Showing posts with label fermenting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fermenting. Show all posts

Friday, 16 September 2011

Fermenting Cucumbers

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
It's late summer, and the garden produce is really rolling in. I only have a few more weeks, if I'm lucky, before the nights drop below freezing. So I'm busy harvesting then using various preserving methods to squirrel stuff away for later. For years, canning various flavors of pickles was standard operating procedure around here for dealing with the cucumber glut. And I still have plenty of jars full of sweet, dill, bread & butter pickles and relish.

Last year, I tried fermenting the cucumbers instead, and found a new favorite. I like sauerkraut - fermented cabbage. Fermented cucumbers, also called sour pickles, are just as good - plus easier and less time-consuming than heat-processing lots of jars. And now, as the heat of summer fades, it's cooler inside. The fermentation process works best between 55F and 75F (13 - 24C). Above that, the pickles ferment too fast and get soft. Lower temperatures just mean a longer fermentation time, and slower is better. I use a 2-gallon glass crock, but for those interested in trying this method a gallon glass jar works great.

Your cucumbers should be fresh, right out of the garden if possible, picked before the seeds inside start to toughen up. Size doesn't matter - bigger cucumbers just take longer to ferment (so eat the little ones first). If your cucumbers are a couple of days old, you can soak them in water for half a day to refresh them a bit. You might want to take your kitchen shears out with you when harvesting. Try to clip with a little 1/4 inch of stem attached instead of pulling them from the vines. Don't use damaged fruit, and wash away any remaining dirt or debris.

Slice away the tiniest little sliver from the blossom end. The blossom contains an enzyme that encourages the cucumber to continue to ripen. Removing it stops the process, and your pickles stay firmer and crunchier. Old recipe books say adding young grape leaves will make crunchier pickles. I have a couple of organically-grown grapevines, so I figured it couldn't hurt. I don't know if it made the pickles any crisper, but the leaves pickled along with the cucumbers and were so good I now add extra just be able to eat them on their own.

For a gallon of fermented pickles, you'll need about 4 pounds cucumbers (about 6-7 salad-sized ones). Put any or all of the optional ingredients (2 tablespoons dill seed or a couple of fresh heads of dill; a couple garlic cloves, a couple dried hot peppers, 2 teaspoons mustard seed, and/or a layer of 4" grape leaves) in the bottom of your container, and add the whole cucumbers. You can pack them in vertically if you're using the big ones. Stir 1/2 cup non-iodized salt into 8 cups water with 1/4 cup vinegar added. When the salt dissolves, pour the mixture over the cucumbers. Use a clean ceramic plate or glass jar to keep the cucumbers submerged an inch below the level of the brine. Cover with a piece of cloth or another plate, and put it somewhere cool where you can check it a couple of times a week. Skim scum and mold from the surface as needed.

As the cucumbers ferment, they'll lose their bright green color, turning translucent (that's not mold - it's white flakes of sediment, easily stirred up and then it settles out again). Complete fermentation can take from 4 - 8 weeks.

You can eat them at any time, but they are fully fermented when no white patches remain. If kept in a cool spot, the pickles will continue to get sourer. If you can't find a cool spot to keep the jar, refrigerate them for longer storage.

I'll keep my crock on the kitchen counter for 4 - 5 weeks, adding additional cucumbers as I continue to harvest, making additional brine solution as necessary to keep them submerged. After that, I'll move the crock down to the cooler cellar, to keep through the winter. Every week to 10 days an almost gel-like layer of scum forms on the top - rarely it would get a couple specks of blue-topped white mold on top of that. It's easy enough to just pinch that layer, pull it out, and toss it.

When I want another pickle, I'll fish one out, redistribute those left, and replace the plate. Inside the house, I keep a quart jar of brine in the refrigerator, where I keep the current pickle, cutting slices off as needed. No scum forms on the jar in the refrigerator. When the cellar starts warming up, in the spring, I just transfer the pickles left to a jar in the refrigerator to keep eating until I either run out or I can start a fresh batch. My reference source here.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Aztec Gold

written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

I have a great many hobbies, but one of my favourites has to be beer making.  Now how could beer making be green, I here you ask?  Well glad you asked.  Have a read of this post titled "Gav's Eco Beer" to get a good understanding of the environmental benefits of making your own beer. 

