Tag Archives: DIY

Sour Kraut: The Adventure Continues!

So, back in the summer, I learned how to make sour kraut at a Queering613 workshop. (It was a tonne of fun, and I made a few new friends, which was also pretty great). We’ve been eating it for months, because I made a big jar off it, and it was time to top it up a couple of weeks ago.
I transferred everything to my spiffy Fermentation Crock (a gift from a pottery-making friend who is just as DIY as I am, if not more-so), topped it up with salt water and fresh cabbage, and let it sit for a week or so.
Reader, I let things get mouldy. O.O
Now, if you’ve been reading this for a while, you know that I am generally not a “Throw It Out, It’s Ruined!” kind of gal. I have scooped out the spoiled stuff (which was above-water-level, as is to be expected[1]) added a cup of filtered whey (from my last batch of kefir – see, I told you I’d mention whey in a follow-up post) and 2tbsp salt dissolved in some filtered (boiled and cooled, actually, which seems to be working just fine, at least when it comes to making kombucha) water and… we’ll see if this works.
Fingers crossed.
I hope it works. I don’t want to have to compost the entire batch, and I do want to be able to serve sour kraut with perogies in the near future, plus use it to make sandwiches (it goes really well with garlicky hummus, and I think it would be good on a roast pork sammie as well) when my wife and I are working in the shop.
I’m really interested in continuing to make fermented veggie pickles. I’d like make some rutabaga & beet pickles (like you eat with shawarma) and to try lacto-fermenting as’kibwan'[3] using either a recipe like this or just working it the way I do my sour kraut (similar to this). I’m interested in using diced chard and kale stems (which I typically dice and freeze, and then chuck into stews and braises) to make a chunky, crunchy kraut for sandwiches, too, that I could also chuck into stir-fries or braises in lieu of needing to add vinegar for “brightness”. I’m even thinking about trying to make fermented hummus using whey and maybe kombucha-vinegar (instead of lemon juice)… just for the heck of it, really.
I mean, we’ll see if I do any of this. But it’s on my mind, and they are things I’d like to try.
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
[1] Sour kraut is an anarobic[2] ferment, so it’s only good (or safe, for that matter) to eat if you’re keeping it submerged. Which is why fermentation crocks often involve a weighted lid that fits inside the crock, rather than on top of it.
[2] Meaning “needs to be kept away from air” in order to ferment properly. Kefir is an example of an arobic ferment, that needs air circulation to properly do its thing.
[3] I have yet to dig my sunchokes – which are maybe called as’kibwan’, or something close to it(?), in Anishnaabemowin (local indigenous language – I figure it’s an indigenous-to-the-area plant, might as well use its real name) – out of the back yard, though it’s warm enough to day that I can probably do so. I admit to be a bit nervous about storing my (current) favourite root crop. I don’t (yet) have a bucket of sand that I can stick them in, so I’m looking at blanching-&-freezing and pickling in the interim.

Adventures in Cheese-Making, Part Five: Kefir (this time with kefir grains!)

So I’ve started making kefir.
Kefir isn’t technically a cheese (although, strictly speaking, none of the cultured dairy I’ve made, including the ricotta, has been “cheese” because none of it has involved any kind of rennet? Who knows), but it is a cultured milk product that is vaguely related to yoghurt, so I’m putting it under this heading.
Why Kefir? My wife, who is generally not a fan of anything less cheese-like than old cheddar or a fairly firm blue, asked me this the other day. It is, after all, basically just milk that’s Gone Off in a very specific way. Here’s (essentially – I’ve expanded it a little bit) what I told her:

So, I love yoghurt. I love it on pancakes. I love using it instead of sour milk to make coffee cakes and muffins and stuff. I love it as a base for a creamy salad dressing for winter veggies[1]. I love it with maple syrup and frozen service berries as a breakfast. It’s fantastic. It’s also expensive as fuck. Plain yoghurt that isn’t full of thickeners, but also isn’t Organic, runs about $3/kg. A kilogram of yoghurt, at my house, lasts about 2 days, if I use it as a breakfast food. Longer if I use it as a topping or a dressing, but it’s primarily a protein source and major meal component, when I have my druthers. I’m not down for spending $10 a week on yoghurt. But I’m buying a $6 gallon of milk every week anyway and, over the summer, I was having about 1L of every gallon go bad on me. So I thought: Why don’t I make yoghurt?
Except that, every time I try to make yoghurt[4] all I get is a skiff of yoghurt floating on top of a litre+ of whey. Not helpful. That, or I thicken the milk with powdered milk (not cheap) which gets me yoghurt, yes, but it gets me chalky yoghurt that I don’t want to eat as a breakfast food.
So I decided to look up mesophilic[5] dairy cultures and try my hand at those.

