The New Home Economics


1 Comment

Darning socks.

Well, it’s now come to darning socks.  I’ve been throwing every pair of socks that develops a hole onto a big pile in the basement.  Now I want to wear them, especially the wool ones.  Sandal season is over.  I need socks!

darning1

I have no idea if I did this right or not.  Needle, thread, and sewed up the hole nice and tight.  That’s it.  I wore a pair to work today and they were perfectly comfortable.  I feel kinda weird writing about it, but this is not something I ever would have done until money became so tight.

darning2

Only one thing to note: watching a foreign film and sewing simultaneously doesn’t really work.  Anyway, there you go Christina, finally something to tag with “sewing.”


Leave a comment

Sauerkraut: new method a success

krautnewmethod

A couple weeks ago we bought a huge cabbage at the farmer’s market.  Usually we keep our ferments covered tightly, opening the jars about twice a day to let out accumulated pressure.  Because this was such large batch of ‘kraut, I decided to try the Sandor Katz method of fermentation: leaving the cover off and weighing the vegetables down with a heavy weight to hold them under the surface of their liquid.  It looked like this:

kraut1

We let them ferment for a little over a week, and it was barely any effort at all.  I got one out and tasted it a couple times just to make sure it was getting sour.  We did get some foam on top, which we just scraped off when we added covers and transferred to the fridge.  No dreaded mold to report.

There was only one part of this that was a big mistake: I placed the jars in a metal 9×13 cake pan to catch any overflow and save my hutch from water damage.  Unfortunately, the acidity of the liquid that overflowed from these jars pretty much ruined my cake pan.  It is covered with rust now on the inside, and I can’t scrub it off.  Should have used a glass one.

If we don’t give these away as Christmas presents, this should be enough saurkraut to last us the entire winter.  Theoretically.


Leave a comment

Fall happenings

Couple of random things going on today.  First:

pie

Adam made a very local pie: he used raspberries and apples right from our yard (via the freezer for several weeks).  It is with great sadness that I report we have now eaten all of our frozen raspberries.  And it’s only Oct. 24.  It’s going to be a long time until July.  It was still a pretty great run though.   I’ve never eaten that many raspberries in my life.

Second:

pumpkins

My mother-in-law found a really great deal on pumpkins near their hometown in central Minnesota and picked us up two giant jack-o-lanterns and 5 really nice little pie pumpkins.  So I’m following the advice from the Root Cellaring book and storing them in a cool, dry place.  We have a spare bedroom that is just a storage area right now, so we don’t heat it in the winter.  It stays about 50-60 in there, so it should be perfect.  Not that those jack-o-lanterns need to last long, anyway.


1 Comment

Book review: Root Cellaring

rootcellaringRoot Cellaring
The Simple No-Processing Way to Store Fruits and Vegetables

By Mike & Nancy Bubel

Note: the subtitle of the newer editions is Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables.  I got the 1971 hardcover edition from the library, so my version had some awesome 70s lettering on the front.  (Same art, though.)

I was on the library website looking for something else when I saw this book.

This is a very simple book, and a quick read.  It has three main parts:

1) Overview of vegetables that store well in a root cellar, and what their ideal conditions are

2) Descriptions of many, many different kinds of root cellars and other related cold-storage options

3) Recipes

The authors were so jazzed about root cellars that they traveled around the U.S. taking pictures and drawing diagrams of interesting set-ups they found.  They only touch on the greater philosophy behind root cellaring once or twice:

“Home canning has been common practice for something over 100 years, freezing perhaps 40 years at most.  We consider these technologies to be conveniences, and of course they are.  Now, we have no wish to turn back the clock.  We’re very glad to be living here and now.  But haven’t we been missing out on a truly basic convenience —  the practice of root cellaring — in our preoccupation with jars and lids and blanching kettles and freezer bags?  It’s as though we’ve forgotten briefly, almost momentarily, considering the long sweep of human history, how to make use of natural rhythms, how to sensibly meet and participate in each season of the year, how to put natural cold storage to work for us.  Now we need root cellars again.  Perhaps, in a way, more than ever.”

I think I pulled one of the only philosophical paragraphs in the entire book.  The rest is given over to discussions of how real people are doing this.  Here’s one example that really struck me:

coldbox

In this example, some city-dwellers built a little box into one of their basement windows.  The box is big enough to hold two refrigerator-crisper drawers of vegetables.  They open the window on fall nights to let in cold air, but during the winter the temp stays just right.

I love simple solutions like these.  The Bubels also provide photos and plans of root cellars they’ve come across, which comprise: drawers built into stairs, improvised crawlspaces, an old buried milk truck, a really beautiful HUGE buried stone cellar, a combination root cellar and smokehouse, and many others.

Basically, an optimal root cellar needs a cold air intake, a source of humidity, and a stale air outlet.  But because different vegetables thrive in different conditions (and they have a detailed list in the book), you can tweak your cellar to your circumstances.  For example, perhaps you only want to store pumpkins and winter squash?  You’re in luck.  Those are best kept at 50-60 degrees F and moderately dry, 60-70% relative humidity.  You could easily achieve this in a cool basement room and call it your root cellar.

The recipe section has some gems, too.  Some great ideas on CSA box cooking can be found here — simple recipes that call for things like celeriac and salsify, turnips and rutabagas.  There’s also a section on fermenting and pickling.  They have a really nice way of explaining the benefits of lactic acid (which fermented foods are rich in):

“Lactic acid, like yogurt, buttermilk, and acid fruits, helps to dissolve the iron in iron-rich foods so that it can enter the bloodstream.”

