Homestead Junction

Sauerkraut - a Comprehensive Guide October 04, 2016 17:41

Sauerkraut: a Comprehensive Guide

 

The practice of fermenting cabbage to create sauerkraut has been recorded in history as far back as Roman times.  More specifically, sauerkraut is a product of lacto-fermentation (so-called because the microorganisms involved create lactic acid, not because of any association with dairy products).  These days, most commercial sauerkraut gets its tangy flavor from vinegar and is heat-treated for shelf-stability, whereas lacto-fermented sauerkraut is a live cultured food, teeming with beneficial bacteria that not only enhance flavor, but aid digestion as well.

The Basics 

Cabbage is shredded and submerged in a salty brine for several days to several weeks, depending on how sour you want your sauerkraut.  

Quick Reference

 Batch Size Cabbage Salt

1 qt.

2-3 lbs. 1 tbsp.
1 gal. 8-10 lbs. 1/4 cup
5 gal. 40-50 lbs.

1 cup

 

Materials

  • fermentation vessel of desired size (glass, food-grade plastic, or non-leaded ceramic)
  • green or red cabbage (one medium-sized cabbage, approx. 2 lbs., yields about 1 qt. sauerkraut)
  • non-iodized salt
  • kitchen knife or grater/slaw board
  • large bowl
  • tamper (optional)
  • weight
  • (optional) reCap mason jar lid and airlock with rubber stopper

Make your own delicious sauerkraut!

Instructions

  1. Wash all utensils thoroughly with warm water and vinegar.
  2. Shred cabbage using a grater or slaw board.  Or, for coarser-textured kraut, cut cabbage in fourths, remove core pieces, and slice across grain.
  3. In large bowl, combine cabbage, salt and desired seasonings and let stand for 20 minutes.
  4. Massage cabbage for about 5 minutes.  Brine is created as salt pulls water out of the cabbage.
  5. Pack cabbage mixture into jar or crock and tamp down so that brine rises about 1" above cabbage.  Leave 1-2" of headspace at top of jar to avoid overflow (carbon dioxide production will push cabbage and brine up).
  6. Place weight on top of cabbage to prevent it from floating to the surface and being exposed to air.
  7. Cover fermentation vessel.  Airtight is best for keeping dust, molds, and stray yeasts out, but as long as the cabbage stays well below the surface of the brine it shouldn't be affected by any air-borne contaminant.  Traditional crocks use a water-filled rim and notched lid combo to allow fermentation gas to escape while remaining airtight to the outside.  We use a reCap lid with an airlock and rubber stopper to achieve the same results.  
  8. Let stand in a cool, dark place (around 68°F or 20°C) for 2-4 weeks.  As fermentation proceeds, the flavor of your sauerkraut will get increasingly more tangy and complex.  After 2 weeks, taste your sauerkraut to see if it's to your liking.  Don't double dip and don't open it too often.  Every time you do, you're creating an opportunity for outside bacteria or molds to get in, which can lead to contamination.
  9. When you think it's done, move it to the refrigerator for long-term storage.  Fermentation will slow way down, but will not kill the beneficial microbes you've cultivated.  Enjoy!

Frequently Asked Questions

How does fermentation work to preserve food and keep it safe?

Simply put, beneficial bacteria break down the starches in fresh food and create lactic acid, which lowers the pH so that spoilage bacteria cannot survive.  In reality, the process involves successive waves of different strains of bacteria, each producing the conditions for its successor.  The first bacterial strains do not have to be added to the mix; they arrive in the folds of the cabbage leaves because they come from the environment outside.  But, adding the culture-rich brine from a completed batch can get a fresh batch off to a quicker start.

Can I make sauerkraut without using salt?

The purpose of salt in making sauerkraut is to keep the cabbage from getting too soft and to create an initial environment that favors the growth of certain strains of beneficial bacteria (including lactobacillus, the bacteria responsible for turning milk into yogurt) while preventing unwanted bacteria that lead to rot.  Preferable to a no-salt sauerkraut would be a low-salt sauerkraut, although its shelf life won't be as long as that of a fully-salted sauerkraut.  Low-salt sauerkraut can be made with as little as 1 tsp. salt for a 1-qt. batch.   For a truly salt-free sauerkraut, fermentation guru Sandor Katz describes three methods in his book Wild Fermentation: 1) pour 1 cup of wine over tightly packed cabbage so that it rises like a brine, 2) use 1 tablespoon each ground caraway, celery, and dill seeds mixed in with cabbage, or 3) soak 1 ounce  dried seaweed in hot water, chop and add it to grated cabbage, and use the water it was soaked in as a brine.

What if there's not enough brine to cover my cabbage?

The fresher your cabbage is, the more moisture it holds and the easier it will be to work a brine out of it.  If you don't have enough brine to cover the cabbage by at least 1 inch, you can make more by dissolving 1 tablespoon salt (15 milliliters) in 1 cup water (250 milliliters).  It is important for the brine to completely cover the cabbage because fermentation is an anaerobic process, meaning it takes place in the absence of oxygen.  Cabbage that floats to the surface can come in contact with contaminating organisms.

