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

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



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.

NEXT WEEK: How to make a SCOBY for 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.



Dec 31, 2014

Most Popular Posts - for 2014, and for all time!

The most popular post!
It's always fun for me to see which posts are most popular on this blog. (They are never - never! - the posts I imagine will most interest readers!) Oddly, what shows up as popular depends upon what source I look at; but studying stats from Blogger, Pinterest, and other top sources, it's easy to see which posts are all time favorites and favorites for the year. And since recent months have brought a great many more readers to Proverbs 31 Woman, I thought it would be fun to share these lists with you - especially since many of the posts are from years' past. It's a pretty eclectic list; enjoy!

(P.S. Want to see more popular posts from Proverbs 31 Woman? Check out the Pinterest page "Most Popular Posts at Proverbs 31 Woman.")

Top 5 Posts for 2014:

1. 52 Simple Sewing Projects for Kids

2. 10 Things I Learned During Our Tiny House Test Run

3. The Letter of the Week Series, especially Letter R

4. Free Art History Curriculum: Claude Monet

5. Walmart Savings Catcher: Hit or Miss?


Top 10 Most Popular Posts of All Time:

 1. How to Train Chickens  (it completely cracks me up that this is the most popular post among readers!)

2. 6 Ways to Teach Kids the Books of the Bible

3. Best Free Apron Patterns on the Net

4. How to Clean a REALLY Dirty Stove

5. Best Ideas for Upcycling Jeans

6. Canning Pickled Green Beans (Dilly Beans)

7. Harvesting and Making Your Own Chamomile Tea

8. How Much Money Can You Save Gardening & Homesteading

9. 52 Simple Sewing Projects for Kids

10. Easiest Fruits & Vegetables to Grow

Oct 13, 2014

How to Make Small Batch, Fermented Sauerkraut

Earlier this year, I read that fermented foods contain 100 times more probiotics (substances that stimulate the growth of microorganisms that have great health benefits once consumed) than probiotic supplements. I knew then I really needed to try my hand at making sauerkraut. The happy news is, making fermented sauerkraut is really, really easy. Even though fermented foods may seem strange and new to us today, the fact is that people have been making and eating fermented foods for thousands of years - and without a bunch of fancy gadgets!
I considered buying a fermenting crock for this project - but frankly, they are pricey. And no one in my family had ever eaten fermented sauerkraut before (the stuff you buy in the store is heated and canned, and therefore all the probiotics are dead). If it turned out no one would eat my sauerkraut, I didn't want to spend much money on it. So I decided to use what I already have on hand - canning (mason) jars. (Don't have canning jars? You can use any clean glass jar - for example, an empty mayo jar.) A bonus to using mason jars is that the kraut ferments more quickly - so you can have ready-to-eat food within just a few days.

The results were terrific. Everyone in my family - including the kids! - loved the sauerkraut. I'll definitely be making more.


What You Need to Make Small Batch, Fermented Sauerkraut

Cutting board
Knife
Large bowl
Wide mouth quart mason (canning) jar
8 oz. jelly jar
Marbles or clean pebbles
Cloth (I used cheesecloth, but a clean dishtowel or large fabric scrap works, too)
Rubber band or string

1 cabbage head, any type, approximately 3 lbs., hard outer leaves removed and set aside (If you buy your cabbage without the harder, outer leaves - which is common if you're shopping at a grocery store - that's fine.)
1 tablespoon canning or kosher salt


How to Make Small Batch Sauerkraut in a Mason Jar

1. Make sure everything you use - from the Mason jar to the cutting board - has just been cleaned in hot, soapy water. Or, you can run all your tools through the dishwasher.

2. Cut the cabbage head in half, then cut each half in half again. Cut away the core, then slice the quarters thinly. (You can use a mandolin or cabbage slicer for this job - but from experience I can tell you that mandolins with plastic spikes in the handle don't work well with cabbage; they simply don't hold the cabbage firmly enough to make using the mandolin safe.)

The cabbage after slicing.
3. Place the cabbage slices into a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt on top. Use your hands to massage and squeeze the cabbage. Within 5 - 10 minutes, the cabbage will look limp and there will be liquid in the bowl. The contents of the bowl should look something like coleslaw.
The massaged coleslaw will produce liquid in the bowl.
At this point, you may add seasonings, if you desire. I added 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds; next time I'll reduce that amount by about half. Other common sauerkraut seasonings include mustard seeds, bay leaves, and coriander. But remember, seasonings are totally optional.

4. Pack the cabbage into the mason jar. I found it was easiest to pick up about a tablespoon of sliced cabbage at a time, then drop it in the jar. Occasionally, press down firmly on the cabbage in the jar. You want to get as much as possible in there - without making the juices (or the cabbage) overflow the jar. My cabbage head was a bit larger (about 4 lbs.), so I had a little too much for one mason jar. If you have this problem, simply use an additional jar for the excess.
The sliced cabbage, packed in jars.
5. Pour the liquid in the bowl over the cabbage in the jar. Press down on the cabbage again.