And try, I did!
My first attempt was actually using powdered “kefir starter” which… works. Ish. But the kefir I got wasn’t very thick. Basically, a powdered starter will only ferment the milk up to a certain point, and that point was a little runnier / more watery than I liked.
But then! A friend of mine arrived at my birthday party (about 2 weeks ago) bearing a jar of milk for me. Floating in the milk were a few tablespoons of kefir grains happily getting their ferment on. 😀
So, as they say, it was on. I set the jar down on top of my chest freezer (warm, out of direct light, not likely to get knocked over) and let it do its thing for a few days. The kefir grains did their job fantastically (maybe too fantastically?) and I wound up over-fermenting things just a little bit.
This isn’t the end of the world, especially if you’re wanting thick kefir to begin with, but it did mean that – after I poured off most of the whey (kefir totally separates into curds and whey, fyi – it doesn’t mean something’s gone wrong, that’s normal and your kefir is okay) – I actually had trouble separating the curds, which I wanted to use in lieu of chevre, from the kefir grains (which you have to strain out, so that you can ferment more milk).
Kefir grains, by the way, are a SCOBY. They’re like the weird jellyfish/pancake thing that develops in, and creates, kombucha, but rather than being a jellyfish/pancake, a kefir SCOBY is dozens (or more!) of translucent little blobs like tapioca pearls[6].
So I bugged my fermento/DIY friends on FB and they all gave me suggestions for how to handle this little problem.
What I ended up doing was the easiest option possible.
I transferred everything except the poured-off whey (more on that in a follow-up post) into a larger jar – the one I’d first fermented sour kraut in, as it happens (don’t worry, I washed it VERY well to avoid flavour-crossing) – topped that jar up with milk, and let it sit, covered in a clean dish cloth, for another few days.
After enough time had passed that my ferment was starting to separate, I poured off some of the whey, but kept some in the jar. I shook everything up a little bit, and then tried straining the grains again.

Using a plastic mesh strainer (kefir, like other SCOBYs, doesn't do well with metal equipment) and a plastic funnel to strain kefir into a 1L mason jar.  Mesh strainer contains clumps of kefir grains, which will be reserved to make the next batch of milk kefir.

Using a plastic mesh strainer (kefir, like other SCOBYs, doesn’t do well with metal equipment) a plastic funnel, and a wooden spoon to gently strain kefir into a 1L mason jar. Mesh strainer contains clumps of kefir grains, which will be reserved to make the next batch of milk kefir.

