Category Archives: Food

Alcoholic Apple Cider – Homebrew

Alcoholic Apple Cider - Homebrew

I’ve been unveilling the mystery of making alcoholic apple cider versus apple cider vinegar. I left a batch of apple peelings fermenting in water and honey, intending them to turn to vinegar, went away on tour, and came back three weeks later to find I had a delicious alcolic cider – not sour at all. Sweet and warm from the alcohol. Yum! I immediately started a new batch, but strangely, this next batch turned sour really quickly, before it passed through that delicious alcoholic stage. Why?

Sandor Elix Kratz provided the answer in his fantastic book, Wild Fermentation. It seems that when you put a sweet, fruity liquid on the bench, wild microorganisms from the air get to work on it quickly to ferment it. Within a few days it’s bubbly, and slightly alcoholic, thanks to the work of these microorganisms. At this stage, a different kind of microorganism is attracted to the brew – one that consumes the alcohol and remaining sugar and turns it into vinegar. If you want to make alcoholic mix, then you need to stop the vinegar-creating microorganisms from accessing your brew. You can do this by putting it in a bottle with a narrow neck (so there’s not much air exposure at the top), and putting on a lid. As the alcohol microorganisms work, they create carbon dioxide (the stuff that makes it fizzy), and if this carbon dixioxide isn’t released, the whole thing can explode. I can vouch for this personally – on my last tour I left something to ferment for more than a few days, and it exploded all over the hotel kitchen – yikes!

Anyway, now I know why my first batch of cider turned alcoholic, rather than to vinegar: before I left, I put a ziplock bag filled with water on top of my cider. I did this to keep the apple peelings immersed while I was away. Usually I stir every couple of days and that does the trick. If the apple is exposed for more than a couple of days, it tends to turn mouldy, which is not good. My ziplock bag obviously prevented air (and the vinegar-creating microorganisms in the air) from accessing my brew, but happily it still allowed the carbon dioxide to escape out the sides – when enough pressure built up, it pushed the bag out of the way, and the bag flopped back once the bubble had been released. I didn’t repeat the bag arrangement though, because I lost half the brew as it floated above the bag and overflowed. That’s why my next batch turned quickly to vinegar.

So.. how to make an alcoholic cider without losing half of it to my bag method? I simply put it in a plastic mineral water bottle with a narrow neck, and put the lid on. Several times a day, I loosen the lid enough for the carbon dioxide to escape, which it does with a little hiss, and then retighten the lid. This is called burping the bottle! You can do this with a plastic bag too. Simply put your brew into a plastic bag and secure it with a rubber band or drawstring. Every few hours, burp it – squeeze out the carbon dioxide but don’t let any oxygen in. Another way is to put a balloon over the neck of the the bottle, instead of a lid. As the carbon dioxide is created, the ballon blows itself up. But you need to burp the balloon every now and then, so it doesn’t pop.

My burping plan was foiled when I woke up the other morning and realised that since I’m going away for a few days, I won’t be able to burp my cider! I didn’t want to risk it exploding, and I didn’t want it to turn to vinegar. I did what the pros do: use an airlock. It’s a little plastic tube that winds up and down, and can be secured to the top of your bottle. Water sits in the s-bend of the tube. When carbon dioxide is created, a little bubble of it flows through the water and pops out the top. But no oxygen can get in thanks to the water. An airlock is amazingly cheap – this one cost $3.

While I was at the homebrew shop, I also bought a bottle capper for $12, and a bag of bottle tops for $5. With this grand outlay, I can now recycle beer bottles by giving them a wash, filling them with my cider once it’s suitably alcoholic, and tapping on a new cap. Right now the apples at the farmer’s market (and in the dumpster we visit from time to time) are old: they’ve been in cold store all winter, and they are starting to turn. We’ve been rescuing them by peeling and coring them then stewing them. The peels and cores go into a bucket with water and honey, and that turns into cider. I hope to make a batch that will last us the summer, and store it all in beer bottles.

By the way, when I was at the homebrew shop, as soon as I mentioned apple cider, they rushed me over to their apple cider kits. where you buy some special yeast and other various formulated ingredients and follow a very precise recipe. I’m sure that works, but I love the simplicity of my method: making use of the wild microorganisms as they do their thing, putting some food scraps to good use, and ending up with a slightly different flavour for every batch. It’s healthier too – those wild microorganisms are fantastic for our digestive tracts, and it’s better for the environment to use them than some that have been packaged up and shipped to us from god-knows-where.

Recipe for Wild Alcoholic Apple Cider and Wild Apple Cider Vinegar

Put apple cores and peels into a bucket with water and enough honey to make it nice and sweet.
Put a plate on top to keep the apple pieces immersed, or stir it every two days instead.

After a few days it should be nice and bubbly. At this stage you can leave it in the bucket, stirring intermittently, until it turns into vinegar – this could take a few more days or a few weeks, depending on temperature. Alternatively, you can pour it into a bottle or bottles with a narrow neck, and utilise one of the following methods of burping it:
– buy an airlock from a homebrew supplies place
– put a balloon over the neck and burp it from time to time
– screw on a tight fitting lid, and burp it frequently by loosening it briefly.

Taste it every now and then and start drinking when it tastes good. If you have any left when it no longer needs to be burped (not sure how long this takes – could be a few weeks), then you can pour it into screwtop bottles for drinking soon, or you can age it.

