Fine Fermentables

The hero of this story is tiny.  Imperceptible to the naked eye.  And always around.  He aids in the production of yogurt, sauerkraut, beer, cheese, pickles, sourdough starters, and various other tasty treats.

Our hero is Lactobacillus.  And he and I are pretty much best friends right now.

For those of you who haven’t heard of lactobacillus (his friends call him Lacto), the term itself actually refers to a family of bacteria that have their hands in a wide array of fermented foods (you’ve undoubtedly heard of some of his relatives, like L. acidophilus – guess what the L stands for!).

What makes lacto even better is the fact that you don’t need any special tools to employ his help.  He’s literally all around you, hanging out in the air, waiting for you to request his assistance.  That’s why when you make sauerkraut, or sour pickles, or even a beer like a Berliner Weisse, you just leave the container open.  Lacto does all the work behind the scenes, with little help from you.

Lacto and I have been tight for a while – he’s the key ingredient in my favorite style of beer to make (Berliner Weisse).  It’s low alcohol, requires relatively little help, and comes out tart and refreshing.  But after our most recent adventure together, we have a newfound respect for one another.

For the first time, I made kimchi.  Kimchi is similar to sauerkraut – it typically involves fermenting cabbage and/or other veggies in a spicy mix of hot peppers, ginger, and garlic.  I’ve always loved kimchi, a staple in Korean food, but homemade kimchi is amazingly simple, and absolutely delicious.

Cabbage and Shredded Carrot Kimchi (Back) and Radish Kimchi w radish greens (Front)

The base recipe I worked off of was from Sandor Katz’s book, Wild Fermentation.  It’s a great introduction to fermentation for those of you who are interested in the topic.  It’s fairly simple.  You take cabbage, or other vegetables, and soak them in a brine for several hours.  Then, you rinse them off until they taste mildly salty, and mix them up with the spice mixture.  Pack them into a crock, food bucket, mason jar, or other fermentation vessel, and let that beauty sit out on your counter for a week.  As always, you want to have some sort of weight on top to keep the veggies under the juices.  In a week or so, you’ll have the most delicious side dish ever.  Slather it on hot dogs or burgers, eat it as a side dish with asian stir fry, or just eat it straight out of the jar.  It’s amazingly simple, and if you have cabbage around, it’s a nice alternative to a more traditional sauerkraut.

Below, I’ve attached the base recipe, and them some notes on how to vary things up and take your kimchi to new levels.  Also, feel free to scale back the spices and the ratios if you want something a bit milder, but traditional kimchi should have a fiery kick to it.

Recipe:

  • 1 lb cabbage (about half of a large head, I used savoy, any firm cabbage works), sliced thin
  • Brine: 1 tablespoon of salt for every cup of water; use enough to cover the cabbage

Spice Mix:

  • 4-5 Long red hot peppers (I just chose any long red-hot from my local asian market; definitely use fresh peppers if you have a choice)
  • A hearty helping of milder onions (shallots; scallions; leeks; whatever – just something oniony)
  • 2 inches of ginger root, peeled
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • generous splash of a good fish sauce (also from my local asian market, if you cant find it you can probably do without, but I love fish sauce)

Kimchi Spice

If you want more heat, add more peppers, or even some sriracha. If you want less heat, seed some of the peppers, or use fewer peppers or less spicy peppers – find a balance that works for you. But definitely try and make sure you have some red peppers in there, it helps give it that red appearance that goes with traditional kimchi.

