Homestead Junction

Curing pancetta in a wine fridge June 09, 2015 10:56

Our friends over at Urban Digs Farm were kind enough to give us an insider's peek at some of their curing pork - and boy does it look appetizing! They dry age it to concentrate the flavour, a practice many commercial butchers have abandoned since it reduces the water weight inside each cut. You can get your hands on some through their Beasty Box Program


You can get cured pork from them directly, but watching Felipe trip the skin off this side of belly got me thinking about a project I've had on hold for several months: making pancetta! This aromatic, sweet and savoury cured pork belly is often described as a kind of Italian bacon, but I don't think that does it justice.

This is half a side of pork belly, skinned (thanks Felipe!) and trimmed. This piece was about 5lb, which in my experience is about typical. Perhaps obviously, the first step to a great pancetta is to start with a happy, well-fed pig. Urban Digs' food-fed pigs seem like they must be a trump card here.


This is my first effort at Pancetta, so I've tried to follow as closely as possible the recipe from p.44 of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's CharcuterieThis is the cure prepared for 5lbs belly - it's got juniper, brown sugar, sea salt, fresh thyme, bay, nutmeg, and #1 prague powder.

The cure gets rubbed all over the belly.

And it's all tucked into a large freezer bag! Charcuterie recommends using a 2 gallon size, but I couldn't find one. This one gallon bag was just a little smaller than I would have liked, so next time I'll try harder to find a larger size. It gets a week in the refrigerator like this with one flip about halfway through. It should come out nice and firm.

After a rinse and pat dry with a lint-free towel, the belly gets rubbed on the meat side with a prodigious amount of ground black pepper.

Note the shininess on the towel - that's cling wrap. I don't use it often, but after struggling to hold the belly in a tight roll while simultaneously tying it with string, I tried this little trick. The belly gets rolled in plastic wrap for a few days to set the shape.

Cling Wrap

After a couple days the belly has agreed to be in a roll, and it was much easier to get the string tied around it.

The Tied Roll

The tied roll, ready for curing! Now, here's where things get tricky. I picked up a mini wine fridge at the second-hand store a few months ago, with the intent that it become my new "cave" for aging cheeses and cured meats. Readers will recall that most cheeses and meats (and wines, and vegetable ferments) like to be aged in a cool spot a bit warmer than a refrigerator but a bit cooler than room temperature, and around 60-70% humidity. Since the wine fridge has an adjustable temperature controller built in, it should be the ideal curing chamber if I can just get the humidity sorted. I know there are commercially available humidity controllers, but I'm looking for a lower-tech (cheaper) solution.

In my article on duck prosciutto I tried a method of using a saturated salt solution to achieve a constant humidity. To recap, a saturated solution of a particular salt will establish an equilibrium with the air above it at a particular relative humidity. In the case of sodium chloride that humidity is about 75%. This is just a wee bit too high for the 70% I wanted for the prosciutto, but significantly higher than Charcuterie's 60% target for pancetta, the subject of my wine fridge's maiden voyage.
So, what I really want is a salt that I can put into a tray and have it equilibrate to 60% humidity - if I can get my hands on such a salt, it should make humidity control a cinch! Problem is, a quick search here and here and here turns up nothing in my cupboard that gives near 60% at 15 Celcius. However, I see that magnesium chloride (MgCl) gives 33%, and I have *lots* of that - it's the same thing as nigari, the coagulant we sell for making tofu. Perhaps a mixture of MgCl and NaCl (nigari and table salt) in the right ratio will give me my 60% humidity?

I'd left the nigari at work, so I started with coarse sea salt in a tray. There's just a little bit of liquid dripping into the pan on the left.

With the added nigari. We used about 50% of the volume of sea salt. Note the hygrometer showing over 70% humidity - uh oh!

To our delight, it didn't take long for the humidity to drop to just over 60%.

Ten days later there's a good deal of moisture in the salt tray, but we've encountered a problem. When we add nigari, we get 1-2 days with the humidity near 60%, but then it climbs back up to 70% or higher. I think this means all the nigari is dissolved, which is confirmed by the photo above - if you look closely, you'll see it's all coarse granules (sea salt) and no flakes (nigari). And now I'm out of nigari, and the humidity is climbing! Stay tuned for a creative solution :)

Update: my creative solution was to source NaBr, sodium bromide, from a pool supplier. My research indicates that it's sometimes added to brominated pools as a bromine reservoir / chlorine alternative. At 15 celcius it equilabrates to just the right relative humidity. Unfortunately, after calling every pool and spa company in Vancouver, I learned that pure NaBr is a controlled substance in Canada. It can, in theory, produce toxic bromine gas if handled improperly. So, it's back to the drawing board trying to get a mix of NaCl and MgCl that will work!

Update 2: even without perfect humidity control, the rolls look great after three months!

home cured pancetta

home cured pancetta

I've been spraying the ends with vinegar, but even so a small amount of white mold is visible in the gaps at the end. I've read recommendations that you trim the ends flat before aging to prevent just this kind of growth. Next time maybe I will. However, the growth here is minimal and I anticipate little problem brushing or cutting it off.

slicing the end off home cured pancetta (dry aged)

the first slices look great! There was a bit of green mold in there with the white, so I trimmed that off with a clean knife.

home cured pancetta interior

once the rough bit at the end is gone, the rounds come off beautifully! The aroma is sweet and nutty.

slicing finished pancetta

just another shot of the finished pancetta

cooking finished pancetta

I cooked up some nice rounds in a skillet. It's incredible! I thought I would miss the smoky richness of the hot-smoked bacon I usually make, but the complexity and sweet, nutty, concentrated flavour more than makes up for it. It's just a totally different experience. I'll definitely do this again!


