Wassail, Glühwein, Glögg, and Mulled Wine

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‘Tis the season to drink mulled wine, fa la la la, la la la la!

For thousands of years people have been drinking spiced wine. The Romans never drank straight wine, unless they were out of spices and herbs to add to it. They were actually shocked by the Celts who quaffed straight wine, like frat boys at a keg party.

If you look online there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of recipes for mulled wine. I first encountered it while stationed in Germany. This time of year there are Christmas Markets, Weihnacht Markt, in every city with booths selling wonderful mugs of this stuff. I will say though that one must be careful. Between the heat and the sweetness it is easy to drink too much!

The following recipe is for a wonderful and simple Glühwein from The German Cookbook: A Complete Guide to Mastering Authentic German Cooking by Mimi Sheraton. While this is made with red wine, you can also make it with white wine, apple cider (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), or beer.

Ingredients

2 bottles red wine

1 cup sugar

1 stick cinnamon

3 or 4 slices lemon, each studded with 3 or 4 cloves

Directions

Heat all ingredients together until they [nearly] reach the boiling point, but do not boil. Pour into glasses or mugs and serve.

Teaching Classes in Chattanooga

It has taken me some time, but finally I’ve found the right organization to collaborate with so I can teach fermentation and brewing classes in the Chattanooga area. I met with Jennifer Holder of The Chattery recently and she agreed to help coordinate a space for several demos and workshops.

At first we were going to do the classes at Granfalloon’s, but they have unfortunately closed. Jennifer quickly found another place to hold the classes, the Chattanooga Workspace.

The first thing I’ll be doing there is a cross between a demo and speed dating called Speed Learning. There will be several educators there on a range of topics each seated at separate tables. The participants will have seven minutes at each table. I’ll be chatting about kombucha. While I tell you about how it’s made and how easily and cheaply you can do it at home, you can sip this tasty, probiotic beverage.

I’ll also be teaching a class on October 21st on How to Make Mead, Cider & Ciser, so sign up today for classes through The Chattery!

Meditation on Picking Berries

Earlier this summer I could step outside in my yard back in SC and spend nearly an hour a day foraging for wild blackberries. It seemed that no matter how thoroughly I thought I’d looked at a patch of ground, as soon as I took a couple of steps away and looked back I’d see more ripe berries that I hadn’t seen before. Since these were berry vines that were just growing all over the ground, I had to be totally in the moment as I carefully picked (no pun intended) my way across the various berry patches in order not to step on the berries.

A Change in Perspective Reveals Hidden Treasure
A Change in Perspective Reveals Hidden Treasure

Now that I’ve moved to Chattanooga, TN, I’ve gone berry picking at Crabtree Farms for blackberries and blueberries a few times. Their blackberry vines are huge, cultivated giants compared to the wild berries back in SC. Since they opened the picking up to the public, I often would be surrounded by other folks. I think it is interesting that I could come along behind many other people and still be able to find perfectly good berries to pick. Of course, many of those were outside the normal line of sight. I often reached through to the other side of the fence that supports the vines to find beautiful berries untouched. Likewise, by changing my perspective and looking up from below where the vines are thickest I was able to find handfuls of gorgeous berries.

I can’t help but think that we should often change our perspective in order to find the amazing things others have overlooked. And I hope to bring the mindfulness I found in picking berries to other parts of my life.

Rebalancing an Ecosystem

When we bought our house in Aiken three years ago there were bunny rabbits, lots of lizards, birds, and other critters. When we let our cats outside, they soon began hunting and killing whatever they could catch (bringing many a live critter into the house so they could chase the poor creature without it having any real chance of escaping unless one of us humans were around to save and release it).

I have always been allergic to mosquitoes and often joke about how they can smell me from ten miles away. The whole time that we lived in SC we couldn’t figure out where all the mosquitoes in our yard were coming from. We were more than a mile from any natural water source. Our swimming pool was meticulously maintained by my hubby, I kept Dunks in our rain barrel and any other places in our yard that might possibly hold water. I couldn’t see standing water in any of our neighbors’ yards, so I was stumped.

Our kitties are now comfortably lodged in our apartment in Chattanooga, much to their aggravation at not being allowed outside now. Anyhow, we are getting our house ready to sell, so we’ve been driving back every weekend to work on it. We’ve noticed a resurgence in the lizard population the past couple of weeks. This past weekend, however, we also noticed we weren’t being eaten alive by mosquitoes! Our cats had disrupted the ecosystem that had evolved in our yard over the past 70 years that the house has stood there!

