Bigos – Re-Farmer Style!

Traditionally, bigos – otherwise known as Hunter’s Stew – is made with game meat and a whole lot of ingredients I don’t typically have on hand. I just used what I had! Maybe I should call it Non-Hunter’s Stew? πŸ˜€

This is my version of Poland’s national dish!

I made this yesterday evening, for today’s eating, and I must say, it turned out very well!

It was breakfast – and a fine breakfast it made!

Ingredients:

  • 1 jar fermented vegetable sauerkraut or purchased sauerkraut
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 5-6 whole garlic cloves
  • 1 small to medium sized head of cabbage
  • 5 or 6 crimini mushrooms or mushrooms of choice
  • cooked sausage, cut into 1 inch pieces, to make about 2 – 3 cups
  • 2 cups cubed pork or fresh meat of choice
  • 1 package bacon
  • 1/2 cup crab apple cider vinegar, mixed with 1/2 cup vegetable broth, or 1 cup de-glazing liquid of choice.
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • optional: seasonings to taste
Top row, left to right: sauerkraut (rinsed and draining), chopped crimini mushrooms, cubed pork, cooked sausage (honey garlic).
Middle left: frying bacon pieces. Middle right: de-glazing the pan
Bottom row, left to right: softening cabbage mixture, all ingredients stirred together, stew after 1 hour in oven, stew after 2 hours in oven.
Centre: Bigos, after resting overnight, topped with sour cream and parsley

Instructions:

  1. Turn oven on to 350F.
  2. drain sauerkraut, rinsing if desired. Squeeze out excess liquid.
  3. chop onion and garlic coarsely
  4. core and finely cut fresh cabbage. Cabbage, onion and garlic can be combined into one bowl for later.
  5. trim mushroom stems, cut mushrooms in half, then slice. (Alternatively, re-hydrate dried mushrooms in boiling water, then chop coarsely. Reserve liquid to add to the stew.)
  6. cut bacon into 1/2 inch pieces
  7. prepare de-glazing liquid (my vegetable stock was hot water and powdered bouillon)
  8. Place the cooked sausage pieces into a large, oven safe pot with lid.
  9. In a large frying pan, fry the bacon pieces until just browned. Add bacon to the sausage, reserving rendered fat in pan.
  10. Brown pork cubes in the bacon fat. These do not have to be cooked through. When browned on all sides, add to the sausage and bacon mixture, reserving fat in pan.
  11. Add mushroom pieces to the reserved fat and cook until just starting to brown, stirring frequently. (If using reconstituted mushrooms, skip this step and just add the mushrooms to the pot with the meat.)
  12. Add de-glazing liquid to the pan and cook liquid down to about 1/3rd volume.
  13. Add cabbage, onion and garlic to the pan. Cover with lid to steam for a couple of minutes, and for the cabbage to reduce slightly. Continue to cook, turning the mixture often, until vegetables are softened.
  14. Add the sauerkraut and softened cabbage mixture to the pot with the meat and mushrooms.
  15. Add the crushed tomato and tomato paste (plus reserved mushroom stock, if reconstituted mushrooms were used). Mix thoroughly.
  16. By now, the oven should be preheated. Cover the pot and place in oven.
  17. Check after about an hour and stir. If the liquid level seems low, add boiling water, as needed to prevent burning.
  18. Check after 2 hours and stir. Adjust liquid again, if needed.
  19. Cook for another half hour or so.
  20. Can be eaten immediately, or left to cool and rest overnight (recommended).
  21. Serve with rye bread, or a dollop of sour cream. Garnish with parsley if desired.

For this, I used no added seasonings at all. The ingredients themselves add a lot of flavour on their own. However, feel free to add whatever seasonings you like, if you feel the need.

Of course, after this was done cooking last night, I had to have a small bowl to taste it. It was definitely a success! Letting it rest overnight did allow the flavours to mellow and combine very nicely. It was a subtle difference, but enough for me to recommend giving it that extra time.