Lemon Tree, Very Pretty June 02, 2015 12:45

After years of wanting one, I finally bought myself a Meyer Lemon tree last spring. I love the idea of having fresh lemon juice and peel without having to use fruit shipped from halfway across the world, and the smell of lemon blossoms is absolutely amazing. Of course, there's a reason we don't have lemon groves here. Winter isn't exactly the balmy sort that they get in Florida. As October came around, I started getting a little concerned about how my new baby was going to make it til Spring, and when the frosts started I knew it was time to act. A lot of people suggest bringing your citrus trees indoors for the winter and placing them near a sunny window until Spring temperatures arrive, but I live in a tiny basement suite with no natural light to speak of. Since Meyer Lemons like to have 6-8 hours of sunlight per day, and my single sort-of sunny window only gets 2-3 hours per day, I decided the tree was better off staying outside. A few hours of research brought me to this cozy winter lemon setup!

The tree (well, more of a shrub really - it was still a baby) was in a plastic pot. Plastic doesn't "store" cold the way terracotta or clay will, which helps to keep the roots warmer. I then placed the pot inside a wooden box which had been lined with straw, to provide a good cushion of insulation. The outside of the wooden box had plastic sheeting wrapped around it as an additional barrier. I also put some straw mulch over the potting soil, leaving a small area clear so I could water the tree without soaking the straw. I placed this whole box setup against the south facing wall of the house, and then wrapped incandescent christmas lights around the branches and trunk of the tree. It's getting harder to find non-LED christmas lights meant for outdoor use, but they do exist, and it's important to get that particular type. LED strings don't give off enough heat, which is the whole point of this exercise! Finally, I wrapped the whole tree in a cloche. This helps to keep warm air against the plant without blocking sun or stifling the gas exchanges the plant needs. I finished this whole setup in perfect time because less than a week later it snowed!

I kept a close eye on it through the winter, occasionally removing the cloche on warmer days to let it have the full benefit of the sunlight, and keeping the soil nice and damp as a protection against cold. One cold snap caught me off guard when I'd forgotten to turn the lights on, and I lost a couple of leaves, but otherwise things seemed to be going well! The tree had come complete with two half grown lemons, and just before winter I removed the smaller one to prevent the tree from using too many resources on it. I kept the larger one, partly just cause I wanted to see what would happen! I'd read that Meyer's will only fully ripen when it gets cold enough, so all winter I watched this stubbornly green fruit until finally...


February 28th! I grew a lemon! I am so proud of myself. Anyway, the lemon tree (I named it Paul, after Peter, Paul & Mary. What, you don't name your plants?) has continued to do beautifully. I finally removed all the protective winter gear and aside from a small slug incident (oh, I killed that was war), Paul looks fantastic.


In fact, last week Paul made some flowers. The cycle begins again!

My Lemon Tree

Use "Weeds" to Make Your Own Healing Salves May 25, 2015 09:58

When my grandma was a kid, babies were born at home.  Bones were set at home (if at all).  And many, if not most, families would have had homemade tinctures and salves always on hand.  If I got a cut or scrape at her house, Maw-Maw would rush to apply a smear of "salve" to the affected area (although, having raised her own kids in the era of "better living through chemistry," she was actually using store-bought Neosporin).  As a kid, I just thought she was funny, or old-fashioned, to call it "salve," but to my adult self, her word choice highlights the fact that medical specialization has eclipsed the art and craft of traditional healing.

Anti-inflammatory salve lovingly hand-crafted using plantain and comfrey harvested from within 100 steps of my front door.

Anti-inflammatory salve hand-crafted using plantain and comfrey harvested from within 100 steps of my front door.  Reusable metal tins mean no wasteful packaging!

Here, I will share what I've learned from making my own medicinal salve.  First of all, it is dead simple to do, requiring only 3 ingredients: oil, wax, and plants (most of which, people consider "weeds").  If desired, you can add an essential oil for additional therapeutic benefit or just for the smell of it.  You can use a number of different oils, including olive, almond, jojoba, etc.  I used olive oil because I always have it on hand and it lasts a long time without going rancid.  For the wax, beeswax seems to be the most commonly recommended.  It's very hard and has therapeutic benefits of its own.  Different plants have different healing properties, so the plants that you choose for your healing salve will depend on what type of healing you're trying to achieve.

I wanted an anti-inflammatory salve to treat burns, scratches, rashes, bites, and stings.  I'm no herbalist, so I'm taking it on the authority of the internet that plantain and comfrey are two plants that provide the healing effects I'm after.  Both plants grow in almost every part of the continent and have been used for centuries by Indigenous peoples.

You've likely seen this "weed" in your yard, parks, trails, even popping up between sidewalk cracks.

Comfrey grows several feet tall and fast. It's dark green leaves are somewhat fuzzy, almost soft.

The delicate purple flower clusters of comfrey.

The delicate purple flower clusters of comfrey.

The simplest way to use one of these plants for healing is to prepare a "poultice," a macerated paste of raw plant material that's applied topically to wounds.  My three-year-old son received his first wasp sting late last summer and when it happened, we were away from home and had no first-aid available. The only thing to do was find some plantain growing nearby and chew it up.  It took some convincing for my son to let me stick the spitty green glob onto his hand, but once applied, he stopped reacting to the sting in under three minutes and there was surprisingly little swelling afterwards.  As effective as the plantain poultice was, a salve would have been less messy and more convenient to use.

For my salve, I gathered several handfuls of both plantain and comfrey, which both grow abundantly all summer.  I laid the leaves on racks in the sun to dry for a few days, until they were crinkly and brittle.  (You want to dry the leaves because moisture in the end product can cause the salve to go rancid.)

Dry the leaves until they're brittle and crumbly.

Then, I packed the dried leaves into a mason jar, covered them with a cup of olive oil, closed the jar, and left it in the sun for about six weeks.  The gentle warmth of the sun eventually caused the oils from the leaves to be released and infused into the oil.