If you want to age it, put it into a clean beer bottle and affix a new cap. You can put in another teaspoon of honey at this stage, and I’m told that will make a nice fizz when the bottle is opened. Label and date your bottle and store it till you are ready to drink it. By the way, if you put this in a wine bottle and cork it, you run the risk of the cork popping out if more carbon dioxide is created. That’s why you use the beer bottle and cap – they should be strong enough to withstand a bit of fizz.

When bottling it, there will be sediment sitting at the bottom of the vessel you used to ferment the brew in. Apparently if you siphon off the liquid into their bottles for aging, and leave the sediment behind, you get a finer flavoured cider once it’s aged. But I was too meanfisted to shell out $16 for the siphon, so I’m drinking my sediment.

Nourishing Traditions

Nourishing Traditions

Have you read this book?

Nourishing Traditions – by Sally Fallon. I borrowed it from a friend and I can’t see how I’ll ever be able to return it! It’s worth buying just for the introduction alone, which provides an amazing catalogue of nutrition information – going into detail about fats and how to choose good fats over bad and why, explaining why dairy needs to be raw and from pasture-fed cows, not pasturised, and covering proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, salt and even beverages. Citing a long list of nutritional studies that have been done, Fallon makes the argument that refined and processed foods are harmful to our bodies, and that we need to eat as our ancestors ate, to achieve a healthy diet. Intuitively, this is something I’ve known for a long time, and have attempted to work towards in my own diet. The book bowled me over because of the number of areas in which my basic understanding of nutrition has been challenged. While I have suspected that dairy is probably not good for us, Fallon argues that except for those who have severe intolerances, dairy is very beneficial, as long as it is unpasturised and comes from the equivalent of “free range” cows. She makes a strong case for the health benefits of eating butter and cream, as these help us to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. Ideally, dairy foods should be fermented, enabling us to digest them more easily. Another argument she makes is that we would do better on nourishing fermented beverages which are more readily absorbed by our body, than by drinking plain water. She points to traditional healthy cultures all over the world who include some fermented foods with just about every meal, and advises us to consume fermented food often. It’s not just dairy that should be fermented, but most grains become more digestible and thus more nutritious when digested, as do a host of other foods. Soy products, she says, shoud not be consumed at all unless they’ve been fermented.

I should point out here that I don’t take everything Fallon says as gospel. She cites Dr Edward Howell with respect, despite the fact that I understand his work is based on a set of rather unlikely assumptions, not scientific proof. But she also cites many references I believe in and many of her recommendations do cross-reference well with other nutritional research I’ve done. I am interested, however, to see whether following her recommendations really do yield any health benefits for me.

Since I read the book in January, I’ve been making fermented beverages and drinking 2-3 cups of them most days. I’ve been eating kimchi every day, lots of it. I put miso on my food more often, and I’ve tried a handful of other fermented recipes in the book such as apricot butter (yum!), fermented bean paste (ok, definitely edible but I would only eat that OR kimchi at a meal and I prefer the kimchi), fermented blueberries (I didn’t like this much but Jesse loved it), and fermented porridge. I’ve also got the hang of adding a bit of whey to almost anything and leaving it out of the fridge for a while, which seems to be an easy way to innoculate food with good bacteria, and start the fermentation process. I’ve also sprouted and dried nuts for eating, rather than eating them unsprouted. I was consuming a fair bit of soymilk before, in preference to dairy, but now I’m only having a tiny bit of soymilk and am consuming raw milk instead – not loads of it, and most of it fermented.

One thing I’ve noticed in the last two months is that my period pain has been dramatically reduced. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but somehow I doubt it. Before I had Jesse my period pain was absolutely debilitating – drugs every cycle no matter what, despite being totally against taking drugs generally. Since his birth I’ve been able to get on with things a bit better but it’s still a toss up between taking drugs or having a very unpleasant day or two. But last cycle I just had very mild pain, definitely no cause for any drugs and not really a problem. And this cycle, it’s just been a few twinges. Does this mean my hormones are balancing out? The only change I can attribute it to is the changed diet. Maybe Sally Fallon is on the right track…

Kvass and Kombucha

Kvass and Kombucha

Rather than drinking water, I’ve been aiming to have most of my drinks as something fermented and/or more nourishing.  Apparently two of the most immune-boosting drinks are Beet Kvass, which is apparently a household item in Russia, stored in the fridge for medicinal purposes and an excellent replacement for vitamin supplements; and Kombucha, another Russian drink which is a powerful immune booster and detoxifier.  Check out the Traditional Foods link in my side bar for more information about the health value of these drinks.  Many people have reported dramatic improvement from illnesses just from drinking one of these drinks and changing nothing else in their diet.

Since Kombucha and Kvass became a regular part of my diet, I’ve been serving it to friends, and these days I am asked regularly for the recipes for both.

Beet Kvass

Get a four litre vessel – I use one with a lid but if yours doesn’t have one you could probably cover it with a cloth to keep out insects.

Add 2 teaspoons of celtic sea salt.  Other recipes for this drink call for more salt but this is what works for me.

Peel and dice 4-5 large organic beetroots, or more smaller ones.  Add to the vessel.

