Saturday, March 22, 2014

Fermentation: Sauerkraut

 So there is a difference between pickling and fermenting. Fermenting is when you allow the naturally occurring lactic acid to preserve vegetable matter, anaerobically( "anaerobic",in a nutshell, is when you deprive the matter of air which causes an explosion of anaerobic bacteria("anaerobic bacteria" are bacteria that lives in an airless environment)). It is the easiest of all food preserving tricks and you use this process in making things like kimchee, sour pickles, yogurt and SAUERKRAUT!

Pickling is when you use an outside acid, such as vinegar, to "pickle" the vegetable matter. Basically pickling preserves food by killing any bacteria in the food  and keeping them at bay, while fermenting makes your food come alive! Many people will tout the health benefits of fermented foods. Me personally, I just like how it tastes.

I like pickling foods, but when I find cabbage on sale after St. Paddy's Day, I will make a gallon or two.  I found cabbage at a close by produce stand for $0.58/lb and bought four heads for $6.30. Three heads will generally make enough to fill a gallon jar.

I don't have a fancy fermentation crock, although I admit that I do lust after one of the German Crocks. But, sadly, I don't have one. So I use a one gallon glass jar. I found them on craigslist in Port Orchard for 2 dollars each and had the the boyfriend pick up a few when he was out visiting his parents one weekend. And they are perfect for making one gallon of Sauerkraut. I made one gallon this morning. It will take 4-6 weeks to ferment and I think that should last a couple of months. I will have to make another batch in the Autumn to get us through the winter.

How to Make Sauerkraut:

Take the outer leaves off of the cabbages and give them a rinse, just to get off any outer dirt, and then slice them in half, then in quarter. Remove the core and slice them in half again if you have a small mouthed processor and slice the cabbage thinly in the food processor.

You can get a cabbage mandolin. It is basically a really large mandolin slicer and its pretty to look at, but I find that my food processor works just fine and is much more practical. It was gift from my awesome older sister a couple years back!

After you slice them thinly, put the slices in a large bowl or if you are like me, you might have a very large quart tub just for these kinds of projects.

Sprinkle with a canning/pickling salt and mix with your hands. I use a little less than a 1/4 cup per 5lbs of cabbage. Make sure to coat the cabbage well.

Walk away from the cabbage. Walk away and pour a cup of coffee. Check your email. Call your mother. But let your cabbage sit for a few minutes. It should wilt fairly quickly and start producing brine and juices. If the cabbage heads were extra dry you might have to add brine, but it should make a bit of juice while it sits.

Then put it in your fermentation crock or gallon jar or old olive barrel or wherever you are planning to allow it to ferment. Remember, cabbage will ferment in order to turn into sauerkraut, this means it will make gas (yeah yeah... not only in you). Fermenting will cause the cabbage to release carbon dioxide, do not cover your fermenting crock with any tight fitting lid. There has to be the occasional release in pressure, there are stories of jars of sauerkraut exploding on people's larders, so make sure that the fermentation has stopped before capping and processing any jars.

Press the cabbage down, I mean really pack it in there. As you are pressing, it should be exuding juice, hopefully it has made enough to cover itself, If not then add a brine that is about a 1-1/2 Tbsp of salt to 1 quart of water ratio. This will cut off the air to the cabbage and will start the anaerobic process of turning into sauerkraut. You should have enough brine/juice to cover all the cabbage. Once it is pressed down into the jar, weight it down with a heavy stone, or water filled canning jar, fermentation weights, or a Ziploc bag filled with water (this one actually is pretty awesome, it keeps the cabbage weighted, keeps the top of the jar sealed and is pliable enough for gases to "burp" past it).

I am trying something new this batch, I got an airlock from the local beer brewing joint and had the boyfriend drill a hole in the lid, this should allow the gases to escape and keep the cabbage airtight so that no nasty mold or bad bacteria can get into the jar. The airlock uses twin chambers and you fill one up with water, this stops air from getting into the jar. As gases build up during the fermentation process it floats up the tube and through the water and burps out the top. We will see how this will work!

Stick your crock on a plate in a cool place and check it regularly, skim any foam that collects on the top.  You will notice bubbles and will have to press down the cabbage with very clean hands once in a while.  Let it sit for 4-6 weeks and at the end of that time, the bacteria should have slowed their process and you will notice that distinct sauerkraut smell. It should smell good and tangy, not yeasty.

If you notice any pink or brown discoloration, mold/slime or a bad smell, TOSS IT. Do not chance it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


I have a goodly sized side yard that has generally just been a mass of weeds and good intentions. I've allowed it to get to the point that is is just a path from the front yard to the back and I have decided that since it is a nice sized space I would pave most of it over and use it as another patio space. Some nice ornamental plants in pots, a place to sit and have a chat and drink, etc.