After 6 weeks in the sun, the oil is infused with the essence of the plants and ready for use in a healing salve.

After 6 weeks in the sun, the oil is infused with the essence of the plants and ready for use in a healing salve.

You can also make infusions in a crock pot on the lowest setting, but why use energy to do something the sun does for free?  (Ahem... clothesline, anyone?)  After infusing the oil, I strained it through a colander lined with cheesecloth and was left with a light greenish oil for making my salve.

After straining through butter muslin, squeezing the plant material will get the rest of the infused oil out.

After straining through butter muslin, squeezing the plant material will get the rest of the infused oil out.

Looking online for a salve recipe, I found a wide variation in the recommended ratio of oil to wax, even when the recipes used the exact same ingredients.  Olive oil is liquid at room temperature and wax is solid, so getting the right ratio of these two base ingredients is important for making a salve that is solid enough to not melt and leak if you leave a container of it in your purse on a hot day, but soft enough to be easily rubbed in to your skin.

The first recipe I looked at used only 1 part beeswax to 8 parts oil.  After following the recipe and allowing the salve to cool, it wasn't nearly as hard as I wanted it to be.  I found another recipe that recommended 1 part wax to 5 parts oil, and after doing the math and adding the right amount of beeswax to achieve the new ratio, I still found my salve to be too soft.

Grating the beeswax makes it melt into the oil evenly and quickly.

Grating the beeswax makes it melt into the oil evenly and much faster than if it's left in chunks.

Use a clean yogurt container or can in a pot of hot water to gently heat the oil.

Use a clean yogurt container or can in a pot of hot water to gently heat the oil as in a double boiler.

To get the right consistency, I kept adding beeswax a little at a time until I was satisfied.  After each addition I checked the consistency by dropping a little of the mixture on a plate and letting it cool; that way, I could test it quickly without having to wait for the whole batch to cool.  In the end, I found that 1 part beeswax to 2 parts oil was a good ratio for making a thick, but spreadable salve.

Now for the final touch: essential oil!  Aside from the obvious consideration of choosing a scent that you'll want to rub all over your bug-bitten body, an essential oil can also be a preservative.  Many of the salve recipes I looked at before doing this called for a bit of Vitamin E oil, which is an anti-oxidant and natural preservative frequently used in all-natural cosmetics.  It's also not something I have lying around the house, so I did a little research into the preservative qualities of essential oils and found that rosemary oil could be used.  So, to my one and a half cup batch of salve, I added a teaspoon of rosemary essential oil.  I then poured the still-warm mixture into tins and left them to cool and harden...and voila!

I'm now using my plantain-comfrey salve almost daily for mosquito bites and gardening-related irritations.  It's wonderful for soothing itches; it's moisturizing; and the smell is nice, too.  After a long day in the garden, a hot shower and a liberal rub of this stuff is a perfect combination!


New Partnership with Cedar Isle Farm for Organic, Local Rye Straw May 22, 2015 17:13 2 Comments

Update August 17, 2015: We have straw again!

As of August 17 we have a fresh load of this year's certified organic wheat straw. It's here now, so no need to pre-order, just come on down! The bales are slightly denser this time, so we're passing on a $2/bale price increase. That's $22/bale. However, in an effort to keep it affordable, we're offering $5 off each bale after the first two. That's 1 bale = $22, 2 bales=$44, 3 bales = $61, 4 bales = $78, etc.

organic local wheat straw

Since 2013 we've enjoyed hosting a festive day each fall when Jim and Yoshi take over the front of our shop to distribute shares of locally grown grain and flour to members of Urban Grains CSA. They bring wheat, oats, rye, and more, grown at Cedar Isle Farm in Agassiz and milled at Anita's in Chilliwack. Sounds great, right? It is. Since KJM country gardens closed a few months ago, we've been scrambling to find another local source for straw. To everyone who's forlornly enquired when we would start carrying it again - we haven't been idle! What do these things have in common... Straw comes from grain of course! And so, we're very proud to announce that Jim of Cedar Isle Farms has agreed to supply you, our lovely customers, with local, organic straw.  Order in our store, by phone, or online from our web store.

Why I Work at Homesteader's Emporium May 19, 2015 22:14


Heyo! My name is Kelsey Cham Corbett. I’m a community organizer, social justice and land activist, and former nanny living in East Van, unceded Coast Salish territories. I’ve worked on quite a few grassroots projects with the Purple Thistle and now with the Surrey Youth Space, and have also been actively involved in environmental activism - organizing with Rising Tide and supporting Indigenous groups defending their lands against industry.  Taking on the role of Community Engagement Coordinator, I’m also the newest member of the Homesteader’s Emporium organizing team, so I thought I would take a moment to talk about why I decided to spend most of my hours in the week working with these lovely humans.   In my life, I have come to care a lot about what’s going on in the world. Ever since I was in elementary school (I’m in my late twenties now), I’ve been reading articles in newspapers and online about the injustices that happen in the world. Whether it be about incredibly devastating environmental disasters, corrupt political systems, or species dying due to climate change and pollution, I have always felt a huge drive to do something to change the path of destruction our western culture seems to be leading. This drive to do something positive in the world is actually how I was introduced to gardening, permaculture, and DiY/DiT(doing-it-together) skills. For me, learning these skills meant moving away from systems dependent on tons of pollution and non-renewable resources, and doing these things with other people meant creating opportunities of interdependence, where we learn to share and take care of each other. This is especially important, being in the city of Vancouver, where a study by the Vancouver Foundation found that 1 in 4 residents feel lonely.