Add 1/4 cup of starter culture.  For this you could use a previous batch of kvass, or some whey.  To make whey, buy some yoghurt, line a cup with a tea towel, spoon in some yoghurt, and then lift the tea towel a bit so that the whey can drip through.

Now fill the vessel to the top with water, ideally filtered.  Let sit at room temperature for 48 hours, then strain and store liquid in the fridge.

At this stage you can refill the vessel with water for another, weaker batch of kvass.  I usually add water until it’s half to two-thirds full, as it comes out stronger this way.  Again, leave it for 48 hours then strain and put the liquid in the fridge.  Chuck out the beets.

Mine tastes like a very diluted beetroot juice with some lemon added, and sometimes it’s a little fizzy.  Sometimes it’s beautifully sweet.  Each batch is different in flavour, probably depending on the quality of the beets.  Drink half to one glass, morning and night.  I drink much more than this, and when I go out I half fill a water bottle with kvass then top up with water.

Kombucha Tea

To make Kombucha you need about a cup to a cup and a half of a previous batch of Kombucha.  Kombucha develops a rubbery scoby, also referred to as a “mother” or a “mushroom”, which is really a colony of beneficial bacteria.  This is generally used to start the next batch, although you don’t actually need it – the liquid is more important.

Make up a litre of tea solution: put 2-3 organic black teabags and 1/4 cup unbleached organic white sugar into a litre of boiling water, and allow to steep until warm enough to comfortably leave your finger in it for ten seconds, or until it’s cool.  (The kombucha may work with other teas and other sweeteners, but it is with black tea and white sugar that you get the highest amount of the beneficial acids.)

Put at least a cup of kombucha tea and the scoby into a vessel (can be a plastic bucket, can be a glass jar – whatever), and feed it with the litre of tea solution.  Cover it with a clean cloth or paper kitchen towel and secure with a rubber band.  You want the kombucha to breathe but not get dirty.

Put your vessel in a warm place.  Kombucha cultures are most active between 22-30 degrees celsius.  Below 16 degrees or above 30, the cultures begin to die off.

Wait 7-10 days for the cultures to digest the sugar and tea, and turn it into a very beneficial acid.  Taste it from time to time – gradually the tea taste disappears and a sour flavour is introduced.  Ideally you would drink it as sour as you can while still enjoying it – this way more of the sugar has been digested.  The more starter liquid you had, the less time you need to wait, as there will be more of the beneficial organisms waiting to pounce on the sugar and tea and digest them.

At this point, you can drink and enjoy, and reserve a cup for the next batch.  However, if you want to drink kombucha regularly, it’s worth starting a continuous batch.

The idea with a continuous batch is that you have a large vessel full of kombucha, and each time you draw off some of the liquid to drink, you replace it with the same quantity of tea solution.  There should be plenty of organisms waiting to digest the relatively small amount of tea, so after 24 hours or so, it should be fully digested, and you can then draw off your next batch.  If you have four litres of kombucha, you should be able to harvest a cup per day.

Work out how many cups of kombucha you’ll need daily, including some to serve to guests and for other family members, then multiply that by 4 to determine how many litres you need in your vessel.

Your vessel can be a simple plastic bucket, or a large glass jar.  While some people used glazed ceramic vessels I have read about some issues with the kombucha corroding the glaze – do an internet search before going with this option.  While it might seem ideal to include a tap in your vessel, I have found the scoby just ends up blocking it, and it’s easier to scoop out liquid from the top of the vessel using a cup or small jug.

Now that you have 1.25 litres of kombucha, feed it with two more litres of the tea solution to build it up.  When it tastes right, feed it with another two litres – and so on, until you have the desired quantity in your vessel.  Each time you feed it, give it a stir to distribute the new tea and sugar evenly.

While you can harvest a cup of kombucha each day, and feed it with just that quantity of tea, I prefer to do it in bulk every few days.  I have a 2 litre bottle which I fill with kombucha, ready for my family to drink.  I then make up two litres of the tea solution, and feed it to my kombucha right after harvesting.

Troubleshooting:

– for me one of the trickiest things has been getting the temperature right.  As it’s winter and our house has no central heating or special warm spot, I keep my vessel propped up on two blocks of wood, and each night I slip a hot water bottle between the blocks of wood.  The heat rises into the vessel and keeps my kombucha at a good temperature.  I’ve noticed the more liquid I have in there, the more stable the temperature.  When I feed it, I make sure the tea solution is still nice and warm so it gives it a bit of a temperature lift too.  I keep the whole thing wrapped in a quilt.  You can buy electric heating pads, or build a warming cupboard if you prefer.  My friends have all found natural warm spots in their homes, such as on top of the coffee machine.

– a couple of my early batches of kombucha developed mould on the top.  If that happens you are supposed to chuck out the whole batch, as apparently you can get sick years later from errant mould spores in your system.  Unfortunately I drank mine and it tasted fine, so I guess I’ll have to wait and see.  Anyway, I resolved the mould problem by moving my kombucha to a different part of the house.  I also used a paper kitchen towel instead of my tea towel which may have had mould spores in it.  You could iron your cloth to kill any residual bacteria.

– be careful with how much kombucha you drink at first, or feed to friends.  Some people experience intense detox symptoms at first as their body cleanses the system.  Some people are allergic to kombucha.  If this happens, drink beet kvass for six months and then try again.  Start with half a glass a day and give your body time to adjust before slowly increasing the amount if desired.

