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A Perfected Pickle

It was feeling ironic that dill pickles were my least successful naturally fermented vegetable.  Whenever I tried pickling cucumbers, their taste and texture seemed less than ideal.  So I dove into an information rabbit hole.

My technique was perfected thanks to the facebook group called “Wild Fermentation Uncensored.”  It is a information treasure trove and open forum for everything fermentation-related (if you join, be sure to check out the files, specifically the document “fermentation basics”).

naturally fermented dill pickles2

Here’s how I perfected my pickles:

-I aimed for a pickle between a half and full-sour.  To do this, I mixed 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of sea salt (Real Salt brand) into one quart of water (weigh out 38g of salt if you’re using a different coarseness).

-I cut off the blossom ends of each cucumber (they apparently have softening enzymes in them) and soaked the cucumbers in ice water for about an hour (this is supposed to prevent mold from forming in the fermentation process).

-As I had done in the padt, I put some wild grape leaves in the bottom of my jar (they provide tannins to the ferment which helps keep pickles crispy).

-I used less garlic.  I find that fermented garlic is one of the main sources of “funkiness” in natural ferments.  If trying to appeal to a general audience (and my husband), I’ve found that most of my pickles are received more enthusiastically if I cut back on garlic.

-Our house was below 75 degrees, which is ideal to create good pickles…. above that and things can get quickly out of control.  Below 68 or so and things start to slow down and take a lot longer.

Cucumbers in ice bath

dil pickle jar prep

The process:

Starting with a half gallon mason jar, I packed the bottom with a bunch of dill, one sliced up garlic clove, and several grape leaves.  I then packed in my cucumbers, fresh out of their ice water bath.  I then poured my brine over the top so everything was completely submerged.  I used a half cup mason jar as my weight – it fits perfectly into the wide mouth of the half gallon jar and keeps all the cucumbers below the brine.  I then loosely covered the jar with a cap and placed it in a bowl on my counter in case the brine overflowed.

Every day, I screwed the cap on tight and tipped the jar back and forth so bubbles hiding under pickles and leaves could come to the top.  I then re-loosened the cap.  After about a week, I put the whole jar into the fridge and let it sit there for another week before tasting (in the fridge fermentation is slowed dramatically, any fizziness can work its way out of the pickles, and the flavors can continue to meld together).

The results: 

Yum!  The flavor was mildly garlicky and dilly, sour and salty.  Most importantly, the pickles were crisp and crunchy!  I quickly set off to the garden to pick more cucumbers for a second batch.

naturally fermented dill pickles

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Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Drink for Good Health

elderberry-kombucha-1When it comes to drinks, I think I’ve found a match made in heaven: I call it Elderberry Kombucha Tonic.

elderberry-syrupI’ve been enjoying sips of Elderberry Syrup all winter long, especially when I feel a twinge in my throat or a tickle in my nose.  The recipe I follow, however, doesn’t have any sour flavors.  With the raw honey, it’s actually quite sweet.  Learn how to make your own by reading this past Growing Stories post.

KombuchaI’ve been brewing kombucha for a few years now and always have a jug of it in the fridge.  I think it’s a healthy, delicious, and refreshing alternative to soda or juice.  All the information you’d ever want to know about kombucha (and maybe more) is available at www.kombuchakamp.com, so I won’t go into too many details.

With elderberry syrup and kombucha sharing shelf space on the door of our refrigerator, I was bound to discover how well they mix sooner or later.  Mmmmm.  The flavors in both drinks are quite concentrated, so I like to add a few ice cubes or some club soda.  If you’re looking for a great alcoholic drink, dry mixing kombucha, elderberry syrup, and club soda with gin.

elderberry-kombucha-2

Cheers to your health in the new year!

