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Fermentation, Kitchen

Kombucha Bubbles on the Bench

     

There’s something multiplying on my bench this time of year, as the cooler weather creeps in.

Bubbling, fermenting jars of kombucha, driven by yeast and bacteria powerhouses, are growing in number!

Now before you say ‘Look Trish I think you need to clean your bench’…

I consider these yeast and bacteria to be ‘friendlies,’ to my family’s gut-health! I’m happy to have my ‘brews’ take up more space.

Kombucha is a fermented drink made from sweetened tea, fermented by a culture known as a scoby. It has reported health benefits I encourage you to research. You might like to start with this article here on the benefits and risks.

Possible risks tend to relate to the way kombucha is prepared and stored. I’ve never had a problem in nearly three years of kombucha brewing. I think good routines and keeping the process fresh is key to success.

Scoby stands for ‘Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeasts.’

My way to brew kombucha, below,  is ‘one way’ … it allows for a constant, ready to drink, fresh supply.

A ‘constant, ready to drink, fresh supply’ can be harder to achieve than you’d think when you’re at the mercy of a biological process.

That’s why I said my bubbling jars were growing in number.

You see as the weather cools, the fermentation process slows. That means I need four of my fermenting jars on the bench now, because the brewing process takes four to five days. Here in summer, first fermentation is often just 2 days per batch. So in summer, I only need two brews on the bench.

Some methods rely on brewing a huge amount of kombucha (all ready at once) which gets wasted. Families often can’t drink it in time – so it may continue to ferment past the ‘best taste date’ and into an unhealthy mess depending on how it’s treated from there.

Respect the brewing process and do what’s needed and I’m sure it will go well.

Back to …if kombucha goes past the best taste date…short answer…it tastes like vinegar. It’s not the beautiful taste and slight natural fizz of well-brewed kombucha and won’t be, ever.

So my way is one way to produce a steady supply for my family, that usually ‘nails’ the taste test and avoids waste. Why? Because it’s fresh, chilled and ready in ‘just enough’ one litre quantities, and no batch ferments further, past that.

OK, rewind. Most batches nail the taste. When I was learning to brew, it took a little time to work out how long fermentation would take in my climate (warm to hot for most of the year.) When I get busy and don’t bottle and refrigerate the daily brew on time, it can go past the best taste for our family, but is never left as long as the vinegar stage. It has a sharper edge which we don’t prefer, so I learnt to rarely let that happen.

I brew my kombucha in 1 litre glass jars I recycled, de-labelled and sterilised, from bulk olives we used to buy.

Why jars? The first brew will see your scoby grow to fit the shape of the top of your container. No container with a narrow neck is useful. Wide neck only. You’ll understand when you try to remove the brew and scoby, later.

I made my own ‘breathable’ covers from clean new materials I already had. I secure them with simple elastic bands around the neck of the jar.

Whatever you use to cover the ferment at room temperature, please know that fermentation produces carbon dioxide gas from the yeast in the scoby. Any cover you use needs to be close-weave enough to prevent anything from getting into the ferment, but breathable enough, so that the carbon dioxide can escape. Popping or explosions can happen–which when mixed with glass is a dangerous and at the very least, messy, combination if there is no ‘breathe’.

There is a lot of information around about kombucha brewing. My best advice is to just always, always, always, ‘keep things fresh.’

You wouldn’t drink stagnant water, so never drink anything other than freshly brewed kombucha and keep your processes hygienic (no fingers/hands).

On the other hand–hygienic should never mean bleach or antibacterial dishwashing residue on jars and implements. Kind of defeats the purpose if residues mean you’re killing the organisms you want to be responsible, for the fermentation process. Boiling water with the relevant precautions is the best in my experience.

The first unavoidable step is to purchase your kombucha scoby.  Make sure the source of your scoby is reputable. A few ideas–read customer reviews if you’re thinking of an online purchase, do your own research, ask your local health food or organics store for recommendations.

