’s in Irvington.

Nevertheless, he says the perks of animal husbandry outweigh any hassle.

Perks of Residential Livestock

Batter says his animals mostly “live off the land,” and their diet is only supplemented by feed. His rabbits and sheep eat grass. “Goats eat everything green,” he says.

He pens the pigs under mulberry, walnut, and oak trees. So, the pigs eat plenty of berries, nuts, and acorns. Batter finishes fattening them on black walnuts, a “very American walnut,” he says.

Batter doesn’t need to mow the lawn. The sheep do it. His two border collies make sure the sheep don’t leave the property.

He says the animal pens are near his home due to space limitations. His window faces the pens, so if predators are in the area—and his animals are distressed—he knows quickly.

Batter eats fresh eggs and chicken. “Keep them warm, keep them watered, keep them fed,” he says of the chickens. “They really do the rest.” He gets two to three dozen eggs a day. “They’re producing eggs like crazy,” Batter says. “I’m not even feeding them.”

The chickens eat bugs and grass, which they prefer. Batter enjoys sharing eggs. “Sharing eggs is expressive,” he says. “Time goes into it. It’s a way to share your personal time with somebody.”

Batter practices ethical husbandry and reaps the rewards, both in food and in spirit. “I’m not divorcing myself from the process [of processing animals],” Batter says. He knows his animals have a good life. “Every day of their lives is terrific except for the last day,” Batter says, adding that it pains him to waste meat: “You realize it came from a life.” And in the case of his backyard farm, a life that he nurtured and raised.”

Do It Yourself

Before investing in urban livestock, would-be farmers must research the zoning of their neighborhood. Circumstances are different all across the Omaha metro. To be safe, the University of Nebraska’s Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Office encourages homeowners to check with neighborhood associations or county planning and zoning offices.

“There are so many different situations, SIDs, acreages, in city limits, out of city limits,” says Monte Stauffer, an educator with the county extension office. “The person who can make that decision is at the county courthouse; you just have to give them an address.”

For advice on raising chickens, Stauffer suggests reaching out to Brett Kreifels, an extension assistant with a master’s degree in poultry production. Meanwhile, Stauffer (an animal sciences and animal husbandry expert) can answer any questions about pigs, calves, horses, sheep, and goats.

Kreifels and Stauffer are available by phone at 402-444-7804. A receptionist at the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Office directs queries to the relevant experts on staff.

“You can do it for several reasons: to try to generate additional income, to produce your own food, or provide an educational opportunity to young people—giving them some chores to do, some responsibility that they may not get them in trouble,” Stauffer says.

Visit extension.unl.edu/statewide/douglas-sarpy for more information.

Eggs, sausages, and bacon harvested from the farm.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

Fall in Nebraska

September 24, 2013 by

Since I’m from Texas, we are thankful to have several friends and family visit us here in Nebraska. Even though you and I know it really is “The Good Life” (wink, wink), it turns out Omaha is not everyone’s number one vacation destination.

My favorite time to have visitors in Nebraska is October. Guests get the crisp fall at the zoo, the fun pumpkin patches, and if they look around anywhere, they’ll witness Nebraska football.

No one does harvest celebration better than Omaha-area pumpkin patches. From corn mazes to hayrides to campfires, eventually you’ll get to the pumpkins. We all have our own favorite pumpkin patch cuisines. My daughter, Lucy, likes caramel apples. My son, Max, goes straight for the fresh cookies. My husband, Chris, however, usually picks barbecue. And I get succotash.

I train my visitors to do it right. Getting extra kettle corn on Monday to take with you to the zoo on Tuesday is practically a rite of passage.

Whether they have kids or not, they have to experience Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. I explain that there’s no need for a workout; we’ll be burning plenty of calories (consumed at the pumpkin patch) while walking through the zoo. I like to guide friends through the shark tunnel in the aquarium and mention that scene in one of the Jaws movies when the aquarium breaks. When we’re right in the middle, I point at the glass and ask, “Hey, is that a crack?”