Elderberry-Tonic

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Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Simple Sauerkraut

Have you heard how awesome fermented foods are? (if not, check out this story or this one on NPR or this longer article in the New York Times)  If you are trying to fit more fermented foods into your diet, and you don’t have unlimited money, try making your own at home!  A cabbage and two tablespoons of salt, the ingredients of sauerkraut, cost a buck or two.  A quart of “live” sauerkraut can easily set you back $10.   Sandor Katz, one of the most famous advocates of fermentation, recommends “starting with sauerkraut,” and I agree!

packed-in-jars

It’s easy to make your own sauerkraut and you can do it without buying any unusual or extra tools or ingredients for your kitchen.  Once you get the hang of it, you’ll never look back!  Here’s how:

smashing-log1) Gather ingredients (1 organic cabbage, 1 tablespoon sea salt), containers (1 half gallon ball jar, or equivalent, and a bowl it can sit on), and tools (knife, cutting board, big tupperware container or pot, washed log with flat end).  Yes, the tools include a washed log with a flat end!  Instead of buying a “tamper,” we went out to the wood pile and selected a nice maple log that was about 1.5″ diameter, brought it in, and washed it off in the sink.
cutting-cabbage1
2) Rinse cabbage and remove any really yucky outer leaves.  Outer leaves that are simply wilted are fine to leave.

3) Cut up the cabbage.  Any shape will do.  I like halving the cabbage, laying each flat half down, cutting strips, and then cutting those strips into shorter pieces.  I leave the core in – it’s just as delicious when pickled.
cutting-cabbage
4) Fill big tupperware or pot, no more than 1/3 of the way up, with cabbage pieces.  Add a proportionate amount of your salt.  If you fit half the cabbage, add half your salt: 1/2 tablespoon.  If you want to add spices, now’s the time to do it.

smashing5) Hold the container between your feet and mash, over and over again, with your tamper or log.  You want to break the cell walls and mash in the salt.  This will cause the cabbage to release liquids – enough to cover your sauerkraut with brine!  When you’ve mashed enough, you’ll notice that the pieces don’t pop around in the container as much when pounding.  They’ll be limper and less firm than when you started.

packing-red6) Pack mashed leaf and salt combination into your ball jar.  Use your masher and the back of a strong spoon to pack down the leaves as much as possible.

7) If you still have un-pounded cabbage and space in your jar, repeat chopping and mashing process until the (tightly packed) cabbage rises to one or two inches below the top of your jar.  Don’t go higher than that.  Liquid should be covering mashed packed leaves.  If it doesn’t, let everything sit for ten minutes and try pushing the leaves down into the jar again.  The salt will work its magic helping the leaves release juices.

packed-in-jars8) Cover and put in a bowl in a warmish place in your house where you’ll notice it.  A kitchen counter works well for us.  When you’re just starting, you’ll want to keep an eye on things.  Check your kraut every day.  The bowl is important – juice may leak out the top and you’ll want to catch it.

get-the-air-out9) KEY SECRET STEP: This seems to be left off of most sauerkraut how-to lists.  It can make the difference between limp stinky kraut and a crunchy yummy final product.  Stick a butter knife down into your kraut each day in a bunch of different spots to allow any air bubbles to come to the top.  If any liquid came out of the jar and was caught in your bowl, pour it back in.  Push kraut back down, making sure all the cabbage remains covered in liquid every day.  The key to good kraut is to make sure it sours in an anaerobic environment.  You can use all sorts of expensive tools for this, or you can do daily check-ups, using a butter knife to remove air bubbles and a spoon to push leaves back below the brine.

10) Taste it!  After 4 or 5 days, taste a piece!  Sauerkraut will sour at different rates based on the sugar content of the cabbage, the quantity of bacteria present, and the temperature in your house.  Plus, YOU need to decide when it has soured enough for your taste.  Everyone’s perferences are different.

11) When you love it, stick it in the fridge.  Naturally fermented veggies will last for a long time in the fridge.  Just make sure to keep the leaves submerged in brine.  If it starts to dry out and there isn’t enough brine to cover the leaves, add a bit of water and maybe a sprinkle of salt.  If the top layer gets a white filmy mold, don’t worry!  If it grosses you out scoop it off.  It won’t hurt you.  When you’ve finished the kraut, any remaining brine can be used in recipes (salad dressing, soup flavoring, etc.) or used to inoculate your next batch of pickles.

