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Saurkraut_Homemade_LRFor a long time I’d been itching to try my hand at making sauerkraut. The commercial stuff on the supermarket shelves tastes fine but to obtain maximum health-giving probiotics, vitamins and minerals it should be fresh and unpasturised. After scrutinizing many a Youtube tutorial and reading lots on the art of fermenting vegetables I still had niggling doubts about my success rate without the proper equipment. So when we discovered an unusual-shaped jar during the big move it all started to look more feasible.

The lovely grey earthenware crock had originally been used by my Mutter-in-law’s family to preserve autumn fruit in rum to produce a potent, winter-warming tipple. Ingeniously, the lid houses an airlock “moat” that when filled with water allows air to be slowly released from the jar but at the same time preventing any air from entering it. I’d been scouring shops and markets for a saurkraut crock for years. Of course you can buy them online but delivery is precarious not to mention expensive. For me this was a gem of a find and I had every intention of giving my newly acquired friend a new lease of life.

Saurkraut_CrockMaking Saurkraut

  • Having sat unused for several decades in a dark corner our jar warranted a good scrub. Good hygiene practice is paramount anyhow to ensure that only the good bacterias are allowed to prosper.
  • Three robust heads of cabbage were retrieved from the veg patch, finely shredded and packed tightly into the jar. No need to wash the cabbage as this is where our good bacteria will come from.
  • I vigorously pounded a layer of cabbage with the end of a wooden rolling pin, added a copious sprinkling of sea salt, followed by a spattering of dried juniper berries and continued with these three steps until the jar was almost full.
  • To apply more pressure to the compacted leaves I filled a food-grade plastic bag with water and pastry weights and placed it on top of the final layer. The moat surrounding the opening of the jar was filled with water. On went the ceramic lid. The whole lot was left sitting in corner of the kitchen for a week or so until there was enough liquid extracted from the cabbage to cover the leaves entirely.
  • At this stage I removed the bag altogether and replaced the lid. We kept an eye on the water level in the lid making sure it was not allowed to evaporate completely. It gurgled and popped sporadically as air was released – perfectly natural.
  • Six weeks later, after a taste test confirmed it was time, we decanted the cabbage into sterilised jars. I filled four large screw-top glass jars, placing cling film between the metal lid and the jar to prevent and any corrosion from the lactic acid produced during fermentation. They were stored in the fridge. Though not for long as we are already down to our last jar.

The taste is sublime. Slight crunch still in the leaves with a beautiful sour taste, unlike anything I’ve previously tasted. Without a doubt it is worth the effort. Now, I’m off to plant some cabbage seeds for next years batch!

 

You don’t need a specific airlock type ceramic pot to make saurkraut at home. You can use a normal crock or a mason jar.

Regular readers of Green Jam Jar will know how much I look forward to wild garlic season. For me it kicks off the start of spring and gets the first foraging of the year underway. It’s so versatile in the kitchen there is really no excuse not to use it in some shape or form. I covered it in oil, made several jars of pesto and chucked handfuls into almost every dish.  Then, feeling a little creative I tried my hand at a hearty soup with wild garlic as it’s star performer. Not only was it delicious I’m hoping it cranked our immune systems up a notch. You’ll find the leaves growing wild in shady or forested areas. Be sure to gather them before they flower and enjoy them in their prime. Remove as much of the white stalks as you can- they are a little bitter. Everyone has their own version of wild garlic soup. What’s yours?

Potato, Kale and Wild garlic soup

SeedSaversChqLast Saturday afternoon I nervously awaited the arrival of my first visitors. Afternoon Tea had been laid out to raise funds for Irish Seedsavers. What if nobody shows? We’lDavedaly_trevorsargentl be eating cake for months. Cake that I had spent two days assembling in various shapes and guises. It wasn’t long before the welcome sound of wheels on gravel put my fears to rest.

