Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Our New "Crock", the "K-Box", a review

There are three ceramic crocks within a standing dive of me right now. One's got hats in it (cracked inside but still usable for fermenting), one used to have a potted plant in it (8 gallon!), and one is sitting there all shiny, ready to go. Counting in my head, there are seven different sizes of Ball/Mason jars in the next room. There's a cider kit socked away somewhere but down that path lies digression...

Back in the day, we started fermenting in jars, with a layer of olive oil floated on top as an anaerobic barrier. We figured out how to use a plastic baggie in place of that oil, with a weight to negate the floaters, and progressed as pickleers. Somewhere in there, we started using ceramic crocks in various sizes and learned and progressed some more. After lots of experimentation, we're mostly still using a similar technique. After weighing down the goodies to below the waterline, closely lining the space above with a layer of plastic then cuts out room for mold to grow. The stuff's harmless but it's a pain, and it can't be good for allergies, so in the plastic goes. Then a gallon ziplock bag full of water goes in as weight after that and brine can now fill whatever space there is between the bag and crock wall, with just a touch of over-pressure. We put our crock in a pan as it's fermenting, observing what bubbles out as the batch is working, smelling it, rejoicing over the positive pressure created inside there by our little colony of bacteria.

And we're probably not gonna ferment any large batches in ceramic again for a while, as good as it is. Found something a bit different, that offers more control. Not that we need it, we're controlling our fermentation pretty tightly already, in a wild vs. cultured sense. But I'm fussy, mostly in a pragmatic way. This new fermenting vessel fits beautifully in this paradigm. 

Our new fermenting vessel dropped in on us from out of the random one afternoon. Good brother Meldrum bought himself one at H-Mart, a Korean import grocer/supplier, and another for us to play with!

This is a 20 liter (5.28 gallon) plastic vessel, with a lid that locks on each side and a sub-lid below that, with a closable vent and tight seals. The top locks are solid- I wanted to stress-test them and the top handles, impulsively, after snapping them into place, but therein lies digression as well!

The label is almost all in Korean. The only bit in English, besides "BPA FREE", was this:
"Nice Lock Cover up tight New innovated food preservation Kitchenware". Pictograms lead me to believe I can microwave in this, put it in the dishwasher, freeze it, and that it's food-safe. Here's the label, anyone read Korean?

Not much to go on there, but there's enough- this thing is handy for more than just fermenting stuff in. For what that's worth, I mean, I know what it's gonna get used for around here! Here's a shot inside, with the inner lid in place, vent open: 

The vent stopper and lid gaskets all feel like silicone, tough but flexible. The inner lid's seal is stiff- the lid stays put once you shove it into place, even bowed and under tension. So the vent has to be there, the way I've got this thing figured, as a blow-off valve, since the lid won't budge. After puzzling over the rig for a while, I decided that the inner lid would take the place of both the weight and the plastic bag seal we've been using in the ceramic crocks. And then if I want, there's a superfluous lid to further deter contamination above that. Here's what that looks like with a small batch:

So the inner lid holds down the fermenting vegetables below the level of the brine. And it forms a beefy seal- the brine you see above is cut off from the stuff underneath. The open vent will allow for the extra pressure made as the bacteria turn sugars into acids and CO2. We swabbed everything above this inner lid with the brine and then sealed the second lid into place. You can see the fold-over locks above. So now there's an anaerobic fermentation section well-separated from a place made inhospitable to the harmless but distracting mold. Well, it took a while more of working that inner lid around before I was satisfied enough to seal it all up. Looking closely in the pic above, you can see that there's a big air bubble under the lid. The way the handle is recessed in there made it challenging to remove that bubble. The seal is so tough that the handle is necessary but it's also strong enough to hold the lid in place after I was able to orient the vent at the top of everything with no air bubble. This left the lid in a bit of a bowed position but the seal held all week despite the tension. 

As the batch worked its way through its ferment, I periodically cracked the lid for smell checks and a few peeks inside. Nothing out of the ordinary but the clear plastic lid is kinda handy. It'd be nice if the whole thing was clear but whatever. After fermentation, the lid turned out to be stuck tight enough that I could pour out the brine above it before unsealing the batch. This was of no concern now but could conceivably be handy at some point later. Once we got the inner lid out of the way, I gave the batch a few shakes and was rewarded with flurries of little bubbles and a happy noise like the famous breakfast cereal- sign of a good ferment!

After decanting this batch, I rinsed everything off and put it in the dishwasher's bottom rack. I had to work stuff around to make sure it cleared the washer's top spinny bit- this thing is big. Afterwards, I was disappointed to find that I'd cracked and chipped the edge of the top lid when I did this, or that I'd just wedged it in too tight and it failed during washing. Either way, in its own way, this new fermenter has fragilities to respect. But I'm liking this plastic thing over the ceramic things right now! And I think I'm gonna buy more!

BPA is an endocrine disruptor and it's causing problems not only for the people whose food and drink it taints but also for the environment as it leaches out. And for many products now labeled "BPA free", it looks like producers have just moved on to using BPB or very similar chemicals. So we're still getting endocrine disruptors in our food and drink. Lovely. So I'm shying away from plastic again.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Salt and Salinity

Salt AND salinity are both important! And short cuts can be dangerous (I'm still kicking myself a little over this one). Our latest pickle is alive and well, pay no mind to my initial noises of frustration. You see, as I was shopping for all the ingredients for our latest pickle, I took a shortcut with the salt, as we were out of our usual. And not anywhere near ready to make another wholesale order. This created unexpected but avoidable issues.

The difference turned out to be the salinity.

That reads, per quarter teaspoon, 25 vs. 15 percent of the USDA Recommended Daily Whatever. A five to three difference, in other words. Which makes sense if you think about it- that's the way they make it, the mass-produced product is going to have a higher concentration of sodium and fewer of the other minerals that make sea salt so yummy, hence a higher salinity to go with the wider and cheaper availability.

Working through my surprise and frustration, here's what I think happened: Using the shortcut salt, we wound up with more sodium than we normally use, yielding a very salty batch, most likely fermenting more slowly than normal. When I opened the fermentation box and shook the batch a little, a happy crowd of little bubbles rose to the surface. These well-distributed little bacteria farts showed that a good fermentation occurred. As we decanted the batch into jars, we got to see that the whole batch was homogeneous and evenly processed- the Korean box worked very well! More on that in a different post... Taste tests, however, turned out to be pretty disappointing- the stuff was too damn salty and not as flavorful as we'd like. As I split the batch into jars, I held out most of the brine, replacing it with fresh spring water and vinegar. After a few weeks to think about it, I'm still not sure what we could do with that brine, though it's a hell of a brain teaser- how do you remove some of that sodium chloride without killing the living bacteria present?

Once I figured out where this batch strayed from our intended path, I reminded myself that we've learned that a higher salinity level will slow down the fermentation process and makes for a more sour flavor profile and then longer overall preservation times. After chewing on this, I returned the batch, now in jars, to the warm cabinet where do the fermenting for an additional four days (at our usual between 71 and 75 degrees). Not too much more CO2 was produced by our diminutive friends but the flavor did seem a bit more interesting after this additional time. So most of the actual fermentation we were looking for did occur in the seven day period we were expecting it to.

Tasting the batch now, it's still too salty to our palates but it's a good product. It'll be fun to see what flavors develop as this batch ages. And it's gonna have time to age- escabeche as we make it normally doesn't last as long in the fridge as some of our other (less sugar content) ferments but this one will definitely last longer than most! In use, I'm giving the stuff a final rinse before eating. Once the Pickleers get theirs home, they may want to rinse their portions and re-cover with clean water before storing in the fridge. This will keep the extra salt from soaking deeper into stuff as it ages...

The longer we do this, the more apparent it becomes that fermentation is a damn simple and solid method of preservation- these colonies of lil' friends we culture in our veggies are incredibly resilient, on top of obliging!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fall Pickling Season Kickoff A.A.R.

We've been blessed with our first genuine, non-mechanically produced cool breezes around here and farmers are bringing in their summer produce. It's finally Fall!!

We're off to a great start on this pickling season. To everyone who turned out to play with our food, much thanks and good job!  As always, the pickle parties are a good excuse to host fun folks to drink and converse with. Much love to the new additions to the circle!

Carrot Escabeche:
We're at the final mark in the evolution of this recipe now! After seven years, I'm finally happy with the balance of flavors. The two Innuendo batches came out fine but each was a little off.  This latest batch, however, is not. At all! Beautifully balanced, the TapaRoo, named for its two main producers, is cut in bigger pieces that make this more of a finger food, and a real inviting one at that! This batch boasts a beautiful palate centered on the slight spiciness and peppery flavor of the orange bell peppers. That's ringed by just the right amount of flavorful and spicy from the other peppers and just the right amounts of garlic and onion and carrot. Using the banana peppers is a must now, they really carry their part nicely with just the right amount of heat and their own flavor. Here's the recipe:

TapaRoo Escabeche, 22 Sep. 2013:
--> FINAL VERSION <-- b="">

Carrots, 5 lbs.
Cauliflower, 2 heads
Garlic, 1.5 lbs.
Orange and Yellow Bells, 1.5 lbs.
Jalapenos, some seeded, 1.5 lbs.
Banana Peppers, some seeded, 1.5 lbs.
Red Onion, 1.5 lbs.
Yellow Onion, 1.5 lbs.
3 cups Vinegar
3/4 cups Salt

I let this batch go the full seven days at a temperature range between 69 and 75, mostly below 72. The bag method worked great again, very little headspace was left for mildew to form in and minimal scraping was required. We pounded this batch in three sub-batches (Coke bottle pounder in the crock), which works but needs to be improved upon. I get leery about pounding with a glass bottle in a ceramic crock. We needed more pounding though. And we needed to pound each clove of garlic- this batch produced very little of our favorite Blue Garlic. I think drawing the process out by salting the cut veggies and letting them sit overnight to brine will help, too. I'm basing this off how we had to add water (and hence salt) to this batch at the end, as the veggies didn't produce that much of their own fluid. And yes, thank you for wondering, someone did make a "The Gods Must Be Crazy" joke once we got to pounding. I'm always waiting for that one...

Green Harissa

The good brother Meldrum introduced us to this recipe he found and I was immediately excited- it was damn close to an Indian chutney I'd purchased at Fiesta a few years ago. We loved it so much that I kept the empty jar in the fridge for years, just to keep the ingredient list percolating through the layers of limestone in my head. I've always suspected it was originally a fermented food (like so many other things), so I was ready to experiment by this point. We set up two batches with varying degrees of spice and substituting living vinegar for the lemon juice that was called for. The original stuff had olive oil in it but I still haven't figured out fermenting with fats, so we mixed that in after fermentation.  This stuff's been flying down my hatch ever since and it makes peoples' eyes go sooo wide!

Experimental Green Harissa, 9 June '13:
Cilantro and Parsley, 5 heads each
Jalapenos, 12 fat ones
Green Onions, 1 bunch
Garlic, 4 cloves
Comino (Cumin), 8 Tbsp.
Coriander Seed, 8 Tbsp.
Living Vinegar, 1 cup
Salt, 4 Tsp.
Lightly roast the Cumin and Coriander Seed on medium heat for 2-3 minutes- until it's lightly fragrant. Pick just the Parsley leaves but leave the tender stems on the Cilantro. Chop fine and blend well. We let the stuff go for three days before transferring it to the fridge; plastic bag method works just fine. Since there's so little sugar content in this stuff, I think we can now ferment it longer than a chutney-style 3 days, dunno what I was thinking there...
Mk 1: Light spice, 4 Tbsp Coriander, add 2 Tbsp. Power Mix. Result: Good but Power was unnecessary.
Mk 2: Straight recipe. Result: Beautiful!!

With the experimental batch a success, we set to with the next batch. I goofed and forgot the jalapenos for this one, so we substituted a lesser number of serranos and most of a smallish orange bell pepper, resulting in a slightly spicier product every bit as yummy as the first batch.

After just a bit of research, this green stuff appears to be a variation on more traditional Harissas, so there's some room to explore other ideas down that road. My boss says they make this in Israel and call it Chug ("schyuh!-g"). We're gonna make it a regular, that's for sure. I get to aching and pining when I look in the fridge, that all that's left of the second batch has someone else's name on it! I want some now, on a sandwich with bleu cheese (they love to play together!).

Happy Fermenting, y'all!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Our Ketchup vs. Current Commercial Condiments

Pickleers, today, inside Whole Paycheck, I was made to, by internal command of provenance unknown, reach out and grab a bag of the store-brand Tater Pops (read: tater tots). Normally, I don't eat many potato products (or hot dogs, or eggs, or anything else that likes the stuff). But these things are a really fun way to enjoy our ketchup!

For the rest of y'all, we ferment together tomato paste, maple syrup, fish sauce, spices, and living vinegar. After three days (it's technically a chutney, high sugar levels), it's ready. And it keeps for a couple years, slowly maturing. Lately, I've been mixing in lime and Worcestershire sauce or lime and chile powder, to make a Tex-Mex kicker. Got some chipotle chiles? Get ready for a mouth-party!

One of the things we love about our fermented ketchup is that we're the ones sweetening it. I like to take some with me when we go out for burgers and fries (in an old spice bottle without the shaker top, perfect pocket size and easy to fill, and then serve, with a knife). But we don't always have that luxury, so we talked about how Hunt's (vs. Heinz) doesn't use High Fructose Corn Syrup when we were putting the last batch together. Well, that's changed. And they were kinda quiet about this for some reason...

Here's the link, on a great site I may add:

See y'all soon!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Innuendo Pickle, Decanting Report

[edited for details]
Hola, Pickleers!  PEB n me just finished decanting the crock we set a'fermentin' last Monday. The kitchen smells heavenly, with a nice crispy earthy celery flavor added to the usual aromas (every time I stuck my nose in the crock tonight, I got that pleasing addition to the usual flavor profile of garlic, peppers, onions, and happy lil' buggies).

Before we get started on the after action report, it's really worth recounting our conversation tonight. He wanted to know what I was going to do with my share (add whole olives and call it a side dish or chop it up with olives and secret ingredients and call it tapenade) and what I thought of his projected use. He likes to keep a batch of giardiniera or escabeche going for months, throwing in olives, capers, banana peppers, and whatever else he comes across that fits. And he observed that the brine would change and age but inevitably develop a funk over time, above and beyond the fun crowding-in of flavors from all the stuff he'd added in.

What he's looking for is a way to enjoy what he's got with what he wants to add. The trick is knowing the limits of what's added. Olives are already fermented and I think capers are too, so they're okay with this treatment. Since it's fermented, our escabeche can last in the fridge for a couple years. Adding other ferment-preserved stuff doesn't change that any. If you want to add anything that isn't fermented, though, you'll want to 1. Start a new jar and keep your source material uncontaminated, and 2. Remember that adding non-fermented (i.e. perishable) items changes the amount of time this batch will keep from years to days, as in no more than 14 or 21- the salt, lactic acid, and vinegar will all act as decay retardants, so you can go beyond the recommended refrigeration period of 4-7 days but raw veggies (the banana peppers, for instance) will still go bad eventually.

So, we wound up with four gallons of well fermented Escabeche. The celery turned out great; I'd been afraid of slime like we'd gotten from the okra and nopales but, much to my pleasure, it turned out just as crisp as when we'd put it in. There was a bit of room left in the crock to work with (heh, it's labelled for three gallons), so, if I had a Genie, I'd wish another almost pound of  red bell peppers in there. The rest of the recipe/ratios are spot on- after continued tasting, there's a bit too much salt and garlic and could stand some more carrots, at least in my opinion. We got a bunch of pretty green through blue garlic cloves with this batch, say, ain't we supposed to be changing the name of this blog?

There was no moldy/mildewy growth above the waterline this time, none! I'm going to chalk that one up to minimizing airspace for it to grow in and carefully wiping down the crock walls (PB has gotten real good at this) and then inoculating them and the sealing bags with vinegar. This is a tiny detail in terms of product loss but it's a nice detail all the same, I'm glad we're progressing here.

The hybridized method I described in the last post turned out great! I think this is now my favorite method- the crock, oversized, foodsafe bags ("poly bags" about $25 for a case of 1000, if you've got access through a restaurant), the custom-cut cardboard helping the plate fill the space, and the jug of water weight. I double bagged, since they're thin and they jusssst fit this crock. With the bag in place, there's no need for a towel cover to keep the bugs out and a lot more leeway (with cardboard) in fitting a plate. And I've been given the go-ahead from the boss to add a box of these special bags to a regular stock order at work, so I'll soon have a thousand of them. Anybody want any?

In terms of timing, as it turned out, this was a five day ferment that worked out fine going through to seven days. With seasonal cheer and related cooking, the temperature in the fermenting cabinet (it's right next to the stove/oven) got up to 76 or so on the weekend. The crock was really ponging (as the Aussies say) Saturday and Sunday night, which tells us that we'd had a good, thorough ferment. This had me concerned, but it was good smells, not a putrefacient funk. We couldn't decant it then, so I opened the cabinet for ventilation and cranked up the A/C. Totally non-sustainable, I know, but it kinda put the brakes on the ferment.

Oh, Ranger Roo made a really good comment on the last post. You'll have to ask her if she's right...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Innuendo Pickle, or 11 Dec '12 Giardiniera/Escabeche

The Good Mr. Bertolino, ask him for a limerick!
Thanks to our beloved Ferment Fellows, we've enjoyed another great Pickle Party! We got together on Patrick's behalf, he's been itching for this specific batch for a while. We fine-tuned the recipe tonight, as well as our techniques.

We're still learning to use the mandolin, though the addition of a kevlar glove to the kit surely adds a warm and secure feeling!. The pepperoncini were not firm enough ("that's what she said!"), so next time we'll freeze them the night before. Likewise, pre-frozen, the julienne setting could be good for processing the sweet bell peppers.

