Showing posts with label Canning and Preserving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Canning and Preserving. Show all posts

Jul 17, 2015

Lacto Fermented Pickled Carrots

Once I began reading up on all the benefits of fermented food,* I knew they were something I needed
to serve my family on a regular basis. I love my homemade kombucha, but I found it difficult to eat other fermented foods - even sauerkraut (in anything other than tiny portions). Tiny portions are okay (one bite of fermented food contains 100 times more pro-biotics than the best pro biotic pill), but I wanted to learn to love fermented food. So I looked all over Pinterest, trying to find fermented foods that were recommended for children. After all, children are often picky eaters; if kids loved it, maybe I would, too. That's when I discovered lacto-fermented carrots. At first, I wasn't sure I liked them...but by the time I was at the end of my first batch, I found myself craving more.Yummy!

If you love pickles, you'll likely love these lacto-fermented pickled carrots. And if you're less excited about the flavor of fermented foods, I encourage you to give these a try. They are easy - and super healthy!


How to Make Lacto-Fermented Pickled Carrots

Carrots (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
2 - 3 cloves garlic
2 cups of non-chlorinated water (I use tap water that's filtered)
2 tablespoons sea salt**

Quart canning jar (or similar sized glass jar)
Lid (preferably plastic***) or cheesecloth and a rubber band or piece of twine 
Knife
Cutting board 

1.Start by cleaning everything you'll use (the jar, lid, cutting board, knife) in hot soapy water - or run them through the dishwasher. Wash your hands thoroughly, too. This will help prevent any bad bacteria from forming in your ferment.

2. Make the brine by stirring the salt into the water until the salt is completely dissolved and the water looks clear. (If you're using Himalayan pink salt, as I did for this batch, the water may still look pinkish once the salt is dissolved.) If the water is cold, you may need to heat it on the stove while you stir, or the salt might not fully dissolve. Set the brine aside and allow it to come to room temperature.

Combine salt and water to make a brine.
3. In the meantime, cut up the carrots. They need to be short enough that, once they are in the jar, they reach a little below the first screw band rings. (In other words, the carrots must be about 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 inch below the top of the jar.) I generally cut my carrots in half, then cut each piece into quarters. If you have especially fat carrots, you may wish to cut them into thinner pieces. All pieces should be approximately the same width.
Carrots must be the right length for the jar, and quartered.
4. Peel the garlic cloves and put them into the bottom of the jar.

5. Pack the cut carrots into the jar, lengthwise. Fit them in snugly, since that will prevent them from rising to the top of the jar, which could potentially lead to badly contaminated food. (In fermenting, it's vital to keep the food beneath the surface of the brine.)
Pack carrots into jar.
6. Pour the cooled brine over the carrots. It should cover them completely; leave one inch of headspace (the amount of room between the top of the liquid and the lid of the jar). If the liquid doesn't fully cover the carrots, add a little more water. Place the lid loosely on the jar (or cover the jar with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band or piece of string). It's important that the lid be loose; gas can build up in fermenting foods and if the lid is tight, it could potentially cause the jar to burst. If the lid is loose, however, there is no danger of this. Place the jar on the counter, away from direct sunlight or drafts.
Pour the brine over the carrots, immersing them completely.
Cover loosely with plastic lid or cheesecloth.

After seven days, taste one of the carrots. If it tastes great to you, refrigerate. If not, allow it to sit on the counter for a few more days, then taste again. How long counter top fermentation lasts depends upon the temperature in the room and your personal tastes. Once you refrigerate the carrots, eat them up within a month or so.


* Fermented foods increase mineral absorption, improve brain function, may help you loose weight, boost your immune system, may reduce the risk of some cancers, and heal "leaky gut" - a condition that's at epidemic levels in the United States and leads to a myriad of health complaints, from fatigue to diarrhea and stomach troubles.

** It used to be canning or kosher salt was recommended most for pickling, but now we know processed salt is linked to autoimmune disorders. Sea salt will make the brine cloudy, but is much more healthy. I used Himalayan pink sea salt, but you can use any type of pure (nothing added) sea salt. I used coarse salt, but it's okay to use the same amount of fine salt.

*** Most experts advise against using ordinary metal lids or canning jar lids with rings. This is because metal can react negatively with the brine.



Jul 6, 2015

Making Jerky - Part II: Making Traditional Jerky with a Smoker

Last month, I showed you how to make your own jerky using a dehydrator or your oven. Now, as promised, I'll show you how my husband makes his a more traditional way: In a smoker. And let me tell you, this stuff is a thousand times better than what you can buy in a store. It's truly carnivore candy.


Notes on What You Need 

Smoker: First and foremost, you need a smoker. For years, my husband used an inexpensive Big Chief electric smoker. I bought this for him about a decade ago (for something like $80), and I sometimes see them on Craigslist. If you don't want to invest much into smoking meat, this is probably the best way to start. But it can be difficult to control the temperature in this type of smoker - and the smoker may not come up to the necessary temperature during cooler weather. My husband currently has a Yoder smoker/BBQ, which was quite an investment. If you don't mind spending a lot of dough, this is a fantastic smoker, although again, it can be tough to control the temperature. An in between solution is to build an old school style smoke house.