Suffice to say, it worked.
What I ended up with, once I’d strained the kefir into a clean, 1L mason jar, was about 3C of drinkable fermented milk. (If I want something more like a cheese, I would need to ferment my kefir longer, drain off more of the whey, and put a little more work into pushing the curds through the strainer to separate them from the kefir grains).
Which brings me to: So, How Was It?
It was. Fermented. It was really fermented.
See, I’ve been drinking a lot of those 1L bottle of “yop” style kefir that you can get at the grocery store. I love them, they are delicious. But they’re also pasturized. Meaning that, yes, they’re not fizzy. But, more to the point, they’re not actively boozy anymore.
That’s pretty relevant.
Especially when you’ve (mixed it with some maple syrup and (fake) vanilla extract, and) packed it as your lunch f
or a day of modeling. In a high school. For an exam.
I’m a light-weight, but I didn’t think I was that much of a light-weight. O.O
I’ve since learned that Kefir isn’t a “beginner” pro-biotic ferment like Sour Kraut. It can give you headaches and digestive issues for the first few days, if you’re not used to it, and it’s… wise to start slowly. So maybe my having started with 2C of the stuff had something to do with why I was dizzy. Then again, maybe the kefir, alone, wasn’t enough food to cover an afternoon of physical labour and rapid changes in planes/levels (lots of 30-second poses) and I should have brought nuts or other carbs with me as well. Not sure.
Regardless, the very definite alcohol smell threw me for a loop.
That said, I’m still enjoying it. (Felt weird about having it on school grounds, which I’m pretty sure is Not Allowed, mind you). It fizzes on my tongue like a weak mimosa, if that helpful for giving you an idea of what the ferment level is. 🙂
Beyond that? If you have Texture Issues, kefir may not be for you. At least not as a beverage. (As a beverage: Shake it well, but not TOO well, because even after straining the grains and a lot of the whey out, and storing it in the fridge, a jar with a lid screwed on will be under pressure! Let the gas off every 1-2 days or so to avoid exploding jars). It’s grainy. Tiny curds suspended in liquid. Not smooth like the grocery store stuff (I don’t know how they get it smooth, but I suspect it involves some kind of thickener like carageenan). You might enjoy it as a cheese spread though, maybe blended with garlic and thyme to be used a bagel or as a topping for beets, or else sweetened and baked into a torte or even used as frosting for red velvet cupcakes.
I’m currently drinking the last of my first batch of kefir, while my second batch ferments away in its jar on top of the freezer. I look forward to incorporating kefir (and kefir products – like strained soft cheese, or using the whey to kick-start other fermenation projects) into our meals. 😀
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
[1] Combine diced raw apples and steamed diced celeriac, toss with plain yoghurt plus some prepared mustard and ground nutmeg. Serve. It’s amazing. Also works for khol slaw with carrots and cabbage. Also works as a cheaper-than-goat-cheese topping for boiled beets and/or perogies.
[2] Possibly because I was drinking iced herbal-fruit teas (no milk), rather than hot chai (which I put milk in), and that was just enough of a change for me to lose a litre every week to spoilage[3].
[3] Not the end of the world. I can use gone-off milk to make coffee cakes, same as I use yoghurt. But I don’t necessarily want to be baking in August, either.
[4] Which is thermophilic, meaning that you have to heat the milk up and keep it at a fairly consistently warmer-than-room-temperature, but cooler than the “keep warm” setting on my slow-cooker, temperature while the culture is doing its thing.
[5] Meaning that the culture does it’s thing at room temperature.
[6] Which you can also use to make water kefir, coconut milk kefir, and, in a neat twist, even grape juice kefir (apparently). A friend of mine has heard tell of fermenting grape juice kefir for a day or two specifically to stain the SCOBY grains purple so that they’re easier to see. I haven’t tried this, myself, but I’m kind of curious. Could I make a cherry-berry “country wine” cordial using kefir grains? Inquiring minds want to know!

Punk-Domestic Chatelainery – Some Thoughts on Language and Meaning

So Erica, from NorthWest Edible Life, posted the following picture to Twitter and asked folks “What is Homesteading To You?”

Picture of a rural log-based house (with a big front porch) in early Winter, ft a hazy mountain in the background. Over it all is written:
“Homesteading Is: // being self-sufficient // Living simple // getting back to our roots // breaking away from commercialism // growing your own food”