From gardening and practicing permaculture, I started learning from nature and natural systems. This has been teaching me how everything is connected. Just like how soil, water, land and ocean are all connected, just like humans and the environment are connected, I’ve been learning that social issues and environmental issues are also connected. As I dig in gardens, I’m finding more roots to the systems that perpetuate injustices in the world. As I become more and more familiar with the insatiable nature and determination of invasive weeds, I’ve come to understand that pulling them out won’t prevent them from coming back. Getting to the root helps, but I’ve been learning we also have to plant new systems that will not only prevent the invasives from continuing to take over, but we also have to replenish the soil and offer nutrients to heal what has been damaged. Planting to create intentional systems that will resist these weeds and create resilient biodiverse ecosystems is where we can find the hope and support we will need to grow sustainably together.   So why Homesteader’s Emporium? Homesteader’s Emporium is it’s own tiny ecosystem in the large urban world, trying to create nutrient-rich and biodiverse communities of self-sufficiency and sustainability. It is a place where folks come to access supplies, learn new skills, and find community as they create their own healthier and more resilient networks. It is also a business that believes in connecting and working with organizations who are also working towards similar visions. Homesteader’s Emporium is a little shop made up of generous folks trying their best to make the connections that will shift society towards deeper understanding and deeper awareness that aims to include everyone. It is a place where people believe in the power of connection.  


This all seems extremely ambitious, and like a lot of work, maybe even a little bit uncomfortable, but I believe it is definitely worth working towards. I imagine my job as Community Engagement Coordinator will be met with a lot of challenges, especially since we are located in the very tense and quickly changing neighborhood of the DTES. With that, I also believe it will be a very worthwhile learning experience. I believe it is an incredible opportunity to broaden my personal community of people who care about creating a safer world, people I  am inspired by and learn from. In creating solid connections, in working intentionally with other organizations, I believe there is a lot of potential to do really awesome work here… and I’m excited about it!   From the Homesteader’s Emporium Vision: “...We see a greater connection between ourselves, our neighbours, and the products we consume, and from that connection a society of greater understanding, dialogue, and sustainability. We don’t imagine that every family will have it’s own small farm, but we do imagine that every person will have a friend that is a farmer, and every child will grow up with a basic understanding of where food comes from. Let’s get there together!”

Mason Jar Soil Testing May 12, 2015 09:13

Soil settling away happily
Gardening isn't really a new concept for me, and I usually tend to think of myself as fairly well versed in it, but the past couple of years have exposed a pretty glaring blind spot in my gardening knowledge: Soil.
I know, I know. You're thinking "Soil is kind of the basis of gardening", and you're right! It seems like I should know plenty about it, but the reality is that I've spent most of my adult life living in apartments, forced to garden solely with containers and pots. So, much as I daydreamed about my eventual future acreage, up until recently my experience with soil has been limited to the types and sizes that can be purchased and then carted home on the bus. I never had to worry about what sort of soil I was working with, because it was always fresh and new, full of nutrients, and neatly labelled on the shiny bag it came in.
And then I moved into a house with an honest-to-goodness yard. A yard with a big garden plot, one that had seen little to no attention for years and looked pretty sad. As I pointed out to my landlord, even the dandelions didn't want to grow there.
Google is my friend, and that's how I found out about the mason jar soil test. It's one of the easiest and simplest ways to see what kind of soil composition you're working with, and to find out what you might need to add to the soil in order to make it healthy.
The mason jar soil test
Soil is, at its most basic, made up of 3 parts. Sand, Silt, and Clay. You can also have chunks of rock or other debris in there, but we're ignoring those for the purposes of this test. Sand is the largest particle, silt the middle, and clay the smallest. An ideal garden soil (called loam) is approximately 20% clay, 40% silt, 40% sand. Knowing how far you are from that perfect balance will help you to decide what sort of amendments need to be added.
To check this balance, all you need is an old mason jar (taller is better - I used asparagus jars), a tightly fitted lid for it (I have a recent obsession with the plastic storage lids, so I used one of those), a way to sift out rocks and debris (a soil screen or wire mesh works well), a ruler, and some water.
Scoop up some soil from your garden bed and sift it through your screen. You can choose to take samples from multiple areas and combine them in one test, or do several jars for each area to get a more specific idea of soil composition. Fill your jar(s) about 1/2 to 2/3 full of soil, and then fill the jar almost to the top with water. Leave a little bit of headspace so that you can shake it up well.
Tighten the lid and shake the jar vigorously for several minutes until all the soil is well distributed in the water, and then set it aside for several hours. Resist the urge to pick it up and turn it. You'll have to start the process over. (Yes, I speak from experience).
Once all the soil has settled down into stratified layers, you can use your ruler to estimate how big each layer is. Sand will be the bottom, heaviest layer, Silt in the middle, and Clay at the top. I was lucky enough to be using a jar with measurements on the side, so I skipped the ruler step.
the proverbial well rotted manure
As you can see from my photo, my soil is more of a 20/20/60, instead of a 20/40/40. This means I have sandy soil, which is often lacking in nutrients, microbial activity, and doesn't hold moisture well. Luckily, the easy answer to this is to add more organic material - like compost! Cover cropping is also another valuable way to improve sandy soils. Since I don't have an active compost bin yet, my temporary solution involves a very familiar tactic.
I'll be busing home with a bag of lovely compost.

Mason Bee Time Again March 10, 2015 20:25

It's a beautiful spring day, and I don't care that the equinox won't arrive for a week and a half! Just walking my bike from the curb to my front door I admired a multitude of spring blossoms:

2015-03-08 16.39.34 2015-03-08 16.39.52 2015-03-08 16.40.08
Cherries Daffodils      and pansies!


Blossoms blooming - especially trees - means it's time for the bees to come out of their winter hibernation! I checked on the mason bee cocoons I carefully stored in the back of my refrigerator.

 2015-03-08 16.42.15
hellooooo back there!