Jerky cure: Jerky cure helps preserve the meat, keeping it safe to eat. You can buy cure online and at some grocery and big box stores. All it is, however, is uniodised salt (usually kosher salt, but sometimes sea salt) and nitrates.You can leave out the nitrates - but your jerky won't last nearly as long. In my husband's recipe, the teriyaki acts as the cure, because it's high in salt.

Jerky seasoning: You can buy jerky seasonings online or in some grocery stores, also, but do read the ingredients label. I have yet to find one that wasn't full of nasty chemicals. You can also make your own seasonings - which is what my husband does. You'll find his recipe below. If you use store bought seasonings/cure, be sure to follow the instructions that come with it.

Grill racks: You can find these where barbecue and grilling supplies are sold. In a pinch, you could use wire cooling racks. (Here's the exact type my husband uses.)

Air tight containers: Including at least one Ziplock bag for marinating, plus more bags or containers for storing the finished jerky.

Meat: Always choose the leanest meat you can find. Fat may make your jerky go rancid.

A good knife: You really need a good, sharp knife for this job. Just be careful not to cut yourself.


How to Make Jerky in a Smoker

1. Slice the meat thinly, along the grain. On the day I photographed my husband making jerky, he sliced the pieces fairly thick; this is fine, but it means it has to spend more time in the smoker. Try to get the pieces about the same thickness, but don't stress if there is some variation in thickness. HINT: The meat is easier to cut if it's a little bit frozen. Also, be sure to cut off as much of the fat as possible. It's fine to leave the fine "silverskin" or membrane on the meat, if it has it.


2. Pour your cure and seasonings into a gallon Ziplock bag. My husband always eyeballs his ingredients, but this time I measured the amounts he used: About 1 cup of teriyaki sauce, 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, and 1/2 cup of brown sugar.

3. Add the sliced meat and massage the bag to mix well and completely cover the meat. Squeeze the air out of the bag, seal, and refrigerate over night.


4. Get the smoker going by adding wood and lighting it off. (My husband likes oak for beef jerky, but any non-resinous, hardwood works.)

5. Lay the grilling racks on a flat work surface. (You may wish to line the work surface with paper towels first, to make clean up easier.) Lay the marinated pieces of meat on the racks. The pieces may touch, but they must not overlap.


6. Sprinkle generously with freshly ground pepper.


7. Allow the meat to sit 1 - 2 hours at room temperature. This allows the marinade to evaporate, sink in, and drip off. The meat should not be wet when it goes into the smoker. Just don't let meat sit at 40 - 140 degrees F. for more than 4 hours total, or it may go bad, making you sick if you eat it.


8. When the smoker reaches 160 degrees F., place the prepared meat (on the grilling racks) inside.



9. Check in on your jerky periodically and rotate the racks when you notice that the jerky nearest the heat is getting more done than the jerky above it.

10. When the jerky is at 160 degrees F. and is dry, the jerky is done. To test for dryness, pull a piece of jerky apart. No liquid should come from it.


Store the finished jerky in air tight containers in the refrigerator*. If desired, portion out the jerky into freezer bags and freeze until ready to eat.


* You might wonder why you can't store the jerky at room temperature, like our ancestors did. Theoretically you could, if the meat is very lean. But our ancestor's jerky was also super-duper dry and tough because they sucked the life out of it during smoking or drying. Most of us don't find that palatable now.

Jun 8, 2015

Komucha Questions (And Making a SCOBY Hotel)

If you've read my posts about making kombucha and are currently enjoying your own homemade, pro biotic version of it, you may have a few questions. Here are some common ones.


How Do I Make a Continuous Batch of Kombucha?

Follow the directions here. You'll soon develop a routine. For me, Tuesdays are Kombucha day - the day I bottle the kombucha I've fermented and also start a new batch.


What if I Want to Make More (or Less) Kombucha?

To make more, increase the number of jars you use, and follow the proportions in this recipe. To make less, cut the recipe down, just as you would a cooking recipe. (This free online calculator makes the job super easy.)

These SCOBYs could be cut down. (Courtesy Simon A. Eugster and Wikimedia)

What if My SCOBY Gets Huge?

As you brew kombucha, it's normal for your SCOBY to develop "strings" and extra layers. In fact, over time, the SCOBY will get very thick - so thick, you won't be able to brew as much tea as you have in the past (if you use the same jar). When that happens, use freshly washed hands to peel off some layers or "strings." Or, using a freshly washed knife, cut some layers away.


What Can I Do With Extra SCOBYs?

1. Put them in a SCOBY "hotel" (more on this below).

2. Give some to friends who want to try making kombucha. (Some people even advertise free SCOBYs on Craigslist.)

3. Feed them to your chickens.

4. Feed them to your dog

 5. Use them as a beauty product.

6. Put them in your compost pile.

7. Chop them up and mix them into the soil of acid-loving plants.

8.  Add small amounts to smoothies.

 9. Make SCOBY jerky. (Yes, people actually do this!) Marinate for 24 hours, then cut thin pieces to lay on the trays of your dehydrator. (You may want to put parchment paper down first.) Dehydrate at 90 degrees F. 

10. Make SCOBY candy.

11. According to Kombucha Kamp you can also use SCOBY pieces over cuts, scrapes, and minor wounds.

A "young" SCOBY.