Anyway, I made up a simple recipe that I found on a the back of a Coopers leaflet called Aztec Gold.  I put 500g of Dry light malt and 1 can of Coopers Cerveza brew mixture into the fermenter, added 2 litres of boiling water and mix.  Once mixed, I added rain water to make up 23 litres, took an original specific gravity reading (mine was 1036) and then pitched the yeast when the temperature goes below 25C.  To see how the process works, have a look at my Home Brewing video tutorial

I made this batch up on a Sunday, before I came down sick, and it bubbled away merrily for 6 days.  My wife Kim let me put the fermenter in the laundry, because the temperature variation in the shed has been ridiculous and she likes Cerveza!

The beer stopped fermenting on Friday so I could have bottled it earlier, however from experience, I always leave the beer in the fermenter for an extra two days, so that the beer settles and clears without the use of finings. The final specific gravity was 1008.

After washing and sterilising all sixty six 330ml bottles, I added just under a teaspoon of white sugar to each bottle, then filled them all up as you can see below.

Then I went about putting the crown seals on each bottle with my hand capping machine.  

My darling daughter Megan (who took the photos) always catches my best angle.  Here is a sealed bottle.  Once sealed, I inverted the bottle a few times to dissolve the sugar to start secondary fermentation.  This produces the beer bubbles.

Here is an action shot.  It is a pretty simple process, and from start to finish, bottling usually takes me about 90 minutes.

This recipe turned out to be a winner.  It is light at only 3.5%, and has a fantastic taste that is just right for drinking after a session with the hand lawn mower!

Beer making is a great hobby, and I suppose that if I draw a really long bow, it is a great skill to have if the breweries every shut down or go broke, and besides that, the satisfaction of sharing your own home made beer with mates is second to none.  Especially when it tastes great as well!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Experiments with Culture

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I've got six bale-topped bottles lined up in front of me, sterilizing bleach water in the sink behind me, when my husband walks in to make himself something for dinner. "Could you please wait a couple more minutes, until I'm finished?" I ask, and he heads back into the living room. I'm bottling a batch of kombucha and, as with all fermented or cultured foods, care must be taken to avoid cross-contamination with rogue bacterias. And we do share our home with quite a few different cultures that need care and feeding just like the animals.

My kitchen alchemy experiments started with cabbage. Living then above 10,000 feet, my gardening attempts never produced very much, but one year I ended up with way more cabbage than I thought I could eat fresh. With salt and a bit of time, however, I watched fascinated as the cabbage transformed into sauerkraut. And it was so good! I'd only tasted supermarket stuff dumped out of a can - this was crunchy and fresh-tasting instead of tinny and limp. I still try to make a batch each fall. There's a half-gallon jar of fresh, never canned, kraut in my refrigerator right now.

Next up, after I'd moved to Nevada, was a sourdough culture, shared with me by an elderly neighbor twenty years ago. I don't know how long she'd kept it going, she's been gone for quite a few years now. But I've dutifully kept it fed and healthy ever since.

I'm not the only one fermenting and culturing stuff around here, either. I gave my husband a little 2-gallon beer-making kit one Christmas. He caught the fermenting fever and now, every couple of months, we have a five-gallon fermentation bucket bubbling away on the corner of the kitchen counter. Last fall, he made a batch of beer using our first home-grown hops harvest. As soon as the beer was finished and bottled, we crushed a bushel of gleaned apples for a batch of hard cider. When a friend offered me the four cases of empty Grolsch beer bottles stored in her garage, I was there in a heartbeat. With new neoprene gaskets, it's easy to use the same bottles over and over - just fill and snap closed.

Once I had access to apple cider alcohol, trying my hand at cider vinegar seemed a logical next step. Every fall, we like to make the trip across the Sierras to Apple Hill, a day spent wandering around the area checking out the harvests, craft fairs, and shops. One of my favorite places has lots of flavored vinegars for sale. I got to talking with the owner about vinegar-making, and he was kind enough to give me some vinegar mother from one of his barrels. It now lives in a jar in my top cupboard. Every once in a while, when I'm down in the cellar, I'll bring up a bottle of cider to feed "mother".

After reading about kombucha, a fizzy beverage cultured from sweetened tea, I thought I'd like to try making it. I asked for the culture on my local Freecycle website, and had two responses within a day. When I went out to pick up the culture, that nice lady also offered me some kefir grains. The kefir I keep alive by making a batch occasionally, and storing it in the refrigerator between times. The kombucha, I love! A gallon jar makes enough for six bottles plus a bit more to add to the next batch, and I've had a batch going pretty much continuously for the past year.