They need to stay cold or they'll wake up. They also need to be dry enough not to mold, but have enough moisture that they don't dry up and die. Last year I had good results storing them in a jar with a loose fitting lid and a little piece of damp paper towel. I had lots of cocoons last fall, so I'm hoping for a good population of bees this year!

 2015-03-08 16.49.12
 I didn't want them to get thrown out with the leftovers by mistake


 2015-03-08 16.49.17
cozily nestled in an envelope


I had cocoons from two separate boxes (the same ones I'm using again this year, below) so I separated the cocoons by putting each batch in an open paper envelope.

 2015-03-08 16.49.46
it may look like junk mail, but it's an envelope of bees!

One of the envelopes shows the cocoons through the window. They look good so far.

 2015-03-08 16.40.49
nice clean trays from last year


These are the maple trays I'm using for one of the boxes. I'd scraped it clean last fall when I removed the cocoons, and before setting it out I baked it at 400 Fahrenheit for about an hour to kill off any mites that might still be on it. When two boards with routed grooves are sandwiched together (and held with electrical tape) they form (mostly) round holes, shown below.

 2015-03-08 16.45.10
secured with electrical tape

 Holding the trays together with electrical tape makes it easier to remove them as a unit in the fall. Otherwise you'd be pulling the trays out of the box one by one, possibly crushing cocoons in the process.

 2015-03-08 16.47.26
paper tubes

 Here's the other box with a small bundle of DIY paper tubes. I didn't have as many left over from last year as I'd hoped, but if I have time I'll make more and add them. You make these by rolling paper around a pencil to get a tube roughly 5/16" in diameter. The back end can be closed off by a variety of methods - folding it over, stuffing it with wadded paper, glue, etc.

 2015-03-08 16.50.11
the mounted house

 An odd perspective of the mounted mason bee house. Those are the cocoons in their envelope leaning against the tubes. It's neither necessary nor desirable to place the cocoons into the tubes. They need to wake up in a certain order (males first) so it works well just to place the cocoons inside the shelter of the box. Now go forth and prosper, you native bees!


Whole beast butchery for hunters November 07, 2014 16:04

For last year I've been accumulating training, licenses, and equipment to begin hunting deer. Having never butchered a large animal before, I found it helpful to attend two workshops with EatWild, a really cool local company that specializes in hunter education for city slickers (my description, not theirs). I had a bunch of pictures from their Hunter Field Skills Workshop, a comprehensive 3 day course located at beautiful Singing Lands Ranch just north of Kamloops. In particular, I wanted to show some pictures from the "Shot to Table" exercise, wherein we skinned and butchered a lamb (a stand-in for the buck that wasn't in season). Sadly the memory card malfunctioned. The second course was right here in town - EatWild's Butchering Workshop held at Harkness & Co Butchers on Broadway near Fraser. DSC_1368

In the workshop we worked with two animals to learn about two totally different approaches to butchery. Patrick of Harkness walked us through the professional meat cutter's approach to breaking meat into retail cuts, and Dylan of EatWild worked with us on the hunter's technique.


Seen here, Patrick of Harkness shows how a professional butcher breaks the carcass first into large "prime cuts" and then into smaller portions. It's an orderly method that employs saws, mallets,  and cleavers to make nice neat cuts. It's an ideal way to break down a carcass if you have an orderly, well equipped facility and you aren't worried about getting the animal out of the woods and back to your truck. Everybody got a chance to practice their technique.


Here you see the advantage to the butcher's method - it's more involved, but you can get really deluxe cuts like the rack of lamb Patrick's working on here.


While the butcher uses just the right tools to prepare neat cuts, the hunter uses minimal tools and works with the anatomy to separate meat and bone. I was surprized to find a certain zen to it; the hunter's knife follows joints and muscle groups and takes the animal apart along its natural seams. Here, a participant fillets the muscles off the rib cage.


If you're carrying a harvested animal out of the field on your back, it's ideal to pack out only the parts of the animal you're planning to eat. That's one reason the hunter's approach emphasizes shaving as much meat as possible off the bones. Above, Dylan holds up the strip of meat we filleted off the rib cage.


The neck is loaded with great stew meat. Slicing the meat away from the cervical vertebrae requires some dexterity and a good sharp knife.  We used a narrow filleting knife like you would for fish. The hind and forelegs are visible in the right of the image. I lost the photographs, but these were removed with the same small-but-sharp knife by cutting all the way around each joint. Dylan had a good trick for removing the feet too, but the images were on the dead memory card.


The very best cuts are the tenderloins, located under the spine in the lower back. Here, a participant easily slices the whole muscle group from the carcass as a unit, rather than cutting across the bone to form medalions.


This shows a tenderloin removed as a unit, and a participant removing the sinewy fascia. Removing the muscle whole preserves the integrity of the cut, and requires only a small sharp knife. It can be frozen as a unit and cut into medalions before cooking.


Protect your hard work by packing the meat well for freezing! We used folded butcher paper here. Thanks again to Patrick and Dylan for their instruction!  For upcoming EatWild workshops, see the calendar here. Questions, comments, other thoughts?  let me know what you think!

Pickle Pics November 01, 2014 15:26

All pickles are not created equal!  Store-bought pickles are usually preserved in a vinegar brine and processed at high heat.  Traditional pickles are preserved by fermentation in a salt water brine, which inhibits the growth of unwanted molds and yeasts, while favoring the growth of lacto-bacilli.  If you're new to fermenting, our DIY Sauerkraut/Pickle Kit is a great place to start: it includes the equipment you need to get started as well as detailed instructions to walk you through the process.  Or, check out our on-line primer that will also walk you through the process, whether you're using our pickle kit or already have equipment you can use.  

 Pickling cukes with stem and blossom ends cut off.
Pickling cukes with stem and blossom ends cut off.