What if I Want to Stop Making Kombucha for a While? (How Do I Make a SCOBY "Hotel?")

If you want to stop making kombucha for a time, or you just want to store extra SCOBYs as "back ups," there are two easy methods to choose from.

One is to start a batch of kpmbucha, just as you normally would, but put all your extra SCOBYs in it. Over time, the tea will become undrinkable, but your SCOBYs will be fine. Store the jar at room temperature with a breathable cover, such as cheesecloth. As the liquid in the jar evaporates, add a little sweet tea.

Another method is to put the SCOBYs in a jar and cover with finished (unflavored) kombucha. Store in the refrigerator. This method seriously slows down the growth of the SCOBYs, making them last for months. Be sure to cover the jar with something breathable, like cheesecloth. When you want to use one of these SCOBYs, you must bring it to room temperature first.

A moldy SCOBY. (Courtesy Wikimedia.)

What if My SCOBY Gets Moldy?

If you've only touched the SCOBY with freshly washed hands, have made sure all tools you use (jars, knives, etc.) are freshly washed in hot, soapy water, have promptly covered your fermenting kombucha with cheesecloth or something similar, and have kept the fermenting tea at neither too hot nor too cold a temperature, this shouldn't happen. (Regarding temperature: If you're comfortable at the temp, your kombucha should be, too. In addition, I've read that brewing kombucha near cheese, bread, or other fermenting foods, may make mold develop on your SCOBY.) Mold usually appears orange, green, red, gray, or hairy black.

In such cases, you should throw away the SCOBY and the tea it was in. (This is why some people like to have some back up SCOBYs in a "hotel.")


What if My SCOBY Turns Black?

Congratulations! You've brewed a lot of kombucha and your SCOBY is dead. Time for a new one! (If your SCOBY became black while brewing kombucha, throw out the batch it was in, too.)


More in this series:

What is Kombucha? And Why You Might Want to Make it
How to Make a SCOBY for Kombucha
How to Make Kombucha

Jun 1, 2015

Making Jerky - Part I: How to Make Jerky with a Food Dehydrator or Oven

Depending upon who you talk to, the word "jerky" is believed a corruption of the Incan word "ch'arki" (which literally means "dried meat) or a corruption of the Quechuan Native American word "Charqui" (which means "to burn meat"). Whatever the case, for thousands of years, humans have prized jerky because it made meat last longer (before the days of freezing, refrigeration, and canning) and was light and easy to carry while traveling.

Jerky is still a favorite snack. Just like our ancestors, we like to bring it when we're on the go. It's also a great way to make tough or gamey meat much more edible. Some people worry about the nitrates in jerky, but if you read this blog, you know you get more nitrates from eating arugula. Commercially prepared jerky, however, is full of chemical preservatives and GMO ingredients. Plus, it's expensive. So there are several good reasons for making your own.

At our house, my husband usually makes the jerky. He uses the traditional method: A smoker. I'll type about this process soon. But today, I want to share an alternate way to make jerky - a method that's perfect for those without a smoker or smoke house: With a food dehydrator or oven.

Making Jerky with a Food Dehydrator

Years ago, when I got my Nesco American Harvest food dehydrator (which I highly recommend, by the way), it came with Nesco's jerky gun. Because my husband usually makes jerky, though, I never used it...until recently. I do think my hubby's jerky is better (because of the natural smoke flavor) - however, the jerky I make in my food dehydrator is more like what you buy in grocery stores. And the jerky making gun is a terrific way to use ground meat, rather than meat slices. And yep, this method covers up that gamey taste just as well as the traditional smoker method.

Notes on What You Need

An electric food dehydrator: Could you use a solar dehydrator? I suppose you could. But it will take forever and the longer the meat sits out, the greater the risk of food poisoning. Especially if you use a jerky gun, using an electric food dehydrator is a quick operation. I did five trays of jerky in about 5 - 6 hours.

A jerky gun: Only needed if you're using ground meat. (Otherwise, you just need a sharp knife; be careful!) My Nesco jerky gun works really well, and it gives the option of making round Slim Jim style sticks; wide, thin pieces; or narrower, thin pieces. There are other jerky guns out there, though.

Jerky cure: Jerky cure is essential. This is the stuff that helps preserve the meat, keeping it safe to eat. I use the cure that came with my jerky gun, but you can buy cure online and at better grocery stores. It consists of uniodised salt (usually sea- or kosher salt) and nitrates. You can leave out the nitrates, but your jerky won't last nearly as long. (If the jerky seasoning recipe you're using has plenty of salt, you can omit adding more.)

Jerky seasoning: You can buy jerky seasonings online or in some grocery stores, but do read the ingredients label. I have yet to find one that wasn't full of nasty chemicals or GMO ingredients. You can also make your own seasonings; the Internet is full of recipes! Here are some that are great for ground meat and a jerky gun. But when looking for jerky recipes online, be sure to note whether they are for ground meat or meat slices. Meat slices are usually marinaded overnight in something liquidy. If you try to use a recipe like that for ground meat, it will be too gooey to use with a jerky gun...and it will taste terrible. Trust me; been there, done that! Also, if your meat is gamey, you'll want a recipe with plenty of strong spices.

