Friday, October 31, 2014

Kimchi Out, Kraut In

This latest batch of kimchi was ready to go into jars.  The flavor is good, all the characteristic ginger, garlic, scallion, chili, etc tastes are there for kimchi, but it's a little weak, because I stretched the spice paste over too much cabbage, and it's a little salty, probably from the brine step.  Totally edible, don't get me wrong, and I think it will only get better.  There was a bunch of extra brine, which was delicious, and struck me as being very "meaty."  The whole process is getting smoother.

And this carboy-kraut was more than ready to hit the crock.  I fermented it in a carboy with an airlock, so while it was totally protected from all sources of oxygen, and did not grow any mold or fancy-colored bacteria for two weeks, it was not entirely submerged in brine.  Opening up the carboy for the first time there was a vaguely "off" smell, mostly carbon dioxide, which took me aback, and some sulfur-y smells, maybe a little like horseradish?  It was very soft, but not very sour, so I packed it into a crock.  There was also lots of extra brine in this one too, and it was strangely sweet.  I'm hoping it sours up nicely now that it's submerged and exposed to a *bit* of air.  I kinda like soft, pungent kraut.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Crocks of S#!*

Sauerkraut production is in full swing.  I went to the Fondy Food Center and picked up a ton of cabbage to start a new batch of kraut and a batch of kimchi.  The kraut above is an experiement in lacto-fermentation with an airlock.  That's a widemouthed carboy, and the contents are just salted cabbage.  I chopped it with a knife, which is pretty fast and doesn't require much cleanup, but the result is pretty coarse, especially once you get to the fifth cabbage.  You will notice that it is not weighted, which is a big no-no in the brining world, but it's been nearly a week with no sign of mold or discoloration.  More on that in another post.

To make room for the kimchi in my new stoneware crock, I first had to package the last batch of sauerkraut, which has turned that delicious pale yellow-green color and is pleasantly sour.  It is flavored with dill seed and some lemon juice was added, so it tastes pickle-y and fresh.  I'm looking forward to seeing how it continues to age and change in the fridge.

Then I chopped up 3 big Napa cabbages and a big bundle of scallions.  They spent 24 hours in a water brine, and then got drained and packed in with chili-ginger paste.  Bubbles have commenced.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

1 Unit of Standard Kraut

I have returned from Fermentation Fest.  Reinvigorated with fresh culture.

I took a class from Kirsten Shockey and got a signed copy of her book: Fermented Vegetables, and the crock above is filled with a batch of basic sauerkraut using her methods (which is to say that it's one of the simplest recipes for sauerkraut there is, not that that's a bad thing.)  I got the crock from Ace Hardware, which is a remarkably good source for fermentation / food preservation supplies.

Ma femme noticed that on the back of the book, the two recommendations at the top are from Sandor Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation, and Deborah Madison, author of Vegetable Literacy.  She then pointed out that Vegetable Literacy is currently on her nightstand, and Katz's book is currently on the dresser by my side of the bed.  That is serendipity if ever there was; this is the right book for the right time in our household.  She even found a recipe for a ferment that she wants me to try, and I never thought that would happen.  We've got a bunch of surplus garlic from a friend, so I'm going to turn it into a fermented garlic paste that can be used in place of fresh garlic, but all the peeling and processing is already done, plus it takes the edge off of raw garlic.  If it's good, it might become a regular thing.

In other fermenting news, I have about had it with vinegar.  There's something I'm just not getting.  One jar got fruit flies (I didn't even think that was possible, and it makes me believe in Spontaneous Generation.)  One jar tastes like puke, and one jar tastes like ashes.  What.  The.  Heck.  I'm done trying to turn shitty beer into amazing vinegar, I think that's a "garbage-in-garbage-out" proposition.  I tossed a bunch of failures out this weekend, and started a fresh batch with a nice hunk of mother and a bottle of Cabernet.  I set it up on the counter so I can see it every day, with a clean piece of cheese cloth.  If this doesn't work, I'm giving up for a while.

