Sometimes you pick a perfect watermelon:  firm, juicy, sweetness dripping from every piece.  Sometimes the melon could use a little bit of help.  Or sometimes you just want a little variety in the flavor department.

Several years ago I found a recipe for a lemon-and-mint-infused syrup to pour over watermelon, or over a mixture of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew.  It took a few hours to make the syrup, though.  Now that I have essential oils on hand, the flavor base takes almost no time at all!

Citrus-Mint Watermelon Salad
(enough syrup for 4-8 lbs melon while weighed with the rinds still on)

1/4 c. sugar (OR 3 Tbsp. honey)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1-3 drops mint essential oil (1 for subtle flavor, 3 for very noticeable)
6 drops any combination of citrus oils (lime, orange, lemon, grapefruit... I used 3 drops lime oil, 3 drops grapefruit oil)

Stir together the sugar and lemon juice; bring to a boil, stirring just until sugar is dissolved.  If using honey, there is no need to heat it; just stir the honey and lemon together.
Let the syrup cool slightly (if the sugar version), then add mint and citrus oils.

Pour over cut-up melon- plain watermelon or a combination of melons- and stir well to coat.

This would make a fun Fourth of July salad if you added some fresh blueberries to the watermelon.  

BONUS:  the juice left in the bottom is delicious plain (you might prefer it diluted with some water) or added to smoothies.

Elderberry syrup is known as a wonderful immunity booster and antiviral- which means it'll help knock down the flu or any other virus-caused illness.  It's also really, really delicious on pancakes.  Or a splash added to desserts or fruit salads.  Or brushed on a spice cake.  Or mixed with chilled sparkling water.  Or... you get the idea.
 Now that there's a jar in my fridge, I may have to watch to be sure my children don't sneak in and use up all my 'medicine'.   Just for that reason, I wax-sealed the lids on the jars I plan to share with others.  

I've already used it.  My family has had a nasty cold or flu this week; we've had missed school days and work days from it.  Yesterday it hit me hard, and felt like it was on the verge of turning into bronchitis or pneumonia.  I've been taking either elderberry infusion (tea) or the syrup at least three times a day since feeling it come on a couple days ago, and today I feel much better.  I suppose that may or may not have anything to do with the elderberries... but I'm keeping the routine up until I'm better!  Yum.

I started with 2 pounds of berries, used a steam juicer, and the first 2-3 cups of juice were nice and dark; strong enough to use without boiling to condense it.  The longer the berries steamed, though, the lighter the juice got, so I boiled down the last three cups to yield about 1 1/2 cups.

You'll notice in the photos below that some of those berries don't look exactly the same as the others... I have a young hawthorn tree.  It produces berries, but not yet enough to make a batch of anything yet.  The haw berries are said to be good for reducing inflammation (as well as normalizing blood pressure and helping strengthen and regulate the heart)- so I threw them in with my elderberries.  Honey is used in this instead of sugar because of its soothing, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties.

If you want to make a wax seal, paraffin works great.  I had a small ball of red cheese wax I'd saved, and used that.

Elderberry Syrup
Start with 2-3 cups elderberry juice (depending on strength)- if not strong, boil to reduce to 2 cups.  To the warm, NOT hot juice (if you want to preserve the enzymes if using raw honey), stir in these ingredients:
2 cups honey
5 drops ginger essential oil
3 drops cinnamon essential oil
2 drops clove essential oil

Store in the refrigerator.  Probably best used within a couple months- though I've had syrups stay nice for a year, refrigerated.  You could store them longer if you seal them in sterilized jars. 

To use medicinally, take a tablespoon straight or mixed in 6-8 oz warm water, every 3 hours if you're sick and an adult, or take once a day as a general immunity booster.  See the label below for more details.  

If you want to start with berries but don't have a steam juicer, and want to use the spices themselves instead of essential oils, combine 4 oz (2/3 c.) berries in 3 ½ c. water, a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and ½ tsp. cloves; Simmer until water is reduced by almost half; strain, pressing on the berries.  Cool until just warm, stir in honey.

On a related note, you can use jelly to make gourmet pancake syrup:  see here.
Actually, some of the newer "instant" powdered milks taste pretty good.  However, the non-instant dry powdered milk is generally less expensive.  It's just not so great for drinking straight.  There's more on that in the printable.

The first couple recipes are below and the next blog post will have the others.  You can get all of them without waiting, plus some extra stuff, in a two-page printable format right here.  For even more great powdered milk recipes, download the Bee Prepared Pantry Cookbook or the Wooden Spoon class booklet (see here for corrections & notes for the Wooden Spoon booklet.)
Lasagne using powdered milk?  You bet!  You can make homemade cottage cheese in 5-10 minutes.  There's even a recipe for a mock mozzarella that melts beautifully, in the Bee Prepared book.

All cost estimates are based on paying $1.89/lb for powdered milk, which is the 2013 price at the LDS Church's 'Family Home Storage Center'.