Paper towels: For patting off fat from ground meat.

Air tight containers: For storing your finished jerky.


How to Make Jerky in a Food Dehydrator, Step-by-Step

1. If you're using meat slices, make sure they are very thin and that you cut off as much fat as possible. The meat will be easier to cut if it's a bit frozen. If using ground meat, it should be very lean. Grass fed beef or wild meat are perfect.

2. If using ground meat, mix the cure and the seasonings; with your hands, mix into the meat until well blended. If using meat slices, mix the marinade/cure in a Ziplock bag or airtight container. Add the meat, making sure it's well covered. Refrigerate overnight.

3. If using ground beef, load it in the jerky gun, according to the manufacturer's directions. Squeeze the jerky directly onto the trays of the food dehydrator. If using slices, lay on the dehydrator's trays by hand. Either way, pieces should not touch each other, or they may become stuck together.


4. Set the dehydrator to 160 degrees F. After 2 or 3 hours, or at about the halfway point, turn the jerky over. If using ground beef, from time to time pat the jerky down with paper towels, to remove excess fat. Continue dehydrating until leathery.

5. Allow jerky to cool before putting in air tight containers. For jerky made from ground beef, wrap in paper towels and allow to cool for a couple of hours. This helps remove more excess fat - which improves shelf life. Remove paper towels and place jerky in air tight containers.

Jerky should be either frozen or kept in the refrigerator. It's fine to keep the jerky unrefrigerated for a day or so - but it's not a good idea to keep it unrefrigerated for days. Remember that the less fat that's in the meat, the better the jerky will last. In addition, the more fully dry the meat is, the longer the jerky will last - yet super dry jerky is quite hard and difficult to chew. That's more like our ancestors ate it, but much less like modern day store bought jerky.

Making Jerky in an Oven

Don't have a dehydrator? You can instead place the meat on a wire cooling rack placed over a rimmed baking sheet; put this in the oven on it's lowest setting. (If you have a warming drawer, put it in there, instead.) This doesn't work quite as well as a dehydrator, because the temperature is higher, but it still works!

 

May 26, 2015

How to Make Kombucha

By now, hopefully you've read my post on why you might want to make your own kombucha, as well as the post on how to make a SCOBY (or mother) for kombucha. Today, I'm going to show you how to make kombucha itself. It's easy peasy.

But before I get into that, I wanted to share "6 Surprising Health Benefits of Fermented Food." Yes, I was aware fermented foods (like kombucha, fermented sauerkraut, and yogurt) contained stomach and digestion helpers, and that they also give a boost to your immune system. But I didn't know that fermented foods boost your body's ability to absorb nutrients, improve brain function, treat PMS and ADHD, may aid in weight loss, and more. Check it out.

What You Need to Make Kombucha

Making kombucha is very similar to making the SCOBY for kombucha. It's likely you have everything you need already in your kitchen.

A non-reactive large pot
One 1 gallon glass jar (or 2 half gallon glass jars)
A non-reactive stirring spoon
A non-reactive funnel (optional)
Cheesecloth or coffee filter
A length of string, rubber band, or scanning jar screw band
Bottles or jars (for bottling the finished kombucha. I recommend the type that has a flip top cap because they are less likely to burst should you happen to let the drink over-ferment. But you can use any type of glass container you like, including canning jars or used store-bought glass bottles or jars.)


You will also need

14 cups water
1 cup granulated cane sugar*
8 bags black or green tea, or a mixture of both (You can also use 2 tablespoons of loose tea)
2 cups starter kombucha (This can be the same unpasteurized, store bought kombucha brand you used for making the SCOBY. I used Synergy brand. Or you can use a bit of kombucha made by a friend. After you make your first batch of kombucha, you'll be able to use 2 cups of your own kombucha as a starter for another batch. Plain, unflavored kombucha is recommended, but if you can only find flavored kombucha, use the most neutrally flavored kind you can. I did this, and my finished drink turned out great.)
1 SCOBY


How to Make Kombucha

1. Thoroughly wash everything you'll use to make the drink. This helps prevent bad bacteria from ruining the finished kombucha. Wash all tools and jars/bottles in warm, soapy water, or run them through the dishwasher. Wash your hands thoroughly, too.

Make the base (sweet tea):

1. Pour the water into the pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add the sugar. Stir until dissolved. Add the tea and steep until the pot is completely cooled.


2. Remove the bags (or strain out the loose tea by pouring it through a fine strainer or a colander lined with a double layer of cheesecloth). Pour in the starter kombucha.


3. Pour the mixture into the 1 gallon jar (or 2 half gallon jars).

Fermenting:

4. With freshly washed hands, remove the SCOBY from the jar you used to make it in (or your last batch of finished kombucha). Place it in the jar containing the sweet tea mixture. (If you only have one SCOBY, but two jars for fermenting kombucha, cut the SCOBY in half using a knife freshly washed in hot, soapy water. Place one SCOBY in each jar.)

I use 2 half gallon jars to ferment by kombucha, so I cut my original SCOBY in half and put one half in each jar.
5. Cover the jar(s) with a double layer of cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Secure in place with a rubber band, a piece of string, or a canning jar screw band.