Friends and supporters came, thirsty for tea and eager to help. It was a lovely few hours spent catching up with pals and making new ones. With their generosity and inventiveness we raised €500 (winging its way to Irish Seedsavers HQ in Co Clare as I type). Wildlife artist Dave Daly came baring beautiful watercolour kingfishers and Trevor Sargent donated a copy of his fabulous book Trevor’s Kitchen Garden. Both were sold and the monies added to the seed saver kitty along with visitors’ contributions. All in all a great success thanks to the support of friends old and new!

Following my last rabble-rousing post I am putting my money where my mouth is and holding an afternoon tea fundraiser. I’ve borrowed a water boiler. Mutter-in-law has kindly jumped on board-  industriously churning out her delectable chocolate chip cookies. I’ve rallied a few pals to spread the word and even illustrated an invite to circulate. Now all I need is a moderate flow of generous people through our home in Wexford* on the afternoon of Saturday 15th February. Hot beverages and a variety of sweet treats will be handed round in exchange for a small donation. All proceeds will go to the Irish Seed Savers Association.

KarenNolan_seedsavers_invite

Come on along – it’ll be fun and you’ll be doing your bit for a worthy cause. Or maybe you could host your own afternoon tea fundraising event? Let me know if you have anything planned.

*Leave a message if you need directions.

The Irish Seed Savers Association was founded in 1991 by Anita Hayes to preserve the seeds of rare heritage agricultural plants. More than two decades later their funding has been cut leaving their vital work, and potentially our future, now under threat.

In Wildermess is the preservation of our world

There was a time, not so long ago, when farmers and gardeners only grew fruit, vegetables and grains from seeds that they saved from a previous crop. These particular seed varieties, referred to as open-pollinated varieties, self-pollinate to produce plants that are true-to-type; as in exhibiting the same characteristics as the parent. Some plants species are also open to cross-pollination with similar varieties which means care must be taken to isolate them from their first cousins in order to obtain genetically pure seed.

Up to 50 years ago in communities throughout Ireland seeds were selected from the hardiest and most vigorous plants, swapped with neighbors and, in some cases, creatively cross-pollinated to produce a diverse selection of localized plant varieties. This is no longer how most of us operate. We now trundle down to our nearest garden centre to buy a packet of F1 hybrid vegetable seeds or choose a fruit tree from the limited selection of varieties. F1 hybrid seeds are the result of genetically different parents and are either sterile or produce unstable offspring. This means we all, gardeners and commercial growers alike, unhinkingly buy our hybrid seeds annually. And so, largely down to profit before sustainability, public demand for uniformity and our detachment from the land, over the course of the last century more than 70 percent of our native fruit and vegetable varieties have disappeared. Forever.

The global control exerted by a certain multinational on our food supply through the patenting of “hybrid vigor”, disease-resistant seedstock is shocking enough but loss of agricultural diversity is further cause for concern. We need to have a wide variety of plants at our disposal to ensure genetic diversity. This means we are better equipped to respond to any environmental challenges that may come our way. We as a country should have independent resources to adapt and evolve our food supply to suit the changing weather conditions.

This is where The Irish Seed Savers Association comes in. While we were fondling seed packets down the garden centre Irish Seedsavers were tirelessly gathering and preserving for our future and now they need our help. The Department of Agriculture has drastically reduced their funding. Pobal payments have been pared back and there is a fall in numbers attending on-site courses. As a result the association’s annual budget is down by €250,000. If they fail to raise this amount they will struggle to survive. We do need them to survive, so please go to here to support their crowd-funding campaign. It is a very real and sound investment for our childrens’ futures. On February 1 people are encouraged to host a fundraising coffee morning for the association. The first day of spring – I can think of a no better omen.

More info: Great article here by Sylvia Thompson

Well, what a year that’s been! We have been thrown plenty of challenges to keep us on our toes. As a result the last 12 months have just flown by with my blogging falling a bit by the wayside (I plan to remedy that). We tackled a leaky heating system which saw our wooden floors come up and, following a bit of plumbing, go back down. We then sold the Mutter-in-law’s home and built her a self-contained flat adjoining our house. All in all it’s been a roller coaster ride that we are quite happy to step off – a bit shaken but immensely proud of our staying power.