I purchased my scoby on-line. I only make black tea kombucha. My scoby purchase was fine for either black or green tea kombucha.

Protect Your Scoby

Remember the scoby is alive. If you put it in boiling water you will kill most if not all of the organisms, even if you realise what you’ve done and quickly get it out.

Only put your scoby in room temperature tea solutions.

 

 

 

 

Step 1: Make your Tea Base

For the one litre jars I use, I need to use the following quantities:

Sterilise your jar using boiling water-fresh (boiled from a jug is fine).

Add 4 tablespoons high quality black loose leaf tea, or 4 teabags.

Then add 1/2 cup of raw sugar.

(Yes sugar is needed for the scoby to use for fermentation food–most sugar will be gone by the end of fermentation, but if you don’t sugar-feed your scoby, it will die)

Three-quarters fill the litre jar to the top with boiling water from the jug.

Stir using a long stirrer (I use a long wooden handled, vintage metal spatula).

Set aside tea solution to brew and cool to room temperature.

Only when tea solution is room temperature–strain the tea solution into a clean sterilised one litre jar.

Using tongs, put your scoby into the strained, room temperature tea solution.

Cover with your breathable cover. Let the fermentation process begin!

You can put it on a bench out of light or in a cupboard.

The fermentation process shows it’s happening, with bubbles!

Leave your brew for 4–6 days. It may take longer or shorter where you live.

Step 2: Halt Fermentation

This is simple to do. Just remove the tea solution from the scoby.

The hard bit is knowing when to do this. Too early or too late will affect taste.

If I’m unsure, I take a clean teaspoon and taste-test some of the brew. Don’t dip the spoon back in! Your germs are not welcome.

My method is to use a strainer and funnel to mostly strain the litre jar brew contents into two brown glass bottles (see photo for equipment).

I leave the scoby and bottom inch of kombucha brew (often clouded with the yeast particles, don’t worry, it settles) in the glass jar.

This will be the basis of the next brew.

Into the fridge: Since I don’t do a second ferment for adding flavours, I put the bottles into the refrigerator at this stage and that is it. Some like to add ginger, juices or fruit flavours at this stage, so they would allow those flavours to ‘ferment in’ over a short time, then strain and bottle for refrigeration.

When the kombucha in the brown bottles is chilled, we drink it! Usually within two days. Then we are on to the next batch, which by that stage is chilled!

Step 3: Start your next brew

Using the left over inch of the previous kombucha brew, and the scoby,  repeat Steps 1 through 3.

Freshening, Multiplying and storing your Scoby

There are differing opinions on this topic. Some people allow their scoby to get exceptionally thick. But I like my scoby thin, young and effective! A fresh, recently born scoby, is what I want fermenting my kombucha.

You will see your scoby increase in thickness. Once the older, bottom scoby layer can be separated off (using tongs, not hands–yes its fiddly) then if you use my method above, just separate it off by pulling the two apart. You can discard the old bottom section of scoby into your compost bin or worm farm–they love it. If the older part is still young and fresh looking, you could use it as the starter scoby in another brew jar.

I have four brew jars going at present because brewing is taking at least four days. To have enough kombucha to drink in the fridge each day, I must bottle and renew the next brew in line, each day. I freshen each scoby as needed, for each brew, when I do this.

But I’ve only ever bought one scoby at the start, three years ago.

If you want to keep a young, fresh scoby alive, but don’t want to use it yet–put it in a ‘scoby hotel.’ A scoby hotel is just one of your brewing jars with a couple of inches of kombucha brew in the bottom and the scoby placed in it. Put a breathable cover on it and put the whole thing in the fridge. This will stop or drastically reduce it fermenting until you’re ready to use it. Make sure it’s fresh, and brought to room temperature before using it in a brew.

End-note

I hope this information has been helpful. Your needs may be completely different to my family’s needs, so I encourage you to do your own research. There is so much information out there, and your scoby (from a reputable source) should come with plenty of information, or a website to consult. Learning to brew kombucha is something you get better at, the more you do it. Don’t give up if your first efforts aren’t great. Learn the tastes and flavours you prefer in your kombucha, and adjust your routine and system to suit.