Here's what we bought --> and then used (I was fine-tuning as I filled the crock in layers):
From the Kitchenaid Slicer

  • 3 lbs. --> 2 lbs. of cauliflower
  • 3 lbs. --> 2 lbs. of celery
  • 15 pods --> 12 pods of garlic
  • about 6 lbs. of carrots
  • 1.5 lbs. of cocktail onions
  • 1.5 lbs. of red onions, though next time I'll wager we want 1 lb. and 2 lbs, respectively
  • 1 lb. each of : sweet red bell, pepperoncini, and jalapeno (de-seeded) peppers
  • Somehow we forgot the Oregano!!
  • 3 cups of sea salt
  • 3 cups of vinegar
  • a bit less than 3 cups of water
The Kitchenaid Stand Mixer's Slicer Attachment rocked through the carrots, producing something like a thick potato chip. It might've done the same with the cocktail onions, had we had the foresight. We'll remember this the next time, surely saving many tears. This attachment will work for the celery, too.

The Pounder is a Mixer, Too!
The Gods Must Be Crazy! Pounding down all the cut veggies in the crock, with the salt and vinegar inoculant  worked as well as it's supposed to. This step mixes as it goes, but more importantly, it breaks down cell walls, allowing the salt and inoculant entry and allowing the water inside to mix into the brine outside. That makes for both a faster and a more complete ferment but it also leaves fewer places for the bad buggies to get a foothold. The new detail was the pounder, a glass Mexican Coke bottle. Though it was a bit too short, it's a great kraut-pounder. We usually omit this step, as most of the time we're either chopping everything down in the food processor or packing it into jars, which are usually too hard to pound in. We need to include this step more though!

Jug. Plate, Cardboard, Plastic Bags, Brine
Hybridized technique: The early Sally Fallon method of using olive oil as an anaerobic cap soon gave way to the weighted and water-filled sandwich baggie technique when we fermented in jars. This held down the floaters more and kept a better oxygen-barrier. In the crocks, we've worked with and without plates that fit the specific crocks well. With the plate, we don't have to worry about floaters. Without, we've had to be more creative (such as the last crock pickle, where we used gallon ziplock bags filled with water). Both of these techniques left a problem though- room for mildew/mold in lots of airspace left in the top of the crock, above the brine (so it didn't endanger the pickles) but below the towel (so it's messy). So last time we put in a few layers of cling-wrap. This worked well but still didn't seal as well as I'd like. This time, we used a double bag of the food-safe Sysco bags made for commercial food-service use. Above that, we put two layers of custom-cut cardboard to hold the goodies down, then [an under-sized but close plate] and most of a gallon of water. We burped as much air as possible and will fine-tune the weight to keep just enough positive-pressure so that enough fluid fills the space between the bags and crock walls to push out/prevent the moldy/mildewy faction.

Going forward:  I'm trying to procure more of the food service poly bags, I like this technique. It's food safe plastic, so I'm not as bothered by it as I am with clingwrap. It certainly makes a much better anaerobic seal while keeping room for mold/mildew to a minimum, so it's facilitating a cleaner and more thorough ferment.

Perhaps one of the lasting sticky parts of each and all of these Pickle Parties is the Schedule of Operations that everyone can consult without having me constantly quarterbacking every move; it always seems elementary to me, but then again, I'm one of the only of us trained in kitchens. So, here's what I need to chisel in writing in our permanent pickle room:

1.) Wash all produce, set to dry
2.) Peel all garlic. Preferred technique: 
  • Rough un-leaving and de-stemming
  • Cut stem-ends off and pound
  • Peel and sort/discard
3.) Peel Onions. Chop onions, Kitchenaid Slicer preferred! De-stem all other produce.
4.) Slice in Kitchenaid: Carrots, Onions, Japs, Celery
5.) Hand-Slice: Peppers
6.) Start cleaning the tools

Oh, and that interesting, almost potato chip texture the Kitchenaid slicer made of the carrots? That got us to thinking, what if we took some of those chips and marinated them (salt, pepper, and vinegar; lime and chile; lemon, pepper, and butter; and what, uh, mustard?) and then, with high heat, either bake or stir fry them. It seems like, if we could quickly remove all the moisture, we'd end up with a crunchy, savory, salty treat. To get the texture I'm thinking of, if we stir fried them, it'd have to be with very little oil. Sweet Potatoes, beets, and radishes might work well with this treatment, too.

In conclusion, this should be a dynamite batch. It's being kept at a constant 71-72 degree temperature in its own cabinet and has been off-gassing since the second day (hour 25+), so it's responding well to us giving it everything it needs. At this temp, we'll let it go for seven days. I think Patrick is going to throw some olives and capers in there once its done. I'm looking forward to chopping it into mixed olives for tapenade, as well as just eating it on its own. I'm a little leery, just a bit, of how the celery will turn out, but the good Mr. Katz assures me (through his books) that it will be alright.

Happy pickling, y'all, we'd wish you were here but that would leave less for us to enjoy, now, wouldn't it!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fine Tuning the Last Power Mix

So, the last Power Mix came out too hot (and still a bit bitter, still trying to puzzle that one out). So we came back a week later and fermented a couple pounds of just sweet red, yellow, and orange bell peppers. Then we cut those into the Power Mix, at varying ratios. This really chilled things out.

I use a 2:1 mix of Power Mix to Sweet Bell Mix in my tapenades, whereas a 1:2 mix of Power to Sweet works better for a straight condiment. We've reserved a bit of the Sweet Pepper Mix and lots of the hot Power Mix for custom batches, so we're ready for lots of creativity to come!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

POWER PLAYERS: Using the Power Mix in Standards and Staples

We use the Power Mix as the backbone of all our sauces, condiments, and many side dishes. It's a living condiment, so, while the spices will carry through in cooking, it's more powerful to enjoy the living enzymes and bacteria, in symbiosis with your intestinal flora & fauna, by avoiding adding it to anything that's still steaming (transition point of water to vapor phase, 118 degrees F). Since it's just garlic, onion, and peppers, (and vinegar, yum!), it's a natural and specific flavor/spice addition to basic meal components. 

When we're not using the Power Mix as a straight and un-adulturated condiment (ground down to a fine slurry in the Quisen-thingie, with or without extra oil and/or vinegar), we're using it as the spicy/umami component in other condiments and side dishes. 

Here are a few of the Lewis Casa standards:

- Guacamole: use the Power Mix instead of the garlic, onion, and peppers, mixed into avocado and diced tomatoes with lime juice. We use at least a tablespoon Power for each avocado and small lime.

-  Hummous: with garbanzo beans, lemon (or lime), tahini (sesame butter), olive oil, and comino. Start by adding the Power instead of the garlic and then add in more from there, according to your taste. This latest batch, being pepper-spicy heavy, gets things hot quick. So we're cutting the overt heat on this latest batch of hummous with yogurt and extra olive oil.

- Johnny Tapenade: greek kalamata and green olives, carrots, celery, parsley  olive oil, vinegar, and Power Mix. Since the olives and Power Mix are already cured, and the carrot is pretty hardy over time (with these other ingredients), I just put these together for the basic batch. Then I can chop in the parsley and celery when folks come over. Or add chili powder or oregano to take it in a different direction. Like many dishes, subbing in balsamic vinegar or tamari or fish sauce, et al. are fun variations.

Now, moving forward with the backbone concept, I'm starting to structure our fridge with Power Standard elements, the individual components that we mix to make our condiments. We've done this before but it's easy to be tempted into big  batches by the ceramic crocks. While established recipes like Escabeche are great in the big ol' crocks, flexibility ends up offering more utility with our Power Players. The first are the Three Sisters of the Power Mix- sweet peppers, hot peppers, and garlic & onion. Fermenting them separately allows us to custom-blend mixes as we go, helping us past some of the limitations that we get like with this latest batch of all-in-one Power Mix. Here they are:

1) Garlic/Onion Mix: While we usually use six pounds of garlic to seven pounds of onions, we like it when the garlic flavor power just overtakes the onion on the flavor profile

2) Sweet red, yellow, and orange Bell Peppers

3) Hot Jalapeno (seeded) and Serrano Peppers

- Ginger Carrots: spears with ground ginger. If you layer it from the bottom, a fun flavor gradient develops. This stuff is a great as a sauce on its own but mixes in well, too. Shoot for a 1:3 ginger to carrot ratio and use whey as an inoculant.

- Beet/Carrot/Root Kvass: Kvass is a bracing tonic for the immune system and guts, full of electrolytes, and so good for us drinkers, too. With the high sugar content of beets, we ferment it like a chutney, for just a couple or few days (drain and reserve most, then fill the jar back up with water for a second ferment). Adding carrots and root veggies like parsnips, turnips, and rutabaga brings a wider, happier side to the flavor profile. Here's more details:

- Root Slaw: Cabbages, root vegetables (carrots, radishes, beets, etc.), Power Mix (or garlic, onion, and peppers), and fun tidbits like apples and seaweeds. The famed and widely-fabled Peanutbutter Mix is the bulls-eye on this one but this is a perennial Fall and Winter standard. Lately, we've been craving a batch that's grated or julienned, instead of chopped, making it a proper slaw.  