Sourdough bread recipes

Sourdough bread recipes

Here’s how to make sourdough bread in your bread machine.  You need to make sure your machine has a setting that will allow a few hours of rising (ideally 3 or more) without kneading it in between.  Don’t set your machine to knead it more than once.

Sourdough bread:

2.75 cups wholemeal flour
10ml salt
300ml warm water
2 cups leaven
Optional: 1 cup seeds
Replenish leaven with 1 cup wholemeal flour, 1 cup water
Bake using wholemeal bread setting

Breakfast sourdough bread:

(This is a meal in itself.)
2 cups wholemeal flour
10ml salt
3/4 cup super mix (seeds, ground nuts, other flours (but not soy) – whatever you’ve got)
1 cup chopped dried fruit
2 tsp spice
1/3 cup rapadura sugar or 1/4 cup honey
2 cups leaven
300ml water
Replenish leaven with 1 cup flour, 1 cup water

 

Sourdough Leaven:


I got my starter from a friend of mine who used to work in a bakery – he tells me it’s ten years old.  I’ve heard you can make starter simply by leaving flour and water in a strategic place but I’ve never done it.  This is how I look after my leaven:

It’s ok for up to 3 days out of the fridge, then it needs replenishing. To replenish, put starter into a clean bowl, add one cup of water that’s a bit warmer than lukewarm, and one cup of flour (can use any flour – I use wholemeal). Mix well, cover, and leave it to sit (doesn’t have to be in a warm place). The leaven is ready to use when it’s bubbly – can take a few hours. The first few times put it in a glass bowl or jar so you can actually see the bubbles.

When you make bread, use the amount of leaven specified in the recipe, setting aside some to replenish for the next loaf, and then straight away replenish the leaven. When you replenish you can use as little as half a cup of flour and half a cup of water if you feel you have too much leaven. You need to replenish every 3 days if you haven’t made any bread, or you can put it in the fridge, and take it out and replenish several hours before you bake a loaf.

If you are only baking one loaf a week you might need to chuck out a bit of leaven when you replenish it so you don’t end up with a vast amount. The longer a leaven has been sitting since it was replenished, the more sour it will be. So for a sour bread, replenish the leven 24-48 hours before you bake. For a mild bread replenish leaven a few hours before you bake. You will notice in the first 48 or so hours after you replenish the leaven it seems to grow and bubble wonderfully, and then it sinks back down – don’t worry, it’s not dead, it just needs to be fed again (replenished).

If the leaven goes off or has black water on the top or is mouldy, scrape off the bit that’s gone bad, rescue a tablespoon or so of the good stuff from underneath, and replenish that.

Handmade Sourdough bread:

3 cups flour,
2 cups leaven,

1 cup water
2 tsp salt.

To make the leven, the morning before, I feed the leven: 2 tbsp leven, half a cup of flour, half a cup of water, mix, leave on the bench.

The night before, I feed the leven again by adding 2 cups flour, two cups water. Mix and leave on the bench. (Put a few tablespoons of leven in a small container in the fridge ready for next week.)

On the morning, put 1 cup water in a bowl with the leven, add 2 tsp salt, mix, and then mix in 3 cups flour. Mix well for about 3-5 mins.

Now for the kneading process. It’s possible to make no-knead bread, but when I did one loaf without kneading, and the other loaf kneaded I was amazed at the difference: the kneaded loaf rose beautifully and had much better texture. The unkneaded loaf was quite dense by comparison. Once you’ve done the above mixing of ingredients, rest the mixture for 20 minutes.

Knead for 5 mins. It’ll probably be an impossible sloppy mess. Just scoop it up with your hands repeatedly and throw it down on the bench. Fold it over if you can and just let it be sloppy. The more moist it is, the nicer your bread will be.

Rest 30 mins.

Knead 5 mins. It’ll be holding together better now – much smoother. If it’s too dry, work in more water by wetting your hands as you knead. If it’s still impossibly wet, add more flour.

Rest 20 mins.

Shape it by stretching into a rectangle, rolling up like a Swiss roll, then, optionally, roll it in some seeds. Place in your tin, cover with a shower cap or damp towel, and leave in a warm place to rise.

It takes mine 4-6 hours to rise, depending on temperature. If it’s really cold, rise it in an esky with a hot water bottle for company.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees celsius, put in the loaves and bake for 10 mins, turn it down to 180, and bake for another 30 mins.

Turn the bread out onto a rack to cool.

Sourdough Rice and Polenta Bread

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This is a gluten-free Rice and Polenta loaf with an amazing moist texture like crumpets. I wanted to make something like the one Sol Breads make up in Brisbane, and I tried for ages to get their recipe, but no go. I experimented till I got this bread and I’m really happy with it. The bread is a bit sticky when it’s hot so cut it with a wet knife if you can’t wait for it to cool.

1 cup arrowroot (tapioca starch)

1.75 cups brown rice flour

3/4 cup polenta (or oats)

1 tbsp guar gum

1.5 tsp salt

2 cups rice leven

280ml warm water

If you have a bread maker cook it on the basic setting. If not, mix the ingredients in a bowl for up to twenty minutes (or only five or ten if that’s all you can be bothered to do), tip it into an oiled bread tin, let rise overnight (or all day) then bake for about an hour at about 200 degrees centigrade.

