Tag Archives: whey

Pickle Fail (with a decent recipe)

24 Aug

After experimenting with pickling projects like sauerkraut, kimchi, and chutneys, I finally attempted the classic pickle this month.  I bought a bunch of Kirby cucumbers at my local farmer’s market, and on August 10 I put them in a brine with spices, left to sit until the 22nd. The result of my rather improvised recipe could have been perfect, ingredient-wise, but  what I ended up with was a moldy mess. The problem was my mediocre way of keeping the Kirbys under the brine. So sad. I had thought my method quite ingenious too: I filled a plastic bag with water, and put that inside my glass fermenting jar to weight and seal the top, with the lid on above that. In the course of 12 days, however, both cucumbers and garlic managed to weasel their way around the bag and protrude into air, leaving themselves vulnerable to molding.  I may have been able to avoid problems if I had checked on the pickles more often.

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Mold on my pickles and garlic. 

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Here’s my water-filled bag acting as a weight. Notice all the schmutz along the edges. Yuck.

Mold is not always a calamity. It’s often possible to skim mold off the top of a pickling ferment and save the layers underneath. Unfortunately, these pickles had enough mold per capita that I decided to recall the whole lot. My birthday is next week, so perhaps a real pickling crock is in my near future….

Anyway, I decided to take a chomp on one non-moldy pickle-end, and it was quite delicious. If you can keep your cukes under water, I think this recipe will serve quite well.  The mustard takes them to the spicy side:

Cucumber Pickles

6 Kirby cucumbers
6 cloves garlic, peeled but whole
1T mustard seeds
2 sprigs of dill with seeds
1/2c yogurt whey
2T sea salt
Filtered water to cover

Combine all ingredients in a jar or crock.  Use a plate with a water filled jar on top it or your crock- top to push the pickles below the water. Leave them for about 2 weeks (mine seemed ready at 12 days), or until pickles are the consistency of your liking.  The longer you go, the softer they will become. Refrigerate your pickles when they are ready, and eat!  I hope you have better luck than I.  

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One of my fermenting shelves.   Notice that early in the ferment when I took this picture, my pickles were behaving.  Neither the plastic bag nor Bruce Lee managed to weight my pickles down in the long run, though. The pickle jar is on the far left, accompanied by a cherry spirits infusion that I will write about soon, and a 5 gallon carboy of T’ej in the back.

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Beet Kvass and Lacto-Fermentation Basics

21 Jun

Beet kvass, a traditional drink from Russia, is one of my favorite (okay, they are all my favorite) lacto-ferments.    Another traditional kvass is made with sourdough bread and raisins or other fruits.  I haven’t made that particular recipe yet.

Beet kvass is sited as a healthy tonic:  good for liver, as a blood tonic, for general digestion, and even kidney stones.  I got this recipe from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, one of my food bibles, and I’ve been making it for years.

Put 2-3 beets, peeled and coarsley chopped in a 2 quart glass jar:  Not grated.  Grating will create too much juice and the rapid fermentation that results is apt to create alcohols instead of lactic acid.

Add 1/4 c whey (see my post on curds and whey) , 1T sea salt, and fill the rest of the jar with filtered water.

The newly combined ingredients

Stir, cover with a lid, and keep at room temp for 2 days.  After two days, the mixture will be beautifully red and have a salty-sour taste.  Put it in the fridge to drink at will.  You can re-use the same beets to make a second batch, but this one will be considerably weaker.  You can also eat the beets– they are now pickled beets.   Also, for the second batch, you can use 1/4 c of leftover kvass instead of whey as your liquid starter.  Occasionally, as with any pickling process, mold can grow on the top.  Originally I was afraid of this mold, but I have since come to understand that you can skim off the mold– it is only growing where the mixture comes into contact with the air.  Beware:  after you drink this, you may be in for a surprise on the toilet.  You are not bleeding to death.  It’s the pigment from the beets.

What is Lacto-Fermentation?

Lacto-fermentation is a traditional method of preserving vegetables and fruits.  It also increases their digestibility and vitamin levels.  It is so-called not because of the addition of dairy to the mix (although we are using whey in the above recipe), but because the fermentation process results in lactic acid as a byproduct, and encourages the growth of the lactobacilli bacteria– a beneficial microbe.  This is one of the microbes you might find in supplemental probiotic solutions.   Lactic acid is what preserves the veggies, and also what promotes the growth of healthy intestinal flora.  Kimchi, sauerkraut, and umeboshi plums are some of the things you can create from lacto-fermentation.