Want to pickle other veggies?  It’s easy!  Check out this blog post to learn more.

Love to play around with flavors?  Try pounding in a traditional combination of caraway and juniper berries to your next batch.  It’s delicious!

spiced-green
Green cabbage – with salt, caraway, and juniper – ready to pound
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Home Gardens Recipes Uncategorized

Zucchinis Galore

zucchini-harvestIt’s August, and that means we’ve got plenty of zucchinis… in fact, we may have a few zucchinis too many.  One of our favorite ways to use a bunch of these prolific vegetables each year is in a big batch of zucchini relish.  We love using the relish all year long on sausages, hot dogs, and mixed with mayonnaise to make tartar sauce.  This year, I adapted our family’s recipe, souring it via natural fermentation.  Enjoy!

Canned Zucchini Relish

  • zucchini-relish-shredded-mixtureGrind the following ingredients using the grater attachment of your food processor (the one you might use making latkes):
    -10 cups summer squash or zucchini
    -4 cups onion
    -1 green bell pepper, 1 red bell pepper
  • Add 5 tablespoons salt.  Mix and let stand, covered, overnight.  Drain and rinse in cold water (don’t worry about getting rid of every drop… some moisture will help in the canning process).  Place in a large pot with:
    -2 1/4 cups distilled vinegar
    -4 cups sugar
    -1 tablespoon ground nutmeg, mustard, turmeric, cornstarch
    -1/2 teaspoon pepper, celery seed
  • Bring to boil, and simmer for 30 minutes uncovered.  Stir occasionally to help all of the air out.  By the end of the 30 minutes, most of the air or bubbles should have escaped from your mixture.
  • With ladle and funnel, fill hot sterilized canning jars and cap  -or-  fill jars and can in hot water bath for 10 minutes. 

annual-supply-of-relish

Naturally Fermented Zucchini Relish

  • soured-mixtureGrind the following ingredients using the grater attachment of your food processor (the one you might use making latkes):
    -5 cups summer squash or zucchini
    -2 cups onion
    -1 red bell pepper
  • Pack into a 1/2 gallon ball jar with 1 tablespoon sea salt and 1/2 cup fermented pickle/sauerkraut brine or whey.  Cover and let sit, stirring to release bubbles daily, until sour.  This took about 5 days for me.  It can vary, depending on the temperature of your house and your preferred level of sourness.
  • After souring, in a large bowl, mix:
    -Shredded mixture
    -1 cup sugar
    -1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, mustard, turmeric
    -a dash of pepper and celery seed
  • Repack mixture into 1/2 gallon glass jar and refrigerate until ready to serve.

fermented-relish

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Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Pickle Mania

In the midst of my August pickling fervor, I took a moment to fondly look back at my first post about naturally fermenting veggies.  It’s hard to believe it was only a year and a half ago.  Now, pickle jars line our counters and the doors and shelves of the fridge (yes – the photos below accurately illustrate our current fridge situation.  It’s gotten a little bit out of hand.  Luckily for those who want to chill food that is not pickled, we have two fridges).  Though each member of our household has varying degrees of enthusiasm for fermentation, each person can tell you their favorite kind of pickle and how to make it.  The best thing about making pickles?  It’s easy!

Kimchi, Kombucha, Sauerkraut, Dill Pickles, and Pickled Hot Peppers.
Half gallons of Kimchi, Kombucha, Red Cabbage Sauerkraut, Dill Pickles, and Pickled Hot Peppers.
Fermented Salsa, Kimchi, Pickled Carrots, Pickled Kohlrabi, and Cucumber Pickles.
Fermented Salsa, Kimchi, Pickled Carrots, Pickled Kohlrabi, and Cucumber Pickles.
Naturally Soured Zucchini Relish, Pickled Garlic Scapes, Old Brine, Pickled Fiddleheads, and Spicy Turnip Pickles.
Naturally Soured Zucchini Relish, Pickled Garlic Scapes, Old Brine, Pickled Fiddleheads, and Spicy Turnip Pickles.