What can I use to keep the cabbage from floating if I don't have fermentation weights?

Fermentation weights are just ceramic disks (some are divided into half-circles or two interlocking pieces, which is convenient if you need to insert them into a container whose opening is smaller than its cavity is wide).  However, if you use a crock or other container with straight sides, you should be able to find a small plate or saucer that fits reasonably well inside.  You can place additional weight on the saucer by topping it with a rock (sterilized in boiling water) or a plastic bag or jar filled with water.  If you're using a wide-mouth quart jar, a small (125 or 250 ml) jelly jar will fit inside.  To keep the cabbage from floating up around the bottom of the inner jar, cut a disc of plastic out of the top of a large yogurt container to fit the inside bigger jar and place it over the cabbage.  A drawback of these kind of improvised set-ups is that you may have a jar or other weight sticking out of the top of your fermentation container, so you won't be able to put a lid on it.  In that case, cover it with cheesecloth to keep out dust and flies and use a rubber band to keep the cloth in place.

What if I see mold or white scum on the surface of my sauerkraut?

If you monitor your sauerkraut every day, you should be able to catch something like this at an early stage.  White "scum" is a residue of yeast formation.  It is completely normal (like the lees in unfiltered beer), though unappealing so you can simply skim it off whenever you see it.  The same goes for mold, if it's an isolated spot that's easily removed.  Molds form just on the surface where they have access to air, so if your cabbage is well below the surface of the brine, it may not be affected at all.  If any part of the cabbage does appear affected or discolored, you can try salvaging the sauerkraut by scooping out the affected portion and pushing the remainder back down below the brine and weighting it down.  If the contamination returns or if the sauerkraut smells "off," discard it.  Fermented foods should smell tangy and sour, but pleasingly so.  Rotten or putrid smells indicate that something has gone wrong and the sauerkraut should not be eaten. 

Additional Resources

Katz, Sandor Ellix.  Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live Culture Foods.  2003.  (order here)   Our go-to reference for all things fermentable.  Beginner-level info that is easy to follow and plentiful recipes that are easy to execute with success.

http://www.wildfermentation.com/  Regularly updated with new and interesting ferments to try at home, as well as Sandor's workshop tour schedule.

http://www.culturesforhealth.com/cultured-vegetable-fruit-condiment-recipes.  A wide range of recipes for all sorts of cultured foods for when you're ready to go beyond sauerkraut.

Katz, Sandor Ellix. The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes From Around the World.  2012.  (order here)   Lots more information than Katz's first book about the history and cultural practice of fermentation around the globe.  Recipes are more advanced and more unusual.


Country Wine - A Comprehensive Guide September 01, 2016 13:43

Country Wine: a Comprehensive Guide

 

When you hear the word 'wine,' what do you think of?  Something fancy, expensive? Something imported from France, or California?  And it's definitely made from grapes, right?  How limited is our concept of wine!  In fact, wine is so much more than all that: wine is whatever you make it.  Making your own wine is easy, inexpensive, and a great way to preserve summer's abundance in whatever form you have it.  'Country wine' is the term for a wine made with any fruit other than grapes.  Berries are particularly well-suited for wine-making due to their vibrant colors and inherent sweetness, but great wine can be made with any fruit, vegetable, flower, or combination of the three.

The Basics 

Country wine is made by fermenting sweetened fruit juice.  After steeping fruit or berries in water to release their flavors, yeast is added, which converts sugar to acids, alcohol, and carbon dioxide.  Sugar is usually added to feed the yeasts because fruits and berries don't contain as much natural sugar as grapes. 

 

 Batch Size Fruit Sugar
1/2 gal. 2 lbs. 0.75 - 1 lb.
1 gal. 4 lbs. 1.5 - 2 lbs.
3 gal. 12 lbs. 4.5 - 6 lbs.
5 gal. 20 lbs. 7.5 - 10

 

Home-Brewed Country Wine!

