When It Gets Hot in Chicago: Make Tempeh!

Tempeh image from Wikipedia.

Today, a guest post from Nancy Klehm, writing to us from Chicago, in the midst of an epic drought and heat wave. Here’s Nancy:

A Drought of Inspiration

Until last week, we were at 12% of our normal precipitation for our eight month growing season. This, plus extreme temperatures, made us delirious when some humidity blew south from Canada and was sticky enough to grab ahold of some clouds and build them until they spilled rain. And yet, the GM soy is limp and the GM corn is dwarfed and tasseling weakly. The effects of which will impact all of us who shop and drive cars.

And frankly, we’ve been spoiled by the drought and heat – it’s always sunny and dry (just like L.A. and Phoenix!) no rain to spoil your bike ride, BBQ, or outdoor gardening. And the biggest benefit: No Mosquitos.

Continue reading…

What Do Microbes Have To Do With Homesteading?

So what are the activities that microbes make possible around the homestead? To name just four:

  • Fermentation
  • Beekeeping
  • Soil Fertility
  • Human beings

Pretty important stuff. In fact, new systems thinking, applied to our natural word, is demonstrating that things like human beings are really just symbiotic sacks of microbial life. An article in the Economist, “Microbes maketh man” discusses just how important microbes are to human health:

The traditional view is that a human body is a collection of 10 trillion cells which are themselves the products of 23,000 genes. If the revolutionaries are correct, these numbers radically underestimate the truth. For in the nooks and crannies of every human being, and especially in his or her guts, dwells the microbiome: 100 trillion bacteria of several hundred species bearing 3m non-human genes. The biological Robespierres believe these should count, too; that humans are not single organisms, but superorganisms made up of lots of smaller organisms working together.

Natural beekeeper Michael Bush has made the same argument about bees. Elaine Ingham has emphasized the importance of microbes in soil.

Mess with the complex interdependent relationships between microbes and people, soil etc. and you’re asking for trouble. This, for me, is the argument against things like GMOs, Miracle Grow or conventional chemical beekeeping. We don’t know enough, and probably never will know, how 100 trillion bacteria will react to our latest innovation. Best to be conservative when it comes to microbial life.

Looking forward to seeing more of this microbial paradigm shift in science.

Sandor Katz to Speak in Los Angeles

“Fermentation fetishist” Sandor Katz will be leading a hands on workshop here in Los Angeles on Wednesday September 19, from 7-10pm at:

Community Hall of Holy Nativity Church
6700 West 83rd, Westchester/LA 90045
$25 prepaid, $30 at the door – supports the ongoing work of the Environmental Change-Makers

Autographed copies of The Art of Fermentation available for $25

Space is limited — Reserve your spot now!  Your check holds your place.
RSVP at http://envirochangemakers.org/events.htm

Dr. Chase, 19th Century Mixologist

And I thought book titles were getting too long. Root Simple reader David Stentiford sent me a link to an online collection of recipe books, Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project, maintained by Michigan State University. David especially wanted to call attention to a book, published in 1864, Dr. Chase’s Recipes. The full title of Dr. Chase’s book?

Dr. Chase’s Recipes; Or, Information for Everybody: An Invaluable Collection of About Eight Hundred Practical Recipes, for Merchants, Grocers, Saloon-Keepers, Harness Makers, Painters, Jewelers, Blacksmiths, Tinners, Gunsmiths, Farriers, Barbers, Bakers, Dyers, Renovaters, Farmers, and Families Generally, To Which Have Been Added A Rational Treatment of Pleurisy, Inflammation of the Lungs, and other Inflammatory Diseases, and also for General Female Debility and Irregularities: All arranged in their Appropriate Departments.

There’s certainly many recipes of interest to the modern homesteader, not to mention artisinal mixologists, in this book: rhubarb wine, bitters, spruce beers and “Lemonade–To Carry in the Pocket”:

Loaf sugar1lb.; rub it down finely in a mortar, and add citric acid 1/2 oz: tartaric acid will do, and lemon essence 1/2 oz, and continue the trituration until all is intimately mixed, and bottle for use . . . A rounding tablespoon can be done up in a paper and carried convenently in the pocket when persons are going into out-of-the-way places, and added to half pint of cold water.”

And, should all the sugar so loved in the 19th century rot out your teeth, Dr. Chase is kind enough to provide instructions on how to extract your own teeth with, “little or no pain.”