If you’re new to fermentation, make sure to take a moment to read my original “Fermenting Foods” post – I wrote it as a newbie to the process and include some more detail and background information.   Below, find quick steps for getting started – you’ll notice everything is quite flexible and open to experimentation!

Natural Fermentation Pickles:  Good for your digestion, delicious, and fun to make!

  1. Pack a wide mouth canning jar with sliced veggies.  I love using carrots, cucumbers, kohlrabi, radishes, or green beans.
  2. For each quart of packed veggies, add either 1 tablespoon salt or 1 teaspoon salt + 1/4 cup brine or whey.  Brine is the liquid you get from a previous batch of naturally fermented pickles.  Whey is the liquid you get from straining plain yogurt.  Adding these liquids guarantees the introduction of lactobacillus – the kind of bacteria you want growing in your jar.  It also means you need less salt to ensure correct preservation.
  3. Pack everything down even more.  After a few hours, the salt will bring water out of your veggies.  Some have enough water to cover themselves in liquid.  If not, fill your jar the rest of the way up with water.
  4. Leave jar in a bowl in case liquid over flows.  Make sure it’s in a place where you can keep an eye on it!
  5. Push everything down each day, allowing air to be released and ensuring that all ingredients are in an anaerobic (covered in liquid) environment.
  6. Taste daily.  When your pickles have soured to the flavor you’d like, put them in the fridge.  Depending on the temperature in your house, this can take 3-10 days.  Putting your pickles in the fridge or cold storage slows the souring process waaaaay down – they can last for a long time.  We’ve eaten some that are over a year old!
  7. If you get some white filmy mold on top, don’t worry.  You can scrape it off – it won’t hurt you.  This only happens to me when I make pickles during the really hot and humid months of the summer.
Steps along the way: fermenting kohlrabi and cucumber pickles.
Steps along the way: fermenting kohlrabi and cucumber pickles.  They’re now in our fridge, ready to enjoy.

Quick Vinegar Refrigerator Pickles:  If you’re hesitant to eat “alive” foods, but want to enjoy pickles from your garden harvest, try this quick easy method.

  1. Heat 1 cup water in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Add 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and whichever of the following ingredients you’d like:  sugar (try 2 teaspoons), mustard seed (1 teaspoon), pickling spices (1 teaspoon) and/or garlic (1 clove cracked).  Simmer until salt and/or sugar dissolves.
  2. Pack a canning jar (or any glass jar with a tightly fitting lid) with sliced cucumbers, green beans, or other veggies.  Include some fronds of dill or a bay leaf if you’d like.
  3. Pour your hot brine over your packed veggies.  Make sure it covers them up completely.
  4. Cool and allow to sit for at least a day in the fridge.  They’ll get more flavor the longer they sit.  Because they’re in the fridge, you don’t need to worry about all of the steps and precautions of traditional canning.

Fermenting hot sauces and salsas: Read more here – we’re still enjoying some of last year’s spicy concoctions!

Happy Pickling!

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Home Gardens Uncategorized

‘Tis The Season…

…when extra large industrial bowls are no longer big enough

harvest-counter

…when I find forgotten husk cherries in my pocket

husk-cherries

…when bubbling pickle jars start building up on the counter

pickling-counter

…when I’m glad we (Dad) did some trellising earlier this summer

squash-trellis

…when the chickens enjoy a never ending buffet of greens

chicken-yard

…when “just going up to get a cucumber” turns into a day of harvesting and food processing

harvest-tableHappy Gardening!

 

Categories
Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Scenes of a Fall Kitchen

Our harvest season keeps on going and going and going.  We’ve had no freezing temperatures since covering up our favorite garden plants for the first frost nearly a month ago.  There’s been summery harvest dinners, bags of lettuce and boxes of berries delivered to neighbors, and second chances to preserve more of our bounty.