So for all the pests that cats dispatch, there are plenty of others allowed to thrive in the absence of their natural predators!

Container Garden

Last year a friend told me about Earth Boxes. She said she had a few of them on her back porch and that she ended up with so many tomatoes she couldn’t preserve them all! Since I have left my large raised beds in Aiken, I knew I had to give them a try.

Raised Garden Beds in Aiken
Raised Garden Beds I left behind in Aiken
Earth Boxes
Earth Boxes planted with tomatoes and a pepper plant.

We had to re-home our chickens when we moved to Chattanooga. Chatt is super cool, but it’s behind the times when it comes to having backyard chickens. Plus, until we sell our SC home we are renting an apartment.

The chickens had always eaten well at our house, since they got almost all of our kitchen scraps. They loved anything that still had seeds, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when tomatoes, peppers, and squash started growing in the yard where the chickipoos had been last year. When we were packing up to move, I dug up a couple of tomatoes and a pepper plant to bring with us.

In the photo above you can see the three plants on the right are pretty big – those were the ones the chickens planted in the ground. The three tiny seedlings on the left are the ones I started a couple of months ago.  Those poor little things suffered from the instability of our lives the past month trying to get moved. I think the only reason they are probably still alive is that I grew them in pure worm castings. Now that they have been transplanted into the Earth Boxes I’m hoping they’ll really start to grow well. I’d love to have a bumper crop of tomatoes! While transplanting my ‘maters & peppers yesterday, I found that one plant had started growing fruit. I hope this is just the start of a great growing season!

First tomato of the season!
First tomato of the season!

Big Life, Small Space

Three years ago my husband and I bought a lovely three-bedroom home on a little more than half an acre of land. If you’ve read my previous posts you know that we have put a lot of work into our land to bring fertility and beauty to an acidic, parched, sandy lot that had been neglected and abused for decades.

Our lovely house today.
Our lovely house today.

We busted our butts clearing scrub brush and overgrown azaleas, and breaking up the compacted soil by tilling almost the entire yard. I planted fruit trees and blueberry bushes, strawberries and asparagus – plants that will produce every year with a little care. I built raised beds and created soil out of yard and kitchen waste, composted manure, and peat moss. I tossed about 100 earthworms in the beds to eat the organic matter in them and turn it into microbe-rich worm dirt, then started heirloom seeds to grow delicious, nutrient-rich food.

Baby Chickipoos
Baby Chickipoos
Chicken Tractor
Chicken Tractor

We went further in our dream of a sustainable life by getting baby chicks and raising them up. We built them a chicken tractor and moved them to a new patch of grass every day or so. We were happily surprised about how much better the yard looked a couple of weeks after the chickipoos had scratched and aerated the soil,  eaten all the plants & bugs, and left a bit of fertilizer behind them. And at the end of the day, we had fresh, delicious eggs! We also built a worm bin. Whatever kitchen waste the chickens wouldn’t eat (coffee grounds, tea leaves, etc) went to the worms. That worked well for a while, but our worms decided to migrate and left the bin one day. It was kinda weird, but other folks I’ve talked to say that worms do that sometimes.

Along the way I discovered fermentation and took to it like a duck to water. I’ve made all kinds of fermented veggies, brined eggs,  soft and hard cheeses, bacon, prosciutto, kombucha, kefir, yoghurt, skyr, clabbered milk, mead, hard cider, beer, and wine.

Lots of fermentation going on!
Lots of fermentation going on!

When we bought our home we thought we’d be there for a very long time, but life happens. Neither of us were successful in finding employment that we were in the least bit happy doing. I spent many months trying to get our business off the ground, but after failing to get financing we came to the conclusion that we were simply in the wrong place. We had chosen our town because of the lovely little downtown area, but you know what they say about books and covers. There was really very little going on in the CSRA that we could do for recreation other than tending our animals and our plot of land. Those things were great, but we had left an amazingly rich life back in the Ozarks before moving to South Carolina.