Homemade Cottage Cheese- makes about 16 oz., $ 1.00/batch

4 c. hot water                                                                          6 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 ½  c. non-instant dry milk powder                                           ½   tsp. salt, to taste

            Stir together water and powdered milk in a saucepan, heat until it starts to steam, stirring.  Drip vinegar around the edge of the pan and gently stir; it will immediately start to separate into curds and whey.  If it doesn’t, heat it up some more.  Let rest one minute.  Pour into a cheesecloth-lined colander over a bowl. Save whey, then rinse with hot water, then with cold water and break apart into the size curds you want.  Rinse for one minute or until all the whey is out. Add salt. To make it creamy, add 4-6 Tbsp. sour cream, yogurt, evaporated milk, or cream.

  The whey may be used in place of liquid (milk or water) in baking.  It has vitamins, minerals, some protein, no fat, and some milk sugar (lactose- very low on the glycemic scale.)  Since it has the acidity of the vinegar in it, you can add a little baking soda to neutralize and get extra leavening power- use 1 tsp. baking soda per 2-3 cups of acid whey; reduce any baking powder by three times the amount:  if using 1 tsp. baking soda, the baking powder is reduced by 3 tsp.

Yogurt – makes 2 quarts of plain yogurt at $ .57 per quart if using your own starter
1 ¾ c. regular nonfat dry milk, or 3 c. instant                         7 c. hot water (not over 120 degrees)
1/3 c. plain yogurt, with active cultures

Combine dry milk and 4 cups of the water.  Whisk or mix in a blender.  Add yogurt and whisk.  Add remaining water or divide the remaining water evenly between your containers; stir well after adding the milk mixture!  Pour into containers, cover, and incubate in a warm place for 4-8 hours or until set.  Tip a container after 4 hours to see if it has set.  If the yogurt is still liquid, wait 1-2 more hours.  It will set up a little more when chilled.  Store in fridge.  The ideal temperature range for culturing yogurt is 105-120 degrees.  The lower of these temperatures you begin culturing at, the sweeter the yogurt will be.  The higher, the more tart. Above 120 degrees will kill the bacteria you’re trying to grow.  Save 1/3 c. for culturing your next batch.

To flavor your yogurt after it’s made, add fruit, jam, juice concentrate, chocolate milk mix, etc., before eating.

To flavor it before culturing, use 6-8 Tbsp. of sugar per 2-qt batch,  or 4-6 Tbsp. honey (dissolve this in your water first, or it will sink to the bottom), or a 3-oz. box of flavored gelatin, or 1/3-1/2 c. jam, or 1 c. chopped or mashed sweetened fruit. The syrup from canned fruit can be used in place of part of the water.  If it’s not sweet enough, you can always add sugar when it’s done.  1-2 tsp. vanilla added to the batch is also a nice addition.  Make your own combinations- chopped cherries with some vanilla and a little almond extract, blueberries with cream cheese added, toasted coconut with caramel sauce swirled in… let your imagination run wild!

To make firm yogurt that doesn’t become thin after stirring, use 4-6 tsp. unflavored gelatin, or two envelopes, per two-quart batch.  Soften it in part of the recipe’s water, then heat gently on stove, in microwave, or over hot water, until the gelatin melts.  Add along with remaining water.

Do you ever use Pedialyte or sports drinks for sick children?  Below are some homemade, very inexpensive, and fully functional substitutes.

 We've had an impressive virus at our house lately; my 7-year-old ran a fever for an entire week (with an ear infection on top of it), and now the 4-year-old has the fever-causing virus.  Younger children get dehydrated so easily, so mine get a water bottle to keep with them at all times while sick- but it's "lemonade" water.  It really is lemonade, a little on the weak side and with salt.  I add a couple things to their water bottle, and it helps replenish the minerals and salts they lose while fevering. It tastes better to them than plain water, which helps, too.

I prefer the lemon- if you have fresh it's fantastic-, and lemon seems a little easier on upset tummies than the orange juice.  Lemon is also supposed to help alkalinize your body and cleanse the liver, both of which may help you recover faster.  The salt really is important*.  If you use unrefined coarse or sea salt, you'll also be adding critical trace minerals. (If you only have refined salt, I understand, it's OK, just not as good for our purposes here.)    For the sweetener, I use raw honey because that's what I have in my pantry.  Don't use honey if you're making this for a child under 1 year old because of possibility for botulism.  Sugar can be substituted, but doesn't have the trace minerals that honey does.  If your child likes the flavor of molasses, that's even more nutritious than honey.  My next batch will use blackstrap molasses- the amount of minerals in there are amazing!  And, after all, nutrition is the name of the game when someone's sick! This drink can also be frozen to make ice cubs or popsicles.
Note:  blackstrap molasses is not very sweet at all, and is somewhat of an acquired taste.  If I make some for myself, I tolerate the flavor, but for my children, I use no more than 1 Tbsp. blackstrap and 1 Tbsp. honey.  Using regular molasses is much more palatable to children, and even then I recommend using half molasses and half honey.

Lemon Electrolytes

16-oz  bottle of  water
3 Tbsp lemon juice or juice from 1 lemon (grapefruit juice works too)
1/8 tsp. unrefined salt
2 Tbsp. honey and/or molasses 

Pour about 1/2 cup of water out of the bottle (you're drinking it, not dumping it, right? :)  Add the lemon juice, salt, and honey or molasses. Put the lid on and shake hard.

