Stacking Functions Garden

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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:


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.)


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.


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.


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.

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What I’m reading right now

So, even though my Recommended Reading section is badly in need of an update, I will skip updating it so I can spend some more time… reading tonight.  Here’s what I’m reading (yes, all three simultaneously):

homecheesemaking Home Cheesemaking
Recipes for 75 homemade cheeses

by Ricki Carroll

OK I am only in the opening chapters of this one so far.  I have not tried any of the recipes yet.  But my next trip to the co-op, I’m picking up some rennet and other supplies so we can try a simple one this weekend or next — maybe mozzarella?  What’s the easiest cheese to start with?
Edible Forest Gardens (a two-volume set, of which I only have the second volume right now)
by Dave Jackie and Eric Toensmeier
I’ve mostly just looked at the pictures so far in this one, but even just one of the diagrams I looked at had me all excited.  It was a drawing of a sample permaculture-style garden, with a chicken coop on one end of it, and then a little enclosed “chicken run” going all the way around the garden.  That way the chickens get some fresh air and exercise, and poop all over the edges of your garden, and also eat bugs.  I love the way permaculture maximizes the benefits of every single part of the mini-ecosystems that are our yards.  If I can talk Adam into it, chickens will be on the agenda for us in 2010.  That is a big if.

freedomanifesto The Freedom Manifesto
by Tom Hodgkinson

This is more for pleasure reading.  Maybe the connection to home economics is as tenuous as bowling is to Vietnam, but I’m drawing all sorts of really great insights from this book.  Best of all, it is absolutely hilarious.  Sample advice from the book: Embrace anarchy.  Play a ukelele. I’m finding all sorts of connections between this book, capitalism 1.0, and the idea of creating something (anything) as one of the keys to human contentment.

I am making the commitment, right here, right now to review each one of these as I finish it.  Then I will update my recommended reading page.


Fermenting and apples

Reader Edna asked if I had a recipe for fermented applesauce.  I looked through both Nourishing Traditions and Wild Fermentation, and also did some googling, but came up with nothing.  Every applesauce recipe that I’ve seen calls for cooking the apples, which, one would assume, would kill all the enzymes necessary for good fermentation.  So would a person just food-process the apples and make raw applesauce, then let it ferment for two days?  I found this basic recipe for raw applesauce.

Nourishing Traditions does have a recipe for a fermented version of apple butter, which I will share here.  I’ve never tried this one.  Anyone else out there that’s tried it?  This involves cooking the apples, so maybe cooking is a-ok when it comes to apples.  I still have so, so much to learn.

Apple Butter (from Nourishing Traditions)
4 c. dried apples
1 T. sea salt
1/4 c. whey (optional, but use a little extra salt if you leave it out)
1/4-1/2 c. raw honey, to taste

Cook apples in filtered water until soft.  Let cool slightly and transfer with a slotted spoon to food processor.  Process with remaining ingredients, and sweeten with extra honey if needed.  Place in quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jars.  The apple butter should be at least 1 inch below the tops of the jars.  Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 2 days before transferring to the refrigerator.  This should be eaten within 2 months.  Makes 2 quarts.

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Preserving food: a quick run-down

This is the first year that I’ve really gotten into preserving food.  I’ve frozen some things in the past, but with the combination of expanding our garden and subscribing to the CSA, I just simply have so much more to work with this summer.  I don’t have a favorite method yet; I think each one has its pros and cons depending on your situation.

Freezing: Pick produce.  Throw in freezer-safe ziploc bag or jar.  Freeze.  Or make huge amounts of sauces (like tomato sauces) and freeze in smaller portions.  Last summer for some reason I planted tons of basil, so I made pesto and froze it in 3/4 c. portions.  We ate pesto all winter.  So much that Adam refuses to eat it now.  So I’m skipping that one this year.
Pros: super easy, and nutritional value of most things is well-preserved
Cons: you need to have the freezer space available.  Works better on small scale unless you have a huge chest freezer.  Even then, you’re susceptible to freezer burn or power outtages ruining your food.

Canning: This is one area where I am very inexperienced, but soon to be more experienced.  Later this week, in fact, I’m going to can tomatoes for the first time ever.
Pros: even in a nuclear winter, you would still have food to eat.  Before reading the Road I would have scoffed at this.
Cons: much of the nutritional value of most foods is lost, and the process involves special equipment and know-how so you don’t unwittingly give your family botulism.

