Fermentation: making sauerkraut

This one is for Richard xx

My adventures in sauerkraut have not all been happy ones.  It’s fair to say that I’ve had my share of (very smelly) experimental failures.  But failure is a step on the path to success, and I’ve had those too.  Like the little girl who had a little curl,

when it was good it was very very good,

and when it was bad, it was horrid.

This is about the good stuff.  You’ll no doubt have your own horrids to tell about, but even those aren’t all loss – they can go onto the compost heap to continue their decay and enrich your soil and nourish your future crops.

If like me you’ve have an established kitchen with all sorts of equipment, you probably won’t need to go out and buy any special equipment before you can do this.  Be creative – look around your home and see what you already have that you could use or repurpose.  If you don’t already have an established kitchen, you may be able to find all sorts of useful things in charity shops / car boot sales.  Most of my preserving jars are containers from something we bought or were given, or I bought them very cheaply in charity shops.

Ingredients / equipment

There’s a whole load of equipment you could go out and buy for fermenting vegetables, but I want to ‘do what you can with what you have’, as much as possible.  Then you may find there’s something out there that you’d really like to have and that would make a real difference.  If so, go for it.  But until then, here’s my way.

Incidentally, I was given a beautiful German glazed sauerkraut pot with internal weights by someone on Freegle.  I will start using it in earnest eventually, but it is designed for making very large quantities of sauerkraut.  I want to perfect my technique before I move into that scale of making.  In the meantime, this works for me.

German fermenting pot (in background)

  • Raw vegetables, salt
  • sharp knife and/or grater (depending on what vegetables you’re using)
  • large container for scrunching in (I use the very large bowl I have for making bread in.  Use a container larger than you think you’ll need)
  • a pair of hands (your own, I assume)
  • Large jar with sealable lid
  • Time – I’m not kidding here, without time you won’t have fermented veg.  As with all fermented foods, time is a vital ingredient.  You can adjust the outcome by playing with the amount of time you give the fermentation process
  • Optional extra – a book – if you want to learn much, much more about this, get hold of a copy of Sandor Ellis Katz’s excellent and very beautiful book.  You may find your local library has it to loan
  • Willingness to ‘give it a try’

Method

Grate or thinly shred whatever vegetable you’re using.  This time I shredded a whole (small) white cabbage.  I ended up with about 1.75lb of shredded cabbage, once I’d set aside some manky outer leaves and the inner core.  To that I added around 0.75 table spoon of sea salt crystals (I’m sure you could use any salt you had).

Put it all in a very large bowl, and scrunch it hard with both your hands for a long while, until the cabbage looks translucent and the whole thing is very wet, continuing to mix it around all the time.  The aim is to break down the cell walls of all the cabbage, to release the liquid within.  This will form lactic acid and allow the fermentation to proceed.

I find the action feels very similar to combining flour and fat to a breadcrumb texture when I’m making pastry by hand.  But it takes a lot longer than that – I would err on the side of smushing up the cabbage for a longer rather than a shorter time.  Keep going, and listen to something interesting on the radio.  You might also want to add some additional flavouring – this time I added caraway seeds.

As you can see, I’ve absorbed the very technical terminology (scrunching; smushing...).  This is of course vital.

Once it’s all very wet, transfer it into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.  I use the kind with a rubber sealing ring and a flip top lid (see photos).  You just need something that will seal firmly, but can be easily opened and closed.  It also helps if the opening is wide enough to be help you spoon in the mixture and pack it down tight.

Pack everything down really tight in the jar, so that there is a covering of a layer of liquid at the top.  I push it down with my hands, but this time I also used a spurtle that I happened to spy in the kitchen to pack it down even tighter.  If you have something suitable, use a weight to keep the cabbage down below the liquid – anything heavy and clean that fits inside the jar will do fine.  Sometimes I’ve done it without a weight, and mostly that seemed fine too but I think your chance of success will be better with a weight.

Don’t over-fill the jar – leave at least a centimetre or so space at the top, to allow for the liquid to bubble as it ferments.

Once it’s all in and well packed down, close the lid and label the jar.  I like to record the weight of vegetables I began with and the date.  Then set the jar aside somewhere out of direct sunshine to stand.  But make sure it’s somewhere you won’t forget all about it, because you’ll need to check it every day for the next few days.

I always stand the jar on a tray, just in case (as happened this time with the sauerkraut) I’ve over-filled the jar and liquid is bubbling over – you won’t want your kitchen work-top forever smelling of sauerkraut, nor if you’ve used red cabbage or beetroot will you want it stained a startling shade of purple).