Sourdough Currant Bread

I’ve tried a zillion different fruit loaf recipes and this is the winner by a mile. It’s so moist and sweet and yummy, and it’s even pretty healthy.

2.75 cups wholewheat flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 cups currants

10ml salt

300ml warm water

2 cups wheat leaven

If you have a bread maker cook it on the wholemeal setting. If not, mix the ingredients in a bowl for up to twenty minutes (or only five or ten if that’s all you can be bothered to do), tip it into an oiled bread tin, let rise overnight (or all day or for at least 4 hours) then bake for about an hour at about 200 degrees centigrade.

White Sourdough Bread

I’m a die-hard wholegrain cook and I only occasionally add white flour to my bread. But to please Paula I made her this white loaf and it was so exquisite I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to try it. This also serves as my basic sourdough recipe – substitute spelt, kamut, wholemeal wheat or any combination of flours you like.

2.75 cups plain organic unbleached flour

10ml salt

300ml warm water

2 cups leaven made with the same flour

If you have a bread maker cook it on the basic setting. If not, mix the ingredients in a bowl for up to twenty minutes (or only five or ten if that’s all you can be bothered to do), tip it into an oiled bread tin, let rise overnight (or all day or for at least 4 hours) then bake for about an hour at about 200 degrees centigrade.

How to preserve tomatoes

Here’s my three favourite ways to preserve tomatoes:

Bottle/can them:

In a nutshell, this is simple: just blend them in a food processor, bring them to the boil in a pot, spoon them into clean jars, put the lid on the jars, then put the jars into a pot of water and boil for an hour.  But for more detail, read on….

  • Collect jars.  I inherited some Fowlers jars and an old vacola from my great grandmother.  If I was starting over, I would simply reuse jars with metal lids.  The Fowler’s method requires purchase of new lids and rings, which are pretty expensive.  Jars with metal lids can be salvaged for free.  Ask your friends to start saving them for you.
  • Wash the jars.  You don’t need to sterilise them.  Just make sure they are clean.
  • Wash the tomatoes and remove any large cores.  Chop in a food processor so that bits of skin are small rather than large and unpleasant.  Place in a pot and bring to the boil.  Ideally boil them down to a nice thick sauce, but this takes hours and when I’m doing 90kg, I need to get it done quickly, so I skip the thickening step.  Spoon into your clean jars.  Leave an inch of headroom at the top of the jars – this is necessary so that they can seal well.
  • Put the lids on jars, tightly.  If using Fowler jars, put rubber rings on jars before you fill them with fruit.  Add lids and clips afterwards.
  • Put the jars into a large pot, and fill to one inch below the jar lids with water.  The jars all need to be the same height for this to work.
  • Bring the pot to the boil (this can take an hour if the pot is large, the water is cold and the tomatoes inside the jars are cold, and it can be really quick if you put jars of hot tomatoes straight into the pot).  There are complicated methods of calculating exactly how long you should boil your fruit for, depending on jar size and where you live.  I simply boil them for 45 minutes to an hour, and start timing once the water reaches a rolling boil.
  • Remove from the pot (be careful not to burn yourself!), allow to cool, and label the jars with their contents and the date preserved.  Double check at this point that all the jars have sealed.  It’s common for one jar in a batch to have a dodgy seal.  Eat it up soon, or try to work out why it didn’t seal and try again.  Maybe the lid is damaged and you need another lid, or there’s a chip in the jar?  If so, recycle the dodgy equipment and get it out of your kitchen.

Make Chutney:

Here’s the recipe for my take on my friend Jade’s tomato chutney – it’s delicious.
6 apples, peeled, cored, chopped.
10 onions, chopped.
3kg tomatoes, chopped.
1 tbsp cloves
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 tbsp allspice
5 cups vinegar
4 cups rapadura sugar or 3 cups honey (or use 4 cups regular sugar if need)
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 2/3 cup sultanas
3 tbsp tapioca starch or arrowroot or corn flour
Cook apples, onions, tomatoes, vinegar, salt, sugar and spices for 1.5 hours. Add ginger and sultanas, cook for another half an hour. Reduce it right now, cooking for a long time. Stir regularly. Towards the end it will start to stick, and it’s done! Blend tapioca starch with cold water, mix through, then bottle in sterilised jars while hot.

Make Tomato Ketchup:

This is now an essential in our house.  Delicious with pies, sausage rolls, chips, quiches etc.

The recipe I use is in the book, Frugavore, which is a fantastic read and well worth adding to your kitchen shelves.  But I don’t think I’m allowed to just publish her recipe here.  However, if you don’t have Frugavore, google on the net to find a good tomato ketchup recipe.  Ours ended up being very similar to the above chutney recipe, but is blended finely to a sauce texture, and boiled for hours until it’s quite thick.

Dried tomatoes:

Actually – my dried tomatoes were not a success.  They tasted exquisite semi dried, but once fully dried were rock hard, inedible, and refused to come good even when soaked in water or oil.  If anyone knows the secret, do tell.  I’m not drying tomatoes this year!

 

How to put up local food for winter

How to put up local food for winter

This photo shows the shelves in my shed – all stocked up with local food for winter.  It looks vast – it IS vast – but what amazes me is that it’s actually not a phenomenal amount of work to do this.  The first year it was – it took a lot of focus and energy.  But this is my third time and I’ve definitely streamlined things.