Last summer my dear friend, Hope, and I had taken a trip to see Rock City. Both of us are fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and had always talked about going together to see where the battle scene in the book took place. I fell in love with Chattanooga! It reminded me of my old hometown of Fayetteville, AR, but it’s even funkier. I knew my hubby would like it because of the mountains and the wonderful local food culture. So when the opportunity presented itself, I encouraged him to apply for a job there and since he’s super awesome, he got it!

Now we’re living between two places: our house in Aiken and our rented apartment in Chattanooga. We realized a few months ago that we have a big house that costs a small fortune to heat and cool, but we only live in three rooms. The whole time we’ve lived there we’ve had one guest that took advantage of our guestroom… one! We have decided that if we want to seriously commit to a sustainable lifestyle and stop spending all our time dealing with household maintenance, we have to make a big change. In a few weeks we’ll have an estate sale where we will be selling off at least 70% of our belongings. It hurts a bit, but it’s just stuff. Then we are going to sell our house. I’m really hoping that someone comes along that wants to garden and falls in love with our property. The hard work has been done already, they just need to plant and tend the garden. Once the house is sold, we are buying at least five acres of property outside of town and we’re going to build a tiny house!

By selling most of our stuff we’re hoping to whittle things down to a much more manageable state. We won’t have room for a dishwasher, so we decided to cut down the number of dishes we have. Instead of a set of eight dishes, we currently have a set of four. We are thinking about cutting that down to a set of two. That way, I will wash each of my dishes when I’m done with it and not have a big pile of dishes to wash everyday. And if we do have company, they will be told ahead of time about our kitchen arraignment and to bring their own dishes.  With less of our time being spent on things that aren’t really important, we can devote ourselves to the things we really love to do: hiking, dancing, brewing, gardening, raising critters, reading, and hanging out with friends. And hopefully, we will start our business in Chattanooga. The culture here is much better for what we want to do.

I’m sad to think about what we are leaving behind. But I’m even more excited about what lies ahead!

Microbes, Microbes Everywhere…

In our household I do all the food fermentation (veggies and dairy, occasionally curing bacon too). I also make mead, wine, cider, and ciser. My hubby primarily makes beer. I’ve brewed beer a couple of times so that I could understand the process, but beer brewing is one of my beloved’s favorite hobbies (and he’s very good at it), so I tend to leave that mostly to him. When he first started out, he brewed kits in our kitchen.

Steven and Mooshi Brewing Beer in the Kitchen
My hubby and his brew kitty, Mooshi, brewing beer in the kitchen

The kits were easy (most, if not all, the malt is in liquid or dry extract form), but I encouraged him to brew all grain beer. In my mind, it is just another type of cooking. After reading many of articles and forums and watching lots of YouTube videos, my hubby built a mash tun, bought a propane fish fryer, a small oxygen tank, and a ten gallon brewing kettle.

Brew Kettle on Fish Fryer
Brew Kettle on Fish Fryer
Mash Tun and Brew Kettle
Mash Tun and Brew Kettle

To brew beer all you must do is put your malted grain into the mash tun, bring about 5-7+ gallons of water to just before boiling and gently pour it into the mash tun with the grain (this is called mashing in). If you look at the mash tun (the modified cooler), you can see a tube with a valve coming out of it. Make sure the valve is closed before pouring the water in, or else it won’t be doing its job properly. After maybe an hour, open the valve and drain the liquid, called wort at this point) into the mash tun. While the grain has been mashing you would have boiled up a bunch more water which you very gently and slowly pour over the grains, this is called sparging. After you’ve collected all the sparged water in the mash tun, you boil the whole thing for about an hour. At certain points in the boil you add hops and/or other herbs and spices to bitter and add various other flavors. After all this you have to cool the wort down so that when you add yeast the heat doesn’t kill them. After various low-tech methods, my hubby bought a wort chiller (a big coil of metal tubing that cold water runs through while it sits in the wort) to cool the wort off quickly.

My hubby using the wort chiller to cool the wort.
My hubby using the wort chiller to cool the wort.

After all that he pours the cooled wort into a sanitized carboy, puts a sanitized tube attached to the oxygen tank into the wort and lets the oxygen flow into the wort for one minute. Adding oxygen is very important because the yeast needs it to multiply and thrive during fermentation. After that he adds his yeast, puts an airlock on it and lets the yeast do the job of multiplying and turning all the sugars extracted from the grain into alcohol. It isn’t until the wort has fermented that it is actually beer.

