Friday, February 27, 2015

Homemade Lacto-Fermented Ginger Soda, Revisited

I've been making my own homemade lacto-fermented soda for about 3 years now and made a post about my original method sometime during the first several months (see here: Lacto-Fermented Soda). I believe have perfected it since then and feel the need to revisit this topic to share my observations and alterations.
(6-30-15 For a video, please see this link: Ginger Soda)

You see, it started to not taste so good and I became less and less interested in making it. I gave it up for a few months but then decided that maybe I just needed a fresh starter. I made a new starter and that helped, however after several months it began having the same issues of not tasting quite right. It was then that I decided to change my method. In my previous method I would simply save back a cup or two from the last batch of soda to use as a starter for the next batch of soda. At the same time I had been maintaining a sourdough starter for quite a while - I would keep the same starter but feed it when it needed fed and that kept it fresh and good. I decided to do the same thing with the ginger soda - instead of saving back a cup or so from the last batch I just began maintaining a starter. This has proven to work so much better ... however I do make a fresh sourdough starter every year in the spring and I might do that with the ginger soda too. We'll see.

So, here's the way I do it now.

* Organic ingredients are always preferable but not absolutely necessary.

For the starter/bug
Fill a quart mason jar about 2/3 full. Add to it 1T FRESH grated ginger and 1T sugar. Mix well to incorporate the ingredients and air into the water. Cover with a coffee filter or cloth secured with a rubber band. This allows wild yeasts and bacteria into the jar but keeps the bugs out. If your house is cold try to set the jar in the warmest place.
Each day thereafter, around the same time each day, you will add 1T of FRESH grated ginger and 1T sugar. Mix well to incorporate the ingredients and air. Stir again approximately 12 hours later. (so you will be stirring it every 12 hours)
I like to taste my starter each time after adding the ginger and sugar. It should be pleasantly sweet and somewhat gingery. If  it tastes too much like ginger (which makes me think of alcohol) it needs more sugar. Add what you think is needed ... a teaspoon? A few teaspoons? Another tablespoon? You might also need to skip adding the ginger (or only add a small bit) for one day but add the sugar. You'll learn what's right.
After about 3-7 days your starter should be ready - a warmer temperature in the home makes the starter go faster, a colder one makes it slower. You will see bubbles on top and when you stir it you will hear it fizzing like soda. If it only fizzes a little bit you might want to leave it another day or two.
Now you have what is called a 'bug'. You are ready to proceed to the next step.

For the soda base/wort - This is for one gallon of soda.
1/3c packed grated fresh ginger
1 1/2c sugar
Approximately 1 gallon of distilled or filtered water
1/3c FRESH squeezed lemon juice
1c strained soda starter/bug (SAVE THE REST OF THE STARTER! see below)

Pay attention now! This is important. You do NOT want to heat your starter! You will KILL it!

Fill a pot with a half gallon of water and the 1/3c packed grated fresh ginger. Bring to a boil, cover and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat, stir in the 1 1/2c sugar and allow to sit until it's at ROOM TEMPERATURE. You may cool it down quicker by putting it in a sink of cold water ... just be sure to not get the water into the pot.
Once the syrup is at ROOM TEMPERATURE add the 1/3c fresh squeezed lemon juice and the 1c soda starter/bug. Mix well.
Pour all into a glass gallon jug and add water to the shoulder. Taste it. It should be slightly sweet and gingery. Top with a coffee filter or cloth secured with a rubber band.
Leave on your counter. Stir every 12 hours and taste each time. You are looking for obvious bubbles and fizz. Also, it should be mildly sweet. If the sweetness goes away but you still do not see bubbles or fizz, add a little more sugar until it's mildly sweet again (I've never had to do this but I'm putting this in here just in case it happens to you).
This step usually only takes 1 to 2 days (24-48 hours or anywhere in between). If it's colder in your home it might take longer than 2 days. If for some reason you reach 3 full days and still do not see bubbles or fizz, you may try replacing some of the liquid with more starter (a half cup to a cup), adding more sugar if needed, and seeing what happens after another day or so. Again, this has never happened to me but it's possible.
Once you have fizz and bubbles you are ready to move on to the next step. Eventually you will learn how you like it to taste at this point too. I leave mine sit a little longer even after the fizz and bubbles start showing up.

