Sauerkraut: round one

Not impressed with the first batch.

Not impressed with the first batch.

I started my first batch of sauerkraut six weeks ago.

A brand new three-gallon crock. Three large heads of Copenhagen cabbage, chopped roughly in a food processor. Two percent the weight in salt, added as each clump of cabbage was layered into the crock. All of it mashed down with a fist, held down and sealed from the outside world with a trash bag of water.

Fermenting in the corner of a back room. A cold room because of this burst of bitter winter weather we’ve had. I kept a space heater running next to the crock to mitigate the cold for both me and the kraut. I checked it weekly, looking at the color and tasting little bits I pinched off the top. The change was obvious.

And this week I dug out the first kraut to put in a jar in the fridge. To eat.

But the taste is less than stellar. The kraut is sour but not kick-ass tangy. There’s something off about the flavor. And the kraut is dry. No juice or brine. This first round just isn’t what I expected. Or want.

So I brought some for Nathan to try. Get his opinion.

“Haven’t you been fermenting this for like seven weeks?”

Six, man. Just try it.

More. Still fermenting.

More. Still fermenting.

Nathan opened the jar and pinched off a bit from the top. He chewed on the kraut, thoughtful and attentive. He scooped out more, chewed it.

“I think it tastes okay.”

Really?

“It’s kind of lemony.” I guess that’s one way to describe the off-flavor. “It tastes alright.”

But not great.

So what’s the problem? Was it the type of cabbage I used? Was the cabbage too dry, not fresh enough? Should I have topped it with water in the crock to make sure it was really briney? Should I have used more salt? Did the cold room or variation in temperatures affect something?

“Maybe just chalk it up to the magic that is fermentation.”

Maybe. But I really don’t like mysterious food.

Categories: fermenting, food, food storage, Getting Breaducated | 1 Comment

Important reminders

The beating heart of life.

The beating heart of life.

Sleep. Eat. Poop. Repeat.

This is what life is like for the chickens during these cold, dark winter months. Not much to report at all.

Not many eggs to gather either. Which is disappointing in both the kitchen and the wallet: investing time, energy, and money into the birds and getting only empty egg cartons in return.

But this is just the way things are. Food is seasonal. It comes and goes in cycles.

Back in the fall the chickens started to molt and the egg slowdown began. Compounded with shorter days and colder temps, their productivity naturally slowed to just a handful of eggs a week. On a good week.

But over the past month, things have changed. Two eggs a day have been appearing in the coop, sometimes three. I’ve even started hearing the familiar bawking of birds as they lay.

I keep myself cautiously optimistic. Could we be returning to the season of eggs? Who knows? Many things have started to change over these past few weeks.

Daylight coming earlier in the morning and staying later in the evening. It’s made caring for the birds, moving wood for the stove, and clearing snow much more convenient. No headlamp required. But the coldest temps of the winter have set in, the wind has been more pissed off. The last cans of tomatoes and peaches have disappeared from the pantry. And the frozen peppers and strawberries are down to the last few bags.

None of this good nor bad. Just reminders of the passage of time.

Small reminders. Things that can seem inconsequential when you live constantly surrounded by light and heat and abundance, disconnected from the natural rhythms of the world around us. The rhythms that our bodies intuitively know and crave.

But these are, in fact, the most meaningful reminders and changes. Together they are more than the sum of their individual selves. They are the beating heart of life, just like swaying trees and swirling snow are the wind.

Food is seasonal, it comes and goes. This is what life is like. And eggs are on their way back.

Categories: chickens, food, food storage, garden, waxing philosophic | Leave a comment

My breaducation begins

Matt Kelly, boonieadjacent.com

“Have you made bread before?” asks Ruth.

Yes. Of course I have.

Which are famous last words.

What Ruth means is, “Have you made really great, kick-ass bread before?”

And what I should say is: Uhh… maybe?

Yes, I’ve made bread before. I’ve even made it by hand. It turned out pretty good. Other people enjoyed it. It tasted really good.

The dough.

The dough.

“Bread always tastes good,” says Ruth. And Kelsey. And Nathan. Deflating me like so much dough after the first rise.

It’s like bread always gives you a Participation Award. “Good job,” it says with a big, warm smile. “You showed up. Here’s a big, blue bow.” Which makes you think just showing up and a bit of mediocre performance is something really great and kick-ass.

Then you start making bread with people who really know what they’re doing. And you quickly realize that all you were getting from bread before was a bunch of crappy little ribbons and a pat on the head: “Aw, you’re cute.” The word “special” comes to mind, but not in the way you originally thought.

But this is why you start making bread with people who really know what they’re doing.

