The New Home Economics


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Book review: The Art of Fermentation

Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix KatzThe Art of Fermentation
An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World
By Sandor Ellix Katz

I met Sandor Katz a few years ago, shortly after I purchased his first book, Wild Fermentation. I feel fortunate that I took a class from him when he was still relatively unknown; the likelihood that he’ll be teaching inexpensive classes at local co-ops again in the near future seems pretty low.

Wild Fermentation is a true recipe book; in it you will find recipes for things like sauerkraut, kimchee, mead, and a whole host of other fermented foods. But one of my main issues with it was that I wanted to know the WHYs of every recipe. Why is it OK to eat brined pickles that are a bit moldy on the surface? Why did my brined pickles fail? Actually, how do I know whether they failed? Why is lacto-fermentation as safe (or safer) than canning? Does lacto- mean it involves lactose?

I had a lot of questions, clearly. Some of them were answered slowly, over time, as fermentation became mainstream. When I made my first batch of yogurt four years ago, google searches turned up almost no answers. Now, there’s even an heirloom vs. modern yogurt debate. I retired my yogurt maker and switched to the oven method a year ago.

Actually, the reason I read Wild Fermentation was in search of answers to MANY questions that I had after reading Nourishing Traditions. If you’ve ever read either one of those books, or had mixed success with some of the recipes, The Art of Fermentation is an invaluable resource. It covers everything the WAPF-ers are passionate about, from proper preparation of grains to culturing dairy products to the value of live-fermented foods, but the difference is Katz includes the science and logic to back up every single claim. Wild Fermentation and Art of Fermentation are truly complements to each other.

Here were some of my favorite bits from Art of Fermentation:

Botulism
If you’re confused about the now generations-old association between canning and botulism, Katz puts this question to rest once and for all. For starters: fermenting is completely different than canning, even though it may use the same jars. The acidic environment present in any and all fermented foods prevents botulism spores from ever gaining a foothold, as they can in warm, sterilized canned food environments. Katz includes an anecdote about Native Alaskan peoples’ techniques for preserving/fermenting fish, which involve burying them in a pit in the ground. Recently, people interested in reviving the tradition have tried fermenting fish in plastic bags and buckets instead of pits, and the results have been questionable enough that the US Centers for Disease Control conducted a test. To me, this was one of the most powerful passages in the book:

Two batches were prepared the proper traditional way, and two were prepared…using plastic bags or buckets. One of each batch we inoculated with botulism; the other was left natural. After the fermentation process was complete, we tested them. To our surprise, those batches of foods prepared the traditional way had no trace of the botulism toxin, not even in the foods that were inoculated with botulism spores. On the other hand, both batch of foods prepared in plastic tested positive for botulism. The advice that came out of that experiment was—”keep on fermenting your food, but never use plastic bags or buckets, and be certain that you do it the traditional native way without any short cuts or changes.”

Do you really need whey, or what?
I found the Nourishing Traditions fermented vegetable recipes confusing. The book made it sound (to me anyway) like if you do not use liquid whey (and I was unclear whether the whey should be from raw or pasteurized dairy), that your fermented foods will not turn out. My own anecdotal evidence plus this book has now settled this issue for me. Whey: not necessary at all. There’s no harm in using liquid whey; adding it is sort of like adding a “starter”–think sourdough. In vegetable ferments, it can help fermentation get started quicker, but it’s not necessary.

Yogurt
I’ve already documented a couple different yogurt-making methods that have worked for me, and Katz says his method has evolved as well. For one thing, he uses only 1 T. of starter per quart of milk and only cultures it for about 4 hours. Also, Katz clarifies the differences between using store-bought yogurt and heirloom cultures. But this is one of the great things about him: he doesn’t fuss about contentious issues like raw vs. pasteurized milk. He wants people to ferment foods which they have access to, whatever those may be.

Butter
I’ve always been confused about what is the difference between sweet cream and cultured butter. The difference is this: sweet cream butter is made from agitating fresh cream until the butter and the buttermilk separate. Cultured butter is made from cream that has first been “soured”–on it’s way to becoming creme fraiche. To make creme fraiche, simply add 1 T. of yogurt or buttermilk to 1 c. cream and leave it out for 24 hours. Refrigerate until set for creme fraiche, or shake it up for cultured butter. Now it all makes sense!