Materials and Ingredients

  • Pot or food-grade plastic bucket (or 2) with lid 
  • potato masher
  • Pot to boil water 
  • 1 packet wine yeast (available at homebrew supply stores) 
  • Sugar
  • Mesh steeping bag or cheesecloth-lined strainer
  • Siphon Hose (flexible plastic tubing)
  • Carboy or glass jug that will take a rubber stopper
  • rubber stopper and airlock
  • (option for 1/2 gal batch: 1/2 gal mason jar with reCap lid)
  1. Remove stem and hulls from fruit.  Wash fruit by rinsing small batches in cool water and pouring off debris with excess water.  If you're using soft fruits like peaches, plums, or berries and you have a mesh steeping bag, place fruit inside it and place bag in pot or bucket.  Mash fruit with a potato masher.  Pour enough boiling water over the fruit just to cover it.  
  2. If using hard fruits or vegetables like apples or carrots, it is best to boil them in the water until they soften up.  Then, place in mesh bag and mash. 
  3. Cover bucket with lid and let cool to room temperature.
  4. When fruit/water mixture is cool, remove 1 cup water from bucket and sprinkle yeast over it.  Let it sit out until it gets foamy, indicating that the yeast is active.  (A single packet of commercial yeast can be used for 1 to 5 gallon batches.  For 1/2 gallon batch, half a packet will suffice.)
  5. Pour yeasty water back into bucket with fruit and stir well to distribute yeast evenly throughout.  Set aside for 2-3 days, stirring occasionally to oxygenate.  (Note, no sugar has been added yet; the yeast should have a chance to feast on the natural fruit sugars before table sugar is added, as described in Sandor Katz's book Wild Fermentation.)
  6. Combine sugar and an equal amount of water in a pot; heat and stir until sugar dissolves into a syrup.  
  7. Let syrup cool to room temperature.  Pour cooled syrup into the fruit/water mixture and stir until completely mixed.  
  8. Re-cover with lid (loosely) and leave to ferment at room temperature for 3 to 5 days.
  9. If fruit is in a mesh steeping bag, remove it and squeeze excess fruit juice out.  If not, strain fruit solids out of wine by pouring wine mixture into second bucket through strainer lined with cheesecloth or muslin.  Siphon wine into carboy or jug.  At this point, the amount of wine isn't equal to a full batch.  
  10. If you used the steeping bag and already squeezed remaining fruit juice out, then just top up the carboy or jug with room-temperature water.  If didn't and you now have a strainer full of fruit, then 'sparge' remaining fruit flavor by estimating the amount of water needed to fill the carboy of jug and pour this additional water through the fruit-filled strainer.  Siphon the resulting liquid into the carboy or jug until full to the neck. 
  11. Place rubber stopper and airlock into opening of carboy (or jug) and fill airlock with water.
  12. Place carboy in a cool, dark place and leave to ferment for 6 months or more.  Fermentation will gradually slow down, but it may be vigorous enough in the beginning to bubble up and leak around the airlock.  To prevent a mess, place a tray under the carboy to collect any overflow.  If it does happen, simply remove the airlock, clean it and the opening of the carboy with a clean cloth, and fill and replace the airlock.
  13. Bottle your wine!  You can recycle commercial wine bottles if you have access to a corker (there are hand-held and larger floor models).  Swing-top bottles are a also an option, albeit a non-traditional one.

Fermentation Supplies

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I determine how much sugar to use?

The first consideration is the type of fruit you plan to use: how sweet or tart is it?  Naturally-occurring fruit sugar (fructose) is fermentable and contributes to the production of alcohol, as does the added sugar.  The amount of sugar added (plus the fruit sugar) will, therefore, determine how alcoholic your wine is... to a point.  

The other thing to consider is whether you want a sweet or dry wine. As the level of alcohol increases, the environment becomes inhospitable to the very yeasts that create the alcohol and they start to die off.  Any unfermented sugar that remains simply makes your wine taste sweet.  Using only as much sugar as will ferment before the yeasts die off results in a 'dry' wine, which has no remaining sweetness.  To ensure a balance of sweet and tart flavors in the end product, some people will "back-sweeten" their wine, meaning they add some sugar back after it's done fermenting.

Can I make wine with honey instead of sugar?

Absolutely!  Any fermentable sugar--honey, sorghum, rice syrup, maple syrup, molasses--can be used to make wine.  However, alternative sweeteners such as these have unique and quite strong flavor profiles and will impart their own character to the wine, potentially overwhelming the fruit flavor you're really after.  Besides being neutral in flavor, plain sugar has the added benefit of being cheaper than the others by far.

If I don't have a siphon hose, can I just pour the wine from the bucket into the carboy or jug using a funnel?

You could do that, but the agitation of pouring would expose the wine to a lot of oxygen.  Oxidation causes fruits to turn brown and the wine to age prematurely.  Siphoning is the best way to move a volume of liquid without disturbing its surface.  A brewer's siphon hose also usually has a tip on it that filters solids so the wine can be as clear as possible.  

Some people use campden tablets (sodium or potassium metabisulfite) to prevent oxidation, as well as to kill stray bacteria and fungi that can cause off-flavors to develop in home-made wines.  

 

 


How to Make Tempeh at Home August 10, 2016 14:30

How to Make Tempeh at Home

Traditionally made from soybeans, tempeh originated in Indonesia and is used in many dishes to replace meat such as burgers, stirfrys, or on it’s own. The fermentation process of the soybeans give tempeh a higher protein content and more dietary fibre and has a subtle mushroom-y flavour. Yum!