6. Keep the jar(s) at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. Allow to sit and ferment for 7 - 10 days. At 7 days, dip a freshly washed spoon in the jar, and taste the drink. If you like the flavor, move on to the next step. If you'd like a less sweet flavor, taste the kombucha over the next several days, until you're satisfied. Remember, the longer you let the drink ferment, the less sweet it is and the more alcohol it has in it. (Concerned about these issues? Check out this post for more information.)

During the fermenting process, the SCOBY may float, sink, sit sideways, and/or have "strings" hanging down from it. This is all completely normal. The SCOBY will also grow each time you use it. Sometimes the new growth doesn't attach to the old SCOBY; that's fine, too.

Starting a New Batch:

7. Once you're satisfied with the flavor of the kombucha, it's time to begin a new batch. Prepare the sweet tea, as outlined in steps 1 - 3, above.

8. Wash your hands well, then remove the SCOBY from your finished kombucha. Transfer to the jar(s) containing the unfermented kombucha you just started. Cover and ferment. (See steps 4 - 6.)

Bottling and Second Ferment:

9. Pour the fermented kombucha into glass jars; using a funnel helps. (Hint: If your jars have narrow mouths, use a new, clean automotive funnel.) Important: Leave at least 1 inch of headspace at the top of each bottle. If you'll be adding anything to flavor the kombucha, leave at least 2 inches of headspace.)

10. If you want to flavor the kombucha, add the flavoring now. (For example, add a tablespoon or two of real fruit juice; or a 2 inch square piece of lemon (with the rind, cut into pieces); or 2 strawberries (cut up), a 1 inch square piece of lemon (with the rind, cut into pieces), and 4 crushed blueberries. For those who aren't as excited about the sweet/tart flavor of kombucha, I recommend the berry mixture.) Hint: When adding fruit pieces, be sure to chop them up quite small, so they easily fit down the neck of your bottle. Because otherwise, when the drink is fully consumed and you want to wash up the bottle, you'll have a heck of a time getting those fruit pieces out. Not that I've ever done that. Um...yeah.

11. Put the lids on the jars. The kombucha may now be consumed - or, to make it fizzy, you may do a second ferment: Store at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for 1 - 3 days. Check every day for fizziness. You'll know the drink is carbonated and fizzy as soon as you open the lid, because you'll either hear a whoosh or air, a "pop," or the "crinkly" sound fizzy drinks make. It's perfectly fine if some bottles get fizzy before others. Putting fruit in the bottles seems to slow carbonation. Headspace and room temperature makes a difference, too. And I think some bottles get more of the "mother" in them than others, which also alters the rate of carbonation.

Important: Remember to measure out and set aside 2 cups of your finished kombucha, so you can use it as a starter for your next batch.

12. Refrigerate the kombucha to stop fermenting. Consume within a month.


* Cane sugar is non-GMO (as opposed to granulated sugar made from beets, which is usually GMO. Granulated sugar not marked cane sugar is typically GMO beet sugar.) Cane sugar feeds the SCOBY best. However, molasses, honey (but not raw honey, which may contain bacteria that could adversely affect the SCOBY), and maple syrup may be used, too. According to Kombucha Kamp, use a 1:1 ratio when using molasses, or 7/8 cup of honey, or 1/2 - 2/3 cup of maple syrup in place of the granulated sugar in this recipe. Expect the fermentation process to take longer when not using cane sugar. (Unlike Kombucha Kamp, I do not recommend using Agave, because it is highly processed and actually very unhealthy.)

More in this series:

What is Kombucha? And Why You Might Want to Make it
How to Make a Kombucha SCOBY


May 18, 2015

How to Make a SCOBY for Kombucha

Last week, I typed about kombucha - the fizzy, fermented drink - and why you might want to make it. Some of you said you already drink it, but buy it in the store. But because it's about $3 a bottle, and because most store bought kombucha is pasteurized, thereby killing all the good-for-you-stuff in the drink, you might want to try making it at home. Thankfully, it's very, very easy.

But before you begin, you need a SCOBY (an acronym for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast," otherwise known as a "mother"). This is the "starter" that will make your kombucha ferment. There are three main ways to get one:

1. Get a SCOBY from a friend who makes kombucha.

2. Buy a SCOBY

3. Or make your own.

When I started making kombucha, I made my own. Here's how.


How to Make a Kombucha SCOBY

You will need:

4 cups water

1/3 cup of granulated sugar (cane is best)

2 black tea bags

One bottle of store bought kombucha (Read the label carefully; you need raw kombucha with live, active cultures or this process will not work. I used Synergy brand. Most other tutorials say to use unflavored kombucha, but I couldn't find this, so I used the flavored kind. It worked just fine.)

a large, nonreactive pot

a stirring spoon

a 1 gallon glass jar (or 2 half gallon glass jars)

1 piece of cheesecloth or a coffee filter for each jar, plus a length of string or a rubber band for each jar


1. Begin by thoroughly washing everything (jars, spoon, pot) in hot, soapy water. Or run everything through the dishwasher. Wash and dry the cheesecloth, too. Wash your hands thoroughly. This prevents unwanted bacteria from contaminating your SCOBY.

2. Pour four cups of water into the pot. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in sugar until the water looks clear. Add the tea bags.