For the next few days, open it up once or twice each day to allow the gases to escape.  Sometimes the books picturesquely call this ‘burping’ the jar.  After a while you’ll find you no longer need to do this, and at that point I usually store the jar in our garage, and from time to time transfer some to a smaller jar that I keep in the fridge to eat as part of my daily lunchtime salad or sandwich.

After I made the sauerkraut, I went on to do a smaller jar of mixed grated raw beetroot and carrot.  This was much easier to scrunch – the act of grating the veg released quite a bit of liquid and I kneaded the veg for only a fairly short time.  I was surprised to see how small a jar two large carrots and two decent sized beetroots fitted into.  I haven’t made this before, so it will be interesting to see how it tastes.

Two newly filled jars with wooden spurtle

Results

It will be a while before I can tell you what the results of these jars are.  I’ll be back to tell you.  In the meantime, I’m still eating my way through a large jar of red cabbage sauerkraut I made in April 2018.  It’s delicious.  The crunch that was originally in the cabbage has now changed to the softer texture more typical of bought jars of sauerkraut.  I happen to like the crunch and enjoy it that way, which it seems to keep for a long time.

Large jar of red cabbage sauerkraut made April 2018, still going strong, together with some transferred into small jar to keep in the fridge and use

So.  Now it’s your turn to give it a try.  I’ll be interested to hear how you get on.  Believe me, I’ve had my failures, but so have I had my successes.

Posted in Do what you can with what you have, Food, Frugal, Local, Local food, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fermenting: making kefir

I’ve been interested for a while in all things fermented, so when oldest son and daughter-out-law offered me some milk kefir grains earlier in the summer, of course I couldn’t refuse.  I had a wee taste first, and to be honest I found it overly sour, but I decided to give it a go anyway.

I’ve managed to keep it going since then, and the taste has definitely grown on me.  I’ve experimented with several ways of making it /taking it, and all of them have something to recommend them.

But the best thing of all is that this is SO DARN EASY!  I don’t (yet?) know how you could go wrong with it.*

What they do, is they make it in a large kilner-type jar, with a cotton gauze cover, and let it do its thing in the fridge.  What I do, is I use one of the small (1970s?) Tupperware jugs I bought at a charity shop in Germany, and make a small amount at a time.  Sometimes I let it do its thing in the fridge, sometimes I leave it at room temperature.  Both seem to work fine – the fridge just slows the fermentation down, so the taste is less strong; when I leave it at room temperature it’s quite strong and sometimes a little effervescent.  I happen to like it like that.

All the equipment I needed (espresso cup, jugs, tea strainer)

The only thing you need to acquire for this is some of the keffir grains to start with.  To be honest, I have no idea how you would go about this other than to be given some by someone already making it.  Mine came from my son and his partner; they got it from her mother.  I will be very happy to pass some of mine on to any reader who is in or near Bath, just let me know if you’d like some.  Like sourdough, it’s one of those things that multiplies over time, so no purchase needed, just giving.

When I was at school in our chemistry lessons we had to follow a precise way of recording our experiments.  Write out the name, the method, the equipment needed, and the results.  I’ve kind of done it upside-down here, with the results first.  But I’m sure you’ll indulge me.  Which I think is more than my chemistry teacher did – I was told that my propensity to shatter glass equipment gave her migraines (whilst it simply made me more anxious and thus more likely to shatter equipment).  And look, I’m mixing up the method, the ingredients and the results all in a mush.  My blog, my rules.

Method / ingredients / equipment / results

Put the kefir grains in a container, and add some milk to cover and more.  Stir, put on a lid, leave it for a day or two, depending on the ambient temperature (ie longer in the winter, less time in the summer).  If you want to slow down fermentation, put it in the fridge.

Kefir grains in a jug

I use whatever milk I have to hand (usually semi-skimmed homogenised cows milk).  I know that using whole milk gives a creamier result.

What it looks like when it’s ready to use

When you come back to it a day or two later (or a up to a week or so if in the fridge), stir and strain.  I don’t make much at a time, so I strain in a tea strainer.  If you make more, you’ll need a sieve, or improvise with some muslin and a colander.  Or whatever you think of.

Straining the grains

Once the grains have been strained, they can go into a clean jug for the next batch

Drink, or mix with fruit, or use it however you like it.  Personally I like it plan, and I make a small amount at a time (enough for it to fill an espresso coffee cup) and just drink it.  Occasionally I mix in some crushed berries (raspberries at the moment, as I have lots on the allotment).

