Don’t eat all your mistakes

There’s a fairly common mantra in homesteading circles: “You can always eat your mistakes.” This is most often applied to livestock ownership, such as when a breed turns out to be poorly suited to your property or management style. When we realized that the only thing worse than owning Lakenvelder chickens would be allowing them to reproduce, we took this advice to heart. Our freezer is still stocked with tiny roosters.

For all our homesteading ideals, we don’t strictly adhere to the “eat your mistakes” rule. We aren’t starving. We have no problem throwing out inedible food. This post summarizes some of our failed food projects that were recently cleared from the cupboard.

Dandelion Wine

I have a bad track record with wine so far. Beer is more straightforward: brew, ferment for two weeks, age for two weeks, drink. Wine, on the other hand, requires fermentation, then monthly racking, and then aging for a year or more. In May 2009 I made dandelion wine. I racked it once in July 2009. Since then the 1 gallon carboy has sat on top of the fridge undisturbed. Originally it sat on the dorm fridge, and later it moved to the full size fridge. The house was virtually gutted and reframed around it. Occasionally we would eye the bottle suspiciously. What are the conditions for botulism again?

Last week we finally pulled out the air lock. (Hardly functional, given that the water had quietly evaporated from it.) I tentatively poured a sample and took a taste. Hmm. Not bad. Actually, much better than I expected. There were only a few off flavors from the accumulated yeast cake and no hint of vinegar. On the other hand, it wasn’t especially good: cloy sweet with no balancing fruit character. Perhaps Robin and I just don’t like sweet country-style wines. I drink mostly etch-your-teeth hoppy northwest beers and Robin drinks dry red wine. Neither of us wanted to drink 4500 calories of hypersweet slightly-off wine.

I’ve heard that with a distilling rig and a bit of disrespect for the U.S. government’s ridiculous stance on home distilling you can turn the most abysimal fermentation projects into quite drinkable vodka. Maybe some other year. The wine went down the drain.


Robin did quite a bit of pickling with 2011’s garden harvest. The fermented pickles went awry, but she also made zucchini pickles, dilly beans, tarragon cucumber pickles, pickled cauliflower and zuccchini relish. The dilly beans turned out delicious. We’ve also eaten several jars of the pickled cauliflower and enjoyed them. We will make both recipes again next summer. We haven’t tried the zucchini relish yet, but there are hotdogs in the freezer for that purpose. The tarragon pickles looked pretty:

But tarragon pickles taste pretty awful. Robin’s extensive description of the flavor is thus: gross. (Robin is not someone who discovers notes of currants, leather, and earth in her red wine either.)

Robin made zucchini pickles from a recipe on page 159 of the book Canning for a New Generation. She shared a jar with one of our neighbors and the two of them cross referenced their opinions.

The conclusion was that someone somewhere would like this pickled zucchini recipe. We were not those people. Flavors of vinegar and cumin dominated. Zucchini was nowhere to be found.

Dried Zucchini Chips

In theory, zucchini chips sound like a great idea. You take an abundant summer resource (runaway zuchini production) and turn it into a crunchy snack food. It’s like healthy homemade potato chips!

In practice, these are no substitute for proper snack foods (like popcorn). Our attempts at zucchini chips turned out bland and tasteless. Perhaps the secret is in the flavorings. We tried both salt & pepper and ranch dressing spices, but nothing was sufficiently zesty to hide the fact that these are the vegetable equivalent of cardboard. This past week, bags of zucchini chips went into the chicken pen. The chickens quickly ate all of them, but I wouldn’t read too much into that. No animal which will dig through poop looking for worms should be relied upon for culinary advice.

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20 Responses to Don’t eat all your mistakes

  1. Snowbrush says:

    Darn, I was looking forward to tasting some of that dandelion wine. It’s something I’ve heard about all my life but never tried. The pictures were great.

    • lee says:

      I still might try to make it again, but only in a half gallon. Glad you liked the pictures. I guess the best thing you can do with bad food it is make it look pretty. 🙂

  2. Ann says:

    Well, Lee, that was certainly a virtual culinary diaporama. They’re not all winners, but at least we try. That’s more than most people can say.