Now having made mead, wine, and so forth, I knew a good deal about those darling little microbes called yeast. When I first heard Sandor Katz and Michael Pollan talk about the microbes in fermented foods I started reading a good deal about what happens during lacto-fermentation among other kinds of fermenation. I knew that the thing that makes your salted cabbage turn into sauerkraut is that all plant matter is covered in lactic acid bacteria (LAB), also known as lactobacillus. What I didn’t understand is how the vegetables got the microbes to begin with.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a Master Gardening lecture by Dr. Al Bey called Teaming with Nature – Organic Yards and Gardens. Dr. Bey is a retired chemist. When he first moved to South Carolina from Michigan he used chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides on his lawn and garden. He’d been a chemist his entire career, so he really didn’t know any better then. But soon enough he realized that the problems he was treating with chemicals were only getting more pervasive and he decided to try something different – organic lawn and garden care.

I’m really glad Dr. Bey does have a background in science, because the handout we all received is 30 pages long! He has done all kinds of research to understand what needs to happen beneath the surface of the soil to produce beautiful, nutritious food and a lush yard. I certainly can’t go through it all here (this post is plenty long enough), but what I took away was the importance that microbes play in the nutritional value of the soil. If you have nutritious soil, you have nutritionally dense food, which in turn makes you healthier when you eat it. One of the richest sources of microbes that you can add to your soil is worm castings.

I remember reading an article a few years ago (I want to say it was in Mother Earth News, but I can’t swear to that) where a couple in the wastes of Australia turned their horribly infertile land into a lush pasture by making worm casting tea and dripping in onto their soil. After hearing Dr. Bey talk about using worm casting and compost tea to enrich your soil it all started coming together in my mind!

1. Make worm casting tea to feed my soil.

2. Continue to feed the microbes throughout the year via dehydrated, non-sulfured molasses.

3. Eat the nutritious food as it ripens. If there’s more than we can eat, ferment it to eat later.

It is so simple, but so intricately complex all at once! Feed the soil microbes and they in turn will feed you AND the microbes in your gut that are so tremendously important for your health.

Now you may wonder what all the talk about beer was to begin with. Well let me show you what I did to start making my worm casting tea. This recipe was from Dr. Alvin E. Bey’s article Teaming with Nature (Article No. 8) – Energizing your Soil with Compost Tea.

1. Fill a cloth bag with four cups worm castings, compost, or a combination of the two. Add four gallons of water (I used rainwater I collected in a rain barrel) and two ounces of non-sulfured molasses as a food source for the microbes (I used locally produced cane syrup). Put it in a bucket or whatever you have to use. I used an old water cooler that I was using as a continuous kombucha brewer, but it has since cracked and the buch started seeping through. It works great for this though!

Fill a cloth bag with four cups worm castings, compost, or a combination of the two.
Bag of worm castings going into the rain water.

2. Aerate with an aquarium pump or fountain pump for 24 hours.

Worm Casting Tea Brewing Away
Worm Casting Tea Brewing Away

After the microbes have had food (cane syrup/molasses) and air, they multiply tremendously and can then be sprayed on your soil. You can see in the picture above, I drained my tea into an old milk pail that my grandparents used when they had dairy cows back in the 50’s and 60’s. After that I pour it into my watering can or a pump sprayer and sprinkle the tea over the soil. It doesn’t take too much in any one place. The idea is to get them into the soil so they can help the plant roots access minerals in a more effective way. I followed the sprinkling with a little bit of spraying with my water hose. I’m sure it was probably unnecessary, but I didn’t want the little critters getting lost.

So in both the beer and with the worm casting/compost tea, the various microbes need air and sugar to reproduce and do their jobs.

Now I am the kind of person that wants to really understand how things work. I’ve decided to audit some classes in the near future on biology and microbiology. I took biology in college, but the poor old instructor was literally senile. We barely learned anything in that class, so I want to go back and learn it properly. I want to see the various microbes under a microscope and see what it is that they do!

While I’ve been ruminating over this whole concept the past few weeks, I started listening to a new podcast (new for me, that is), The People’s Pharmacy. I happened to listen to Episode 959: Farmacology – What Farmers Can Teach Us About Health, which is the title of a book by Daphne Miller, MD. Dr. Miller has done some of the research that I have been so curious about. I sat down this evening and began reading. I got ao excited reading about the connection between nurturing the soil and nurturing our bodies, I had to get out of bed to write about what has been bouncing around my brain!

