My yeast experiments

April 9

For about a year now I have been trying to brew beer. I’ve been moderately successful, but nowhere near what many homebrewers are.

As always I am playing with my food, wondering ‘what if’. This is one of those process blogs which hopefully will get updated on a daily basis over the course of these experiments.

I am trying to answer the question of how can I best propagate and refresh beer yeast.

I am sure it can be done, after all brewers have been brewing beer for millennia and most of that time they did not even know there was this thing called yeast until Louis Pasteur figured it all out.

Here is the problem with yeast and beer. The yeast consumes the sugars, giving alcohol as a byproduct. The trouble is, alcohol kills yeast. So the yeast in one’s trub is, I understand, pretty degraded. For this reason – I believe – the conventional wisdom among brewers is not to reuse your yeast more than 3 times. But, I’m telling myself, that can’t be quite right, as farmers and brewers brewed for centuries without the luxury of a local brew store and yeast makers like White Labs, Wyeyeast and the like. Now on the other hand their beers could all have been like my last batch which fell from 1.065 and stalled out at 1.030. So maybe bad attenuation was the norm.

What I have read is that to propagate and refresh yeast, you should use a weak wort – about 1.030-1.040. This is 1 part dry malt extract (DME) to 10 parts water by weight. I also understand that the optimal amount of yeast slurry is likewise about 1 part slurry to 10 parts wort.

On the bread side of things – we know that bakers and brewers have co-existed and worked with each other for millennia. That is pretty obvious. They both are in the business of propagating yeast and making things from it. In one case, the yeast is nourished by the grain, the other it is nourished by the byproduct of the grain – the barley malt.

So this has led me to trying out a couple of experiments.

Experiment 1: yeast starter from Trub

April 7-8th

In this case I want to find the optimal time and conditions for propagating beer yeast using old trub that has been refrigerated since bottling a few days earlier. My cylinder holds 180ml of liquid and the hydrometer. I’ve combined 17g slurry, 17g DME, and 170g reverse osmosis water, thoroughly mixed and poured into a graduated cylinder with my hydrometer in it at 6AM – 21C. It registered 1.032. During the day there was clear fermentation, but I could not call it vigorous. It probably reached its peak by late evening (15 hours) and by the next morning (6AM) it was down to 1.010. So it would appear that between 15-18 hours is an optimal time – but I need to try it a couple of other times.

The next morning I took 17g of this slurry, 17g of DME 170g of H2O stirred, and repeated. That one is still ongoing. 12 hours on it has slowed up.

Experiment 2: bread starter

April 8

The extra slurry got me thinking about bread starter. What if I used that slurry to propagate a bread starter the same way I would my usual starter. The difference would be that it would not have the time to begin developing lactic acid bacteria. But might it be more effective at restoring yeast strength than my wort?? So: 100g of that 1st night slurry and 60g whole wheat flour. It really took off and was bubbling away within an hour. (Lag time? What’s that? ) I decided to let it go for a couple of hours. Then my next step: to use this as a slurry instead of the trub from the beer. This was set up at noon, its now 5PM and it appears to be going strong, though the hydrometer is still reading 1.030. I’ll monitor it through the evening. This setup had 17g of the 166% starter, 17g DME, 170g H20

Experiment 3

Onto the bread: (April 8)

I still had about 50g of the first nights slurry left over after experiment 2. . What to do with it? What about bread? So: I mixed up a white baguette dough – 80% hydration, (300g AP flour, 50g slurry and 190g water, 6 g salt. It too has been fermenting nicely. After 6 hours I poured it (well – it was the best it would handle!) in a baguette liner and stuck it in the fridge. I can tell it’s going to be quite chewy. (PS: It was indeed chewy. It had a fairly tight crumb, and was not quite as flavorful as sourdough. )

This experiment goes to show that with a little yeast of any kind you can do things with. You just need to make sure your flour is weighed, the salt comes in at 2% and you are specific in your hydration. I tend to go with multiples of 100g as this becomes easy to sort out the salt and liquid. A 300g flour at 70% hydration therefore needs 6g of salt and 210ml (g) of water. Using a slurry like this means that it needs to be calculated as part of the water.

Experiment 4: Yeast starter from the bread starter

April 8

Since the bread starter (experiment 2) was so resoundingly fast acting, I wondered about turning it back and using it to propogate a beer starter.

April 8, noon

So following my now usual ratios, I took 17g of this very active starter, mixed it with 17g DME and 170g H2O. I used my hydrometer cylinder and hydrometer to check on its progress. It started at 1.030.

April 8: 8PM

WTF!!! The hydrometer reading is at 1.040. What happened?

April 9 9:00AM

Its still active, reading at 1.020. I’ve also refreshed my sourdough starter, and thinking of using some of this starter to do sourbeer as it will have the lactic acid bacteria going strong. I’m thinking of doing a second gallon of beer using the flour starter from Experiment 4.

Time to make some beer….