But first, I gotta dig. I gotta dig a lot and level and scrape and tamp and level and haul and scrape and level and tamp.... You know the drill. I will need several yards of sand and I have over 200 paver stones in the backyard waiting to be used. Hopefully, it should be enough, but I got them for free so it worked out.

So, I started the digging portion of the project. I got a good 8 feet dug out and then I decided to work a bit on the bed between my yard and the neighbor's house.

I like my neighbor, very much in fact, but we have very different ideas of gardening. I am a no pesticides or herbicide kind of girl and I am happy to put in the work to weed a garden bed and to find more natural/organic ways to get rid of an infestation.

My neighbor is the opposite. If there is a chemical that will kill the inconvenience; IE, the weed or the bug, he will happily use it. We have a happy medium, he avoids spraying in my yard and I keep the fence-line as free of weeds as I can.

But, I have a section of bed that has a bad case of wild hyacinths.  I can't stand those things. You leave one little hunk of bulb and suddenly there is another batch of hyacinths!! I finally went all out on about 15 feet of fence-line next to where I plan on putting in the paver stones and pulled out and screened the soil to clear out as much of the hyacinths as I could. I ended up with about 2 yards of gravel as well. YAY!

I also cut back a Mock Orange that had gotten way out of hand. It was a good 20 feet tall and was no longer bushy. I really did cut it back hard and because the previous owner of this house who planted it here was not good at discerning how big plants grew... I might have to take it out. A Mock Orange has a 6 foot spread and it is right on the fence-line and my neighbor's pathway and house are only a couple of feet on the other side. The more I think of it the more I realize I need to dig it out... Ugh. I really hate digging out tree roots...

And just because it is spring, here is a gratuitous picture of my chickens looking happy in the sun.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Instant Gratification and Inconsistent Eggs

 Yesterday was the Seattle Tilth March Edible Plant Sale. Basically, early season plants, herbs and flowers.

I love plant sales since they provide me with instant gratification. Instead of waiting for my starts or the seeds I plant in the garden to sprout, they sell me plants that are already ready to plop in the ground and I can being to watch all the wonderful yummy veggies grow. Immediately.

I definitely have some seeds ready to sow, like lettuce and spinach. It makes no sense for me to buy these things since they are so easy to grow. Peas are also another plant that is easy to grow and makes no sense to me to purchase at plant sales.

I also go to these plant sales because I like the Seattle Tilth mission plan. They teach organic and sustainable gardening methods. I like that.

Anyways, I got home and planted my starts and sat down to write out my garden journal. This way I know where I planted what and wont overlap too much next time. Crop rotation keeps your soil fertile and reduces the chance of garden pests specific to one type of plant.

I am not an artist, but I like to draw out my journal. It makes it look pretty. I use a Moleskine Japanese Album which is pocket sized and has accordion paper sheets. I love these, you can use one sheet at a time or use multiple sheets for sketching.

The chickens are providing about 50 eggs a week. I sell some to neighbors and co-workers, I give some away, I barter some and I eat some. But as you can see there is some size difference. The ones at the top are equivalent to grocery store extra-large eggs and the ones at the bottom are smalls. This is because I have about 4 different breeds of birds.

I purchased the lot from Murray McMurray and it was a they pick kind of deal. I got some nice birds, but due to this , I also have some egg inconsistencies!

I won't complain since the eggs are all delicious, but it is funny to see the giant eggs compared to the small ones.

Monday, March 10, 2014

BBC Farm Series

I was just recently informed about the BBC Farm Series! Why would my friend wait so long to tell me about these shows?! I have wasted many years when I could have been watching these and attempting to make my own Devon Cream (delicious, by the way)!!

There are six seasons of reality historical docudramas concerning farms in Britain during different times in history, such as; Victorian, Edwardian, WW2, Tudor, etc.

Tales From The Green Valley
These show are my crack.

I have sat and watched a whole season on lazy days and they are awesome! The cast is made up of historians and archaeologists, so there tends to be very little drama other than when they attempt to work a piece of vintage Victorian machinery and it falls apart on them.

That is one of the more awesome aspects of these shows, they use the actual machinery and items from the era they are showing. Mostly, they do not bring in current machinery if something does not work. (In fact, the only instance I have seen them do this is when they were using a Edwardian chick incubator which had a live flame.) They figure something else out from that era. They show farm work, housework, cooking, cleaning, sewing, mending and so forth and so on. All the daily grind of rural life in that era.