Fermenting: This is my personal favorite of the moment.
Pros: easy to do, especially on a small scale.  Enhances nutrition of food that is preserved.  Requires little to no special equipment.  Here’s a great “getting started” video from Sandor Elliz Katz, the author of Wild Fermentation.
Cons: some foods might require a slight re-adjustment of your palate.  Scale can be a problem, too, as we are finding out.  Pretty soon you start to run out of refrigerator space.  Also, some ferments can be putzy for the person who’s not an enthusiast (like cheese, beverages, and cured meats).

We are seriously considering making a “root cellar” type of area for storing some of our fermented and canned foods.  Ideally it would stay very cool, like 50 degrees.  We have a closet in the basement that stays very cool in winter, and I think with a little work we could make it into a proper cold storage area.  I need to make fall projects list one of these days; my mental list is getting really long.

Update 8/25/09: Good grief, I completely forgot one entire category of food preservation: drying.  I’ve never tried drying anything, but I would love to try making sun-dried tomatoes one of these years.

Any other methods I’m forgetting?


Applesauce time

We are so lucky to have inherited a large old apple tree with our house.  It has been sorely neglected over the years, but it still produces quite a few apples every year.  I’m not sure what kind they are; they’re small and green and turn partially red when they’re ripe.  They’re pretty tart, but definitely not the tartest I’ve ever had.

Today my parents were visiting so during the kids’ nap my mom and I picked a bunch of apples and made applesauce.

applesauce1Our method is: quarter and core the apples, pile them in a big stock pot, then cook down until mushy.

applesauce2Run them through a hand-cranked food mill to remove the skins.  I have an old Foley food mill that I bought quite some time ago.  I had to wash the dust off it before we used it.  I’m pretty sure it was less than $10 at a local hardware store.  When it’s all processed, give it a taste.  If you used really tart apples you might want to sweeten it just a bit.  I added about 3/4 c. of brown sugar and a good heaping tsp. of cinnamon.

applesauce3Check it: 8 pints and 1 quart of free food.   We’re going to eat the quart this week, and the pints I put into our freezer.  Applesauce freezes pretty well.  It also is relatively easy to can so I’m going to try that too at some point this fall.  I want to try a wide variety of preservation methods.  Freezing is really handy because it’s really… easy.  But we bought a pressure canner as our anniversary present to each other so we’re going to try that as well, most likely this coming week.

Tomorrow I’m going to do a post about different preservation methods and their ups and downs.  If you read my fermented salsa post you’ll see that there’s a lot of confusion about what it means to “pickle” or “can” or “ferment” foods.  I have tons of questions about them.  It’s all a learning process I guess.

We’re also embarking on a “save the apple tree” mission because I think a couple more years of neglect and it will peter out for good.  So we’re having 4 trees that surround it cut down this week (2 of which are dead and 2 of which are sickly).  Then I want to try and prune the apple tree and address whatever bug seems to be eating a fair number of its leaves.  Stay tuned.

UPDATE, 8/24: we had an arborist out at the house today to give us a bid on removing the dead/dying pine trees, and he informed us that our apple tree most likely has fire blight.  For a pretty reasonable price, the company will prune out all the infected branches when they’re here cutting down the other trees in a few weeks.  Yay!


Recipe: fermented salsa

You ask, I deliver.  Here you go, Matt!  From Nourishing Traditions:

Makes 1 qt
-4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
-2 small onions, chopped
-3/4 c. chopped chile, jalapeno, or milder pepper (seeded)
-6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped or pressed
-1 bunch cilantro
-1 tsp. dried oregano (or a good T or two of fresh)
-juice of 1-2 lemons
-1 T. sea salt
-4 T. whey or 1 extra tsp salt
-1/4 c. spring or purified water

For small scale recipes like this, it’s not really that big of a deal to just peel the tomatoes with a paring knife.  If you do a search on how to peel tomatoes you’ll see a lot of advice about boiling water, and dipping the tomatoes first in the boiling water, then in the cold water.  It’s true; the skins practically peel themselves off when you do this.  I’d only bother with making that many pans dirty if I was making 10 qts of salsa, not one.  But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

Anyway, mix all ingredients and place in a quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jar.  Press down lightly until the juice rises up; if there is not enough liquid to cover the vegetables then add a little water.  The top of the vegetables/liquid should be about an inch below the top of the jar.  Cover and keep at room temperature for about 2 days before transferring to the fridge.

