Honoring the Humble Mason Jar — Nov. 30th National Mason Jar Day

These glass jars can be bought new or older jars hunted as collectibles. Whether you enjoy a mason jar gifted to you . . . , can your own, or . . . as a collectible, these jars are still a useful home item in our modern world!

Venison and pickles canned in glass mason jars.November 30th – National Mason Jar Day!


Mason jars can conjure nostalgic memories for a lot of folks.

This staple item in folks’ homes was used to preserve food for use throughout the year. Families were able to survive, stretch their food budget, and enjoy wholesome foods when they “put up” their stores of extra food they were unable to eat right away.

Sweet jellies and jams, tart and crunchy dill pickles, and thick tomato juice might be taste treats some folks remember. Also, there is the very welcome “ping” sound each jar lid needed to make as it made a “good” seal after being removed from the heat processing and the cooling down began.

Three mason jars. Two pints and a quart size. All 3 have dry food ingredients in them. The first is a square jar. The other 2 are round.These glass jars can be bought new or older jars hunted as collectibles. Some antique jars in rare colors or with misprints are highly sought after. Common brands were Ball and Kerr, and common glass colors were clear and aqua. Other less common colors are rare finds and more valuable. Should you want to learn more, information is available online.

In addition to canning food via a pressure cooker or hot water bath, mason jars can be used for jams or jellies with a canning wax seal. Dry goods, candies, potpourri, and other small items can be stored in these handy jars. Small mouth and large mouth mason jars side by side with butter knife on top for scale. Cheerios and chocolate chips in each of 2 jars.Choose your size “mouth”  or jar opening in regular or large mouth. Sizes for mason jars are: 2 quart, 1 quart, pint, half pint, and quarter pint.

If you want to carry out a mason jar decorator theme, you can find handled mason jar style cups, mini salt & pepper shaker mason jars, or footed goblet jars. You can also just incorporate dry bulk food storage in mason jars for your kitchen décor. We have used the 2 Quart size for dried bulk foods for years.Three Two quart size mason jars with chocolate chips, beans, and cheerios in them respectively.

Whether you enjoy a mason jar gifted to you with an edible treat, can your own, or buy the jars as a collectible, these jars are still a useful home item in our modern world! Here’s celebrating the Mason Jar!

Ways You Can Enjoy History

. . . learning a skill puts a new perspective on history and you might find the key to enjoying history too.

Great Hall porch looking through the doors of the Great Hall toward the Kitchen doorIn a previous post, I shared how historical reenactments can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Would it surprise you to know that I hated learning about history growing up? It definitely would surprise my reenactor friends to know that at an earlier time in my life I couldn’t understand why people would dress up in those “funny clothes” and sweat all day while pretending to live in an earlier time period. Well, I actually ended up doing just that and loved it!

As I look back over my family’s reenacting years, I realize that we usually learned 1-2 new skills a year. Learning a new historical skill is something anyone can do whether or not you think you’ll ever reenact history. Also, learning a skill puts a new perspective on history and you might find the key to enjoying history too.Equipment used for power generation

Here are some ideas or areas you could choose to explore if you want to learn a new skill or try to enjoy a part of history.

Paper making
Basics of traditional book binding
Wood carving
Splitting wood
Fire starting
Campfire cooking
Bread making from scratch
Sourdough bread making
Making butter
Wine making
Fashions of specific historical periods
Artworks of specific historical periods
Basket making
Pine needle basket making
Knot tying
Courting/Marrying/Burying customs
Child rearing practices
Herbs and their historical uses (Thieves essential oil blend)
Candle making (beeswax, tallow)
Leather goods
Folklore remedies and medicinals
Accoutrements of defense and war

From the above list, you might get the idea we are preppers or survivalists, but we just have a love of history.

Autobiographies can be an intriguing way to learn about history as well as a specific person. Historical terms can be fun. Do you know the origin of SHIT? The phrase, “It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey” can be an interesting conversation starter. Do you know what it means?

Brick arched, recessed window well inside museumThere are so many fun, interesting things to learn about related to our history. I encourage you to get a book or video from your library on a topic of interest. You could also “Google” or use YouTube to learn about your area of interest. I’d love to hear what historical interests you have. Feel free to share in the comments section.

More Forgotten Kitchen Gadgets

All of these gadgets can be found in antique stores. Part of the fun is finding them and then using them. I hope you’ll find some practical uses for one or two of these gadgets in your kitchen.

Pastry Blender in a bowl with flour, butter and brown sugar.Some forgotten kitchen gadgets are handy tools in the modern kitchen.