2 PM April 9

I refreshed my 2 little experiments – the one using only the trub, and the one that had had the flour as food as well. In both these cases, I used 200g H2O, 20g starter and 20g DME. Both have started at 1.030. My plan is to brew 2 gallons, but pitch one gallon with one yeast and 1 gallon with the other.

April 10th

Brew day! Somehow I messed things up but it should turn out ok in the end. I added too much water. I needed to add a bunch of malt extract to bring things to an acceptable og (1.062 when all is said and done). But it worked out as I have enough wort for 3 x 3 litre jugs. The third will be pitched with safale 04 as a kind of control sample.  I pitched all 200g of the refreshed starter from the 2 experiments, and 20% of the Safale04 yeast which is normally intended for a 5 gallon brew (yes I hydrated it for about 30 minutes in 50ml of RO water). I also added 4g of yeast nutrient to each batch. All is good.

April 11

20 hours after pitching, all 3 jugs are actively fermenting. The two which used the old trub refreshed a couple of times are significantly more active than the Safale04 control sample. This is very hopeful because I would dearly love to be able to keep developing my own yeast for beer in the way I do for bread.

April 23 Fermentation is done!

My experiment 2 jug comes in at 1.012 YAAAY!  (6.65%)

This is the one where I added flour to the starter and let that develop

My experiment 1 jug came in at 1.018. Respectable. Better than stalling out in the mid 20’s. (5.85%)

My ‘control’ jug with safale04 yeast comes in at 1.020. (5.58%)

I have not yet bottled them  – that will come likely tomorrow.

Generally they all taste the same – a decent ale – nothing to be ashamed about.

Some tentative conclusions:

It would appear that the addition of flour to the trub and allowing it to ferment in the same way one would do with sourdough has strengthened the yeast. It is worth pursuing this more.

It would also seem that refreshing the yeast with successive fresh wort, leaving it a day between each one also makes for a stronger yeast than the basic dry yeast.

Further explorations and questions:

  1. I need to explore 2 ways of working with the flour: The variable is the point at which the flour is introduced.
    • refresh trub with wort once, refresh that with flour, refresh a third time with wort
    • begin the trub refresh with flour and then a second and third time with wort.
  2. I still want to work more with refreshing the trub with wort. I have 2 main questions here:
    • What is the optimum number of times to refresh before I hit the law of diminishing returns?
    • How much should I pitch? Which gets at one of the biggest questions: What’s really my cell count?

 

 

Backwoods sourdough

Sept 10

This blog is going to be a process blog where I don’t know quite where it will end up.  I’m also going to try to do this entirely on my phone.

Here’s the story. On the last weekend in September,  I will be going on a backwoods canoe trip facilitated by my very experienced son. It’s the first time for me and likely the last as my various commitments sadly tie me down.  Needless to say I’m really looking forward to it.

Yesterday at breakfast I had run out of bread and had only a sourdough bulk rise ready to be made into a loaf.  About 4 hours away. (Proofing baking& cooling). I tore a couple of small chunks from the bulk rise, flattened them out, put a little oil in a frying pan and a couple of minutes later, fresh delicious sourdough hotcake.  My son had one too and wondered about the potential for doing this for our trip. I said ‘sure, easy’ and showed him my lump of dough. He said “Too heavy like this. Can you do it so we only bring the flour? ” I said I would work on it.

I posed the question on a couple of Facebook forums. While there was interest, no one  (so far) had tried what I am trying to do though a couple noted that this is what Klondike miners must have done so many years ago.

My vision is to get a low hydration starter going – something that can stay in a ball. At supper I would take half of it mix it with just enough flour water and salt for an overnight bulk rise; add a little flour and water to keep the starter going. Next morning flatten out the dough into buns and fry on the stove.  If there are large flat rocks I could use them.

I’m about to try it all at home first – beginning with the starter. So for 100g of starter at 166% I need 104g  of flour to make it 65%. (try my hydration change calculator) This should yield 200g of 65% starter.

Best internet discussion I’ve found so far… https://backpackinglight.com/forums/topic/87645/

And I’ll keep adding to the blog as this experiment develops.

Sept 11

Last night I prepared my initial stiff starter. (I am of course in my house experimenting with nothing on the line.) This morning I peeled off half of it, (100g)  added a pinch of salt, flattened it with my hands only and put it on a hot skillet. The remainder of the starter is back in its jar, room temperature,  to be refreshed tonight.

Hotcake in dry skillet

The dough barely rose and felt stiff. Clearly a lot of work to do.

 

Little rise. Sadly its not like the result from my big bag of dough in the fridge. Taste is ok but then again its hot. That’s the idea though- to eat it right away. I have to double check my formula as the dough felt a lot stiffer than 65%.

The crumb shot as such.

So…. a little later in the morning I decided that if I liked the dough I had in the fridge then I should use it as a starter base. So: 50g dough  (1g salt) 100g flour and 65g water. This is how it starts:

The new starter dough

Experiments like this lead to strange places. This is a “french toast fritter pancake”. Instead of soaking a bread slice in egg, egg is kneaded into raw bread dough then fried in a really light coating of oil. Next time I should let it settle / rise for a bit. I’d definitely try it again.

