Monday, November 16, 2015

Waste Not, Want Not - Can it

Over the last couple of years I have worked towards a concept of less waste of food. I made the commitment to use what I have, well.  This sounds easy, however as an avid gardener I have a lot of food that matures in fits and starts.   I also like to make rather complex food that requires many ingredients. I am the kind of shopper that gets a variety of stuff and then figures out how to use it later, this style tends to leave food to waste.

To accomplish my goal there have been three main ways things get processed in my house, in a jar, dehydrated, or frozen.  Now, remember folks I am a city chick from Toronto.  Canning did not come from a youth spent processing foods.   Dehydrated was how you bought raisins.  Frozen food was purchased that way and often warmed up to be consumed.  Yet somehow I've managed this commitment to waste not, want not and have done it with style.

The premise is, don't let stuff go bad because it is not fair to nature to waste it's fantastic bounty. It is not fair to the life energy in the food not to use it.   It is like the Native Indian view that you honor the animal that is giving you it's life force, so you should honor the plant and nature that made that plant grow.  To waste it is to thump your nose at creation's strength and beauty.

Over the years,  I started to get better at this gardening thing and ended up with larger crops of beautiful vegetables. The crops often came in so strong that I just couldn't use it all at once.   I would use as much as I could and give away as much as people needed.  However, when much of the bounty went bad, it was tossed into the compost to break down and go back into the soil.  This left me feeling bad at the waste.    

When I was in high school I dated a guy that was half Italian.  His family would get together to can tomatoes and make wine.  I was not invited to these work days.  At the time, I did not mind as I always felt like an outsider, and I chafed against the inequity of the women's role in the group.  Anyway I digress.  I always wondered about the amazing canning days.  What were they like?  How many jars did they do?  Where did they get the tomatoes?

I started processing food, to make this commitment to sustainability and to use what nature had provided.  I dehydrated first.  It worked well and I made all sorts of cool things like Jerky and dried fruit. I tried dehydrating vegetables, tomatoes and beans but they were just not as good.  They dried up and didn't really ever get their full softness back when you cooked them.  I kept dehydrating in the line up but used it for what it suited best.  I also looked for more options. 

I moved on to canning.  Once I learned to water bath it was all over.  I could make almost anything, can it up, water bath and be reasonably sure I was not going poison anyone.  I researched a lot of stuff on-line and in recipe books.   I kept everything sterilized and either went sweet with jams or savory with pickled.   I made up a canning label and the Mad Pickeler was born. Not only could I make wonderful things but using vinegar made it really easy to make sure it all worked out well. 

Now this enthusiasm required a lot of jars.  It took me a few years to build up a huge supply of jars. A good friend, Tony, gave me a lot of my pint jars.  Probably about 8 dozen actually. Thanks Tony.  I still had to purchased jars and these ranged from the small one oz jars all the way up to the half gallon jars. The jars are constantly in use and are being filled and re-filled as needed.  

At times I would can large batches.  For example last summer, a friend and I did 98 jars of pickles in one day.  Now, this is all well and good when you luck into 100 lbs of cucumbers at the farmers market.   I have done big batches of things when the fruit trees mature, the farmers markers have big bounty or when I find a great deal at a store. However the big batches are not the norm.

What has really made my canning, has been the periodic small batches.  These are often things like 6 pints of eggplant salad, or 3 pints of raspberry sauce, or lots of small batches of tomatoes sauces as the Ivan tomatoes ripened.   These small batches taught me so much.  It just made sense to make these small batch of something really cool to add to recipes later.  This system made my life easier  as I cooked for my ever hungry family, and in the long run also served the goal of using up natures product. 

I made a list of all the different things I canned this year.  Many of them may have happened in multiple batches, and I did not keep a list of quantities.  So here is what I have for this growing season: 

1.     Tomatoes
2.     Mild Salsa
3.     Hot Salsa
4.     Pasta Sauce
5.     Brandied Pears
6.     Apple Sauce
7.     Apple Butter
8.     Plum - Apple Sauce
9.     Plum Sauce
10. Plum BBQ sauce
11. Plum Asian sauce
12. Grape Jam - Purple
13. Grape Jam - Green
14. Strawberry Port Jam
15. Strawberry / Blackberry Jam
16. Lecso Hungarian Pepper Sauce
17. Plum Chutney
18. Raspberry sauce
19. Dill Relish
20. Sweet Relish
21. Pickled Green Beans
22. Fridge Pickles
23. Pickles 
24. Garlic Scapes
25. Eggplant Salad
26. Sauerkraut
27. Potato Soup

All of the items on this list have been made, eaten, gifted and saved.  If I did not garden and did not make these food none of this food would exist.  It would not enhance our meals or fill our stomachs. Guests would not go home with a box of bottled of cool things after each visit.  I would not have great pot luck dish at my finger tips.  

