Maybe I cheated a little. This photo should be familiar to every fisherman since the invention of the camera. While not truly a yard in length, these beans are still huge compared to my Old Homestead and Rattlesnake beans. They are Vigna unguiculata sesquipedalis, the yardlong bean. Also known as snake beans or asparagus beans, this south Asian crop is actually a variety of cowpea, closely related to our black-eyed peas, and is not even in the same genus as our green beans. Continue reading
So I take great pride in my bananas. Yes, my wife points out that I don’t even like bananas. Yes, I probably don’t deserve to be proud because the trees are doing all the work. Yes, I don’t actually have bananas yet, just rapidly growing flowers. I can still be proud.
Last week I told you that my first homesteading step at our new home was to put in a vegetable garden. This time I’d like to go into more detail regarding what I’m doing, as well as the usual assortment of how’s and why’s. We live in zone 9b in central Florida, which means that I’ve had to shake up my knowledge of gardening a little bit to make this work. The winters here are very mild, with only a slight chance of frost in December, January, and February. In the last two winters there had been no frost here at all, and we had only two frosts this winter. This means that most vegetables do great here all winter long, and others need only a little frost protection. On the other hand, the summers here are brutal. The temperatures don’t rise as high as some parts of the country, but from May to October the average high is above 88 degrees Fahrenheit, and in this period we we also switch from bone-dry to steam oven, with nothing in between. So, most folks here garden from September to April.
The other thing for me to get used to is the soil, or lack thereof. The ground here is sand, and dries out very quickly if I’m not careful. Both of these issues, along with the fact that I’m not home much to weed or water, have shaped the way I plan to do my gardening here. I’ve borrowed strategies from the organic and permaculture folks, as well as local conventional agricultural practices, to build my garden.
Well… It’s finally happened. It’s hard to call yourself the Homesteading Hippy without a homestead, especially while living in an apartment or a friend’s spare bedroom. It’s hard, even when you rent enough space to make a garden, when you move every other year. Last fall, my wife and I made the step into homeownership, buying a place of our own. Now, I can finally get homesteading for real! All my practice runs, which some of you have followed over the years, can finally be put to proper use. Let me give you a tour.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(Click to see larger Image)
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.
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
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.
(Click to see larger view)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Now that the weather is warming up (it still snowed this morning) I’m thinking about starting seeds indoors for the season. Thanks to our good friend, Global Warming, this year’s average last frost is predicted to occur around May 8. As such, it’s time to start my early transplants. In preparation for this I took a look at my stock of seeds from last year, and made a plan for this year’s garden. Continue reading
It’s been getting warmer, so I went out to the garden with the intention of mulching the walkways between the raised beds. Turns out my mulch pile was still frozen solid, so I didn’t get to do any work, but I did take some pictures to show you! Continue reading