  1. First, soak your cabbage in the brine.  Put it in a non-reactive (in other words, non-metal) bowl, and put some sort of a weight on top.  I used a pyrex bowl and a plate that fit inside.   I threw a big jug of water on top of the plate just to make sure everything stayed submerged.  You want to make sure all your cabbage stays under the brine.
  2. Leave this alone for several hours, or overnight.  You want your cabbage to still be crispy, but it should have noticeably softened.  Don’t worry about refrigerating this – leaving it out actually lets lacto start getting in on the action a bit.
  3. Rinse off the cabbage, tasting it here and there to make sure its noticeably salty, but certainly not as salty as your brine.  If you rinse it off too much, just sprinkle a little more salt on them. *SAVE SOME OF THE BRINE* just in case you need some more later on.
  4. Get your spice paste ready (you could also do this the night before if you want to let all those flavors mingle together too).  I just zapped everything with a hand wand until it was one delicious heap of spicy goodness, and then i topped it off with some green scallion slices.  Play with the amounts of ingredients until it tastes good to you.
  5. Mix the cabbage with your paste, and then pack it into your fermentation vessel.  Really cram it in there – I fit all of this into a widemouth quart jar.
  6. Make sure there’s some sort of weighted lid going on.  In my case, I just used a 1/2 pint jar inside the widemouth quart, and filled the smaller jar with some water. This worked great, and it kept the veggies under the juice.  If you don’t have enough brine, add a little of the brine you reserved from earlier.
  7. Set this all up on a counter, or a place where you can leave it undisturbed for the next week or so.  It’s a good idea to stick a plate under it in case the brine spills over.
  8. Throw a clean towel over the top to keep bugs out.
  9. Check it at least once a day to keep the veggies under the brine.
  10. After about a week, taste it.  It may take longer in cooler environments, while things go much quicker in a warmer environment.  When it tastes good to you, just toss it in the fridge.  It will keep for quite a while. And it’s full of all sorts of probiotic goodies!

Now for the variations:

For me, the star of the kimchi show is the spice mixture.  That means you can literally throw in any other veggies with the cabbage and brine.  Hell, you can use nothing but other veggies and leave out the cabbage.  I made a radish kimchi (quartered radishes plus the green tops; shown above) that is awesome and insanely spicy.

For the spice mix, again, feel free to make it to your liking.  The key ingredients are ginger, milder onions, red peppers, and garlic.  How you mix them is up to you.  Horseradish is also an awesome addition to the mix.  Use fresh grated horseradish if you can find the root, but be forwarned, grating horseradish is..um………challenging.. It will literally bring you to tears.

Also, if you see some moldy-lookin stuff on the top of your ferment, that’s entirely normal.  As long as your veggies are under the juices, they’re safe.  Just skim off the bloom and let it continue to ferment away.

A plethora of strawberries

Strawberries have long been one of my favorite fruits. I remember every year for my birthday, I would beg my parents for a strawberry shortcake. I would then linger around the dining room table, waiting for the chance to steal the strawberries off the top. This behavior went on well into my college years.

However, over the last few years, I fell a bit out of love with strawberries. Any time I got them in the store, they were huge, but they were also white in the center, and not particularly flavorful. Sure, they were still good after they sat in sugar, and I drizzled them on top of a fresh slice of angel food cake. But they just didn’t taste how I remembered.

Then I discovered the joys of local strawberries. Last summer in my CSA share, I received a quart of strawberries. They were warm from sitting in the sun, and much smaller than their grocery store counterparts. I remember thinking, well….these are um…petite…. But sweet baby Jesus, the flavor was unparalleled. Those strawberries brought me right back to the delicious fruit of my childhood.

So over the last month or so, I’ve made it a point to take full advantage of strawberry season. Some got put up in the simplest way possible: I froze a few, for the occasional morning shake or quick sorbet. Others went away in good ol’ strawberry jam. But both my mom and I wanted to get a bit more creative this year. So this is what we came up with:

First, some strawberry jam with vanilla – take your strawberry jam recipe of choice, and just throw in a fresh vanilla bean that you have split and scraped (if you’re not sure how to do this, there are some great YouTube videos to help you out). It’s an incredibly simple variation, but it’s awesome. The flavor you get from the fresh beans goes perfectly with fresh berries.

