Recommended: CS Brews

Welcome to my โ€œRecommendedโ€ series of posts. These will be weekly โ€“ for now โ€“ posts about resources I have found over the past while that I found so excellent, I want to share them with you, my dear readers. ๐Ÿ™‚ Whether or not I continue to post these, and how often they are posted, will depend on feedback. Please feel free to comment below, and if you have a favorite resource of your own, do share, and I will review them for possible future posts.

I hope you find these recommendations as useful and enjoyable as I have!

When we decided to try making mead we, of course, did research, first.

Unfortunately, what we found was a lot of conflicting information.

One source would say to just mix honey, water and bread yeast in a jug, top it with a balloon, stick it under your desk and forget about it for months.

Another source would describe starting a fermentation in one container, with daily actions, racking after a couple of weeks, and basically babying the must until it was time to bottle.

Some sources recommended using basically nothing; no other ingredients than honey, water and maybe some yeast. Others would talk about the need for various additives, ranging from raisins to nutrients to various chemicals to start or stop fermentation.

It turns out, mead making is something people can vociferously disagree on, too!

The last time I posted about our mead making attempts, I mentioned a new resource I’d found. CS Brews. This is the YouTube channel for a larger enterprise that includes a similar channel about cooking, a website called City Steading, a Facebook community, and more.

As the website name implies, this is a sort of homesteading resource for people who don’t live in the boonies, like we do. The skills and information are, of course, transferable.

My recommendation, however, is focused on their brewing videos.

Now, this may sound odd, but I don’t actually like alcohol all that much.

Continue reading

Making mead, part 5: bottling and results

Okay, here we go!

Yesterday, we were finally able to pick up some bottles and bottle our first attempt at making mead.

Here are the previous posts of the process. Each link will open in a new tab.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

The mead was left in its second fermentation for longer than 4 weeks, but it seemed to have stopped fermenting much earlier. It’s really hard to see the airlock where we kept it – we basically had to shine a light at it – but there didn’t seem to be any bubbles in the water.

This being our first attempt, we didn’t want to mess with it and just let it be.

Before going in to town to pick up 3 cases of bottles, however, we did take the carboy out to check it.

Continue reading

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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.ย  Lift the spoon and hold it horizontally, edge down, and watch how the mixture drops.ย  When the mixture reaches the gel stage, it will begin to โ€œsheetโ€, with the jelly breaking off the spoon in a sheet or flake, rather than pouring or dripping.

Things with crab apples: apple cider vinegar

Things have been a bit crazy lately, weather wise. Some severe storms have blown across our area and, while we have pretty much just caught the edges of them, they still resulted in internet outages and our power flickering in and out.

Perfect weather to stay indoors and to things with our crab apples!

I decided to use the small amount of apples from one tree to make apple cider vinegar.

A recipe I found called for filling a quart jar 3/4’s full, and it seemed I had enough to do that with just these.

I washed all the apples in cold water with a splash of vinegar, leaving them to sit overnight. The recipe I found called for the scraps of apples – skin and cores – adding that if whole apples were used, to chop them coarsely. Since the crab apples are so small to begin with, after removing the stems, I cut them all in quarters. Some also needed to have bruises or damage cut out, and a few turned out to be bad on the inside and could not be used.

In the end, I had just the amount I needed to fill the jar 3/4’s full, perhaps a touch extra.

The next step was to dissolve a couple of tablespoons of sugar into a cup of water and adding that to the jar, then adding enough water to completely cover the apple pieces. Filtered water was suggested. As we have well water, we could have just used that, but our water is very hard and iron rich, so I used bottled water I happened to have.

The apples need to be kept submerged, and there are fermentation weights available for this. I have none, and had never seen one before looking it up on the internet. The alternative was to put a small jar in to weigh it down.

I have a collection if tiny jars that I have hung on to, and one of them fit perfectly into the quart jar! This is from a package of yogurt that came in 4 little jars to a package. I admit, I bought it just for the jars because they were so adorable. Handy, too!

The next step was to cover the jar with something that would keep dust or whatever out, but allow air in. It could be a piece of cheese cloth, some thin cloth or a coffee filter, fastened in place.

I stole one of my daughter’s coffee filters.