Now, after all that, there are a few new Standards to post: 

Power Aioli: a great mayo substitute, aioli is egg yolks, olive oil, lemon, and garlic all carefully mixed into an emulsion, to create the mayo consistency that makes it such a great spread. We start with the Power Mix in the quisen-thingie (instead of the garlic) and egg yolk, blend them first on the slowest setting, gradually getting higher as the yolk starts to emulsify. Then add in the citrus and oil slowly, drop by drop. It takes patience but the spreadable consistency makes it worth it! Now, this is a living food but, because the egg has some shelf life very much worth paying attention to, it isn't a great fridge Staple- it needs to be made to order, like the herbal version of the Johnny Tapenade.

Power Sauces: a few structural bits and then the flavoring component:
- Power Mix (throw it in the Quisen-Thingie and grind it down to a liquid)
- Acid (living cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, lime or lemon juice) and/or Tamari, Bragg's Aminos,  Worsterchestershire, etc.
- Olive Oil emulsion or oil emulsion-diluted cheese or other fat
- And then, the Flavor Star options: 
  - Cheeses: parmesan, gruyere, goat, blue cheese, gorgonzola, chevre, etc.
  - Bacon, baconfat, or brazing drippings or, for bar-be-que or basting,  citrus and honey or maple syrup
  - Herb Blends (rough-cracked pepper mixes, Italian, curry, etc.)
  - Ginger Carrot, this is a fun way to take what's already bangin' to the next level with the Power Mix, vinegar, and oil options.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Orxata, Horchata, Sweetened Ricemilk from Mexico

Orxata, now commonly spelled "horchata" (say "or-chata") is a traditional sweetened ricemilk from Mexico. Here in Houston, we've been buying it at some of the kiosk shops in Fiesta stores. Lots of Mexican restaurants sell it, too. My old favorite taqueria, Tepatitlan 2000 on N. Main, sells it but don't buy it there- their version is without a doubt the worst we've ever tasted; it had the cheapest, worst ingredients. They had to have been using artificially-flavored cinnamon candy or syrup, the really shitty, cheap kind. So, here's the recipe:

- 1 cup of rice
- about or less than 1 cup of sweetener
- about or less than 1 cup of milk product
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 cups of hot water & 2 cups of cold
- about or less than 1tsp vanilla
- about or less than 1 cup nuts or seeds

~-~  note: this is a "to taste" kind of recipe, experiment with the ratios ~-~

CHOP: A few handfuls of cashews (makes a creamy texture), almonds, or other nuts or seeds. Mexicans sometimes use Morro seeds (a kind of melon). Pecans or macademia nuts should also add a creamy texture and their own flavor. 

ADD: to the blender with the nuts about a cup of sugar. White is traditional but we used brown sugar, half a cup 1st, then 3/4s a cup. You can add cacao or cocoa here if you want, too- we used half a cup of powdered cacao. Set this aside in a jar, sealed- you'll use it tomorrow. 

ROUGH CHOP: 1 cup of rice. White rice is traditional but we used brown rice. And it's just fine!

MIX: the rice with 3 cups of hot water, drop a cinnamon stick in there, and pop it in the fridge to... 

STEEP: for 12 hours. 
And these two in this order makes clean-up a bit simpler...

COOKED RICE VARIATION: With 1 cup of cooked rice (and the deeper I dig into this, the more I see folks using brown rice) to 4 cups of cold water. After trying it out and asking a few Mexicans familiar with making their own, I'm disinclined to go through this step.

After steeping the rice and cinnamon overnight, it's time to 
STRAIN and MIX: with the sugar/nut stuff + 2 cups cold water and the vanilla. Now's also the time to mix in the milk products. We've experimented with yogurt and goat's milk. Any other kind works- sweetened & condensed, almond, sheep, hemp, plain old moo juice, hell, even buttermilk- whatever you like.

EXPERIMENTAL: Since this is a cinnamon and vanilla-flavored drink, it seems like some of Cinnamon's good friends fit in here, like white pepper, clove, cardamom, and nutmeg, so rocked a batch with these extra. We boiles the cardamom and clove whole in a bit of the strained mix and then mixed it back in- yum! 

I'm trying to find out if this was once fermented, like so many traditional dishes and drinks that are no longer. I can't see why it wasn't at some point- anything that we set out to steep for a while was once commonly, or at least sometimes, fermented. In Japan, Koji, a controlled-mold product, led to Tempeh, a fermented rice product. Down this path, miso, soy sauce, sake, pickles, and amazake are formed. Amazake is a sweet rice porridge, seems like a close relative to a fermented ricemilk, eh? More on this, later...,mod=11&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Yum yum!

Our House-Warming Inaugural Pickle Party

House Lewis has finally fermented our first batch of pickles in our own kitchen! We can now host, not just instigate pickle parties, with a dedicated curing cabinet in a temperature controlled environment and a nice, big workspace. And just as cool, since it's our own space, we can do this whenever we want! Ahh, central A/C and culinary freedom!

Everyone's store of fermented goodies has been running low lately since May was the last time we were able to pickle. Since the Power Mix is the backbone of so many of the other things we like to make, fermented or not, that was the first objective. This inaugural batch was a deviation from previous ratios in that we backed off on the garlic and wanted to cut the hot peppers a bit and go heavy on the sweet bell peppers. We kinda missed that mark, however- we're still perfecting ratios and techniques. We didn't de-seed the jalapenos (or banana peppers added in by Ranger Roo and Tapon, many thanks!) and used too many serranos, so things turned out spicy! Here's what we did, in pounds:

- 5 red, yellow, and orange bell peppers
- almost 3 jalapenos, not seeded
- almost 4 serranos
- 6 garlic
- 7 onion

This yielded a little over three gallons, just a couple inches from the top of the crock. And it turned out HOT!

So, the next one would look like this, if we just made a straight batch (more on this in a later post):

- 5 sweet bells
- 2 japs, seeded
- 2 serr
- 6 gar
- 7 onion

Heh, my sweet lady has been bravely and assiduously spicing up her diet since hooking up with me but it's still a poignant thing to watch her make that "too spicy" face! So, our latest batches of guacamole are getting some fresh veggies along with the Power Mix, to temper the heat. And Power Mix hummous gets a little yogurt, which also cuts the heat whilst allying itself nicely with the creamy side of the sesame tahini.

In the neat way that things go full circle, we learned this last time how to use a plastic anaerobic barrier in the 3 gallon ceramic crock to seal the beautiful little buggies in for their ferment time. We've used this technique to seal glass mason jars before but we've lost (in the move, I'm sure) the special plate that goes with the crock (AND filled it a little overfull) and so had to improvise. Things turned out great, as mentioned above. Where we usually use the plate to hold the fermenting goodies under the surface of the brine, less brine and a layer of plastic formed the essential anaerobic barrier this time. This hybrid technique had the added bonus, in addition to cutting the addition of extra brine, of also cutting out the headspace above the liquid layer, leaving no room at all for opportunistic molds to enter the picture. The stuff is harmless and confined to the surface and headspace, with everything we care about taking place below the waterline but it's still nice to not have to skim the stuff off after fermentation!

Happy fermenting!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Living on Earth: Talking Fermentation

Stop! Look! Listen!

Action shot from the Living On Earth site.
A great interview about the history of fermented vegetables on  Living On Earth. Thanks KUHF!

I loved how they took on bacteria's bad reputation head-on (minute 3:12). Also well spoken call to action for fermentation as a way to move away from the industrialization of our food systems.

Now go listen to the article!

Go- I'm busy, plotting the next adventure of the Pickleers.
This show inspired me to try some new combinations...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Fabled and Storied Peanutbutter Cabbage Mix RECIPE

Pickleers, we've recently uncovered the notes we took when assembling the famed Peanutbutter kraut mix. This particular batch outshone all other cabbage mixes by many long ways, it was truly spectacular. Subsequent attempts at reproducing such a gastronomic delight fell flat, and woefully so. Such as the pickle party we threw at Brooke's apartment, the one that left her place terribly cabbage-funked. The product was edible but only for the dedicated cabbage fans. 

Part of our troubles were likely temperature related- cabbage seems to like cooler pickling temperatures. And cabbage seems to bring its own inoculants to the party but one of the things we did different with the Peanutbutter mix was to add a couple commercial culture starters (like these: We fermented this batch in a ceramic crock and a few glass jars, in December 2008, and let it ferment for a week (7 days). Here's the recipe! 

