DIY Foods and Products: What Do You Make Yourself?

February 3, 2013

in House & Home, Pantry

What common household, pantry, and beauty items do you make yourself instead of buying? If you got a moment, I’d love for you to share, as I am always hungry for new ideas in this area!

Here are a few things I make rather than buy (note that we also raise and hunt 100% of our meat and a bulk of storage produce, but that’s not what I’m talking about here):

- Laundry detergent – my favorite thing ever. I make an easy powder version which is nothing but 2 C of borax mixed with 2 C WASHING soda and a bar each of fels-naptha and ivory soaps, grated (because it makes me feel morally superior, I hand-grate all of mine). I then just put all ingredients together in a covered container and shake. Use ONE TABLESPOON ONLY per FULL load. It costs next to nothing and lasts a couple of months in this family of five, which includes three young kids between the ages of 1 and 7, a rather dirty housewife, and a farmer husband. Now Fels-Naptha is a pretty strong laundry bar (normally used for pre-treating stains and such), and if you are sensitive to this type of thing, you may want to go with something more innocuous like all-ivory.

- Lotion! That’s a new one, man. A homemade lotion is nothing other than a super-easy emulsion of oil (you can use cooking or specialty skin oils), wax, and water, blended with a stick blender. I use my own well water, beeswax, a few drops of lavender essential oil, and so far I’ve used almond and sunflower oils (the sunflower oil version is lighter – and far cheaper). If you are interested, a quick google search will return recipes aplenty. Now, it does feel greasier than bougthen, but I don’t mind it, and my daughter absolutely adores it! Note that I keep mine in the fridge and love the temperature.

- Lip balm! The easiest thing ever. Just melt two parts of oil (olive is fine) with one part grated beeswax by volume together in a small jar, let the mixture cool until set, and go right ahead and use! I simply melt mine in a microwave and then store it on the counter. I made mine a couple of months ago and it still hasn’t gone bad.

- Bubble bath – it’s just a little shampoo mixed with with water.

- Play dough – easy to make with kids and fun!

- Pasta sauce – we live on a farm and grow tomatoes, so.

- Apple cider (something that my husband does).

- All of our frozen winter vegetables, such as sweet corn.

- All of our jams, syrups, and jellies, such as these raspberry preserves and elderberry jelly.

- Pickles (but only in the summer)

- Puff pastry! There’s just no comparison, man.

- Candy! Chocolate truffles, peanut brittle, hard candy/molded suckers, and maple snow taffy – candy-making is my forte! Apple-dipping caramel too (no melting of bougthen caramels involved)!

- Ice-pops, like these berry-yogurt ones. Yum!

- Kombucha (when I make it).

- Bread – we go through a 5-lb loaf in a matter of a day or two, so yes, I bake my own – and you know what, I find it to be FAR more nourishing than any boughten version, not to mention fresh and delicious at a mere fraction of the price. Plus, you simply won’t find bread as good as I (and you) can make at home in any store in this town, period.

- Yogurt – we use about a GALLON to a gallon and a half per week, so I’d be a fool to pay twice the price for yogurt when I can buy milk and make my own. And it tastes 1000 times better.

- Jerky – done with ease in my dehydrator! And, again, fresh venison jerky tastes 1000 times better than the store variety.

- I can also make this delicious venison pastrami but don’t make it very often.

- Fruit leather during the summer – ditto.

- Ice-cream, including this blackberry, no-cook vanilla, and the five-minute berry ice-cream made in a food processor!!

- Salad dressing

- Chicken and beef stock – we raise cows and chickens, so an ample supply of bones is a given.

- Pita bread and other flat breads, including this grilled naan.

- Pizza crust!

- Baby food! 100% of it.

- My husband also makes most of the wine we drink and use for cooking as we have a large vineyard. It’s not world-class, but it’s cheap!

I also know how to make butter, cream cheese, and feta cheese, but these two, I decided, are not worth the effort for the price. Also, homemade cream cheese is not as smooth in cheesecakes, and I decided that I prefer mine smooth and perfect.