September 12

All is working as it should. Last evening I mixed more flour and water into my starter  (66%) and this morning tore off a chunk of it, added a pinch of salt and cooked it dry on the stove top.  My son’s analysis: “it does the job”.

Next task: scale it up so it can feed 3, but keeping the same amount of starter. What I like so far is that it’s flexible and quite predictable.  The caution: get your heat right.  Less better.

.Sept 13

First a shout out to Bud who seems to be the only FB reader to truly get what I’m doing. Thanks for all your advice!

On my jog yesterday I figured out my weight proportions: there are 3 of us which at 100g per person suggests a dough of 300g plus 100g starter. 200g flour + 130g water gives a 65% hydration dough and a little more than enough per person.  This dough is set up the night before and in the morning split 4 ways. 1 put back in the bag and 3 get a pinch of salt added and are cooked. How much easier could this truly be? Next task: figure these quantities as volumes and not weights. Also give it a final test run.

Sept 15

I tried my first effort with the volume needed for our trip.  I made 3 different sizes/thicknesses. Essentially if one is doing a thick bun it needs to proof just like a loaf of bread. Thin buns are a lot more forgiving.

The 3 bun shapes tried.

The thickest one definitely needed proofing!

Sept 29

We leave tomorrow.  I’ve been given interesting challenges here: pancakes and naan. Both feature oil or butter in the mix.

Here’s how the pancakes could work: a zip lock big  bag with the following little bags within: 100g dough and 9g skim milk powder; a second with 100g flour; a third with 1g flour, 7g sugar,  2g salt,  7g baking powder.

Night before: mix dough and flour with almost a cup of water and gently mix until everything is evenly hydrated. Next morning add the third bag,  and some oil. mix gently leave for 30 minutes. Batter should be ready.

Camping notes

September 29

The starter dough

I put up one of my big 2.8kg basic doughs.  Some of  this went into a loaf for the wonderful person taking care of things while we are away. From this dough I took off 2 pieces of  hundred grams and put them in 2  large ziplock bags.  I also made up of three other Ziploc bags each with 200 grams of whole wheat flour in 4 grams of salt. These would  be the hot cakes to be made on the trip.

Panini sandwiches

Panini sandwiches for the first day lunch had been prepared the day before and day of our trip.  I took the remaining eight to nine hundred grams of my older bulk dough from the fridge,  rolled it out and laid on slices of butter as one would do for a croissant: It was folded and rolled out several times to make a laminated dough. The final roll was approximately one quarter to three eighths inch thick. It was then cut into rectangles about 4”  wide and left them to proof for about an hour. While they were proofing,  I prepared the Panini fillings: BBQ vegetables, cold meats, pickles, brie and cheddar slices. These all went into a couple of bags for assembly early the next morning.

I BBQ’d them on a medium heat about 1-2 minutes per side until they browned and expanded.

September 30th –  we depart

Paninis

These were made for lunch on the first day.   

Before we left I did the final prep. The paninis were thick enough that they could hold together well enough to be slit open easily and filled without breaking up and without breaking the hinge at the back of side of the bread. The butter laminate and grilling method ensured that the outside would stay together and so be fully functional as a sandwich. The completed sandwiches were wrapped liberally in wax paper and labeled. (This is important for later on).

We arrived at our departure point about 12:00PM. We wanted to get going and weren’t hungry. We left the outfitters in a rented  3 person canoe around 1 o’clock and by 3 o’clock we had reached our first portage. Out came the greatly appreciated paninis. The wax paper was carefully folded and returned to the pack.

Hot Cakes number 1

I realized when we were eating the Panini’s that I had not set up the dough for the hotcakes that evening.  Standing beside the biggest beaver dam I have ever seen I mixed the hundred grams of starter dough, 200 grams of flour and salt and  then eyeballed approximately 120 grams of water from my drinking bottle. I set about massaging the dough through the plastic bag, and  realized it would be about 4 hours before I was to cook them for dinner – and they had just begun their bulk rise.  I needed to get them along quickly with their fermentation so in the bag went, under my shirt and next to my tummy for what was to be a fast rise. There they stayed  for a further three hours of travelling and a difficult portage. Once we got once we got to the campsite and began our dinner prep the first thing to do was to extract  the dough  now happily bubbling away.  This dough was divided into 4 equal pieces: 1 was put back in the ziplock bag with the next batch of flour and salt, and again the water was eyeballed. Massaged sufficiently, it was stuck it back in the food pack for consumption the next day.

I retrieved the wax paper from the paninis and use them to flatten out the dough without getting my cutting board dirty.  I put another layer of used wax paper over them to protect them from fire embers and dust. They then proofed while the  rest of our dinner –  guacamole, whitefish, roasted vegetables  and chantarelle mushrooms was being prepared. Once the fish was cooked, in went the hotcakes, soaking up the remaining lovely  oil and butter deliciousness still in the pan from the fish, chanterelles and barbecued vegetables. The result was excellent. They were hot nicely risen nicely browned and delightfully flavored with the pan drippings.  