    Or maybe it’s just that we’re particular. I have a friend – no kidding – who eats roadkill and makes coffee substitute from chicory he picks from the roadside. If it’s forage-able, he’s on it. And if forage-able isn’t a word, it’s in his dictionary for sure. He’d probably be in paradise living in your chicken coop. I had some dandelion wine at his house that was so terrible I poured it into a plant when he wasn’t looking. I hope the plant didn’t die.

    Anyhow. Failure is an integral part of success. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ali says:

      Love that you’ve shared those failures with the world. Time for me to take a glance into the dusty recesses of my canning cupboard and do the same.

      • lee says:

        Well, perhaps we can save someone out there from making Hot Cumin Pickles unless they really like cumin. I think it’s only natural to want to write about successes and forget about the failures, but this does convey a lopsided view of the whole experience.

    • lee says:

      Your roadkill collecting friend sounds very … adventuresome? I like the idea of wild foraging, but I draw the line at animals. Guessing the age of a racoon plastered on the freeway is a skill I hope to live without.

      I’d love to try Chicory coffee at some point, but I’m more interested in the plant as a livestock forage. I went to quite a lot of trouble making ‘coffee’ from cleaver seeds once and I’m supicious that the only similarity between most coffee substitutes and actual coffee is the color of the brewed liquid.

  3. Oh, do I feel your pain. We have not one carboy, but 6, of three vintages of dandelion wine in our basement. We’ve tasted them periodically, and some are better than others. But after all that work, no matter how bad it was, I don’t think I could bring myself to pour it down the sink. I admire your principled fortitude.

    And, about those tarragon pickles. There are some herbs and spices that are very dangerous to mess with. As we speak, I have a batch of pickled eggs with star anise that will go the way of your tarragon pickles.

    But we learn, don’t we? We learn.

    • lee says:

      Wow, I don’t know if I could pour out 6 carboys of Dandelion wine either. This was only a gallon, and represented only a couple hours of flower picking and separating.

      We also have a 3 gallon carboy of blackberry wine upstairs. I’m more optimistic about it, although I have no real reason to be. It’s never been racked, and it’s about a year and a half old.

      I’m going to keep your warning about tarragon in mind. We had never used the spice prior to that recipe.

  4. Benita says:

    I love your candid review of some of yours and Robin’s experiments. At least you know what not to try again, and some came out as repeart worthy. Did you ever have lime pickles when you lived in Indiana?

    • lee says:

      I don’t think I even heard of lime pickles while in Indiana. Robin had a lime pickle recipe she wanted to make this past summer, but we never found a local source for food grade lime.

  5. Ron says:

    I think that is part of why chickens fit in so well with gardening and preserving. There isn’t much that isn’t edible for a chicken. 🙂

    • lee says:

      When I first read your comment I thought you said that chickens “don’t fit in so well”, and I was picturing chickens in the summer breaking into the garden and eating a bit of everything.

      But yeah, usually it’s handy that chickens will eat most things. They are like a universal garbage disposal. Since we sell their eggs, we only given them vegetable scraps, but I know many people will feed meat products and leftovers to their chickens too. If there’s a downsie to all of this it’s that our compost pile doesn’t grow nearly as fast as it might otherwise.

  6. becky3086 says:

    We love zucchini chips dipped in ranch dressing (homemade, of course), as for wine, I am hoping to try cranberry wine this year. I am not a wine drinker so probably won’t know if it is good or not but I want to try it. I have canned lots of things that we never have eaten but you just never know what might be good until you try.

    • lee says:

      That’s a good tip about the ranch dressing with the zucchini chips. I also wonder if we dried them too much, or perhaps used too large of zucchini. Oversized zucchini can be fairly awful, so I wouldn’t expect them to be much better in dried form.

  7. Megan says:

    These stories are all too familiar! My family still likes to remind me of my new recipe for creamed carrots! Ugh!

    • lee says:

      Ha ha. Yeah, we probably only like about half the new cooking recipes we try, but that doesn’t discourage us from trying.

  8. Lynn says:

    Ha, I betcha I could add a few sections to this post! 😀

  9. Quintin says:

    My wife and I thank you for a hearty laugh.

    • lee says:

      Ha! Well, I’m glad someone benefited from it. Recently we created another inedible product: dehydrated green beans. We have had freeze-dried beans as a snack food and they are crunchy and delicious. In contrast, dehydrated green beans are like eating salty pieces of scrap rubber.

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