A Simpler Summer Breakfast: Homemade Granola

As a busy (and working part-time) mom, I lack the time in the mornings to create a farmstead feast for my family. However, we have found a way for all of us to eat a filling, wholesome and delicious breakfast before we head out the door: I started making my own granola several years ago and I’ve never looked back! Continue reading

Father’s Day Feast: Easy Homemade Summer Sausage

summer sausage

Have you ever tried your hand at making summer sausage? Do you have extra ground meat (venison, beef, etc.) on hand in the freezer? If you have a hunter in the family or just need a creative way to make space for summer freezing, you can’t beat this recipe – especially as a delicious, impressive way to spoil Dad on Father’s Day. (Hint: Make it Friday at the latest, as the meat needs 24-48 hours to blend flavors.) Continue reading

6 Unique Wedding or Shower Gifts

It’s wedding season! Here are our favorite creative ideas for gifts that go way beyond the big box stores or online registries. Some are gifts we love to give, and some are ones we got for our own weddings and are still using decades later. Continue reading

Make YOUR Summer Sizzle: Master Skills For A Simpler Life!

There’s never been a better time to visit our store! Our summer class schedule is packed with informative, entertaining sessions designed to help you discover and master simpler living skills.  Continue reading

25 Ways to Use Flour Sack Towels Around the Home

One of the cornerstones of being prepared is to identify items that multitask and to embrace their use during normal times. Doing so not only saves money, but also saves storage space and eliminates having to choose which product or item to use for what.

A good example is the common Mason jar. Another is the flour sack dishtowel.

I was chatting with Backdoor Survival reader, Susan Perry, about this very same thing when she offered to share her top twenty-five uses for flour sack towels. How cool is that?

I grew up around flour sack dishtowels. I remember how my grandmother used them for everything including cleaning rags, aprons, and tidy little bundles holding dry goods. I had forgotten about them until ten years ago when I saw a package at Wal-Mart. There was no looking back and I still use those same towels today. I even embroidered them myself with colorful little cabins.

What the Heck are Flour Sack Dishtowels?

As a homesteader, I’m all about quality when it comes to basic supplies, and as an herbalist who also loves cooking from scratch, that goes double in the kitchen. I discovered years ago that when it comes to kitchen towels, flour sacks are the only way to go.

Although the term might provoke an image of rough, dusty, oversized rags, they are quite the opposite. They’re super absorbent, lint free, and vastly superior to the decorative towels you might find at a department store.

A Short History of Flour Sack Towels

It all started back in the 1850’s. Those old wooden barrels were heavy and bulky. Cotton had become inexpensive, so grain mills began shipping flour in large, thick cotton bags strong enough to hold fifty pounds.

Before long, cotton bags were being used not only for flour, but also for sugar, seeds, animal feed, fertilizer, and more. These goods were sent out to general stores and carried home by horse and wagon. Resourceful housewives soon realized that the bags’ sturdy fabric was way too useful to be tossed out. Rural families typically had limited income, and soon this packaging material was finding new life not only as towels, but also as aprons, diapers, coverlets, and even clothing.

Of course, no one wanted to wear a shirt or dress with the name of a flour company printed across the front for all the world to see. Housewives learned how to remove the labels with several rounds of soaking and washing with lye soap and bleach.

Over time, manufacturers decided they could increase their profits by upgrading the bags. They began using removable paper labels and started printing embroidery patterns onto the fabric. But the real excitement began in the mid-1920s when cotton mills started producing sacks using colorful flower prints, border designs for pillowcases and curtains, and patterns for children’s clothing, dolls, and teddy bears.

During the Great Depression, women fashioned clothing out of flour sacks.

The clever use of cotton sacks only increased during the depression years, and as clothing wore out, every scrap was put to use in beautiful, carefully designed quilts.

I’d been on my farm only a few months when I discovered today’s version of flour sack cloths. A neighbor showed me the Lehman’s Catalogue, and there they were, more than thirty inches long and almost as wide. With every week that went by, I found more ways to use them. That was twenty years ago, and I still find a new use for one every now and then.

Two Kinds of Flour Sack Towels

For homestead use, the best towels measure at least 30 by 30 inches and are thick and durable, made of pristine, high-quality cotton cloth with hemmed edges and a high thread count. With their quality and size, these are the most useful and longest lasting kind, giving good service for many years.

They are perfect for dealing with large batches of herbs and produce. I’ve used them to carry two gallons or more of blueberries from the counter to the sink.

The one thing I don’t use them for is straining herbs, yogurt, or jellies, as the thick fabric usually holds back too much of the liquid. I’ve even had the liquid squirt out the top and onto the counter when I tried to hurry things along by squeezing.

Some may think the smaller, lesser quality towels are not worth having, but I disagree. Their thinner fabric makes them the best choice for straining. They are much less expensive and readily available at discount stores such as Wal-Mart. I keep a kitchen drawer full for daily dish drying and counter wiping, and for small batches of herbs or produce.