October 1  – Hang out at the campsite day

Pancakes

it was determined on our first morning we would have pancakes with homemade jam and summer sausage for breakfast. When you think about it, pancakes are really like a super hydration bread with some oil,  sugar, and baking soda.

For the pancakes I decided to approach these separately from the sourdough hotcakes and it’s a good thing I did because I needed to get them started at the same time as the hot cake dough the night before. I calculated that enough pancake mix for the three of us with mean 100 grams of starter dough at 66% (this was the second bag of dough I had prepared)  Here is how I thought it through: 100 grams.of dough @ 66% + 67 grams of water would give me 166% hydration. 100 g  flour + 4 g salt + 166 grams of water would likewise also give me a 166% hydration dough. I’d need to add  230 grams of water to the dry flour and starter  to make it happen. But that is not all.  This pancake mix (according to my pancake calculator based on Theresa Greenaway’s sourdough pancake recipe)  would also needs 7g sugar 2g  salt, 7g baking powder, and 9 g of skim milk powder.  Putting all of this together I had 3 separate zip lock bags

  1. 100g of 66% starter in a large zip lock bag
  2. 100g whole wheat flour in a small zip lock bag
  3. 15 g flour, 7 g sugar 3g of salt, 7g baking powder and 9g skim milk powder in  small zip lock bag.
  4. At our fish dinner, bags 1 and 2 were mixed together along with 230g of water – about a cup – eyeballed!  

I wanted this to proof overnight but I did not  want to add in the baking soda, milk  powder sugar mix  and oil until shortly before cooking. My son was a little concerned about  leaving this freezer bag of yukky liquid, sincerely hoping  it would not explode in the night  while in the food bag slung up in a tree to prevent bears or other creatures getting to it. The next morning after a night of 10-degree temperatures the bag was looking the way it should:  a nicely bubbling ferment. In went the bag of remaining flour and other stuff and also added a shot of sunflower oil – pancakes do  need oil for taste, texture and to  avoid sticking.  I have to say I was apprehensive about this mix, based as it was on quite theoretical assumptions  but they turned out amazingly.

Hotcakes 2

The second batch of hotcakes was for  lunch on the second day as an accompaniment to tomato soup. Again the first thing was to extract them from the bag, divide into 4, and put one back in the bag for the next batch. This batch I felt was a little dry so I added more water before turning it out. All went well  – as it did the night before.

One problem though – after a thorough check I could not find our final bag of flour/salt! Yikes! This was going to be for breakfast the next and final morning. Was it left behind? Must have been! There are  worse things in life.

Our  starter’s final hurrah

Going into our final campfire dinner, I still had the starter. We had planned to have mac and cheese, with rehydrated dried vegetables. What I had forgotten about in making mac and cheese was that you need a roux. The only flour I had left was in that little ball of starter dough. Necessity is the mother of invention and thus I made a valiant effort to convince a little piece of my remaining starter dough that it would have to serve up its life as flour for a roux.  It worked, barely  – with deft and quick stirring, lifting it off the flame, making it as roux like as I could, working the added cheese so it did not become a gloopy stiff chunk.

October 2  – heading back

The next morning I cooked what was left of the starter dough, and it all worked out well in the end. After sausage and trail mix, our food bag nearly exhausted, and we were fuelled for the 5 hour portage and canoe back.

Some conclusions are in order

  • Having hot fresh bread on your camping trip is a wonderful thing.
  • Sourdough camping can be done fairly easily.   70 grams of flour per person per serving is required, along with the 2% salt mixed in. A  100g ball of 66% starter is all that is needed to keep it going.
  • Camp sourdough it does not take a long time but it does need planning
  • It really does need one person committed  to doing  it.
  • Keep the starter in a large sturdy freezer bag and have a couple of other bags at the ready too.  
  • The cooler the temperature  the longer you have to proof it, and   vice versa.  If you need it quickly then you need to find a warm body.
  • There are lots of variations possible from pancakes to fritters to hotcakes. They can be fried or grilled or cooked on a hot flat rock. Cook it dry or in  butter, oil or  bacon grease.
  • One objection from my son was that the extra cooking uses up more heat. In our case it wasn’t on account of the hot cakes that we consumed a lot of fuel –  I was making  cedar tea in large quantities for one of our party who was feeling a little under the weather.
  • Next time (I hope there is a next time) I probably prefer to bring a whole bag of flour and dip into it as needed. That would have saved my bacon on this trip  There is also merit to having each meal laid out with its own bag of flour with the salt pre measured.

Making sourdough easy and ‘just in time’

How to make sourdough really easy

Going back over a year now I’ve been looking for ways to tame sourdough to my own schedule. Notably I wanted to have fresh hot bread for breakfast. Since then people in my sourdough workshops proposed other challenges : to make it fit into their busy lives.
In this latter case it was reasonably easy: find cool places in your house for a longer bulk rise including the fridge. But these answers still presumed time for a starter refresh, bulk rise, shaping and proofing, and baking. Controlling for temperature this could be anywhere from a 6 to 24 or more hour cycle.
Recently I’ve been trying something new. Instead of thinking of a whole process ending up with all the dough baked at once, I’m preparing a much larger base dough, letting it rise a couple of hours on the counter then throwing it into the fridge in a large freezer bag. That

The dough bag continues  - slowly - to ferment in the fridge.

