Miso!

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Miso

Okay, so I started the dandelion wine post last month and then I sort of forgot about it because, with wine, there’s just an awful lot of waiting around.  And then I rushed through it because I was really excited about this next venture, homemade miso!  I started the miso project back in the fall, using the very easy-to-follow instructions by the fabulous Nancy Singleton Hachisu in her excellent Preserving the Japanese Way.

The whole thing is actually pretty pricey because you have to get a couple pounds of dried soybeans (I opted for organic) and order koji starter online and then pay a lot for shipping because it’s a live product and needs to stay cold.  You also need a lot of salt, though that’s at least cheap.  Anyway, I’ve just been through my photos and apparently I didn’t document the process well, which is a little sad because there’s some fun throwing of balls of soybean-and-koji balls into the fermentation jug, and some steps that make you question your sanity a bit.  Lacking my own photos, here are some I stole from the Permaculture Research Institute:

The basic process is that you soak and the cook the beans, drain them, and then mash them.  I did this by hand, so my finished miso has more texture than commercial kinds.  After the beans are mashed up, you add salt and koji, squeeze together handfuls, and then throw those into the fermentation pot so they make a satisfying “thwack-splat!” You have to throw them hard because you’re trying to get rid of air pockets.  Then you sprinkle on more salt and cover the whole with a tight-fitting lid.  I used a plate that fits right into my fermenting crock.  Over this you place a cloth (I used a tea towel) and then a heavy weight (I used a gallon wine carboy filled with water) and drape another cloth over the top and tie it around the base.  Ms. Singleton Hachisu assures the reader that the cloth “will become scarily dusted with green mold spores” because it’s actually the mold barrier.  Then you really just let the whole thing sit round outside.  I started mine in September or October and let it ferment until today.  Traditionally, when the weather warms, you just start stirring and let it hang out through summer but when I opened it up today it smelled great so I decided it was done.  Normally it apparently goes through summer.

Because of the expense and the fact that the whole thing stays covered, I was quite nervous but it turned out really well, and there’s a lot of it!  LotsOfMisoSix pounds, apparently.  I have mashed it down better than in these photos so there aren’t air pockets and stuck it in the fridge.  But before I did that, of course, we needed a taste: MisoShiru. It’s rich and flavorful and so satisfying!  The texture is a little surprising if you’re used to the smooth stuff but the bits are just like amazake (which makes sense since they’re both made with koji) so they’re not objectionable.

The only problem is that I now have 6 pounds of miso taking up space in my fridge, but I think that’s a problem I can handle.

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How make dandelion wine

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Spring always feels exiting to me, with the new flowers bursting forth and the migratory birds returning.  And, as a country wine-maker, I take special glee in the early abundance of dandelions.  I’ll post the recipe, with links and general info, but a couple of things to start.

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First, there is probably no faster, surer way of making the neighbors think you are a crazy person than wandering around with a sack and picking weeds.  If you have kids, this is probably an excellent task for them, but you may want extra flowers so you can make something said kids can have, too.

Second, harvesting in public areas like alleys and verges is fine, but if you are going to be venturing into people’s yards, it’s courteous to ask first.  Again, people will think this is peculiar, at best, and you will get answers ranging from “Pick them all!” (Note: don’t do this.  More on that in a sec) to “Uh, sure…?”  I try to avoid areas right along busy streets and places I know people spray pesticides.  Abandoned lots are great.  I also encourage dandelions in my own yard, where the worst they’ll get is some dog pee, which is easily cleaned off in the second step of the recipe.  You’re looking for fresh-looking, fully opened flowers, and you want as little stem and green as possible.

Third and possibly most importantly, dandelions are important food for bees in early spring, so please do not denude areas of flowers!  Early in spring, I never pick more than a third of any given area.  Later on (I was late in my harvest this year), I may pick as much as 50% of a given patch.  The front of my house has a lovely dandelion patch, but it also has a cherry tree and two serviceberry bushes, so I will often harvest 2/3 of the dandelions there, but as a rule I aim for a third to half.  Leave old flowers with dried-looking edges and flowers that aren’t fully opened, and, of course, anything with a bee already in it.

