Making everything from scratch

Video: April Diehl handcrafts food, soap and more in her Bend kitchen

Published Dec 17, 2013 at 12:01AM / Updated Dec 17, 2013 at 06:17AM

If there were a woman you could imagine living in the days of the settlers, it would probably be Bend resident April Diehl. She’s a modern-day pioneer woman, who more often than not eschews modern-day conveniences.

While she doesn’t own a restaurant or belong to the local food industry, she’s definitely a woman who knows her way around a kitchen. She makes a majority of her household products from scratch, along with most of the items for family meals.

Diehl says she was forced into making almost every product in their home from scratch. When her daughter Zeyda was born 2 years ago, she had severe eczema that wouldn’t go away.

“It was so bad, her skin was blistering and bleeding,” said April. “It was awful, and the doctors were prescribing skin creams, but they weren’t helping much so I started to experiment.”

The first thing April researched was making her own diaper wipes. She experimented with different recipes, but wanted to make sure her wipes had no toxic chemicals or perfumes.

“It was surprisingly easy,” April said as she pulled out a plastic container with bleach-free paper towels that she mixed with two cups boiled water and a tablespoon of Dr. Bronner’s organic soap. “Almost immediately, we saw results on Zeyda. The chemicals and perfumes in the commercial wipes were really harsh on her skin.”

April tapped the lid on her homemade diaper wipes, saying they stay fresh in the airtight container for one month.

The diaper wipes were just the start for April. She now also makes shampoo, laundry detergent, body lotions, creams, toothpaste and is currently working on a recipe for deodorant.

The Diehls don’t live in a huge house, but this Deschutes River Woods home is cozy and could be a setting for a pioneer homestead, with its large pasture backyard, where of course, April has an organic garden in the spring and summer.

She cans her summer bounty, and makes jams that her family will enjoy throughout the winter.

Homemade Christmas gifts

April has been busy making Christmas gifts for family, friends and her son’s teacher.

She has decorated the kitchen with Christmas lights, a nod to her favorite holiday. Before Christmas arrives, April will have made hundreds of Christmas cookies for neighbors and friends. She’s the neighborhood elf, delivering plates and baskets of goodies.

During a recent visit, the family was making body butter. Her 6-year-old son, Parker, is the assistant elf, while 2-year-old Zeyda wanted to get in on the action. April directed the operation with patience and good humor.

“So first you need two-thirds cup of almond oil, but if you’re allergic to nuts you can use canola oil, or grape seed oil,” April said as she poured it into a pot on the stove. “I buy our coconut oil in a large quantity as you can see, because we use this so much for everything. Add this to another four tablespoons of olive oil, plus six tablespoons of grated beeswax. See, there are no bad chemicals in here; you could actually eat it.”

April stirred the pot while it came to a slow boil, and made sure the beeswax had completely melted.

She cooled it in the refrigerator for exactly 10 minutes, and when it’d cooled a bit, she allowed her children to stir in 50 drops of pure lavender oil, which filled the kitchen with an extraordinarily pleasant scent.

April quickly filled the small Ball jars before the body butter hardened, and placed ribbon-decorated lids onto the jars.

Knowledge

Before the body butter has hardened, Diehl is onto another recipe for shampoo.

She flipped through her 100 or so index cards with recipes for various products. She says many of the recipes she found online, and others she experimented and improvised.

“I was reading the shampoo label on the shampoo I had bought at the store, and started researching what these chemicals in there were, and I found one of the ingredients was a known cancer-causing agent,” said Diehl. “That’s when I started making my own shampoo. I make two versions — one is tear-free for the kids, and the other one is for adults, but both are organic and use natural ingredients. I use two tablespoons of either coconut oil or olive oil in the shampoo, too, but if you have oily hair you could reduce that to one tablespoon.”

With her waist-length healthy hair, April could star in a commercial for her own shampoos.

April’s proud husband, Jordan Diehl, says because April makes almost all of their products from scratch, he estimates they save at least a couple of hundred dollars every month.

Everything from scratch

April doesn’t use products around the house that are toxic. And she also believes people need to watch what they put into their bodies when they eat.

When asked about his favorite homemade product of his mom’s, Parker says without hesitation, “Cheese crackers! But everything she makes is good.” April laughed and says when she makes those crackers, they don’t last very long in the house.

Parker also helps his mom churn butter by shaking cream in a mason jar.

“It keeps him busy for a long time, because it takes a lot of shaking to cream it to butter,” said April with a smile.

April, who is a full-time college student studying business, says she’s busy but always finds time to make things from scratch.