I am really enjoying these shows and you can find the first four seasons here: 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Week Full Of Rain

This is how much rain we have got since Tuesday. I haven't worked much in the yard since then, and there is about 4 inches of water in the wheelbarrow.

Doesn't look like it plans on stopping anytime soon, so I will just clean the house. Not as much fun but more necessary.

I do love rainy days, it reminds me of rainy day recesses as a child. Those days you would have to stay inside the gym at my school. Or stay in the classroom and draw or write.

Now I bake granola and do the laundry. I live an exciting life...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pickled Eggs

Not Rocky Mountain Oysters
Since I tend to have an abundance of eggs on a regular basis, the other day I made some pickled eggs for snack-time noshing.

My mother was a bartender throughout my childhood.  Not nice bars, seedy Chinese restaurant bars and skid row bars, you know... the interesting ones that Hemmingway and Bukowski used to hang out in. Although, I don't think they ever hung out in my mom's bars...

Anyways, I always remember there being a giant gallon jar of pickled eggs sitting on the dark cigarette burn stained counter in the dim light of her bar.

These are way better, though.

You can usually fit a dozen boiled eggs into a quart jar. I recently found that if you put about a tablespoon of baking soda in with the eggs when you boil them it makes the peeling a whole lot easier, even when the eggs are very fresh. Fresh eggs don't peel very well. You end up with tears and divots from where the flesh of the egg has pulled away with the shell. It seems that the baking soda changes the pH of the egg and allows the shells to come away a little easier. Otherwise, you can leave the eggs on the counter for a few days to allow the skin on the inside of the shell to pull away.

Anyways, put a dozen eggs in a large sauce pan with about a tablespoon of baking soda and cover with water, then bring to a boil. This method keeps the gasses within the eggs from expanding too quickly and cracking the eggs in the water. Once it comes to a boil turn off the heat, cover the pan and let sit for 10 minutes or so. This should cook the eggs to a hard boil.

Cool the eggs in cold water and peel the shells carefully, they might still stick if they are very fresh so go slowly.

While boiling the eggs use another pot and put the pickling liquor together. I used:

1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 cup Water(or beet juice)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2-1 teaspoon salt
a small handful peppercorns
8 cloves of crushed garlic
1/2 of large onion sliced in slivers
1 thai chili

Bring just to a boil then let cool. Put the peeled eggs into a clean and sterilized quart jar and pour the liquor over them and cover with a tight lid then stick it in the fridge for 7 days.

And , VOILA! You have lovely garlicky pickled eggs. The boyfriend couldn't wait and tucked into one early and said that the flavour was coming along nicely, so hopefully, by the end of the week it should be a lovely jar of pickled eggs.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Poop and Soil

It was time to clean out the chicken coop. Again, I had been procrastinating about cleaning it since the weather had been icky and, in truth, it isn't one of my favourite things to do. But I admit, I love getting the wonderful fertilizing poop out of it and getting it into the new garden beds. I have a couple of months before I start seriously planting into them so I will put a layer of raw poop under the soil and let it do its work of amending the soil!

I try to use a deep litter method for the coop, it allows me to be lazy about cleaning the coop. Basically, you add bedding every few weeks and this gets scratched up by the chickens and the poop on the lower levels compost and the poop on top works its way down as time goes by. Due to the composting action of the poop and bedding it keeps the coop warmer and more comfortable for the chickens. Occasionally, I help the process along by stirring up the bedding with a rake. So then that means that I only need to clean the coop quarterly. Some will say you would only have to clean the coop once or twice a year, but I like the coop clean and the chickens seem to, too.

The chickens will be happier in their clean coop, my neighbours will be pleased that the waft of chicken manure into their backyards have ceased for now and my garden will be happy to have the nutrients hidden within the lovely chicken poop!

And so, the poop lays at the bottom of the garden beds, rotting and mellowing for the next month or so and when I am ready to plant, the soil should be rich in nutrients and sweet for the vegetables.

The large pile of dirt in the back yard is being slowly sifted through to clear out rocks, hyacinth bulbs and seashells. It is being transferred to the front beds since, once screened, it is awesome soil.

The pile is about 1/3 smaller than when I started this morning and I have only filled one bed fully, I still have another bed to go. This pile is where my patio is going to be expanded into, so the sooner I am able to get it moved, the sooner I will be able to have a patio for this summer's BBQs.

The screen is borrowed from a friend and is, definitely, a godsend. It makes the process go so much faster and at the end of the day, I have lovely crumbly soil for the garden.

The soil is leftover from a tree removal and a dig out when we remodeled the shed you see behind it (yeah, yeah... we still need to put the siding on it). It's coming along, and spring is almost here so I am feeling good about where it is at at this point even if the rain drove me inside.