Water kefir makes a fizzy drink if you seal it tight during the second phase of fermentation. Adding ginger, lemon, and dried figs has proved to be the best flavour combination at our house, probably because it tastes like ginger ale.
The figs provide the nutrition, sugar, and colouring, while the lemon makes it more acidic (better for fermentation) and the ginger is irreplaceable for authentic flavour.
In this post I’ll share how I make my water kefir. I’ve done some experimenting along the way and discovered what works best for the kefir grains that I have. Some people will do things differently, and that’s ok. According to some of the reading I’ve done, kefir strains can vary slightly and respond a bit differently to different types of sugar and nutrition depending on the composition of the grains. That is, in what ratios the various bacteria and yeast strains occur in the particular grains that different people may have.
No matter the finer details of your water kefir, though, there are some basic rules that apply to all.
1. Use natural spring water. Not tap water, because the chemicals will kill your kefir grains. Not distilled water, because this will also kill the grains; they’ll just die a slower death due to lack of nutrition. There are also natural mineral drops you can buy (ask at a health food store) if you have reverse osmosis or filtered water. I use spring water, but I also add these drops because I want to be sure my grains are getting all the nutrition they can handle. It’s working, because I have way more than I need and I’ve already given a few batches away. They grow if you feed them well!
2. Use white sugar. This was a hard sell for me, because I don’t like having white sugar in the house. I’ve tried brown sugar, I’ve tried using molasses with the white sugar for more nutrition, but this always ends up giving the kefir a bad flavour. So I use white sugar for the initial fermentation. And if you’re wondering about using honey, I would recommend against it due to the natural antibacterial and antifungal properties that honey has. You’ll kill your grains with kindness.
3. Use organic flavourings. During the second phase, when you’re creating your homemade soda pop, you’ll want to be sure that the dried fruit is not treated with oil or sulphates, because that will affect the outcome of your kefir. As well, using organic lemons means you can use them with peels on, which provides a more well-rounded nutrition profile for your grains. If you’re going to all this trouble to make a healthy, tasty drink, you might as well keep it pure.
As I mentioned, our family likes the ginger ale flavour the best, so the instructions here are for this basic recipe. I’ll also include some variations you might like to try.
Ingredients and Materials, Phase 1
1 L mason jar
baby facecloth or cheesecloth to cover opening of the jar
elastic to hold it on
3-4 heaping tablespoons water kefir grains
1/4 cup leftover kefir liquid from previous batch
1/4 cup white sugar
natural spring water, enough to fill jar to 2 inches below the top
mineral drops (optional, but recommended)
Instructions, Phase 1
It’s important that everything you’re using is clean, but there’s no need to sterilize your equipment. Put all the ingredients in the mason jar, stir, cover with the cloth and let it sit on the counter for 2-3 days. You will see bubbles – this is good! Sometimes the grains will get carried to the surface by the bubbles, then fall again when the bubbles pop at the surface. Fun to watch if you’ve got a million other things you could be doing.
Ingredients and Materials, Phase 2
container to strain the liquid into; I use a glass 4-cup measure with handle and pouring spout
jars that seal; I use the bottles from IKEA that have the rubber seal flip lids (here’s a pic)
1 slice of organic lemon, cut into small pieces (so they fit in the bottle)
1″ square piece of ginger, peeled and diced
1 dried fig, diced
Instructions, Phase 2
Strain the kefir grains out of the liquid. You can then put the grains back in the jar with 1/4 c of the liquid and follow instructions above for starting all over again with Phase 1. If your grains have doubled in volume, you can even start 2 batches!
Pour the strained liquid into the bottle, then add the flavourings above. Seal and place on the counter for 2 days or so.
Be sure to ‘burp’ the bottles at least twice a day. If you don’t let out the buildup of gas, there’s a chance that the fermentation could cause the bottle to break. Just flip them open in the morning and evening and close them back up again. I sometimes will do this 3x a day because I really don’t want to deal with exploding glass bottles.
And that’s pretty much it! Have fun, try different flavours, try it plain (yuck), try eating the grains (tasteless but fun and squishy – probiotic gummy bears!!), share it with friends.
Oh ya – alternative flavours…
Our family also enjoys cranberry/lemon/dried apricot. We tried using limes, but found it turned bitter. Maybe if they were peeled they would add a better flavour. If you try it let me know! Prunes are also good for flavour.
We tried adding lemons, apricots, prunes, and molasses (not all at once) to the first phase of fermentation, and basically found that it doesn’t really help. If anything, it makes the flavour worse. Especially the molasses. Blech. However, it is good for feeding the grains because of the nutrients in these foods. So it’s a good idea to do that every once in awhile. I have a few batches going, so I add a dried apricot to one of them and a dried prune to the other. When I strain the grains, I will then mix them up so the more well-fed grains are mixed with the ‘plain’ grains that I didn’t feed. I’m hoping that in this way they will get all the nutrition they need without compromising flavour.
ALSO: Rachael added that kefir doesn’t do well if it’s exposed to metal (unless it’s stainless steel), so a plastic strainer would probably be better than an old rusty metal one. