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.

cream cheese

Being rather fond of cream cheese, I thought I’d learn to make it. I object to the expense of cheese; what’s more I find that we can’t tolerate anything but raw milk cheeses unless made from goat or sheep milk. Those are even more dear. So I set about working up my courage. Fortunately, the most complicated part of making cream cheese is getting the bacterial culture. After this a child could make it by themselves, and mine may, as they’re smitten.

I ordered the mesophilic culture for this type of cheese from a shop in England; there are many great cheese-making supply shops online. Then the children and I followed some simple steps. We mixed a pint (about 560 ml) of raw milk with a small cup of raw cream (let’s say 150 ml) and warmed it very slightly, to 32 C. You could just immerse the bowl in hot water. We measured in 1/8 teaspoon of mesophilic culture, covered the bowl and left it for half an hour. While it was sitting, we mixed two drops of rennet with a tablespoon of filtered water, and added it when the time was up, mixing well in. With the bowl covered, we put the whole thing in the airing cupboard, where yogurt and sourdough sponges have spent many a warm and happy night. You just want it to be comfortably, consistently warm, for twelve to sixteen hours or so.

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In the morning I peeked in the cupboard and found that we had cheese! Nearly. There was a lot of whey sitting at the surface, ready to be drained off through cheesecloth, so I poured it in and left it to drain for a few hours.

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Like the yogurt I drain to thicken, about half the original amount of liquid drained out as whey. (I reserve the whey for ricotta and sourdough) Gloriously creamy cheese was left! I paddled it with some sea salt to taste.

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Gorgeous on crisp bread, or sourdough with some pepper, or honey. I’m astonished how easy it was. Even easier than mozzarella.

candy thermometer

After a second glass candy thermometer cracked, I did some research. Our friendly neighbourhood postman delivered a brass one this morning, my sweetheart had sent for it. I’m ever so pleased.

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It’s awfully strong and handsome, the lettering is engraved so it will never wear away, and the brass bends round in such a way that the delicate center is protected even if you dropped the thing. Living here with lots of marble and tile, and a ceramic sink, that’s a distinct possibility. I haven’t tested it yet, we’ll see how gracefully it hooks over a wooden spoon to suspend in a pot. Sturdy and accurate, thank you very much! I’ll be putting it to work making cheese, yogurt, and preserves. Vital device!

sour cream

We’re back from a long ramble on the beautiful hills around our house; the sun came out, the daffodils are shooting up; spring is coming. I’m almost ready to think about my garden, though my mind is occupied with the furniture and so many projects. It is lovely to return to the house and find lots of food, now that we are beginning to get into rituals of baking sourdough and culturing yogurt. I’m drawn to more experiments with the wonderful raw milk from the organic farm down the road. We had some cream that was getting to the end of its life, so I decided to find out how to make sour cream.

homemade sour cream

It’s incredibly simple, if you can get your hands on some buttermilk. The culture in it is what you need. Just stir in a bit of buttermilk, say a couple of tablespoons to a cup of cream, and let it culture overnight on the counter, covered. (Best to make sure your dishes are very clean.) Done. In fact, I didn’t have buttermilk, so I used some yogurt and lemon juice, and it worked very well. I love how easy and how inexpensive it is to make a variety of foods that I have always thought of as mysterious, store-bought things. I’m dreaming of cream cheese now.

whey ricotta

Ricotta means ‘twice-cooked’ in Italian. It’s a simple cheese, and the first I ever succeeded at. I had lots of whey leftover from when I strained it off the yogurt I made the other day to make the yogurt very thick.

whey

Leave the whey out at room temperature overnight. (Make sure every jar and tool you’re using is sterile. Good idea.) A whole day is perfect. This acidifies the whey, gives the ricotta a wonderful flavour, and allows the curds to separate from the whey when heated. Alternatively, you can mix in a small amount of citric acid to achieve the same effect, and skip the overnight wait. I imagine slower is better, it usually is, and sometimes it gives me time to prepare!

cooking whey

Warm the whey slowly, stopping it just before it boils. It should separate into curds pretty quickly, and begin to foam. Mine didn’t this time! Possibly it wasn’t acidic enough; I’m going to try again when I’ve made a new batch of yogurt, to see what was up. Let it rest, without stirring, til it is cool enough to handle, then pour into cheesecloth to drain. I use my fancy mesh bag. Let it drain for a few hours, until it is the consistency you like, then chill, freeze, or use right away.

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You can see I didn’t get much from this batch! Yet the flavour is amazing. I love ricotta as a layer in lasagna, it complements the homemade mozzarella beautifully.

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I had a lot of whey left after this attempt, but it made a gorgeously scented sourdough sponge. Just substitute whey for same amount of water in the bread recipe. I’ll let you know how the next batch of ricotta goes – this time using a gallon of milk.