The more traditional ingredients for this dish includes a greater variety of meats, with game meat being the prime ingredient, and even prunes – though the bigos I’ve tasted in the past did not include prunes. Some versions include things like grated carrot, but my fermented vegetable sauerkraut includes carrots, so there was no need to add more.

The amount of sauerkraut I used is a bit on the low side – a typical jar of commercial sauerkraut is about 900-1000ml (approximately equal to a quart jar) and my jars are 500ml. Even adding the last of my plain sauerkraut gave me just over that amount. However, that is also the equivalent of more than half a head of cabbage. The fresh cabbage I used was more on the large than medium size, so between the two, the total quantities didn’t change much.

This makes quite a large quantity of stew, and it really helps to have a very large, deep frying pan with a lid. Even then, I had to be careful adding the cabbage mixture to the pan! Using the lid to let it braise for a bit made it much easier to stir, as the cabbage released its liquid and reduced in size.

This dish can be made on the stove top instead of the oven, but that would require continuous attention and stirring to make sure it cooks evenly and doesn’t burn on the bottom. Using the oven is just simpler and more efficient.

If you try this recipe, do feel free to let me know how you liked it!

The Re-Farmer

Fermented vegetables, take two: two week fermentation taste test

Today, we got out one of my jars of probiotic fermented vegetable sauerkraut for a taste test!

Before I get into that, though, if you haven’t seen my earlier posts, you may want to visit the links below, first (they will open in new tabs, so you won’t lose this post!).

Take One (includes recipe)
The Failure
Take Two

The recipe I got from my friend said to leave it to ferment for 2-4 weeks. It’s 2 weeks today, so we’re trying the one jar, and will leave the other to ferment for another 2 weeks.

Continue reading

Step-by-step: making sauerkraut

It’s been cold, wet and raining for the past while (with snow, in some areas!!), which meant it was the perfect time to stay indoors and finally make sauerkraut.

While I remember my mother making sauerkraut when I was a child, and I know I helped at least a little, I have never made it myself before. In fact, it was my mother’s sauerkraut that had me believing I didn’t like the stuff at all. She made incredibly strong kraut, and it was many, many years before I tasted any other and found it… okay. LOL Then one evening, while we were hosting a home schooling historical pot luck set in a pioneer theme, one of the families brought a fresh jar of sauerkraut. Fresh as in, just made that day and no fermentation. I was surprised by how good it tasted.

Cabbage, however, was one of those things I just didn’t tend to buy. In fact, it wasn’t until we moved here that we started to pick it up regularly.

I have an old friend from high school that has shared on social media about the sauerkraut she has been making, and with all the food preservation stuff I’ve been getting more and more into, I found myself wanting to try my hand at it. I did some research and found that it is incredibly basic – but it didn’t sound like what she was making. So I messaged her and got her recipe. It’s more like fermented vegetables, with added probiotics, than sauerkraut.

I decided to do both.

This post will be on the basic sauerkraut I made first.

Here are the ingredients.

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Things with crab apples: jelly, three ways

Once we got our crab apple cider vinegar made up and set aside to ferment, it was time to turn to the rest of the crab apples!

The apples had been cleaned and left to soak in cold water with vinegar overnight. The extra time allows for any damage and bruising to the apples to be easier to see.

The next steps were to remove the stems, then cut the apples. These crab apples are small enough that I just cut them in half.

This was the time to cut out any damaged bits – or remove some apples completely.

There were quite a few that looked fine on the outside, only to be bad in the middles. The above photo is what I removed from the apples, including the small batch I used for the apple cider vinegar.

Just a little something for the compost pile. πŸ™‚

As I have some of our choke cherries and sour cherries in the freezer, I decided to make several small batches, including spiced jelly. Some of the recipes I saw said to cook and strain the apples first, cook the juices with the other additions, strain them again, then make the jelly.

I had no interest in cooking and straining these twice, and saw no reason to. Instead, I divided the cut up apples into three pots. I had two medium sized pots plus my smaller stock pot, so after I filled the two smaller ones, any left over apples went into the bigger pot. My smaller pots each held about 6 cups of chopped apples, and the bigger pot had about 7 cups of apples.

