Category Archives: Fermented foods

Yeast wrangling 101

Several years ago, while still living in New Zealand, I wanted to learn more about bread. I went to the library and took out virtually every book they had on bread making and bread baking. There of course were several beautifully done books, and one that stands out in my mind to this day was called The Bread Builders. As I recall, it was exquisitely illustrated providing tantalizing glimpses of far away places, evoking succulent smells of baking breads and heady aromas of wood fired ovens.

The book that taught me the basics of yeast wrangling!

The book that taught me the basics of yeast wrangling!

While that book got my mouth watering, my eyes dancing and my imagination traveling, the book that intrigued me the most was called Classic Sourdoughs: A home bakers handbook, by Ed Wood. In this book, he skillfully describes the art of developing a true sourdough culture, how to feed it, ways of preserving it, and how to use it artfully. There are also a host of wonderful recipes to work your way through on your journey of becoming a bread builder.

Once you have caught your true sourdough, Wood explains, you need never go to the store to buy yeast again. Now that kind of knowledge is a cornerstone in the foundation of true independence–I had to try it.

Of course, while reading the chapter on how to acquire the yeast spores, my imagination got away from me. Instead of the benign creatures Wood described, I pictured something different. After all, the yeast spores I was to catch were not at all like the garden variety you picked up at any grocery store. No, these spores were wild, untamed, unruly.

The microscopic, but voracious, yeast spores my mind conjured up were riding tiny Mustang horses, sporting yellow sombreros a la Speedy Gonzalez, decked out in full gaucho gear, replete with chaps, hand-guns, and cross-their-hearts-ammo belts, galloped through the air, and indiscriminately shot  their guns off. Obviously, this sort of yeast wrangling was going to be a challenge. What I had to do  was figure out how to catch and tame them: lasso, tie down, corral, file steadily into a small bowl, and finally, break and train them to a level of finesse required to enter the culinary equivalent of Grand Prix Dressage.

The process is, sadly, much more sedate. No horse needed. In fact, it is shockingly simple: mix water and flour together in bowl, cover with gauze to protect from flies, set near open window, keep warm, feed often. Voila, a couple of weeks into this mild mannered process, you will have yourself a viable sourdough culture.

I tried it. Within days, I had a bubbling concoction that smelled exactly as you would expect a yeasty brew to smell: like yeast, with light undertones curiously reminiscent of a beer burp. The next step, of course, was to see if it actually raised bread. Wood warns the reader that it may take a few weeks, sometimes several months, of keeping the culture alive before it will make a good bread. In the meantime, he advises, use the part of the product that you pour off, when feeding the culture, to make pancakes and muffins. So I did. If you like sourdough pancakes, but have never caught a true sourdough culture, then you have never truly had sourdough pancakes–and thus you are missing out. The pancakes made from this culture were fantastic, possibly the tastiest I’d ever made.

It wasn’t long before I was brave enough to try making my first loaf of bread with my own sourdough culture. I started with a focaccia so that, I reasoned, in case it didn’t really rise well no one might notice! I needn’t have worried; it worked beautifully. The focaccia was gorgeous, the air pockets well formed and uneven, just like the  better bread from bakeries. I was immediately hooked and never looked back. Today, I scoff at the ‘regular’, store-bought yeast for bread making. Instead, I make everything with my own: a wide variety of breads both sweet and savoury, muffins, pancakes, even chocolate cakes!

This process is the only way to obtain a true sourdough culture, pure and simple. Unlike the more popular version of so called sourdough of present day, the kind that begins with store-bought yeast and adding sugar and vinegar or some such other phony brew, the true sourdough culture dates back through antiquity to ancient Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians were the first peoples to discover this technology, of how to leaven bread. Having studied this, and being a passionate collector of sourdoughs from around the world, Ed Wood founded Sourdoughs International, a company that collect, maintains and sells sourdough cultures from around the world.

He also wrote the above mentioned book, in which he chronicles many of his worldly travels, all in the name of true sourdough collecting. In 1993, Wood collaborated with Egyptologist, Dr. Mark Lehner, to determine how man made his first leavened bread in Egypt, a project supported by the National Geographic Society (National Geographic Magazine, January 1995).

After about a year of continual use of my own culture, I decided to contact Ed Wood from my home in Rotorua, New Zealand, and let him know how much I appreciated his book and how wonderful my culture was. He was intrigued enough to ask me to send him a sample, which he subsequently put through his testing kitchen. He was very happy with the results and said he was surprised at how well it performed; so he offered to buy it from me in exchange for the ability to sell it. ‘You’re not going to get rich off this,’ he laughed, and offered me a some-time-in-the-future commission ‘once some sales have been made’.