I think that once you have found the routine, tastes and flavours that suit you, brewing kombucha will be a joy, not a nerve-wracking job. Happy kombucha brewing!

PS I’m going to do some separate blog posts about kefir and apple cider vinegar ferments.

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer… Please do your own research for your own needs and context. The author assumes no responsibility for any outcomes of anyone using this well researched and documented blog post. Enjoy making and drinking your kombucha.

 

 

 

 

 

Kitchen, Life and my Garden

Rose Scented Geranium Syrup

It’s beautiful scent makes up for its ‘leggy’ habit.

Rose scented geranium is a delightful and useful addition to any garden. It’s pink flowers are simple but cute. It’s fairly tolerant of a number of soil types, and its leaves send a beautiful rose scent out as soon as you brush up against them in the garden, or bruise them more deliberately.

After a long, extremely hot and drought ridden summer season, my plant ‘looked like the rest of us’…

After a quick prune I was left with a small armful of branches filled with gorgeous leaves. My mind destined them for cuttings and Rose Scented Geranium Syrup.

Rose Scented Geranium Syrup

This recipe is a traditional favourite in several cultures. It couldn’t be simpler, because it’s just the rose scented geranium leaves, equal parts water and raw sugar. But please do it when you have time to enjoy the scent in your home and be present with the boiling syrup.

Warning: This is not a recipe for including children. Boiling syrup is scalding and damaging if it gets near skin, because it sticks and can’t be quickly removed with water. Do not leave the stove unattended. Please protect yourself and don’t allow children in the kitchen for this one.

Method:

Sterilise your storage jars or jugs using boiling water bath or oven method – Google if needed.

Pluck rose-scented geranium leaves only, and put them in your pot.

Just cover the leaves with water-keep count of how much you’re adding using cups/bowls/jugs etc.

Add the same amount of raw sugar that you added in water.

Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and thick bubbles form-this will take different times according to your quantities of leaves, water and sugar.

Do not be tempted to turn the heat to high as this will burn the sugar.

The thick bubbles show you the mixture has turned from sugar-water to sugar syrup, and your rose-scented geranium syrup is ready.

Use a funnel in the bottle with a metal strainer on top of the funnel, to decant your syrup into storage bottles/jars/jugs (see photo). This will separate the leaves from your finished syrup.

Hint: A clean sink is what I use to put my bottles in and then decant into. This captures any sticky hot mess that may result and keeps my hands above the hot syrup rather than near it. If a bottle falls, it doesn’t damage you or your bench.

Using oven mitts, place your hot syrup bottles onto a heat proof surface and allow to cool. Put lids or stoppers on when cooled.

Store in the fridge and use promptly. Never consume mouldy or discoloured syrup.

Uses

Your rose-scented geranium syrup will lend a beautiful perfumed rose-scented sweetness to any baking, cocktails, iced tea, cake icing, toffee etc.

You can also use rose-scented geranium leaves as natural air fresheners and to bake directly onto the bottom of cakes–but that’s another blog!

I’ve got some fresh strawberries from the garden and I’ll be making a batch of Rose-scented Geranium and Strawberry Muffins. Mmmm.

I hope you have fun making and using this delightful syrup.

 

Disclaimer… Please do your own research for your own needs and context. The author assumes no responsibility for any outcomes of anyone using this well researched and documented blog post. Enjoy making and using your syrup.

 

 

 

 

Kitchen, Life and my Garden

Time to Dry Thyme

‘I need a ground cover for between the pebble stepping stones’ I thought yesterday, while revamping a garden bed in my front yard. The first plant to come to mind from the existing plants I have, was thyme. Thyme is a Mediterranean climate herb. Not really a ground cover of course, but low growing and useful enough to grow in this bed between stepping stones (that would only be used by me) and in a garden which features a rosemary hedge. ‘If I needed a quick bouquet garni, I could collect it on the way through, from the car’, I thought.