On a more positive note, the New Year's Ale remains steadily active, in the way that those big beers do.  There's less of a burst and retreat, the way a smaller beer can be ready to go to secondary (or straight to bottling) after just a week or two.  This beer is just marching, with about an inch of kreusen and a relentless bobbing of the airlock; it shows no signs of slowing down just yet.

I transferred my Chianti, and it tastes bold and belligerent.  It will benefit greatly from another six weeks of slow maturation, followed by some heavy toasted oak.  The Sour Series continue their patient slumber, with the Berliner Weisse starting to get really clear almost all the way to the bottom of the Carboy of Truth.  By Early November, it will be ready to make way for a new resident, and join its brothers in silent watchfulness along the wall.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Fermented Grape Jelly

The post title is a bit of a misnomer, since what I'm making is actually wine jelly.  I could have written "Fermented-Grape Jelly" to distinguish it from "Fermented Grape-Jelly."  The recipe is from the Cook's Illustrated D.I.Y. cookbook, and it was pretty easy.  Ma femme and I don't eat a lot of sweet stuff like that, so I doubt it will become a regular thing, but the few licks from the spoon I had are very tasty.  It has a rich, tart fruitiness, rather than a purple candy flavor you can get with grape jelly in a packet.  Also, apparently wine has a hot break, I would not have guessed that there would be enough protein to make that happen, but there it was.

On the back burner (about which I will not attempt to make a pun) there is a quart of honey that I softened to add to my New Year's Ale.  It took a solid four days for the lag phase to end and that beer to develop a kreusen, and it never got more than an inch thick.  Potential causes: Under pitching, since the yeast pack spent two months in my fridge, and was on clearance when I bought it anyway.  Low temperatures, since the temperatures are low and I set it on the basement floor.  High gravity, which I should really start measuring, but aghh.  The big beers I like to make for long term bottle aging need big starters to get going.  I have had so much success with beers that took forever to get going that it's not really motivating to try any harder.  I'm in no hurry, so if the yeast need an extra week in primary or an extra few months in secondary, well then they can have it.

I will say that things took off again after the addition of honey.  The blow off hose had settled down to maybe a bubble a minute, but after just a few hours with some extra sugars, it's up to once every few seconds, once it settled back from vigorous emissions of gas after being agitated and having a bunch of warm honey lobbed at it.  I want it to be drinkable by the New Year, so I moved it up off the floor, and it will get Champagned soon, perhaps as early as next weekend.  I very rarely brew a beer with a specific deadline, and I still reserve the right to delay the release if that's what the beer needs; I shall not compromise my vision!  

LOL j/k, no srsly.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


The transformative action of microorganisms naturally tends to produce a surplus.  Making five gallons of beer or wine is no more work than one.  Chopping, salting and packing into jars turns a extra vegetables that would otherwise spoil into delicious krauts and pickles to share.  Giving and receiving the things we make by hand reinforces the bonds of friendship and strengthens our culture. 

I cannot get over how intertwined the different meanings of that word are: culture.   It's everything.

I was so happy to be able to give away some of my surplus ferments this weekend; whether it was for old friends, new ones, just saying hi or thanking someone for their hard work, I got back joy and a sense of belonging that I cannot brew up alone in my basement.

I also got some fermented products in return, and it was that pinnacle of exchanges where each party thinks they are getting the better deal.  I was just giving away my silly wine, and I got back exquisitely crafted cheese and sausage.   Getting something that someone else has poured their time and resources into makes you feel special.  

I could go on like this forever.  There were many wonderful things to reflect on today.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Fermentation Fest Day 1

Good food, great exchange of knowledge, new friends, and some vaguely familiar faces.  

Takeaway points:
1). Organic peanut butter might give you cancer.  Don't you wish you didn't know that?
2). For best kraut flavor, chop your veggies, add salt, and press well to create a brine.  Add brine from a previous batch or some lemon juice if you need more liquid; try to avoid adding just salt water.
3). Slip into a groove, visit those common spots, and don't be afraid to say hi to that dude from that class when you see him later at the coffeeshop.  Culture culture.

Reedsburg feels strangely like home.