A note about timing: that “2 days” is a very subjective figure.  It depends on a number of factors.  If you use the whey, this process goes very quickly.  If you don’t, it takes a little longer.  The temperature of your kitchen is also a factor.  This took 2 days in our kitchen, but we used whey.

How do you know when it’s done?  Taste it every single day.  Twice a day if it’s really warm in your kitchen.  Open it up, press the vegetables down, and give them a taste.  When it tastes really good, it’s done.  As you can see, there is pretty much no way to get this wrong.

If you use the no whey-extra salt method you’ll know it’s done when it starts to taste less salty.

I don’t know that I’d let this one go too long… probably better slightly fermented than sour-kraut-level fermented.

Variations: endless.  You could leave out any of the spices if you don’t like them.  You could use lime juice instead of lemon.   You could use 2 giant tomatoes instead of 4 medium.  I doubled the recipe and used up 4 giant brandywine tomatoes.

UPDATE, 10/12/2009: We had a recent batch of salsa that we let ferment until it was practically exploding on top of our fridge.  I think it took about 3 days, but that was in August when it was relatively warm here.  Anyway, it tastes good, but it is very bubbly.  Like champagne salsa.  Kinda weird (still edible).  If you want to avoid this, transfer to your fridge before the “exploding with bubbles” stage.  There’s a lot of variation in this process, and with practice you get better and better at it.  Give yourself the permission to experiment and fail, and you can’t go wrong.

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Fermentation MANIA


It’s official.  We have become fermentation maniacs.  Left to right: pineapple chutney, pickled zucchini, dill pickle slices, dill pickle spears, and sour kraut.  They are all in various stages of fermenting, and I think the sour kraut is pretty much done.

There is nothing that hits the heart of the new home economics better than fermentation.  Here are a couple of simple reasons why:

1) It is a way of preserving locally grown produce through the winter months — this stuff won’t keep forever, but it will keep until next spring.
2) Instead of destroying nutrients, as traditional canning does, it enhances nutritional value
3) It is ideally suited to small batches, which makes it perfect for someone with a small garden
4) It’s something most people can’t buy in a store (unless they are very lucky or very wealthy)

Go ahead and click on my Fermentation tag on the right to see all my posts about it.  We made our first kimchi only 2 months ago and already we are completely sold on this.

We used the Nourishing Traditions recipe for the pineapple chutney, the Wild Fermentation recipe for the pickles and kraut, and Adam adapted this recipe for the zucchini.  If it turns out good (and so far, it is looking that way) I will have him post the recipe.

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Here’s what’s been going on around here:

braidedgarlicMy very first, completely lame-o attempt at braiding garlic.

apeckofpeppersWe had a decent picking of banana peppers (yellow) anaheim peppers (green) and our crazy little yellow cucumbers, which are delicious by the way.

pickledproduceWe made some brine dill pickles and used this recipe for fermented banana peppers.  We tasted them tonight and they are almost there already!  The whey really does speed things up (but is not a required ingredient, fyi).

liverFinally, Adam’s cooking challenge for the week: LIVER!  Look how cheap it was!  And it’s super good for you!  Is there any way to make it taste good?  I don’t know that I’ve actually ever had it.  I guess I’ll find out soon enough… Any good liver recipes out there?

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Probiotics help prevent illness

And you thought I was done with my probiotics/fermentation manifesto.  Check out this great post on probiotics, from the Natural Standard, a website that I’ve only recently become acquainted with (the blog part of the site is free; the rest requires registration).  It doesn’t endorse any specific products, and it is a clearinghouse for unbiased information about new evidence-based research on nutrition and alternative medicine.  Excellent.

The post on probiotics gives a high-level overview on new research from China on kids who were given probiotics mixed into their daily milk.  Check it:

These beneficial effects were even more noticeable in those who received [a] combination of probiotics. These children developed 72 percent fewer fevers, 62 percent fewer cough episodes and 59 percent fewer runny noses. The average duration of illness was also shortened by 48 percent compared to the placebo group. These children were also 84 percent less likely to use antibiotics and 32 percent less likely to miss school than those in the placebo group.

Anecdotally, my best friend CJ has been taking acidophilus for quite some time and she reports that she gets sick much less often than she used to.  Read the entire entry  here.  (via Cookus Interruptus)


Fermentation Workshop


Wednesday night I had the honor of taking a fermentation class taught by none other than Sandor Ellix Katz, of Wild Fermentation fame!  It was very cool, and I have never felt so jazzed about sauerkraut in my entire life.  He talked about a lot of things from his book, and answered a lot of questions, including two of mine.