Still useful are the pastry blender, rolling pin, and hand held grater.

If you like to make pies from scratch and for whatever reason choose not to own a food processor, do yourself a favor and make sure you’ve got a pastry blender tool in your kitchen drawer. A pastry blender simplifies mixing the fat into your flour when making pie crust. It will help you get the flour and fat mixed and cut into the pea size pebbles you are after in the mixing process. Handheld pastry blender next to butter knife for scale.I find I need to use a knife to clean fat off the pastry blades until I get a good start on the mixing process. Also, if you use a high sided bowl, it minimizes getting flour all over your work surface. If you don’t have a pastry blender, you can get the same results with a knife and fork although it will take you longer. Just place the knife through the fork tines, drop the utensils into the oil and flour mixture and pull the knife through the fork tines. Raise the knife and fork and repeat. Move the knife and fork around in your bowl to keep cutting the oil or lard into bits. As you cut bits they will get coated with flour and after awhile your bits will be pea size. Your knife and fork substitute for the pastry blender.

Rolling pin next to butter knife for scale.A rolling pin can be used to roll dough out when making cookies, biscuits, or pie crust from scratch. It can also come in handy when wanting to flatten store bought biscuits or crescent dough. If you are new to using a rolling pin, note it is a skill that gets better with practice. Also, homemade pie crust carries that signature look that you did it yourself, and that is a good thing. The more you roll dough, the easier it becomes to push the dough where you want it to go with the thickness you want. Talking to seasoned pie makers to get tips and tricks for pie crust is a good idea. If you don’t have a rolling pin, you can substitute an object that has smooth sides, a reasonable width, and that will roll. Consider a glass bottle, water bottle, or an oil bottle. Remove any paper label and make sure the container will handle pressure as you don’t want to break the container and hurt your hands. I’ve used a glass bottle carefully when I needed a rolling pin. Maple is a popular wood choice for rolling pins. The small rolling pin on the cutting board with  the dough and cheese curds is made from Osage. You can choose from all sizes of rolling pins. croissant dough on cutting board with cheese curds on 1/2 of dough and rolling pin off to the sideYou also have a choice on your rolling pin handles. Some have handles that are integral with the pin and some have an axle that allows the body of the rolling pin to spin. Pete inherited an older, maple rolling pin from his Great Grandmother that I hijacked. It is ever so slightly oblong instead of round, but still does the job fine!

Two sizes of the Wonder Shredder (grater) with a butter knife between for scale. One grater does a fine shred and the other a medium shred.Pictured here are two sizes of grater called “Wonder Shredder.” Even if you have a food processor, these hand held gadgets are great if you only want to shred or grate a small quantity of something. Clean up is super easy too. Wash and dry when done. If you don’t have electricity or just want to simplify, these graters do the job. I’ve used them on cheese, zucchini, lemons, oranges, and apples.

All of these gadgets can be found in antique stores. Part of the fun is finding them and then using them. Make sure the pastry blender metal isn’t too bent out of shape or rusty. Check rolling pins for cracks and any warpage. Look for graters with the metal in good shape and rust free. I make it a point to clean these items right after using them so food doesn’t get a chance to dry on the gadget. Hand drying with a dish towel is a must after washing. Also, I don’t use dish soap on my rolling pin. Instead, I use hot tap water.

I hope you’ll find some practical uses for one or two of these gadgets in your kitchen. Check out the first Forgotten Kitchen Gadgets post, and be on the look out for a future post on more kitchen gadgets. What is your favorite kitchen gadget?

Historical Reenactments are Fun for the Whole Family

You’ll miss out if you don’t talk to the reenactors. Ask questions or strike up a conversation. Inquire about what’s for supper. The majority of reenactors will gladly converse with you.

Front of the Great Hall at Grand Portage National Monument with Mt. Rose in the background.Are you looking for a fun event or activity your whole family can enjoy?

And do you really, really want your children to hopefully learn something in the process? Give a historical re-enactment a try!

If you walked into a Midwest Rendezvous encampment, you would see a lot of white canvas tents in a variety of shapes and sizes as well as some tipis with lodge poles extending toward the sky. People of all ages would be dressed in long sleeves unless their morals aren’t up with societal expectations. Meat roasting over an open campfire, children hauling wood and water to their camp as well as running and playing would be other sights. Women might be putting together a pie for supper or sitting and sewing while they visit with one another. Vendors would be selling a variety of trade goods, sewing notions, beads, hats, clothing and toys. Items from the “period.” You may also see a variety of friendly competitions of knife throwing, shooting, and tomahawk throwing.Reenactor making pies in the kitchen.