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To make dandelion wine, then: First, when you notice lots of those cheerful pops of yellow in lawns and gardens, it’s harvest time!  I warn you that once you make dandelion wine, every patch of these tasty little weeds will get you feeling positively lustful.  I can’t pass a field full of them without my fingers involuntarily flexing to pick some goodness.

For your wine, you will need 7-8 cups of flowers.  Some recipes will tell you to use only the petals, but I will tell you that that is a giant pain in the butt and will take you hours and hours.  So I harvest them as close tot he flower as possible.  As I said earlier, don’t take more than a third to half of any given patch.  I also try to space out my picking so there are flowers still nicely dispersed for the bees.  I live in an urban area, but I rarely have to do much more than go around my block (occasionally crossing the street or venturing into a promising alley) to get my full haul.

dandelionHarvest2017 I use a plastic 4-cup measure paper bag with handles or a wicker basket– fill the measuring cup once, dump it into the bag, and refill.  This usually takes me around half an hour if I’m at peak season.  Earlier in the morning is better, as a rule, but even late morning works.  Afternoons are hard as the flowers often close in the heat of the day, and overcast days don’t work well for the same reason.  Watch for insects when you harvest, and try to remove them as you go.

Once you have your harvest home safely, put a gallon of water on to boil.  (It’s especially helpful if you have someone at home you can call to turn on the burner when you’re about 15-20 minutes away from home.)  When the water’s boiling, remove it from the heat and pour it over your dandelions.  steepingDandelions At this point, you will need one of your few specialized ingredients, a crushed Campden tablet,  canmpdenwhich you can get from wine supply shops like EC Kraus, Midwest Supplies, the Wine Maker’s Toy Store, or (ideally, because local economies are important) your local beer and wine supply store.  To be fair, some winemakers do not use Campdens or commercial yeast in their wines, opting instead for the natural yeasts that are on the fruits and flowers already.  I have never been quite brave enough for this approach, and since dandelions grow right at pee-height for dogs and cats, this doesn’t seem to me like the time to experiment with that.  After you’ve stirred in your crushed Campden, let the whole mess steep for 24 hours.  Then add 1/4 teaspoon tannin, 3 teaspoons acid blend, and 1/2 teaspoon yeast nutrient (also available from your wine store).  Stir and chuck in white grape concentrate or a pound of golden raisins tied in cheesecloth.  Then pitch (add) your yeast– I like Champagne or cider yeast– and then cover, attach an airlock, and wait.

When the really active part of the ferment is over (or, if you want to be technical and use a hydrometer, when your specific gravity is at 1.000), siphon into a clean, sterilized gallon jug and move your airlock over.  Siphon off lees every couple months until it’s clear and looks like a tawny white wine, and then bottle!

Pyment, grape conserve, apple wine, elderberry harvest

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This sums everything up, even though it’s not about wine

 

Late summer into early fall is a busy season for a winemaker and food preserver. Gerry completed the stand for my fruit press, which is lovely and functional.

14359269_10154488847242442_6855223071569342717_n  You stand on the lip in the front of the photo and turn the crank.  It works well and is easy to disassemble, so it’s in the shed now, with the press.  (Side note: what a messy kitchen!  I should have cleaned up before the photo, but instead you can see the box the apples came in, my shopping bags hanging from the door, the primary fermentor, rumtopf aging in the corner….)  Anyway, I got a little over a gallon of juice from the apples, so that’s now in a couple of secondaries.  No photos because it’s just a fizzy brown-yellow like last year’s.

I also started a batch of pyment or grape mead.  It’s 3 pounds of Concord grapes and 3 pounds of local honey.

I  kept the grapes in  for 4 days and then strained them out, so hopefully the final product will be less foxy than last year’s Concord wine.  I want some flavor and color, obviously, but I don’t want it to be too strong.  It’s a nice purple, which seems like a good start.

I also started a second-run wine with my Leon Millot grapes and some grape concentrate.  I took the grapes out of the first batch  and popped them into a new primary with some grape concentrate, water, and sugar– the yeast is just what’s left on the grapes.  I also drained the yeast from the first-run, since my hydrometer sank all the way when I tested the specific gravity.  That’s a pretty fast complete ferment, which I think was from the warm kitchen.