Ingredients for Making Delicious Homemade Tempeh

 

Tempeh can be made from soybeans, chickpeas or other legumes if you feel like experimenting. Some people don’t like to use soybeans for various reasons and other beans give different flavours and textures. For example, chickpeas are slightly firmer and drier, whereas green peas make a very soft, almost mushy tempeh.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 ½ cups dry legumes (chickpeas)
  • 1-2 tbsp vinegar (apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 packet of tempeh starter
  • Glass baking dish/plastic container
  • Perforated aluminum foil or plastic bag
  • Cube shaped dehydrator or low temp oven
Soaking Chickpeas for Delicious Homemade Tempeh
  1. Prepare beans by soaking them overnight or cooking on low in a crockpot for 6 hours.
  2. If the beans were just soaked overnight, boil the beans for 1 hour to cook.
  3. Lightly crush the beans and place in a bowl with water to scoop out as many of the hulls as you can. Don’t worry about this too much or else you’ll be spending 2 hours manually hulling chickpeas like I did the first time I made this.

Hulling Chickpeas for Delicious Homemade Tempeh

  1. Strain the bean chunks and let cool until about skin temperature and mostly dry.
  2. Thoroughly mix in vinegar and tempeh starter.
  3. Spoon into containers so there is a 1 - 1 ½ inch layer of beans and cover with perforated aluminum or plastic bag (it’s important to have holes in the cover so there isn’t too much moisture in the container).
  4. Take out all the trays in your dehydrator and put the containers on the bottom.
  5. Set to 88°F and let it run for 24 hours.

Incubating Tempeh in the Dehydrator!

  1. Check after 12 hours since the fermentation can cause enough heat that the tempeh can be incubated without a heat source (I left mine on top of the running dehydrator for another 12 hours).
  2. Once there is a dense coat of white mycelium you know your tempeh is fully incubated and ready to eat raw or cooked!
Mycelium Growing on Homemade Tempeh!

Storing Tempeh:

  • In airtight containers, fresh tempeh can be stored in the fridge for 1 week
  • If you steam the tempeh for 20 minutes and store in an airtight container it can keep in the freezer for 3 months

Amazing, Beautiful Tempeh


Make Your Own Strawberry Jam June 07, 2016 11:40

Make your own delicious, nutritious, strawberry jam! It's easy and fun.

Strawberry season is my favorite season. Not only because the fruits are available during summer time but also because I just love the berries so much. Well, technically strawberries aren’t even berries but aggregate accessory fruit. At least that’s how I remember it from my botany class a long time ago.


I harvested some of this red gold last weekend and made sure to eat as much as I could freshly. But sadly strawberries don’t keep fresh very long and I had to chop up and freeze a bunch.

Today I decided to make some jam, too cause enjoying that delicious flavour with your breakfast bagel gets you off to a great start into any crappy day.


For this recipe you’ll need:

  • 5 cups crushed strawberries
  • 1 packet of Bernardin original pectin
  • 7 cups sugar*
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ½ tablespoon butter or margarine unsalted
  • 4-5 jars


Start with washing your strawberries

Local BC strawberries make a great homemade Strawberry Jam

Next hull your strawberries and cut them to speed thing up.

Hull your strawberries and cut them up to speed up the jam making process


Put a big pot on your stove and place the jars and lids in them. Bring the water to a boil and let it boil for at least 10 minutes. You can also sterilize your jars in a stove or using a pressure canner which you can rent
here.

Sterilize your jars before packing in the jam

In the meantime, start crushing your strawberries. If you have a potato masher use it. If you have an understocked kitchen like I do: use a fork.

Strawberries to Homemade Strawberry Jam

Put the mashed berries in a pot and add the butter, lemon juice and pectin.

Strawberry mash, butter, lemon & pectin are all you need to make a good strawberry jam

For this recipe I worked with Bernardin pectin. You can also use Pomona’s pectin but I would not recommend only using regular sugar as your jam will stay very runny.

Bernardin Pectin makes a great homemade strawberry jam

Bring the ingredients to a boil and don’t forget to stir. Then add the sugar and bring everything to a boil again. Keep everything at a hard boil for a minute while stirring. Remove from heat and remove foam if necessary.

 

Strawberry jam: stir ingredients while bringing them to a boil

 Fill the jam into your jars and leave a little room (headspace) approx. 0.5cm on top.Close your jars and turn them upside down for a few minutes. This is my granny's trick to make sure they seal. It saves you a last step of having to boil them again.

Granny's trick: Turn hot jam jars upside down to seal better

If you are using a water canner, make sure that the (closed) jars are covered by at least 2.5cm of water. Then cover the canner and bring to a full boil. Boil the jam jars for 10 minutes. Then remove the lid and wait 5 minutes. Remove the jars and let them cool for 24 hours without tightening the lids. Store in a cool dark place.


Then enjoy!

Homemade Strawberry Jam on Crackers

*Note: I usually use less sugar than recommended i.e. by Bernardin. If you make adaptions to the recipe and use less sugar, make sure to consume the jam relatively quickly as its shelf life is reduced. Making adaptations or cooking multiple batches at a time may also influence the consistency and taste of your end product.