All across America, all sorts of history is being relived by historical reenactors. Revolutionary War, French & Indian War, Civil War, Fur Trade Era, Renaissance, Mountain Man and Rendezvous. There are many more historical venues than those mentioned here. Check your local county historical society and historical parks for possible opportunities. Also, look at a state’s tourism guide for events.

White canvas tents in green field with evergreens and blue sky in background.You can attend an event and soak it all in as you walk through and check out displays and watch scheduled performances. However, you’ll miss out if you don’t talk to the reenactors. Ask questions or strike up a conversation about politics of the era. Inquire about what’s for supper or what is cooking over the campfire. Observe how their daily life is different from yours and ask polite questions. It is important to use your manners when conversing and also to respect their property and accoutrements. Do not enter tents uninvited or touch items  without permission. The majority of reenactors will gladly converse with you, and share about their belongings and daily life.Campfire with fish being smoked over it, birch bark lodge, and birch bark basket.

Beware—attending a historical event can be contagious! You just might get the “wild hair” to start reenacting. There are so many facets to reenacting. Clothing, shoes, toys, foods, cooking methods, music, dance, crafts, tentage, military uniforms, language, religion, eating utensils, and phrases just to name a few. With all these facets there is bound to be something everyone in the family can enjoy. Oh, this is in addition to the period foods that are great to try. There are usually vendors selling interesting foods of the time period.Wild ricing display

Find an event, go and enjoy, and then plan to springboard more learning from something you or your children really liked. Intrigued by the Dutch oven or campfire cooking? Want to know more about a specific general and their battle strategy? Wonder what life as an endentured servant was like? Hit your library or the internet and learn more. Oh, and don’t forget to mark your calendar for next year’s event! Your gonna wanna be there.

P.S. Check out the post about Rendezvous Days in Grand Portage, MN the second full weekend in August. This is a fabulous event!

Forgotten Kitchen Gadgets

Need an excuse to hit the thrift stores or garage sales? Plan to add these handy gadgets to your kitchen.

Foley Food Mill on top of bowl with pureed peaches in bowl and peels in food mill.Some of these forgotten gadgets may bring back childhood memories of Grandma’s kitchen and delicious foods.

These kitchen tools may be antique or bought new, but they still earn their keep in the kitchen. It is time to dust them off and put them back to work!

Do you know about the Foley Food Mill? If your making jams, fruit butters, or any type of puréed foods, your gonna wanna use one of these. Why? Because it saves you time.

We recently made peach butter from over ripe peaches. Half bushel box of over ripe peaches.We washed the peaches, cut off any really bad spots, quartered and pitted the peaches, and put them in the pan to cook with some liquid. We didn’t peel them which saved a lot of time. When the peaches were tender, we ran them through the food mill. To operate the food mill you turn the crank which makes the blades turn and the blades push the food through the sieve holes in the bottom of the food mill. The skins stay in the bowl. After a bit, the skins clog the bowl. When this happens, you turn the crank handle in the opposite direction and the “gunk” is scraped from the bottom of the food mill bowl. Remove it and put in your compost or garbage. It’s that easy. If you are making applesauce, it’s ok to not worry about removing seeds prior to cooking the apples as the food mill will catch them. When all of your fruit is puréed, your ready to eat it or prep for your jam making. Our peaches prepared this way made a great peach jam — which really turned out closer to a butter. It was delicious! You can read more about our overripe peach workup at the “Foley Food Mill is your BFF for Making Jam” post. My husband has used the Foley with tomatoes, peaches, cherries, pears, apples, and plums.

You can buy the Foley Food Mill new online, but we like the older ones better. Keep your eyes open at thrift stores and garage sales. We’ve seen three sizes of food mill and prefer the medium size. (Note: the butter knife in gadget pictures is for size reference.) Foley Food Mills are easy to clean. There is a screw on the bottom that allows you to remove the handle/blade portion to separate it from the bowl. Wash and dry the food mill to prevent rust.

Another great kitchen tool is the potato masher. Pictured here is a galvanized cast iron version. Butter knife for scale and galvanized cast iron potato masher. Round masher bottom with many small holes in it.Mashers can also be made of heavy wire or a combination of wire and pressed metal. You use it to hand mash potatoes or turnips. You could also use it to mash cauliflower if you’re making mock potato salad for low carb or Keto. To use this tool, just mash it down on your cooked and drained vegetables over and over until you are satisfied with the consistency. Of course, you can add other ingredients like butter, milk, and spices and continue to mash. This tool works great for mashing vegetables in soups too. We have used it to stamp the top of Christmas fudge candy so we could tell the orange chocolate pieces from other flavors. The light stamp left little “o’s” on the fudge. When you use this, clean it right away. You do not want dried food in those holes. Use a tooth pick if needed to scrap each hole. Dry the masher to prevent rust.Butter knife for scale and small and medium sized glass custard cups, one each.

