fermenting sauerkraut

There are useful things that I like to make purely for the pleasure of it, to have just what we want at a higher quality than one can buy, and to enjoy the thing knowing it’s homemade. Sauerkraut goes a step further, being so strikingly economical. As a health food, it succeeds in making me feel better immediately upon eating it. I love that it will balance stomach acid, whether you’ve too little or too much, but mostly I just love to eat it. I figure that fermenting sauerkraut is worthy of becoming a habit for life. Here’s how I’ve been making it.

The ingredients

Begin with a cabbage, sea salt, and a very clean, very strong glass kilner jar, (we like Le Parfait or Fido), with a rubber seal. A small clean glass jar is useful later, too. If you’ve got it, ½ cup of brine reserved from a live storebought kraut will jumpstart the process.

The method

All set? Weigh the cabbage. Ours was conveniently a full kilogram.

Calculate how much 2.5% of the cabbage’s weight would be, then measure that amount in sea salt. (In our case, 25 grams, about a tablespoon.)

Reserving a nice big leaf, slice the cabbage as finely as you like it (or grate it on a traditional kraut grater if you’re lucky to have one!) and throw it in a clean, sturdy bowl with the salt sprinkled over, and the kraut brine starter added if you have it. I like to be sure to hone my blade, now there’s a useful skill, before slicing and during, too.

Now, bash it. We found this old muddler at a favourite antique shop, how easy would it be to turn one on a pole lathe! It works brilliantly – but the flat end of a handle-less rolling pin or similar object you find around would function.

We like making kraut with friends, taking turns having a bash. The goal is to see a good deal of liquid emerge from the cabbage. Sometimes we leave somewhat muddled kraut under a towel and plate overnight to get the juices flowing, depending on what the day is like.

When you pack the cut, bashed cabbage firmly into a clean, strong kilner jar, you want to see enough liquid to submerge the cabbage. Don’t worry, you can add more brine later if necessary, depending on the type and the age of the cabbage. To make brine, mix water to salt at 2.5% or so – or follow the simple traditional rule our friends the Bairds over at Ecosense use – salt it to taste like the ocean!

Tuck the cabbage leaf that you saved all round the top of the chopped stuff, putting it to bed so nothing is floating, nothing exposed to air. Place a small clean jar or glass with some water in it inside the large jar, to weigh down the big leaf, and close the large jar up tight.

A dark cupboard will be an ideal place for the sauerkraut to live while it ferments.

The ferment

In a while – my friend waited a few days while I waited two weeks – open it, pull back the cabbage bedding, and sample your wares. Tuck it back in and leave it be if it isn’t ready. When you figure it has fermented to your liking, eat it. I move it to the fridge -some folks say there’s more probiotic action before refrigeration, and some folks are a little nervous of things like this and trust the fridge- and use it up in your own good time. This time I shall set a reminder to make some more before we run out! Ben Hewitt of the wonderful book Nourishing Homestead makes a ton of it in jars and stores it cool all year.

The taste-test

We are very much impressed with the flavour. The texture of this batch was a shade crunchy for the smaller folk, so the verdict is to try a different cabbage, and experiment with how thinly to cut the veg. No mold, no burping the jar, no airlock required, no special crock, nothing to do but be patient.

We like Sandor Katz and Pascal Baudar for great writing on fermentation, and tremendous ideas on what else to ferment.

Ah yes, you’ve caught us. Now we’re eyeing other people’s prize cabbages, and plotting to grow our own kraut-cabbage.

pickling cucumbers

Something of a curse has hung over my pickling ambitions. Each time I had the luck of finding pickling cucumbers in late summer – great joy! Delight! A week later, those cucumbers would remain, decidedly unpreserved, aging unpleasantly in the fridge, my life having swamped us with some unforeseen and dramatic circumstance. Once more this summer, old fashioned fainting episodes, emergency journeys! On the second pickling attempt I steeled myself for calamities. Despite threatening chaos, we pickled! Now, I’m ever so pleased to show you how easy it is to pickle, if you’re as nervous (me) and excited (all the neighbourhood children) as we were. What’s more, I’ve the fresh-pack dill cucumber pickle recipe we used, here, so generously, from Canning & Preserving with Ashley English. Thanks, my friend!

ingredients-s.jpg

You will need:

  • 6 pounds pickling cucumbers
  • ¾ cup pickling salt (divided)
  • 4 cups white vinegar
  • Garlic cloves, peeled
  • Dill seed
  • Fresh dill heads (if unavailable use dried dill)
  • Black peppercorns

blossom-cut cucumbers

The children on the lake gathered in our kitchen one late summer evening, and took turns to prepare the cucumbers for an overnight brine.