A Lacto Fermentation Kit Made With a Canning Jar

Chef Ernest Miller gave all of us in the Master Food Preserver class a very clever lacto-fermentation kit he designed and sells at the Farmer’s Kitchen in Hollywood. As a class, we’re all making a batch of sauerkraut.

Made out of a Le Parfait canning jar with a hole drilled in the lid to fit a fermentation lock, I already know this handy device will replace the large ceramic crock we have used in the past for pickle and kraut making. Chef Ernie’s clever fermenter has a number of nice features when compared to my crock:

  • The fermentation lock will mean fewer mold problems 
  • A small canning jar inside the fermenter keeps pickles below the brine level
  • Transparent glass will let me see what’s going on with the fermentation without having to open up the fermenter
  • Coming in a 3 liter and 1.5 liter size, these canning jar based fermenters will take up less space in the kitchen than my large ceramic crock

You can buy one of these kits and get a bite to eat at the Farmer’s Kitchen, a non-profit restaurant which supports nutrition education programs and job training for Hollywood’s low-income residents. You can also easily make one yourself.

Before we conclude with a shameless cute cat outtake from the lacto-fermenter photo session, take a moment to leave a comment on your favorite fermentation vessel.

Mellow Yellow: How to Make Dandelion Wine

Today on Root Simple we welcome another guest post from our Midwest correspondent Nancy Klehm:

In the past week, we Midwesterners have experienced three hard frosts – killing back the growth, that emerged too early of my grapes and hardy kiwis and zapping peach blossoms. We will see if there is any fruit onset and if my vines recover.

Meanwhile, it is dandelion wine time!

I first tasted dandelion wine when I bought a bottle of it at a folksy gift shop in the Amana Colonies (yes, Amana of the appliance fame). I had wanted something to drink at my campsite that evening. When I opened the bottle, I anticipated something more magic than what met my tongue. It was cloying yellow syrupy stuff, which resembled soft drink concentrate. I poured it out next to my tent, returning it to the earth where she could compost it. I was sure that I’d never get close to it again.

That was fifteen years ago, and now I have been drinking dandelion wine for about two years. The new stuff is stuff I’ve made myself from dandelion blossoms gathered in Chicago. I’m happy to say that it is divine. I am sure now that the colonists actually keep the good stuff in their private cabinets.

Upon mentioning “dandelion wine”, Ray Bradbury usually comes to mind. However, after I heard a radio interview with him a few years back when he passionately made a case to colonize the moon so we can ditch this trashed planet and survive as a race, I got confused. Enough said.

So the point is, I am going to tell you how to make dandelion wine. I encourage you to do this because dandelions pop up everywhere and every place. They are nearly ubiquitous pioneers in our landscapes of disturbed and deprived soils. Consumed, they are a magnificent digestive, aiding the heath and cleansing of the kidneys and liver. Amongst vitamins A, B, C and D, they have a huge amount of potassium.

As a beyond-perfect diuretic, dandelion has so much potassium that when you digest the plant, no matter how much fluid you lose, your body actually experiences a net gain of the nutrient. In other words, folks – dandelion wine is one alcohol that actually helps your liver and kidneys! Generous, sweet, overlooked dandelion…

When you notice lawns and parks spotting yellow, it’s time to gather. The general rule of thumb is to collect one gallon of flowers for each gallon of wine you want to make.

Enjoy your wandering. People will think you quaintly eccentric for foraging blossoms on your hands and knees. Note: collect blossoms (without the stem) that have just opened and are out of the path of insecticides and pesticides.

So here’s how I make dandelion wine…

I pour one gallon boiling water over one gallon dandelion flowers in a large bowl. When the blossoms rise (wait about twenty-four to forty-eight hours), I strain the yellow liquid out, squeezing the remaining liquid out of the flowers, into a larger ceramic or glass bowl. I compost the spent flowers (thanks dandelion!).

Then I add juice and zest from four lemons and four oranges, and four pounds of sugar (4-4-4 = E.Z.). Okay, now here’s what I think is the best part: I float a piece of stale bread, sprinkled with bread yeast, in the mixture. This technique is used in Appalachian and some European recipes.

Then I toss a dishtowel over it so the mixture can both breathe and the crud floating around my house stays out. I continue stirring the wine several times a day until it stops fermenting. This takes about two weeks or so.

When I am certain it has stopped “working”, I strain, bottle and cork it up and bid it farewell until months later. In fact I wait until the winter solstice, when I can revisit that sunny spring day by drinking it in.