Last summer, with a glut of fresh cucumbers, I decided to try fermenting them into sour pickles. This one is definitely a keeper! I moved the crock full of pickles into the cellar last fall. I have to pull a layer of scum off the top of the liquid every week to 10 days, but that's no problem as I'm down there that often anyway. It holds together almost like a firm gel, so I just pinch it to pull it out and toss it. Every couple of weeks I bring a big pickle up to keep in a jar in the refrigerator, cutting off slices as needed. They're so much better, and crisper, than the salty, vinegary dill pickles I used to make.

Just about the only cultures I don't keep going on a regular basis are yogurt and buttermilk. I've heard it's best to start those with fresh cultures every so often anyway, and both are easy enough to come by in the store. One of these days, I might have to try cheese-making. My fellow blogger here, Gavin, has piqued my interest with his posts. A home just can't have too much culture, can it?

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Home Brew Beer

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

Enough words, time for some movies on the SGFC.

I ran a beer making workshop a few months ago, and want to share it all with you today.  It is in three parts, so those who are interested in making your own beer from a kit, enjoy the show and I hope you learn or can share it with your partner.  You even get to hear my cool Aussie accent!


If you want to see how my beer turned out, have a look at this post titled "Beer Tasting".  It all tastes great, and it is very cheap at 46 cents a 750ml bottle.  The initial set up cost was about $80 for the first batch and all the equipment, but every brew after that, the price reduces as you pay back you set up cost from the savings.  Suffice to say that I have not bought a beer for a very long time.

Just a reminder.  Please drink in moderation.  Having an abundant supply of the amber nectar does not necessarily mean you have to drink more.  Words of wisdom from a man who knows!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Consider Kefir

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I like yogurt. I use it in smoothies, atop fruit and granola with honey, and interchangeably with buttermilk in baking and some recipes. I know how to make it at home, but it's such a fussy process I never do. Keeping it at a constant warm temperature in a house heated with a wood stove (when I light a fire at all) is difficult. Then, you're supposed to start with fresh "from the store" culture every so often anyway. Despite trying to avoid purchasing plastic packaging, if I want yogurt, I buy it from the store.

But a few weeks ago, by coincidence, I found something better. I've been writing about making vinegar and dealing with the mother-of-vinegar culture on my own blog. I got a comment from a reader saying it sounded a lot like making kombucha tea. That same day, I'd just read a magazine article about kombucha too. I was intrigued, and posted a request for a kombucha starter on my local Freecycle network. I received two offers, and made plans to meet with one. When I got there, she also offered to give me some water kefir grains, and some milk kefir grains. Oh boy, more stuff to experiment with! I'm still deciding about the kombucha and water kefir. They take longer to culture, and both need added sugar to work. I don't like the idea of increasing my intake of sugar, so the jury is still out on those.

But I'm already hooked on the milk kefir. I've tasted the flavored stuff you can buy in the store, and I do like it. But it's sooooo expensive, and comes packaged in little individual plastic bottles. So, not something I'm gonna buy. But making your own is so easy - much easier than making yogurt, once you have some kefir grains.

Kefir grains aren't grain. They're a symbiotic combination of good bacterias and yeasts - more of the same kind of probiotics that make yogurt good for you. They've been used for centuries (Marco Polo mentions kefir in his journals) to ferment milk to form a beneficial cultured product. Kefir grains look like little bits of cauliflower, with a squishy texture somewhat like tapioca.

You can't make them from scratch, but once you have some you can keep using them indefinitely. They can be ordered via the Internet, but try what I did and just ask around. Over time, the grains increase in number, making it easy to pass some on to a friend. Added to milk, the culture forms in your home's ambient temperature. They work great for me in a jar on my kitchen counter.

It's also easy to make as much or as little as I need. Each morning, I put the grains into a soap-and-water clean jar and add milk right out of the refrigerator (I use non-fat milk. I've also read that it will work with non-dairy milks, such as soy or nut, but haven't tried it), and put a lid on it. A couple of times during the day, if I think about it, I'll give the jar a little swirl, but try not to get any of the culture on the metal lid. By evening, the culture has thickened to the consistency of store-bought buttermilk, and the grains have risen to the top.