Several years later, I returned to Canada and was really glad to have made that ‘deposit’ with Ed at Sourdough International, because not only could I not bring my yeast back home to Canada, but also the yeast that I caught in Bella Coola was lazy. My New Zealand yeast was caught in the volcanic centre of the North Island, which was possibly a factor in its vigour–like Old Faithful, you could count on it to rise! However, with this Northern hemisphere variety I could not raise a decent loaf of bread to save my life. After about a year of unsuccessful Bella Coola yeast wrangling and frustrated bread making, I gave in and contacted Ed Wood again. He kindly sent me a package of my own yeast starter. It was amazing to have this resource–like having my own ‘ark’ or vault from which I could access my own heritage food!

To obtain the Rotorua Sourdough culture, see the following link

Rotorua Sourdough

To learn more about sourdough culture raising

Sourdough International

Classic Sourdough: A home bakers handbook

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Filed under Fermented foods, Food preservation, Food Security, Funny stories, How to..., personal food sovereignty, Preserving the harvest

High-tech yogurt

I am lucky enough to have access to local milk, but if you don’t, store-bought will work just fine for this recipe.

Ingredients:

One gallon of milk

1/2 cup live yogurt culture

1 cup skim milk powder (optional)

‘High-tech’ equipment needs:

Stainless steel pot (large enough to hold 1 gallon of milk)

Thermometer

4 clean quart jars for storage

Electric heating pad

2 bath towels

Directions:

Pasteurized milk ready for yogurt making.

Pasteurized milk ready for yogurt making.

Place cold milk in pot and, if using, stir in dry milk powder. Carefully heat milk to 195-200 F degrees. Do not boil! Stir gently and hold at temperature for 10 minutes.

Milk cooling in ice water bath.

Milk cooling in ice water bath.

Place the pot in cold water to cool milk rapidly. Once it is at 116 F degrees, remove pot from cold water.

Have four clean quart jars ready. Equally distribute the yogurt starter among the four jars. Gently pour about 1/2 cup of warm milk into each jar, stir well to blend the starter with the new milk. Pour remaining milk into the quart jars, leave 1/4 inch head space (the yogurt will not grow in volume).

Quart jars on towel on top of heating pad.

Quart jars on towel on top of heating pad.

Place the four jars on top of a heating pad set on low.

Prepared milk in quart jars wrapped in towel and set on low on heating pad.

Prepared milk in quart jars wrapped in towel and set on low on heating pad.

Wrap the jars well with two towels and forget about them until the morning.

The finished product!

The finished product!

In the morning, unwrap the jars from the towel and place yogurt in refridgerator. If the yogurt is not thick enough for your liking, decant the yogurt into a jelly bag or tightly woven sieve. Place it over a container that will catch the whey, and refridgerate. Let it drain for a half an hour up to several hours until desired thickness is achieved. If using the skim milk powder, you will automatically attain a thicker product.

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Filed under Fermented foods, How to..., Milk preservation techniques, Preserving the harvest

Sauerkraut (recipe below)

Sauerkraut in crocks will ferment for 4-6 weeks.

Sauerkraut in crocks will ferment for 4-6 weeks.

Six weeks ago the ‘other two-thirds’ (OTT) and I harvested our cabbages and spent a couple hours shredding, salting, pounding and layering it all into crocks. We then sat it in the corner of the kitchen and forgot about it. Now, it has been transformed into sauerkraut, and I have spent the better half of the day–without the aid of the OTT–canning it. Three big crocks makes a whole lot of sauerkraut. It is now nearly 4:00 pm and I’m still canning, and I’ve been at it now for a few hours. The good news is, I have friends that like it so I’ll give a bunch of it away as gifts. The bad news is, there is still another crock to deal with sometime later this week!

Actually, it is all good. It is a lot of work, but useful work, real work. Not only that; it is tasty work. I never liked sauerkraut until I made it the first time. It is amazing the difference it makes when you not only make it yourself, but also grow the cabbage that you make it from. Home grown cabbage is nothing like the hard, bitter, wax-laden ball that you buy in the store. When you grow your own cabbage, you are introduced to a completely different vegetable: they are sweet, crisp, crunchy, and they squeak.

Not until I grew my own could I eat cabbage that wasn’t drenched in mayonnaise and vinegar, and disguised by a whole host of spices. The ones you grow are crisp, sweet, and smell nice when you chomp into them.  Consequently, the final product that you are left with after 6 weeks of fermentation is equally different from the slog in the jars you may be used to purchasing in the stores. It is still not something I go wild about, but for those who really like sauerkraut, home made stuff is to die for–apparently.