If you want to mix up a bigger batch to keep in the fridge, use 1 quart of water, 1/2 c. lemon juice, 1/4- 12 tsp. unrefined salt, and 1-6 Tbsp. honey or molasses.  Makes a little more than a quart.

Orange Electrolytes

One 16-oz water bottle, half  full
1/8 tsp. unrefined salt
1 tsp to 1 Tbsp. honey or molasses
about 1 cup orange juice

Add salt and honey/molasses to the bottle, put the lid on and shake hard until mixed well.  Fill the bottle up the rest of the way with orange juice.

Bigger batch: 2 c. water, 2 c. orange juice, ¼- ½ tsp. unrefined salt, 1 Tbsp. honey or molasses.

*The recommended salt amount varies from 1/4 per quart to 1 tsp. per quart. Since I'm feeding this to children, I use the lower amount.  Recipe sources I looked at include the University of Connecticut Health Center, The Rehydration Project, Southern Utah University,, and

Nutrition facts:
lemon juice 
orange juice
blackstrap molasses

No, this one doesn't have any wine in it; it's not THAT kind of cooler.   It just... makes you cooler.  Both ways.  (Right?)

This is great for using overripe fruit, which is what I happened to have sitting on my countertop.  The pear needed a couple bruises cut off, then it was ready to become part of a cold, refreshing, lightly sweet drink with a hint of mint.

1 pear
1 banana, the darker the better
one 4" sprig of fresh mint
1 tray of ice cubes
2 cups water
1-2 Tbsp. honey, optional

Put all in a blender, run on high until smooth.  Makes about 4 cups.
Have you ever needed the juice of half a lemon, or just a couple teaspoons of it, only to 1) not have a lemon, or 2) not want to mess with it?

I have.  Lots. 

Besides that, sometimes lemons are cheap, and sometimes they're pricey, so I stock up only when they're cheap.  To take advantage of good prices and a free hour in the day, I make frozen lemon juice.  Or lime juice.  Or grapefruit.  Whatever.  I usually do this when I have 3-12 of whichever fruit I'm using.
If you want to use or save the zest, start by washing and drying the fruit.  Take the zest off with a microplane, a zester, or a vegetable peeler, and set it aside on a plate.  To see one way of storing it for later, see Homemade Orange Flavoring.  

Juice the fruit, then pour the juice into ice cube trays.  My trays take 1 cup to fill the whole thing, which means each of the 14 spots holds just under  1 Tbsp.   Yours may be different.   After they're frozen, pop them out and store in a ziptop bag.  Be sure to label it.

One medium lemon contains 2-3 tablespoons of juice, so 2-3 cubes will be the right amount.  One lime has about 1 1/2 - 2 Tbsp. of juice, so 2 cubes is about right for a whole one. 

When I want some warm lemon water, I heat a cupful of water, then drop a lemon juice cube into it and stir to melt. 

These are also good to toss into a pan sauce, especially for chicken or fish.

And if you add one to a fruit smoothie, it perks up the flavor.

You'll find a ton of ways to use these!  -what are your favorites?

Merry Christmas!

Here is a simple thing to make with your family- hot chocolate.  There are a few different ways to make it-  you can add chocolate syrup to milk, or you can melt a chocolate bar into milk, or you can make it the old-fashioned way, starting with unsweetened cocoa.  It’s really fast and easy.

May you have a wonderful Christmas, full of the spirit of love and of God.


Homemade Hot Cocoa

1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. sugar or honey
1 cup milk
Pinch of salt, ¼ tsp. vanilla, optional
Stir together the cocoa powder and sugar.  Stir in 2 Tbsp. milk, mix until smooth.  Bring to a boil, either on the stove or in a microwave.  This is to dissolve the sugar and bring out the flavor of the cocoa.   Stir in the remaining milk, the salt, and vanilla.  Heat to the temperature you like. Top with marshmallows or whipped cream if you have them.

This recipe can be sized up to whatever you like.  I usually make a 4-cup batch, using the microwave, and a canning jar for my cooking container.  

This makes a ‘milk chocolate’ flavor.  If you like it darker, use 1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp. cocoa.  If it’s bitter, add the same amount additional sugar.

 For mint chocolate, use whatever form of mint you have- mint extract, peppermint patties, or crushed candy canes.

For raspberry flavor, you can use 1 Tbsp. of raspberry Jello powder instead of the sugar.  Orange is another good flavor to make this way.

If you like richer cocoa, use whole milk, or a bit of cream, evaporated milk,  or half-and-half.   

To make it frothy, use a blender, or an immersion blender, to whip it.  This works especially well if you used powdered milk!
The cocoa and sugar, ready to be stirred.

Add as much milk as you have of the sugar and cocoa- in this case, 2 Tbsp.  You want to make a smooth, pancake-batter-consistency slurry.

Bring it to a boil to dissolve the sugar and 'bloom' (bring out the flavor of) the cocoa.  Once it's at this point, add the rest of the milk, along with salt and vanilla if you want them.