Ready to drink. Usually I make more than this (simply add more milk at the start)

You can adjust how you make it so it comes out how you like it.  Or play around and experiment a bit.

BUT WARNING!

No-one told me this, but I discovered afterwards (by personal experience), that some people experience a slightly disturbed stomach when they first try kefir.  I felt a bit queasy for a few days, and then it passed off.  Now it doesn’t affect me adversely at all.  I assume my gut flora have adjusted to accommodate it.

*when I went away on holiday for just over a week, I left it in the fridge, and it was still fine.  If I was going away for longer, I might strain and freeze some grains to hedge my bets.

Posted in Community, Do what you can with what you have, Local food, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This summer I went swimming…..

….. this summer I could have drowned…”*

Oh this song has been going around in my head all summer long, as I’ve resumed swimming and it’s gradually become a regular part of my life.  The version I’m familiar with is by Kate and Anna McGarrigle, who I listened to almost obsessively many years ago, and still love to listen to.

I learnt to swim at junior school, where the target was to be able to swim first a width (12 yards) and then a length (25 yards).  It didn’t seem to matter how you did it: mine was doggy paddle, and only just got me there.  But get me there it did, and that was the end of swimming lessons for me.

Having worn glasses since I was 7, I found swimming quite a trial.  All that echoey noise combined with not being able to see properly and the feeling of only just being able to keep myself from drowning – not a pleasurable affair.

So it remained until many years later when, for some reason I no longer recall, I wanted to do something and swimming seemed like a good idea.   Someone suggested that the eyesight problem could be resolved by wearing goggles, which was transformational.  I had been wearing contact lenses since I was 18, and had swum with my head well out of the water for fear of losing my lenses.  Suddenly I could swim with my face in the water instead of keeping my head firmly out of the water, and I could see.  This changed everything – how you hold your head really affects how the rest of your body is in the water.

Coincidentally, Malcolm had a book on Alexander technique applied to swimming and I read it.  You really shouldn’t be able to learn to swim from a book, but somehow what I read made perfect sense to me.  Step by step (stroke by stroke) I made small changes in how I held and used my body in the water, and to my amazement I soon found that I had progressed from barely being able to get from one end of the pool to the other, to being able to swim length after length.

I didn’t keep it up, for all sorts of reasons.  Now though I have good reason to choose swimming in place of long walks, and I’ve done so.   I planned to swim twice a week, usually early in the morning.  So far (it’s summer, right? with all those light mornings and hot days….) I’ve found this to be a wonderful way to start the day – by 9.30, I’ve walked a couple of miles to the pool and back and swum a long way.  I feel refreshed and ready for whatever is next.

I set myself a long-term target of being able to swim a mile (60 lengths of our local 25m pool).

To my surprise and delight, yesterday I achieved my goal.  It felt amazing to have done it, and frankly a bit of an anti-climax that there was no-one there to cheer me on, to congratulate me, to celebrate it.  But then I hadn’t gone to the pool intending that today would be the day.  It just kind of happened.  Because, like any other large goal in life, you do it bit by bit, step by step, stroke by stroke, length by length.  And then, so long as you can manage to keep at it, eventually you arrive.  But for me, the journey was the thing.  And I know now that I’ll do it again, and enjoy it again.

And this summer, I didn’t drown, even though I could have.

*lyrics by Louden Wainwright 111

Posted in 100 day challenge, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Six (good) things on Sunday (26 August)

  1. I made a small start on getting to grips with my sorely-neglected garden.  Taking a tip from others, I’ve broken it down into bite-sized chunks.  I tackled the terrace, which is immediately outside the kitchen.  I’ve always wanted a clematis there to climb up around the kitchen door, and I found one I liked at a garden we visited last week.  I just need to bring some compost in from the allotment and buy a few plants to fill up a couple of the troughs where the summer planting has long since died or gone to seed.  To finish this weekend! I’ve also made a list on my phone of the various small areas to tackle that together add up to the whole garden, and plan to work my way through.
  2. Resolving to do things differently next year (which in my head starts in September).  Primarily this means not allowing other people’s priorities always to take precedence over my own.  Which in turn means developing a kind of a routine – not fixed in stone, but there as a guide to myself – a day a week for granddaughter/d-i-l; a day a week gardening for myself; a day a week for the City Farm; a day a week to see friends/family; a day a week to go out somewhere with Malcolm.  And then the weekends – I love to have those unplanned whenever possible, they feel like a treat and a treasure.  Coincidentally d-i-l suggested a regular day a week with grand-daughter, just when I was starting to feel the need for some regulars. That all feels like it might be about right, though I worry that there may not be enough ‘unscheduled’ time just to be.  This retirement malarky is wonderful, but don’t imagine it means sitting around doing nothing.  Let’s see how it goes.
  3. Cycling – for the first time in ages I did a longer cycle ride (about 30 miles or so).  We’d arranged to meet a friend and walk or cycle somewhere together.  He planned a circular ride from his home in N Bristol out into South Gloucestershire.  It was delightful, and I didn’t find it at all too taxing.  A good pub lunch stop in the middle revived any flagging leg muscles.  The only downside was that my ankle was more swelled than usual by the evening.  I’m still trying to gauge what’s ok and what’s not, and really the only way to do that is to risk doing too much.
  4. Getting a place on a conference for people with lymphoedema.  I’m optimistic that this will help me figure out what’s worth doing and what’s not, and what new treatments are being explored.  Its led by the UK’s (and indeed one of the world’s) leading consultant. I’m curious to meet other people who have this condition, having never knowingly done so.  I’m sure there’s a wealth of knowledge and experience out there to be shared and learned from. Not till mid September, so just a few weeks to wait.
  5. Getting a positive resolution to a seemingly intractable issue.  Not mine to share, but the feeling of relief and new optimism are most certainly mine.
  6. Our 40th wedding anniversary – we celebrated this with our immediate family earlier this summer by taking them all away on holiday in Pembrokeshire, where we had the most wonderful sunshiny week by the sea.  Perfect.  Yesterday was our own private and personal celebration together, which we marked by taking our bikes on the train to Oxford, treating ourselves to a lovely lunch out in a place special to us, and being treated by my sister to tea and cakes in another lovely spot there.  We sat in my old college garden and reminisced, and explored the small streets of Jericho and the open space of Port Meadow on our bikes.  The magic is still with us.
Posted in Five (good) things on Friday, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Life’s not just a bowl of cherries you know

Oh no.  You can do a lot more than just that with a whole (5 kilo) box of cherries.

I meant to take photos of each of the different things we did, with quantities.  But, you know.  Life.

Anyway, this is what we did.

  • Just eat them.  On their own, as they are.  From a bowl if you choose.  So very delicious.
  • Cook with them.  Malcolm made the most delicious cherry tarts – 1 large, 4 small.  We ate some, gave some away, and some is still in the freezer.  Just scrumptious.  He’s really got that recipe cracked (one he found in a magazine years ago and has worked with ever since).  One of his culinary party pieces.  Then there was the clafoutis – another party piece, and completely delicious.
  • Bottle them.  I did this with one kilo.  It produced two jars of cherries, one large and one small.  Unfortunately at least one of the jars didn’t ‘take’ – the lid wasn’t successfully sealed, so they are stored in the fridge for now.  They’ll keep well enough there, but I need to get on top of this bottling lark for next year.
  • Make cherry brandy.  I did this too.  Only a very small amount, to see if we like it.  (Though what’s not to like?  I assume we’ll drink the sweet flavoured brandy, and eat the cherries with cream or yoghurt or some such).  I’ll hang on to those until Christmas at least before we try them.
  • Stew them and freeze them.  Again, a small quantity this time around.  Actually my plan was to make conserve, but life got in the way and I didn’t get round to it.  Next year.  Especially as the plan was to avoid needing to use the freezer.
  • Dehydrate them.  This was Malcolm’s thing.  They took longer than we expected to dry. They are now stored ready to use though the winter.  Not surprisingly, they are very sweet.  He enjoys them with muesli.
Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Five (good) things on Friday (17 August 2018)

Another week, another list.

  1. Exercise – day 46 of my 100 day challenge, and I’ve managed to stick to it pretty much every day.  I’ve missed maybe 4 or 5 – I’ll count them up and add them on at the end, because I do like completeness.  Regular swimming (twice a week so far) has been a revelation.  So far I’ve beaten my ‘personal best’ and managed to built up to 50 lengths in one visit.  Not so much further to the magic 60 lengths (a mile!).  And I’m feeling better for it.  And now I’ve been told I can have a go at running to see how it feels.  That will be the next challenge for me.
  2. Garden visits – my garden isn’t yet a place of joy this year, but how wonderful to be able to visit other peoples.  This summer I have bought a season ticket to Derry Watkins garden (Special Plants), which includes weekly half hour talks mostly by Derry herself.  Her garden is gorgeous, in a most wonderful position, and she is such a fount of gardening knowledge and know-how.  I haven’t managed to get there every week, but have done 5 so far and plan to go to several more before they end in October.  Sometimes I take my knitting and crochet, sit on a favourite bench, and just sit there drinking it all in.  A slice of heaven.