Water
I now understand why several of my brine ferments have failed in the last few years: up until 2012, I always used tap water. Katz recommends against using city water because it has chlorine in it, which upsets the natural balance of bacteria. I had a feeling about this, so I used spring water for my pickles in 2012, and not one jar went bad. I don’t like buying bottled water, but for this one thing, it’s worth it. There are ways to de-chlorinate city water, but most simple filtration systems don’t remove enough of it. Yes, of course, I’d love to get a super expensive filtration system, but… maybe someday.

Other topics
Just to give you an idea, Art of Fermentation also covers all of the following: kombucha, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, wine, beer, sake, hominy, coffee, cheese, salami, cod liver oil, brined mushrooms, kimchee, cider, fermented urine as garden fertilizer, sourdough breads, koji, and 100 year eggs. That’s only a sampling.  There are only a few recipes, in the traditional sense of the word; this is a book of methodology and inspiration. If you decide to make one of the more complicated ferments, such as salami, Katz urges you to read more on the subject and gives you ideas of where to start. On the other hand, with simpler vegetable and cultured milk ferments, there are SO many right ways to do them that knowing the basic methodology (and science behind why it works) is really all you need.

Fermentation, wow, who knew I would become so obsessed!? I love it!


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With Thanks

Having a really great Thanksgiving holiday.

It started with a snowy day last weekend — the perfect kind where you get a nice cozy day by the fire and then it all melts within 2 days.

Bacon ends — I love it that my favorite grocery store carries random, value-minded stuff like this. Cut up into small chunks and frozen individually, these will add a bit of glorious bacony flavor to many dishes in the next few months.

My first batch of kombucha turned out! (As did the pumpkin pie in the background.) That white part on the top is the “SCOBY” (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). It started out as a film, but slowly grew into a solid mass reminiscent of soft beeswax. My kombucha is not as fizzy as store-bought, but it has a good flavor.  And now I have extra SCOBY to share with friends.  Locals, let me know if you want some.

Cleaned the last of the lacinato kale out of the garden today.  We’ll use a lot of it, and I also gave a rather large bag full to a friend for her pet rabbit.

And finally, the reason I pulled those last few kale plants: so that I could spread these 5 glorious bucketfuls of chicken manure/used bedding on the garden.  Friends with chickens are great friends indeed.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


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The New Normal

Various economists are referring to this extremely slow “recovery” as The New Normal.  Economy aside, I can’t think of a better phrase to describe our crazy summer of working, volunteering, gardening, and now a frenetic preserving and preparing for our next new normal.  We have exactly one week left before Adam goes back to work full-time, for the first time since the kids were born.  Starting August 30, we will have two full-time working adults and two full-time-in-daycare kids.  To say I’m nervous is an understatement.  I’ve been channeling some of that into preparing for winter as if we are about to be snowed in for 9 full months.  (I wish!)

This weekend, we canned 50 lbs of tomatoes.  After squirreling the kids away at Grandma’s on Friday afternoon, Adam came home and prepared a fortifying dinner for us:

Homemade liver & barley sausage, great-Grandpa Miller’s Great-Grandma Elwell’s secret recipe, with homemade ketchup, kraut, and new potatoes.  And Surly Furious.  Doesn’t get much more local or delicious than that.  Next, we set up:

Lots of boiling water is involved in this canning business.  Good thing it was 90 degrees and really humid.

When the steam cleared a little after 5 p.m. on Saturday, we counted our results:

32 pints of tomatoes
6 pints of spaghetti/pizza sauce
4 pints of ketchup

I didn’t spend that entire 24 hours canning, don’t worry: I took 8 hours off for sleeping.  And I was on my own all day Saturday which slowed down the process a bit.  Adam got the trim painted on the house while I canned.

Let’s move on to a garden update.  I’ve not been taking the best care of this blog or the garden, so it’s changed quite a bit since I last took pictures of each plant grouping in June:

Here are the parsnips (and garlic) in mid-June.  Here they are now:

Every year, parsnips look so shabby and pathetic for so long, that I always wonder if they will ever take off.  We took the garlic out in late July and that seemed to really kick-start the parsnips, and the green tops are now absolutely huge.  We’ll see how the actual parsnips look; we have at least a month to wait (I hope).  Parsnip harvest begins with the first freeze.

My banana peppers in mid-June:

They didn’t look all that impressive.  I also had two cauliflowers in there, neither of which turned out very well.  I think the weather got too hot for them.  Here’s the banana pepper jungle today:

(Also, notice the encroaching cucumbers on the fence.)  Each banana pepper plant has turned into a huge, sprawling bush, so laden with fruit that their branches end up dragging on the ground when we don’t keep up with the picking.  Seriously.  I never thought that 11 pepper plants would be too many.  But there, I said it.