Now it needs to just sit in a dark place at room temperature to ferment into vinegar. This should take about 3 weeks. I’ve tucked it into the top of a cupboard we used fairly frequently, so it will be easy to check if there is any mold happening.

After 3 weeks or so, it will be strained, then left at room temperature to continue to ferment for another 3 or 4 weeks.

Once it’s at the desires taste/strength, it just needs to be strained and re-bottled. We’ll see how it turns out!

The Re-Farmer

Apple Cider Vinegar

Items needed:

  • quart size jar (an air and liquid tight lid will be needed after fermentation is complete)
  • fermentation weight or another jar small enough to fit into the mouth of the quart jar
  • cheese cloth, clean cloth or coffee filter to cover the jar
  • cord or elastic to fasten cover in place

Ingredients:

  • apple scraps or whole apples, coarsely chopped; enough to fill a quart jar 3/4 full
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • about 2 cups filtered water
  1. Sanitize a quart jar and let air dry.
  2. Fill the jar 3/4 full with apple pieces.
  3. Dissolve sugar in 1 cup water and pour over the apples.
  4. Top up with more water until apples are covered.
  5. Add weight or small jar to keep apples submerged. Exposed apples may start to mold.
  6. Cover the jar with a cheese cloth or coffee filter and use a cord or elastic to hold it in place.
  7. Place in a dark location at room temperature and leave for about 3 weeks. Check regularly to ensure the apples remain submerged and no mold is growing.
  8. After 3 weeks, strain the apple pieces out, return liquid to the jar and cover again with cheese cloth or coffee filter.
  9. Return jar to a dark location at room temperature for another 3 or 4 weeks, stirring every few days.
  10. Taste after 3 weeks to see if it has reached desired tartness. If not, leave to ferment longer until it reaches the desired flavour.
  11. Cover with a lid and use as desired. The vinegar can also be transferred to a different jar or bottle, if preferred.

If you notice a film has formed at the top of your vinegar, congratulations! You have developed a “mother.” It can be used as a starter for future batches of vinegar – or a small amount of a previous batch can be used.

Making mead, part 3 – one last stir

Part 1
Part 2

This is what the must looked like this morning, before I did the first stir of the day.

Bubbly bubbly!

I love me some CO2 action!

At the time of this writing, we’ve done the second stir of the day. The instructions we are using as a guide said to stir it twice a day in the first 48 hours, so this was the last one. We now leave it, loosely covered and untouched, for the remainder of 10 days. After that, we siphon it off into the carboy, leaving behind any sediment, set up the airlock, then tuck it away into the basement for a minimum of 4 weeks. After this second fermentation, it should be ready to bottle.

We will, of course, have to taste it first, and see if we’ve got mead. ๐Ÿ™‚

The Re-Farmer

Foil packet fire pit cooking: preparations

I am really looking forward to our cookout this afternoon, and have been doing some preparations for things beyond hot dogs and corn dogs. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve got 4 foil packets now sitting, ready and waiting, allowing several hours for the seasonings to work their magic. Here is the first one I made up.

20190316.firepit.foilpacket.potatoe.mix

The base of this one is a packet of mixed baby potatoes. I stabbed them all over with a fork to allow the flavours in. The rest is mix and match of what I had available. A couple of carrots, a leek, and some asparagus (there was a good sale on those recently. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). They were tossed with Rosemary Lemon Salt, pepper, garlic powder and olive oil.

This amount ended up being split between two foil packets. I used a double thickness of heavy duty aluminum foil to wrap them in.

This is something I’ve done before, using whatever vegetables and seasonings I had, and cooking it in an oven. Today will be the first time I’m doing this over a fire. I can hardly wait!

I am also trying out two versions of cabbage.

20190316.firepit.foilpacket.cabbage.butter.mix

I’d found a recipe and instructions online, modified slightly for what I had on hand. This is one cabbage, outer leaves removed and cut into 8 wedges. The cut sides are spread with softened butter. In with is is half a medium onion, Scarborough Fair Garlic Salt, pepper, and extra garlic powder.

Because you can’t have enough garlic.

These were also wrapped with a double layer of heavy duty aluminum foil.