3. Allow the tea to brew until the pot and water are completely cool.

4. Pour the cooled tea into the glass jar. Add the bottle of store bought kombucha. Cover the opening of the jar with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, securing in place with a rubber band or a piece of string. This keeps bugs, dust, and debris from entering the jar. Keep the jar in an out of the way location, with a relatively steady temperature, and out of direct sunlight.


5. Check the jar every day. Within a few days, you should begin to see some scummy stuff growing on top of the liquid. This is part of your future SCOBY. Within 2 - 3 weeks, there should be a layer of rubbery stuff across the liquid in the jar. Your SCOBY is ready!


A Few Notes:

Don't remove the SCOBY until you're ready to make kombucha.

Don't touch the SCOBY, except with well cleaned hands. (It's better just to leave it alone until you're ready to make kombucha.)

When you are ready to use the SCOBY, you can discard the liquid it grew in. It's very acidic, and not suitable for drinking. I have, however, heard of using it in place of vinegar in a meat marinade.


Next week, I'll show you how to use the SCOBY to make kombucha.

More in this series:

What is Kombucha? And Why You Might Want to Make it
How to Make Kombucha


May 11, 2015

What is Kombucha? And Why You Might Want to Make It

Perhaps because I'm doing so little gardening this year (because we're preparing for our move), I find I'm spending more time experimenting in the kitchen. One of my recent successes has been kombucha (hear how to pronounce it) - a drink I'd heard of, but never thought much about until a friend of mine said she was using it to wean her family off sodas and fruit juices. I tried a store bought version and wow! It was fizzy and delish! Then I learned the drink has health benefits, too. I knew then I had to try making some at home. I did. And it was easy. And even better-tasting than store bought! And even my kids like it.

So over the course of the next few weeks, I'm going to blog about kombucha: What is is, why you may want want to drink it, and how to easily make it at home.

Today we start with...

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha is an ancient Chinese drink made by fermenting tea. I find it tastes similar to apple cider (or, if you use green tea, it supposedly tastes similar to champagne...I've only made black tea kombucha). It may or may not be effervescent (bubbly), depending on what steps you take when making it.

Why Drink Kombucha?
Kombucha fermenting.


Throughout history, people have tried to claim kombucha is a cure all, but studies don't back up the vast majority of these claims. One study on rats showed kombucha aided liver function, and since the tea contains probiotics, the drink is good for your digestive system. Also, kombucha contains anti-oxidants, which boost the immune system.

Many sources, such as the Mayo Clinic, tell readers not to make kumbucha at home because they might poison themselves. Of course, any food you make at home could lead to food poisoning - and sometimes commercially prepared products are recalled for serious contamination issues, too.

People have been fermenting foods and drinks since ancient times. Today, with the ease of keeping things clean, it's even more do-able, in my opinion. But you must decide what the risks are for yourself.

Also note: Those who are allergic to tea, or have histamine or yeast intolerances shouldn't drink kombucha.
Histamine or Yeast Intoleranc

What is in Kombucha?

Green or black tea and sugar, which are then fermented.

Most of the sugar in the drink is eaten by the wild yeast you'll capture during the kombucha-making process. The longer you ferment the drink, the less sweet it will be, the less sugar will be in your finished drink. Some sources say the average, no-flavors-added kombucha (fermented for 7 - 10 days) contains about 1 - 2 grams of sugar per 8 oz. glass.  (In comparison, the same amount of orange juice contains about 24 grams of sugar.)

Cane sugar is widely considered the best choice for kombucha. For one thing, it's been used for thousands of years. For another, it does a great job during fermenting. (And, unlike beet sugar, or granulated sugars that don't indicate what they are made from, it's non-GMO.) It's also possible to use molasses or pasteurized honey in place of granulated sugar. (However, it's vital not to use raw honey; it contains bacteria that may adversely affect the fermentation process.)

In addition, homemade kombucha contains a tiny amount of alcohol (between .5 and 3%). According to the Federal government, that means it's non-alcoholic. Nevertheless, if you are an alcoholic or are sensitive to alcohol, it makes sense to not drink kombucha.

If you want to minimize the alcohol content, omit the second fermentation, which is what also makes the drink fizzy. (Incidentally, store bought kombucha usually contains more alcohol than home made, because the drink continues to ferment in the bottle while it's waiting to be sold. To avoid this, most brands pasteurize the drink - which completely kills all the good, healthy stuff in kombucha. But even unpasteurized kombucha must contain less than 5% alcohol, or it can only be sold as an alcoholic beverage. Despite what Lindsay Lohan claimed, you'd have to drink a ton of the stuff to fail an alcohol test.)

Finally, finished kombucha contains caffeine - just as much as whatever tea you chose to use to make the drink already contains.

What Tools Will I Need to Make Kombucha?

You probably already have all the tools you'll need to make kombucha:

* A large, non-reactive pot
* A non-reactive stirring spoon
* Glass jars (I use two 1/2 gallon Ball jars)
* Cheesecloth and a rubber band or string (or a coffee filter and rubber band/string/canning jar screw band that fits your jars)
* And more glass jars/bottles for putting the finished drink in (I use bottles similar to these, because they are unlikely to burst during fermentation, but you can use canning jars or upcycled glass bottles or jars from store bought items)

It may also help to have a non-reactive funnel.