The dough bag continues – slowly – to ferment in the fridge.

done, I take only what I need when I need it. That way I get “just in time and just enough” and its always fresh.
Not only can you do this at the bulk rise stage, you can also do it with the final proofing. A shaped loaf can happily be in the fridge rising for a couple of days.
For some of you reading this may bring quiet agreement – perhaps its what you do. For others you will be asking ‘Tell me more’.

Starting off….

As always with sourdough it starts with the starter. I like to use 166% starter. I keep a 100g jar (or so) from the previous batch. It begins with the refresh: 100g starter, 100g fresh filtered water, 60g organic whole wheat flour. 8 hous later I should have 260g of starter. I refresh a second time: 260g starter, 260g water, 156g flour. Now I have about 780g of really bubbly twice refreshed starter. This is something I do when it is convenient to do, and while I have both bead in the pantry and a dough in the fridge. That said, there is some planning and anticipation needed as you want to make the bulk rise when the starter is at its most vigorous.

The bulk rise

I now make a large base bulk rise of 66% hydration: approximately 500g of starter, 1500g of flour (3x the amount – or the starter is 33%), 808g water (66% hydration when the hydration of the starter is factored in). Autolyse as usual for about 20 minutes and add 33g salt (2% when starter flour is factored in). This yields a 2.8 kilo dough. Let it rise out of the fridge until doubled, but do not let it overproof. If anything cut it short. Punch down, take off a chunk for a loaf to be baked next, pack the rest of it into a large freezer bag, seal it up and stick it in the fridge. You now have a chunk of dough that is immediately available for whatever other bread you wish to do: dinner rolls, a baguette or two, burger buns, another loaf, bagels…. The bag can be in the fridge quite happily for a number of days, but I’d want to use it up within a week. You will find it continues to very slowly ferment.

The Loaf Proofing

Although I make lots of different kinds of bread, I always like to have a regular loaf available and fresh. My family varies on how fast it is consumed – a 20-some decides he’s hungry and its all gone, while someone else decides they are going on a severe diet can mean its consumption really slows down. But at the point its needed, I don’t want to have to knead it & let it rise for an hour or two. What I do is that shortly after – or even at – the time a loaf is baked, I set up another loaf – decide on the type of loaf, the various crust toppings, the hydration – and then I wrap it in a plastic bag or a wet towel, and into the fridge it goes. Fermentation is slowed right down and its ready to be baked at the point you want it. I bake it directly from the fridge as opposed to having it warm up first. This ensues it does not get overproofed, and makes scoring a lot easier. Baking it directly from the fridge means it needs to bake longer, so if doing this is new to you, keep a thermometer in it and take notes until you get your time down.

Burger buns: it seemed that we’d be doing burgers tonight.

An example:

On Monday evening I prepared 2500g of dough. It rose overnight. Next morning I took out 900g for a pan loaf, prepared it and stuck it back in the fridge. Somewhere mid afternoon on Tuesday, I decided to make some hummus as part of dinner. I took off about 500g of my dough, rolled it out to make half a dozen pitas. They rose on some parchment paper as I prepared the rest of dinner and heated the oven. The next morning (Wednesday) I baked the loaf I had prepared. Between the loaf and the pitas, no more bread needed for a bit. On Thursday evening I thought that bagels for breakfast on Friday would be a fine breakfast, so I took about 500g of dough, added flour and a little salt, along with diastatic malt to give me a 60% bagel dough. These were shaped Thursday night, and boiled/baked on Friday morning to the surprised appreciation of the family. About this point I refreshed my starter again in preparation for the next bulk dough. On Friday evening, everyone wanted pizza so that used up the remaining 600g of my dough. During dinner clean up I set up my next bulk rise, finding a cool spot in the house to let it go until first thing next morning. As you can see its a system that enables you to not have to worry about the start to finish span of bread making, nor do you have to predict days in advance what you will be baking and when. Much of it can be done when you are doing other kitchen work you would have to do anyway.