And, of course, since I have lots of Concords, I made some conserve, too.  2016-09-10-21-32-54  I did a batch flavored with lemon rind and one with orange.  You can see the walnuts floating to the top of the jars, even though I cooled them upside-down.  We had some this morning on biscuits and it’s very tasty. Funny how the foxiness doesn’t matter in sweet applications like conserve and Welch’s grape juice.

And finally, I harvested my first elderberries.  I got a little over half a pound, which is pretty far shy of the 3.5 I would need for wine, so I’m making syrup instead.  It’s the fruit, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and honey. 2016-09-14-19-49-25I simmered it for about 20 minutes and then strained it.  I’m letting it cool a bit, and then I’ll press the juice out of the fruit and figure out what to do with the syrup.  I might freeze it in an ice cube tray for handy single-servings for cold season.  And since the wine is so good, I’ll make another batch with dried fruit once I have a free primary fermentor.  If I get enough at some point, I will try elderflower wine, too, though I’m more excited about what I can make from the fruit.

And now it’s getting close to bedtime.  I’m a little sneezy, so I may dose myself with my lovely elderberry syrup before I hit the sack, too.  Satisfying!

A short Sriracha post

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I had big plans for today, but so far all I’ve managed is a quadruple batch of Sriracha.  It did come out to 14 jars, though, so that’s kind of exciting.  I had 4 pounds of mixed peppers, not counting the ghost pepper I bought yesterday but was too chicken to put in.  Mostly I used Jimmy Nardellos (sweet Italian frying peppers), jalapenos, and cayennes, with one accidental scotch bonnet.  Tried to go heavy on the garlic to give it a bit of extra flavor beyond just hot, too.  In case you ever wondered what a cup of garlic, 10 cups of vinegar, and 4 lbs. of roughly chopped peppers looks, like, it looks like this:

2016-09-05 09.34.31  After it sat around for a while (I presume this is to meld the flavors, since it doesn’t seem to ferment), I poured off the vinegar and reduced it, then added the vegetables and cooked them until they were soft, and then blended the whole thing up: 2016-09-05 11.17.10. So I now have some for us and some to share!  The only real drawback to making it is that it’s kind of a pain to blend in the food processor because it leaks, and the blender will be tricky because of the heat.  I think I’ll try the immersion blender next time.  I also found a recipe online for a fermented version (obviously not canned), so that seems worth trying out, too.  So there you have it: a day mostly wasted, except for 14 jars of Sriracha.

Apple wine and actual grape wine

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It’s a busy harvest season!  Lots of stuff to be prepared and me with just one long weekend to do it.  Things started when the most excellent Molly gave me a giant box of apples from her mother’s tree.  It was 18 pounds of giant, in fact, so I decided to try a fruit-heavy apple wine recipe.  I started by chopping up the apples, no mean feat when there’s that much fruit. 2016-09-03 13.05.07 It only took an hour or so, I think, but I had to put a bandage on my right hand where it met the knife handle.  To these I added a gallon of water, yeast nutrient, and a packet of Champagne yeast.  I’m supposed to let it all sit, stirring several times a day, for about a week.  After that, I will press the apples to get all that good juice out, and add sugar (how much depends on how much juice I get, so Gerry’s going to rig something for my fruit press to sit on) and whatever else is needed.  2016-09-04 08.46.52 (1)  The apples are browning less than I thought they would, and they make a pleasing fizz when I stir.