In the fall we celebrate several birthdays in our home, giving us a lot of opportunities to smother special desserts with fresh raspberries.  For my birthday, Dad carved stone weights for two new crock pots!  When he says that our kitchen is alive, he’s not exaggerating.  Between my fermenting veggies and kombucha, Dad’s bubbling country wines and bread, and Mom’s various food projects, there’s often a lot going on.  Check out some scenes from our fall kitchen below:

New-Crock-and-Cover
Making kimchi in my new crock pot. Dad carved the lid for me!
Our favorite flourless chocolate cake smothered in raspberries
Our favorite flourless chocolate cake smothered in raspberries
Shredded peppers, onions, and zucchinis ready for a naturally fermented relish
Shredded peppers, onions, and zucchinis ready for a naturally fermented relish
A sink full of kale, ready to be steamed and frozen
A sink full of kale, ready to be steamed and frozen
Some "projects" in progress
Some “projects” in progress (sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and cider vinegar)
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Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Blueberry & Lemon: A Match Made in Heaven

Fresh-BlueberriesIt’s blueberry season!  After eating my fill of freshly picked handfuls of berries, I start thinking about what I can make with them.  This year I’ve tried two new recipes: Naturally Fermented Soda and Very Blueberry-y Ice Cream.  Along with my favorite old standby, Lemon Curd with fresh blueberries, all of these recipes combine lemon and blueberry flavors and are some of my favorite summer treats!

Very Blueberry-y Ice Cream:
Blueberry-Ice-CreamUse a food processor to blend 2 cups frozen berries,* 2 egg yolks,** 2 cups heavy cream, 1/4 cup maple syrup, and the zest and juice of half a lemon.  Add more syrup or other ingredients to taste.  I like adding more berries for a fruity-er treat.  Pour into an ice cream maker (if you have one*) and follow the machine’s directions to make your final product.  For popsicles, pour into popsicle molds or small paper cups, stick in popsicle sticks, and freeze.
*I don’t have an Ice Cream Maker, so I use frozen berries, put my slushy mixture into a bowl in the freezer, and mix with a whisk or fork after 2 and 4 hours.  If I make it around lunch time, it’s a nice consistency for an evening dessert.  If it’s really hard, I leave it out for a few minutes and then serve.  Alternatively, you can just enjoy it right away as a smoothie!
**If you don’t have a good source of pastured eggs, feel free to omit the yolks.

Lemon Curd:
lemonsUsing a carrot peeler, remove the zest of 3 lemons, then juice them, setting the juice aside for later.  Combine the zest with 1 1/2 cups sugar in a food processor, pulsing until the zest is very finely minced into the sugar.  Cream 1 stick of butter and beat in the sugar and lemon mixture. While mixing, add 4 large eggs, 1 at a time.  Finally,  add the juice of 3 lemons and a pinch of salt (if the butter was unsalted). Mix until combined.  Pour the mixture into a 2 quart saucepan and cook over low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly.  Remove from the heat and cool or refrigerate.  Serve topped with fresh blueberries.

Blueberry-SodaNaturally Fermented Blueberry Soda:
I could type out all the steps, but others already have!  I used a recipe similar to this one. I learned about naturally fermenting sodas from Caroline, who writes about the process here.  I used a Ginger Bug to ferment my soda – growing it took about 5 days (when it was fizzy, it was ready).  I added 1 lemon (quartered, including juice and peel) to the recipe referenced in the links above. After brewing my soda, it took about 4 more days to reach my preferred balance of sour and sweet flavors.  I then bottled and capped it, left it out for about 8 hours to build up some fizz, and put it in the fridge.  Everyone LOVES it – it has a bright purple color, complex sour and sweet flavor, and delicate fizzyness.  Yum!