What Else Do I Need to Make Kombucha?
SCOBYs. (Courtesy Simon A. Eugster and Wikimedia)


You'll need:

* Black or green tea of your choice
* Granulated sugar
* A SCOBY

SCOBY is an acronym for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast." I know - sound yummy, doesn't it? But it's essential for making kombucha. If you've ever used raw apple cider vinegar, you'll notice it contains a strange looking "mother" in the bottle. A SCOBY is basically a "mother" - and is the result of wild yeast and fermentation. You can either purchase a SCOBY, get one from a friend who makes kombucha, or make your own - a process that requires some unpasteurized kombucha.

In addition, you may wish to infuse your kombucha to change the flavor. Most often, fruits are use to flavor kombucha. I like to use lemon, or a combo of lemon, blueberry, and strawberry.Some people prefer to add a little fruit juice to the drink.

More in this series:

How to Make a SCOBY for Kombucha
How to Make Kombucha
 

Apr 9, 2015

Simple Pickled Asparagus

Asparagus is one of spring's most prized foods. But really good, fresh asparagus is also fleeting - gone with spring. You can freeze or pressure can asparagus, but for many of us, the flavor and texture are ruined by doing so. The one way to preserve asparagus that my whole family can agree on is through pickling.

There are about a gazillion recipes for pickled asparagus, some with ingredient lists a mile long. This recipe, though, is simple - as well as flexible. And, unlike some recipes, it doesn't cover up the flavor of asparagus.

In truth, all you really need for this recipe is the asparagus, vinegar, salt, water, and sugar. But that would make for pretty plain-tasting pickles. So I also use garlic, mustard seed, and dill seed - and, if I have some lemons on hand, a little lemon. Simple and delicious. But you should feel free to play with the spices; as long as you keep the correct ratio of water, vinegar, and salt, the recipe will remain safe.

Also, a note about the asparagus: Get the freshest you can find. Just picked from your yard, or picked the day before and purchased at a farmer's market is ideal. But, if you're like me and you don't have an asparagus patch (yet!), or can't buy just-picked asparagus, grocery store asparagus will do, especially if you follow the directions for chilling the asparagus ahead of time.

And, incidentally, pickled asparagus is one canning project that really can save you money. Store bought pickled asparagus is something of a luxury item. I've seen it sell for over $30 a jar! So grab your asparagus during a good sale (or grow it yourself), and you'll save your family some dough while also giving them a really yummy treat.

Simple Pickled Asparagus Recipe

7 lbs. fresh asparagus
1 2/3 cups distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon canning or pickling salt
8 cups water
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 lemon, peeled, sections divided into slices, and seeds pushed out
6 teaspoons mustard seed, divided
6 teaspoons dill seed, divided

1. Begin by reviewing the guidelines for using a boiling water bath canner.

2. Trim the tough ends off each asparagus spear. An easy way to do this is to flick the knife down onto the spear, steering well clear of your fingers and beginning at the cut end of the vegetable. If you're in a tough part of the asparagus, the knife won't cut all the way through. Keep flicking at intervals on the tough end of the veggie until the knife cuts through easily. Discard the tough ends into your compost bin, or freeze them to use for making stock.

3. Cut the asparagus so that it will easily fit into your canning jars and still leave 3/4 in. headspace. If you use pint and a half canning jars, you'll be able to can nice long spears. If you use pint jars, as I do, you will have to cut smaller spears and will have some pieces without spears on them. Save even the short ends for pickling. They may not be as elegant as the spears, but they are still tasty!

4. Place the asparagus pieces in a large bowl. Add 4 handfuls of ice and cover with cold water. Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour. In the meantime, prepare the canning jars and lids.


5. In a large, stainless steel pot, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, and water. Place over medium high heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and boil gently for 5 minutes.

6. Using your hands, tongs, or a slotted spoon, transfer the chilled asparagus to the hot vinegar mixture. (Discard the ice water.) Allow the mixture to come to a boil and boil gently for 2 minutes to heat the asparagus through.

7. Work one hot jar at a time: Add 1 teaspoon mustard seed and 1 teaspoon dill seed to the jar. Using tongs, add hot asparagus to the jar. Spears may point either up or down, but not side-to-side. When jar is nearly packed, add 1 garlic clove and 1 slice of lemon. Add more asparagus spears until the jar is packed. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the asparagus, leaving 1/2 in. headspace. Bubble jar, wipe rim, and add lid and screw band. Place in canner and move on to another jar.



8. Process jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.*  Wait at least 2 weeks before eating.

* NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.



Apr 1, 2015

Fermented Jerusalem Artichokes

My family loves Jerusalem artichokes - a lesser-known veggie that looks like the potato's ugly cousin. But my husband finds, as some people do, that they live up to their sometimes-heard nickname: Jerusalem fartichokes. Yes, it's true. Jerusalem artichokes are healthy and nutritious...but they cause gas in some people. There are ways around this; mainly, parboiling the vegetable before fully cooking it and making sure you only eat the vegetable after it's lived through a good, hard frost. The other, however, is through lacto-fermentation. (Not familiar with the health benefits of fermentation? Read this.)