Then last night, I was out back with the dogs and I started harvesting my Leon Millot wine grapes, sort of on a whim.  As it turns out, I had just shy of the 16 pounds I need for wine (15.83, I think) so I decided to give it a go. 2016-09-03 18.58.53  Unfortunately for me, the first step in real wine, unlike my normal country wine, is to pick the grapes, removing stems and other debris, which turns out to be hard physical labor.  It took ages!  I finally finished at around 10:30, having spent over 2 hours standing at the sink and getting pruny fingers from the water the grapes here in.  (I also had to run outside a few times with the small survivors of my picking: a beetle, several spiders, and a ladybug.)  So I covered the bowl with a towel, took a bath for my aching feet and back, and went to bed.  This morning, Jolyon and I crushed the grapes by hand, though after a few minutes, he resorted to the potato ricer, which did quite a nice job.  I just kept using my hands, which was sort of satisfying, even if I did feel a lot like Lucy stomping grapes.  It took us a little less than an hour, I think, and I had to add a little more than 2 cups of sugar to get my specific gravity up to 1.100.  (I don’t actually have an acid tester so I will have to trust that these are appropriately acidic, though the extremely nice Rykers Cellars guy offered to test it for me.)  At first I had all of this in a 2-gallon bucket, but my instructions say to be sure a fifth of the primary is empty because the must expands, so I moved it (messily) to my big bulb fermentor.  I have the grapes tied in a bag, which doesn’t really fit the mouth of the bulb, so I might untie  and dump, though that will mean straining afterwards.  We’ll see.  Anyway, it doesn’t start off a nice color. 2016-09-04 08.47.30  But this photo is from almost immediately after crushing, and the skins are all still in there, so it should look much nicer soon.  So far, it’s just the juice, sugar, and a crushed Campden.  I’ll add yeast this evening, though I haven’t decided what kind yet– probably Montpelier.  I think I’ll try a second-run batch too, since the actual wine grape thing is so exciting.  (I’ll need to get grape concentrate but that should be easy enough.)  Regular wine a different process, since I didn’t really need to add much of anything else.  Here’s hoping it’s good!

The Concords are coming along quite nicely too, and I got some clover honey last weekend at the farmers’ market at East High School with Jen.  So a pyment will be next, when I have a free primary.  I’ll probably do some grape conserve, too.  And I got more nice red jalapenos and cayennes at the South Pearl market with Kim today, so I really need to get on that Sriracha.

And, of course, the weekend always means lots of regular cooking for the rest of the week.  There’s a big pot of bhindi masala on the stove now, and apple-carrot muffins, marbled banana-chocolate bread, and lemon-blueberry loaf are cooling.  Lily, however, is unimpressed.2016-09-04 09.42.00

Lazy blogger returns to pickle again!

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I have admittedly been lazy about the blog, but not about everything else!  I’ve been quite busy, in fact.  Here’s the current state of my rumtopf: cherries, a few red currants, raspberries, and strawberries added.  I may have more peaches to harvest soon too, so those will go in then.  This jar, incidentally, is a sun tea jar I bought for a couple bucks at the grocery store years ago, cheerfully decorated with cherries.  It’s never been used for sun tea, but it’s perfect for rumtopf (heavy on the cherries, appropriately enough) and fermenting vegetables.

Speaking of peaches, I did harvest and can my first crop this year.  They were tiny and very cute, about apricot-sized.  This is apparently normal for first harvests, so presumably that means next year’s crop should be bigger fruit.  I wound up with a couple pounds, so I did 2 jars of tarragon peaches and 3 of spiced, though I completely forgot to add the cinnamon sticks to those, so they’re just allspice and cloves.  They’re Red Havens, which are supposed to do well here.

I also tried a fermented Concord grape jam, with not much success.  20160828_161752 The recipe called for Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which I couldn’t find, so I added regular pectin.  Which apparently needs to be heated to do its thing.  So this is very liquid, but I’ll taste it tonight to see if it’s good.  Kind of a weird recipe, calling for salt and maple syrup and crushed berries, but it seemed worth a try, anyway.  I added one last peach I’d somehow forgotten to can up, so at least there’s that for texture.  (The grapes went through the food mill, since they’re full of seeds.)

I also made more curried cauliflower, which is visible in the background of the previous picture, as well. 20160828_161836  This is a favorite of ours, with a hint of sweetness from orange juice (or raisins last time) and some heat from jalapenos.  It’s tasty with rice or in sandwiches or as a side dish, or even with an actual curry.  Good stuff.  When I finished that, I did a quarter-pound of whole-leaf basil 20160828_161651 which looks kind of awful but smells great.  It’s just the basil leaves massaged with a small quantity of salt, and yes, that is the whole quarter of a pound.  Apparently the flavor gets very concentrated, and you use it like fresh.  I might get more this weekend and top this jar off, too.  I love the idea of year-round basil.  In previous years, I’ve made pesto and frozen it in ice cube trays, but stuff gets so buried in the freezer that I always find bits of it from 2 years ago, freezer-burned and sort of tragic.