 

By Reni Dieggelmann


Flies are Pollinators Too! May 11, 2016 12:30

Hoverfly

Last weekend I attended the EYA's Citizen Scientist program to learn how to better observe and count pollinators in the city. While there was of course a lot of focus on bees, including sweat/mining bees, bumble bees, hairy-belly bees which include the popular blue orchard mason bee, and of course honey bees, we also talked a bit about flies and wasps as pollinators.

While hanging out at Oak Meadows Park, an old illegal dump site turned golf course later purchased and donated to be a city park, we walked along patches of wild flowers and watched different pollinators interact with the flowers. I saw the heavy set bumble bees sit on lupin to open their flowers and get to their bright orange pollen. I witnessed a ton of sweat/mining bees swim around in nootka rose pollen. Apparently sweat/mining bees are not a common sight in the Vancouver, Coast Salish area, so it was pretty special to see so many of them.

Sweat/mining beeSweat/Mining Bee filling their cargo legs full of nootka rose pollen

All around the park's flowers were tiny hoverflies also known as syrphid flies. Since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by these flies as they move around super quickly and then hold themselves stealthily stopped in the air like a hummingbird. I was happy to learn they are also pollinators, feeding off the pollen and nectar of flowers with their incredibly long tongues. In larvae form, some of these species eat aphids and decompose dead matter, making them decomposers, garden allies and one of my new favorite bugs.

Sharing space with the sweat/mining bees and hoverflies, I was also surprised to see thin black beetles also getting in on the pollen feeding frenzy. With a little home research, I feel confident to describe those little buddies as pollen beetles. Though they help with pollination and don't harm the flowers at all, a lot of humans find pollen beetles to be a nuisance because they are attracted to the pollen of pretty flowers people like to cut and bring into their homes for decoration - not a good enough reason to spray insecticides which will undoubtedly also affect other efficient pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Speaking of insecticides, during our Sunday class, author and bee lover Lori Weidenhammer popped in briefly to talk about  her work with bees. With the minimal time she shared with us, she felt it was important to talk about a growing problem in Vancouver, the Canadian-approved insecticide called neonicotinoid, which many Vancouverites are applying to their lawns to fight off chafer beetles. Of course, this insecticide does not only affect chafer larvae but also has horrible effects on other insects and is especially toxic to bees. This pretty scary considering some landscapers will spray hundreds of lawns with neonicotinoid a year. It is a cheaper option than nematodes and is marketed as more effective. I hope there will be more awareness about the uses of toxic chemicals as pesticides and how they affect the ecological balance of the nature we depend on. Perhaps a better option to neonic and even nematodes is to seed deep rooted plants which chafer larvae can't feed off. Less lawns, more gardens?

As I continue to learn, I am understanding more and more that bee and pollinator populations are largely reflected by the environments we humans create, whether those environments be toxic or growing abundantly with food. The best things we can do is inform ourselves with the different needs and abilities of local pollinators, and try our best to create environments they can thrive in. Subsequently, I imagine we will create environments we can better thrive in too.

 

by Kelsey Cham Corbett
May 11, 2016


The Two Pinoideae of Southern Coastal BC - How to Identify! May 03, 2016 14:33

As a preface, I would like to highlight the majesty of Coastal British Columbia’s natural environment by introducing you to Aplodontia rufa, the mountain beaver.

 (source)

Looook at it. Such a cutie-puhtootie.

Ahem. Today, I’ll be talking about trees. The Pinoideae sub-family, to be exact, within the larger Pinaceae family. To be exacter still, I'm focusing on the two main Pinus species in Coastal BC. They are both beautiful and deserve love.

Without further ado.

Pinus contorta subsp. contorta – shore pine

(source)

One of four subspecies of Pinus contorta, these glorious beasts of trees can be found close to the ocean in craggy, low nutrient conditions. Their growth can often seem eccentric, windswept. Pinus contorta var. latifolia, a close relative, is found in less immediately coastal environments, distinguished by its taller and straighter appearance as well as a more red-coloured bark.

Identification

  • Needles in pairs
  • Eccentric growth pattern
  • Pollen cones in clusters, reddish, at tips of branches (spring only)
  • Egg-shaped seed cones with pointy tips

(source) (source)

 Pinus monticola – western white pine

(source)

The above picture well describes Pinus monticola’s overall mature form – tall, thin, and symmetrical. You’ll find these marvelous creatures in a range of conditions, from sea-level to sub-alpine, from damp ravines and valleys to dry, exposed slopes. When young, the bark is smooth and studded with resin blisters. A fungus by the name of “white pine blister rust” has been killing off these trees in scores, to the point where they exist in only a fraction of the abundance of a century ago, when the fungus was first introduced.

Identification

  • Scaly dark grey bark, light-brown-coloured underneath
  • Needles in bunches of five, light blue-green
  • Yellow pollen cones, small (up to 1 cm long) in clusters at tips of branches
  • Seed cones cylindrical, no spiky bits, 10-25 cm long

(source) (source)

 

I hope this post has left you feeling bright and sparky! Now get out there and appreciate ye some pine trees.