6. If you have the harder, outer leaves of the cabbage, place part of one over the top of the sliced cabbage in the mason jar. This step is optional, but does help keep the sliced cabbage under the liquid in the jar - the key to getting fermented sauerkraut and not moldy cabbage.
Covering the sliced cabbage with a hard, outer cabbage leaf. (An optional step.)
7. Fill the jelly jar with marbles and place the jar inside the larger mason jar, on top of the cabbage. This jelly jar will weigh down the sliced cabbage, keeping it under the liquid in the mason jar.
Jelly jars filled with marbles or clean rocks keep the cabbage under the liquid.
8. Cover both jars with a cloth, secured in place with a rubber band or string. This keeps bugs, dust, and so forth, out of the sauerkraut.
Keep the jars covered.
9. For the next 24 hours, check on the sauerkraut occasionally and press down on the jelly jar. This helps release more liquid from the cabbage. I used a just-harvested cabbage, and had plenty of liquid in my jars. But if, after 24 hours, liquid does not cover the cabbage in the jar, make your own liquid: Dissolve 1 teaspoon of canning or kosher salt in 1 cup of warm water and add it to the mason jar. Again, keeping the cabbage under liquid makes sure it's fermenting, not rotting.

10. Ferment. When the sauerkraut is done is mostly a matter of personal taste. Because you're fermenting in a small jar, your kraut might be done in as little as three days. Mine took a little over a month before I was satisfied with it. (UPDATE 11-3-14: My second batch was ready in under a week. I'm not what changed; maybe just the weather! Or maybe I did a better job of massaging the salt into the cabbage.)
During fermenting, keep the sauerkraut out of direct sunlight and at a cool temperature - about 65 - 75 degrees F. Check the jar every day to ensure the cabbage is under the liquid. (If it's not, press down on the jelly jar until the liquid rises, or add more liquid, as in step 9.) It is normal - in fact, a sign that the cabbage is fermenting - to see bubbles in the jar and white scum on top of the cabbage. You should not see mold, however. (If you do, scoop it out right away and discard the cabbage that touched it. The rest of the kraut is fine.)

11. Refrigerate. When the sauerkraut tastes good to you, remove the jelly jar, put a lid on the mason jar, and refrigerate it. The sauerkraut will stay good in the refrigerator for at least a couple of months.

You can also make larger batches of sauerkraut - with more mason jars, or with a fermenting crock. Just be sure to keep the proportion of cabbage and salt the same.

What about Canning Sauerkraut? Kraut can be canned - but canning it kills all those good-for-you bugs. And since sauerkraut lasts a long time in the fridge (and since cabbage keeps for many months in the fridge or a cool location), I prefer not to can it.




Oct 6, 2014

Canning Salsa - a Recipe You Can SAFELY Adjust to Your Personal Tastes!

Homemade, canned salsa is not only good for you*, it adds kick to just about any meal. The trouble is, there are just a handful of tested, safe salsa recipes for canning. And you can't mess around with their ingredients....unless you want botulism, that is. The good news is I have an excellent salsa recipe designed for canning. My husband - a true salsa connoisseur - adores it. So much so, he won't eat grocery store salsa. This recipe also has a huge following online; it's the recipe most canners seem to prefer.


Funny thing is, you won't find it on the sites I usually recommend for canning recipes (Ball and the National Center for Home Food Preservation), and as far as I know, it's not in any book. That's because the inventor of this recipe, a woman known to most only as Annie, was just an ordinary canner like you and me. However, in her day, Extension Offices were willing and able to do limited testing on recipes that were brought to them. So Annie brought her delish salsa to her Extension Office and adjusted it until their labs proclaimed it safe for canning.

Happily, there are some changes you can make to the recipe. You can adjust it's hotness; you can omit certain ingredients. You can also eat it right after canning it, if you like a rather sweet salsa. Or, you can let it sit a month or more before eating it, so the flavor meld together. (That's my recommendation.)

Before you begin, though, it's a good idea to review the guidelines for boiling water bath canning. And please read through the entire recipe, including the notes at the bottom about substitutions or omissions. I do recommend trying the salsa as is first - it's uber yummy!


Canning Annie's Salsa

8 cups tomatoes, peeled, chopped, drained**
2 1/2 cups chopped onion (approximately 1/4" chop; about 1 1/2 average-sized onions)
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper (approximately 1/4" chop; about 1 bell pepper)
3 - 5 jalapenos, chopped (I use 4) ***
6 garlic cloves, minced or diced fine
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canning salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup granulated sugar****
1 cup vinegar (must be 5% acidity; I use apple cider vinegar)*****
16 oz. (2 cups) tomato sauce
16 oz. (2 cups) tomato paste


1. Put all ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes.


2. Ladle into hot pint sized or smaller canning jars, leaving 1/2" headspace. Wipe jar rims. Add lids and screwbands.



3. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes.******


Makes about 6 pints. I recommend allowing the canned salsa to sit for at least a month, for best flavor.


* Tomato salsa is low in calories, contains healthy spices, and is a good source of lycopenes, a type of antioxidant found in tomatoes - especially cooked tomatoes. 