Messing around with it a little more

You will notice above that the bagels were 60% while the bulk rise was 66%. There may indeed be other situations where you want to change the hydration (like making a high hydration chewey baguette) or have a more specific flour mix than just your basic stuff. This can be done.
Using my hydration change calculator, you can add either liquid or flour/salt to your base dough to effect this change. In the case of the bagels, I needed to add 37g of flour and .7g salt to my dough. If had wanted to make a 78% baguette, I would use the calculator to find that I need 40g of water, or whatever other liquid.
Supposing you want to add in a different kind of flour – you want a rye loaf. Here you do have to work a little harder. Lets assume my base dough is 50% white all purpose and 50% whole wheat, and its at 66% hydration, and you want the rye flour addition to be the same as the other flours (the 50% weight). Lets say that the weight of all purpose is 200g and also is the weight of the whole wheat. If you wanted an equal part of rye flour, you would then mix in 200g of rye flour, 132g of water and 4g of salt. Now however you have created a condition where unfermented flour has been added to the dough, in a significant amount. You would therefore need to let this new mix ferment for a number of hours (according to your temperature), likely then shape it, wait an hour or so and then bake it. You are in effect using your base dough as a kind of levain, and if you are venturing into this area, it does require some planning. However, if you determine that your thing is to have 2 kinds of base doughs, you could then have one dedicated to rye, or a high hydration white, or whatever you would like.

Cranberries!

Note: the November 22 entry refers to recipes and events in the October 8 entry below it.

November 22

Its been a while since I last blogged. I blame getting an unusual number of students in the online courses I teach. I was expecting a handful. I got 42.

But a response (below) asking what happened makes me put the course aside for a moment and do an update.

So essentially I made our usual (Canadian) thanksgiving cranberry relish the way I always have done it (not fermented) and I made a fermented version. I also tried the cranberry chutney noted below – a honey ferment. So here is what happened to these various experiments:

  • whole cranberries in a brine: These have lasted fine and continue to ferment although the fermentation is not nearly as vigorous as what I am used to. I don’t get much of a strong LAB taste – which is fine – I don’t want it in a cranberry condiment.
  • whole cranberries in honey with a little water. Same as above. 
  • chopped cranberries in honey. This one was interesting. Again as above there is not a strong LAB taste – yet at the same time there is no evidence of mould. 
  • The remains   – about 200g  – of our non fermented cranberry chutney became mouldy in the fridge after about 2 weeks.
  • The same fermented chutney was kept outside the fridge, and did not mould.
  • The raspberry ginger ferment likewise was fine – inside or outside the fridge.

What to make of it?

Cranberries on their own are naturally acidic  – apparently around 2.5 pH on their own. (FDA) Oranges and apples too are acidic  – between 3-4 pH. So even without fermentation, our cranberry orange relish is going to last a long time (or should) as its a pretty acidic mix. Looking back, its surprising that there was surface mould after a couple of weeks. The ferments however were also pressed down, with little to no air contact.

I’m questioning whether they actually fermented in this time, or if the natural acidity combined with lack of exposure to air on the surface was the most significant factor.

I also have to keep my goals in mind. In this case its not to make a ferment per se. I’ve already got enough of that in my life. Its simply to make a great condiment that can exist happily outside the fridge for a few months. It would appear that the type of container would be important. The air contact needs to be controlled.  A standard mason jar filled to the neck with cranberry material either whole, chopped or a chutney, covered with honey should work well. With time, it should ferment too.

 Next Steps

I’m going to try putting up 2L each of our usual relish and the raspberry ginger relish, in 1L standard mouth mason jars that will be left in the basement. Due to the difficulty of keeping the liquid (honey slightly diluted)  on the top, I’m not going to puree them in the ferment phase. I’ll use whole fruits, or chopped oranges and apples. When I need some for a condiment, I’ll take what I need and puree it before serving. Currently fresh cranberries are not available to me – so I’ll need to decide whether to wait a few weeks or to do it sooner with frozen cranberries.

 

October 8 2015

For years, I’ve made Molly  Katzen’s Cranberry Orange relish to accompany our Canadian Thanksgiving dinner. It was published in her truly excellent Still Life with Menu cookbook as part of a vegetarian thanksgiving dinner.

Then this year I found out about fermenting. Everything has strangely changed.

Oh – I’m still making the same Cranberry Orange Relish  – I would have some serious familial discord if I didn’t. But I did buy a 3 kilo bag of berries from my coop and this afternoon I did some experimentation.

I should also say that this is going to be a different kind of a blog. Most food blogs are what I would call ‘TA DA!!!’ blogs: great food porn picture at the top of the finished product, a cool story that gives context and personal interest, and the recipe. Everything done and cleaned up – fait complit.

This is definitely not a TA DA blog. Its definitely an ‘in process’ blog where its all about what I am trying to do, as I really have no idea of where it will all end up. I will do a followup blog: I’ll tack on the newest bit on top in a few weeks once I see how my experimentation went and reblog it. Either way, you will get recipes, promise.

So In this I am asking the following questions:

  1. Can our usual Cranberry Orange Relish be fermented?
  2. Trying out someone else’s fermented cranberry condiment recipe (yum!)
  3. Is it better to ferment cranberries in honey or in a brine?
  4. What difference will chopping the cranberries make (honey ferment)?
The mise en scene for this little experiment.

The mise en scene for this little experiment.

The Cranberry Orange Relish essentially is this:

  • Chop in a food processor:
  • 2 cups cranberries
  • 1 granny smith apple
  • ½ an orange including the peel
  • ½ cup brown sugar.

That’s it. Super simple, super delicious. Now go and buy Mollie’s book ’cause there’s a ton of really excellent stuff in there!