Why do I do this?

  • It’s a cheap way of eating really good food.  I buy in most of this food at “seconds” price, from farmers I meet at the local farmer’s market.  Because I’m buying at the peak of season and relieving them of their less attractive fruit, it’s cheap. The food in the photo above cost me about $350, and I have calculated that at commercial organic-shop prices, this would be worth about $3,000.
  • The taste is incredible.  My home-bottled tomatoes simply don’t compare to cans from a shop.  My friends invite me to dinner and ask me to bring a jar of tomatoes.  The fruit, too, is wonderful.
  • Every bottle I produce is something that wasn’t brought to me on a truck from far away – food miles are down, and so are the associated environmental costs.
  • It’s food security, and if we did hit a crisis, we wouldn’t go hungry.  This might sound ludicrous, but when Brisbane flooded last year, there were a lot of hungry people.  The shops were cleaned out fast, and there was no way of restocking them until the water receded.  For people evacuating, stuck for hours and hours on the exit freeways, there was no way of getting food.  To be able to grab armloads of stuff from the pantry and shove it in the boot would have been fantastic.  It’s not just Brisbane – there are many cities in America where it’s been days or weeks after a disaster, before more food could be brought in.
  • Our rubbish bin is nearly empty as a result.
  • I also like being part of hundreds of generations of women who have put up food for winter.  Until the last couple of generations, that’s what we humans did.  All summer, we had to prepare for winter, in terms of food, clothing, shoes and firewood.
  • It’s really not THAT hard, nor THAT much work.  And it feels great.

What’s involved?

  • In November or December I buy about 8kg cherry seconds and and 12kg apricot seconds from the farmer’s market.  It’s helpful if you order them in advance, but sometimes I just luck out on the day.  Plums are ready at this time of year – you might find a good tree to pick from.  If I can get enough, I buy an extra 3kg of apricots to dry in my dehydrator.  For each batch I process, it takes about an hour and a half to wash the fruit and get it into the bottles.  Then they are boiled (it can take an hour to get to the boil, then needs another hour boiling), and after that I remove jars, label them and put them away.  It’s only about two hours of active work, but I do need to be home for a three hour chunk.  And if you do the apricots and cherries at the same time, it’s more economical, time-wise.
  • In January or February, I buy grapes to dry into sultanas.  About 8kg fits into my dehydrator, and it takes me a couple of hours to wash and destem them all.
  • In February or March I bottle 12kg peach seconds, (a few hours, like the apricots), and then I do the tomatoes.  Our family of three eats about 70kg bottled tomatoes in a year (we are tomato lovers).  This translates to roughly two days of work, and is the biggie in our preserving calender.  It’s also a challenge because our tomato farmer doesn’t tend to give us much notice, so when the tomatoes turn up, we have to drop everything to process them.  Or if everything can’t be dropped, preserve around our daily commitments.  The tomatoes are hard work, exhausting, but once they are done, the preserving year is over for me.

The above makes up the mainstay of my shelves.  In addition to this, we do little bits of preserving here and there.  We were given a box of old apples, which we turned into apple cider, vinegar, and a few jars of apple sauce.  We have a cucumber glut in the garden now and then, and Paula turns them into bread and butter cucumbers.  When we do the tomatoes, we also make chutney or tomato ketchup, depending on what we’ve still got left from last year.  In winter I also pick a large mason jar of olives from a local tree, and cure these.

How to bottle/can food:

  • Collect jars.  I inherited some Fowlers jars and an old vacola from my great grandmother.  If I was starting over, I would simply reuse jars with metal lids.  The Fowler’s method requires purchase of new lids and rings, which are pretty expensive.  Jars with metal lids can be salvaged for free.  Ask your friends to start saving them for you.
  • Wash the jars.  You don’t need to sterilise them.  Just make sure they are clean.
  • Wash the fruit and remove stems.  If you can be bothered, remove stones from stone fruit, but if you can’t, they bottle fine as is.  Since I have limited storage space, I like to get as much fruit as possible into a jar.  I can do this by stewing the fruit first, which reduces its volume considerably.  So I halve or quarter the fruit, stew it until soft (I don’t add water – I let it stew in its own juice for best flavour), and then spoon it into jars.  The cherries I simply destem, pack tightly into jars, and then add a tablespoon of honey and a squeeze of lemon juice to each jar, to make them taste good.  I top up with water.  Leave an inch of headroom at the top of the jars – this is necessary so that they can seal well.
  • Put the lids on jars, tightly.  If using Fowler jars, put rubber rings on jars before you fill them with fruit.  Add lids and clips afterwards.
  • Put the jars into a large pot, and fill to one inch below the jar lids with water.  The jars all need to be the same height for this to work.
  • Bring the pot to the boil (this can take an hour if the pot is large, the water is cold and the fruit inside the jars are cold, and it can be really quick if you put jars of hot stewed fruit straight into the pot).  There are complicated methods of calculating exactly how long you should boil your fruit for, depending on jar size and where you live.  I simply boil them for 45 minutes to an hour, and start timing once the water reaches a rolling boil.
  • Remove from the pot (be careful not to burn yourself!), allow to cool, and label the jars with their contents and the date preserved.  Double check at this point that all the jars have sealed.  It’s common for one jar in a batch to have a dodgy seal.  Eat it up soon, or try to work out why it didn’t seal and try again.  Maybe the lid is damaged and you need another lid, or there’s a chip in the jar?  If so, recycle the dodgy equipment and get it out of your kitchen.