The third and last forgotten gadget in this post is the humble custard cup. Note, I’ll be sharing more forgotten kitchen gadgets in a future post. My introduction to the custard cup came in my one required college cooking class. We used custard cups to premeasure ingredients. Then, when it was time to mix a recipe, adding ingredients flowed easily. Now, occasionally, I will premeasure things like spices or vanilla. In this cooking class I also learned to make pop overs and we baked them in glass custard cups. Popovers are an easy treat to make.

Two small custard cups with vanilla ice cream topped with homemade peach butter and a spoon in each cup.We usually use custard cups and little bowls to eat snacks and desserts from. They are a nice portion size. The picture showcases our homemade peach butter on vanilla ice cream — yum! Currently, I have 2 sizes on my kitchen shelf: small and medium. I have had the large, cereal bowl size in the past. You can trip across glass custard cups at thrift stores and garage sales. I prefer them in glass but I think I’ve seen plastic ones at discount retailers. Pyrex and Fire King are nice brands I have used. Also, the small cups are great for item catchers in drawers or on counters. Put rings and other jewelry you want to temporarily take off and not lose in these cups.

In summary:

Foley Food Mill: purée fruits, easier jam prep
Potato Masher: mash vegetables in soup or to prep mashed dishes
Glass Custard Cups: premeasure food ingredients, portion control, item catchers, bake popovers

Need an excuse to hit the thrift stores or garage sales? Plan to add these handy gadgets to your kitchen. Both the food mill and masher are great if you are someplace without access to electricity.
What is your favorite forgotten kitchen gadget?

Foley Food Mill is Your BFF for Making Jam

The beauty of using the FFM (Foley Food Mill) is that you get the pulp without having to peel your fruit before cooking it. While you can buy new Foley Food Mills, our experience had been that the older ones work better. We always keep an eye out for them.

Foley Food Mill on top of bowl with pureed peaches in bowl and peels in food mill.There are a few tried and true kitchen gadgets that earn their keep on your shelf.


The Foley Food Mill is definitely a must have for making jams, applesauce, and puréed foods.

We recently put ours to good use when we purchased a half bushel box of over ripe Freestone peaches. We gleaned the ones we could eat over the next few days and prepped the rest for cooking. Half bushel box of over ripe peaches.We washed, cut off bad spots, took out the pits and cut the peaches into chunks. We didn’t have to cut in small pieces with using the Foley Food Mill (FFM). We then cooked the peaches till tender. These peaches had a lot of liquid so we took out extra while cooking the peaches. We added it later to the pulp before making the peach jam.

To make the pulp you run the cooked peaches through the food mill by turning the handle. The handle cranks the blade which smushes the contents through the sieve holes. The pulp is what comes through the sieve holes leaving the fruit skin or peels in the food mill bowl. Occasionally you need to crank the handle backwards which scraps the peels off the sieve surface. You can remove the peels from the bowl before adding more cooked peaches to begin the process again. Continue until all your cooked fruit is turned into pulp. If you are running cooked apples through the mill, the peels and seeds get caught in the food mill bowl. Thus, you only clean, quarter and cook the apples. The Foley Food Mill is a fantastic time saver!

Large pan with steam rising from pan of cooking peaches. A large spoon is in the pan.The beauty of using the FFM is that you get the pulp without having to peel your fruit before cooking it. Once you have the pulp, you can go on to making your sauce or jam.

We made peach jam with our pulp. It turned out great and was almost a peach butter without all the extra work. Of course cinnamon was added to it! We used different sugars for each batch. We tried turbinado, coconut sugar, brown sugar, and white sugar. We liked the coconut sugar the best. It was a fuller, richer, molassessy taste. We also used the pulp to put in our protein shakes.Peach pulp after being run through Foley Food Mill in a large bowl with large spoon on top.

We use canning wax to seal the jam. Melt canning wax and pour at least 1/4 inch of wax on top of the still warm to hot jam filled jars. Let cool completely before placing lids on jars. As you know from reading my posts, Pete doesn’t always follow directions. The recipe that we used for this jam came with the package of fruit pectin. But, Pete used it more as a guide. Thus the wiggle room on the temp of the jam for wax sealing.Peach Jam in pint, half pint and quarter pint jars with white plastic lids.