As you can see, getting the fruit mash below the water will be a challenge.

As you can see, getting the fruit mash below the water will be a challenge.

For the fermented version I substituted honey instead of the sugar. A little tasting shows what I knew and what  I should have done: a little less honey. We’ll see what difference the fermentation makes.  I’m planning on fermenting it for a week. It was a little challenging getting that water on the very top – so I’ll have to keep on top of the molds. 

I started my investigation into fermenting cranberries by posting a query on the Wild Fermentation FB page about other people’s experience with cranberries and got some interesting and quite useful feedback – and a recipe from Sara Kueber McKoy.

Here is her recipe:

Sara Kueber McKoy’s cranberry raspberry ginger chutney

  • 1 litre chopped cranberries
  • 1/2 cup fresh raspberries
  • 3/4″ diameter piece of fresh ginger  2″ in length into thin planks & then cut into 1/2″ long strips,
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • Let it sit overnight in airlocked jar and in morning top up with water and then adjust salt to taste. Ferment for 5-7 days at 71-73F and in then refrigerate.

The effect of the raspberry and ginger on the cranberries is quite magical. Its definitely something to experiment more with  – I’m thinking of taking some of it for a salad dressing.

This one is looking great and tasting great even before it ferments.

This one is looking great and tasting great even before it ferments.

Generally the feedback from the FB page  was to use honey instead of  brine as the fermenting agent. That made sense – cranberries are definitely tart.

After that I prepared the following brines – setting up single bottles to check out my questions. I now have:

  • whole cranberries in a brine
  • whole cranberries in honey with a little water
  • chopped cranberries in honey.
  • I might have done chopped cranberries in a brine but ran out of cranberries.

So that’s what happened today in my kitchen. Not quite. I also wrestled with some sourdough starter too – but that is another story.

Fermentation 101

The purpose of this blog is to respond to friends, colleagues and anyone who has recently asked me “What’s this fermentation stuff you’re doing all about?”

So let’s start at the beginning…

Bacteria are all around us – on any surface we touch, on the food we eat, and most importantly for our health, throughout our entire GI (gastro-intestinal) system.  Some bacteria are bad for us, causing diseases and cancer and ultimately death. Other bacteria are good for us – digesting food, creating antibodies to keep the bad bacteria in check, creating enzymes, proteins, and all sorts of other great stuff the body needs. Our bodies have both good and bad bacteria, and when we are in a healthy state, the balance between the two is exactly what it ought to be. We need the bad bacteria too so the good bacteria is kept on its toes to fight it. When we get sick, the bad bacteria and/or viruses gain the upper hand and the good bacteria need some help.

What LABs look like.

What LABs look like.

When food comes in contact with water, the bacteria on that food that need water to grow and develop get active. They feed off the starches and sugars on the food, changing them to lactic acid, alcohol and carbon dioxide. The bacteria that do this are thus called ‘lactic acid bacteria’ (or LAB for short) and are the same good bacteria that lives in your gut doing all this wonderful digesting and immune system balancing and protection. The process of putting food in water (with a little salt as the bad bacteria do not exist well in a salty environment) and letting the LABs – the lactobacillus bacteria – eat, reproduce, and develop – is called fermentation.

Its as simple as that: a fruit or vegetable, in a slightly salty brine will yield a fermentation that is really good to eat, as it produces the same lactobacillus bacteria your body has and needs for digesting and protecting you. (Yes – there’s a lot more – but that’s it in a nutshell.)

That all said, here are three simple fermented vegetable recipes that require no more than a bowl, a knife, a few jars and lids.

20150815_105012

When you get into it, things like this happen. I asked a potter at the market to make me a crock pot. It has 2 lids – one to press down on the ferment, the other a lid for the pot.

Water and salt

Before we begin, a couple of notes about water and salt. Fluoridated tap water comes with chemicals designed to kill bacteria which is great for pathogens (the harmful bacteria) but it does not discriminate and kills the good stuff too. So use non fluoridated water of some kind: distilled, reverse osmosis, even filtered well water  – as long as you know it’s safe to drink. With respect to salt, don’t use iodized table salt. It has iodine and anti caking chemicals added. Preferably use sea salt, or kosher salt.

Pickled cucumbers (makes 1 litre)

  1. Make a solution of 1L quality water and 50g of quality salt.
  2. clean the cukes, cut off the flowering stem and pack them whole (if possible) into a 1 L wide mouth jar. Add anything else you want to flavor it with: garlic, dill, peppercorns, other spices…
  3. Pour the brine over, fill it up to the top.
  4. The cukes MUST be fully submerged under the water. If not, they will mold (The harmful mold bacteria require air in order to live.) This can be done using a wide mouth mason jar,  holding the cukes down with a small mouth lid and weighing it down with  250 ml mason jar full of water.
  5. Keep it at room temperature in a dark place for 1-2 weeks. During this time the lactic acid bacteria will begin fermenting and go through a succession of LAB colonies.
  6. They are ready to eat – pop your jar in the fridge. The fermentation will slow right down and you don’t need to continue weighing it down.