To complete our pantry, we also have a stack of food-grade 20 litre buckets in the shed:

How to put up local food for winter 2

We have a bucket of local honey, a drum of local olive oil, a bucket of sea salt, and a few buckets of local wheat.  We’ve also got some rapadura sugar but when that runs out I won’t replace it, since we are doing well only using honey, which is local.  If I liked dry beans I’d also have a bucket of them, but they are a taste I’m still trying to acquire.  By buying 20kg sacks/buckets of the above foods, we get them vastly cheaper than in shop-sized packets.  The trick to managing the buckets well is to buy more when the previous bucket is down to half.  Then you always have food security and you never run out.  Because we have everything in such enormous quantities, the feeling of stinginess around food has left me.  I feel fine to add generous lashings of olive oil to our food, use as much honey as we want, and use salt medicinally and for preserving as well as in baking.

Between the jars of preserves, and the above buckets, we can eat really, really well.  Add in some fruit and vegies from the garden (or the shop), the meat that’s in our freezer (from our home-reared chickens and from the farmer’s market), eggs from our chooks, and a regular delivery of milk and cream from a local farmer, and we have an entire diet.  Since these ingredients are the cheapest and most nutritious I can source, we make an effort to eat within this framework, and only buy occasional packets of other dry goods, out of season produce, processed products etc.

Having preserved/stored all this good, cheap food, you need to make sure you use it.  The first two years, I created a ration calender for winter: I calculated how many jars I had, and how to spread them over the winter.  In a typical week I’d bring in a bottle of cherries or plums, a bottle of apricots or peaches, two jars of tomatoes, and a small jar of chutney.  Paula, who does the cooking, serves the fruit inside pancakes, in baked custards, on top of porridge, or simply with cream.  The tomatoes are used in pasta sauce, stews and casseroles.

By grinding the wheat, we can make wholemeal bread, pasta, pancakes, crackers, sweet biscuits and pastry.  We sweeten absolutely everything with honey, instead of sugar.

If you embark on this journey, keep detailed notes.  Write down how much you bought, what varieties and when, how many jars it made, how many jars you ate in a year, and so on.  By doing this I’ve been able to streamline everything.  For instance, I know that 12kg of stone fruit fills 12 no.27 jars, and my Vacola fits exactly 12 jars when full.  This saves me having one extra jar of fruit that didn’t fit in the vacola, or having to run it with empty space in it, which is less efficient, fuel-wise.  You’ll soon discover what your family likes to eat, and can save your energy for the preserves you like the most.

Putting Food Away For Winter

Putting Food Away For Winter

Six months ago I drew this picture in my diary – somehow for me, when I draw my dreams, it seems to really increase the chances of them coming true. I think the drawing reminds me of what I need to do to follow the path towards my goals. Despite having never preserved food before, my project for this summer has been to learn to “put away food for winter”, like my great grandmother did. Why would I do this, when there’s abundant food available in the shops all year round? Because this way I can spend my money ethically, to support local farmers, rather than giving it to big corporations and increasing their power. Also because this way my food is all local, and far less resource intensive than a can of tomatoes from Italy, or out of season vegies from Queensland that came here on a truck. The single biggest thing you can do for the environment is change the way you eat, to eat food that is produced locally and sustainably.

Anyway, you can see in the photo the results of my project. I think I’ve finished for the season. I do have another box of jars that could be used but it seems I’ve missed the peaches, there’ll be apples at the farmer’s market all winter, and there’s nothing else to preserve. Next year … I’ll do more.

The top two shelves are all fruit. Nectarines and plums from our trees, apricots, cherries and peaches from the farmer’s market.

The next shelf has food I dried myself. Dried nectarines (we just tried some and I think we’ve discovered why you can’t buy dried nectarines.. they’re nothing special. Oh well – next year I’ll bottle them), dried apricots, sultanas, dried tomatoes in macadamia oil, dried apples, and dried zucchini from when we had a glut. There’s also kombucha to drink in the bottles at the back, and honey from my aunt and uncle’s bees.

The next shelf has condiments. Mulberry sauce from the tree around the corner (we’ll use this to make icecream, and to put on pancakes, and to add to stewed apples or apple pie to change the flavour), strawberry jam, a humungous jar of pickled gherkins from my garden, several batches of bread and butter cucumbers from the garden, nectarine chutney, tomato chutney and zucchini relish.

The bottom shelf is tomatoes. I bought 60kg of them from a local farmer and frantically bottled them before they all went off.

I don’t know if this will be enough to get us through winter. Jesse and I plan, as a homeschool activity, to sit down with a count of each item, and a calender that shows each week from May to December, and then we’ll allocate “rations”. Once a week I’ll bring in the allocated rations, and give them to Paula for cooking. I imagine a week’s rations might be something like this: a jar of fruit, a jar of tomatoes, a small handful of dried fruit, and a condiment. It’s not much, but supplemented with local in-season vegies from my garden and the farmer’s market, it might be enough. I hope so!