Next up, strawberry rhubarb jam. I had a jar of this at the end of my winter CSA, and it was delicious. So when I saw that the strawberries were at the peak of their season, and the rhubarb stalks were the size of baseball bats, I jumped at the chance to make this treat. I followed a standard strawberry jam recipe, but used equal parts strawberry and rhubarb (my mom tried this jam last year, but we both agreed it need more rhubarb than just a few stalks in the pot). It’s also a good idea to let the rhubarb macerate in sugar overnight – it really softens it up and draws out those juices.

20120612-231743.jpg

For my next adventure, I found a recipe for strawberry rhubarb butter, on Food in Jars. I had never done a butter before, but it was amazingly simple.  Mix up your ingredients, stick it in a slow cooker, and let it go all day.

Your kitchen will smell fantastic, and you’ll get a few jars of butter with very little effort. Just keep in mind that you’re really cooking this down, so you’ll get lower yields than you would for jam. But trust me, it’s worth it.

Strawberry Rhubarb Butter

And as a side note, you can also make a strawberry vanilla butter using the same technique in the recipe above. Or, you can do what I did: I put a plain strawberry butter on a bit later in the day, and when I was ready for bed, it had thickened up, but not enough to be a true butter. Rather than let it go all night, which would have made it too thick, I just threw it in jars as-is. Voila, a thick strawberry sauce! I had some on pancakes the other morning, and all I can say is, strawberry sauce is the sh*t!

And finally, I made some strawberry leather using my dad’s dehydrator. You basically just add a fruit puree (which can be lightly cooked or entirely raw) to a fruit leather tray, and then wait until the leather is dry to the touch.

Fresh strawberry puree – this amount makes one tray of thin fruit leather

The yields are extremely low for the amount of strawberries I used; in the future it may be better to add some apple sauce to increase the volume. I’ll do a separate post later on about my new love of home-made leathers, but in the meantime, this article should get you started. It offers a great general technique for making all sorts of scrumptious fruit leathers.

There isn’t much time left in strawberry season – if you’re lucky enough to find some fresh ones, grab a few quarts and have some fun!

A return from our hiatus

Shortly after my mother and I started this blog, we disappeared into the depths of cyber space. The holidays, school, and just plain old life got in the way. But we certainly haven’t forgotten this space. And now that canning season is kicking into gear, we’re back.

Of course, our disappearance certainly doesn’t mean we gave up canning over the winter. We both managed to keep busy in the kitchen, especially with an unusually steady supply of fresh produce, courtesy of the warm weather. One of my personal favorites was pickled cranberries, made with heirloom cranberries from Greensgrow farm in Philadelphia. Even my mom liked it, and she generally hates cranberries. You can find the recipe over at http://www.foodinjars.com – I’ll post a link when I get a chance.

Another winter favorite was grapefruit jam. It’s a bit labor intensive, but my god it’s delicious. I’m desperately in need of a bigger batch, so I’ll do a full review of it once that happens.

But most of my winter preservation efforts took the form of beer. I took my first step towards all grain brewing, and it was a surprisingly simple process (at least for the style I chose). The style I went with was a Berliner Weisse, or a sour, low alcohol German style beer. It’s extremely refreshing and pleasantly tart. And the alcohol level is lower than your standard beer, coming in at roughly 3% alcohol by volume. It’s a great place to start for newbies interested in brewing.

Of course, now that it’s strawberry season, we’re planning on taking full advantage of spring’s bounty. I’ve already put up strawberry rhubarb jam (and some rhubarb jam); and my mom put up a bunch of strawberry and strawberry vanilla jam. And now that I’m home for the next few days, my mom and I have a whole flat of strawberries to play with. Jams, pies, and my first foray into fruit leather will all take place over the next day or two.

I know this post is a bit of a tease, with just a few quick glimpses of what we’ve been up to, but hopefully it’s just enough to whet your appetite. Stay tuned for more details, some snazzy photos (courtesy of my mom), and some delicious recipes.