Introducing the Dehydrated Kimchi Chip

Our focus this week has been all things Japanese, but now we’re taking a detour to Korea…or at least to kimchi:

What would be the fermentation equivalent of finding a new planet in our solar system, cold fusion and a unified field theory all wrapped into one new discovery? That tasty snack breakthrough could very well be the dehydrated kimchi chip. Oghee Choe and Connie Choe-Harikul of Granny Choe’s Kimchi Co.’s just won the Good Food Day LA cabbage cooking contest with their kimchi chip over the weekend. I got to taste one of those kimchi chips and I can say that they deserved the award.

Why make a kimchi chip? In a press release Harikul says, “We always have loads of kimchi at home, on account of the family business, so we started dehydrating our original spicy kimchi to halt fermentation when a batch was about to turn overripe.”

How do you make kimchi chips at home? It’s simple, according to Harikul, “We use an American Harvest Snackmaster dehydrator that was given to us by a fellow Freecycler. Lay the kimchi out on two trays and dry it on high for 12 hours. Easy peasy.”

Harikul and Choe have some suggestions for cooking with kimchi on their website. And they were nice enough to give us a recipe for kimchi that we included in our book Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World.

Some Thoughts on Mead

I’ve had mixed success with making my own mead. One batch I made was OK and a few others tasted, as Mrs. Root Simple put it, “like a desperate white wine substitute for a zombie apocalypse.” Last year I attended a mead tasting put on by America’s first homebrew club the Maltose Falcons. Somehow I neglected to blog about it, so better late than never, here’s what I learned:

  • If you want decent mead you have to brew it yourself. We tasted a lot of homebrew meads along with commercial meads.  Many of the homebrew meads were excellent. All of the commercial meads tasted like camping fuel. I was, frankly, surprised that anyone would go to the trouble of labeling, distributing and selling some of the awful store bought meads we tasted. I tried yet another horrible commercial mead at the natural foods convention I blogged about on Monday.
  • In my opinion, the best homebrew meads at the tasting were carbonated. The carbonation helps accent the aroma of the honey that can sometime get lost in a flat mead. 
  • The best meads split the difference between dry and sweet. Too dry and you get that boring white wine taste. Too sweet and you’ve got cough syrup. Choosing the right yeast can strike that balance.
  • I’ve had good luck with a Narbonne Wine Yeast called Lalvin 71B-1122 Yeast.

  • I really enjoyed the orange blossom honey based mead my friend Steve Linsley made. Perhaps I’ll prod him for the recipe and post it here one of these days.  

Have you made mead? If so, how did it go? What kind of honey did you use? Have you tried the recipe in our book Making It?

Summer Urban Homestead Failures: Exploding Beer Bottles

Somehow in last week’s roundup of the summer’s failures I blocked out of my memory the most exasperating: exploding beer bottles.

I think I may have had a contaminated siphon hose which passed on some nasty, yeasty bacterial bug to every single bottle of two batches of beer I had made this summer. Three of those bottles over-carbonated to the point that they became beer grenades and exploded. One blew up on the kitchen counter and the other two in the garage. Having had a bottle explode in my hand a few years ago (wild fermented ginger beer–a bad idea) I can tell you that bottle grenades aren’t funny.

So having had three bottles explode and all the other bottles I opened showing signs of over-carbonation, I had the dilemma of what to do next. String my bow and shoot arrows at them from a distance? Call in the homebrew bomb squad?

I decided to don a heavy jacket (in 90ºF + temperatures) and safety goggles and uncap each one in the sink. The second to last bottle gave me a cooling beer shower.

Time to clean our messy kitchen and go on a sanitation campaign.

Gadget Love: The Johnson Temperature Controller

A friend of mine gave me a chest freezer recently and I augmented it with a handy gizmo, a Johnson temperature controller. The temperature controller allows me to run the freezer at any temperature between 30 and 80ºF. It works by cycling on and off the power to the freezer as needed. You just stick the copper probe in the freezer and adjust the dial to the desired temperature. So far I’ve thought of the following uses:

  • Proof bread overnight at 54ºF. I used to proof my dough in my refrigerator, but the chest freezer, running at this higher temperature thanks to the temperature controller, results in a more active proofing.
  • Make lagers (which ferment at low temperatures).
  • Make ales in hot weather. The house gets too hot to make beer in the summertime. Now I can make a batch or two without having to worry about the weather. 
  • Use the chest freezer as a backup when I need to repair the gasket on our Scandinavian refrigerator YET AGAIN!

Not wanting to be a profligate energy user I only use the chest freezer periodically.

Now if only I could lower the temperature of the whole house which, thanks to the first heatwave of the summer, is now warm enough to make yogurt!