The beauty of our zoo is the accessibility to the beautiful animals. The gorillas, the Desert Dome, or dining in the Lied Jungle—it’s all a unique experience. The kids like to take our family friends to the Kingdoms of the Night. They think it’s cool and spooky. And they like to show their friends how Mom freaks out in the bats section. Real funny, kids!

Still, the best part about Nebraska in the fall is football. I’ve been telling friends back in Texas (who think they are crazy for football) about Husker football, but they think it’s bigger there. So we make them come up here and see it for themselves. My friends are always surprised at the positive spirit of football, the tailgates, and warm welcome given to opposing teams’ fans. I make them watch the news the whole time they are here so that we can see how many facets of football is worked into the news: weather, traffic, recruiting, news reports, segues, etc.

Just remember, Omaha—fall is, in this writer’s opinion, the best time of the year to introduce out-of-towners to our home.

Read more of Murrell’s stories at momontherocks.com.

Harvest Fun

August 16, 2013 by

Fun festivals don’t end when autumn rolls in—there is still plenty to do in Nebraska as the dog days of summer draw to a close and the school year begins.

Harvest festivals are a great way to celebrate the end of summer and the transition to a new season. It’s a time to enjoy the prosperous crop and an exposition for the year’s produce. Many communities statewide celebrate the harvest with their own autumn festivals.

Nebraska City’s 45th Annual Applejack Festival is one such festival. The whole family can enjoy a parade, a car show, and an arts and crafts fair from September 20-22. If activities are what you’re looking for, participate in the Fun Run/Walk, boogie at the AppleJam Carnival street dance, and stop by Kimmel Orchards or Arbor Day Farms to pick your own apples and feast on homemade apple pies and sweets.

And there’s more than just apples. You can pick your own produce at Roca Berry Farm in Roca, Neb., Martin’s Hillside Orchard in Ceresco, Neb., or Bloom Where You’re Planted Farm in Avoca, Neb. Kids will love scouring fields for pumpkins, picking raspberries, taking in the sights on hayrack rides, eating caramel apples, and exploring all kinds of farm-related activities.

After you’ve enjoyed the state’s fall harvest festivals and picked your bounty, head to one of Nebraska’s state parks for cool autumn events. Visit Mahoney State Park and gaze at the stars on August 16 and September 13, or listen to and tell great stories on September 14 at the 11th Annual Moonshell Storytelling Festival.

If adventure is what you’re looking for, head up to Ponca State Park September 21–22 for the 9th Annual Missouri River Outdoor Expo to learn about wildlife-related and outdoor recreation activities including wildlife viewing, fishing, hunting, archery, shooting sports, camping, off-highway vehicle recreation, and boating recreation.

The season may change, but the fun doesn’t have to stop!

Go to VisitNebraska.com to find more festivals and events to make your autumn truly festive.

The Best, Local Farmers Markets

July 22, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Krisha Goering has made a weekend visit to the farmers market a summer tradition for the last four years. The Millard mom, who often takes her own mother along for a little girl time, enjoys spending an hour or so each Sunday morning walking the farm stands at the Aksarben Village market and buying the bulk of the fresh groceries she’ll need for her weekly menu and beyond.

The veteran shopper says she heads to market each week with an action plan. “I know exactly what I’m going to get when I get there. I make a swing through the market with $20, and when it’s gone, it’s gone,” Goering says.

“I typically buy whatever’s in season. At the beginning of the summer, that’s asparagus and a variety of lettuces. Eggs are abundant [early summer], so I eat a ton of them, too. Come August and September, when the harvests are plentiful, I buy tomatoes two or three cases at a time for canning, and I grab a couple of bushels of green beans to freeze. I also buy cucumbers for canning pickles, as I haven’t had much luck growing [cucumbers] in my own garden.”

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Goering says she buys her fruits and veggies at the farmers market whenever possible, preferring locally-grown over store-bought, organic produce in almost every instance. “They’re simply more fresh and more nutritious. Store-bought goods just don’t ripen the same or taste the same.”