 If your cukes aren't just-picked, an ice water bath will perk them up.
Always use the freshest cucumbers possible.  If your cukes aren't just-picked, an ice water bath will perk them up.


Garlic, peppercorns and fresh dill go into the bottom of the crock. I'll add a handful of grape leaves, too, to keep the pickles crunchy.


 I mix the brine ahead of time because it's easier to dissolve salt in warm water, but you want to let it cool before pouring over your cukes.
I mix the brine ahead of time because it's easier to dissolve salt in warm water, but let it cool before pouring over the cukes.

Kombucha 101 October 30, 2014 14:21 2 Comments

Are you tired of paying $3.99 a bottle to get your kombucha fix?  Is the effervescent goodness of billions of beneficial bacteria really worth the cost?  Or, are you just paying for a plastic bottle and pretty label?

Brewing your own kombucha is super easy and can save you a lot of money... not to mention guilt over the disposable packaging.  Kombucha is loaded with beneficial microbes that help support gut health and these probiotic cultures are especially active in homemade kombucha because it isn't heat-treated and it doesn't sit around waiting for you to buy it.  When you make it yourself, you can have it fresh and just to your liking: use whatever tea you like best; control how tart it gets by limiting the amount of time it ferments; you can even throw in fresh fruits for flavor.  Every brew is a new possibility!

First, what is fermentation, besides being all the rage recently?  Fermentation is the metabolic process of micro-organisms that convert the sugars found in fresh foods into the acids that lend fermented food products their characteristic tanginess.  Far from simply letting food rot, it is actually a very controlled and safe process.  Many of mankind's oldest and most revered foods are actually the products of fermentation: yogurt, cheese, bread, and beer just to name a few.  Kombucha is purported to be at least 2000 years old, probably originating under conditions far less sanitary than today, although basic food safety protocol should be followed any time you're preparing foods for fermentation at home.  That means diligent hand-washing, washing all utensils thoroughly, and no double-dipping when you go to taste the products of your fermentation experiments!
A live SCOBY is thick and gelatinous. 
A live SCOBY is a thick and gelatinous thing.
The most important ingredient for making kombucha is the SCOBY--Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeasts--that's what turns ordinary sweetened tea into the fizzy, tart beverage we call kombucha.  Many people get their first SCOBY from a friend or aquaintance who is already making their own kombucha.  At Homesteader's Emporium, we're propagating and selling fresh, live baby SCOBY's!  Fresh is best, but if you're travelling far or, for whatever reason, not going to use your new SCOBY right away, you can get dried, dormant SCOBYs.
You may be able to start making your own kombucha using equipment that you already have in your kitchen.  You'll want a non-reactive (i.e. not metal, unless it's stainless steel) container in which to let the tea ferment and a cover for this container that is tightly woven to keep fruit flies out, but not airtight.  If you don't already have something that fits the bill, Homesteader's Emporium has you covered: we sell fresh SCOBYs with starter tea, a 1 gallon glass jar, elastic jar cover, and pH test strips (to monitor the acidity of your brew).  You'll also need tea bags (or loose leaf tea), granulated white sugar, a pot with a lid, a funnel, and a plastic or wooden spoon.  Most people brew in 1 gallon batches and most recipes are written for a batch of this size, but if you're using a 1/2 gallon (or 2l.) pitcher or jar, you can divide recipe ingredients in half (it's not necessary to divide the SCOBY in half unless you're doing two separate batches at once).
Getting started is as simple as making tea.  You can use almost any tea, as long as it's caffeinated and doesn't contain essential oils (as in Earl Grey).  Black tea is traditional and creates a bold, full-bodied kombucha.  Green tea can be used to make a refreshingly light kombucha.  Herbal teas may be used every once in a while or can be used for flavoring in combination with a few black or green tea bags.  But, bear in mind that the SCOBY micro-organisms have evolved in the presence of caffeine so making back-to-back batches of caffeine-free kombucha can lead to a deterioration of the SCOBY, as it won't get all the nutrients it needs.
A cotton steeping bag would've been handy to use with my loose leaf tea.  Instead, I'll have to strain it.
A cotton steeping bag would've been handy to use with my loose leaf tea. Instead, I'll have to strain it.
Make the tea in a large stockpot.  For a 1-gallon batch of kombucha, bring 3 1/2 qts. water to a boil.  Use 8 single-serving tea bags (or 2 tablespoons loose leaf tea).  While the tea is still hot, stir in 1 cup of granulated white sugar until it dissolves (don't worry--it won't contain all that sugar in the end).  Cover the pot and let the sweetened tea cool down to room temperature.  If you make the tea in the evening, it will cool overnight and be ready to use the next morning.  If you want to cool it faster, place the pot of tea in a large bowl of ice water and stir until it cools.
Testing pH before fermentation.
Testing pH before fermentation.
When the tea is cool, pour it into the 1-gallon glass jar.  Top up the jar with the starter kombucha that came with your SCOBY.  The starter has already undergone fermentation and is, therefore, quite acidic.  Adding it to the new batch of tea will acidify the tea, creating an environment that is inhospitable to foreign contaminants.  If you have pH test strips, it's a good idea to test the tea before it ferments.  With the addition of the starter tea, the pH should be around 4.6 or lower.  If it's not, add the juice of 1/2 a lemon and test again.  In the future, before you start a new batch, remember to save 2 cups from your last batch to use as starter tea. With the new batch of tea sufficiently acidic, it's time to add your SCOBY.  Gently slide it into the jar of prepared tea; whether it floats or settles on its side doesn't really matter.  As the tea ferments into kombucha, a new SCOBY layer will form on the surface of the tea, assuming the shape of whatever vessel it's in.  Here, I've covered the jar with a double layer of cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band.  This will allow the SCOBY to breathe, but will keep out fruit flies.
Cover the jar of tea with a tightly-woven, but not airtight, jar cover or cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band.  Label the jar with the production date or mark it on your calendar and let it sit at room temperature for about a week.  It really can be considered done from 5 to 14 days after production, by which time the pH of the kombucha will decrease to around 3.0.  You can test it again with a pH test strip to monitor the process, but the real benefit of making your own kombucha is the freedom to decide when it's done based on personal taste.
During the fermentation period, the SCOBY micro-organisms consume the added sugar and produce lactic and acetic acids, causing the kombucha to become increasingly sour.  If you like it rather mild, you may taste it after 5 or 7 days and decide it's perfect; if you like a really sour punch in the mouth, let it ferment for 10 to 14 days.  Any longer than that and it may get so sour it tastes like vinegar--but maybe that's how you like it!  Don't worry if this happens and you can't drink it, the SCOBY will be fine; just toss most of it, reserving some to use as starter tea for a new batch.  Your kombucha is done when you say it's done.  At that point, move it to the refrigerator and enjoy!
Or, you may want to experiment with carbonating your homemade kombucha.  I, for one, prefer my green tea kombucha to be lightly effervescent: served over ice, it makes a refreshing summer bevvie.  Carbonation is simply carbon dioxide dissolved into a liquid under pressure, which escapes in the form of bubbles when pressure is released.  Carbon dioxide is created throughout the fermenation process, as a by-product of the metabolic activity of microbes consuming sugars.  So far in making your kombucha, it's fermented in a container with a breathable cover, so the CO2 has been able to escape.  When the flavor is to your liking, you can drink it--it'll be flat--or you can transfer it to airtight bottles that will trap CO2 as it continues to be created.
Swing-top bottles (like the ones Grolsch beer comes in) are ideal for this because they're airtight and reusable without requiring bottle-capping equipment.  You can find used ones in recycling bins around the city; if that grosses you out, Homesteader's Emporium sells new swing-top bottles in various sizes.  Alternatively, you can use plastic soda bottles; it's easy to tell when pressure builds inside of these because they'll feel hard when you try to squeeze them, but they're also more prone to bursting under pressure if you don't move them to refrigeration promptly after they get hard.  Whatever bottles you use, fill them with kombucha, using a funnel, but leave a headspace of about 5 cm.  Remember to reserve some starter tea for your next batch!  Close the bottles and leave them at room temperature for another 2-3 days, during which time the pressure will build inside the bottle and force CO2 to be dissolved into the kombucha.  After this secondary stage of fermentation, transfer the bottles to the refrigerator and enjoy!
Swing-top bottles for carbonating your kombucha.
Swing-top bottles are perfect for carbonating your kombucha.
At whatever point you decide to put your bottles into the refrigerator--carbonated or not--the fermentation process will slow waaaaay down and the flavor will not change noticeably in the time it takes you to drink it.  That being said, fermentation does continue, albeit very slowly, at low temperatures and many people believe that the additional flavor components created during a months-long, low-temperature fermentation are subtle, but more complex than those created in a faster, warmer ferment.  In my experience, this is entirely true.  I once discovered a bottle of homemade kombucha hiding in the back of my refrigerator that must have been there for six months or more.  I opened it with trepidation, believing that possibly it had gone bad and would be undrinkable; imagine my surprise when it turned out to be the best kombucha I've ever had!  Alas, I have not repeated that particular success because I don't have the patience to put my kombuchas away and forget about them for months at a time.  If you have the space and the patience, go for it!
If you were hoping for a sure-fire recipe for the perfect kombucha, to follow to the letter, I hope you won't be deterred by my loose recommendations on timing.  (Our easy-to-follow, beginner-friendly primer on brewing kombucha can be found here.)  Aside from personal preference, environmental factors like heat and humidity play a role in the development of fermented products and these things are hard to control outside of a factory.  Don't expect your first batch to taste just like a $4 bottle of GT's and don't expect your brews to be consistent, at least not in the beginning.  Even when you follow the same recipe, your kombucha may be a little different from one batch to the next and that's okay.  Don't be afraid to experiment and don't be afraid to fail--only through experimentation will you truly begin to understand and appreciate the depth and breadth of fermented goodness. 