For the backstory during our jam making, be sure to check out my blog about Managing when Your AC is Being Repaired. We bought the box of over rip peaches because it was such a deal compared to buying a small bag of peaches. However, upon returning home with the over ripes, we discovered the AC was broken. We persevered and got the peaches worked up over several days even without AC. We did the work in the evening knowing it would be cooling down a bit at night.

A couple of last thoughts for you about the Foley Food Mill. The bottom screw comes undone to separate the bowl from the crank/blade combo. This makes for easier cleaning. While you can buy new Foley Food Mills, our experience had been that the older ones work better. We always keep an eye out for them and keep a few on hand to give to folks we know. You can be on the look out for them at antique stores and garage sales and often get them for a couple of bucks. Happy hunting and jam making!Peaches cooking with a rolling boil on stove with stirring spoons in pan.

Rocket Stove Part 2

While the Big Brother and Little Brother Rocket Stoves are both portable, you can set up a more permanent rocket stove with bricks.

Brick Rocket Stove in covered outdoor kitchen.

Love outdoor cooking?

Get ready to be inspired to begin your outdoor cooking adventures.

In follow up of the “Ready to Cook Off Grid with a Rocket Stove” post, we’re sharing more information as promised. Your gonna love the versatility of this type of stove.

Here is the Little Brother Rocket Stove painted in high temperature manifold paint and on its second use. German sausage cooking on Little Brother Rocket Stove using a stainless cooking tray on top. German sausage is on the grilling tray. This was the smaller of a set of 2 trays we picked up at an unnamed big box store based in Arkansas. The plan was to give this small tray away, but it works perfect for this stove.

Use a little lump charcoal and trioxanne and you’ve got a fire ready to cook in about 15 minutes. The sausage turned out great! This grilling tray would work great for cooking slices of Spam, large slices of onion, as well as other meats or veggies. Grilled pineapple is tasty also!

Trioxanne is a military surplus chemical cooking cube. Esbit cooking cubes can also be used. Allow either cooking cube to burn away completely before cooking your food. Use these cubes instead of lighter fluid and you won’t have that nasty smell of burning lighter fluid. Also, cubes are more convenient than a bulky bottle of fluid.

While the Big Brother and Little Brother Rocket Stoves are both portable, you can set up a more permanent rocket stove with bricks.

Feeding port on front view of brick rocket stove.These stoves need both an air intake as well as a feeding port. You can also drop pretty much anything that burns down the shoot. The brick versions I found on line had a combined air intake/feed shoot.

Using some stray fire bricks I just started laying them with no mortar. I changed the positioning so that I had two separate ports. The air intake is on the side with a brick used to block the opening.Air intake on side of brick rocket stove.

We picked up a trivet at a yard sale that I put over the top to keep cooking pots from sitting directly on the bricks, thus shutting off the exiting air and smothering it. Prior to the trivet, I used rocks or hunks of broken clay to hold the cooking pot.

Top view of brick rocket stove cooking surface.You do not have to have fire brick. But, the brick you select must not spall. This brick rocket stove has been a great addition to our camp and has been used by a number of people.

What is your favorite way to cook outdoors? What time of year do you enjoy outdoor cooking the most? Please share in the comments section.

By Pete & Cindy Avery

Necessity is the Mother of Invention for this Hillbilly Fix

He would normally use bungee cords or rope but didn’t have what was needed on hand. He thought of another solution using items he had on hand — wood and long screws.

Two arms putting a screw into wood with a battery powered drill. The wood is being held in place on top of a truck rack.Necessity is the Mother of Invention — wouldn’t you agree?


Have you ever planned to do something a certain way and not had the materials or resources you thought you had? What did you do?

When such situations occur, we start to brainstorm a solution. What else could be used? Is there another way to accomplish the task or goal? Do I really have to go to the hardware store one more time? What do I have that I can use to solve this need?

This could apply to cooking. You might be making a recipe that calls for buttermilk and there isn’t any in the fridge. So, you use lemon juice or vinegar in milk to make your buttermilk. Another possibility is to try the recipe with a similar ingredient like almond milk, regular milk, or condensed milk.

I had the knob fall off the backdoor once. I dug up a fix it book, gleaned what I could apply to my situation, and kept at it until I fixed the doorknob. My husband wasn’t home and I wasn’t willing to pay a locksmith unless I absolutely had to. So, I kept at it until I fixed it. I’m not sharing the whole, detailed story as I had to figure out getting into and out of the backyard over the wooden 5 foot fence too. That fix it job was an ordeal, but I got it done!