I do like a nice bit of efficient ingredient collection, when it comes to meal preparation. But what’s a bouquet garni? It is the French name used for a collection of fresh herbs (garni) tied together (bouquet) used in soups, stews, stock – in this case, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. These herbs were described in an old English folk song ‘Scarborough Fair,’  popularised by Simon and Garfunkel in the 1960s. It’s a love song rather than one about culinary herbs, but the bouquet garni ingredients are described in the herbs and flowers ‘she’s’ instructed to collect in her basket. I break into this song whenever I think of bouquet garni, or thyme. The song takes me back to an age I never knew, but feel I do.

I digress. So out into the back garden I went in search of my thyme treasure. I found four plants I’d made from cuttings some months before, all in need of a very harsh haircut. As usual when one job is begun, ten more emerge. I snipped off the tops of the plants, threw them into my harvest basket and planted the thyme plants into the front garden bed.

With the garden bed complete, I’m having a more restful day today. So dealing with the thyme-drying is an ideal Sunday job. Thyme is one of those herbs which I believe offers its best flavour to food, when dried. Except when used fresh in a bouquet garni of course. Thyme suits egg and vegetable dishes but is used with poultry, game, fish, beans, pizza, sauces, and is always an ingredient in stuffings like that found inside a BBQ chicken.

If you’re not familiar with the taste, I always describe it as the ‘woodsmoked end of mint’.  To me it’s the ‘meaty’ version of herbs–and that’s what I thought even before I was a vegetarian. It gives ‘meaty savouriness’ to any vegetable dish.

I recommend a light touch if you haven’t used it before–it is strong and will overpower a recipe if you’re heavy-handed with it.

To Prepare Dried Thyme

  1. Cut fresh thyme sprigs from your thyme plant
  2. Rinse then dry thyme on a tea towel
  3. Dry the thyme stems in your dehydrator 100 °F (38 °C) for 1 to 2 hours (I did mine for 1.5 hours) Alternatively you can air dry it in a dust free covered area for 5 or so days depending on the temperature and air humidity
  4. Remove leaves from stems by ‘scrunching’ into a bowl
  5. Store dried thyme in an air-tight container (preferably glass)

I don’t use any preservatives when drying my herbs, so the 1 to 3 years pantry storage time recommended for thyme, will vary depending on the conditions it’s kept in. As is my usual advice, do your own research, be aware of your own storage conditions and never consume mouldy or otherwise perished herbs.

The other way I like to enjoy the smell of thyme is simply fresh leaves in a bowl of hot water. The scent is beautiful and will waft around your home as a natural air freshener. I use this idea in winter, as thyme is said to be antibacterial, antiviral and insecticidal. Thyme was used in the embalming process during The Black Death in Europe, which is perhaps where these properties were most appreciated. Before using it for any medicinal purpose though, research for your own situation and needs. This is one of the good references to read, here

As a final note, it’s great to have chemical-free dried herbs on hand for cooking. Herbs are so easily grown in small spaces, so don’t feel you need a garden bed. A container with drainage holes will do! Thyme requires very little in the way of attention, it’s resilient and used to a hot Mediterranean climate. Just be sure the soil you plant it in has a pH of between 6 and 8, and drains well. Keep it watered in a sunny spot. A simple delight!

Happy gardening 🌸

 

 

Garden Thoughts, Nature, Life and my Garden, Mindful Nature

De-Fused by a Tomato

I really needed to see the ‘heart’ in this black russian tomato this morning.

Ironic, black russians and I haven’t seen ‘eye-to-eye’ this season.

Gardeners, I hear ya’ the world over, Nature is a tough mistress this time of year, it’s a mood-changer!

In the northern hemisphere gardeners are itching to get gardens started while late season blizzards swirl.