“People always say, ‘I don’t have time to make that stuff,’ but really it isn’t that hard or time-consuming once you have the recipes,” said April. “It’s actually pretty quick and efficient, and it really does save you a lot of money. Plus, you know every single ingredient in all your products.”

Jordan says he loves everything his wife makes and praises her cooking skills, but sometimes it’s the small things that make a huge difference. For example, he says he loves April’s homemade ketchup and maple syrup.

“I actually thought Heinz made pretty good ketchup, but April’s ketchup is so good, the ingredients are so fresh, and it tastes amazing,” said Jordan. “We’re finding we buy less and less store-bought stuff, because April can make it all.”

It’s fitting that a picture of April’s grandmother hangs prominently in her small kitchen, as April says she draws inspiration from her.

“My grandmother, Sheila Carroll, always said I was born in the wrong century because I love to do everything from scratch and by hand,” said April. “She had six children and she never had a microwave or a dishwasher, and almost everything she made was from scratch, too.”

Taking her grandmother’s lead, April says she recently got rid of her own microwave. Fittingly, her favorite appliance is located in the living room. It’s a wood-burning stove, where she likes to make slow-simmering stews and soups.

“I like living in a rustic cabin, and when there’s time, I like to be able to stoke the fire all day in the winter, and make a good stew for dinner,” said April. “Someday, I really hope we can buy a farm with chickens and cows. Next spring, I will start raising chickens here, and we’ll have farm fresh eggs. The big farm will have to wait.”

Q: What are the three ingredients you’ll always find in your home kitchen cupboard or refrigerator?

A: I would say that I always need to have coconut oil, flour and cocoa powder in the house. These things are a good base for a quite a few things that I make on a regular basis for my family.

Q: Favorite home meal you like to prepare?

A: Oh wow, that is a tough question. It really depends on my mood. If I want easy, my family really loves to make our homemade pizzas. If I feel like taking a more complex route, I love to make homemade soups in bread bowls.

Q: What is your favorite appliance in your kitchen?

A: I don’t know if you would consider it an appliance or not, but I would say my woodstove. I love being able to utilize it as part of my cooking; it feels so rustic to be able to cook a meal on a woodstove.

Q: Is there an appliance you disdain in the kitchen?

A: I just recently got rid of my microwave. I absolutely hate the microwave. I love being able to cook from scratch, not reheat a frozen prepackaged meal. If my family really needs to reheat something, we will just have to use the oven or the woodstove.

Q: What chefs do you admire most?

A: My grandma Sheila. I know she’s not a typical “chef”, but she taught me a lot without even trying. She’s an inspiration.

Q: Do you have a favorite cooking memory? Or favorite memorable meal you prepared?

A: I would say one of my favorite cooking memories is from last year when my mom came over and we made homemade applesauce together using my Grandma’s old hand-crank apple strainer. It was nice having that quality time with my mom, while bringing a little Grandma with us.

Q: Does your family have a regular dinner or meal together?

A: Every night we sit around the dinner table and eat together. I feel like this is a very important part of the day, and a nice way to recap with our family about the events that have taken place in your day.

Q: Best meal you’ve ever eaten in your life?

A: Hands down, my grandma Sheila’s spaghetti. There’s nothing like grandma’s cooking, something about it that you just can’t replicate. It’s like you can taste the love that she pours into her cooking. It’s phenomenal.

Q: Guilty food pleasure?

A: That’s a tossup between homemade pretzel rolls or homemade ice cream. It really depends on what I’m craving, but I always eat way too much of both when it’s in the house.

Q: What’s your ideal dream home kitchen?

A: I keep telling my husband we need to do a remodel on the kitchen because I don’t have enough space. I would love a very open kitchen with lots of counter space. A lot of my meals take quite a bit of preparing, and I always seem to run out of room.

Q: If you could invite three dinner guests to dinner who would they be?

A: Only three? Let’s see, I would say Jesus, Einstein, and my Grandma Betty. I could learn a lot from them by sitting around a dinner table and talking. I believe that’s what we need to use dinnertime for, sitting around the table and learning from the ones around you.

Q: Favorite food quote or philosophy, you often repeat to yourself?

A: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for one day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I believe people need to learn how to make food items from scratch; it is so empowering. You learn that you don’t need to rely on an outside source to be able to provide quality food and products for your family.

— Reporter: pnakamura@bendbulletin.com

Editor’s note: In the kitchen with . . . features people in the local culinary scene at home in their own kitchens. To suggest someone to profile, contact athome@bendbulletin.com