Rinse the cucumbers in cold water. Scrub gently with a vegetable brush to loosen any hidden soil. Remove a thin slice from the blossom end of each cucumber (if you can’t tell which end is the blossom end, just take a thin slice off of each end).

salted cucumbers

Place the cucumbers in a nonreactive glass or ceramic bowl, add ½ cup pickling salt, cover with water, place a plate or towel over the top, and set in a cool place or the refrigerator overnight or for 8 hours.

brined cucumbers

In the morning, all the children returned for a bit of dill pickling, peeling garlic and measuring vinegar.

Drain off the brine.

rinsed cucumbers

Rinse the cucumbers thoroughly to remove salt residue. Set aside.

Sterilize 8 pint mason jars, lids and screw rings.

In a medium stainless-steel pan, combine vinegar, 3 ½ cups water, and ¼ cup pickling salt. Bring the brine to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside.

(The taller children and I did the very hot bits.)

spiced pickle

Many (little) hands make light work.

Into each sterilized jar, place 1 garlic clove, ½ teaspoon dill seed, 1 dill head or ½ teaspoon dried dill, and 8 black peppercorns.

packed pickles

Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Remember to adjust for altitude.

pickled pickles

Oh, we all enjoyed making these, how nice to have a cupboard full of dill pickles. With such a lovely experience of making fresh-pack pickles, now we must investigate making our own fermented pickles! And pickling throughout the year, beets, squash, anything you like. Thanks for the introduction, Ashley. You might like to check out her tried & true, here.

kombucha

Before I lived with my sweetheart, I lived with a dear friend from art school, in the oldest neighbourhood in Vancouver. Years of beautiful meals and conversations around the built-in table. It had a pipe running through it, we painted it silver. I went to visit Jen in another gorgeous old flat across the city, and we fell into our familiar habit of talking about art and ideas around a very similar table. Over kombucha!

making kombucha

Sparkly, fermented sweet tea, good for digestion and detoxification and full of nutrients and probiotics. Otherwise known as the immortal elixir. Kombucha originated two thousand years ago somewhere in the Far East, spreading throughout Russia and all over the world, and arriving, belatedly, in my own kitchen. Jen sent me home with a bit of the zoogleat mat, the symbiotic bacteria and yeast, the scoby. Like my homemade vinegar, it has a mother culture.

making kombucha

So I’ve begun. I brewed strong black tea, and let it cool.

making kombucha

Perhaps next time I’ll stir the sugar in while it is hotter, oops.

making kombucha

This part is very real. Pull the mother out of the kombucha and add it to the fresh, cooled tea. Science project!

I’ve been thinking that there’s something steadying in nurturing these kinds of fermentations, sourdough culture, cream cheese, yogurt, such that even if one’s life isn’t particularly full of routine and ritual, order and awareness, it becomes more so by taking this up. Almost as if an older way of being is intrinsic to the slow food, and the slow food influences my life towards a little more peacefulness, rather than requiring a peaceful life before beginning to make the food.

making kombucha

Not that I haven’t forgotten yogurt for a few unintentional hours in the airing cupboard on more than one occasion.

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p>Cover with a clean cloth to allow it to breathe while staying clean, put it in a dark place for about a week, and then taste it. When its ready, begin again, nurturing the new relationship, like the ones you might have feeding the sourdough starter and the yogurt culture. Devoted. I’m so excited. I’ve got the last batch of kombucha in the fridge, to drink, and live forever. If not, Jen’s given me another route to immortality, or at least better digestion, which do seem to be intimately connected.

halloumi

After making cheese at home, cheese as delightfully simple as cream cheese and as entertaining as mozzarella, I was thrilled to spend a day studying how they make cheese on the farm. Another soft cheese, the exquisitely squeaky halloumi. Follow me around Old Plawhatch Farm‘s dairy to see how it’s done.

making halloumi cheese

We begin, of course, with the milk. Old Plawhatch’s biodynamic farming practice is not only idyllic, deeply in tune with a beloved herd and the rolling Sussex hills they graze on, but it produces a living food, full of all the enzymes needed to digest cow’s milk. It’s clean, gorgeously rich stuff, and what’s more, we’re making cheese just at the time when the cows are eating that rapidly-growing springtime grass that seems to promote extraordinary healing. You’ll see the golden evidence in the pictures below.