First, I asked him what’s the deal with yogurt recipes that recommend buying commercial yogurt to use as a basis for home yogurt-making.  Basically, to make yogurt, you bring milk to a boil, then stir in a small amount of yogurt, then keep it at about 110 degrees F for at least 7 hours (up to 10).  The bacteria in the yogurt you added multiply, and now you have a new batch.

Well, you would think “HEY! I never have to buy yogurt again” because you could just use a little of your previous batch to innoculate your next batch.  But most of the recipes I have found say to buy a small container of commercial yogurt to innoculate your next batch.

People, we finally have an answer to this months-old question. Katz said that American commercial yogurt makers include strains of bacteria that do specific things, such as make the yogurt thicker and smoother.  If you keep using the same batch over and over again, these strains will eventually get weaker and classic yogurt bacterias such as the acidophilus group get stronger.  Your yogurt might end up being kinda runny and/or not have a great texture.  It will still be good for you, just maybe not as pleasing in appearance and texture to our American palates.

As for myself, I’ve gotten into a rhythm with my yogurt-making that I think I will probably maintain despite this revelation.  I buy a 6-oz container of Cultural Revolution yogurt for about $1.25 every time I go grocery shopping.  It’s whole-milk and unflavored, and just the exact right amount, so that makes it really easy.

Since I started using this as an innoculant, and also switched to non-homogenized milk, my yogurt is definitely a little more runny.  But we stir it up good, and add a little honey, and it is delicious!

The other question I was going to ask, but didn’t have to because he covered it anyway, was what is the deal with covering fermenting kimchi/kraut/etc.?  You may remember from my last post about making kimchi that I was super confused about this.

Well, the deal with fermenting foods is this:  because it has been done in so many different places for SO long (pre-dating the written word, for Pete’s sake), there are many “right” ways to do this stuff.  If you’re making a small amount, like the recipe I posted that made 1 qt, you can just put the standard canning lid on, as long as you make sure you open it at least once a day to let out accumulated pressure, and press down your veggies manually.kimchiinprogress

Or you can do like we did and put a piece of cloth on top so that air can get out but flies can’t get in.  OR you can weight the kraut/kimchi down with a heavy weight to hold the veggies under the surface of the liquid (this is more of a classic method and works especially well when you’re making very large amounts).  The gist is: there are multiple right ways, and worst-case-scenario if you get it wrong is that it might not taste super awesome.  But even that is a matter of individual preference.  You also might get scums/molds, but they are not dangerous and easily dealt with.  The powerful good-for-you enzymes will annihilate any bad bacteria that might find its way in, so things like botulism simply aren’t an issue.

The right amount of time for fermenting is also wide open.  He said it could be 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, or 3 years depending on the temperature of your house and how sour you like your kraut.  We fermented our first kimchi for about a week, during pretty warm weather, and it got real sour.  Our second batch we only fermented for about 3-4 days before moving it into the fridge.  Upon tasting it a couple times, it seemed a little too salty and not sour enough for me so I got it back out last night to get going again.  I’ll probably put it back in the fridge tomorrow.

He also talked about all kinds of fun and exciting things like making mead, which we are going to try shortly here now that our one glass carboy is freed up from the beer-making that Adam and his brother were doing last month.

So if you’re still reading (which would really surprise me) you might be wondering “what’s the deal with fermented foods anyway?”  Why are they so good for us?  Several reasons.  For one, humans consumed them in large quantities, for millennia.  It’s only in the last 50-100 years that we gave up these rich sources of B vitamins, beneficial enzymes and probiotics.

Secondly, just at the precise moment when we gave these up, we also started an all-out assault on bacteria on two fronts:  first, and most importantly, we started giving antibiotics in large quantities to meat animals which we then eat.  All these excess antibiotics build up in our food, our water, and our bodies, creating a beautiful, bacteria-free blank slate on which new harmful bacterias can grow and proliferate.

So we’re getting sicker, and more often.  And how do we deal with that?  Exactly the opposite of how we should: with antibacterial soaps and prescription antibiotics.

Now more than ever our bodies need good bacteria on our side, and eating fermented foods is a really great (and delicious) way to accomplish that.  Do I sound like a true believer or what?!  I was so jazzed that I came home and ate a big bowl of kimchi right after the class.