20190316.firepit.foilpacket.cabbage.oliveoil.mix

With this version, the only thing I changed was to toss everything in olive oil, instead of buttering the wedges.

As you can see, some of the leaves of cabbage came loose. Before wrapping it up, I took one out to give it a taste.

Wow.

I am totally still craving it right now. I think this is going to be a future salad; raw cabbage chunks tossed, with the same seasonings, tossed in olive oil. It was so, so good!

You know. When I was a kid, I hated cabbage. We used to grow lots of it, and my mother used it to make sauerkraut, or to wrap cabbage rolls. I don’t recall us ever eating it raw. My mother’s sauerkraut was incredibly strong – at least to me – and I didn’t like it. As for cabbage rolls, I loved the filling. Hated the cabbage. I still am not a fan of cabbage rolls (for a Polish person, that’s heresy! ๐Ÿ˜€ ), and it’s because of the cabbage leaves. I’ve since eaten and enjoyed sauerkraut, cooked in bigos – something my mother never made – but that’s about the only time I’ll eat it.

Anyhow…

These cabbage wedges were also wrapped in double thickness, heavy duty aluminum foil.

Along with these, I have cut a pineapple into slices (with the core still in; otherwise it falls apart) to cook up on the grill for desert.

It should warm up to -4C by the time we’re going to start cooking over the fire. It’s going to be a beautiful day! I am so looking forward to it!

The Re-Farmer

Home Made Yogurt and Yogurt “cheese” – Day Two; finished

Here are the final results of the yogurt and yogurt cheese making process.

You can visit the first part here, with the recipe, and the second part here, with the step-by-step to make the yogurt cheese.

First up, let’s compare the finished yogurts.

20180129-yogurt6

This was after the home made yogurt was in the fridge for several hours.ย  It did thicken somewhat from when I first put it in the containers, but as you can see, it’s still quite a bit thinner than the commercial yogurt I’d used as a starter.ย  That yogurt, by the way, was just a house brand of plain “Balkan” style yogurt.ย  I normally buy Greek yogurt, but it was more than twice the price!

As far as texture went, the only difference was that one was thinner than the other.

I couldn’t really taste any difference in flavour.

After taking the photo, I mixed both together with a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon.ย  It was quite nice!

One of my daughters promptly claimed the container that wasn’t quite full for herself, and ate it straight. ๐Ÿ˜€

Now, on to the yogurt cheese…

After hanging for about 3 hours, there was quite a lot of liquid in the container.ย  Enough that I poured it off into the container I’d already started in the fridge, almost filling it, so that the bag wouldn’t be sitting in so much liquid.

When very little more drained out of it after another hour or two, I decided to take it out and finish the process.

20180129.yogurt.cheese9

Look how much liquid there is!ย  I can hardly wait until our next bread baking day. ๐Ÿ˜€

Once the bag was on the plate, I could really feel how the middle was thinner than the outside.ย  If I had a cheese press, I would have been able to get more liquid out, more evenly.ย  Maybe some day.ย  For now, I’m happy with doing it this way.

20180129.yogurt.cheese.10

And here is my yogurt cheese baby.ย  With the outside being drier, it allowed me to gently roll the cheese out of the cloth.ย  If that part had broken up more, the softer middle would have got on the cloth and made it much more difficult to get out of the bag.

Guess how I know that? ๐Ÿ˜€

20180129.yogurt.cheese.11

Once out of the cloth, I mixed it thoroughly to make it an even texture.ย  This is a bit on the thin side to be a “cream cheese.”ย  More like a really thick sour cream.

I had a couple of smaller containers waiting for it…

20180129.yogurt.cheese.12

I filled one with the plain yogurt cheese, then added some garlic powder, onion salt and parsley to what was left in the bowl.

I admit, I licked the spatula after doing this, and the onion and garlic one was sooo good!

Like the plain yogurt, it thickens a bit in the fridge, but not by much more.

If I had wanted to, I could have left the bag to hang longer to drain more liquid out and have more of a cream cheese texture, rather than a sour cream texture.

We are looking forward to trying some of this on pierogi soon!

If you try making this yourself, please to pop by and let me know in the comments, how yours turned out, and what you think of it!

The Re-Farmer