– Jess

Review: Ball’s Home Canning Discovery Kit; Maple Vanilla Applesauce

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m newer to canning, so I’m still in the process of collecting jars; lids; and other fun tools that most people amass over time.  Luckily, the one thing I never had to buy was a large pot for water-baths—I already had a brew kettle that was more than adequate.  But the downside of this is I lost out on getting that metal canning rack that is included in so many water-bath canning kits.  So for the past few months, I’ve been making due with towels, small steamer racks, and this square rack that came with my toaster oven.  All of them have their shortcomings; and none of the racks completely fill out the bottom of the kettle, so I need to be careful about jars falling off the rack and touching the bottom of the pot.

So when I saw this during a recent excursion to a store, I was pretty excited.  For about $10, I got 3 pint jars, a recipe book, and most importantly, a canning rack.When I took it out of the box, the canning rack was much smaller than I expected – it still wouldn’t fill the bottom of my larger brew kettle (or my smaller pots, for that matter).  It was also pretty scrunched up; but the book assured me it would regain its shape over time.  It also didn’t feel particularly sturdy: I had my doubts about how this would fair under the weight of some fully packed jars.

So tonight, I decided to whip this thing out and give it a shot.  I was only doing a small batch of preserving (some picked cranberries and maple vanilla apple sauce); and I didn’t expect more than 5 jars.  I figured this small batch would be the perfect situation in which to test this product, if for no other reason than the basket seemed too small for a larger batch of preserves.

Even though I only expected 5 jars, I had a hard time fitting the 3 pints and 2 half pints into this carrier.  And any time I picked up the rack with the empty jars, at least one jar was always trying to slip out of the side.  Even when the jars were full, this rack really doesn’t hold that much.  In fact, I was relieved that I only had 4 jars in the end, otherwise I probably would have needed 2 boils.

I suppose it’s more convenient than using jar tongs to fish out jars one by one, but it’s really only good for small batches.  And I generally don’t find jar tongs to be inconvenient for small batches.

I may whip this out from time to time, but overall I can’t recommend this product.  It’s a hair flimsy, and it certainly doesn’t hold enough jars for your average home preservation project.  Save your money.  And I’ll let you know if I find a more adequate solution, although something tells me this is going to end up being a DIY project one weekend.

As far as the preserves, the pickled cranberries are delicious (you can find the recipe over at Serious Eats: In a Pickle).  I have a feeling I’ll be eating them straight out of the jar.  And the fact that I got to use all heirloom cranberries makes the pickles that much more special.

Then there’s the maple vanilla applesauce, which is just awesome—I’m excited to put some on my morning oatmeal. The recipe is below:

  • 5 medium apples (I used stayman apples from my winter CSA); peeled, cored, roughly chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1-2 fresh vanilla beans (I used 2 bc the ones we got are kind of weak)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • Splash of apple cider

Yield: 1 Pint

Toss the apples, scraped vanilla bean, 1 vanilla bean pod, and the cinnamon stick in a pot.  Throw in a little apple cider: I used just enough to keep the apples from scorching (and if things looked a little dry, I added some more cider).

Cover and cook over medium until soft.  Once the apples are soft, stir them up with a wooden spoon.  Ta-da! Apple Sauce! You can stop here if you want (or blend it/run it through a food mill if you prefer a smoother product), and just water-bath the jar for 15 minutes.

Instead of stopping here, I threw in a few glugs of maple syrup.  I don’t like my apple sauce too sweet, so I probably used about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons, but you can use a little more or less as you see fit.  Heat the sauce a little bit more, until everything gets nice and blended.  Toss it in a jar, debubble it (I always forget this step), and put it in your boiling water for 15 minutes.*

*note: Since this only makes about 1 pint, you can also just toss it in the fridge.  I imagine it’s safe to waterbath, since there isn’t much syrup, and I’ve adapted it from other applesauce recipes I’ve seen before.  But I’m not positive, so if anyone knows for a fact my pH is off, feel free to let me know 🙂

Keep on preservin!