Bottling your soda
This is the finishing stage that will really add carbonation to your soda and reduce the sweetness a little.
Strain off the ginger and discard or compost it. (I tried giving this to my chickens but they were not interested at all!).
You may add a little more sugar if you want it a little sweeter. Again, you will learn what you prefer. I never add more sugar but I do not like things so sweet.
Using a funnel, fill your bottles within 2" to the top (or if you are using plastic bottles you may fill a little fuller, but no more than 1" to the top). For the first few years I made this soda I was using plastic 'juicy juice-type' jugs. They are really air tight and work well enough, however I discovered a store in Rogers, AR, that had the fancy Grolsch-stole bottles (EZCap brand that are said to be the better ones) for a really good price so I went ahead and purchased a case of 16oz bottles (12 in a case). I did not regret this purchase at all and in fact just ordered the 32oz bottles for my beet kvass and for larger bottles of soda when we have company.
Anyway, fill your bottles and cap them with an AIR TIGHT LID.
Leave on your counter for a day or two or three to build up carbonation. The longer it sits out the less sweet it will be.
To check simply open the bottle and taste it, but be careful! It might spill out so open over the sink or outside. Each time you open a bottle to check it it will lose carbonation. To restore some of the lost carbonation simply put the lid back on and leave it out a little longer than the other ones.
When the soda is done, transfer it to the refrigerator. This will almost halt the fermentation process, however the organisms in the soda will continue to slowly eat the sugar ... the older it is the less sweet it will be, but it does keep indefinitely so do not be afraid to drink the old stuff!

Maintaining your starter
Now you still have this starter to think about; I will share what has worked very well for me.
Strain out the ginger bits and put the rest back into the quart mason jar. Add water until it's about 2/3-3/4 full. Add a tablespoon of fresh grated ginger and a tablespoon of sugar. This should sound familiar, right?! Just like before, you will add 1T of each grated ginger and sugar, mixing well twice a day, however this time you will only need to do it for about 2-3 days. Again, taste it to make sure it is mildly sweet and gingery. If it is too strong of ginger or alcohol, add more sugar and little to no ginger. If it is too sugary, leave off the extra sugar for a day or so.
Your starter should be bubbly and fizzy.
Now it is ready to be stored in the fridge until you need it next. I leave the cloth and rubber band on it and then I put a jar lid on top and put the ring on loosely. I do not keep it air tight.
A day before you are ready to make more soda take the starter out of the fridge, mix in 1T each ginger and sugar, stir again 12 hours later, and then 12 hours or so after that you are ready to make more soda. If it's really strong I leave off the ginger.
And the process repeats on and on.

You may wish to add a little concentrated fruit syrup before bottling it. This will give it different flavors but will also give the organisms more sugar to eat ... and might make the bottles super fizzy. If I make 2 gallons at a time I still have to use the plastic juice bottles for some of my soda because I do not have enough of the EZCap bottles. Occasionally I will add a handful of frozen strawberries, peaches or blueberries (or whatever) to the jug. This also makes it more fizzy. One time I opened a plastic bottle in front of company and I'm not joking at all, the soda shot clear to the ceiling and made quite the mess!! It was a good laugh.

Also, you do not HAVE to use ginger for the wort/syrup ... you may choose to use 6c of fruit like strawberries, grapes, blueberries or whatever. I have yet to find a fruit I like to use in place of the ginger; also, it just uses so much fruit that it seems a waste of fruit and money to me!!! I just stick with the ginger.

One final tip: When you make your first batch of soda I suggest you take notes so you'll have a better idea of what to do differently for the second batch.