I then made my additions.

The spiced batch got a couple of cinnamon sticks, 2 pieces of star anise and about a tablespoon of whole cloves. The others got about 1 cup of frozen fruit added.

Next, water was added until the fruit was just covered. They were then brought to a boil, covered and left to simmer until soft.

The pot the choke cherries were in turned out to be just a touch too small, and I had to transfer it to my other stock pot to prevent it from over flowing.

After about 20 minutes or so, I stirred them down to break up the fruit a bit; I had to use a potato masher on the spiced apples, as the pot was too full to stir properly!

I continued to cook them until the fruit was quite soft.

This is the sour cherry batch on the left, choke cherry batch on the right. I forgot to get a picture of the spiced batch before I put it up to strain.

While the apples were cooking, I prepped for straining.

I currently have only one jelly bag, so I lined colanders set over large bowls with cheese cloth.

I used the jelly bag for the spiced mixture and hung it up in my usual spot. By then, I already had over a litre of juice strained out!

I had to get creative to hang the other two. I used one of those wire frames made to hold bags open, like for leaf bags. Thoroughly cleaned, of course. I set it up on the dining table and hung the tied off cheese cloth bags of apple pulp on the frame, with their bowls of juice set up under them and the colanders removed. I wasn’t able to get a good photo of the set up, though.

I then left the bags to drain overnight, though we did cover the various bowls with whatever we had on hand. One got a piece of cheese cloth stretched over it, another bowl was the perfect size for our mesh frying pan splash screen, and the big measuring cup got covered by a large mesh sieve. These all allowed the juices to keep dripping in, while keeping out any dust, cat hair, insects or whatever else might be floating about.

Note: they don’t need to be left overnight, but the pulp should be given at least a couple of hours to drain. Some recipes suggest to squeeze the pulp to extract more juice. This will result in a cloudy jelly, so that’s up to you! πŸ˜‰

That was all done yesterday. Today, it was time to cook things down!

I did each batch one at a time, rather than all at once, starting with the juice that was already in the measuring cup.

This is the spiced apple pulp from the jelly bag. The pulp all went to the compost pile.

I ended up with almost exactly 5 cups of juice from the spiced apple and the choke cherry batches, and almost exactly 8 cups of the sour cherry batch. For each cup of juice, I added a 3/4 cup of sugar.

Which felt like an insane amount of sugar, but that’s how it works!

Each batch was boiled to the gel stage.

Before I started cooking any of them, though, I started sanitizing my canning jars. With how much juice I ended up with, I knew my dozen 250ml (1 cup) sized jars would not be enough. I decided to use one 500ml (2 cup) for each batch, then use however many of the smaller jars I needed to empty the pot. The larger jars will be for our own use, and the smaller jars can be given out as gifts, if we want.

I also made a discovery.

We have not been able to replace our damaged hot water tank yet, which means it’s still heating the water to extremely high temperatures. I figured I would take advantage of that and use it to sanitize my jars and implements.

I was able to set up all the jars in a large container on the counter near the stove. I was also going to use my candy thermometer, so I dug that out, washed it, then put it into one of the jars to scald. Shortly after, I pulled the candy thermometer out. The whole set up with the water had been sitting for about 5-7 minutes since I added the hot tap water, so I had to do a double take when I saw the thermometer.

It was at almost 100C.

That’s 212F.

The instructions I was following said to cook the juice and sugar mixture to 210F to reach gel state. My tap water was already hotter than that!!

The juices reached beyond 210F very quickly, so there was no way temperature alone was enough to reach gel stage, so I kept boiling it. After the first testing, I went to wash the thermometer and discovered there was water in it.

???

Looking closer, I discovered that the glass covering the bulb of the thermometer was gone! For all I know, this is damage from our move. I very rarely use the candy thermometer.

So I threw that out.

Which meant I was checking for the gel state using the *spoon test.

Each batch took me at least half an hour of boiling before it reached the gel stage.