-Jess

Memories of a Food Mill

Just the other day I decided to make a recipe I found online for Caramel Apple Jam (the recipe can be found here).  So I went to my Farmer’s Market and found a wide variety of apples.  All the vendors have their samples to taste, so you can make a lunch of all those juicy beauties.

The recipe calls for you to boil the apples (with skins on) and then put them through a food mill to make your applesauce.  As soon as I read this I knew just the thing I would use: my old food mill with the hooks on the bottom (to hold on the bowl) and the handle you turn to crush the fruit.  I got excited about seeing this mill since I haven’t used it for quite a while.

As soon as I thought about the mill I was brought back to my childhood, standing next to  Mom or Grandma, crushing the tomatoes to make a spaghetti sauce for Sunday meal.  I remember turning the handle back and forth to make sure I did a good job.  The memories flooded back, and I have to admit a few tears were shed.  I can’t count the amount of times this has happened to me.  I do think that it’s an age thing.  The older we get, the more we crave the comfort of things we had as children.

Then came the bad part.  After looking high and low for my food mill, I couldn’t find it!  Looking through the few boxes I still didn’t unpack (no judging, it’s only been 3 years!), I came to the realization that I must have gotten rid of it before I moved.  How could I have done that!  I went to 4 stores and, of course, no one had one.  I guess I could find one online, but I want my old one, full of memories.  But I guess at least I can still reach back and keep those memories close to my heart.

Anyway, in the end the jam came out great! And the color on the jam is absolutely gorgeous. I did add extra vanilla and of course, extra rum.  Holidays are coming and we must be jolly. Right???
– Stephanie

A nod to our past

Since the title of our blog is “Preservin’ the Past,” we thought it was only appropriate to acknowledge the history of “puttin’ up” in our first post.  Canning and home-preservation have incredibly deep roots, and it was only in recent history that this practice died off a bit (before the current canning rennaissance, of course).

Rather than bore you all with some drawn-out lecture on the history of canning (and god knows I love a good lecture, being a professor and all), I opted to let pictures do the talking for me.  I stumbled across these images of women and their pantries in the Library of Congress collections, while looking for some resources for class.  I found them to be incredibly fascinating; not to mention awe-inspiring (how do they find the time to put up so much in a single season??)

These pictures make one thing incredibly clear: whether you’re preserving now, or a hundred years ago, preservation is as much about practicality as it is about passing on tradition and building bonds between people. So here’s to passing on tradition, and strengthening our sense of community across the ages.

A word on the photos: Many of these photos come from the US Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information collection during the late 1930s and early 1940s.  In the wake of the Great Depression, and facing another world war, many families relied on things like canning to keep them afloat during tough times.  So while it may seem a little weird to see so many photos of canning, and of women proudly showing off their canning cellars, these photos were undoubtably great tools to showcase themes of nationalism, thrift, and self-reliance.

First, a look at women proudly displaying their fully-stocked pantries:

A woman checks her recent batch of canned goods.

Lancaster County, Nebraska, 1938. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-008657-D)

This next woman displays an impressive cellar of home canned goods.  She’s truly a master of her craft!

Saline County, Ill., 1939. (A. Rothstein, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-027066-D)

 Cleaning off jars in front of her old-school pressure canner.

Lancaster County, Nebraska, 1938. (J. Vachon, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-008660-D)

This is one of the few photos that gives us a name to go with the face.  Meet Mrs. Wilfgang, who canned over 500(!) quarts of goods in a single year. If only I had a quarter of that space!!

"Mrs. Fred Wilfang with some of the 500 quarts of canned goods she has put up this year." Black Hawk County, Iowa, 1939. (A. Rothstein. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-028974-D)

 Another proud woman displays the fruits of her labor. (Is anyone else drooling over the storage space all these women have?!)