So I would say I have succeeded at my challenge.  The challenge was to not waste food, to grow as much as I could and not waste the food that came from my ground, from my efforts, from nature.  I have created things that we will use and even more importantly I have used the things I have created. So, join me in this challenge. Look at your food in a different light. Waste not and enjoy nature’s bounty.  Happy Canning

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sauerkraut making class with Farmer Dan.

farmer danThis weekend I had the pleasure of attending one of Farmer Dan’s famous sauerkraut classes.    It was held at the newly restored Grand Station in Hartsburg Missouri.

Now as you may know, I am a bit obsessed with canning and preserving food.  I grow many things in my garden, scavenge for some and buy others from farmers markets or stores, yet they all end up in a jar in my kitchen.

My history with sauerkraut goes back to my childhood growing up in Toronto, Canada and shopping at the St. Lawrence Farmers Market each Saturday morning. There was a vendor in the old building, down stairs way in the back, that carried meat slices, pickles and sauerkraut.  We used to go visit him each week.  He would light up with pride as we would oohhh and aahhh over his sauerkraut.  We would get a bag of it and take it home to be quickly eaten by the family.

After I moved to Missouri, I tried store bought kraut and it always was way too strong with an obvious vinegar taste.  It was not my style at all, and not the gentle, but yummy blend I grew up with.  I tried Farmer Dan’s kraut last year and immediately was transported back to being that little girl gazing up in awe.  So when I heard about Farmer Dan’s class I jumped at the chance to find out how to add lacto-fermentation to my line up.

IMG_6279So I drove down to Hartsburg, Missouri, on a sunny Sunday afternoon expecting to learn a few tricks.  The drive was beautiful with the colors of fall in full swing.  Once I got to Hartsburg, the first thing I found was the wonderful Hartsburg Hotel, Entertainment Center and Grand Station. The Grand was built in 1897 and had been painstakingly restored with love over the last few years.  The restaurant opened in 2012 and the special event center opened in 2014.  The Grand Station which was previously known as “The Big Muddy Tavern or Dotty’s CafĂ©” had also been restored to include a full commercial kitchen along with cozy gathering spaces.   The grand even offers ballroom dancing lessons on Tuesday nights.  Can’t think of a more romantic setting.

The thing that struck me about The Grand and Hartsburg in general, was how I felt magically transported into a world of the past; calm, joyful, and relaxation without the trappings for modern America including strip malls, fast food and pawn shops.   Hartsburg, and the atmosphere of the Grand, made me think of a great get away and how I could possibly get a day or two removed from the hustle of my life to sit back and sip mint juleps on a porch.  I digress of course.

Farmer Dan has been in organic farming for 25 years.  He describes himself as being from the Herman area with German ancestry. He also considers himself a farmer still learning what it is all about. He said that 20 years ago he used to grow many more varieties of vegetables, where now he grows less variety and concentrates on making value added items like sauerkraut and pickles.  He estimates that 30% of his business is focused on the value added items.

Farmer Dan makes his large batches of sauerkraut and pickles in the commercial kitchen at Lincoln University. In their facility he can make up to 800 lbs. in one day.  He does say it is important to use the right type of cabbage, noting Maddox and Early Copenhagen as his spring cabbage and Kaitlin as his fall cabbage.  He says he gets his seeds from

He believes that the body, like soil, need a balance of microorganisms. As in soil, the microorganisms help make nutrients available for the body to absorb.  He described the gut as the second brain, connecting your health and what you intake.  He describes your gut bacterial as a cultivated community of bacteria probiotics needed for the long term health of your digestive system. He suggests combining different probiotic foods, slowly, in small amounts, to improve the culture in your gut.  He cautions not to go too fast as you don’t want to cause a war zone in your intestinal track.

He made it that we were working with live bacteria. This bacteria naturally existed all around us and did not need to be added to the sauerkraut.  In order to keep your bacteria live, you couldn’t heat it over 115’f as that would start killing it off.   He also said that the ideal temperature for fermenting is between 68 and 72’f and the finishing Ph balance of the sauerkraut will be around 3.8.  He said you can freeze your fermenting food but you cannot boil it.  The boiling kills the bacteria where the freezing only suspends it until the food is defrosted.

Once we got the basics behind this theories down, the hands on class began.  He showed us how to cut up the cabbage using a sauerkraut mandolin that he dates back to his grandmother before him. It is a quick, intimidating devise and I would love to have one.  He said that in the past farming families would grow 100 heads of cabbage per family member. They would add spices, apples, beets, turnips etc., and then ferment in 50 gallon crocks. They would ferment all winter, and slowly eat it as time when by. They would root cellars that stayed at 55' slowing the fermentation. They would skim the crocks a couple times a week but continue to eat off it all winter.  This worked to keep people fed, and also provided the much need bacteria to keep them healthy inside and out.