I also recently began to teach myself how to knit and sew (I crochet as well, but I’ve known how to do that since the age of five or six), and I can’t BELIEVE how CHEAP it is to make something moderately high-quality in a matter of days or even hours. Now, I am a total beginner, and so far haven’t ventured beyond dressy girl skirts, easy quilt tops, dress-up skirts and capes, hairpin embellishments, tutus, aprons, and scarves, but hopefully one of these days I will work myself up to making bigger, more complicated items. And it’s even cheaper if you upcycple what you already have rather than buying new fabric (although that too is cheap and great fun).

We also use all-cloth napkins, and both that and hot pads can easily be made at home (people even knit and crochet their own dishcloths, although I haven’t yet).

Another thing I choose to do myself is cut my kids hair (and I am really not half-bad) while they are still little. Do you do that sometimes?

My big dream is to make a working dish soap as an alternative to Dawn since we don’t have a dishwasher and do all of ours by hand. If you have a recipe, don’t hold back (NO Fels-Naptha or Castile Soap-based recipes, please)!

For the complete list of our DIY food items, click here.

Now it’s your turn! What do you like to make? Please share, as I’m always looking for new DIY ideas!


1 GGMcMurray February 3, 2013 at 2:24 am

I’m exhausted by just reading all that you make. I make liquid laundry soap, love it. I have never tried making jelly or jam but its something I want to try.

2 Sofya February 3, 2013 at 2:36 am

It is really easy! Definitely give it a try! And it can be a no-brainer with boughten shur-jell pectin – and the instructions are on the box! Can’t go wrong with that stuff.

3 PAm February 3, 2013 at 9:40 am

There is a woman on pinterest who’s name is jilly she has dish soap recipies. I tried it and it works well. Keep up the good work!

4 Sofya February 3, 2013 at 9:54 am

Hey Pam, I actually have tried that recipe and it works well! But it calls for fels-naptha (the recipe I found on her site), and that is too irritating for my skin (since we hand-wash everything), and I also decided that I wasn’t OK having that laundry bar residue on my food contact surfaces. People make them with Castile (?) soap also but I find that oily and don’t like it.

5 Foy @ Garden. Cook. Write. Repeat. February 3, 2013 at 9:44 am

Lard and Tallow! I bet you render your own too. There is nothing like sauteeing onions in lard to start a recipe off right.

As for lotion I just put coconut oil in a very thin layer on my skin. It is a little greasy, so I don’t use a lot.

We use cloth diapers which I did not make. However, I did make the cloth wipes and I use a teaspoon of castile soap with a couple drops of tea tree oil in a half gallon of water to soak the wipes.

I too am just a beginner in the sewing department. I’m currently working on an apron made from a linen dress and shirt I picked up at Goodwill.

On our list for the summer is making a work shop in our large garage. We’ve been collecting scrap wood people leave out for the garbage truck and when the college students move out in the spring we figure we’ll be able to get lots of 2×4 that were used to loft their beds in the dorms. Hopefully all we’ll need to buy are casters and some nails.

I’m excited about your dill pickle recipe. I just picked up a couple crocks and I’m going to have to give them a try this summer!
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6 Sofya February 3, 2013 at 9:51 am

I do have a bunch of beef tallow! I have not rendered it however simply because I don’t like things cooked in animal fat like that except duck fat (which we also render) – it’s just a texture preference, not a health opinion or anything – God knows I love animal fats in other applications! I hope to make soap with it.

7 Meredith February 3, 2013 at 11:21 am

Wow, I love your list! Someday I hope to aspire to make as many things at home as you do! I’m excited to try that lip balm recipe. We go through it so fast and we’re always losing our Burt’s Bees!
I try to make as many things at home as I can. It’s so satisfying to do it yourself. Like you, I also knit and sew, I make all of our napkins, hats, scarves, mittens, and socks.
We brew our own beer and hard cider, so delicious!
In the past few months I’ve been cutting down our grocery list by making more foods at home. Every week I try to cut out one more grocery item by learning how to make it. I now make our pierogies, bread, granola, mustard, salad dressings, salsa, jam, and tomato sauce. I’m still in the process of learning to make cheese, so far I’ve made mozzarella with moderate success. I’m glad to share recipes for anything anyone wants.
I also make my own deodorant! I was really grossed out by the ingredients in commercial deodorant and the presence of aluminum scares me. The organic/natural products simply don’t work so I make my own. I use 1/4 cup coconut oil, 2 TB corn starch (you can also use arrowroot powder), 1TB + 1ts baking soda, and 10 drops of vanilla essential oil. Combine them all, let harden, and use! It’s wonderful and really works!
I’m a ceramic artist so we don’t see any need to buy any dishes, bowls, or mugs. I have fun with my pieces by making them look like monsters, robots, gnomes, and forest creatures!