A man putting a screw into wood with a battery powered drill. The wood is being held in place on top of a truck rack.Recently, my husband Pete was loading some wood for transport on top of the truck. He would normally use bungee cords or rope but didn’t have what was needed on hand. He thought of another solution using items he had on hand — wood and long screws. The wood underneath was pulled up into the wood above it with screws so the tension would hold all the boards in place. His solution worked just fine to transport the wood from Minnesota to Illinois. We chuckled at his “hillbilly” fix, but it did the job.A man putting a screw into wood with a battery powered drill. The wood is being held in place on top of a truck rack.

According to Wikipedia, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” is an English language proverb. When faced with a problem or challenge that has to be addressed, doesn’t it force you to find a solution? What have you invented out of necessity?Wood being held in place on top of a truck rack by screws.

Grand Portage 2 in 1 Northshore Minnesota Vacation

Rendezvous Days is one of our favorite events. Between Pow Wow and the Encampment there is plenty to do, see, and enjoy. Do be sure to wear comfortable shoes, check the weather, and come prepared for lots of fun.

Looking for a picturesque, relaxing, and educational vacation rolled into one where you set the pace? Front of the Great Hall at Grand Portage National Monument with Mt. Rose in the background.Sound too good to be true? Check out Rendezvous Days in Grand Portage, Minnesota.

Rendezvous Days is the second full weekend in August each year. The Grand Portage Anishinabe Nation hosts the annual Rendezvous Days Pow Wow while the Grand Portage National Monument re-creates a historic fur trade era rendezvous.

Pow Wow is a celebration of culture and family. As you approach the Pow Wow grounds, you may see several tipis and lots of tents from dancers and their families gathered to celebrate. Tipis and tents at the Pow Wow grounds.Walk around the outside of the Pow Wow stands to enjoy crafts, souvenirs, and food vendors.  People walking around vendor area of Pow Wow.You will definitely want to be seated in the stands for one of the three Grand Entries. A beautiful, energy charged atmosphere is present as the dancers enter the arena wearing their regalia. Veterans are highly honored and celebrated at this Pow Wow. The opening ceremony is respectful, sobering and thought provoking. After Grand Entry is concluded, the high energy Sneak Up Dance often occurs. Dancers in the Pow Wow arena with the MC stand in the background.Be sure to stay at Pow Wow awhile and grab some fry bread and an Indian Taco. There are a variety of dances and drum songs you can enjoy. The beat of the Drum represents the heartbeat of the earth and permeates this celebration. You have to be present to fully appreciate the Drum’s impact. Two male traditional dancers with their bustles.






Before attending Pow Wow for your first time, I recommend you read about Pow Wow etiquette. You can find some good information online. There are ways to respectfully ask questions of dancers, and definite do’s and don’ts. Do be sure to wear comfortable shoes, check the weather, and come prepared for lots of fun.


Canoe in foreground with white canvas awnings in mid ground and Lake Superior in the background with evergreens and a blue sky.As you enter Rendezvous at the Grand Portage National Monument, you’ll experience yet another energy charged atmosphere. A myriad of reenactors of all ages are enjoying the re-creation of the fur trade rendezvous at an actual historic rendezvous location. In addition to the primitive camps, campfire cooking, and the hauling of water and wood, there are opportunities for demonstrations, workshops, and games you won’t want to miss. Park staff work hard to make this event a fun and educational one for the public and reenactors.White canvas tents in green field with evergreens and blue sky in background.Be sure to look at the Rendezvous Days schedule to plan what you want to do. Some of the workshops fill up quickly, so scope out the sign up rules. Some workshops are open to visitors and some are only for reenactors.


Long wooden table inside the Great HallWalking through the encampment and historic grounds, there is much to see and experience. The Great Hall offers a covered porch where you can sit and relax as you gaze out on Lake Superior.  Look at the events to find a time when you can also enjoy some music. Bagpipes are often heard during the encampment, and Over the Waterfall is a group of period musicians you won’t want to miss. You’ll also find displays, artifacts, and monument staff available to answer your questions. Reenactor cooking in open kitchen fireplace.


Cross the covered walkway from the Great Hall to the kitchen to see food being prepared.

Hat making display in Grand Hall



Campfire with fish being smoked over it, birch bark lodge, and birch bark basket.


Continue meandering around Grand Portage Monument to the Canoe Shed and then on to the Native Encampment.Wild ricing display




Three Sisters Garden with scarecrow

Be sure to see the Three Sisters Garden.  You will also want take in the Heritage Center to gain a historic perspective of the fur trade. While there, learn about Grand Portage via the park film. Both local residents and reenactors are featured in the film.