I know there will be more to follow on this topic, but it’s now 4:01 am and I haven’t gone to sleep yet. Besides, you’ve got to be tired of reading my ramblings by now. 🙂

Kefir Pie

In March I gave a class on Basic Dairy Fermentation where we covered clabbered milk, kefir, yogurt, and skyr. I made kefir pie (a play on a traditional buttermilk pie) that I shared with my students to show them the range of things you can do with fermented dairy. I’ve been asked for the recipe so here it is!

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened

  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup kefir

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 tablespoon preserved lemon peel, diced

  • 1/8 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg

  • 1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust

    Directions:

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (175 degrees C).
    2. Beat eggs until frothy; add butter, sugar and flour. Beat until smooth.
    3. Stir in kefir, vanilla, preserved lemon, and nutmeg; pour into pie shell.
    4. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until center is firm.

Repurposing

Last year when the big ice storm hit our town a huge tree limb fell on our roof leaving a lot of damage. One of the things that was damaged was the 50′ long gutter on the front of the house. It took MONTHS to get it replaced (if you want to see steam come from my ears, get me talking about dealing with contractors and insurance companies), but eventually we got a new gutter installed. I made the contractor leave the damaged gutter. I’m sure he thought I was crazy, but I’d seen something on Pinterest that I wanted to try.

If you have read my earlier blog post about my raised beds, you know that the soil in my area is nothing but acidic sand. The first year we were here and I started a garden I amended and amended the garden patch with loads of compost with little affect. Anyhow, I’d seen on Pinterest how someone had taken gutters and used them to plant strawberries, so I wanted to give it a try.

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I had to cut the seamless gutter in twain and close up the open ends  before mounting it to my privacy fence. I also took a large nail and hammered holes through the bottom of the gutter every six inches or so for drainage. After I got all that finished, I put leaves in the bottom of the gutter to keep the soil from running out with the first rain. Then I filled the gutters with ‘Mater Maker compost (made here in South Carolina) and planted the bare root plants I’d gotten from parkseed.com (another SC company). I had 75 plants, so I was only able to get 50 of them in the gutters. I had to put the other 25 in other beds around my yard. So far they are looking beautiful! I’m anxious to see how well this works out. I know I’ll have to run some drip lines up there, but that’s fine. I always have to do a lot of watering here in the summer, but maybe this will minimize the amount of water I’ll need to use on my strawberries.

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Daikon Dilemma

The past few weeks I’ve been getting a bunch of daikon radishes in my CSA basket. I had been waiting for the radishes because I wanted to try fermenting them to make Takuan, a traditional Japanese pickle. The way I wanted to do it originally was with rice bran, but I didn’t really plan ahead and didn’t have any rice bran. I was afraid some of the older veggies were going to go off if I didn’t do something with them, so I found another recipe for Takuan that is a little more familiar to me. But if I get anymore daikons, I am going to get the rice bran and ferment them that way too. In the meantime, this is the recipe I used.

Daikons, daikons everywhere...
Daikons, daikons everywhere…

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Ingredients:

5-6 lbs daikon radishes, thinly sliced (please watch your fingers!)

2 medium onions, sliced

9 cloves of garlic

6 Tbsp sea salt

5 Tbsp crushed red pepper

3 Tbsp powdered ginger

3 Tbsp maple syrup

Directions:

1. Mix salt, ginger, and maple syrup with about 3 quarts of water until the salt dissolves to make brine.

2. Place a couple of cloves of garlic, 1/4 of an onion, and red pepper in the bottom of a quart Mason jar, then add daikon slices up to about 1 1/4″ below the top of the jar.

3. Fill the jar with the brine so that the veggies are all covered, leaving about an inch at the top.

4. Loosely put the lid on and let ferment for anywhere between a week and a few months.

5. Try it once in a while to see how it’s tasting; put in fridge to stop (or at least significantly slow down) fermentation.

Spicy Fermented Radishes
Spicy Fermented Radishes

 UPDATE: These are delicious and very spicy! I was very surprised at the flavor, but I could eat these every day. If you decide to do these, I would suggest fermenting them in your garage or other well ventilated area as they smell super funky the first few weeks.

 

 

The Fundamentals of Fermentation