8 Sofya February 3, 2013 at 11:34 am

I love, love, love your list, Meredith!! Someday I hope to learn how to knit hats and socks and mittens! I am a little scared of those projects!

I’d love to learn how to make mustard, and I have been really lazy about salsa. I should do it next summer, it costs so much.

How amazing that you make your own dishes, sounds magical!!

I will give your deodorant recipe a try – I hate the aluminum being listed on my favorite stuff. Thanks so much for sharing!

9 CarrieK February 3, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Your energy is inspiring! I would like to make bread, but don’t..yet! I do make all our salad dressings, pickles, jams, tomato sauce, dried fruit/leather. I make refried beans and lots of different soups from scratch. I grow as much of our produce as I can on a small suburban lot in the PNW, so I have garlic and greens year round. Haven’t invested the time into making cheese, although we do drink raw milk and if it sours before we finish it I will usually make a nice fromage blanc out of it! I’ve tinkered with making soap, deoderant, lip balm. Next up my daughter I will make bath gel, shampoo and rinse from Mommypotomus.

10 Bronwen February 3, 2013 at 4:09 pm

I make a few of the same things you do – jams, salad dressing, bread, pasta sauce. I also make lots and lots of knitted items – and I have just learned to spin my own yarn, although I can’t say that I love it. I love knitting so much that I’d rather spend my time knitting than spinning. I’d really recommend homemade salsa, especially since you grow so many tomatoes. I made tomato salsa, tomatillo salsa, and spicy tomato jam last September, and we love it. The spicy tomato jam is great with cheese, toasted under the broiler. Yum!!
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11 Sofya February 3, 2013 at 5:15 pm

I’ve made salsa before but it wasn’t amazing, I must admit. I’d love a good recipe!

12 PollyS February 3, 2013 at 10:18 pm

This is the base recipe I use for salsa.

1 (14 1/2 oz.) can tomatoes and green chilies
1 (14 1/2 oz.) can whole canned tomatoes (plus the juice)
4 teaspoons (or more, for my husband) jalapenos
1/4 cup yellow onion (diced)
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin (I use more. I love the stuff!)
1/2-1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cilantro
juice from 1/2 lime (or in a pinch lemon)

1. In food processor place jalapenos (optional) and onion and process for just a few seconds.
2. Add both cans of tomatoes, salt, sugar, cumin,cilantro and lime juice.
3. Pulse 3 or 4 times; do not puree.
4. Place in covered container and chill at least 1 hour. The longer it sits, the better.

13 Kate February 3, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Thanks for this post, very inspiring. I love the idea of making as many things as possible at home and showing my little ones how self-sufficient we can be. Although there are many things I have tried and know how to create. I’m inconsistent about producing them at home.
~I knit for my family and myself: hats, mittens, scarves, sweaters, socks, dishcloths etc. Although, I’m not sure that knitting mittens for children is worth it; my son lost 2 pairs of knitted mittens this year. I also crochet occasionally, but prefer knitting much more.
~I know how to spin yarn using a drop spindle, but do it very often.
~I sew off and on, nothing spectacular, but I can muddle through it.
~Jam, salad dressing, BBQ sauce, taco seasoning mix, chili seasoning blend, yogurt, bread, pizza crust, granola. The only thing I bake from a box mix (don’t judge me) are brownies. I have tried many brownie recipes and can never get them to be as moist as a box mix. Any suggestions?
~I’ve tried making mozarella cheese – fun & easy. I intend to try out butter, cream cheese, ricotta, & butter milk.

I am going to try your venison jerky recipe, it sounds delicious. I also would like to try fruit leather, pickles, lip balm, lotion, soap making….oh my, the list is long. Do you happen to know if your homemade laundry soap recipe is safe for front load washers?

Thanks again for this post! Love it and also love reading everyone else’s comments. It’s wonderful to see other’s DIY activities.