Rendezvous Days is one of our favorite events. Between Pow Wow and the Encampment there is plenty to do, see, and enjoy. To top all of this off, the location of these events is picturesque with Lake Superior’s presence.View of Pete's Island and Lake Superior over Grand Portage stockade fence

Great Hall porch looking through the doors of the Great Hall toward the Kitchen door

Grand Portage National Monument Sign with Great Hall and white canvas tents in background.




Looking out over Lake Superior from Grand Portage National Park shoreline with island and shoreline off in the distance and rocks and bushes in foreground


Ready to Cook Off Grid Cook with a Rocket Stove?

The rocket stove is a neat stove that we can use at home right next to our smoker. Or, we can take the baby brother camping and have a great home cooked meal.

Rocket Stove with stew cooking in a skillet.About 10 years ago we were looking for a cooking system for our off grid property. I came across a rocket stove that was made with bricks.

The examples I found on the net were primarily used in third world countries. It was very applicable for off grid use. I will discuss the brick stove another time.

We were driving south through Texas and made the mistake of driving south through Canton during their monthly, gimongous flea market. Pedestrian and vehicular traffic is atrocious.

About 5 miles south of Canton on Hwy 19, we saw a rural vendor open. Clifford Brown, who we later found to be the proprietor, is a metal worker. Cindy and I both enjoy looking at metal stuff to see what we can adapt to our uses.

As soon as we pulled up, I observed a metal rocket stove. This stove was built with 4” square tubing, and had an 8 x 8 square cooking surface. Clifford Brown with welding helmet in up position and welding gloves on hands.It seems Clifford, known as Bones, became interested in the rocket stove and came up with his version using materials he had laying around.

We negotiated and I went home with a tall rocket stove. Clifford showed us another he was working on that used 2” square tubing. He thought it would be better for travel or camping. It is a great idea.

We went home and fired up our new rocket stove using lump charcoal. Top down burner view of rocket stove with fire.It worked great. I did a test water boil and while slower than the kitchen stove was fine for outside. I ended up making a pot of stew. It was nice as I could drop charcoal in the loading chute and walk away. I kept the damper barely open so there was no scalding. I could work on a project and cook at the same time.Rocket Stove view of fuel loading shoot with fire going.

I liked the tall rocket stove enough that on our next drive through the Canton area, we stopped and ordered another, just shorter. I like the idea of a shorter one for camping and travel. A couple of weeks later we drove through and picked up our stove. Clifford had just finished and welds were still hot. He didn’t have time to cover it with high temperature paint. I picked up some black manifold paint and sprayed it black likes it’s big brother.“Baby Brother” rocket stove

The rocket stove is a neat stove that we can use at home right next to our smoker. Or, we can take the “Baby Brother” camping and have a great home cooked meal. A 5 gallon bucket of lump charcoal will last days in a rocket stove.Smoker and rocket stove on porch.

Next time your driving on Hwy 19 South of Canton, TX look for a yellow metal building on the east side of the road. You will see antiques, junque, and stuff lined up. We highly recommend stopping in, saying hi to Clifford, and checking out his latest project. If you don’t see something, he can likely make it. Clifford can be contacted at 903-385-0977.

By Pete Avery

Wood-fired Sauna Worth the Work

It takes a bit of planning and work to prepare to sauna, but it is worth it. Plan 2-3 hours for the sauna to get to temp. It is just part of life and you need to learn planning with a wood fire.

Sauna building with snow covered roof and snow on ground.Wood-fired Sauna Worth the Work

In the north country, it was common for the sauna to be the first structure built. It could be lived in as the house was being built. As you drive around Cook County MN, you can’t help but notice the many styles of sauna the majority of which are wood heated. Wood is plentiful, affordable, and easy to get. While it takes a bit of planning and work to prepare to sauna, it is worth it. Read on to learn more about the how-to’s of the wood-fired sauna.Steel sauna stove inside sauna

Size matters—consider your needs when planning your sauna. Also, window versus no window, and stove access inside or outside. Our sauna was built by Owen Christensen of Duluth. The building is 8×12. Inside there is a 3 foot changing room with the remainder being the hot room. The stove feeds from the changing room. This is nice as all stove work is inside for comfort.Front of steel sauna stove which is inside changing room.

The sauna gets used during each visit to our cabin. We have experienced every season in Cook County Minnesota multiple times over the past 25 years. That said, I usually plan 2-3 hours for the sauna to get to temp. It is just part of life and you need to learn planning with a wood fire. During the colder months it is much slower to get 120-140 degrees inside the sauna.