Finished, canned sauerkraut. I used red cabbage this year, hence the pinkish kraut.

Finished, canned sauerkraut. I used red and green cabbage this year, hence the pinkish kraut.

While I’m not a huge fan of the kraut in general, I am a big fan of the cabbage rolls made with fermented cabbage leaves in particular. In fact, I crave it. Because I only make sauerkraut once a year, I only get to enjoy the fermented cabbage leaf rolls once or twice per year as well. If you’ve never tried it, I encourage you to do so. It transforms an otherwise so-so meal into the culinary equivalent of high art. I should probably look into figuring out how to preserve those fermented leaves so I can have that more often. In the meantime, I’ll make do with the occasional ‘lazy’ cabbage rolls, layering the ingredients with my sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut Recipe:

You will need a very large crock, glass or enamel container
Minimum of 2 heads of cabbage
Kosher salt (I use pickling salt)
Heavy duty food-grade plastic bags or 2 gal freezer bags (unless you have a Harsch Crock)
Wooden spoon (or something to pound the kraut with)

Some tips here to prevent problems with your sauerkraut:

Never use aluminum utensils!
Absolute cleanliness is necessary for a healthy brew!
I have a very old 5 gallon crock that I use to make my sauerkraut and cover with plastic bags and a plate to keep air out. I also have two Harsch crocks that were specially designed for kraut making and have an airtight seal incorporated into the design. But you can use a glass or enamel coated container. Clean and scald the container well by pouring boiling water into the container and swishing around for no less than 30 seconds.

If you use a Harsch crock, follow the directions that come with the crock; it uses less salt that this recipe does.

To prepare the cabbage, remove and discard the outer leaves. Wash and drain, then cut the cabbages into halves or quarters while removing the core in the process.

Step 1) Shred Cabbage – I use my food processor for speed and ease. If you shred by hand, make sure the shreds are no thicker than a nickel or dime!

Step 2) Mix, with wooden spoon or very clean hands, 5 pounds of shredded cabbage with 4 tablespoons of Kosher salt (pickling salt will do but changes the flavor a bit – do not use table salt) and toss and mix thoroughly until kosher salt dissolves. (You can make as much as you wish as long as you use the ratio of 5 lbs. cabbage to 4 Tbs. salt.)

NOTE: If you plan on refrigerating and not canning, use 3 tbs of salt, not 4.

Step 3) When juice starts to form on cabbage from tossing, pack the cabbage firmly and evenly into a clean crock, glass or enamel container. Press firmly to encourage juice formation. Fill the utensil no closer than 5 inches from the top.

Step 4) Make sure juice covers the cabbage completely (this does not always happen unless the cabbage is fresh from the garden). Prepare additional brine by putting 1 1/2 Tablespoons of kosher salt into 1 quart of boiling water. Dissolve salt and cool brine to room temperature, before adding to the pot of cabbage.

Step 5) Once cabbage is immersed in brine water, place a large food-grade, plastic bag filled with brine water and lay it on top of the cabbage. (I use 2 large bags, one inside the other–sometimes a 2 gal freezer bag–with a couple of quarts of cooled brine water inside. If the bag breaks, it will not water down the cabbage into a tasteless mess.)

The cabbage must be well sealed all around with the bag, so no air can get in and contaminate the sauerkraut with unwanted yeasts or molds.

Step 6) Now cover the container with plastic wrap, then a heavy towel or cloth, and tie securely into place. Do not remove this until fermenting is complete.

Step 7) Put in an area where the temperature will not be above 75 degrees. Fermentation will begin within a day, depending upon the room temperature. If room temperature is 75 degrees, allow 3 weeks for fermentation. If temperature is 70 degrees, allow 4 weeks. If temperature is 65 degrees, allow 5 weeks. If temperature is 60 degrees, allow 6 weeks.

NOTE: If temperature is above 75 or 76 degrees, the sauerkraut may not ferment and could spoil!

Step 9) Once fermented, taste to see if your required tartness exists. Tartness will weaken as you process in canning, so make sure it is a wee bit more tart than you like!

Can be eaten immediately, or can it if you desire.

CANNING METHOD:

Hot Pack:    Pint jars………..10 minutes Quart jars……..15 minutes

Raw Pack:   Pint jars………20 minutes Quart jars…….25 minutes

I have tried both, and prefer to use the cold pack–it makes a crisper sauerkraut.

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Filed under Fermented foods, Food Security, Preserving the harvest, Vegetable gardening