Upcycle!! Feed Bag Tutorial

FROM JOANNE: My friend "MaryLu" is a super crafty/creative woman and really good with the sewing machine. I saw this post over on her blog and thought it would be nice as a 'Frugal Friday' post (it's been a while since I've done one of those!). So here it is ... "MaryLu" turns a feed sack into a bag (looks like it would be good for groceries or farmers market). If you make one, please share! Now, let's see how this is done:
I love upcycling and using what would ordinarily be thrown away toward a good and useful purpose. Plus, chickens and bunnies are cute. So why not tote them with you to the grocery store?
 Start with a 40-50 pound sack of feed.  Feed the critters first and shake out all the extra feed.  Some feeds are sweet and sort of sticky, so you may need to wash out the bag.
 Using a roller cutter and a mat, cut the bottom, closed edge off straight.  
You can also use a box knife to cut it, or draw a line with a pen and use scissors.  A roller cutter will be infinitely easier.
 Then, using a ruler, cut off a 2.5" strip across the bottom of the bag, this will be one handle.
 Now move your ruler and cut another 2.5" strip for the other handle.
Turn the bag over and thinking about where you want the design to be, cut about 2 inches above that line, so you can hem the top of the bag.  I chose to hem right above the words, "Nature Wise" for my bag.
Now, measuring from the top of the bag down about 20 inches, cut across the bottom of the bag at that mark,  
making sure you are cutting at a perpendicular angle so your bag remains square.
 Cut straight across the bottom.
 Take the handle pieces, and cut apart at the inside seam. Cut on both sides of the glued portion and discard that piece.
Set your machine on a wide zig-zag setting. For my machine, it looks like this. width is 5.0, length is 3.0.
 Fold both sides of the handle piece toward the center, overlapping both edges about a half an inch.  Your handle should be about 3/4' wide.
 Stitch right down the center of the handle catching both raw edges under your stitching.
 Stitch down both handles, folding the edges in as you go.
 Two handles done! We'll cut them to length a little bit later.
 Now fold your bag inside out.  It is a giant tube right now.  We are going to sew the bottom closed.
 Fold out the natural tucks/pleats in the sides of the bag, we will make boxed corners in a minute. 
 Set your machine back to a straight stitch, and sew the bottom of the bag using a half-inch seam allowance, backstitching at both ends. Pinning this "material" isn't easy unless you have strong pins, or you can use some clothes pins to hold the bottom edge in place.  Or you can just "wing in" like the chickens do.
 For this step, we are going to do a bit of origami, or think back to those newspaper hats everyone used to make.  Fold the bottom of the bag up against the side fold and press it with your fingers. 
 Flip it over so the seam side is down and notice the folded lines where the bag sides are.
 We are going to connect the ends of those fold lines and mark across them making a triangle.
 Sew along that triangle-marked line. Back stitching at both ends.
 Now move to the other side of the bag and fold the corner again. 
 Paying attention to the direction the bottom seam folds, make it fold one direction. Mine folds to the left.
Now, flip the bag over and mark that line again like you did on the other side. stitch across, back stitching both ends.
 Fold your bag right side out, and gently push the corners out forming a box.
At the top of the bag, fold the edge down about 3/4" and finger press.
 Fold again, to make a double fold.  It should be just under an inch.
 Stitch this down, close to the folded edge.  If you have the option to use a "needle down" position, now is a good time to use it. The bag gets cumbersome.
 You can use clips like this or clothespins to hold the folded edge while you stitch.
Since the bag is so bulky, I usually "tent" the end of my machine with the bag.
Take the bag out of the machine and refold the pleat at the side.
 Now we will attach the handles.  Mark in from the outside edge a comfortable distance, 3-4 inches and make a small circle on the inside hemmed edge of the front and the back of the bag. 
 Repeat on the other side, using the same measurement. I did 4 inches, but I think 3 might be better.
 Cut your handles at about 24 inches,
and using a straight stich, sew the handles to the inside of the bag using a large X.
There you have it! A new tote bag to carry to the feed store, maybe you can bring home a new bunny inside.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

DIY Homemade Airlock for Fermenting

Not too long ago a commenter on my Easy Lacto-Fermented Carrots video asked why I did not use airlocks. My only reason was that I thought they were too expensive but I hoped to own at least one some day, money permitting. After some research however it seems using an airlock produces a truer ferment and is sure to keep out unwanted, air-born bacteria and yeasts which might contaminate your batch. Though I've never had a problem with the latter, I was still curious of the benefits so I asked said commenter if he had any suggestions. He said he made his own quite cheaply ... and of course that got my wheels turning ... and I am now the owner of 6 airlocks for way less money than what I ever thought possible.

Here's how I did it.

I purchased the individual components needed from Amazon. I will link them here but I'm sure sooner or later the supplier will run out, the links will be changed or whatever. If you notice a link does not work, please let me know and I'll try to find another one.

3 Piece Plastic Airlock (pack of 6) $8.41
12 GROMMETS BPA-free Food Grade Silicone for Fermenting in Mason Jars $7.17+$2.20 shipping (there was a shipping discount for ordering this and the next product from the same seller)
12 STOPPERS #000 3/8" BPA-free Food Grade Silicone $7.17+$2.19 shipping (NOT needed but handy)
Supplies already on hand:
Drill with 5/8" bit
Wide-mouth Tattler lids and rubbers
Wide-mouth rings
Wide-mouth mason jars of various sizes (1/2pt, pt, qt and 1/2gal)

Note: if you do not have Tattler lids the normal metal lid may be used however an alternative that can usually be purchased at a local store is the plastic "Ball Storage Caps" ... but they are NOT air tight so you WILL NEED a rubber gasket of some kind.

Tattler lids can be purchased from their website or on Amazon (or other places too I'm sure).
Ball storage caps can be purchased from the local store or Amazon (or other places too I'm sure).
Rubber gaskets (reusable silicone seals for mason jars) to use with the Ball storage caps can be purchased on Amazon (or other places too I'm sure). Or you may use a Tattler rubber.
These nifty reCAPs should work too ... I found them on Amazon. They look exactly like what is used in this video. This would eliminate the need for the drill, the bit and also the [optional] stopper and rubber/silicone gasket.