14 Sofya February 3, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Brownies are a tough one for me also!!! I like the pioneer woman baked fudge recipe (in actuality it’s like a brownie pudding, 6 ingredients and people love it).

There are plenty of things I prefer store-bought, don’t get me wrong!

The recipe is indeed safe for front loading machines – so I’m told! It is not the gentlest detergent for babies though.

I also know how to make ricotta, cream cheese (with rennet and culture, that is), and buttermilk can be a butter byproduct as you know, but I always just mix 1 cup of regular milk with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice instead when baking. I never buy a whole carton. Homemade cream cheese is great but not as smooth in cheesecakes as boughten.

I also often brew kombucha in summertime and prefer to brew black tea concentrate from loose tea instead of bags.

Sauerkraut is another thing I make sometimes.

I can also bake pita bread when I need it, but like you said, not on a regular basis. At this point I am quite confident that I can make anything I want (that can be done at home), but not everything is worth the effort.

Pizza crust, puff pastry, stock, and baby food are other things I can’t see the point in buying since I am not busy and can make them at home.

I also know a gal who makes toothpaste if you google “lusa+toothpaste.”

I also like to use a basic homemade salve for diaper ointment.

I also make candy – peanut brittle, chocolate truffles, maple snow taffy, hard candy and molded suckers, and apple-dipping caramel. I love to know what’s in my food!

15 Sharon February 4, 2013 at 12:30 am

Here’s a recipe for homemade dish soap.

1/4 cup Fels Naptha shavings
2 cups water
1-2 Tablespoons distilled white vinegar or lemon juice
1 Tablespoon glycerin (optional)
Pour water and soap into a saucepan and slowly heat it over medium heat. Stir the mixture and keep heating it until all the soap has melted into the water. DO NOT boil. Turn down the heat if needed. Allow the soap mixture to cool a bit, then stir in the vinegar. Keep it sitting in the pot until it is completely cooled, then pour it into an old dish soap bottle.

16 Sofya February 4, 2013 at 7:33 am

In one of the above comments I said that I have made this kind and found that I am not comfortable with laundry bar residue on my food contact surfaces. No fels-naptha or Castile soap recipes, please.

17 erin@whathefork February 4, 2013 at 11:45 am

We make our own yogurt and buttermilk I have a sourdough starter started right now. I do a lot of knitting like mittens hats and a few sweaters. I can’t remember the last time we bought laundry soap pickles or applesauce the kids love homemade tortillas with bacon fat instead of the ones from the store. It stuns people but it is so much easier than they think.
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18 dagamore February 7, 2013 at 12:52 am

dont know if i just missed it or what, but i am sort of shocked that you dont make your own soap from fats and lye watter, i would think its right up your lane. also you can make some great castile soap that is less oily but using more lye water, but it takes longer to cure if you do a cold press method.

19 Sofya February 7, 2013 at 10:03 am

I know, right? It’s next on my list.

20 Maura February 7, 2013 at 6:37 am

Great post!
I try to make new things all of the time. Some of them are even successful!

Here we go: Jams, applesauce, breakfast cookies & sweets, fruit leathers, pudding, breads (sometimes), cereal, oatmeal (I precook oatmeal to be instant and also have a sweet potato oatmeal standard recipe that I make often), pasta sauce, cloth napkins (for us and for the girl’s lunch boxes), and (MOST IMPORTANTLY) quilts!
My quilt making fights with my kitchen time… I would prefer to spend the evenings in my sewing room!
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21 Sofya February 7, 2013 at 10:07 am

It’s like the Spanx lady said (the company founder): “failing is not the outcome, failing is not trying.” I tell that myself everyday as I explore new areas of diy and so on. Not that I get Spanx.

22 Maura February 7, 2013 at 10:30 am

Yeah… but I work at NASA. Our motto is (literally) Failure is not an option. ;-)

23 Sofya February 7, 2013 at 2:51 pm

I suppose not at Nasa it isn’t. :)

24 dlw February 9, 2013 at 12:59 am

Don’t always make it, but have made homemade butter since I was a child. That was the childrens “job” on Thanksgiving while watching the Macy’s Parade. I have been making the powder laundry soap for a few months now and my wife loves it. I also make homemade jalepeno pepper jelly, and jerky.