Z and his mother had a lot of letting-go to contend with; a beloved house on a unique site and the whittling down cherished possessions to a chosen few. The general building bugbears of manhandling large pieces of furniture, juggling finances and never being able to leave the house because of the slim possibility of a passing tradesman pale in comparison to the emotional aftermath. While the construction work and the logistics of moving are behind us we still have many, many cardboard boxes filled with “stuff” to deal with. It pains me to consign unwanted (uncompostable) objects to the dump where it will be dug into the ground for eternity. So what’s the alternative? To find a new use or owner for each item…..I will definitely try my best. Suggestions are welcome…..c’mon folk help me out!

The whole process has me thinking about how we operate as consumers. Usually without a thought for where the product we are buying will end it’s useful life. I’m not suggesting that that we stop consuming but can our purses encourage manufacturers to produce items and packaging that are biodegradable and/or compostable? Even if items were produced from recycled materials and were suitable to be re-recycled at the end of their life it would greatly reduce landfill. It is up to us to make choices that will push industries to consider these options.  Last year I took the “Love What you Wear Challenge” and I didn’t buy any new clothes for the whole year- only second hand garments, handmade clothes and upcycling allowed. While I didn’t actually manage to create any pieces I did keep to the challenge and plan to keep to it for another year. This time I’m cranking it up a notch and dusting off the sewing machine.  Note to friends: please organise an intervention if I end up looking like Worzel Gummidge‘s first cousin……

So yeah, Happy New Year to y’all!

Best wishes for all that you do in 2014

Apple cider vinegar is full of beneficial properties. Most significantly if it’s raw, organic, unpasteurised and unfiltered. Unfiltered means it is bottled with the “mother”- a cloudy residue that sits at the bottom of the bottle. Apple cider vinegar, or ACV as it’s commonly referred to, comes packed with with health-enhancing enzymes, amino acids and minerals. When taken daily it regulated the body’s PH and is said to contribute to weight loss. It cleans up lactic acid, which can accumulate in the body and be a common cause of fatigue. ACV, with the help of its potassium and enzymes provides a much needed energy boost when reserves are low. Quite the wonder food. Several years ago I used to take a tablespoon every morning together with a tablespoon of honey in a cup of warm water. I did this for a number of months and the most (pleasantly) surprising outcome was silky soft skin.

You can imagine my enthusiasm then to recently learn that ACV can be made in the comfort of your own home (thanks Juli!). All you need are the apple scraps from your baking – cores and peelings, a bucket and some patience. Really, it’s that simple. After the bountiful apple harvest we’ve enjoyed this autumn it was an obvious go-to project. Here’s my progress to date.
Homemade Cider vinegar
Having used the actual apple flesh to make yummy desserts I placed the leftover skin and cores in a clean plastic bucket to turn brown. Following that, I covered it all with water and left the bucket in a warm place covered with a dishcloth. After five days I lifted the cloth for an inspection only to be faced with a thin layer of grey-green mould growing over the surface. Apparently this is fantastic, absolutely no need to panic. So after reinstating my cloth I returned the bucket to a shelf in the airing cupboard, where it still sits. The liquid needs to brew for at least a month. In another few weeks, if everything goes to plan, I will have my very own homemade ACV. I’ll strain the liquid into a sterilized bottle making sure not to discard the mother. I’m hoping this will become a routine in my kitchen. It not only makes best use an otherwise waste product, it also avails of local produce and means I’ll never have to buy another bottle of ACV again!
UPDATE
So a month has passed and to be honest the blanket of mould is not very appetising. And, as Keri (see comments) has rightly pointed out, mould is never good (unless it’s a chunk of Roquefort cheese…). Onto the compost heap with my appley slush and back to the drawing board for my homemade ACV recipe. All part of the learning process, folks! I have been advised to agitate the contents every day to avoid mould growth so I will be stirring the next batch at least daily. Loads of great vinegar making tutorials here.
Watch this space for round two!
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