So. “Homesteading”… It’s convenient. It’s good shorthand for what most of us tend to be doing which, I suspect, falls roughly in line with what’s on the list in that picture: D-I-Y rather than B-U-Y, embracing frugality for a whole slew of reasons, reconnecting with the daily-living skills of our ancestors to a greater or lesser degree, actively taking part in the rhythms of the land that sustains us. But, if you’re a white person (which, by the looks of things, many of us self-identified homesteaders – urban or otherwise – are) living pretty-much anywhere other than Europe, but particularly in North America, the term “homesteading” has a pretty fraught history. If you’re Canadian, some of the stuff our ancestors did (and which is still going on – so maybe try writing your MP about the need for reparations and a good, hard look into the MMIW situation?), directly or indirectly, was genocide. Here. Where we’re growing our own food and taking great joy in planting the Three Sisters together in our gardens.
So as much as I find the word useful (my twitter bio says “I live in 1821”, among other things) in terms of how it manages to imply wood stoves, fibre arts, cast iron cookware, home-grown veggies, pre-electric machinery, wild-crafting/forraging, seasonal rhythms, cozy-warm candle-light, and making cheese from scratch… it’s also a bit of a problem.
So I have to ask: Is there another word I could be using? Something that takes the rural implications (and Quiver-Full-reminiscent family isolation) out of “back to the lander” while hanging onto the seasonal rhythms and self-sufficiency? Something that pushes “DIY” to a more extreme and broad-spectrum conclusion than stenciling “Riot Don’t Diet” onto a hacked-up t-shirt? Something that takes the term “Productive” out of the assembly line and the cubical farm and plants it firmly in the rich, creative soil of an anti-consumerist, pro-interdependence It-Takes-a-Village home and community?
I’ve seen “Green Living” tossed around. “Voluntary Simplicity” (although that just doesn’t fit our stuff-intensive house or people-intensive home-lives) has popped up a few times, too. I rather like “Punk Domestic” and “Radical Homemaker”, in significant part becuase they invoke the activism and, frankly, broke-ass necessity, of some of my personal Do-It-Yourself Skills. My wife and I, as part of our Power Dynamic, use the language of fealty to describe What We Do. As such, the language of the Chatelaine also seems appropriate: The whole idea of the “Keeper of the Keys” deciding who – and in this case what – is and isn’t allowed entry into the Keep (be that BPA, Monsanto, & CAFO-raised critter-flesh, vs thrifted clothes, home-grown veggies, & eight million mason jars… or whatever your personal dichotomies are), maintaining the stores, spending a heap of time on fibre arts[1] and home-preserving in an eminantly social, but also practical and necessary, way. Even the notion of a whole village turning out to handle the bulk of the harvest together (although heaven and earth know that this is hardly an out-of-date way of doing things).
Anyway. If all of the above gives you an idea of what I mean when I say “(Urban) Homesteading”, if you have any suggestions, please let me know.
– Meliad the Birch Maiden.
[1] In my case, this is for fun. In the case of actual Medieval Ladies of the Manor? It was because the work was basically never-ending. The silver lining, when there was one, was that most of it was automatic-pilot enough that, by the time you hit puberty (and had been doing this stuff for 10+ years) you could at least hang with your ladies-in-waiting/relatives/room-mates and be social while getting all of it done.

Ricotta! (Or: Adventures in Cheese-Making – Part One)

So today I made my first attempt at Making Cheese.
Like many people (apparently) I started with the kind of cheese that you can make with (a) milk, (b) salt, and (c) acid. The kind that doesn’t have much wait-time between doing the kitchen chemistry and actually getting to eat your product (we’re talking hours as opposed to months, or even years, here, folks).

I used the recipe over at Smitten Kitchen and… so far it seems to be going well. I’m cautiously optimistic, if you will. 🙂

I went with the 3C milk + 1 C cream recipe, and I used a cloth napkin rather than cheese cloth (I don’t have cheese cloth and, hey, what you’re going for is a piece of cloth that will let the liquid drain out while retaining as much of the solids as possible), and have since switched the partially-drained proto-cheese to a reuseable mesh coffee filter purchased for exactly this purpose.

It’s still draining, but so far it’s yeilded a few cups of whey (which are now being turned into maple brioche-esque bread for this evening’s feast of roast duck and other goodies) and the cheese is… about the consistency of good yoghurt.
Given that, I’m assuming it will act kind of like yoghurt and, if I were to leave it in the fridge to futher drain overnight, it would end up with the thick, slightly dry consistency of yoghurt cheese – which takes about 4-6 hours to drain.
So I’m betting that, by the time my dinner guest arrives, I’ll have actually-cheese-like ricotta on hand (I’m going to blend it with some maple syrup or honey, and a hint of vanilla, and serve it over poached pears).

Right now, I’ve got about half of it sitting in the mesh coffee filter, which itself is sitting in a sceive. There’s a paper coffee filter on top of the cheese mixture and, on top of that, is a weight (a tin of bamboo shoots) to help “encourage” the excess whey to vacate the premacies. It seems to be working (though I don’t want to loose too much of the solids while it’s happening… and that’s a bit of a risk at this point, or so I’m guessing).

Anyway. Adventures in cheese-making! Eventually I’ll try kitchen mozzerella or something else that requires (eek!) rennet but, for the moment, we’re all good.

Go me! 😀

Meliad the Birch Maiden