- purple cabbage (2 small heads), 7 lbs. 
- green cabbage (4 medium heads), 15 lbs. 
- beets, golden and red, 5 lbs.
- broccoli, 2 stems
- carrots, 4 lbs.
- onions, 4 lbs.
- red kale, 1 bunch
- dried seaweed, 3 cups (rehydrate it in brine)
- celery, 1 bunch
- mixed greens (a share from the Gunderman Farm)
- gala apples, 2
- ginger, 1/2 lb.
- garlic, 1 head
- commercial culture starters, 2
- sea salt 4 Tbs per gallon
- yogurt whey and vinegar, 1 cup per gallon
Grate everything and mix it up, we used a big, plastic storage tub. Yields 5 gallons. Refrigerate after decanting into jars, should last a couple years and get better every day!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Blue Garlic

Fermented garlic can turn blue!  And it's perfectly fine, not an indicator of a ferment gone wrong.  We were pretty surprised the first time this happened, to say the least!  We first saw this happen in a batch of carrot escabeche.  We set up the batch to pickle just as we always have, nothing out of the ordinary or out of protocol.  When we were examining the finished product, however, we were all surprised to see, among the orange carrots, red and green peppers, and purple onions, cloves of garlic ranging from a mild aqua through blue-green to out and out blue.  An internet search quickly revealed that many other folks were getting similar results and that a relatively simple explanation was involved.  The Chinese even make a jade-colored garlic for their Lada celebration, so there's a specific and controllable chemical reaction at work here.

Garlic contains sulfur and certain amino acids that, together, can create blue pigments.  Reaction with copper (or other metals) and acid (such as that created by the lactobacilli) can facilitate this reaction and release these pigments. We were setting up an acidic environment that led to this color-producing reaction but cooking garlic with vinegar or lemon juice in a copper pan yields similar results.  The way we process our garlic bruises it, so there isn't a uniform color change, rather the bruised parts undergo a deeper pigmentation release as the acid is able to penetrate deeper into the garlic.  I'm starting to use this color change as an indicator of a good ferment, as it shows that our desired acid environment was achieved.  And, in addition to allowing the fermentation that we desire, this acidic condition is also keeping botulinum nasties from setting up shop.  Blue garlic means no botulism!

Here are a few good links:

Happy pickling!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Update on the Sandwich Baggie Method

Pickleers, we set up a batch of garlic potpourri to bring the holiday cheer to Sigrid and Brak's house this week. Three folks went to work at the counter with $20 worth of garlic and quickly worked out an efficient process. The three stations were: rough peeling and separation; cutting the ends off; and fine peeling, using a silicone rolling sleeve that looks a lot like a yellow rubber canneloni. We had everything done within an hour.

We used the plastic bag seal in a half-gallon jar this time, far and away our favorite technique when not using the crock these days.

We got a great batch out of it but wound up with some dry headspace at the top, under the bag. We saw this last week, too, after each time insuring that we had enough water inside to provide positive pressure once the lil' critters started farting. Each time, we saw the scrim left by water as it burped out of the jar but we still wound up with open airspace on top of the fermenting goodies, which we want to avoid!

Where'd the water go? After talking and thinking about it, I'm gonna guess capillary action and surface tension are to blame. With the baggie so close to the jar walls, these two related processes aided and abetted fluid in its escape, pushed from behind by the CO2 generated by our little friends.

---> What we didn't do was fill the baggies with water, we just put the coconut juice cans in for weight like we normally do. And we didn't leave much headspace; now I know why we want that- water weight. I'm betting that, had we increased headspace and filled the bags with water, once putting the can of coco juice in there as the primary weight, we would have seen better sealing of the plastic layer to the top of the fermenting goodies.

Now, as that fluid burps out, volume will decrease. So, the plastic layer needs to be able to sink. So, we need to stop securing the plastic with the lid bands. Just weight it down with water and the can or water bottle.

Hmmmm. Details, eh?

Happy pickling!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ginger, my Ginger

Oh, heavenly spell, let me crack that lid open again to sniff that perfume, and again... this is a special but silly moment, even broaching the subject of trying to convey to you digitally what's happening for me olfactorily right now.
This is the last indulgent few slices of ginger we pickled in vinegar (a change for us at the time) in Spring '09. We've had ginger keep mellowing and last almost this long before but this is something else, the nose is deeper and more fully developed, mellower yet richer, as it tastes. Like an angular, angry teenager or a Cabernet, ginger's beauty takes time to mature after fermentation. We originally preferred using whey as the inoculant for ginger, it left a creamier side to the flavor profile but it didn't keep as long. The vinegar-pickled batches are sharper initially but really show up to party after a few months in the fridge, quietly rounding off the sharp bits. There, I made it the whole way without making a Cougar joke!

Temperature Controlled Ferment Cabinet

Anyone got a kitchen cabinet they don't need?
I'm working on plans for an insulated curing cabinet with active heating/cooling, so we can pickle all year long and still maintain control over temperature. Keeping it local and frugal, I'm looking for a free-cycled kitchen cabinet, the under-the-counter kind but free standing, with one or two doors. I'm going to insulate it and make spaces above and below for a heating element and a cooling element. With a sliding horizontal divider to close one or the other off, we'll be able to maintain specific temperature ranges, whether heating or cooling the cabinet space. The cooling element can be as stupid simple as coffee cans or water bottles full of ice, periodically replaced. The heating bit could be a hot rock from the pet store but I'll try a light bulb first.
And if I get my hands on a dorm fridge, that's another level altogether, get to hack in a digital controller and mebbe play with moving the hot and cold elements around...
Happy pickling, y'all! Remember, if it smells off, toss it!

It's been a while!

Happy Spring! We've had a busy and delicious fermenting season!
  • We've settled on using the plastic bag as an anaerobic barrier in place of the oil. A full water bottle on top acts as the weight, holding down floaters and keeping the bag in place. Inside the jar, the water line goes all the way to the top. As soon as the batch starts fermenting, the burping water creates positive pressure, helping keep the mold at bay. The trick is to not leave any airspace inside the jar- it's all veggies and brine. A little water inside the bag can help expand the bag to make this contact.
  • We're sticking with the spicier ketchup formulations, thumbs up all around. Substituting Power (jalapeno, serrano, garlic, and onion) Mix for the garlic and cayenne is even better, just chop it down to a paste or sauce consistency if you're the "smooth peanut butter" type. And you can't leave out the fish sauce! Mmmmm, Umami!
  • Three Crabs Brand Fish Sauce- great flavor profile, not too funky-fishy, and it's available at Kroger, as well as more esoteric spots.
  • Certain dried food products, like polenta, is now being packaged in sewn bags made of the same breathable polyester material the popular reusable shopping bags are made of. The stuff is prone to tearing but these polenta bags make great whey strainers.
  • The last batch of ketchup was close to three gallons and it's almost all gone. Some hungry critters up in here! We use it on its own or as a sauce base equally. Mix it with lemon or lime and some Worcestershire Sauce (can you spell that from memory?) for an old-school treat, balsamic vinegar and Power Mix for a surprise, as a sticky base to hold crepe or sandwich bits in place, ugh, I'm going to get some right now, before the other critters do! And just in case, Whole Paycheck carries a couple different Worcestershires that ain't made with corn syrup.
  • The latest batch of Power Mix was three gallons. Equal parts jalapenos, serranos, onions, and garlic. Uh, a little less than equal part of garlic, call it four or five pounds to the six of each other ingredients. And we're not de-seeding all the japs now, just half or so. The idea used to be that we ferment everything separately and then make mixes to order. We go through so much Power, though, it's worth it's own batch. Just to keep the metrics straight, that 24 pounds of produce took between 25 and 30 man-hours to process from bags to jars. Which is about what filling the three gallon crock takes.
  • Jardiniere, as per PB's request, was outstanding and didn't last long. We put cauliflower (< thumbnail sized), pepperoncinis (banana peppers), garlic, onion, red Anaheim peppers, carrots, and cute little purple and white cocktail onions all together for a party. We could've thrown olives and capers in there but nobody complained as we were eating it.
  • We have a purple cabbage, beet, and carrot mix that's getting mixed reviews. I've still not pinned down the temperature range and ferment time for better cabbage mixes, that's a tricky one.
  • New Items: Fingerling Radishes fermented as expected (by themselves, as a proper experimental batch); they stained the brine a bright orange-red, like someone threw a Jolly Rancher in there. They still smell very earthy, not appetizing in my nose but worth aging and mellowing for the rest of us. Nopales (Prickly Pear, Gringo) were edible after pickling but not appetizing- they developed a thick slime and some funky spots on the skin. Daikon radish, on the other hand, came out great- we successfully replicated the batch our mentor, Pat Greer made. Score!
  • We have sampled a few commercial Kvasses from Eastern Europe that we really liked. Each was a beet/carrot mix, can't wait to try some of our own.
It's already hot again but we sure enjoyed a nice Spring. If asked, I might opine that the ferment gods gave us AC, for to extend our pickling seasons... Thanks for reading, I hope you're smelling lactobacilli farts, too!

Monday, November 15, 2010


Oh my goodness!

Have you ever made kimchi? It's the Korean version of cultured vegetables, very distintive, very spicy.

I have to admit it wasn't in my 'to-try next' list at all. Korean food is still so foreign to me. Does anyone know if Houston has a class like this ? The blog e*starLA chronicles a class in LA AND manages to make KimChi accessible to me via ChiliMango comparisions. Click on this post's title to see the entry.

This is just the weekend to find persimmons in our local farmers markets!


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fermenting to make cake!

Oh my goodness!