I like to use compressed wood chip blocks for the sauna.  These burn cleaner and provide consistent btu output.  Menards has large ones and we have picked up smaller ones in the Amish area of northern Indiana.  I like the smaller ones as there is more control.  I can load the stove with 4 blocks and run to town for a couple hours. When I get back, the sauna is 80 to 100 degrees.  Dress the fire and it will be 120+ in a half hour.

During the winter, getting a good temperature takes a little more work. We had a heavy canvas made that hangs down the middle of the sauna. This essentially divides the hot room in two. Hot room inside sauna with 2 benches. Sand timer and thermometer on wall.We are able to get 120 degrees on the stove side of the canvas even at -25 outside. This divider functionally gives us three rooms. Changing room, warm room side, and the hot room side.

We are a dealer for Panther Primitive Tents. Our custom dividing canvas was manufactured by Panther Primitives after I measured and submitted a drawing.
The canvas is impregnated with a flame retardant at the factory. Never use unknown canvas or non-treated canvas near any fire.

The other day it was 23 degrees outside. The hot side of the canvas was 140 degrees. The stove damper was open about 25%. There was enough heat that we pulled back the canvas so that heat could bleed over to the other side faster.

Folks often have water available to put on the rocks that are located on the top of the stove. When we first had the sauna, I used a cooking ladle to dip water over to the rocks. This progressed to a spray bottle. After having a very tired trigger finger, I purchased a 1 gallon plastic bug sprayer. This filled with water is fantastic. We are able to maintain humidity while sitting back on the bench and shooting the rocks. We also spray down the canvas. The evaporation from the cloth also increased humidity.

My wife and I both highly recommend a sauna. American medicine often says to not sauna with various medical conditions. View into sauna from door into changing room with front of wood stove where it is fed. Bottom of candle window can be seen.

The Scandinavian counterparts say to use the sauna. You just need to use caution and common sense. Consult your medical advisor.

We opted to have a removable water jacket for our stove. We get very hot water we mix with cold water to achieve the rinse water temperature we like when ending our sauna.

Other features to consider adding to your sauna would be a sand, hourglass flip timer. I mounted one to the wall and we gauge our time spent in the sauna. Owen Christensen offered a candle window which we opted for. The window connects the changing room to the sauna room and you can put a flashlight lantern in there for a night sauna.

I hope I’ve peaked your interest in a wood-fired sauna. Below are resources I mentioned above.

Owen Christensen
Christensen Saunas

Fort Couch Quartermaster LLC
Cindy Avery
Panther Primitives Dealer

By Pete Avery

Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware

There is a much easier way to season cast iron that doesn’t go rancid or get a greasy build up on the iron.

When I was a kid we cooked a bunch with cast iron. I remember my folks saying never wash with soap. Top of Griswold Dutch oven lid No 8, Tite-Top BasterThey also would heat the oven up and rub olive oil or lard on the cast iron, then bake it in the oven to season the iron.

Well, there is a much easier way.

Secure a chunk of pure beeswax. Anything as long as it is pure and no paraffin. If you have a rusted up piece of cookware, take a wire brush to it and clean it off. You can also plop it is a campfire and burn the rust off. Just make sure you let it cool slowly so it does not crack.


Place your clean cast iron on a stove top burner. Turn the heat to low and start warming up the iron. As the iron heats up, the pores in the metal open up. Once it is warm enough to melt beeswax on contact, rub the iron inside and out with the beeswax.  You may wish to use a pair of leather gloves to minimize burning your self. You can also use a folded paper towel to rub the wax around. Let the cast iron cool.


You now have a super seasoned piece of cast iron. The seasoning will not go rancid as others do. It will not build up as is common. While I may wash it using soap, if I do, reseasoning is so easy.


Blacksmiths often use beeswax to finish iron. I can take a piece of iron finished in this way and leave it outside. It will often have no rust even after a year. Beeswax is a fat. There have been times when we are at reenactments and have needed fat to fry. We just cut off a piece of beeswax candle and have at it. You don’t have to worry about spilling oils.


When cleaning cast iron, I usually use hot to boiling water and no soap. Always dry off your cast iron. I do this by putting it on the heat for a bit, take it off the heat, and rub dry with a towel. Be careful not to burn yourself. It is good to use an old towel as some black may transfer from the iron to the towel. Once dry, I will heat it back up and rub the inside with beeswax. Remember, it does not build up. I keep a tightly folded paper towel that has had much use with beeswax to do this.


By Pete Avery