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Pleco for Lunch

It’s been a while since my last post, and a lot has happened in that time. First of all, I moved again, this time to Tampa, Florida. I went to college in Saint Petersburg, just across the bay from here, so this is somewhat like coming home for me. Yesterday, I had an experience that I felt was worthy of my first blog post in a long, long time.

As you may know, Florida is just packed with invasive animals and plants from all over the world. Some of them are not so bad, living out their lives without doing too much damage. Others, like the pythons, snakeheads, and Brazilian pepper trees either consume or out-compete native species. Yesterday, I was fishing in one of the lakes near my house and while fishing for bait with a net I brought in this marvelous looking non-native fish.

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Meet the sailfin pleco, more precisely the Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish, Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus. It is a close relative of the algea-eating plecos sold for aquarium use, and that is almost certainly how it was introduced to Florida from its native home in South America. They look cute when they are a few inches long, but when they reach their adult size of nearly thirty inches, most people cannot keep them as pets, and someone must have dumped a few in a local river. They survived, bred, and now they are found throughout central and southern Florida. Plecos can be quite damaging because they dig out burrows in the banks of ponds and rivers, filling the water with mud and causing bank erosion. For this reason, when caught they should not be released back into the wild.

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I am not a fan of wasting any animal I kill, so I decided to try eating pleco. I knew they were edible, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife website had a vague reference to “cook them ‘in the shell'”, so I gave it a try.

The first challenge was cleaning the fish. Plecos belong to the family Loricariidae, the armored catfish. As the name suggests, the entire fish is covered in bony plates, which simply cannot be cut through. The underside is relatively soft, though, so I was able to open the body cavity through the belly and clean the fish that way. The armor meant that there was no chance of cutting fillets, though.

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For spices, I mixed sea salt with thyme, rosemary, oregano, and paprika, with which I coated both the inside of the body cavity and the outside of the shell. The whole fish went into a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes.

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The process of eating pleco is very similar to eating lobster. Most of the meat is in the tail, so I broke the tail off (easy once the meat is cooked, just twist until it separates). Then, using a fork to jackknife the shell open, the meat was pretty easy to remove. The texture was very similar to juicy lobster, but the flavor very like pork, with a mild  fishy taste. Overall, a delicious meal that is totally different from any other fish I have eaten. I will definitely do this again if I ever catch another one. As if that wasn’t enough, my girlfriend also gave it her seal of approval. Not only is it delicious, it is also environmentally sound as a way to control a harmful invasive species which would otherwise damage the habitat that our native animals and plants depend on.

~The Homesteading Hippy


Sauerkraut with my Mom

I love sauerkraut. Besides its delicious taste and many health benefits, it is also, in a way, the reason that I began this blog.

It all started several years ago, when I was not working and bored out of my skull. In an effort to be productive, I started making some of my own food. I baked some bread, and posted the effort on my social media. I caught and cooked fish, and shared that. Then I made sauerkraut.

This involved a lot of explanation and photos, and by the time I was done, I had a small story posted on my social media page. I decided then that a blog would be a better platform for sharing my adventures, so I started writing longer stories, with more pictures, and The Homesteading Hippy was born.

Fast forward a few years, and I may be neglecting my blogging duties, but my adventures continue.

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I would like to interject here with a shout-out to the grandfather of modern sauerkraut, Genghis Kahn of Mongolia. Besides possibly being a direct ancestor to one out of every twenty of us in the world (more like one in ten in Europe), he is also responsible for a major culinary tradition. While people have been fermenting vegetables for a long time, Sauerkraut the way we think of it today was unheard of in Europe until dear Genghis, according to one form of the story, introduced it from Asia, where it had originally been invented in China.

During a recent visit to my parents, who inspired my interest in home-grown food (see their beekeeping blog here), my mother and I decided to make sauerkraut. She had received a fermentation jar with an airlock, and the first batch of sauerkraut had turned out wonderfully. But, as it had run out some time back, it was time to make more. We tried a slightly more advanced recipe this time, using a German-inspired recipe.

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It turns out that while Sauerkraut is loved throughout northern and eastern Europe, as well as parts of Asia, each region has its own traditional recipes. In eastern Europe, for example, they make a slightly sweeter variant that also includes shredded carrots. In Korea, there is kimchi (a whole other monster; I love it, but it’s not for everyone). In Germany, one of the local ingredients is juniper berry.

Off we went to the local health food store, bought a cabbage and a few tablespoons of juniper and carraway, and went to work.

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We first mixed the spices with a rather large amount of salt. For five pounds of cabbage, we used 1/3 cup salt, a tablespoon of juniper berries, and ½ tablespoon of carraway seeds. As I have mentioned in previous posts, salt creates an environment in which the only organisms that can thrive are the lactic acid bacteria that we want. They will ferment the cabbage and pickle it into sauerkraut

Next, we shredded the cabbage. During my first attempt, I did it all by hand using a knife, but we saved some time by using the grater attachment on a food processor. Into the fermentation jar went a layer of cabbage, followed by a generous sprinkling of salt and spices, and then more cabbage, etc. Each layer was firmly pushed down to the bottom of the jar.


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Once all the cabbage was in, we sealed the jar and waited. Sauerkraut has an important waiting step right in the beginning. During the fermentation process, it is important that the cabbage is submerged in liquid. This liquid is mostly released from the cabbage itself, drawn out by the salt to create a brine solution. Depending on the cabbage used, this is often enough liquid to completely submerge the cabbage.