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Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Garlic Scape Recipes

garlic-scape-harvestGarlic scapes are delicious and versatile.  We use them raw and cooked in late June and early July when they spring from the tops of our garlic plants.  Here are a few suggesitons:

pickled-scapesPickled Garlic Scapes:  It might help to read through my “fermenting foods” post first if you want to try out natural fermentation for the first time.  Use 1 T. of sea salt per packed quart of veggies and fill with water.  Let sit, loosely covered, in a cool place and make sure all vegetables/scapes stay below the surface of the brine.  I love picked scapes!  Blended up, they could also made a great garlicky and sour addition to a spread or paste made later in the growing season.

scape-pestoGarlic Scape Pesto: Take 1.5 cups fresh scapes cut in one inch pieces,  1/3 cup of olive oil, and 1/4 cups toasted pine nuts.  Blend well in a blender or food processor. Stir in 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese.  Spice up your dinner, use as a dip, or freeze in small jars for later use.

Garlic Scape Stir Fry: Simply chop up scapes into bite-sized pieces and stir fry with your other favorite veggies.  I suggest adding in the scapes last, because they lose their garlic flavor quickly.  They should only fry for a few minutes – just past the point when they turn bright green.  I froze a bag of chopped scapes for a fun addition to winter stirfries.

Here's the chopped bag or scapes and small containers pesto ready for the freezer!
Here’s the chopped bag of scapes and small containers pesto ready for the freezer!
scape-snack
Everyone loves garlic scapes! (photo by Vera Simon-Nobes)
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Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Fermenting Foods

While I wait for food to grow in the garden, I’ve been playing around with growing things in the kitchen!  Fermenting foods – with fungi and bacteria – makes them more digestible and nutritious.  They can seem like an acquired taste, but I’m guessing you’ve already acquired a taste for cheese, beer, and chocolate.  These are all fermented.  Many sterilized canned products containing vinegar today, like pickles and mustard, used to be live fermented foods.  It seems we are just starting to learn about the complexity and importance of our “microflora” – all the things living in our digestive system that help us process food and stay healthy.

sauerkrautTo get inspired and feel more confident, I attended a Fermentation Workshop at our local Waldorf School.  Jason from FolkFoods was great.  In just two hours, he helped the interested but hesitant audience become confident fermenters.  We all left eager to go home and make our own lacto-fermented vegetable creations!

To start, we all brought a pint canning jar.  Crocks or buckets can be used as well, but canning jars allow for smaller experiments which probably are best for beginners!

ferment-taste-testTasting a variety of fermented foods helped us understand how different chopping methods, time, and ingredients affect the flavor of the final product.  In the photo above, there are fermented garlic scapes, leeks, beans, fennel, cabbage, cauliflower, and a red cabbage/veggie blend.

chopping-veggiesNext we chopped.  Pretty much any vegetable can be made into a nice pickled product.  Beans can make dilly beans, beets turn into pickled beets, and cabbage transforms into sauerkraut.  Experimenting with cutting the same veggie into different shapes and sizes can help you learn what you like best.

chopped-veggiesOnce our team had chopped the beautiful array of vegetables laid out by Jason, we packed our jars.  After filling each jar with  our favorite veggies, we packed them down and fit in even more leaving about an inch of head space.  Any spices or herbs were then added along with salt, and water was poured over everything to make a brine.  For every quart of veggies, 1 tablespoon of salt is needed.  If you add in brine from a previous lacto-fermented pickle batch for whey from strained yogurt, you don’t need to use as much salt.

My jar after three days.
My jar after three days.

At home, I loosened my ball jar’s cap to avoid carbonating my contents and placed it in a safe but visible space in the kitchen.  Each day I press down the veggies to make sure everything is under the brine.  I’ve watched the colors blend more and more.  The veggies started out tasting salty.  Each day they get a little bit more sour thanks to the activity of my bacteria friends.  I expect to find my favorite flavor between seven and ten days, when I will put the jar in the fridge.

For really great information and recipes for fermented foods, check out Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation or Art of Fermentation.