Once each batch was ready, I filled some jars – I added cinnamon sticks to the jars with the spiced jelly – covered them, then set them aside to cool while I washed everything before starting the next batch.

My 8 cups of sour cherry juice mix, and 5 cups of spiced juice mix, each gave me the same number of cups of jelly, but for some reason the 5 cups of chokecherry juice mix resulted in only 4 cups of jelly!

I still don’t have the tools to do a hot water bath, so these are not shelf stable, and will need to be stored in the fridge.

I absolutely love the colours in these!

After they had a chance to cool, my daughters used some when making supper this evening. They made grilled cheese sandwiches with some of the sour cherry jelly spread in with the cheese. It was really good!

The Re-Farmer

Homemade Crab apple jelly, with flavour variations

Items needed:

  • cheese cloth or jelly bag
  • bowl to drain juices into
  • if using cheese cloth, a colander that fits in the bowl
  • canning jars, jar funnel and lids, sanitized
  • place to hang pulp bag over the bowl
  • large saucepan or stock pot with lid

Ingredients:

  • crab apples, washed, stemmed and chopped. (no need to peel or core)
  • sugar

Optional flavour additions

  • about a cup of fruit or berries per 6 cups of chopped crab apples.
  • any combination of whole, not ground, spices, including cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, allspice, star anise, etc. to taste.
  1. Place cleaned and chopped apple pieces into a large pot.
  2. Add any flavour options desired.
  3. Add enough water to just cover the fruit. Bring to a boil.
  4. Cover and simmer for about 20-25 minutes, or until apples are very soft. Stir the fruit every few minutes.
  5. Mash the mixture with a large spoon or potato masher. Cook for a few more minutes.
  6. While the mixture is cooking, dampen a jelly bag and ready a bowl to catch juices, or line a colander placed in a bowl with cheese cloth (in 4 layers) and prepare a place to hang the pulp over the bowl.
  7. When the fruit is cooked until completely soft, spoon the mixture into the jelly bag over a bowl, or into the prepared cheese cloth. Tie off the bag and hang over the bowl to drain for at least a few hours, or overnight. (After draining, pulp can be composted.)
  8. Prepare canning jars and sterilize implements.
  9. Measure the juice extracted and place into a large saucepan or stock pot. Add 3/4 cup sugar per 1 cup of juice.
  10. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil, stirring often, until mixture reaches gel stage*. This will take about 20-40 minutes, depending on how much juice there is.
  11. Pour hot jelly into heated canning jars. Skim off foam, seal and set aside to cool.
  12. Process in hot water bath or store in refrigerator.

* Sheet test for gel
Dip a cold metal spoon into the boiling soft spread.Β  Lift the spoon and hold it horizontally, edge down, and watch how the mixture drops.Β  When the mixture reaches the gel stage, it will begin to β€œsheet”, with the jelly breaking off the spoon in a sheet or flake, rather than pouring or dripping.

Chokecherries, ready to freeze

The chokecherries I picked this morning are all done for now.

Nice to see my colander so full of berries! All clean and ready to pick over.

I got all the stems (of course, I found one I missed after I took this photo!) and the ones that were damages or whatever. I filled two 9×13 jelly roll pans with berries when I was done.

They are now in the deep freeze, to be transferred to freezer bags when they are frozen solid. After that, they can wait until we decide how we want to use them this year. πŸ™‚ The freezing will help them release their juices later, too.

So… what shall we make? More chokecherry vinegar? Or try a jam or jelly this year?

The Re-Farmer

Bitty Baby Gooseberry

While picking chokecherries, I also checked out one of the gooseberry bushes.

This is the biggest of the gooseberry bushes, and the one that got the most water over the summer, since I had the sprinkler going on the raspberry transplants. It has a fair few berries on it, while the others have either no berries at all, or almost none. The really dark berries I am holding are “ripe”, but so small, they’re practically inedible.

Note for future: transplant the gooseberries out from under other trees, and put them somewhere where they will get both sun and rain!

The Re-Farmer