Since my family loves the fermented sauerkraut I make, I'm becoming more confident about trying fermented foods. So when I bumped into this post over at A Gardener's Table, I knew I had to give fermented Jerusalem artichokes a try. I'm so glad I did. They are DEEliscious! We ate a ton of them (so yummy!), and my children and I had no issues with gas. My hubby wasn't sure if he could call these Jerusalem artichokes gas free...but trust me, he was not having issues like he normally does with this vegetable! Any flatulence was, in his wife's opinion, like any other day.

My recipe is slightly adapted from A Gardener's Table. Mainly, I used dried spices, because that's what I had on hand. Also, sadly my husband is not a fan of ginger, so I used a much smaller amount of this ingredient. But the truth is, even though I love this spice combo, you could use whatever spices you want - or no spices at all. To ferment this veggie, all you really need is the salt, sugar, and water brine.

Fermented Jerusalem Artichoke Recipe

1 1/2 lbs. of Jerusalem artichokes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cumin
8 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons uniodized salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups filtered water (water with chlorine in it inhibits fermentation)

1. Begin by sanitizing everything you'll use, including the fermenting jar, whatever you'll use as a weight, the cutting board, knife, and any utensils. It's fine to just run them through the dishwasher.

2. Cut up the Jerusalem artichokes. I like them best when sliced in thinish circles, like a cucumber pickle. But you'll probably have to do some chunks, too, due to the vegetable's odd-ball shape. Just be sure the pieces are of about the same size, and no larger than 1/2 in.

3. In a bowl, combine the turmeric, nutmeg, cumin, and garlic. Add the prepared Jerusalem artichoke and toss until well coated. Pack into a glass jar with a 6 cup capacity. (I used a gallon sized canning jar.)

4. Measure out the water and add the salt and sugar. Stir until dissolved. Pour this brine over the Jerusalem artichokes.

5. Weigh down the Jerusalem artichokes. I used a jelly jar filled with marbles, but anything that easily fits into the jar and push down hard on the vegetable pieces should work fine. Press down firmly and try to pack the Jerusalem artichoke pieces down as much as possible. Leave the weight in place, and cover the jar with cheesecloth or a cotton dishtowel held in place with a rubber band or string. Leave the jar on the counter in a relatively warm (not hot or cold) place.
6. The following day, the brine should fully cover the vegetable pieces. All the pieces must be underwater, or they will rot instead of ferment. If necessary, make more brine (using the same ratio you used the day before) and add it to the jar.

7. Now it's a waiting game. I found the mixture didn't bubble or burp much. It turns out, some fermenting vegetables do this more than others. But do check at least once a day to be sure the veggies are submerged, that the mixture doesn't smell bad, or that mold isn't growing on it. I tasted the mixture after seven days, and it seemed just right. Depending upon the weather and the atmosphere in your kitchen it could take a little more or less time for the 'chokes to ferment. How do you know it's done? When it tastes good to you! When you're satisfied with the flavor, remove the cover and weight, put a lid on the jar, and transfer to the refrigerator.




Jan 14, 2015

Canning Baked Beans

Saving money is only one reason I can food at home. Another is better quality - and this baked beans recipe
falls into that category. My family loves this recipe (even my picky eater!), and canning it saves lots of time over making it from scratch on a meal-by-meal basis. To make the recipe more frugal, I encourage you to use homemade catsup and maple syrup, if you have either. Otherwise, try to get the more expensive ingredients (maple syrup, catsup, and molasses) on sale. And while I've given some notes on substitutions you may safely use, I recommend trying the recipe as is first.

How to Can Baked Beans

1 lb. Great Northern/Navy beans
1/2 cup chopped leeks (you can also use onions or onion scapes; the difference in flavor is only slight)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses (may be reduced, if desired)
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon kosher or canning salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 cups catsup (if using store bought, I recommend Heinz, which doesn't have bad-for-you high fructose corn syrup in it)
1 cup real maple syrup (may be reduced; you can even omit the syrup and just use more brown sugar)
1/2 cup white vinegar (apple cider vinegar is fine, too, as long as it has 5% acidity)

If you are a novice canner, before you begin, be sure to review the guidelines for pressure canning.

1. Pour the beans into a large pot and cover with 8 cups of water. Cover with lid and place over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes.
2. Turn off the heat and allow the covered pot to sit for 45 minutes.

3. Drain. Pour the beans back in the pot and cover with 8 cups of fresh water. Add the leeks and place over medium high heat. Bring to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes.
4. In the meantime, prepare jars and lids - then, the sauce: Pour 2 cups of water, the brown sugar, molasses, mustard powder, salt, pepper, catsup, syrup, and vinegar into a large saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil. This mixture should not be thick, or it will make the recipe unsafe to can - don't overcook and thicken.
5. Working one jar at a time, fill a hot pint jar 3/4 full of the beans/leeks mixture, using a slotted spoon and draining as much cooking water from each spoonful as possible before adding the beans to the jar. Ladle enough of the molasses mixture over the beans to achieve 1 inch headspace. Bubble. Add lid and screw band, and place in canner of hot water. Repeat until all the jars are filled.


6. Process pint jars for 75 minutes in a pressure canner at 11 pounds of pressure.*
Makes about 8 pints. Recipe adapted from SB Canning.

* NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.