Home Grown Green Tea April 26, 2016 09:43 1 Comment

Make your own green tea from scratch! It's the perfect pick-me-up on a chilly morning.

Tea is great. It's the perfect cozy drink on cold rainy mornings, the perfect pick me up in the morning or in an afternoon slump, and cold and refreshing on hot summer days.

What a lot of people don't know is that black, green, white, yellow, and oolong tea are all from the same plant - Camellia sinensis

Green Tea Tree

All the varieties can be made from the same plant depending on the age of the leaves, if they're wilted, oxidized, bruised, crushed, or fermented. 

A basic run down on tea varieties:
Black - top 2 or 3 leaves and a bud, wither in a cool, dry area for up to 20 hours, rolled, dried in a single layer at room temp.
Green - top 2 or 3 leaves and a bud, lightly steamed, rolled, and dried/roasted
White - very young leaf buds (no mature leaves), withered in the sun for 3-4 hours, and oven dried

Since green tea takes the least amount of time and is the least picky about when the leaves are picked, I decided to try that. 

Green Tea Leaves

First, you'll want to pick fresh leaves. You'll want to pick the youngest two leaves with a third leaf bud in the middle (so really it will be three leaves at a time). Older leaves will be too tough to process and should be left on the plant. 

Since my plants are still pretty young (three years old), I wasn't able to harvest much this year. 

The next step is to separate them. Don't worry if there are some twigs! 

If you have a bamboo steamer, use that. If not, a metal steamer will work just fine. 
Steam the leaves for 2-3 minutes and immediately take off the heat.

Carefully peel off the leaves and gently roll in between your index finger and thumb until they stay rolled up. 

If you want, you can try to make leaf pearls by rolling the leaves in a circular motion (in theory, it didn't really work for me).

Crushed Green Tea Leaf

Once all the leaves are rolled there are two options for drying. One is in the oven at 215°F for ten minutes with a quick toss after five minute. The other, which I did, is to roast them in a dry skillet. 

Green Tea Skillet

I just pushed them around the pan until they were fully dry and put them immediately in a bowl to cool.

Pour boiling water over 4-6 leaves per cup and you'll have a nice, refreshing cup of green tea!

homemade green tea

Bonus - if you have a coffee plant, dry and lightly crush the leaves for a tea similar in flavour to green tea
 


Home-Dried Apple Snacks April 19, 2016 09:12

Home-dried apple snacks - easy and delicious!

I love to snack. Always have and that likely isn’t going to change any time soon. I blame my unstable blood sugar for my random food cravings and usually pack lots of little bits that I can snack on throughout the day to prevent me from becoming hangry. Which -take my word for it- isn’t pretty.

So I am always looking for healthy and affordable snacks that are locally available. One of my favorite snacks are dried apples. They not only remind me of my grandma but are easy to make and yummy. For this recipe you’ll need only two ingredients and some standard kitchen tools:

  • Apples
  • Lemon juice

Apples + Corer

First wash your apples and take out the cores. You can either do that manually or if you want to save lots of time use an apple corer like this one. This not only takes less time but your dried apples will come out in nice rings and you reduce the portion that gets thrown into the compost. I would not peel the apples since their skin contains lots of vitamins. 

Apples Cored
Next cut your apples into rings. The thickness of your individual apples will not only affect the taste and consistency but also the duration of drying and their shelf life. 

Apple Rings Soak

After cutting the apples place them in a bowl of lemon juice. This prevents them from becoming brown and adds a little extra Vitamin C to the snack.

After soaking them for a minute or two, let them dry off on a towel or whatever you have on hand. I used the same cloth I use to make Labneh cheese or cover my bread dough while the yeast does its  work.

Apple Drying Rack

Now place them on a rack and turn your oven to a low temperature. Something like 150 fahrenheit would be good but as you can see, my stove only goes as low as 170. I would recommend placing a wooden spoon in the oven door to keep it a tiny bit open allowing the moist air to get out of there. This will not only speed up the drying process but also prevent the liquids that evaporate from settling onto your stove surfaces. That stuff is very sticky and hard to get off. Believe me I’ve been there.

Apples Oven

The drying duration depends on the type of apple you used, the thickness of your rings and the stove temperature. It will likely take 3-4 hours and if your want to be able to store them for a longer time (preferably in a fabric bag), just go ahead and extend the time in the oven. Alternatively, you could use a dehydrator. These get you more consistent results and you can buy or rent one at our store.


That’s it. These are now ready to be snacked away...

Dried Apples!

Omnomnom


Introducing Mason Bees to the Urban World April 05, 2016 11:50

After a long winter of hanging out in the fridge, this past weekend we prepared the mason bees to get out into the world and fly free. Living in the concrete jungle, very close to the highway in East Vancouver, my housemates and I are pretty aware of how fragmented habitat for bees and pollinators can be. For this reason, we did a bunch of research to try to provide habitat that is as hospitable and abundant with as many resources as possible.