    Corner of Derry Watkins’ garden, with fern sculpture

  3. Eating ripe figs, from my own tree.  Can there be anything more delicious than a black, ripe fig warm from the sun?  I pick and eat them immediately.  None of them make it as far as into the house.
  4. Knitting – it’s been a while since I knitted anything for myself.  I’ve made a start on a warm sweater, for the winter when it comes.  I was incredibly lucky to find enough pure wool yarn in the very colour I craved in a sale.  I’m adapting a pattern I’ve had for years.  Let’s see how it goes.
  5. Library – I’ve said so many times how much I value the public library.  Recently I’ve been reserving books I want to read, and so far they’ve all arrived promptly.  This week I reserved, received and read (all in less than a week!) a book about lymphoedema by a world leader in the subject, Professor Peter Mortimer.  It’s a really interesting book and well worth reading, but not something I’m going to regularly want to dip into, so I’m pleased to have been able to access it without needing to buy it myself.  I’ve also been working my way through all the novels by Elizabeth Strout, which I’m enjoying so much.  Just finished The Burgess Boys; now starting Amy and Isabelle.  What a treat.
Posted in Five (good) things on Friday, Local, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Six (good) things on Friday (10 August)

  1. Swimming – this week I joined the local newly re-furbished and re-opened Sports and Leisure Centre, mainly for the swimming pool, but membership comes with the added bonus of access to the gym and all the classes, plus a one hour induction session with a trainer.  I’ve swum there twice so far, and I’m loving it.  I’m pushing my stamina and aiming eventually to swim a mile (60 lengths).  This from someone who only really learnt to swim in my forties.  My best so far is 46 lengths, and I know that if I’d had time I could have managed more.  My 100 days project is still going well (now almost 40 days in).
  2. Granddaughter – I’m going to have to stop listing this, but really, such an absolute delight.  She’s a smiley person now (10 weeks old), with an intent gaze on whatever catches her interest.  Often it’s my beads, or her own image in a mirror.
  3. Letting go – I’m learning to let go of the perfect, and accept the more messy but real here-and-now.  Most of all on the allotment and in the garden, both in such a poor state after a year of inattention.  My focus has been, rightly or wrongly, elsewhere.  As ever, next year will be better,  I have learnt some important lessons, and I have some great plans (that too, as ever).
  4. My lymphoedema leg – after 2 years of failure to diagnose / wrong diagnosis and inappropriate treatment, I have now had and been wearing the correct full leg pressure garment for around 4 weeks.  Yesterday I had a checkup with the specialist nurse.  I was surprised and delighted to find that my leg has reduced from 60% larger than it should be to 49% larger.  Definite progress, and it spurs me on to continue with my 100 day programme of mindful self-management. (This was meant to be the appointment for initial fitting, but once I got them, I couldn’t wait another 4 weeks before wearing them.  I found good advice on the internet on how to fit them properly, and clearly it’s worked.  She commented on how self-sufficient I am; I replied how necessary it is to be so.  I think we agreed on that one).
  5. Rain! – at last, a proper downpour.  2 months of barely any rain has taken its toll on the allotment and garden, which look arid and flagging.  The rain today will provide welcome restoration to it all, and with luck will help replenish my water butts.
  6. English cherries – yesterday I bought a whole box from a relatively local independent greengrocer – 5 kilos for £19.  Not cheap, but what a bargain.  They are absolutely delicious.  Malcolm will bake some of his wonderful cherry tarts this weekend.  There will be a cherry clafoutis, some cherries to just eat, and we will experiment with a range of ways to preserve them: I’ve bottled a kilo, and will maybe make a small batch of cherry brandy and a small batch of cherry conserve; he wants to dehydrate some.  That way we’ll know for next year which methods work for us, and which not to bother with. Preserving summer fruit is one of our aims, and we want where possible to choose methods that don’t require a large freezer (ours is a small one, and we’d like to keep it that way).  Those long tongs for putting full bottles into the hot water and taking them out again at the end worked a treat (their first outing).

Posted in 100 day challenge, Family, Five (good) things on Friday, Food, Reflections on life (and death), Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment