Friday, October 15, 2010

Okra Papermaking

For those of you who might not be aware, the stem of the Okra plant makes gorgeous paper. Recently I led a papermaking workshop at Earthdance Farms in Ferguson Mo for farm apprentices using okra they'd grown. Here's instructions for making your own.


Garden Clippers, Garden Gloves, Long Sleeve Shirt, Plastic Bucket, Large Metal Pot, Soda Ash (Washing Soda), recycled office paper or methoceluose (Sizing), Blender, Plastic Tub, Sponges, Old Sheets or Cloth, Old Window Screen, Duct Tape, Access to Stove and Water.

Step 1: Harvest Stems. Clip off the stems of harvested fruit. This will not kill the plant. Avoid stalks. They are generally too woody and won't make good paper. Make sure you wear long sleeves and gloves as okra plants can irritate the skin. You'll need a good size bucket to make a bucket of pulp.

Step 2: Process the Plant. You'll want to cut your Okra into quarter-inch pieces. Put them inside of a large metal pot. Fill 3/4 full. Note- some papermakers peal the bark and let fibers sit for several weeks before Step

Step 3: Add Soda Ash and Water. Amount depends on yield of fibers. Ratio is 1 Tbs per Quart of water. Boil from 4-6 hours to break down fibers for blender processing. Should be a sludgy constancy.

Step 4: Make Pulp. You'll want to fill blender 1/4 full with pulp. Add 1/4 water and 2-3 sheets of recycled paper for sizing. White office paper works best. Remember to give your blender a break occasionally or the motor will burnout. Repeat until all fibers are blended. Store in bucket with lid. Pulp will keep 2-3 weeks w/out refrigeration and is usable at any stage but will start to decompose gradually. Add bleach to counter.

Step 5: Make a Simple Mold. Cut the window screen to 5 x7 size. Cover edges with duct tape. For larger molds you can use a wooden frame. Simple fold over the edges and secure with a staple gun. Rotate edges to insure snugness.

Step 6: Pulling Prep Fill plastic bin 3/4 full with water. Add a 4-5 hearty cups of pulp to start. You can always add more. Before each "pull" stir the bottom of the mixture with your hand.

Step 7: Pull Paper. Hold the frame vertically and lower it into the water. Once it is below the water line, slowly tilt it horizontally toward you and begin to lift it toward the surface of the water. Slowly lift the frame out of the water picking up pulp. Let the frame drain over the bin for 15 to 20 seconds, then set aside.

Step 8: Remove the Paper from Mold. Lay a piece fabric (slightly larger than the mold) on a flat surface and place one edge of your frame mold on the side of the fabric. Gently ease the mold down, making sure the paper is in direct contact with the fabric. Sponge out excess water, wringing it out into the plastic bin between pressings. Once most of the water is removed, hold down one corner of the fabric and slowly peel off the mold. The paper should remain on the fabric. If it sticks to the mold, you have either pulled too fast or didn't remove enough water. Simply place the mold back down and repeat the process with the sponge to remove more water. Repeat the process.

Step 9: Pressing Paper. You can stack pulled paper that's still on fabric. If there is a flower or paper press available that will be your next step. Do note that the water will warp most printing presses. Be careful what you use. If you don't have a press move onto step 10

Step 10: Drying Paper. There are many ways to dry paper. To keep it flat transfer paper to plexi glass or a window while it's wet. You'll do this By taking the paper coated fabric and placing on window. Sponge out excess water and peal fabric away. Be careful and do this process slowly. Your other option is to let the paper dry on the fabric. Have fun.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Canning Basics

A life-long canner my mother, Peggy Hemeyer, ventured off our family farm in Frankfort MO to lead a canning crash course out of my apartment in St Louis a few weeks back. Mom towed her favorite canning ware and I invited friends. We made peach preserves, hot pepper jelly, Italian peppers and sweet pickled peppers. Not a single person walked away without a jar of something delicious.

Canning is a surprisingly simple process and so much more fun with friends. There just so happens to be a plethora of fantastic recipes online. This is one of my favorites.


4 large green bell peppers
1/2 cup fresh hot red peppers, about 12, OR 4 tablespoons crushed dried red pepper
6 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
2 bottles liquid pectin, (6 oz each)


In a large pot, place peppers that have been ground fine, (use juice and pulp), sugar and vinegar. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Add pectin. Stir well. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat; reduce heat and boil 1 minute. Remove from heat and pour mixture into hot dry, sterilized half-pint jars, leaving a scant 1/4-inch head space. Seal immediately. Process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes; remove jars and let cool upright.

Makes 8 pints.

1. For best results preheat glass canning jars in microwave. For non-breakage insurance, place them on a damp cloth.

2.Always check your lids when you're finished making sure they're sealed. Simply press on the lid. It will pop if they're not sealed.