New Series: Second Sunday Show and Tell October 06, 2014 10:59

Hey Homesteaders!  

Whether you're a seasoned back-to-the-lander or just got your first community garden plot, we know you're doing interesting things and we want to hear about it.  We're starting a new monthly series called Second Sunday Show and Tell so you can come share with us and your fellow urban homesteaders samples or pictures of your cool projects.  As the name implies, Show and Tell will take place on the 2nd Sunday of each month.  We're envisioning an informal gathering of local DIYers, homesteaders, and urban farmers. Actually, this series was created in response to the many people who have come through the store and expressed an interest in teaching workshops.  Many people in the homesteading community want to share what they've learned through workshops, but they don't know where to start.  Maybe you've thought before about teaching workshops, but you don't have access to a classroom space or an audience... then consider signing up for a presentation time slot to get your feet wet! Each month we want to pre-book two or three urban homesteaders to speak for 15-30 minutes.  Topics could be loosely tied into the theme of the month (as in, October is "Fermentation Month"), but don't have to be; you could present a slide show, bring in samples of something you've made, or show people how to do a craft... whatever inspires you!  These presentations will be followed by an "open-mic" opportunity for community members to briefly share a pet project.  Whether you built a straw-bale house in the 70's or you just canned your first batch of jam, you're sure to inspire someone with your story.  Of course, you don't have to share if you're shy; you may just want to sit back with a cup of fresh home-roasted coffee and listen.  As an incentive to share, speakers' names will be entered in a draw for a Homesteader's Emporium gift certificate! The inaugural Second Sunday Show and Tell takes place this Sunday, October 12th.  Come meet others in this amazing community and be inspired! Give us a call at 604 568-7675 or email for more information or to sign up to speak.