This makes sense at so many levels, because since I started fermenting I’ve noticed that the most iron-rich foods are the ones that taste the best in combination with some type of fermentation.  Examples?  Pancakes made from wheat flour soaked in buttermilk.  Steak with fermented banana peppers on top.  Sausages and sauerkraut.

Naturally, this book has inspired me to think about whether we could have a small root cellar.  We don’t produce a ton of stuff, but even having some extra kraut storage-space during the winter would be nice.  I already have a spot in mind: there’s a closet under the basement steps that always stays pretty cold in the winter anyway, and right now it is literally filled with old junk.  I am going to investigate it this winter to see how cold it really gets, to gauge how much work it would be to change it into a real cellar.  Add that to the list of to-do’s for 2010 I guess…  Damn that list is long already.

UPDATE, July 23, 2010: I’ve just purchased this book and am drawing up plans to convert our basement closet into a root cellar.  Hope we can get this done by September or so. Looking at this book again was like seeing a friend after a long absence.  (I feel that way about a lot of books, though.)

UPDATE, Feb. 1, 2011: No, we never got around to making a root cellar last year.  Instead we bought a small second-hand refrigerator and set it up as our pickling fridge!  So wrong, and yet so wonderful.  I have not abandoned hope, though.  I WILL get my root cellar, someday!


Leave a comment

Different fermentation method

We’re making a new batch of sauerkraut right now, and it’s our biggest batch ever: 5.5 quarts.  My normal method, while the kraut is fermenting, is to keep the jar tightly sealed, and open it about twice a day and let out the built-up gas and push down on the cabbage a bit.  If you don’t do this, the lids can literally blow right off, from the pent-up gas.  It’s happened to me.

No problem when you’re making one quart, but with five it starts to be a burden to open each one twice a day.  So I’m fermenting these the old-fashioned way:

kraut1I have a plastic jug filled with water holding the cabbage under the surface of the liquid in each jar.  Air bubbles can easily escape, and I pretty much do absolutely nothing except wait for it to get sour enough.  I have the jars sitting in a cake pan in case they froth over a little bit.  (Can you see the froth on the right-hand one?)

We’ll see how this goes… it’s been going for 2 days only so the smell is not a factor yet.  It might get bad though.  I have it in a very cool spot in the dining room so this is going to be a long, slow ferment.  I’m also keeping a flour sack towel over all of them to keep out dust, dog hair, etc.

kraut2

We’ll see if I get mold, a common complaint when people ferment with this method.  It’s nothing more than a nuisance; you just scrape it off and throw it away when you’re transferring your kraut to cold storage.

Update, 10/29/2009: It turned out great!


Leave a comment

Sauerrüben

Continuing down the path towards becoming a total fermentation maniac, I tried a new one this week: sauerrüben.  It’s just like sauerkraut, except it’s made with turnips instead of cabbage.

I think I finally realized the whole purpose and meaning of turnips.  I’ve cooked with them occasionally before, and was uninspired until now.  But something magical happens to turnips when they are fermented.

Sauerrüben can be eaten just like you’d eat sauerkraut: with meat or mashed potatoes, or on top of pizza.  I think it would be especially magical on a roast beef sandwich.  It tastes like a mixture of sauerkraut and horseradish.  WOW.

Here’s how I did it:

sauerruben1

Grate some turnips.  The number that you do is immaterial.  (That’s Adam’s hand; he lost a couple fingertips in an accident as a child.)

sauerruben2

Place the grated turnip in a bowl and salt (with a good quality sea salt) liberally, a good 1-3 T. depending on how many turnips you grated.

sauerruben3

Put it into jars and set out overnight with a weighted insert to hold the turnips under the surface of the liquid that the salt draws out.  In the morning, put the covers on the jars and ferment for another 2-3 days.  Open your jar twice a day and press down your sauerrüben to release the gases that build up (or follow whatever fermentation style you prefer).  Taste it at least once a day.  When it tastes good to you, it’s done.  Transfer to the fridge.

sauerrubenserve

Here Adam served a dollop of it on the kids’ plates next to their ham and mashed parsnips.  Dinner tasted like a holiday feast.  The kids went wild for the sauerrüben and even drank the extra juice out of the half a pint jar that we finished.


2 Comments

Parsnips

Parsnip harvest time today, and a beautiful 60 degree day it was, with sunshine.

parsnips1

You can’t pull parsnips out like you do with carrots; they are so big that the top would break off before you could pull the whole thing out.  Instead you must loosen the soil around the parsnip with a fork, then pull it out.

parsnips2

I ended up pulling a whole row.

parsnips3

I’m disappointed.  They are significantly smaller this year than they were last year.  Last year we had at least 6 meals out of our two rows, and this year it will probably only be two.  I’m not sure what went wrong.  I planted them in a different location in the garden, and I’m wondering if this location gets a tiny bit less sunlight than where I had them last year.  It’s also possible that they suffered (like all garden plants) from our very strange cool and dry summer.  Not sure.  Here they are all cleaned up:

parsnips4

Three of them were nice, about the size I expected.  The rest were more like large radishes in size, with lots of strings and “legs.”  Anyone have any ideas how this might have happened?  I’m at a loss.

We cooked them up and made mashed parsnips.  Really delicious.