making halloumi cheese

Compared to my cheese-making, even seeing this much milk at one time is remarkable. The walls of the vat are filled with hot water to slowly warm the milk.

making halloumi cheese

Meet Tali, who runs the dairy. She’s measuring and preparing rennet for when the milk reaches the correct temperature;

making halloumi cheese

Then stirring the rennet well in, just as I do with mozzarella and other cheeses.

making halloumi cheese

We clean the dairy extremely well in preparation, as we’ll need a sterile environment to culture the cheese.

making halloumi cheese

Isn’t the old cheese press gorgeous?

making halloumi cheese

Large, round cheese moulds are lined with a reusable cheese-cloth. A metal screen is also sterilised, ready for when it is needed to strain the whey from the curds.

making halloumi cheese

Tali has a good trick for checking if the vegetable rennet has set the milk: press a finger into the surface, then lift up – the curds should separate cleanly.

making halloumi cheese

We attach large metal blades to the mechanism to cut the curds. This is the same step in making mozzarella, when you slice the curds into cubes with a long knife.

making halloumi cheese

Gorgeous, chartreuse whey releases from the curds.

making halloumi cheese

While we’re between tasks the brine is made by measuring sea salt into a clean bin and filling it with water.

making halloumi cheese

Now the screen is fitted to the vat. Here we go! The next part is a bit like a fire brigade, only with whey. Luckily we had a bit of an international brigade of volunteers.

making halloumi cheese

Open the tap; catch the whey in a clean bucket;

making halloumi cheese

And pour it into another vat. This one will heat the whey.

making halloumi cheese

Scoop up the curds;

making halloumi cheese

Into the waiting cheese moulds.

making halloumi cheese

Fiddle with the cheese press, add weights, set it all up to press on the moulds.

making halloumi cheese

Whey will drain across the table and into waiting buckets. A treat for the pigs! Let’s go have lunch at the farm shop while we wait for it to press. I love the food there, grown on Plawhatch, the sister farm Tablehurst, and all over England.

making halloumi cheese

Pressed. Look at that.

making halloumi cheese

That is a cheese!

making halloumi cheese

For halloumi, there’s a few more steps. Having turned the cheeses out of their moulds, cut them up.

making halloumi cheese

Cut, and cut.

making halloumi cheese

Once it is cut you can see what an astonishing amount of cheese it is. Remember the hot whey?

making halloumi cheese

Drop the cheese into the vat of hot whey. We leave it there for awhile;

making halloumi cheese

Then lift the cheese out;

making halloumi cheese

Rub it well with sea salt;

making halloumi cheese

And send it off to chill.

making halloumi cheese

Once it is chilled, drop the cheese into the waiting brine. The sea salt will preserve the halloumi well, for a soft cheese. Tali recommends soaking the halloumi in water for a bit to draw out some of the salt before using it.

making halloumi cheese

Have you eaten halloumi? I adore it grilled, served with lots of vegetables. Absolutely delicious. Thank you, Old Plawhatch!

yo-yo

Like so many traditional toys, the yo-yo has been popular across cultures for the last 2500 years. It’s had a great history, with a tremendous burgeoning in popularity in the 1920’s and 1960’s, and still it persists. Like jacks and jump-rope, the yo-yo is not as easy as it looks. My own skills are quite sorry in this regard. Fortunately my smallest child has agreed to show us how it’s done.

So, I think the idea is that the moment it touches down, you lift a little bit to encourage it to wind back up. I’ll keep practicing. Maybe one day I’ll be able to do the sleeper, or walk the dog.

traditional wooden yo-yo

quilted mats

Do you remember some patchwork quilted placemats I was making? I used the projects to experiment with patchwork and stitching various quilted patterns. Four of them were just right to fit round our table.

patchwork quilted placemat © elisa rathje 2012

I’m quite pleased with how they turned out. I quilted a diamond shape, a simple angle, overlapping circles, and squares. The patchwork on these quilted mats is quite vivid, often I prefer to turn them linen-side up. I made my own linen bias tape to finish them, amazing how that brings it all together.

patchwork quilted placemat © elisa rathje 2012

Oh, I do miss that bright little room in the old English cottage.