Shaping.

Shaping.

Ruth watches me with a side-long glance as we shape a batch of bread, preparing it to proof. She’s shaping with machine-like rhythm and repetition; her hands always moving in the exact same way, loaf after loaf. It’s so automatic she doesn’t need to look. Ruth can watch me. Closely.

Yes, I’ve made bread before. But there’s a distinct way to form bread to create that firm shape ready to balloon outward when the yeast rises for the final time in the oven. Dragging your hands along the metal surface of the table, passing the ball of dough back and forth between them with just enough friction to tighten and not tear the surface.

And there’s two dozen loaves to make. For every one I shape, Ruth knocks out… I don’t know how many. They just keep appearing on the trays, perfectly formed, every time I look up. I keep trying to get the one in front of me acceptable.

Ready to proof.

Ready to proof.

“Here,” says Ruth, dusting her hands. “Let me show you.”

She steps in, the rhythm of her shaping never skipping a beat.

I watch closely and I promise you: I’m doing everything she’s doing. We each start shaping again. And somehow she and I end up with completely different loaves.

But this is why you start making bread with people who really know what they’re doing: no more ribbons.

Categories: baking, bread, food, Getting Breaducated | Leave a comment

Making Miso… What?

Matt Kelly, boonieadjacent.com

Right on. Let’s make miso.

Which is… what… exactly?

“Miso is a uniquely grounding food, often the product of years of fermentation… Though miso is classically made with soybeans, it can be made with any legumes or combination of legumes… The distinctive color and flavor of each bean carries over into the miso it produces.”
~ Sandor Ellix Katz, “Wild Fermentation”

So it’s a bean ferment. And like all ferments, the process is pretty simple: combine stuff and salt in a carefully measured proportion. Then let it sit.

“Not quite the same as other ferments,” says Ken. “You add more salt to the miso than for kimchi or sauerkraut.”

Koji.

Koji.

Duly noted. Plus there’s one other key ingredient that makes miso unique and possible: koji.

“Koji is grain, most often rice, inoculated with spores of Aspergillus oryzae, a mold that starts the miso fermentation.”
~ Sandor Ellix Katz, “Wild Fermentation”

Ken and Nathan spent a full day cooking both soybeans and chickpeas to make this batch of miso. They let the beans soak and soften so that we can stomp them into a mushy mixture with the salt and koji.

Chickpeas.

Chickpeas.

We lay out our table-long bin on the floor. Ken starts ladling in the beans while Nathan and I get ready for stomping.

“You need to wear these,” says Nathan, handing me a non-descript pair of knitted white socks. “They’re Ken’s special miso socks.”

What makes them special miso socks?

“The fact that you wear them to make miso, I guess,” says Nathan.

Right.

The mix.

The mix.

We put on a double layer of plastic bags over the socks, kept closed at the top with rubber bands. And then we step into the bin. Which is a little like stepping onto a slippery patch of ice. Definitely not a task for the awkward or uncoordinated.

And it requires the right music. Something with a solid rhythm and beat to keep your feet moving. Cue up some White Stripes.

Ken keeps ladling more beans. He dumps in salt. He pours in koji. He alternates between the ingredients so they all get mixed as evenly as possible beneath our feet. He works and scrapes around us with a flat wooden paddle, helping to mix and break up thick patches.

Then after a good long while of stomping, when the mixture is a thick paste and no longer looks like the individual parts, we start loading it into big blue barrels. We scoop up the miso in our hands, tossing giant, sticky balls of the mush into the barrels. We clear out every corner and edge.

Red miso.

Red miso.

We pack down the miso tight into the barrels. We seal it from the outside world with giant bags of water pressing down on it. The miso will sit fermenting like this for up to four months. Because what we’re making is sweet miso.

“Sweet miso is radically different from the more widely known saltier and much longer fermented misos. Sweet miso is actually sweet. It contains about half as much salt in proportion to the beans, and twice as much koji, as the red miso… It ferments for a much shorter time.”
~ Sandor Ellix Katz, “Wild Fermentation”

“Oh, sweet miso,” says Nathan, pulling off his special socks. “I can’t wait.”

Agreed.

Categories: fermenting, food, food storage, Getting Breaducated | Leave a comment

Economy of Movement: Granola

In the mixing bowl.

In the mixing bowl.

There’s always an awkwardness when you start something new. It’s the inevitable struggle to find your economy of movement in a new space; to develop new habits in thought and action that allow you to be efficient at what you’re doing.

Which table gives you the best space to work in? Which is most central to the things you need?

Which tools and bowls do you actually need? Are they clean?