RECIPES NOTES (OMISSIONS/ADDITIONS):


** Any type of tomato is fine, except green tomatoes. This is a perfect use for damaged tomatoes from your garden. I collect them all summer, freezing them in a single layer, then transferring to a Ziplock bags once they are hard. To use, run the frozen tomatoes under warm tap water; the skins push off very easily. Allow the tomatoes to mostly - but not entirely - thaw before chopping. Be sure to cut and throw away any bad spots. (Having them a little frozen makes them much easier to chop.) Click here for more information on freezing tomatoes and for tips on what to do with tomato skins. To peel fresh (not frozen) tomatoes, click here for instructions.

*** Both green and red are fine. To make the salsa more spicy, you may decrease the sweet peppers and increase the jalapenos accordingly. Or use hotter peppers (like serranos or habaneros). Do not exceed a total of 1 3/4 cup of peppers total (sweet and jalapenos).

**** It's okay to decrease or even totally eliminate the sugar in this recipe.

***** If desired, you may substitute the vinegar with bottled lemon or lime juice; you may also use some bottled lemon/lime juice and some vinegar, but the total measurement of the combination must be 1 cup.

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

MORE CHANGES YOU MAY MAKE: The cumin, salt, pepper, and cilantro may be reduced or eliminated. You may also reduce or eliminate the tomato paste.


THANK YOU to the Master Canners at GardenWeb's Harvest Forum for introducing me to this recipe and all the safety guidelines associated with it.


Sep 24, 2014

The Super-Easy Way to Can Grape Juice

Recently, a friend gave me a box of grapes. They weren't the best for eating fresh because they had large seeds. But I knew I could make grape juice with them. And the method - brought to my attention by my mom-in-law - is so, so easy - and not at all messy.

The recipe comes from the 1984 Ball Blue Book. Yes, certain canning guidelines have changed since then. And it's true I could not find this method mentioned by any trusted source (like any of Ball's current publications or over at NCHFP). So, I have to say "can at your own risk," even though my mom-in-law has used this recipe many times.

What You'll Need:

Washed, firm, ripe, de-stemmed grapes, any type (for every quart of juice, you'll need 1 cup)
Granulated sugar (for every quart of juice, you'll need 1/2 cup)
Water

Quart canning jars, lids, and rings
Boiling water bath canner
Ladle
Funnel (optional, but helpful)
Large pot

How to Can Grape Juice the Super-Easy Way:

1. Review the guidelines for water bath canning.

2. Fill the pot with water and bring it to a boil.

3. Work one jar at a time, and make sure each jar is hot: Pour 1 cup of grapes into the jar, followed by 1/2 cup of sugar. (The sugar is not optional.) Fill the jar with boiling water, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the rim of the jar, add the lid, and secure the screw band. Place jar in the canner, which must be filled with hot water.
 
Left: Grapes and sugar added. Right: Boiling water added.
4. Repeat until the canner is filled with jars, or until you run out of grapes.

5. Process jars for 10 minutes.*
Wait at least a month before opening a jar. To use, shake the jar, then strain the contents through some cheese cloth (or a sieve lined with coffee filters). It's okay if the sugar settles to the bottom of the jar; just shake before using. It's also okay if the grapes float - or if they do not. (Whether or not the grapes float depends upon the stage of ripeness of the fruit.)

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

Sep 15, 2014

Making Peach Jam Without Added Pectin

I've been wanting to try my hand at making jam without added, store bought pectin. Not because there is anything wrong with pectin (it's extracted from apples; you can even make your own), but because some people seem to prefer the flavor of no-pectin-added jam.

Of course, in order to jell up, all jam needs some pectin. But certain fruits (apricots, berries, peaches and apples) are naturally higher in pectin, so you don't need to add store bought or homemade pectin to them.

In the end, although this peach jam is delish, I can't say I think no-pectin-added jam is any better than the pectin-added variety. And it took a considerably longer to cook down and jell than any jams I've made with added pectin. Nonetheless, it's nice to know I can make pectin-free jam, if I want to.

How to Make Peach Jam without Added Pectin
(recipe from The Ball Blue Book, 1984)

8 cups of peeled, pitted, crushed peaches (I used about 8 large peaches)*
1/2 cup water
6 cups granulated sugar**
Crushed peaches.
First, you may wish to review the guidelines for canning using a boiling water bath canner.

1. Pour the prepared peaches and the water into a large, non-reactive pot. Gently heat for 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the sugar. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring often.

3. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring often to prevent scorching, until the jam jells. To test for jelling, place a saucer in the refrigerator. Once it's cold, spoon a small amount of the jam onto the saucer and place in the freezer. If the jam jells after a couple of minutes in the freezer, it's done.
Simmer down the jam.

The jam once it "jells."
4. Pour the jam into clean, hot jelly jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.***


NOTES:

* To learn how to peel peaches the old fashioned way, click here. Or get yourself a soft fruit peeler; to my mind, that is the only way to go!

In addition, your job will be much easier if you buy freestone peaches. (Cling peaches are difficult to pit.)

** Sugar both helps the jam "jell" (or set), and helps preserve the finished product. You may adjust  the amount of sugar in this recipe, but it may not jell well, and it won't last as long in the cupboard.

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