There are other sizes and fabric choices, so hopefully the above will help you decide what you need.

Twenty-Five Ways to Use Flour Sack Towels

Ways to use Flour Sack Towels In the Kitchen:

  1. Cover bread dough and baked goods to keep them warm while rising.
  2. Wrap and cover dinner rolls and breads to keep them warm at the table and contain crumbs.
  3. Spread towels out on the counter to drain produce after rinsing.
  4. Fold a towel in half and sew a seam on the edge of the long side, and on one of the short edges. This makes a bag you can use for storing produce in the refrigerator.
  5. Line a refrigerator drawer with a slightly damp towel to keep greens, lettuce, and salad items moist and fresh. The produce won’t be harmed as it would be by plastic wrap, which can quickly cause deterioration.
  6. Sort blueberries on white towels to easily see and remove damaged berries, loose stems and bits of leaf; clean the berries by holding up one end of the cloth and rolling them from one cloth to another. Any remaining debris or tiny insects cling to the cloths. This eliminates the need to rinse the berries, which causes the skin to toughen when frozen.
  7. Use thinner cloths to strain homemade jellies, yogurt cheese, and anything else that needs straining. For large amounts, line a metal strainer with the cloth.
  8. Dry dishes, wipe counters and do general kitchen clean-up. Save trees by using fewer paper towels.
  9. Set canning jars on a towel to drain after washing; spread out a new, dry cloth to keep jars clean, avoid slips, and catch drips when filling jars with soup or other liquids for the freezer, or when filling jars with beans, grains, or other items for storage.

How to use Flour Sack Towels In the Garden and Around the Homestead:

  1. Line a peach basket with a large towel for picking small or delicate produce such as berries, beans, lettuce, and tomatoes. This keeps berries from falling through the gaps and protects produce from the rough edges.
  2. Hold the corners to carry a few handfuls of produce from garden to kitchen.
  3. Use a cloth to line a wicker basket to cushion fresh eggs as you gather and carry them from the hen house.

Ways to use Flour Sack Towels In the Home:

  1. When a cloth is stained and worn, relegate it to the box of cleaning rags. Snip off a small piece of one corner to identify it as a rag, so it doesn’t end up back in the kitchen. Use for cleaning windows, appliances, wood furniture, and cars; for blotting up carpet stains; and for general cleaning, polishing, and dusting.
  2. Fold a towel in half and sew along two edges to make a bag for protecting delicate clothing in a washing machine. These bags can also be used for storing or organizing like items, such as small toys, travel items, candy and snack bars, things to keep in the car, first aid and cosmetics. Add a button or snap to keep it closed if needed.
  3. Make a broom cover for collecting spider webs and dust in the high corners of a room, on ceiling fans, and behind furniture. Just fold the cloth in half, place the ends of broom bristles in the fold, then tie the corners together: tie the two corners on the right side, then the two corners on the left side. When finished cleaning, just shake the cloth outside and throw it in the wash.

Ways to use Flour Sack Towels For First Aid:

To use flour sack towels for first aid, wash and fold new, never-used cloths, then store them in plastic zip-close bags and keep them with other first aid supplies.

  1. Use a towel to make a castor oil pack for healing serious injuries.
  2. Make a sling to support an injured arm, hand, elbow, wrist or shoulder. Just fold the towel into a triangle, then tie the ends together.
  3. Cut a towel to the right size for use as a bandage for covering wounds or wrapping injuries.
  4. Stop serious bleeding by applying pressure with a clean towel or wrapping the towel to serve as a tourniquet.
  5. Arrange one or more towels to cushion and protect painful areas.

Ways to use Flour Sack Towels For Working with Herbs:

Prepare towels as for first aid above, and store separately.

  1. Use a towel to gather and carry fresh-cut herbs.
  2. Spread towels out on the counter to air-dry large quantities of herbs after rinsing. To dehydrate, change to a dry towel as often as needed.
  3. Crush and add hot water to healing herbs like comfrey or plantain to make a poultice; place the herbs and liquid on a towel and apply where needed.
  4. Use a thin towel to strain herbal oils, alcohol extracts, and teas.
  5. Cut a towel into pieces measuring about five by ten inches. Sew together two sides, fill with dried herbs, then sew the third side to make an herbal bath bag or aromatic sachet. These make nice gifts or a luxurious treat for yourself.

The Final Word about How to Use Flour Sack Towels

Learning how to do things in the resourceful and creative ways of earlier generations can both save the budget and be deeply satisfying. And for me and most other preppers, it’s also great fun. What additional ways have you found for using flour sack dish cloths?

Please leave a comment and share your good ideas!

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye Levy

*Editor’s Note: We are honored to welcome Gaye Levy to our blog as a guest expert contributor. Gaye teaches the principles of preparedness and a self-reliant lifestyle at her website Backdoor Survival.  As a blogger, she shares her nuts-and-bolts knowledge and common sense perspective in a way which is non-intimidating, friendly and easy to understand. 