So we cut up the cabbage, were instructed to crush it with our hands helping to break down the cell structure and to sprinkle on 2.5 tbsp. of salt per 5 lbs. of cabbage.  He suggested using sea salt or pickling salt but not to use salt with iodine or any caking agents.  Quickly the cabbage started to give off liquid as osmosis pulls the liquid out and salt in.

We put the cabbage mixture into a jars and packed it in there really tight. We left about ½ inch head way, at the top of the jar, and put the lid on loosely.  As the salt continued to pull water out (over 24 hours) gas was released and started to bubble out brine.  We were advised to leave the lid loose and put a plate under the jar to catch any overflow, but we had to make sure the cabbage was under brine at all times.

IMG_6277Each person in the class made their kraut a little differently. Some added grated apples, fennel, beets and turnips while others added caraway or dill seed.  We were told that you can add up to 15% other vegetables to the mix and maintain the integrity of the sauerkraut.  He did indicate that for some reason when you add dill or caraway seed you get less mold growing on the surface of your kraut.

We were sent home with instructions to let the salt do its thing for a few days as the water expels from the kraut.  Then we are to tighten the jar and every few days quickly let the pressure out and then tighten up the jar once more.  This burping of the jars lets the gasses, built up by the bacterial relation, release from the jar.  If the water goes below the level of the kraut we are to make a solution of 3 tbsp of salt per quart of water and re-fill the Jar.  Usually this dehydration, and loss of water, will not happen in a closed jar but will occur when we move on to crocks.  While most people think of sauerkraut as being made in crocks, Farmer Dan suggests you start with clear jars so you can learn how it works.  Eventually, when you feel like you know what you are doing, you can move on to crocks.

We are to sample each week until we get to our own personal desired level or fermentation.  When we get to the level we like, we are to stick the jar in the fridge and it will stop or greatly slow the bacterial action and keep our sauerkraut how we like it.   Farmer Dan mentioned that the brine will be full of bacteria and will be a great source of great microbes, thus we should feel free to take a shot of brine as we like, but again not to overdo it.

I feel like I learned a lot and am now ready to take on the world of lacto-fermentation.  Sauerkraut is just the tip of the iceberg and has been a great way to start learning about this new way to bring more local food into my family’s diet.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Entrepreneur Head - Does it Slow Down?

I have a condition called Entrepreneur Head.  It all started when I decided it was my turn to start my own business and take control of my career life. I started Buzz Well Media and the Victory Gardeners. Entrepreneur Head can get stronger and weaker depending on my sleep and the flow of things. However, it does not go away no matter now you shake it.

What is Entrepreneur Head you may ask?  Well, when one starts their own business there is no five o'clock shut off valve.  There is no line of what is my problem and what is someone else's problem. There is no one else to take up the slack or pick up where I leave off.   This constant processing that must go on, if you are going to go out there and hustle, wears away at our sanity.

It is kind of like the leaves that turn that brilliant color each fall. They standout and remind you constantly how vibrant they are.  They draw you in.  They keep you looking at them. Even when they fall to your feet you are captivated by them.

I wrote a post several years called Steriod Chihuaha Girl.  It talked about how it felt to be on steroids and wanting to literally bite people's heads off.   This is different.  This is a compulsion to do more.  I find myself saying "Excuse me I have to...

  • just one more thing...
  • just run up and do one thing on the computer...
  • just check on one more feed...
  • just write one more blog...
  • just reference one more post....  
  • just check Facebook once more.
So the reality is when you are an entrepreneur you have to do it.  You have to check that post, and make that change, and fix that problem, and fill that gap.  Being an Entrepreneur is about being able to depend on yourself and your skill sets to succeed.  You can't blow it off.  There are no non-working vacations or true times off.  

Yet, there is the flip side of utter freedom.  You can decide to spend your day working in the garden or going with on a kids school field trip.  You can decided to spend the day focused on a community project.  You can decided to use your time picking up and dropping off kids or running from store to store getting the groceries. However, you can't decide to turn off your brain.  You may find yourself at the field trip sending out important emails or taking a minute away from shopping to post a marketing piece.  You are off, but not really off duty.

It does comes with it's own support group, such as the wonderful Entrepreneur groups 1 Million Cups.  Everyone there is experiencing the same thing. We are all running around with Entrepreneur Head.  We are buzzing around like bees trying to make the sweetest, most attractive and yummy honey.   We all know we are working it and that is what it will take to succeed. 

Is there a cure for Entrepreneur Head?  I am not sure we really want one.  I think the success of being an entrepreneur takes that dedication and constant awareness of your business. Maybe it is just something you get used to over time, and build systems to maintain.  We will see...  I will report back as my businesses grow.   Till then the Entrepreneur Head Motto will be "...squirrel...".