Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble – A “Productive Home” Post

Erica, over at NWedible, is doing a Productive Home Weekly Report thing (or was – it’s been a while for her, just as it’s been for me), and has invited people to chime in with their own productivity reports.
I’m… not totally fussed about tracking productivity (as you may have noticed). It feels a bit like giving myself a performance review. BUT, if I think of it as an opportunity to brag about the awesome-fun-cool stuff I’ve been doing/planting/harvesting/cooking/baking/canning/fermenting/etc chez moi that I’m really excited about… it gets a whole lot easier.
So here we go.
 
The thing I want to show off? I recently tried fermenting apple cider.
My sister sent me a fancy fermentation crock for making sour kraut and other brine-pickled veggies. The crock itself broke in transit – as happens sometimes when you ship something by bus across four provinces – but it came with an airlock which, tbh, I’m rather more excited about than the jar.
I had a whole jug of grocery store sweet cider left over from Winter Solstice, a recently acquired package of bread yeast, and NOW a shiny airlock! 😀
What could go wrong??
 
Remarkably? Just about nothing. (I feel semi-confidant saying this, for reasons you’ll learn shortly, but I’m still knocking on wood about it).
 
So. I know that, when fermenting beverages, it’s ideal to use something like champagne yeast, which can survive a high-alcohol-content environment and keep right on eating sugar – which is what you need if you want to get wine-levels of alcohol in your drink (12%-15% – I have no idea what the right fermentation terminology is on this one, so I’m just going with what tends to be written on the bottles). However I’ve had “apple wine”, and it tastes like apple cider with too much alcohol in it (easy alternative: Heat some up and then add a shot of spiced rum or cinnamon schnapps or something).
I was going for something more like “what people drink when they don’t like the taste of hopps”. Something with the 5%-ish alcohol levels of “alternative-to-ugh-beer cider”.
Which bread yeast can do just fine.
 
So I tipped half a teaspoon or so of fine bread yeast into the mouth of my cider jug, filled up my airlock with water, and packing-taped it to the mouth of the jug (they are the same size, and this is way easier than drilling out a hole in the middle of the lid, so that’s what I did).
I sat the already-starting-to-bubble cider in a glass baking dish, so that if/when things spilled over a little, I wouldn’t have a mess on my hands (this was a good idea – there wasn’t much spillage, maybe a teaspoon or two over the course of a couple of weeks, but it would have been sticky and gross if I hadn’t given it a spill-dish), and put the whole thing somewhere out-of-the-way.
 
And then I waited.
 
While I waited, I did a few other things on the Bubbling Cauldron front. Namely, I reorganized my chest freezer and, in the process, pulled out the leaf lard and the stock bones that came with Sir Francis Bacon, our (half of a) Large Black pig whom we put in the freezer in 2015.
 
To that end, I put up about a gallon (only a gallon – I didn’t use all the bones, because I want to be able to do this again sooner rather than later) of soup stock earlier this week and, more recently, finished putting up about three litres of rendered lard.
Re: Lard: I put the rolls of leaf lard into my slow cooker and heated them up on the “keep warm” setting. once it was warm enough to melt, I ladled the liquid fat into silicon muffin trays and let it solidify in the fridge (or in a snow bank, outside) before putting it into tubs in the freezer. We’ve still got some spicy shmaltz (uh… chicken fat for cooking with, it’s a Yiddish word, iirc, the same way English has tallow and lard and maybe lanolin – although I’m not sure if lanolin applies to ALL sheep fat or just the stuff that comes off the wool) in the fridge right now, so it’ll be a minute before I start using this lard to fry onions and otherwise cook savoury stuff on the stove, but it feels good to have it done.
 
I’ve also topped up the salt water in my sunchoke and beet pickles (and skimmed the mold off the surface of the water – it’s fine, that’s the whole point of keeping everything submerged in saline, the mold can’t actually grow in that salty & airless an environment), and decanted my kombucha (which I’ll have to do again later today, along with checking the sour kraut in the fridge and… doing something… with the kefir grains, because the cream they were in is definitely kefir cheese by now, and I’m not at all sure what to with it at this point).
 
Anyway. A couple of weeks have gone by, I’ve done some stuff – making stock and rendering lard – that make me feel resourceful and competent and, incidentally, give me extra free stuff with-which to cook. The boiled bones and the crackling left-over from making lard will go out to the compost heap for feeding the crows and/or anyone else who happens to come by.
It’s been long enough that I decided that today was the day to transfer my somewhat fermented-smelling cider to a different jug.
 
I’d hung onto the plastic jug from the sweet cider I mulled and served at Solstice, originally with the plan to use it to make mead (in much the same way, fyi, and that’s still the plan, even if I end up decanting it into old wine bottles that I re-label with a sharpie), so it was definitely the right size to take on a jug’s worth of the same stuff, only recently fermented.
 
I strained it through the sieve I use for decanting my kombucha – which probably means the whole thing is still full of dead yeast, even if I think I managed to keep most of it from sluicing through – and it was quite fizzy going into the new jug.
 
I haven’t tried any of it yet. I want to give it a month or two[1] in the fridge for a second ferment, I think it’s called, much slower (and less-likely to overflow for that reason) and a little bit gentler. I’m hoping it will clear the Slightly Funky smell underneath all the apples and sparkles – I’ve done a slightly-fermented tissane drink by filling an old wine bottle with sweet hibiscus tea and dropping a few grains of bread yeast in, and then letting it sit in the back of the fridge for literally a year. It works. AND there’s a Slightly Funky smell that happened at around the six month mark, so I’m not worried about catching that scent in my cider right now. I just know I need to give it a little more time to even out.
 
Anyway. That, right there, is what I’ve been doing for the past two weeks. I’m excited and hopeful, and looking forward to trying to make mead (ideally with a little bit of pomegranate molasses and some choke cherries thrown in – for tannin, in the second instance – and in time for me to be able to serve it next Winter Solstice).
 
Time to put laundry and books away.
 
TTFN,
Meliad.
 
 
[1] Or more, we’ll see. This might be the kind of thing that waits until Beltane, rather than Ostara, to hit the table, though wouldn’t it be great to serve apple cider pressed at Autumn Equinox half a year later when the days and nights are hanging equal again? I think that would be a lovely connection-point, like summer-honey wine served at Midwinter.

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