Anything that you find on the grocery shelf that is canned or jarred and not refrigerated comes from a slightly different process, generally involving the use of vinegar.   Canning involves using heat to kill all resident bacteria, whereas fermentation creates an environment for the correct bacteria to thrive.

Unpasteurized fermented foods will continue to ferment and become more sour if not slowed down by refrigeration.  Salt is used in the fermentation process because it inhibits bacterial growth that can cause rancidity while the lactic acid is being formed from the foods.  Once enough lactic acid is present, the environment for lactobacilli is prime and this beneficial organism will crowd out any of the bugs you don’t want.  Adding whey to the ferment helps to reduce the need for salt because it is rich in lactic acid, thus acting as an inoculent for your culture.

Here is the top of the kvass after 48 hours.  At the end of the fermentation process, you probably will see a healthy “scum” on top of your ferment. Sometimes this scum includes mold. This is normal. Skim off the scum from the top and drink the rest.

Why filtered water?  

1.  Tap water is often treated with chlorine and other chemicals.  These chemicals are present in your tap to kill microorganisms.  We want to create an environment that microorganisms can thrive.

2.  Sometimes tap water still has microorganisms in it that could compete with the population that you are trying to grow.

I’m sure there are other good reasons.  These are the two that occur to me immediately.

Why sea salt?

Table salt is highly processed.  It’s like salt’s equivalent to fortified white flour.  To keep salt dry, producers use additives, including aluminum compounds (can’t be good for you).  They also add iodine to replace some of the naturally occurring mineral content that is eradicated from industrial processing.  Dextrose must be added then to stabilize the iodine– this turns the salt purplish, so then they have to bleach it also.  Hmph.  Salt is often sited today as the cause for a variety of health problems.  Partly this is because so many processed foods on the market contain an excess of salt, and it’s not natural sea salt.

Salt extracted from dried seawater is a whole food as opposed to an engineered derivative.  It is usually grey in color and is high in trace minerals, particularly magnesium.  It is a little bit clumpier than the commercial stuff you might be used to, but it is nutritionally so0o much better.

Salt is an important nutrient:  in my college dance training experience, I suffered from grueling calf-cramps.  I would wake up screaming in the night from a charlie horse.   One of my teachers asked if I was getting enough salt in my diet.  After I increased my salt intake, my cramps went away.  Many pregnant women that I work with in yoga class also suffer from the same type of cramps.  I always suggest that they add sea salt to their diet.  On the subject of cramps, coconut water seems to be a great cure too.

Curds and Whey

25 May

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider,
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

Many fermentation recipes involve the use of whey.  This is not the powder supplement you get in the stores.  Don’t try the recipes with that stuff:  the powder is not a living food with active enzymes and cultures, and it won’t make things ferment.  For another matter, I don’t advise eating whey powder at all.  It’s a processed food that’s been killed of any of its nutritive value besides being protein.

Whey is the liquid byproduct that comes from making cheese or many other cultured dairy products.  One of the easiest ways to get whey (no pun intended) is by straining yogurt.  This is very easy:  Take a container of plain yogurt, one with live-active cultures, and place it in a kitchen towel-lined strainer.  Fold the towel over the yogurt to protect it from dust and bugs, and put the strainer over a bowl.  Let the yogurt sit for a few hours or overnight, if you wish.  Yes, at room temperature.  It’s fine, really, I swear.  Yellow liquid will pass through the towel into the bowl.  That’s whey!  The stuff left in your towel is the curds.

Whey dripping from the towel-lined strainer to the bowl.

Straining turns your regular yogurt to the consistency of fancy Greek yogurt.  If you strain it long enough, it will become more like creme fraiche.  To make your curd the most dry, you can tie the ends of the towel around a wooden spoon or some other long skinny thing, and then hang that over a bigger pot.  Without the strainer to support the getup, gravity helps release even more of the liquid.   Keep the straining yogurt away from potential predators, for instance, one Very Interested Cat.

Very Interested Cat promises to disrupt my whey-making process.

Whey can last about 6 months in the fridge.  The curds may last a month.  Smell the whey, and if it smells “off” that’s a good measure of when to throw it out.  The curds are visually obvious:  they will get mold if you let them go.   Stay tuned for whey recipes on my blog in the future.  In the meantime, eat your curds on toast, with chives or jam.

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