Sauerkraut

  1. Shred about 1 kilo (4 cups) of vegetables
    • mainly cabbage but also  -and according to taste –
    • carrot, onion, garlic, spices that you like (pepper, caraway, cumin, coriander)
  2. Add 20g (2%) salt and massage the mix for about 3 or so minutes until the salt pulls the juice out of the vegetables.
  3. As in the cuke recipe above, pack the kraut into a 1L wide mouth mason jar.
  4. Using either a small lid (as described above) or a cabbage leaf push the mix under the liquid and weigh it down so that none of the shredded slaw is above the surface. Pack it down as far as it will go. Add a weight (could be a smaller jar of water) to keep the kraut below the water line.
  5. Keep it at room temperature in a dark place for 1 week.  
  6. They are ready to eat – pop your jar in the fridge. The fermentation will slow right down and you don’t need to continue weighing it down.

 

A brining slaw in a crock pot. But a mason jar would work fine too.

A brining slaw in a crock pot. But a mason jar would work fine too.

The inner lid presses down and compacts the ferment. LAB brine is on top, and the ferment can breathe.

The inner lid presses down and compacts the ferment. LAB brine is on top, and the ferment can breathe.

Mason jars work fine, just keep them in a dark place. Use a wide mouth jar and a small lid weighed down by a small jar full of water.

Basic slaw

This is the same as the sauerkraut except there’s less cabbage and more of everything else. Consider grated carrot, onion, sweet peppers, hot peppers, corn, kale, chard, beets….. the possibilities are endless. Adding herbs and spices will help things too. Add the ones you and your family particularly like. Tasting as you go works too!

So what can you do with this?

  • Eat it on its own
  • Mix it into rice or grains for flavour and texture
  • A garnish over sausages, burgers – really any meat (think sauerkraut over a sausage)
  • A garnish in soups or salads
  • As part of a sandwich: but a warning – squeeze out the water, and place it between something else on the sandwich that won’t let water through – otherwise you will have a soggy sandwich.
  • Puree and use in a salad dressing, sauce, soup…..
  • Use the brine as a substitute for lemon or vinegar in a salad dressing

And…. Since I am  ingesting active probiotics, can I not eat too much? Likely yes. But listen to your body. You will know when you have had enough.

Resources

This blog is a quickie to get you started on the wonderful road to fermentation – a very brief layman’s overview, and does not truly do it justice. I would strongly recommend reading these sources for more detailed and expert information:

https://www.facebook.com/notes/wild-fermentation/how-vegetable-fermentation-works-/10151520254610369

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2014/03/fermenting-veggies-at-home-follow-food-safety-abcs/#.VdXW-vlVhBd

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-790-lactobacillus.aspx?activeingredientid=790&activeingredientname=lactobacillus

http://www.wildfermentation.com/whats-so-wild-about-fermentation/

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/magazine/can-the-bacteria-in-your-gut-explain-your-mood.html?_r=1

Also check out the Wild Fermentation Facebook page – its very active and has a mine of information. https://www.facebook.com/groups/WlidFermentation/

And… Definitely buy Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation book

Let me know if you tried one of these recipes out.

Green Tomato Chutney

Its that time of year for all things tomato!

homecookexplorer

This recipe  is from a cookbook I got YEARS ago. Jams Pickles and Chutneys by Bridget Jones (Hamlyn 1983) comes from another – really pre- internet time – and also before a time when home canning was in vogue as a food political statement. It also goes to show that  I’ve always been interested in this stuff too. 

The Green Tomato Chutney’s main use for me though is as a base for making my own  ketchup. This one is so simple! Puree a 250 ml jar of the chutney and then add a small can of tomato paste. Done! The chutney is still delicious in its own right. The apple and onion add a lot of their own gentle sweetness to it. 

What my decktop canning operation looks like. What my decktop canning operation looks like.

As you can see from the pictures, I’m doing this on the deck. I love canning outside on decks – even…

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Fermented Foods

An excellent overview of why we should be eating fermented foods. Well done.

kerrwattie

Lately I have been incorporating fermented food into my diet, and I have grown interest in what it all is and how it affects my body.

What is fermentation?

Fermentation is a process in which food is exposed to bacteria and yeasts, either via inoculation or naturally through the air. Beneficial microorganisms beat out the kind that can kill you, and eat up the carbohydrates in the food. The results are interesting flavors, textures, and smells. Before refrigeration, curing meats, pickling vegetables, and clabbering milk was the only way to extend the life of perishables. And if fermented foods haven’t been cooked, they are really good for you (cooking kills off the beneficial bacteria).

http://www.chow.com/food-news/54958/that-coffees-rotten/

Some examples of fermented food:

  • coffee
  • cheese
  • yogurt
  • wine
  • beer
  • vanilla
  • vinegar
  • bread
  • pickles
  • sauerkraut
  • and many more!

How does fermented food affect your body?

First we’ll start with what gut bacteria is:

Bacteria line…

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