I am absolutely making this cake in honor of some slow-it-on-down holiday time I have planned later this month. I think I will use dried apricots & black raisins.

I had no idea that for most of western civilization people used soured milk to ferment their grain into rising. It makes sense, but is still a bit of a revelation to me.

Thanks Nournished Kitchen for once again sharing useful information with beautiful pictures!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ketchup, Cultures, and County Fairs

This long hot summer is almost over! We've had our first pickle in months at a friend's house on Monday.

We made ketchup from Nourishing Traditions but we spiced it up. We doubled the garlic and tripled the cayenne; Cajuns and Texas boys prefer strongly flavored condiments.

The ketchup will be featured in the Ft. Bend County Fair at the end of the month, BUT the judging is apparently all about presentation. What?!? No taste test? Strangeness

I'm just glad to be back in the kitchen, culturing good food and community connections.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Important Details We've Learned Lately

We learn as we go, on good days, here's the latest batch of pickling points:

- Salt; Many pickling guides and recipes state that pickling salt (pure NaCl) is what you're supposed to use. It offers a greater degree of control over the processes at work in the jars we're pickling. Iodized salt is not good to use in pickling, the extra stuff works against our aims, so it's easy to avoid. We've been using sea salt for a handful of years now and it's never been a problem but we tried pickling salt on our last round of pickling (which came out to about six gallons). It's cheaper, so that's good. Everything came out too salty, however. We wound up pouring off most of the liquor on the 3 gallons of Escabiche and replacing it with water. Never had to do that before, though we do now have half a gallon of bloody mary/michelada/dirty martini mix! We're sticking with sea salt and all its extra nutritiousness.

- Pre-Brining; The night before this last pickle, we filled an ice chest with the peppers we were going to use and poured in about a pound of salt. This set up an osmotic imperative, whereby the water inside the peppers was compelled to start vacating the pepper. This is called "sweating". When we dumped these peppers into our crock, they were then more ready to soak up the loving, living vinegar inoculant.

- Temperature; Most of our pickles want a pickling temperature range of 69 to 75 degrees F. Stuff ferments more quickly as temperature goes up and slows down as it drops. Going below about 69 shuts down the fermentation and going above it enters the range for Botulism. Cabbage is different, it's happier between 55 and 65, which explains why we're so challenged to make good cabbage-based batches. The famous Peanutbutter mix was pickled in December; Kimchee is held at this range by burying the pickling crocks in the ground. We're learning to stop fermentation after only three days on sweet stuff like tomatoes, sweet peppers, or beets, treating them as a chutney.

- Plastic baggie airlocks (instead of sealing with olive oil) work great! Here are the details as they're working out for us: Into a clean jar, measure your salt and inoculant, whey or unpasteurized vinegar. Close the jar and shake that stuff around so that it coats the inside of the glass. Fill and mash your stuff down as normal, leaving the same inch or more of headspace and brine covering the veggies. Then dip the outside of a sandwich baggie in your inoculant and stick it in the jar on top of the veggies, spreading it out and filling all the headspace. Fill the baggie with a bit of water and stick a tall water bottle in there as a weight. You might have to poke something in there to convince the bag to fill as much space as possible. You're aiming to have the liquid in the jar come real close to the rim of the jar and the full baggie pressing everything down. Fold the baggie over the rim and LIGHTLY secure it with one of the rims from a lid assembly- the liquor inside the jar needs a way to burp itself out once the ferment is going. Put your jars on a cookie pan or something with a rim around the edge to catch this liquid, just in case. This process leaves little room for mold to form, as well as inoculating the inner surfaces that it has access to.

The 3 Gallon Crock of Escabiche and a New Crew

The latest pickle was another success! Thanks and welcome to our newest host, Seth, and the new pickleers who stayed all night, Rebecca, Sorcha, and Carol!
I've been invited to sell some pickles in a few different venues lately, so we've been working on ramping up production. This latest pickle party aimed to prototype a commercial Escabiche recipe in our smaller crock while teaching a new crew the basics of our growing art. We did that and had energy left over to put together over six gallons of goodies to ferment in a crock and glass jars.
The Escabiche is still a work in progress, in terms of finalizing a commercial recipe towards producing a standardized product (as standardized as a fickle pickle gets) but we all enjoyed sampling the stuff! In a three gallon crock, we assembled:
a cup of salt,
3 cups unpasteurized vinegar,
a pound each of peeled garlic and pearl onions (the purple ones came out pretty and sized just right),
two pounds each of sweet peppers, yellow and white onions, and cauliflower (the purple cauli is overkill in the eyes),
half a pound of jalapenos,
not enough oregano,
and seven pounds of carrots.
All of this stuff was chopped or sliced into bite-sized pieces. I layered each ingredient initially, to eyeball the proportions, and then dove in with clean hands and arms to mix it all up. A 1.5 liter wine bottle was perfect for mashing and compressing everything, while adding enough water to cover stuff by a few inches. Then we covered stuff with a plate measured to fit the crock and worked it around to burp the air bubble trapped in the concavity underneath. A clean jug of water was added to the top of the plate, as a weight. This all holds the fermenting veggies down under the brine, away from oxygen. We draped a towel over all this, as a final cover.
As things were getting washed, peeled, chopped, and sliced, we worked through the steps in setting up a ferment. First, I set up the whey station to separate the inoculant from the cheese.
A gallon of yogurt almost fits in our standard nylon napkin setup. But not well enough to properly drain, so we won't try to filter more than a quart or so of yogurt at a time. After I explained the role played by the whey and vinegar, I measured a tablespoon of salt and a quarter cup of whey into a jar and we worked our way through a a baggie-sealed pickle. Once the crock was filled and sealed, we turned to on the rest of our ingredients.
We also put up a hot mix of seeded jalapenos and serranos, some with carrots added to fill (and heat up!). Seth later reported that it wasn't very hot, at least not until the accumulation of three or four spoonfuls of it hit him! We'll leave the seeds in and add a few habaneros for him next time.
We put up lots of okra, which came out pretty well. Next time, we'll use vinegar instead of whey as the inoculant. We'll definitely add more spices! We'll leave the tops on and look for smaller pods next time, to keep some of the Alien-esque slime at bay and help with packing securely- they like to float. And we'll add more brine, too. The batch that Carol put together came out with the favored flavor profile, with peppers, garlic, and a little beet. The plain ones proved that fermenting okra works but are too bland. Seth is now experimenting with okra-based tapenades. Once his okra plants start producing, I proposed that he sweats them in a plastic baggie with salt in the fridge until enough are harvested for a batch.
We had one jar of beets and carrots, using the oil seal method. A few floaters were poking above the oil, as we're now used to seeing with this method, but not enough to spoil the batch.
We put up one half gallon of mixed sweet peppers. It fermented fast, burped some fluid, and much of it rose above the waterline, where white mold set up shop. We scooped the top 15% out and discarded it but the rest was fine.
Mold is funky but as long as it's removed before stuff goes into the fridge, everything is fine. Mold can't get past the waterline, so everything under that is okay. This batch of sweet peppers and two other jars had white or grey mold trying to grow but it only could do so in the jars with airspace beneath the baggies. So controlling movement of the fermenting veggies seems to be the way to minimize this airspace. The crock had a thin layer of mold on some of the surface but nothing bothersome. We scooped and wiped the tops of each jar that had any mold before moving on and this was the lightest batch yet in terms of such cleanup.
When we got down to discussing the costs of raw materials and labor, we came to the realization that if everyone brings their own veggies and glass, we can work and barter together and money doesn't have to change hands! The ways that this supports local and seasonal permaculture opened an eye or two.
Seth deserves a special mention- he put in extra work to pull this pickle off! His house isn't cooled all day, just when he's home. So he had to not only commandeer the server-room's AC unit and set it up in such a way as to keep our pickles between 69 and 75 F, he had to go through daily acrobatics to empty the bucket of water it was condensing from the air as it worked! This points once again to the seasonal side of working more closely with nature instead of fighting it. Seth's decided that he wants to pickle on the equinoxes, when his room temperatures are in line with what we pickle. We'll see if he's down for a winter batch of kraut...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Prepping for a big session tomorrow. Looking for the answer to the age old question: to pre-brine, not to pre-brine our veggies? Tonight the answer was 'yes'. We'll see in 8 days, won't we?

Anyway, during the search for that, found this gem:

Lacto-fermentation is an artisanal craft that does not lend itself to industrialization. Results are not always predictable. For this reason, when the pickling process became industrialized, many changes were made that rendered the final product more uniform and more saleable but not necessarily more nutritious. Chief among these was the use of vinegar for the brine, resulting in a product that is more acidic and not necessarily beneficial when eaten in large quantities; and of subjecting the final product to pasteurization, thereby effectively killing all the lactic-acid-producing bacteria and robbing consumers of their beneficial effect on digestion. Nourishing Traditions, p. 90.
Artisan small-batch deliciousness it is!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cultured Ginger = 'plop plop fizz fizz'

As is "oh what a relief it is". As reported by our good friend sailor and sometimes pirate, TJ. What she specifically said was that nothing had ever helped her celiac-like 'wheat bellyache' as quickly AND effectively as the cultured ginger she had at our house last week.