And finally, I did a second batch of the excellent sweet- and hot-pepper salsa: 20160828_161913.  This unprepossessing photo is the inside of the fermentation crock, with a layer of plastic wrap directly over the chopped veg, a plate on top of that, and a jar of cornstarch as a weight.  I keep the crock covered with a dishcloth, which you can see in the earlier photos, behind the other jars.  The salsa is excellent, in any case, and really worth making.  It’s also pretty simple: 3 pounds of sweet peppers, 1 pound of hot, a couple sweet onions, 3 or 4 gloves of garlic, and salt.  You just whir everything in the food processor, though next time I’ll do that in 2 batches, since it leaked pepper juice all over the place.  Then you let it ferment for a few days until it tastes good.

Still to come: Sriracha, grape conserve, and hopefully a batch of wine with elderberries and my Leon Millot grapes.  I’ve started the Sriracha but I didn’t have enough vinegar and was too wiped out to go get more.  So I’ll remedy that soon.  Grapes are getting ready for harvest, and we’ll see about the elderberries.  I have some fruit clusters, but they’re still looking pretty green, so I might give up and use dried fruit like I did last time.  Busy time of year!  Please think good wine-making thoughts my way.

Season’s first harvest

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1.5 pounds tart cherries

I guess most people, before departing on an adventure, don’t worry about harvesting their cherries, but this is a big container of my yield from the bush in front. (You can also see a few serviceberries in this photo.)  I got just over 2 pounds. I’m not normally a fan of single-use kitchen tools like asparagus-peelers, but the exception is definitely my cherry-pitter.  I used a chopstick for the tiniest of the cherries, but the rest of the 2+ pounds was all that most excellent pitter, and the whole crop took less than an hour to prepare.  I’ll freeze these guys, either for pie or for wine, depending on how good the yield from my tree in the back– its fruit is still pale and just starting to blush.

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More cherries

The birds may get to the fruit before we get back, though both the tree and the bush are tart, which birds apparently like less than sweet.  My elderberry trees are in blossom, too, which is very exciting.  I’m going to give them a good, deep watering tonight.

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Elderflowers

 

Peaches

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In addition to the freezer cherries, I’ve also put some up in rum.

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2016 Rumtopf cherries

We really enjoyed our rumtopf last year, so it seems worthwhile to make again! I hope to get other fruit to add, as well.  My peaches seem to be coming along (fingers crossed), and the redcuarrants too, so hopefully we’ll have an excellent rumtopf this year.  Blueberries are not recommended in rumtopf, so I’ve decided to keep the serviceberries out– they’re fairly similar, and I don’t want to risk ruining the whole batch.  I suspect, though, that all they would do is turn everything a terrible color, since blackberries also make the “not recommended” list.  (Citrus and rhubarb, too, but those I’m sure just suffer in the preservation.)  Hope we get some strawberries!  They’d be nice in the mix, as well.  I am, however, leaving them, the tomato, the jalapeno, and the lemon & lime to Mom while we’re away, so I’m not sure how things will fare.   Mom’s better with indoor plants, and since everything is in pots this year, they need a lot of water.  I guess time will tell!  (And I really can’t complain about anything, since we have a free house-sitter and pet-sitter rolled into one in Mom.)

Jolyon got me an excellent book, Preserving the Japanese Way, for my birthday, and I really want to try my hand at homemade miso and sake, but I will have to wait until after we get back.  Miso is apparently something you start in early spring anyway.  Funny that, in all my wine-making, sake never occurred to me.  It actually looks pretty straightforward, though with more steps than wine, and I’ll have to find a source of rice koji.  There’s no particular information on how long the fermentation should take, but it sounds like it’s maybe just a couple weeks.  There’s even an amazake recipe, which will be brilliant to have in winter.