Which ingredients do you start with? Wet or dry? Do you keep them each in a separate container or mix them as you go?

How many times do you walk back and forth to the cooler to get those ingredients? Are they in the cooler?

What does twenty-two kilograms of oats look like? What size container do they need?

What does .25 kilograms of molasses look like? What size container does it need?

And how do you scoop it out of all the corners when you finally add it to the mix? Because that shit is thick and sticky.

This was my morning making granola for the first time. All of these steps finally coming together in a giant red mixer that looks like a Kitchenaid tripped out on steroids.

But the truly challenging part was spreading the granola mixture on trays to bake.

The hardest part.

The hard part.

“I’m going to show you the beginner way to spread it,” says Kelsey, laying wax paper on cookie trays. “It’s not the fastest way but it’s the best way for learning.”

She scoops granola from the mixing bowl and piles it in a heaping mound on each tray. Then she starts spreading granola on the tray in front of her.

“Make it thick along the edges,” she says, pulling and shaping the granola along the sides. “You want to keep it thinner through the middle. So you can see the paper through the oats.”

She spreads the rest of the granola with claw-like fingers, combing through it and thinning it.

Thick on the sides. Thin in the middle. So you can see the paper. Got it.

And I start spreading granola. Imitating her motions.

“Well, kind of,” Kelsey says as she moves her first tray out of the way and starts on a second. She points with an oat-coated finger. “You’ve got too much paper showing there.”

If you spread the granola too thick, it won’t bake through all the way. Patches will remain wet and sticky.

If you spread it too thin, it’ll get too dry. It’ll burn.

The learning curve of efficient movement is a bitch with granola.

But all you can do is jump in and struggle. Spread the best you can and bake.

The first batch of cinnamon raisin out of the ovens has wet patches. Kelsey finds them as she’s breaking the sheets of granola into smaller bits for packing. She pushes the pieces into a corner of the table-long bin she’s working in.

Bummer. What happens to the wet pieces?

“We save them for the staff,” she says. And hands me a piece.

The punishment could be worse along this particular learning curve.

Matt Kelly, boonieadjacent.com

Categories: baking, food, Getting Breaducated | Leave a comment

Packing

Matt Kelly, boonieadjacent.com

One of the first things you do as an intern at Small World is spend a lot of time packing food into containers: apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut, red miso, mild kimchi, spicy kimchi.

But this is not the culinary equivalent of making copies in an office. It’s a far more valuable use of an intern’s time.

Packing gives you exposure to all these various foods: what they look like, taste like, smell like, feel like. Cooking and baking and general food making is the ultimate sensory experience. Paying attention with all your senses is the key to success.

“Is this spicy kimchi?” asks Kelsey.

Spicy kimchi... really?

Spicy kimchi… really?

We’re all standing around a table-long bin filled with fermented vegetables, packing jars labeled “Spicy Kimchi.” It sure should be spicy.

She picks out a few bits and tastes them. “It doesn’t taste spicy.”

All packing comes to a stop.

I taste some.

Nate tries some. He’s thoughtful for a moment. “It tastes spicy to me.”

I’m not so sure. I taste some more.

“I don’t think it’s spicy enough,” says Kelsey after another taste.

I agree. I’m not getting that tingle crawling up the base of my skull.

Luke tries some. “It’s mild.”

We add more homemade hot sauce and mix it in. We sample. We add more left-over kimchi bits and mix them in. We sample again.

“That’s spicy,” says Luke.

Agreed. There goes the tingle.

Categories: fermenting, food, food storage, Getting Breaducated | Leave a comment

New gig: Small World

Making bread.

Today I started my internship at Small World. For the next three months I’ll be learning to make miso and bread and kimchi.

And helping jerry-rig a small temperature-triggered heater using old extension cords, a random outlet, some electrical tape and a cheap thermostat.

“How much electrical have you done?” asks Luke. He’s laying out all the parts on the break room table. “We need to get this installed in the market van.”

And helping make aesthetic decisions about the makeover of the retail area.

“What do you think?” asks Eli. He and Ken are conversing thoughtfully about a blank wall in the shop, taking notes. “Should we have the barn wood running vertical or horizontal?”

And helping fill orders for sauerkraut. Original kraut. Curry kraut. Caraway kraut. Purple kraut. Cases of sauerkraut.

“Can I borrow you for three minutes?” asks Whitney. She’s pushing a clumsy wheeled cart towards the door. “Can you help me maneuver this out to the cooler to get the kraut?”

Sure can.

During the phone interview for the internship, Nate asked me a lot of questions about my expectations for the experience: What do I want to learn? How do I want my skills to grow? What would I like to contribute? What days and times are best for me? When it was my turn for asking questions, I had only one.