Simple caramel recipe: take one can of sweetened condensed milk and place it in a slow cooker. Fill the slow cooker with water until the can is covered and cook on high for three hours. Perfect caramel!

25 Sofya February 9, 2013 at 3:01 pm

It is a great way to make caramel. I already do that with condensed milk to use in some baking, but it’s a different product (dulce de leche) from the caramel syrup I make for dipping apples. Still, just a matter of habit. By the way, in the USSR, where I grew up, that condensed milk caramel is made by boiling the can in water on the stove for two hours. Same results.

26 Meredith February 9, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Whaaaaat??!! That’s how you make caramel!!!?? I can’t wait to make my own! How cool! Thank you for sharing! :)

27 Sofya February 9, 2013 at 5:29 pm

That’s one way. Another way is linked off my left sidebar I think.

28 Talia Winningham February 10, 2013 at 12:12 am

Hi Sofya! Recently I tried making my own almond butter for the first time. I just put the nuts in the food processor and then added some extra spices such as cinnamon and cayenne to put a unique twist on it. You can add a little oil if there is not a lot of oil being released by the nuts. I also make sprouts(super simple) and today I made kimchi! I like to make all most food items from scratch but I am still learning a lot about non-food items to make. This year I learned to make hand-salve and deodorant, both of which feel so much better than anything I can buy in the store!

29 Sofya February 10, 2013 at 8:11 am

How cool, Talia! I am learning how to make salves and all that type of stuff as well right now. I wondered if I should start making almond butter as well for the kids.

30 Claire February 19, 2013 at 6:37 pm

I would love if you would share some fool-proof recipes for venison– particularly roasts. I have a bunch in my freezer that was given to me by my brother-in-law, and I’m not quite sure what to do with it. Thanks!

31 Sofya February 19, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Hi Claire, I prepare it in a seemingly countless number of ways – but I think the really good way to use your roasts would be to simply cook them in a crock-pot for a long time with some onions, covered with water. You will end up with a broth and a pulled-venison type thing, which is good for sandwiches. But roasts really can be used in so many ways. If they are good roasts with not a ton of connective tissue, you can trim them of all the connective tissue/white sinewy stuff that you can see, and then cut them into steaks and grill as usual – just not past rare. You can also cut them into cubes and saute those, after sprinkling with salt, in some combination of oil and butter – the stir-fry way – just until they are plump and rare inside. Those steak bites are great with french fries or what have you, and the kids love them – eat them with toothpicks. One of the very best things is to trim the meat very well and make it into jerky, here’s how I make mine:

And here are a couple more recipes:

You can also make corned venison:

Lastly, if you are feeling adventurous, here’s what I love to make with my roasts the most (gotta be thin roasts):

Thanks for stopping by!

32 Tiffany February 20, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Hi Sofya,
Wow, I just discovered your blog tonight & have been browsing for several hours! One year ago I started down the DIY/crunchy road & am so much happier providing better resources for my family as a SAHM. First, I made deodorant & then went “no poo” so I no longer buy shampoo & conditioner . I use coconut oil as a body moisturizer (for kids too) & eye makeup remover. I make most of our household cleaners (trying out carpet cleaner solution this week!). I make our laundry stain remover (we were going through a ton of Shout & Oxiclean but no more!) & toothpaste (my toddlers/husband love it!). I’ve repurposed clothing for wash cloths & cloth wipes, transitioned to “Mama cloth” & started sewing this past summer- currently loving to create custom attire for my little ones as well as working on some clothing pieces for me, napkins, cloth bags for organizing toys, handmade gifts etc…. I’ve always made my own spaghetti sauce, caramel, hot fudge, some chutneys & ALL things sweet including some candy! I cook from scratch so I know exactly what is gong in the pot & have transitioned to organic/natural ingredients (like condiments) to couple with humanely raised meats, dairy & local produce. On my list of things to try this week are play dough & yogurt & I hope to successfully make all of our bread this year! Your blog has inspired me to tackle even more (your raspberry jam for one) so thanks! My husband is from Iran & I plan to surprise him with some of your Native dishes. Iranian cooking has been designated to my husband & his mother until now but your recipes have taken much of the guesswork out so I no longer feel as intimidated! Thanks so much!

33 Sofya February 21, 2013 at 12:19 am

What a great list, thanks for sharing!!

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