Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's A Jungle Out There

The garden is in its full glory and it's all I can do to keep up. The kitchen looks absurd. Tomatoes everywhere, onions, garlic, today's green beans, cucumbers soaking in ice water, beet juice and salsa lacto-fermenting in their jars, sourdough starter sitting out, and dill and coriander seeds drying. The living room has a braid of garlic, more dill and coriander hanging to dry and some oregano drying.

Today I have to finish the pickles, blanch and freeze the green beans, bake bread and make pasta. Tomorrow morning I'll need to bake zucchini bread and can a batch of tomatoes, probably as spaghetti sauce. The sweet corn may be ripe by this weekend and the potatoes will need to be dug before too long. And I keep forgetting to blanch and freeze the swiss chard so we can have it for winter soups. Gotta add that to the list. I also need to make more pesto this weekend. Whew!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sugar Shortage

Since I've been obsessing about sugar all summer long, I can't possibly ignore the news in recent weeks about an impending sugar shortage.

My initial reaction was that of course it would be a fabulous thing. We'd all be better off if we drastically curtailed our sugar consumption. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it just won't play out that way.

If the government doesn't relax our import quotas on sugar and prices skyrocket, food manufacturers will switch back to high fructose corn syrup for any product where that is a viable substitute.

And if the government does relax our import quotas and we're flooded with cheaper sugar from the global markets, then our domestic sugar producers will be put out of business and all that acreage switched over to something more profitable--like corn.

It's not like sugar is the only sweetener available. High fructose corn syrup waits in the wings, ready to fill in at a moment's notice. Sure, if the shortage is extreme enough it will drive up the price of HFCS--and all forms of sweeteners--too, not just sugar. But sugar will take the worst hit.

I don't expect a shortage to change American habits. And I'm sure manufacturers will find a way to keep our collective sweet-tooth satisfied.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fermented Beet Juice

After a week of brewing, my first batch of fermented beet juice was ready for the big taste test today. I was a little worried because I had heard others refer to the taste as "medicinal"--and that usually doesn't bode well. Fermented beet juice is medicinal, i.e. it's known to have anticancer properties as well as other health benefits, but the taste is actually very pleasing. Salty, tangy, a little bit fizzy and very beet-like (go-figure). I suppose if you don't like beets to begin with, you might think of this as medicine, but as for me I'm sure I could enjoy a small glass of this every day if it was available.

I've had a great summer beet harvest this year, and my fall beets are still coming up, so I'll definitely be brewing more of this. This was a good introduction for me into fermented foods--very easy to do and I had all the ingredients on hand. Until now all I'd experimented with was ginger ale and sourdough bread. I really want to make sauerkraut, but the grasshoppers have been having too good a time with my cabbage, so I'm not sure if that's going to happen this year. And I'm waiting to get enough cucumbers at any one time so I can make pickles. But at least I've still got tons of beets.

Here's a link to the beet juice recipe I used:

And here's a link to an article on the benefits of fermented foods:

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Perfect Batch of Homemade Ginger Ale

I finally did it! I've been experimenting with homemade ginger ale for awhile, and although the results have always been passable, this week I finally brewed the perfect batch.

The big difference this time was that I was out of commercial yeast, so instead I used a tablespoon of my sourdough starter. I think the gentler action of the starter was just what was needed. The result is a sweet, tart, fizzy drink with the perfect gingery kick--and no hint of alcohol flavor, as some of the other batches had. The fermentation went just long enough. I think commercial yeast is probably far too active, so that the window of time between the perfect carbonation for ginger ale and having it turn to ginger beer is a much narrower one. Letting it ferment with natural yeasts gave me a wider window.

Here's my recipe:

(Makes one 3-liter bottle)

A chunk of ginger, peeled and grated--I like a lot, a piece up to the size of my palm, maybe a little less
Juice from 1 1/2 lemons
1 tablespoon sourdough starter or 3/8 teaspoon commercial instant yeast
1 1/2 cups sugar
Filtered or otherwise chlorine-free water.

Peel and grate the ginger. Mix the grated ginger (and its juices) with the sugar, lemon juice, and some of the water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Pour into the bottle, top off with remaining water plus one tablespoon sourdough starter. Screw on the lid and shake well. Leave at room temperature for a day or longer. I use a large (3-liter) soda bottle. Do not use a glass container unless you have a fermentation lock as there is a danger of explosion as the carbonation builds. Even with the plastic bottle you will want to check it frequently. Give the bottle a squeeze every few hours. When it reaches a point where it doesn't yield under the pressure of your squeezing, it's time to put it in the refrigerator. This will stop (or nearly stop) the fermentation process. At this point it should be ready to drink. If you try it and it's not fizzy enough, set it back out at room temperature for awhile and taste it again in a few hours. When it achieves the desired carbonation, refrigerate it again. I use a fine-mesh tea strainer to strain each individual glass as I pour it, but you may want to strain it all at once and re-bottle it.