Blue Orchard Mason Bees

Here are few tips we learned to help blue orchard mason bees thrive:

1. Food: Make sure there is food close by and available all through the seasons! Unlike honeybees who will travel within a radius of 2km to find food, mason bees stick within 100m of their nesting site! So, it's important to be sure you've planted enough beneficial flowers that will bloom from early spring into summer. At the beginning of spring, mason bees will enjoy dandelions, daffodils, fruit tree blossoms (also great for your trees to have mason bees associated with them!), cranberry, heather, primrose, hazelnut, and foxglove. Mid-season plants mason bees love include, raspberry, yarrow, willow, lavender, sunflower, dahlia, chives, blackberry and catnip. Some late season plants they will be sure to benefit from are sedum, golden rod, borage, squash, cosmos and aster. 

2. Shelter: Though you can very easily make a mason bee house, I've been super busy these days and have proven to not make the time to do so. So I went out and bought a couple with pre-rolled cardboard tubes. You can drill holes into some wood and roll up old toilet paper roles to accomplish the same thing. 

The shelter should be placed in a warm spot facing East. This spot should be protected from rain, and also exposed to the morning sunshine. 

Mason bee Nest

2. Water: Make sure mason bees have access to a little pool of water to stay cool. Place some rocks in a bowl and fill it with fresh water, but not too high as to cover the rocks completely. You want to make sure the bees can safely land on them without drowning.

4. Clay: Mason bees use clay to make their walls. Beekeeper Brian Campbell told a story of how one year his mason bees found construction-grade sand to build their walls instead, which the new bees couldn't chew through the next spring. So from his experience, we made sure to get some clay to place close to the nest as well.

After we set this all up, it was time to bring out the bees! This was probably one of the cutest things you can witness. The bees we got from Brian at West Coast Seeds, started to emerge immediately as I brought them outside. This is probably related to the fact that it was pretty sunny and warm morning, and the drastic change of temperature encouraged them to come outside. I placed the bees close to the nest and watched them chew the cocoons and push their fuzzy bodies out. So very cute. When I listened carefully, I could actually hear their chewing. I imagine this would be a great experience for kids to witness too.

Mason Bee Coccoon

So that's it. The beginnings of how to help create habitat for the native blue orchard mason bee! Good luck!

 

by Kelsey Cham Corbett
April 5th, 2016


Book Review: Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon March 29, 2016 07:47

The Intelligent Gardener

I already liked Steve Solomon's approach to west coast gardening, so I had been excited about reading this book for some time. As many food gardeners already know, if you can produce healthy soil, excellent vegetables will follow. The book explores the idea that since most soils are depleted of minerals (often from growing and exporting crops), we use fertilizer to remineralize the soil to create the best soil for vegetable gardens, and thus the best vegetables for human (and animal) health. The best soil contains a ratio of specific nutrients, so in order to fertilize effectively we should analyse our soil in order to effectively correct nutrient deficiencies.

The book challenges the Rodale school of organic gardening through repeated applications of compost. If the minerals aren't in the soil from your region, they won't be found in compost produced from that soil, and compost can't magically add back minerals it doesn't have. As a result of natural geology, local weather conditions, and bad agricultural practices, typical soils in North America and around the world are seriously depleted and incapable of growing truly nutritious food. So in addition to adding compost, we should add specific soil amendments based on the results of yearly laboratory testing of soil samples.

The method promises plants that are faster growing, disease resistant, more flavourful, more filling and more nutritious than even your best vegetables have tasted before. I like this approach because it's measurable: analyse the soil, amend deficient minerals, grow crops, repeat. It's a similar process used by agribusiness, except with a different equation: rather than maximum yield and maximum profit (resulting in low nutrient-density food), the goal is maximum nutrition and optimum health.

I had the privilege of attending a soil testing workshop a few weeks after I read the book. Emma Holmes, the workshop facilitator, is a local soil scientist and was eager to share her enthusiasm and expertise. While taking soil samples and sending them to a lab for testing is a relatively simple procedure, knowing what to do with those test results is much more complex, and requires spreadsheets, some math, an understanding of soil chemistry and soil amendments, and a bit of puzzling to get the best fit between your mineral target levels and the soil amendments available.

Intelligent Gardener - Inside the book

The book is primarily a chemistry-based approach to soil, with the idea that healthy biological soil ecology will naturally follow from soil with high nutrient levels. The role of microbial, fungal and animal life toward contributing to mineral availability is considered secondary to the existence of those minerals in the soil (as seen by a soil test). The book does not specifically address any techniques toward encouraging the soil ecology, and how that relates to mineral availability.

The book might also be science-heavy for some. The approach is based on soil chemistry and there's some math to figure your optimum amendments. If you're not into all that, the first half of the book may be all you need. After discussing the background and motivations for soil remineralization, he author offers a simple do-no-harm recipe for a complete organic fertilizer, that while not as effective at remineralizing with a bespoke mix, will be effective at improving the nutrient content of your soil without putting your soil out of balance. 