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In our case, the cabbage was a bit dry, so we had to add a little brine, made by mixing 1 ½ tablespoons of salt with a quart of water, and add that until the cabbage was fully submerged. To keep it from floating, we added zip-lock bags filled with water on top of the cabbage.

At this point, all that is left to do is wait several months for the sauerkraut to mature!

~The Homesteading Hippy


Simple Lacto-Fermented Onions

My favorite type of pickling is lacto-fermentation, where bacteria break down sugars and produce lactic acid. These bacteria are not only incredibly healthy (they’re the same type that folks eat Greek yoghurt for) but they also add flavour to the food. It’s been a while since I’ve done any pickling, and I believe the last time was when I made corned beef right when I first started this blog.

Let’s start with a bit of biology. Normally, when critters, including us, use sugar for energy they need to take in oxygen to use in the reaction, and produce carbon dioxide. When the oxygen supply is cut off, the process comes to a screeching halt. For some organisms, lack of oxygen is no problem because they use a process called fermentation, which is simply the breaking down of sugars without using oxygen. We can use fermentation for short periods of time, when we are using lots of energy (say while sprinting) and can’t take in enough oxygen to supply all of the energy we need.


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Yeast performs one of the best-known forms of fermentation. They break down sugars and release ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide. For obvious reasons, this is called ethanol fermentation. Lacto-Fermentation, or lactic acid fermentation, is similar, except that the byproducts are lactic acid and carbon dioxide. This is the type we use when we sprint. Lactobacillus, the bacterium that makes yoghurt, also uses this reaction.

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To begin with, I built a new fermentation bucket. This is a food-grade two-gallon bucket with an airlock in the lid. The airlock allows carbon dioxide to leave the bucket, because the lid would pop off if the gas built up pressure inside. It also prevents oxygen from the outside air from entering, because as we covered, fermentation only occurs when there is no oxygen available.

We shredded six onions, three red and three white. I used this ratio before and liked the result, so I’m sticking with it. Using a mandolin makes the process quick and easy. Here’s Ace slicing onions.

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In the meantime, I prepared three quarts of brine. I got the salt/water ratio from this website, except that I used ice cream salt for one of the quarts and sea salt for the rest. The reason to use salt is that we don’t want ethanol fermentation in this recipe. Yeast is killed by salt, while Lactobacilli thrive in it. This is a simple way of selecting which form of fermentation we want. You can add spices, but I prefer not to, so that I can use the onions in any recipe I want.

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The onions go into the bucket and are covered with brine. To keep the onions submerged, place a plate over he onion and press down. It is important to keep the onions submerged to keep it from spoiling. Next, place the cover tightly on the bucket, and let it stand.

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The process can take over a month, so I will check on it every now and again. The easiest way to see that the reaction is occurring is to watch the airlock. If air is bubbling out you know that there is fermentation occurring.

~The Homesteading Hippy

5-Ground Meat

Making Jackrabbit Sausage at Home

A few posts ago I promised you a recipe for Jackrabbit. Having played with a few dishes, I decided today to try making Jackrabbit Sausage. Ace’s parents gave me a meat grinder for Christmas, and this seemed like a good way to try it out. Since I don’t have a sausage stuffer, I decided to make bulk sausage instead, but if you wanted to this could just as easily go into links. Continue reading


Wild Flowers and Wild Greens

The weather has been unseasonably warm the last few days, and although we’re supposed to get some more rain soon, I enjoyed a hike though Catalina State Park last weekend. Because we’ve had such a wet winter, the desert is really springing into life!

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Carry Me Back to Old Virginia

The title is from the folk song “My Clinch Mountain Home” which describes how hard it is to leave Virginia permanently. Luckily, I have many reasons to come back to visit often.

Last week I went back to visit my family, where I spent most of my childhood. It was nice to see everyone again, and I got a little time to relax and take a break from work. Now that I’m back in Arizona, I’d like to share the few pictures I took while I was gone. Continue reading


Hunting Part 3: The Meat

This is the last of three articles on my hunting adventures in Arizona. Firstly, I had described how and why I got into hunting for food. After that, I described the hunt itself, and how I find and catch a rabbit. This time, I’ll explore how I prepare the rabbit once I’ve caught it. Continue reading


Hunting Part 2: The Hunt

This is part two of a three-part series on my recent introduction to hunting for food. The first article explained my reasoning and purchase decisions. This time, we will focus on the process of hunting itself. The next article will be on preparation of the animals once they are caught. Continue reading


Hunting Part 1: The Rifle

I’ve been holding off on writing about hunting, because I was unsure of how to do so in a tasteful manner. In the end, I decided to do a three-part bit on my recent move into hunting for food. This article, the first in the set, will cover my acquisition of a rifle and my decision to take up hunting. The second will cover the hunt itself, and the third will deal with how to handle the catch, from butchery to cooking. Continue reading


Chasing the Enormous Hercules Beetle

I wrote last time about bug-hunting using a blacklight. It works very well, but sometimes it’s better to use other people’s lights. In this case, I’m referring to gas station and parking lot lamps, which are significantly brighter than anything I could put together. The beetle in question was Dynastes granti, the Western Hercules Beetle, and possible the largest beetle in the United States. Continue reading