It could be used then, but right now I've been letting it continue to culture overnight (in the summertime, when it's hotter in the house, 8-12 hours will probably be long enough). By the next morning, a bit of whey might start to separate from the culture at the bottom. It's now more the consistency of paint - thick enough to support a plastic straw. You're supposed to avoid contact with metal for the best taste, so I stir up the kefir with a clean plastic straw or spoon, and then strain out the grains.

I have a nylon tea strainer, designed to fit inside a teapot, that just fits inside the opening on a wide-mouth canning band. It takes only a few minutes of stirring and pouring into the strainer to end up with the fresh kefir in a quart jar, the kefir grains in the strainer. Some sources have said to rinse the grains each time, others say it's not necessary. If I were on city water that contained chlorine or fluoride I might not rinse mine. But we're on a well with good water so I rinse the grains a bit in the strainer under cool running water. Dumped into a clean jar, I either start the process again for the next day, or the grains will keep, covered with a bit of milk or cream and stored in a covered jar in the refrigerator (the woman I got them from had kept them for a couple of months that way, and they revived, no problem).

I like refrigerating the kefir then, later mixing it 50/50 with any kind of juice, making a flavored beverage just like the ones you buy in the little plastic bottles, for an afternoon snack. In the blender with frozen fruit, it makes a great smoothie. I've used it as a substitute for buttermilk in baking recipes, and drizzled it plain over granola and fruit. Plain, it's a bit sweeter than yogurt - not quite as tangy. Left to culture as long as I let it, the texture can feel a bit "ropey" in your mouth to just drink right out of the jar. It's not as solid as yogurt, and won't form much "cheese" if left to drain. But it's sooooo easy, and good - I'm definitely happy with this discovery.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Making Sauerkraut for New Years

by Chiot's Run

Several years ago I started making sauerkraut for New Year's Day. We've been eating sauerkraut on New Year's Day since I can remember. We used to go out to my grandma's house and she would have a big roaster full of sauerkraut, sausage and dumplings. When my grandma died my dad took over. He developed his own special recipe, changing it each year to make it better. It's not your typical kraut recipe, it includes carrots, apples, tomatoes and all kinds of delicious goodness. For a few photos of my dad cooking on New Year's and the recipe see this post.

Making Sauerkraut for New Year's

Sauerkraut that ferments at cooler temperatures - 65 or lower - has the best flavor, color and vitamin C content. The fermentation process takes longer at these temperatures, around 4-6 weeks. That's probably why it's traditionally made in the fall. Looks like I'm making mine at the right time, it should be ready in December and waiting in the fridge for New Years!

Adding Salt for Sauerkraut

Making sauerkraut is quite easy all you need is cabbage (red or green), salt, and time (3 T of salt for every 5 lbs of cabbage). First you slice up the cabbage as thinly as you'd like, I usually do some really thin and some thick for variety. Then you put some sliced cabbage in a bowl and sprinkle salt over it, then smash with a wooden spoon or potato masher and mix. Continue adding cabbage and salt and mixing and smashing until the bowl is half full.

Making Sauerkraut for New Year's

When the bowl is about half full I let it sit for 10-15 minutes to let the cabbage wilt a little. This makes it easier to stuff into the glass jar I'm using as a fermenting crock. Transfer the cabbage to the jar, smash it down and continue working until all the cabbage is salted, smashed and packed into the jar. Let the cabbage sit overnight, if the brine hasn't covered the cabbage make some brine (1.5 T of salt to 1 quart of water) and pour over the cabbage. Next you weigh the cabbage down to keep it submerged below the brine. Some people use a Ziploc bag filled with brine, I use a canning jar to weigh down the cabbage because I'm not comfortable using plastic. Let it sit for 4-6 weeks until it stops bubbling and it tastes like sauerkraut. Make sure you check the kraut every couple days and add brine if the level goes down. Skim any scum that forms on the top. I typically end up adding some several times during fermentation. After 4-6 weeks (or less if it's warmer) you'll have kraut (taste to see if it's done). You really can't get much simpler. When it's finished store in the fridge and enjoy whenever you want. You can enjoy cold as is or cook it in recipes.

Brine Forming

When I was making this I thought about all the women in past generations of my family that spent time each fall making sauerkraut for New Year's. Connecting with our food heritage is such a wonderful thing. Hopefully our nieces & nephew will grow up with fond memories of eating Grandpa's Famous Sauerkraut on New Year's and continue the tradition with their families.

Making Sauerkraut for New Year's

Do you have a specific food or menu that has been passed down through the generations of your family?