Here in the southern hemisphere, many of us are trying to protect crops from pest & disease pressure naturally & organically, minimise heat damage, dodge hail storms and unfriendly insects, birds and maybe snakes (so far, no snakes).

This morning I’ve taken action on a slime mold that appeared overnight. They’re ok in a garden and sign that microbial life is good – but can turn parasitic on plants in summer when food is running low. I’ve ‘had words’ with an intimidating hornet, bagged remaining pomegranates, tomatoes, strawberries, that annoyingly, certain birds prefer over their native food, which is abundantly here for them in this garden!

And that was all before breakfast.

The thought of yet another heatwave week of late thirties celsius, until Sunday 😳 The peach tree that hasn’t fruited healthily in years, despite gorgeous blossoms and needs to be let go THIS year (Nooooo!).

Every creature is hungry, hot, dehydrated and tired because they’re oxygen deprived in the soupy, ozone saturated, humid air. Sound familiar?

But then, the tomato ‘heart message’ …Stop, breathe, rest, be thankful, take in the beauty, peace-smile. It is just a changed thought away. It’s really and truly, all OK….De-fused by a tomato 🌸💕

#mygarden #tomato #heatwave #summer#australiansummer #gratitude #itsok#growyourownfood #gardenproblems#mindfulness #mindful #heart #fresh#organicgardener #smile#urbanpermaculture #vintagetrish#vintagetrishgarden

Events, Garden Update, Life and my Garden, Mindful Nature

Happy Nature Filled New Year 2019!

A flower blessing to YOU from my garden and I for a beautiful, healthy and happy New Year!

In this photo I used mini dianthus, zinnias, dahlias, nasturtium and roses I picked from my garden on New Years Day, with a purpose that didn’t involve a vase.

I felt these beauties should have multiple uses, in true permaculture style. So when I was picking flowers for my usual flower blessing bowl – a beautiful energetic practice I like to do for setting the home’s energy on New Years Day (see below) – I thought I’d do a year theme inspired photo for Instagram too.

If you’re not following me on Instagram I confess that’s really where the daily posts and action is. So please press this Instagram link and follow me there too–I’d enjoy getting to know you!

I’m more of a ‘just do-er’ than a resolution maker. But I will be better at posting here in 2019 and that’s really what I work with– a loose plan with flexibility that involves taking opportunities that pop up along the way!

On the ‘harvest opportunity front’, my edible garden is producing amazing things right now in the peak of our Australian Summer. I posted a photo of tomatoes on my windowsill today on Instagram. There are really so many ripening on the windowsill it’s making the window difficult to open. I need a new and simple system, ha ha–don’t we all for everything! It’s a great problem to have! But I wouldn’t want the window open today anyway. It’s 38 degrees C outside! So I’ve bought myself some time with the weather’s help.

I’m doing a daily pick/harvest photo, and sometimes a focus photo, on one particular type of vegetable or fruit if I think it would be interesting. Here are some examples of this colourful and productive time of year in my garden.

One of the aspects of having a garden I really enjoy is the ability to be resourceful with the produce that comes in the harvest basket from my morning garden stroll. That harvest is often determined by the weather right now (saving things from heat) or determined by what I need for a particular meal.

The cheese-ball you see above is an example of a theme based snack. I made it for New Year’s Eve (out of near-to-date milk which otherwise may have gone to waste) by making my own cream cheese and then, using it in the cheeseball. It wouldn’t be coated in chives unless I’d had an abundance to pick from in the garden. It wouldn’t exist at all if I didn’t have an aversion to wasted milk.

So the intention behind the types of home cuisine I make can be steered by the garden itself and ‘ingredient opportunities’ that present themselves. Becoming aware of your choices is what this is about, which is ironically linked to New Years Resolutions.

Mindfulness in the garden, offers a beautiful rhythm of flowing with the seasons, with life in general, if you let it work on you.

I hope you experience great ‘flow’ in 2019–at work, at home, at play, in communication with others and in your special relationships.

May 2019 be your best friend!