Baking bread.

Baking bread.

What do you guys expect from me as an intern?

Nate paused. There was silence on the phone but you could hear the wheels turning in his head. Always a thoughtful guy.

“Curiosity,” he said finally. “We expect you to be curious.”

Shouldn’t be a problem. Never a dull moment at Small World. Always plenty to be curious about.

**
Small World, http://www.smallworldfood.com

Categories: bread, fermenting, food, food storage, Getting Breaducated | Leave a comment

The Path I Walk

Here’s the obligatory New Year’s inspirational post. With all seriousness, I hope you enjoy it. May you find inspiration in both big and small ways all throughout this new year.

Unexpected beauty.

Unexpected beauty.

Apparently 2014 was a bad year. That’s what everyone seems to be saying. Good riddance.

Not sure I agree that 2014 was a terrible year. But I know I’d like the path I’m on this coming year to be a little smoother, straighter and more level than the one I followed in 2014.

And I know for sure the path I walk is entirely up to me.

This morning I headed out for a couple hours on the trail. Days off were a rare event for me 2014, I packed my schedule as full as I could. But somehow I ended up with New Year’s Day complete free, through no effort or intention of my own.

It was a day to spend in the middle of the woods with the camera.

The air was bitter cold, colder than it’s been all winter here in the Finger Lakes. The sky was clearing, letting sharp sunlight fall through clouds and trees. There was only a dusting of snow. Not enough to ski or snowshoe, not enough to turn the naked trees into a winter wonderland.

It was just enough snow to create the illusion of a smooth and easy trail.

Ankle-deep ruts of frozen earth and glassy sheets of ice from run-off were covered deceptively by a level blanket of fresh white snow atop a mat of fallen leaves. Every step was a potential ankle roll. I had to spend more time looking at the trail than looking for birds.

Worse still, others had passed this same way earlier in the morning. Their feet had churned up layers of snow and leaves, cutting ragged marks through this already unremarkable and uninspiring landscape.

A disappointment to be sure on my rare day off.

But the track of footprints had something to offer that I almost missed. The snow had been turned over and revealed countless crystalline structures of ice stretched between the leaves. Like the sheer cliffs of a tiny alien landscape.

I’ve never seen – or noticed – ice form like this before. Glad my eyes and mind were open wide enough to catch it this time around.

The path I walk in this new year is entirely up to me; trail conditions might be undesirable, but it’s my choice to walk it.

I will pay careful attention to I where I place my feet.

I will keep my eyes wide to the unexpected beauty and inspiration that fills the rugged terrain along this chosen path.

The beauty and inspiration that makes it worth walking.

More unexpected beauty.

More unexpected beauty.

Categories: in the wilds, photography | Leave a comment

Way too much to learn

Scoops for the seeds.

Scoops for the seeds.

“Have you seen those giant white lima beans?” asks Jeremiah.

“Yes!” replies Petra with her always-abundant enthusiasm. “Phaseolus lunatus.”

“Right,” says Jeremiah. He’s sticking labels on empty seed packets. “Just like watermelon.”

There’s a semi-awkward silence in the warehouse as we all collectively wonder: “Just like watermelon?” What?

“The species name,” Jeremiah says. “Lima bean is phaseolus lunatus. Watermelon is citrillus lunatus.”

Lanatus,” says Petra in gentle correction. “Citrullus lanatus. Lana not luna.”

“Really?” Jeremiah looks up from the packets. “I thought it was lunatus because a watermelon is shaped like the moon.”

Technically, lunatus is Latin for “crescent-shaped”; lanatus means “wooly”. Not sure what being wooly has to do with watermelons. But I’m not about to interrupt these two farmers with what Google Translate has to say.

Way too much to learn from just listening to them talk.

Our days on the farm are now spent indoors; in the windowless, low-ceiling, concrete-walled warehouse. Marathon shifts of packing seeds with the utmost precision. On these days, the passage of time is marked by the movement of seeds and playlists of music.

And conversation.

Piles of packets, labeled and waiting.

Piles of packets, labeled and waiting.

The spirit of the grange – the old meeting place of farmers in earlier times – is alive and well on these winter days. We talk about farming, about seed and growing seed. We talk about favorite varieties and personal preferences. There is discussion about cows and sheep and chickens. And the best way to dispose of manures. The solution is to spread it back on your fields, of course. But chicken manure can still burn your tomato plants if applied straight to the base, even when dry. We talk of compost and how leaf compost could tie up nitrogen in the soil if applied before it’s properly decomposed. Worm castings make great compost. But, man, is it expensive.