Visiting with her favorite vendors, some of whom she now considers her friends, is one of the perks of frequenting the same market each week, Goering says. “We chit-chat a bit, talk about our kids, share a little news…” she says. “These [farmers] are quality people. They work many hours a day and grow and sell wonderful product. I really respect them. But I don’t want to occupy too much of their time visiting, as I know they’re aiming to make new clients and I don’t want to cost them business.”

Omaha shoppers are fortunate in that they have three large outdoor markets from which to choose, all accessible by bus, bike, car, or foot. The Omaha Farmers Market at 11th and Jackson streets in Downtown Omaha is open every Saturday from 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The Historic Old Market, which served as a city market for local produce vendors over a century ago, today offers more than 100 vendors selling everything from fruits and veggies and baked goods and dog treats, to teas and coffees and jewelry and toys. Great Harvest Bread, The Tea Trove, Big Kahuna Kettle Corn, and Cibola are a few of the names you’ll see each week.

The same group of sponsors that produces the Downtown Omaha market also organizes the farmers market held each Sunday at Aksarben Village, 67th and Center streets. More than 85 vendors participate in this market, which offers much more than produce as well. Goods from Goodrich Pottery, Honey Creek Creamery, and Soup-n-More can be found alongside fruits and vegetables from Birdsley Road Blueberries, Shadowbrook Farms, and Hillside Orchard, among many others.

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Both Omaha Farmers Market ventures participate in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which helps financially strapped families afford healthy food options.

A third farmers market is hosted Saturdays all summer long on the south side of Village Pointe Shopping Center, 168th and West Dodge Road. A wide variety of produce from farmers within a 150-mile radius is available, as well as food and gift items from Jisa Farmstand Cheese, C&C’s Bzzz Honey, Dance in the Wind Iris Garden, and dozens of other retailers. The shopping center hosts a fun family event, Harvest Fest, on the final day of the market October 5.

Browsing the flowers, arts and crafts, yummy treats, and unique gift items at the farmers market can make for a fun, leisurely outing for some shoppers. But for health-conscious grocery shoppers like Goering—there for the fine, locally grown produce and foods and not much else—here are several tips that can help produce a fruitful visit. (Sources: Krisha Goering, tasteofhome.com, and localfoods.about.com).

  • Go early for best selection of produce, thinner crowds, and to beat the summer heat. Go late for (again) thinner crowds and the best deals; some farmers discount items at the end of the day to avoid hauling them home.
  • If you’re new to the market, make a swing through just to get an overview of what’s there. (Some markets offer a map of vendors.) Don’t buy at the first stand you see; you may find better goods cheaper down the line and have buyer’s remorse.
  • Bring your own reusable bags. Reinforced plastic or canvas bags work best and make carting produce around more convenient. If you’re buying a lot, bring a wheeled cart.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and sunscreen and bring a water bottle and your patience. You may have some waiting in line to do, and not all areas are tented with shade.
  • Be considerate of other shoppers. Don’t overstay your welcome at a busy stand, block the roadway with a huge stroller, or allow your dog to invade others’ personal space. Shopping in small groups is recommended.
  • Get to know your vendors during the market’s downtime. They may offer great food prep or cooking advice, share recipes, or give referrals to other vendors you’ll enjoy. They might also share their growing techniques or food philosophy.
  • If you’re looking to not break the bank, set a budget and stick to it. Make your grocery list beforehand and avoid impulse buys.
  • Respect the vendors. Selling their goods is their livelihood, and a farmers market is not a flea market. Don’t haggle on price. If you’re not willing to pay it, politely move on.

For more info on farmers markets in Omaha, visit OmahaFarmersMarket.com or VoteRealFood.com.

Local Farmers Markets

Omaha Farmers Market—Old Market

11th & Jackson streets

May 4 – October 19

Saturdays 8am-12:30pm

Omaha Farmers Market—Aksarben Village

67th & Center streets

May 5 – October 20

Sundays 9am-1pm

Village Pointe Farmers Market

South side, Village Pointe Shopping Center

168th & W. Dodge Rd.

May 4 – October 5

Saturdays 8am-1pm