Orange County, Vermont, 1939. (R. Lee. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-034323-D)

Preparing for the winter:

"Before winter sets in, Mormon families are well supplied with canned goods and flour." Santa Clara, Utah, Oct. 1940. (R. Lee; Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-037884-D).

A stadium of canned goodness! (And also one of the few photos of non-white women displaying massive pantries).

Canned goods made by Doc and Julia Miller, Negro FSA Clients. Penfield, Georgia, 1941. (J. Delano, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-046256-D)

And Mrs Gus Wright shows off her hard work.  This photo certainly suggests that canning was a viable option for everyone, regardless of your social class.

Oakland Community, Greene County, Georgia. Oct 1941. (J. Delano, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection,LC-USF34-046290-D)

Mrs. Buck Grant – I love the expression on her face.  She’s trying to hold that smile back, but you can tell just how proud she is to be showing off her goods.

Near Woodville, Georgia. 1941. (J. Delano. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-046439-D)

Nothing goes with canned goods quite like a slab of home-cured meat.

“Mrs. Missouri Thomas in her smokehouse showing canned goods and cured meat. Flint River Farms, Georgia, May 1939. (M.P. Wolcott, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34- 051629-D)

And finally, Mrs Jones and Mrs Dyson, proving its not always about quantity, but quality.

Mrs. Jones. Zebulon, North Carolina. 1942. (A. Rothstein. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-000419-D)

Mrs. Dyson. Saint Mary's County, Maryland. Sept 1940. (J. Vachon, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection,LC-USF34-061361-D)

Next, sharing canned goods with the world: canned goods and fairs.

Home preservation wasn’t just about keeping your family fed.  It was also a way to supplement your income (and potentially earn you some bragging rights).

"Old lady who has resided in Gonzales County for over eighty years. She has handwork and canned goods exhibited in the fair." Gonzales, Texas, 1939. (R. Lee, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-034584-D)

This woman from Arizona proudly displays her award winning preserves.  She won prizes at the state fair for each of these items.

Pinal County, Arizona, 1940. (R. Lee. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-036367-D)

And my personal favorite: canning, family, and friends.

A woman uses leftovers from her winter storage, while her son plays with an empty mason jar under the table.

"Mrs L. Smith still has some canned goods left over from winter." Carroll County, Georgia, April 1941 (J. Delano, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-043860-D )

A family gathers around one of their pantries (I have a feeling my own pantry is well on the way to looking like this).

"George Ward and his wife and one of his five children with some of their canned goods." Meadow Crest, Greene County, Georgia, 1941. (J. Delano,Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection,LC-USF34-046381-D)

A nice picture of a shared moment between two women: Mrs Lewis talks to Miss Maddox about her canned goods

Coffee County, Alabama, 1939. (M.P. Wocott, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection,LC-USF34-051393-D)

A family goes out to the smokehouse to bring in some preserved goods.

Summerton, South Carolina, June 1939. (M.P. Wolcott, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-051924-D)

This is one of my favorite pictures.  I can only imagine what sorts of canning secrets (or family gossip) are being passed between the generations.

Wife of Frederick Oliver. Summerton, South Carolina, June 1939. (M.P. Wolcott, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-051925-D)

Mommy’s little helper.

Mrs. Harvey Renninger and son. Waterloo, Nebraska. (M.P. Wolcott, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-059456-D)

A little girl reaching for some canned deliciousness.

Daughter of Cube Walter. Belzoni, Mississippi. Sept 1939. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-052321-D

I love how hard he’s concentrating.  You know he’s being careful with those jars because his mama will whoop his behind if he drops them.

Thomastown, Louisianna. June 1940. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-054130-D)

And our final kid (little Bobby Willis of North Carolina) is so excited about all the canned goods, he might poop.

Yanceyville, North Carolina. May 1940. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection,LC-USF346-056228)

We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into home preservation history (and hopefully down the line, I can diversify this collection a bit with pictures from other eras)

-Jess