“When I set up my worm composting in college, I called it the Comminution Café,” says Petra.

Comminution (noun): the action of reducing a material to minute particles or fragments.

Who knew?

“How did the Black Cocos turn out?” asks Jeremiah.

“Beautifully,” replies Petra with her always-abundant enthusiasm. “But they did run a little bit.”

“Really?”

Black Cocos are a bush bean. Not a runner , not a climber.

“They bushed out very nicely,” she continues, creating images in the air with her hands. “But then a plant would send out a little runner, like a little hand waving, ‘Hello, here I am.’”

“Well, black beans are like that,” replies Jeremiah, sticking labels on packets. “They can be a little runny.”

Who knew?

Way too much to learn.

Mustard seed.

Mustard seed.

Categories: Finding Fruition, food, garden, seed | Leave a comment

Change of Pace

Matt Kelly, boonieadjacent.com

Seed cleaning is work that must be done by hand. No getting around it.

Winter is finally here. Snow covers the fields. Hollow winds blow through naked trees and across gray hillsides. A change of pace at the farm.

“We’ll get some down time,” says Matthew. “Like never.”

Now is when the true push begins to clean and package seed for the coming spring. Hours spent in the warehouse with screens and air columns, with scoops and dishes. With bag upon bag, bin upon bin full of seed.

There’s no quick and easy system to doing this. No matter how fancy the tools, seed cleaning is work that must be done by hand. You have to pay attention; you have to look at and listen to the seeds as they move through the process.

The change of pace in our work is from physical to mental; from days in the sun and breeze to artificial light and four walls. But the care and attention and hours of effort remain the same.

Air column: chaff and immature seed.

Air column: chaff and immature seed.

The air column makes it much easier to clean large volumes of small, light seed like lettuce. Load your seed into the column and send a continuous but carefully modulated blast of air through it. Just like using the box fans, the air column lets the heavier, mature seed to settle into one chamber while the lighter chaff and immature seed blow off into another.

But how strong to make the blast? There’s always some figuring out to be done. You don’t want good seed blowing off.

And before you can put the lettuce seed in the air column, you have to screen it all by hand. Do we use a 1/22 screen?

“I think 1/20 is better,” says Kim.

“Make sure you screen the Gentilina twice,” says Matthew. He’s looking closely at the seed we’ve done already, letting it fall from his fingers back into the tray.

You can only shake the screen so much before chaff starts to fall through with the seed. But there’s seed still left in the screen. So do it twice. All four varieties of lettuce seed, each a slightly different size and shape.

We’ve got a Dodder Mill for the beans. A wooden box with two adjacent rollers inside, set at a gentle slope from one end to the other. Crank the rollers and pour beans in the narrow crease between them; whole beans will roll smoothly along the crease and out a hole at the far end; broken beans and bits of chaff get bounced along the rollers and eventually into the bottom of the mill.

At least, that’s the idea.

We’re still getting broken beans falling out the end. We change the speed of the spin. We change the speed of the pour. We change the height of the pour.

“There’s less cracked beans falling out,” says Petra. She’s got her hands cupped under the hole, above the bin catching the beans. She’s slowing the fall of the beans and looking at every one.

“We’re getting whole beans in the bottom of the box,” says Kim, showing us the tray.

We’re thoughtful about this for a moment. Is it worth the time and effort to get every single good bean in the bin?

“If we get ninety percent of the whole beans, that’s good,” says Matthew.

It’s an eyeball measurement. An educated judgment call.

But even with the perfect spin and pour, the mill is still letting cracked beans fall into the bin. It’s not a perfectly clean batch.

“Maybe we should skip the mill and just clean all the beans by hand,” says Matthew. He means sorting through a ten-gallon bin of beans by hand, picking out the broken pieces and chaff. It’s an option but not a favorite one.

Maybe we should decide by bean.

Cleaning Gold Rush beans by hand.

Cleaning Gold Rush beans by hand.

Uncle Willie’s gets mostly clean with the mill, making the hand-picking much easier. But Supermarconi is such a big bean, it’s more effective to clean it all by hand without the mill.

And in the process of picking through the Gold Rush beans, we find the mutants. Variations from the rest. Same size but completely different coloration. Maybe from cross pollination?

“I think a cross is unlikely,” says Petra. “Self-pollinated varieties like beans are more likely to have variation from inbreeding. Not crossing.”

“Let’s save them,” says Matthew. “We can grow them out and see what they give us.”

Work that must be done by hand. No machine would have noticed these variations. No machine would have appreciated them.

Categories: DIY, Finding Fruition, food, food storage, garden, seed | Leave a comment

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