Here are my cabbages in mid-June:

(And my thumb, apparently?!)  I thinned these out two times after this picture was taken, and also harvested 4 cabbages.  This patch was supposed to be cabbage and celeriac, but the celeriac never sprouted as far as I can tell.  You can see the tiny cucumber seedlings in the bottom left corner.  Here’s how the same patch looks today:

(Again, encroaching cukes)  The tiny cucumber cage is directly to the left of this frame.  I planted about 7-8 plants, and have been training them up onto the rabbit-proof fence fortress that surrounds the garden.

Finally, the green beans, which shot up astoundingly fast in June:

And the green beans today, which are just about done:

What kind of yield am I getting from my wee urban farm?  I never thought you’d ask.  We organized our basement freezer today, and here’s what we found:

11 quarts raspberries: we’ve already used 3, and ate a LOT fresh.  This is about double what we got last year.
8 quarts green beans (also ate many fresh)
5 batches of pesto

So that’s the frozen stuff, and the canned tomatoes were listed at the top.  What about the fermented stuff?  Behold, I present to you… another personal failure:

We planned on building a root cellar this year.  It makes SO much sense.  It’s a huge walk-in refrigerator that requires no electricity.  Two weeks ago when our main kitchen refrigerator was overflowing with fermented foods, we finally realized it just wasn’t going to happen.  We found a small secondhand refrigerator, which we installed in the basement.  New ferments added daily.  The final tally is going to be so ridiculous that I can’t venture a guess right now.  Here’s a clue: we’ve ditched quart-size jars in favor of half-gallons.  And we keep buying more half-gallon jars.  Today we started a gallon each of banana peppers, pickles and sauerkraut:

A root cellar has been downgraded to the “someday” list.  We just have bigger priorities right now.  Here’s one:

There’s my little guy, making his very first batch of kraut.


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Recipe: pickled cucumbers or banana peppers

Here it is, our Nourishing Traditions-inspired pickle recipe (by request from several people).

This isn’t a recipe so much as a method — because really it could be varied quite a bit and it would still turn out great.  I like to use smallish whole, unsliced cucumbers for pickles — they stay crisper that way.  These are dill pickles, but with a more nuanced, subtle flavor than store-bought dills — imagine a dill pickle without that strong vinegar taste.

Here are your ingredients, per quart:

6-8 smallish cucumbers or banana peppers (seed and slice the peppers)
1 T. mustard seeds
1 T. whole peppercorns
1 T. whole cloves
3-4 sprigs fresh dill (the more the merrier)
2-4 cloves garlic, sliced or roughly chopped
Approx. 2 c. brine (2 T. sea salt + 2 c. water)
2-3 T. whey (optional, but highly recommended)

Sprinkle some mustard seeds, garlic, dill, and cloves at the bottom of a quart-size jar.  Fill the jar half full with cucumbers or sliced peppers.  Layer in more of the spices, dill, garlic.  Fill the jar the rest of the way with the cukes or peppers, leaving about 2 inches room at the top.  Throw in whatever’s left of spices.  Pour in the whey then top off the jar with brine until the pickles/peppers are covered.  Cover tightly and leave on the counter for 2-3 days.  Taste a pickle or pepper.  Does it taste really great?  It’s done.  Is it a bit salty?  Leave it for another day then try it again.  When they’re done, transfer to the fridge.  They will keep several months, at least.

How to easily obtain some whey

Variation: when you hit the height of pickle season, and you’ve made a few batches of these already, you will have a half-full jar or two in your refrigerator.  Instead of messing around with making more whey every time, we use a good cup or so of the liquid from the half-eaten pickle jar as an “innoculant” to get the new batch started.  Sorta like a sourdough mother, except with pickles.

Lazy woman’s variation: OK, to be perfectly honest, I leave out a lot of the spices when I make these.  And they still turn out great.  For banana peppers in particular, I like to keep it very simple and just add garlic and peppercorns to the mix.

Adam made some pints of the peppers, as well, because we have several requests for samples.


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Kimchi time

I made a completely different version of kimchi this week.  Reader Christopher posted a link to this awesome authentic Korean food blog in the comments of my original kimchi recipe that I posted.  This more authentic version wins, hands down.

My friend CJ and I salted 4 heads of napa cabbage and 2 cubed green daikon radishes.  We looked at United Noodles for Korean radishes, but we couldn’t find them and figured daikons were close enough.