Was it really hard to do this? Would I do it again? It wasn’t hard – it’s more that it was a bit inconvenient. For example, the day the fruit trees decided to be ready was never an open free day in our calender that was perfect for bottling. It always had to be done around the gamut of life. I tried to keep Saturdays after the farmer’s market free, ready to process all the food we buy, but on the same day that I had ordered boxes of peach seconds and grapes for sultanas, it turned out to be my niece’s birthday party. It’s very hard to make time and keep it free for preserving, especially when you’re as inexperienced as I am and so not as good at anticipating when/how much time will be needed. On the other hand, it’s pretty peaceful work, and easy and calm to sit down in an evening to a box of peaches that need pitting or grapes that need to be picked from their stems. I found it much easier to do batches of small jars of apricots and cherries, and sterilise them on the stove, than the big batches of plums and nectarines that I did in the vacola. But the big batches will form the staple of our eating. If only, somehow, next year, I can time things to allow the time to be free when I need it, then I can relax and enjoy the process. I’ll definitely do this again next year. It was very satisfying and I feel really good about the ethics behind it all too. I suppose I’ll know more after a winter of eating, whether it was worthwhile or not.

Apple cider and Vinegar

I learnt from No Impact Man how to make vinegar out of fruit scraps, and last year I made myself a good supply. It’s almost run out though, so before my last tour I started up a new batch.

It works like this: put honey in water until it tastes sweet. Wash your apples, cut away any bad bits, then put the skin and cores into the honey water. Eat the apple flesh and enjoy! Sit the honey-fruit-scraps water on the bench. After a couple of weeks it will ferment into apple cider. Leave it a few weeks more and it will turn into vinegar.

Apple cider vinegar (raw) is very useful: Take a few tablespoons in water when you have a cold to keep mucous thin (ie reduces coughing & blocked noses); take it before eating high fat food to stimulate production of bile, which will process the fats and stop you from feeling nauseous. When making stock, put the bones in a pot, add cold water and 1/4 cup of vinegar, then turn on the heat. The vinegar helps to draw the nutritional goodness out of the bones.

You can also make vinegar from other fruit scraps – a good way to avoid waste.

Anyway, I returned from tour, tasted my vinegar, and discovered it was at the apple cider stage.

AND IT IS DELICIOUS!!!!

I’ve bottled it up, put it in the fridge, and am now rationing myself a tiny glass every evening. I’m sure it’s at least a little bit alcoholic. I’m addicted! I’m also frantically making more.

I suspect these two jars I’ve started will never make it to the vinegar stage. Woe! What am I gonna do for vinegar now?

Apple cider and Vinegar

Making cheese the traditional way…

Making cheese the traditional way...

In Melbourne I’ve tried making cheese a few times, with rather mixed results.  I’ve looked up plenty about the science of cheese making and most of the info I can find involves expensive equipment, a dedicated dairy-room, sterilisation of everything in sight… and so on.  I’ve always known that people used to make cheese in a simpler environment, think of the grandfather in Heidi, by Joanna Spyri.  But how to access that information?

We got up early in the morning to go for a walk up the mountain to see the shepard milk his goats and make cheese with it.  He let the goats out to wander up the mountains, and at the end of the day rounds them up with the help of his sheep-dogs.

Making cheese the traditional way... 2

His operation was very simple, consisting of a pen in which the goats were held, caulron on a hotplate next to the pen, with a metal trough tilted to drain the whey into a plastic basin, and a few plastic cheese baskets and utensils.

Making cheese the traditional way... 3

 He ages his cheeses and makes rennet from the stomach of his sheep in this grotty little hut:

 

Making cheese the traditional way... 4

As you can see, not much sterilisation is involved.  He checks the temperature of the milk with his hands, pours in some rennet-water, pops off to sweep the goat manure while he waits for the milk to set (about 15 minutes), then gives his hands a quick rinse (I didn’t see any soap) and plunges them back into the milk to gather together the curds.

He piles the curds onto the trough, divides them among the cheese baskets, and presses out the whey with his hands.  No need for the $500 cheese press I was advised to purchase.

Making cheese the traditional way... 5

 

Traditional Foods

Finally, I have posted my notes from Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions.  You’ll find the link in my sidebar in the Check Out list – Traditional Foods.  Now that I’ve been eating somewhat more “traditionally” for around six months, I am really convinced that this is the way to go.  I have been losing weight despite not doing much exercise, and despite eating lots of raw butter and raw cream.  You can’t believe how good it feels to put cream on porridge and eat a breakfast that is so delicious, and know that it’s actually doing my body good.  When I started, six months ago, I didn’t dare do this.  I took on a few of Fallon’s ideas, and when I started seeing some benefits, I took on a few more, and so on.  I’ve been gradually inching my way into it and with each change I’m glad I took the plunge.  Now I’m convinced.

I don’t consider my health to be 100% yet though.  I have a health rating system for myself which I use by keeping a log for a month, every now and then.  January, before I started, was a fairly normal month for me.  My sickness rating was 34 (a lot of sickness) and I felt well for only FOUR days!  I did it again in May – this time my sickness rating was 14 (still too high but WAY better than 34) and I felt well for fourteen days.  A big improvement.  That said, I’ve got a cold right now and have spent a couple of days in bed so I feel a bit disheartened.  I have to remind myself though, that the last time I had a cold this bad was in January, and usually I get these big whammers every month!  So I’m doing ok.  This inspires me to return to the book and work out what my next step in the health recovery diet is going to be….