This particular batch has aged over a year, so the flavor was such that we were just snacking on the slices on their own.

She will be making a batch for her own shipmates at our next community pickle.

*yes* traditional food wisdom 1 : food sensitives 0

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Carrots w/ ginger

Oh man!

We had nearly run out of everything pickled, so have been back in culturing party mode for the last few weeks. 2 words: gingered carrots. Just delightful.

We did carrot spears and carrot slaw in 1/2 gallon jars with about 2 Tablespoons of ginger finely diced in each.

I can't wait for our peppers to complete their ferment, so we can get back to mixing hot sauces. Hopefully Brooke will have pictures, soon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Batch Updates

Our second full attempt at a Peanutbutter Mix came off adequately. In early October, the batch we made at Brooke's house is now down to just two quart jars. Two or three were tossed along the way but most of the batch has pickled, and preserved, well. We didn't get the flavor profile we so serendipitously wound up with in the first Peanutbutter Mix, hence the ho-hum report. I suspect my palate will appreciate balancing cabbage with root veggies, nixing the onion, and making sure there's some ginger in there. Sea veggies seem to need to be there but we're not sure in what quantities.

My birthday batch didn't last, good thing it was my birthday!

Here are notes from late May, that didn't make it into chronological order:
"Our latest social event centered around some of the pickles we've made (the ones that have survived our hunger). Beets, asparagus, and carrot spears were the hands-down winner in terms of a single batch. The beet stain was so thorough that most folks didn't know they were eating asparagus! The middle attempt at PB mix has mellowed nicely, a nice detail considering how much we put into it. Taqueria-style escabiche carrots (that weren't boiled before pickling, as is done in restaurants) kept their crunch through the months and garlic lost some edge.
Our latest batch was another attempt at recreating the now storied Peanutbutter Mix. We've got plenty of time for it to mellow and age but initial reactions are less than hoped for. We're thinking that the sea veggies won't get mixed in anymore. And we're not pickling cabbage in jars anymore! We have crocks! We also made a batch of peppers with some garlic and onion. Most of these will go to add heat and sweet to my orange relish (carrots, onion, garlic, peppers). And as per Stelly's prediction, the green bell pepper is raising its funky lil' head. Not too bad, though.
Our next pickle will likely be a cabbage workshop. Contrary to what we've learned the hard way, we'll pickle cabbage one more time in jars. We'll make a number of different mixes, varying the ratios of ingredients, towards finding a more favored cabbage and root mix recipe. We'll also make a batch of simple mixed cabbage for later mixing at the table or in custom mixes.

Life is short, go eat, nay, make some good food!"

The Big Fall Pickle, a new technique, & hard cider

The big Fall pickle was a delicious success! We tried a couple new tricks, solidified some hunches and showed off some hard cider, as well. We now have pickled raw materials on hand for a mess of custom mixes, plenty of backbone and bonifidus for all manner of yummy comestibles.
The pickle: We processed garlic, onions (yellow and red), carrots, and a mix of sweet red, yellow, and orange bell peppers with deseeded jalapenos. Local peppers are in season and we tried to use as much locally grown produce as possible. The original idea was to have each ingredient separate for custom mixing post-pickle but the pepper mix (vs. sweet peppers and hot peppers-a mistake in communication) has turned out to balance flavor with heat remarkably well. We used whey as the inoculant, so everything has a mellow (not vinegary) nose. 6lbs. of garlic turns into half a gallon shredded and half a gallon of whole cloves. 15lbs. of onions is about two gallons shredded. And 15lbs. of mixed peppers came out to 3/4 gallons shredded. There's a gallon of shredded carrots, too; they were left to ferment for three days, while everything else got a full week. Since we use the carrots to balance heat from the peppers, they don't need but a light ferment. We had one casualty- a mixed jar Christy made by herself looked good a couple days in but had turned brown by the end of the week. Not sure what went wrong with it (didn't clean the glass above the waterline is just a guess) but it smelled obviously bad, as well as was noticeably off-color. In contrast, everything else we pickled kept their bright colors, with the onion mixing intoa marblized pink. The process itself took two weekends but we could have done with just a pair of Sundays with more help.
The new technique is an interim step between pickling in quart jars under an oil seal (a la Sally Fallon) and pickling in a crock with a weighted plate to hold things down (history's technique). With a plate or flat, clean stone weighted by a jar of water, all the fermenting veggies are held below the waterline despite the buoyant effect of the offgassed CO2 bubbles. Larger batches do well in a crock and we considered just making one big mix but if your ratios are off a bit, you lose control of the flavor profile. Hence the individual batches of separate ingredients. In a smaller jar, it's easy to wipe the jar clean above the waterline and float in some olive oil. This seals out the air and lets the lactobacillii set up shop in an anaerobic environment. Lacto-fermentation generates CO2, though, and distributes it well throughout the mix. So stuff floats up into the oil, a potential for mess we didn't want to deal with in the half-gallon jars we planned to use. So, when it was time to seal each jar, we wiped them clean to the waterline as before and then capped them off with a plastic bag full of water. The weight of the water held everything in place, while the baggie made a seal. In a gallon baggie, we put a little over a cup of water, tied off the baggie, and used what was left to seal the top of the jar. This worked out very well for a first shot experiment. What was un-anticipated was the mold that set up shop in the humid space between the water-filled bag and the top of the jar, sealed in by the rest of the bag. Since all the hairy gunk was above the bag and waterline, the pickles were untouched and cleanup was relatively simple. Since most other pickle people we're reading have experience this, we were unfazed.
What we'll change next time: We left about two inches room at the top of each batch but we could leave more room next time. I'm not sure it's necessary to do this, however, as we're also going to use more water, enough to fully fill the rest of the jar. In a tied-off baggie, this will plug the top of the jar while still allowing fluid from inside to bubble out as necessary. While we didn't see as much expansion and bubbling over as we've seen with cabbage, there was still some overflow. So perhaps three inches room would solve the problem. As we did it this time, the waterline in each jar was just above the bottom of each bag. Expecting overflow, we could make that waterline at the top of the jar and use positive pressure to keep the moldies out. We won't fold the bag over the rim and seal it with a lid ring next time, keeping a closed, safe space for mold to grow! Since we anticipated bubbling over, we had the jars on a towel in a big pan to catch the overflow. With curious kitties in the house, I pulled the towel up and over the jars and capped the stack with a box of baking aids. This created conditions for mold to grow in the damp towel-enclosed space inside. Not a big deal but worth dealing with, say by finding a different kitty-proofing method perhaps. And newspaper will evaporate off the water quicker than cotton, thereby further inhibiting moldigrowth.
What we're doing with it all: I've called this stuff "backbone and bonifidus" because that's what it is to our meals. The basic Lewis "power mix" is two parts garlic, two parts peppers, one part onion, and one part carrot. I threw all of this in the blender with some soy sauce and dulse (for mineral content) and cracked pepper. Once it had blended well, I added a bit of olive oil, while the machine is still running, a drop at a time. Good food processors have a little reverse nipple on top just for this- I made an emulsion by mixing in the oil slowly, so everything stays together instead of separating. I put this in a squeeze bottle and took it to work. I put it in soup and pho, hummous, our beans, on sandwiches, tacos, whatever. At home, I took the same mix, added some carrots, and ground in olives to make a tapenade. If you add tomatoes, you get salsa. Avocado becomes guacamole. With the separate ingredients waiting, we can make custom batches for specific needs or, for barter, let folks make their own according to their tastes, whims or needs.
The cider: Cider is almost ridiculously easy. It makes itself, afterall, if allowed to, just ask the birds. In a gallon jug of pasteurized (first time I've looked for pasteurized in a long time, let me tell you) apple juice, I added a fifth of a bag of champagne yeast. Any yeast will work (bread yeast is most common in prison hooch) but the champagne yeast yields the best flavor. Wild yeast is in the air you're breathing right now, most likely, so I could just leave the stuff open for a while but I wouldn't have near as much control over what it tastes like. I stuck a sterilized cork and airlock on top and let it run for ten days, which is when the airlock stopped bubbling, indicating a cessation of the yeast's activities. This is a picture of the the kind of airlock I prefer:; I like this kind because it's easier to see the bubbles moving and thereby know when fermentation has stopped (when the bubbles do). This person filled their jug too much but the bubbles make it easier to see what's going on in the picture. You fill the airlock halfway with water. This provides the barrier that keeps wild yeasts n bugs out. Once the yeast gets going, the chamber connected to the jug will receive the CO2 coming off the juice and empty out under the pressure. Bubbles will then be observed rolling up into the (now full) other chamber, to exit via the top. Letting the batch go until the bubbles and fermentation stopped yielded a completely "dry" batch, meaning all the sugar had been eaten by our little friends and turned into alcohol. The test and "first" batch came out to about seven percent alcohol and was very dry- not at all sweet. The "second" batch received eight ounces of unrefined cane sugar to further feed the lil' buggies. This necessitated reserving a cup or so of juice and then pouring a couple cups into a saucepan. I heated the juice to dissolve the sugar. Once this was added back to the jug, I poured back whatever of what I'd reserved that still fit in the jug. Adding this half pound of sugar meant two percent more alcohol after ten days. Interestingly, Christy liked the dry character of the hard cider but Der Schtellinator deemed it too dry to drink. These were the batches we showed off over the course of the pickle. The latest batch received a pound of sugar and a half pound of honey, as well as yeast nutrient. The nutrient is basically a multivitamin for the lil' buggies and was purchased where the yeast was. This was a controlled fermentation process, so all the cleanliness rules from pickling apply.
The hard part of cider: Like I said, cider is easy. Measuring the alcohol content adds the challenge. Our local homebrewer's resource is DeFalco's ( and they had what we needed for all of this. To measure alcohol content, one uses a hydrometer to get a specific gravity reading before and after fermenting. Since alcohol is lighter than water and sugars are heavier, the difference between the two readings gives a clue to alcohol content. DeFalco's sells a hydrometer with a handy reference page and their hydrometer is graduated in a number of scales; since I don't care what else is in the juice besides water and sugar, the specific gravity readings, starting at 1.000 for straight water and 1.51 for juice (and potentially getting to .9somethingsomething) was too detailed. I found working with the potential alcohol scale easier than the specific gravity. According to this scale, the pound and a half of sweets added should give us an alcohol content of 13.5% if we allow full fermentation. I think I'll pull this one a day or two early, to leave a little sugar for the palate, though. When I bought the hydrometer, I also bought a wine thief and a standing tube for making hydrometer readings in. I also bought an iodine-based sterilant called Iodophor, to clean the 'meter, stopper, bubbler, and testtube. In hindsight, I didn't need to buy the wine thief (a large blown-glass pipette)- I could have used a turkey baster, if I was too drunk or lazy to pour from the jug into the test tube. And I can drop the 'meter into the jug and fish it out again (w/ sterile tongs), were I that frugally motivated.
We'll post pictures as we sort them out, come back for more! Happy, bubbly jars to you!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sept Pickle