Gaye’s emphasis is on prepping for the mainstream while doing so with compassion for others and optimism for a positive outcome, no matter what.  Her hallmark series, Twelve Months of Prepping: One Month at a Time, speaks to the need to prepare without fear and without being overwhelmed by the daunting nature of storing food, water and gear while at the same time learning life-skills such as fire-making, cooking from scratch, and making your own soaps, salves, and first aid remedies.

Old-Fashioned Easter Feast Menu

If visions of Easter hams danced through your head all winter long, yet you can’t shake the idea of some succulent leg of lamb, we have the perfect menu for you. Let both the ham and the lamb be stars, served with fresh, colorful springtime side dishes. Continue reading

Our Easter Lamb Cake Tradition

For almost 50 years, my wife’s mother made a lamb-shaped cake every Easter. A lamb was the perfect thing for our Easter dinner.

Or (since spring is lambing season), a simple spring celebration! It certainly became an important part of our family tradition. So important, in fact, that it has become a favorite birthday cake for the less-than-5-years-old set.

Our daughter celebrated her first birthday with our famous lamb cake.

How to Decorate the Lamb Cake

Over the years, decorating that lamb cake became a huge highlight of the Holy Week events for my wife and her brothers and sisters. Last year, my mother-in-law, a very special woman I loved as much as my own mother and dearly miss, went ahead of me to a better place. But she left us all with many fond memories of her. And, the tradition of decorating the Lamb Cake has been passed from her kids to her grandchildren to her great-grandchildren.

Along the way, just exactly HOW the lamb cake is decorated has acquired a whole set of its own family traditions. Here is how we decorated the lamb cake.

  • For example, everyone our family knows that the lamb’s nose must always be a
    black jelly bean. The eyes of the lamb, however, are always chosen by the youngest child involved in the decoration.
  • The lamb’s “wool” must be made of shredded coconut. The pan around the lamb becomes a bed of green died coconut “grass.” (Can you tell our family likes coconut?)
  • The bed of “grass” is decorated with jelly bean “Easter eggs” for my in-laws and malted milk “robin’s egg” candy for me. It is acceptable for all the children to snack on the candy “eggs” during the meal. This rule has been specially modified to allow one adult in the room to pick at the malted milk eggs. (Since I am the only one that eats them, I love my in-laws for passing this rule!)
  • Most importantly there must be a trail of black raisin “lamb droppings” scattered around by the tail of the lamb. The pile of black raisins, of course, brings uproarious laughter each time. Our family (both the one I grew up in and my wife’s) has lots of room for laughter. And, every Easter we laugh at that string of raisin “lamb droppings” as if we’d never seen it before.

That lamb cake was such a central part of my adopted family’s tradition that I spent years searching for the manufacturer of the pan it requires. Last year, we finally found a supplier, and I’m proud (now that I finally found the source) to share this spring/Easter/birthday tradition with you.

We think Mom got her lamb cake mold with S and H Green Stamps. Now you can own one, too! (We’ll take Visa, MasterCard, American Express, cash or check, but not S and H Green Stamps.) May it become as special a part of your life as it has been of ours!

Our Lamb Cake Recipe

If you have a “dense” cake recipe, it will probably work. (Cakes that bake light and fluffy may break when you remove them from the mold.) Instructions come with our lamb mold; most cake recipes and cake mixes will work. I thought I would also share the lamb cake recipe we’ve always used, copied from the one my mother-in-law lovingly wrote out for us:

  • 2 cups sifted flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons for baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 beaten egg whites
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Sift all the dry ingredients together. Stir shortening in mixing bowl to soften. Mix in dry ingredients.
  2. Add milk and vanilla, mix for several minutes to blend. Fold in beaten egg whites and beat for one minute.
  3. Grease lamb mold well then sprinkle with flour.
  4. Fill the half of the mold with the lamb’s face. Insert a toothpick in the nose cavity for reinforcement.
  5. Put two toothpicks in lamb’s neck for strength.
  6. Cover with other half of mold being sure it is closed tightly.
  7. Place on cookie sheet.
  8. Preheat oven to 370 degrees F and bake for 50 to 60 minutes.
  9. When cake is baked, let it cool a little before you take the top off.
  10. Frost with white icing and decorate.

At the bottom of the recipe, my mother-in-law wrote, “You can put a ribbon around the neck, but no raisins under the tail!

Galen Lehman
Galen Lehman, President, Lehman’s

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Baking in a Wood Cookstove: Cinnamon Roll Recipe!

Our talented Lehman’s bakers, Amy and Eva, have done it again! This time, these two ladies worked together to bake some ooey, gooey, delicious cinnamon rolls in our Waterford Stanley Irish Wood Cookstove (a real beauty and a kitchen workhorse, too). Continue reading