If what you're looking for is inspiration and an understanding of how a healthy garden relates to healthy humans, then this book could be a game-changer for the way you think about soil, your food garden and your health.

I'm eager to learn about about the potential of soil testing for remineralization. If you'd like to do some soil analysis of your own, I'll be sending out soil sample batches for testing from Homestead Junction this spring, and I'd like to host a workshop on analysing test results to create optimum soil amendments. Send me an email at  karlis@homesteadjunction.ca or ask at the HJX if you're interested. Happy Gardening!

 

 


POSTPONED: Salty Brine Fermentation Fair! March 17, 2016 13:42 1 Comment

Salty Brine Fermentation Fair

***UPDATE May 11, 2016***

We are sad to announce the Salty Brine Fermentation Fair is postponed until further notice. Unlikely timing would have it that new Vancouver Coastal Health food policies were put in place during the organizing of this event, which caused a bunch of hiccups and ultimately, many of our vendors were not accepted. VCH is apologetic for the confusion and has offered their time to guide us through the application process when we re-submit our application. So with that, we apologize for the disappointment and inconvenience, as we know a lot of folks were hoping to make it out to this event.

***

Fermentation is one of the oldest known food preservation techniques which, to this day, continues to be practiced by cultures all over the world. Even here in Vancouver, many of our favorite foods are fermented, like cheeses, kimchi, many types of tea, chocolate, and of course, beer. We want to celebrate this age-old aging process by bringing together diverse fermentation enthusiasts and food lovers, and give tribute to the probiotic relationships that have existed in our guts since the beginning of human time.


Come celebrate with us, and meet local fermenters! There will be workshops, demonstrations, a speaker’s panel, and of course, lots of delicious, locally fermented eats for sale!


For vendors interested in tabling at this event, please send your application to community@homesteadjunction.ca with the following information:

-what you plan on selling at the event
-a list of ingredients
-FoodSafe and/or  MarketSafe Certificates (not mandatory, but awesome if you’ve got ‘em)
-PH test results (if applicable, see Vancouver Coast Health Guidelines for details)
-If you plan on supplying your own table, please send us the dimensions

*Note: It is the vendor’s responsibility to provide documents that support risk-assessment of their products if requested by a local Health Authority.


Vendor registration is $30 if you are bringing your own table, or $35 if you request we supply you a table. Tables should be around the range of 4ft long x 2 ft deep.


Application deadline is Thursday, April 14 by midnight.

A Review: The Art of Natural Cheesemaking February 23, 2016 10:28

Review by Carmen Ostrander

Art of Natural Cheesemaking

On the list of considerations in your journey as a food revolutionary is milk, and in this case more specifically, cheese. As governments all over the world crack down on the ‘dangerous’ practice of consuming, acquiring, or shouting out loud about raw milk (or cheese), books like this are as subversive as they are delicious.

With foreword by fermentation guru Sandor Ellix Katz, “The Art of Natural Cheesemaking” opens with a manifesto, a call to arms to reclaim and reinvigorate what has been lost. This is counter cultural cheesemaking, low tech and hands on. With “Good milk, rennet and salt together with your capable hands.” A world of cheese awaits. There’s something very old & very new about these ideas that makes them satisfying and stimulating to read.

Cheese is one of many industries where quality of production has become impoverished by monocultures. Reliable, boring, diversity crushing monocultures, resulting in “corporate controlled, and chemically dependent” cheese.

Modern industrial cheese making relies on one or two pre-culture strains that restrict the interplay of microbes unique to the milk and its surroundings. The emphasis on raw milk, is based on the premise that microbial diversity provides its own balanced environment that keeps pathogens in check.

But don’t worry if you can’t find a cow, there are plenty of recipes that will work with the milk you have. Or rustle up a goat. So much more than “the poor persons cow” they are the activist’s animal of choice, due to their inherent refusal to submit to industrial dairy practices, and reduced carbon footprint. You can also side step the rennet part of the equation, and focus on whey and kefir. Kefir can be used to ferment soy, almond milk, and fruit juices to make probiotic drinks and cider among its many talents.

Surprisingly there’s very little out there in print or online about preindustrial cheesemaking methods, which provided a large part of the inspiration for Asher to produce this book. Asher is first and foremost an organic gardener who turned away from the energy
and material intensive practices of freezing and canning to explore
naturally fermented foods. You’ll be pleased to know once you’ve gone to the trouble to source good milk, the cheese does most of the hard work itself. You’ll need a watchful eye and keen nose as you embrace the funky edge of food, where a little bit stinky and delicious collide.

Beginner friendly with an intuitive approach, it how to’s over 30 cheeses, including washed rinds, blue and cheddar plus yoghurt, keffir and cultured butter, with stylish yet instructive photography by Kelly Brown.

“The Art of Natural Cheesemaking” is an excellent companion to and post workshop resource. Keep an eye out for cheese making workshops here at Homestead, (they fill quickly), or grab a signed copy and get inspired.



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