Dyeing Irresponsibly August 24, 2014 14:32

When I was six, my kindergarten teacher announced that we were going to learn how to tie-dye. Being six, I'd never heard of it, but it soon became my favourite thing in the universe. We spent one glorious day wrapping elastic bands around our white cotton tee-shirts and dunking them in cups of food colouring, and I was hooked. I talked about it for months, wore the tee-shirt til it developed holes, begged my mom to patch it, and continued to wear it until it was see-through, faded beyond belief, and so small I couldn't get into it. I then dressed my favourite stuffed animal in it and he still wears it to this day.

So, with all of that enthusiasm and love for dyeing, it's a wonder that it's taken me this long to return to it. I suppose I found it intimidating and overwhelming, what with all the articles and books and podcasts lecturing about mordants, fibre types, water qualities, and ethical plant harvesting. Every time I'd start to read up on it, I'd learn something else that I'd been about to do wrong, and I'd quietly set aside my plans for plant-dyed scarves and yarn, thinking that I'd only make horrible mistakes and ruin all my fibre, spill dye stuff everywhere, and inadvertently wind up dyeing the cat purple. Finally, this summer I said “to heck with it”.

I'm doing it. I don't care how it turns out! The perfect opportunity presented itself on a family vacation to the beach, where I'd have plenty of outdoor work space (no mess!), and a team of assorted relatives I could dragoon into helping. Perfect! I chose black beans and turmeric as my inaugural dyes, partly for ease of transport, and partly for the disparity in colour the two of them would create. I had purchased a stack of both silk and cotton scarves, and family members had brought their own cotton tee-shirts, so I thought this might also give us some variety in results. Lastly, I decided to use seawater as a mordant. I'd read multiple articles saying that it would work, though not as effectively as metallic ion mordants. I didn't mind this as the ease of obtaining it (we were at the beach), the safety of working with it (some of my conscripted team members were ten years old), and the novelty of being able to dye fabric with common, every-day materials were all more important to me. The fabrics were all boiled and then soaked in seawater the night before, and then hung out to dry. I also set the black beans to soak overnight, well away from any light and heat. I stirred them a few times, and then in the morning I ladled the murky bean-water off the top and placed it in a stainless steel pot, ready for dyeing.


We had a perfect day for our dye adventure – cloudy and grey, but warm enough to work outside. I prepped the turmeric by boiling it with water, and then set out all the supplies I'd brought. Soy wax for batik patterns (a beeswax & sticky wax mixture is traditional, but soy wax is easier to get out of fabric!), a tjanting for drawing with the wax, copper stamps (tjaps) for stamping the wax, string for shibori tying, and stencils for wax application. I guess you could say I like options.


The kids quickly announced that my chosen colour palette was critically deficient in pink, and a pot-full of beets was offered up as a remedy to this. I couldn't remember beets being used in dyeing, but in keeping with my “to heck with it” mantra for this project, out came the beets!


To say that people had fun would be an understatement. Wax was flying everywhere, lengths of string were being wrapped around anything that would stay still, and fabric was flying in and out of dye pots faster than I could keep track.

We quickly discovered that the beans would take the longest to impart any colour, and after an hour with no discernible change in those fabrics I decided to up the ante and threw an old rusted bolt and some vinegar into the pot, hoping to put some oomph into the mordant and dye at the same time. The turmeric was a far better dye for all of us impatient sorts, as it produced a gorgeous, rich, yellow colour with only a few minutes of immersion.

The beets were starting to look like a poor idea as fabric after fabric came out of the pot with only an anemic peach colour, but some enterprising team-members decided to apply the beets directly to their work, in hopes that it would set better.


After several hours of waxing, tying, and dyeing frenzy, the fabrics were left to finish their process. Turmeric and beet dyed ones were hung to dry in the shade, and the beans (still sluggish) were placed in a dark corner to work their magic overnight.

n the morning, all the fabrics were pulled out and trundled down to the ocean to rinse.

I was going with the theory that salt water is supposed to set dyes, and a post-dye mordanting shouldn't hurt either. What I didn't count on was the difference in pH between the dye baths and the ocean!

All of our turmeric-dyed cotton darkened to a beautiful, deep orange, though the silk dyed the same way became a bright, lemony colour. The lavender purple of the black beans muted into a lovely dove grey colour, on both cotton and silk, and places where the two had mixed became an interesting grey-green. Sadly, the beets just washed right out, leaving my poor helpers without their beloved pink.

Tie-Dye Fun!
I had figured that at this point we would simply dry our work and be done with it, but it turned out there was so much more to experiment with! People were dipping scarves and shirts in vinegar water (turmeric and cotton became yellow again, beans became more purple), re-dyeing where beets had failed, rinsing with hose-water to see what colours would appear, and mixing patterns and colours until I couldn't keep track anymore of what produced what.

image (5)
Then, finally it was all laid out to dry. In the sun. Oops. So, our final experiment of the day was the power of solar energy on dyes, which informed us that turmeric is NOT light-fast, but beans are actually kind of ok. Next time, I think I would forgo the seawater in favour of a more traditional mordant (like alum) in order to get slightly more consistent and stable results, and I'd likely stick to doing just one dye at a time, so I could keep better track of results. I've since learned that turmeric is never going to produce a lightfast dye, no matter what precautions are taken, and while the black beans seemed to do ok in the sunlight, many other people report them fading over time without the use of metal ion mordants. Still, in the end, I didn't utterly fail. Everyone went home with a one-of-a-kind article of clothing, full of memories of fun, experimentation, and family. We learned a lot about what to do next time, and what not to do, and more than anything we learned that sometimes, “To heck with it” is a great way to start a project!

striped shirt