Well Cultured

After my success with cheesemaking yesterday, and in keeping with this month’s home dairy theme, I decided that I should also try my hand at making some yogurt.  My mom makes yogurt and yogurt cheese all the time and assured me that it was pretty darn easy, so I read a couple of tutorials about the process online, picked up some yogurt and a  heating pad from the store, and got to work.

Yogurt is made through a bacterial fermentation process.  The basic idea is that you heat the milk up to 185 °F, cool it down to 110 °F, then inoculate it with your yogurt bacteria and let it sit at that 110 °F temperature for 7 – 8 hours.  The initial heating kills any undesirable microbes and denatures the milk proteins so they’ll stick together rather than forming curds.  The long, warm fermentation is because that’s the temperature the bacteria like to ferment at.  The bacteria convert the lactose in the yogurt to lactic acid, the same acid that gives sauerkraut its flavor.  Microbiology is so cool!

The easiest way to inoculate yogurt is to add some existing live culture yogurt to your warm milk.  I added about a tablespoon and a half of Nancy’s whole milk plain yogurt to get things started, then turned on the heating pad and let it go.  Then I discovered something about this heating pad.  It has a 2 hour automatic shutoff.  I’m sure that that is a vitally important safety feature when people are using it in their bed, but when it’s in my kitchen and I have better things to do than come by every two hours to turn the damn thing back on, it is irritating.  It also lost about an hour of good heating time, so it took longer.  Boo!

Once the yogurt firmed up a bit, I stirred it and poured it into a couple of containers, then stuck them in the fridge.  I tried the yogurt tonight and it is pretty tasty, but a little on the thin side (I blame the heating pad!).  My mom suggested putting it through a yogurt strainer, which I may try.  I’m also wondering if I should just heat it up again and let the bacteria keep doing their thing.

Oh well.  In the mean time, it is delicious with a drizzle of maple syrup!  Not bad for a first attempt.

Sauerkraut: The Reckoning

So I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I started some sauerkraut.  Well, it’s been long enough for it to start fermenting, and it sure smells like sauerkraut, so that can only mean one thing: taste test time!

As it’s fermenting in its food grade bucket, the sauerkraut stays covered by a cloth to prevent dust and whatnot from getting in there.  That means that after I hauled it up from the basement yesterday, it looked like this:

“What’s with the weird shape of your bucket?” you might ask. You need to weight the sauerkraut down with something to keep it under the surface of the brine.  Actual sauerkraut crocks have a fancy lid that fits down in it, like so:

Alas, I am cheap and we had a food grade bucket on hand, so we made do with an old plate and a growler full of water.

You can’t really see the plate there, but it’s under the surface of the brine.  Actually, the first plate I tried was too big since the bucket is slightly tapered, so I had to rescue a different one from under a houseplant and give it a thorough scrubbing…but I digress.

The beauty of sauerkraut is that you can take a bowlful out and then weight the rest back down and let it keep fermenting.  This allows you to taste it throughout the fermentation and determine when it is at optimal deliciousness, and that is just what I did.

The verdict?  It’s pretty tasty but still needs some fermentation time to become full on finished sauerkraut.  It still had a fair amount of crunch and some of the cabbage spice.  That did not, however, stop me from downing the entire bowl last night after I got home.

I have to say, the whole thing has been remarkably easy–who knew cabbage and salt was all you needed!?  I will continue sampling this kraut over the next few weeks, but next time I think I will make sure to have some bratwurst on hand!  If you’re interested in trying it for yourself, I got the recipe from the Wild Fermentation website.

Have you tried making sauerkraut?  How did yours turn out?

2012 Urban Farm Handbook Challenge

UFHChallenge

So I am not the best blogger, or really the best gardener. I do, however, LOVE food, especially really great vegetables. So with that in mind, I am getting on my workboots and getting out in the dirt! I’ve decided to participate in the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge this year to keep me motivated and on track, both for blogging and for gardening.

Month 1 is February, which yes, ends tomorrow. Luckily, before I even found out about the challenge, I was working on it! The challenge for this month is soil building and we have some things in the works.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed to have some really fertile soil. However, composting and providing nutrients to the plants you’re growing is still really important. Currently we have a sort of haphazard compost pile that is really more just a spot for us to pile chicken droppings. I think we can probably do better. I am liking the idea of building a couple of compost bins that we can put over by the chicken coop and throw yard waste into.

Also, on Wednesday we’re picking up some red worms so that we can start worm composting most of our kitchen scraps. We have the set of trays to put them in and we certainly go through enough stuff in the kitchen! I am super excited about that. Our city does residential food scrap composting, but I think between giving scraps to the chickens and the worms, we should be minimizing our output.

Speaking of the chickens, we had quite the scare this week! On Sunday night one of our hens, Lady Cluckerpants, didn’t come back to the coop. I spent an hour searching for her and when she didn’t come home yesterday morning, either, I thought she was gone for good. Amazingly, one of our neighbors found her on the other side of our hill, lost and thirsty. She took her to one of our other neighbor’s houses since she knew they had layers. Our neighbors knew we were missing one and now Lady Cluckerpants is home safe with the rest of the flock. I am so grateful to everyone involved!

And finally, the sauerkraut I posted about the other week is coming out awesome! We had a bowl of it a couple of days ago and it is tasting delicious. Yum!