Corban drilled a 5/8" hole into each Tattle lid and then the 3-piece airlock was inserted until the tip came through the other end snuggly.

Now I have airlocks for any size wide-mouth mason jar ... half gallons for things we eat more of (like sauerkraut, curtido, or carrots) and 1/2pt jars for things we either do not need much of or for experiments. Yay!

First up: Beet Kvass (be watching for a post in the near future!) and Carrots. Yum.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Homestead Happenings

So much has been going on around here I thought I'd take a minute to give an update before too much more time goes by ... since this blog serves as a journal of sorts for ME it's nice to have updates once in a while :)

There have been a lot of changes and more are to come ... mostly brought on by our church burning down. We live in a house next to our church and use the house property, church property and the parking lot across the street for our gardening/homesteading adventures. Our church property served as our 'orchard' (if you can call 8 fruit trees an orchard!); there was also a place for peppermint and spearmint. Last week the brothers and boys dug up our fruit trees and moved them to the new property, right on the edge of town. It almost looks like it's in the country but yet you can see the town start right down the street. The moving and re-planting seemed to be a success? Lord willing, some day we'll be moving out there too.

Ready to move!

Planting and more pruning.

Looking at the photo ... no one would ever guess we are in the Ozarks! Looks more like South Dakota or something :)

Also at the new property, and on the same day, Corban marked out and dug up our new garden plot - that's him in the tractor in the photo above. It is the nicest ground I've ever seen in these parts of the country!! Hardly any rocks to speak of ... WOW! And the soil looks somewhat rich. We are going to test it soon to see what it might be lacking. Also, the other day he hauled 3 dump-truck loads of composted manure to the site. Mmmm, good stuff.

Looking at the seed order :)

Speaking of gardening ... in between cleaning up stuff from the fire and doing all the other normal things, I've been working on planning the garden for the upcoming season. I ordered seeds last week (we like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) and they came a few days later. We have been learning a lot over the last few years about seed saving and have managed to save many of our own seeds, however we still need to order seeds too. As each year goes by we save more and more kinds of seeds ... maybe some day we will no longer have to order any? I spent a few minutes last week searching for ideas on how to store our seeds and I think for now we are going to go with a mason jar(s) in the fridge. I have a food saver with an attachment that sucks the air out of mason jars and that seems like it will work well for storing seeds? It's something like THIS if you are interested. I picked the food saver up a long time ago off of Craigslist; I don't use it much but I'm going to start dehydrating more and that will really come in handy.

I'm not sure this is worthy of sharing or not but it's been an interesting experience to say the least. Brianna's dog, Sadie, had puppies [intentionally] 4 weeks ago. She only had 3 - one really big one and two half the size, 2 brown, one black with a little bit of brown. I don't care for them in my house ... but oh well, it's just for a few more weeks. They are 'cute' but I'd rather them be in a barn or something ;)

My laptop was ruined in the fire; a nice young man in the community offered to rescue what he could off the hard drive. Thankfully most of it was saved but some was lost - and I'm still discovering things that seemed like they were ok but then it turns out they are not. I tried using an older laptop but that could not keep up with the other work I have to do ... so I had to go buy a new one. Once I find something I like I tend to be 'brand loyal' if I can, and I like ASUS. The one I got was on sale and I had a 10% off coupon; I was so thankful to save some money. I REALLY LIKE my new laptop! It's a touch screen and it has been such a blessing to be able to touch the screen to move through things instead of doing the mouse pad which is pretty hard for my lack of coordination.

I have a few videos and posts in the works but not much time to get them on here. We'll see what the next few weeks brings. One is the sourdough English muffin video (almost done). Another is a peak into my pantry. I really like seeing how others keep things organized and now that we have a system that is finally working for us I thought it was high time to share. Something else I am working on is making dehydrated 'meals-in-a-jar' ... if you have any tips or links to share, please do!

Back to work.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hempseed Review

The two brands being compared are:
Nutiva and Vitacost, organic, raw, shelled, shown here side-by-side (both were purchased from Vitacost):

While I'm certainly no hempseed expert, it really does seem to me that the Nutiva brand (left) is much better looking ... the seeds are far more plump and 'meaty' with a more consistent color. The Vitacost seeds (right) in comparison are lacking in size and are a bit dry. While both claim to be raw, the Vitacost seeds have much more brown going on, almost like they've been toasted a little? What do you think?

In case you are wondering, I put 3T of these in my daily green smoothies :) They add good fats, protein and a creamy texture; the flavor is pretty neutral as far as I can tell. 3T is also said to contain excellent amounts of a few other vitamins and minerals like phosphorus, magnesium and zinc.

While I use them exclusively in my smoothies (the only consistent thing I eat each day), they can also be sprinkled on to other food like salad, pizza, eggs, etc.