We are doing a basic spice pickle this Sunday afternoon at EconGrrl's house. Come one, come all, and bring your garlic peeling expertise. We'll try to take good pictures.

This chart of Asian spices comes via Flickr. Thanks avlxyz!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cat-sup! a teaser

This weekend All We Need +2 are making living ketchup, from the recipe in Sally Fallon's book. I am really looking forward to this. With Stacey's delicious tomatoes as the base, how can we go wrong?

You'll find out! When we upload the photos and highlights next week. mmm sweet potato fries are going to taste even better with old fashioned, living ketchup!

I can't wait.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nance Klehm has solved the floater problem

Nance Klehm posts under "Weed Eater" at (click on this post's title to get there). She's a forager and she'll take you on a walk and point out all edibles along the way. The post I'm linking to is an excellent little essay on hunger and dirt and how anything alive experiences the former on their way to becoming the latter. As an experiment to help illustrate her point, she explains how bacteria process veggies and how they work with us in pickling. Along the way, she shows us a neat way to deal with floaters AND obviate the use of an oil barrier- she fills a plastic bag with brine and uses it to weigh down the pickles to be, thus keeping them below the waterline. Using plastic is problematic but then again, floaters and funky batches of pickles COST MONEY. I'm gonna try this trick quick!

Saturday, June 20, 2009


It's been a quiet month here for cultures, after the frenzy of last month.

Sometimes right after a big pickling session, I don't even want to look at our abundance for a while. This week my body has been telling me that it misses the live microbial supplements I had been feeding it via the pickles, so I am back to experimenting with our cultures. I feel really lucky, because I do the same thing with my garden veggies, but after a month, the garden veggies are only good for composting, while cultures taste even better after a respite.

I am committing, now publicly, to eating at least a tablespoon of homemade cultured veggies every day for the next two weeks. We'll see how happy my body is then!


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pepper Fool appears to know what's up! Sorta...

From a Mid-Americanish guide to pickling and canning, this site has a great basic canning and pickling primer. They appear oblivious to living vinegar or the distinction, perhaps a Heinz generation. There are still a good number of pickling waypoints there for us to consider. And their recipes will be fun to work through, more to come on that!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

pickling in Popular Science

Popular Science has a website for DIY projects and they've published an article on home pickling. They did a good job of covering the important details, in the sense that this article is a good introduction to pickling. They also offered a recipe for pickled ramps (wild leeks), though it's not a pickle like we make. The neat idea included here is using vacuum bags (the heat-sealed kind) to make the anaerobic environment- fill the bag, squeeze out or suck out the air, and heat-seal. We're trying to move away from plastics to avoid BPA and other pollutants but this is an important idea to chew on.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Gardener & Pickler's Fridge

Sorry about the lighting, this is from my cellphone camera. My sweetie counts thirty-some-odd jars of pickles right now, back behind the local, organically grown produce in there. Barely room for some salame! We're trying to plan a household around numbers that include a separate cooler for pickled stock, seeing as the American Third Coast is a lousy place to site a root cellar. And whatever ain't pickled now, I think I'll be reaching for soon, well, 'cept those peaches, I don't have pickled peaches figured out yet...

Birthday Love Sweet Pepper, completed

This is the Sweet Pepper Birthday Love Batch, right next to my favorite Mister PotatoHead Parts Poacher. The colors show up well here, online, so you can get a good idea of the mix/ratios. The carrot always wears its orange, day in, month out. After that, the serranos and jalapenos show their dark(er) green, alongside red, yellow, and orange bell peppers and my baby's red lips.

Photos, Sweet Pepper Love Batch

We're trying to figure out how to measure the makeup of each batch or jar as we go. It's tricky- there's so much going on during a pickle that it's hard to keep up with little things like how much of what goes where. This is where a camera phone comes in handy: Here's the bulk of the Birthday Love Sweet Pepper Batch, done fermenting 1 June '09..

Birthday Love Pepper Batch

John's birthday was celebrated with both organic and local love this year! Stacey Roussel's polychromatic carrots were added to Brad n Jessica's garden-fresh jalapenos, serranos, and fresno peppers. A couple pounds of sweet red, yellow, and orange lil' bell peppers added bulk and the liquid remains of the last batch of orange relish added garlic, onion, and some inoculants. I'm expecting this batch to be sweet and hot, just like an approachable peck of pickled peppers should be!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What We're Learning So Far...[updated]

We don't get to pickle as often as we'd like but we're working out some more enduring guidepoints. In no particular order,
- Checklists are handy when you're packing for a pickling off-site. Conversely, each kitchen DOES need its own canning funnel and cheesecloth. Did I say cheesecloth? I mean a nylon napkin from a middling-level restaurant. Cheesecloth is a dodo as long as we've got restaurants!
- Keep ingredients separate through processing and measure as you mix. It's easier to work out recipes and ratios this way. And recipes get useful!
- A kitchen scale is a real easy way to keep tabs on the above. Find one with a tare function, for easy measuring on the fly!
- Basic staples (garlic, onion, peppers (separate hot from sweet, or any special harvests), beets, cabbage, carrots) pickle just fine in their own jars and can be easier to work with post-pickle. Different members of the household love to make their own custom mixes. Sea vegetables especially make this a good rule- we're not liking the way they change cabbage/root mixes. Pureeing is overkill in pickling, grating or shredding is all you need. After the pickle, you can further process stuff for specific needs. Leave some stuff whole, like sm. onions, garlic cloves, or baby beets- these are good for "cocktail," escabiche, or related mixes.
- Cabbage expands. Beet stains. Asparagus delights. Garlic is ALL POWERFUL but still really mellow when whey is used instead of vinegar.
- Whey makes for mellower pickles, an especially nice detail when pickling ginger or garlic. Vinegar works great for power relishes and stuff with a sweet side. Cabbage has its own inoculants, at least more noticeably so than other stuff fresh from the dirt.
- Iodized salt is bad but coarse salt is fine. Pickling needs salt, either way!! Dry veggies want to soak overnight (after chopping) in brine. Brine is saltwater. It's heavier than water, more useful than just keeping putrefaction at bay!
- CO2 production makes batches both float and expand, so you either have to weigh your veggies down or cut your ingredients into spears that you can wedge into place. Spears are a better idea when pickling in jars and sealing with oil, while plates work well weighing things down in a crock. Beet-stained cabbage functopus juice bubbling up out of your jars is quite alarming, especially when the batch is inoculating in someone else's kitchen! It's better to be prepared: Line baking sheets with lots of newspaper and let your jars ferment on this.
- Smaller batches work better in jars, while larger batches work better in a crock. Large (1/2 gallon) jars bridge the gap well. And crocks (fired ceramic, cylindrical pots) can be had in various sizes.
- Jars and crocks both are worth skimming through resale shops for. Reduce, reuse, recycle that picklejar!
- Label and date your batches. Pickled food can last well beyond seven months and many pickles want to age and mellow for a few months. We enjoyed some pickles recently that were over a year old. The space issue makes it easy to envy Koreans who can bury kimchee crocks while they age!