After making the paste, you’re supposed to spread a handful (wear gloves!) between each leaf of cabbage in each head.  Then you smooth it all down and shape it into a ball and ferment 1-2 days in a covered container.  However, I really wanted to use quart-size mason jars, and the cabbages did not fit.  So I pulled them all apart and we just layered cabbage leaves and paste in the jars.  It worked just fine.

We ended up with quite a bit of kimchi.  We actually ran out of paste at the end and had to whip up a little extra for the radish kimchi (kaktugi).  I could not find fresh or frozen oysters (note that I did not look terribly hard), but we used a little oyster sauce in addition to the fish sauce.  I also did not have the guts to add SIX ENTIRE CUPS of hot pepper powder/flakes; I think I used 2 heaping cups.

So here’s the recipe.  I definitely recommend watching the video before you try it.  Makes it very easy.


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Recipe: easy, no-knead 100% whole wheat bread

A few weeks ago I had great success with this recipe, but I really wanted to nail down a version of it that was 100% whole grain, and that would be more in line with a Nourishing Traditions-style bread (where the grain is soaked, fermented, or sprouted).  So after a bit of tinkering, I present you:

Easy, No-knead, 100% Whole Wheat Nourishing Traditions Bread
3 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/3 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. honey (optional)
Scant 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp. salt
Cornmeal for dusting

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add buttermilk, oil, honey, and 1 c. water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky, almost more like a very thick cake batter than bread dough. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap. Let dough rest 18 – 24 hours, at warm room temperature.

2. After a good rest, the dough should have expanded and should be releasing occasional bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice — if it’s really wet you might not be able to handle it like normal bread dough.  If it seems really hard to handle just use a scraper to scrape it into something resembling a pile. Don’t worry about it if it seems gooey and weird. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; scrape your dough up into something resembling a ball and put it down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise/spread for about 2 hours.  If your dough is still really wet at this point, the towel will absorb some of the water and it will start to look a lot more like bread dough. When it is ready, dough will be roughly double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. Around a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 5- or 6-quart heavy covered pot in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove the now-hot pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 20 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned — keep an eye on it during this last part because it can vary.

Make sure you cool it completely on a rack so the crust can fully develop.

This bread is good, but honestly don’t expect it to be quite as tasty as my other recipe for no-knead bread.  The fact is, the more white flour you use, the more palatable the end result will be.  So I guess I would call this version more of an every day version, and the other version could be a special occasion type of thing. This is not really a sandwich bread.  More of a dipping in soup or mopping up lentils type thing.  You could make sandwiches with it, but the crust is quite thick and chewy, so be aware of that.  YUM.

For quite a lot more about the whole no-knead bread baking phenomenon, read my original post and recipe.  More information than you will ever need, really.

Note for the NT people: notice that I don’t call for freshly-ground whole wheat flour.  I have not had good luck AT ALL with using that for bread.  My flour mill is a lower-end one, and I think it just doesn’t grind the kernels finely enough.  So for our bread-baking we’re using store-bought organic flour from the co-op.  For now.

Update, January 21, 2011: So, our lives just keep getting crazier and crazier, and I’ve adapted this recipe even further.  Here’s the version I’ve been making lately:

Ingredients:
7 c. whole wheat bread flour
1 scant tsp. yeast
1 scant T. sea salt
2 1/2 – 3 c. water
1 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. olive oil

This will give you a dough that’s less wet, and therefore more suitable to other methods of baking.  The original recipe above is very wet and can really only be baked with the hot cast-iron pot method.  This adaptation is firm enough to be shaped into a free-form loaf or used for pizza crust.  It also makes a lot more.  So now I mix up this recipe about once a week and we can make regular loaves of bread or pizza, all from the same bucket.  I just let it rise at least 8 hours or overnight, then stick it in the fridge and we grab a handful of it as we go.  (This is all very much inspired by Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which I highly recommend.)  This makes around 3 small loaves, or 3 pizzas.


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A cheesy confession

It’s likely that nobody remembers my bold proclamation in mid-September about how I was going to start making cheese.  I got this book from the library.  I read the first four pages of it, at least.

But I never got around to picking up ingredients to make any of the cheese recipes.  Then one day it was due back at the library, so back it went.  So I think that maybe cheese-making, beyond simple yogurt cheese, is something that I’m going to put on my mental back burner for a while.

I thought I should be honest about this, lest you all think that I’m some kind of superwoman.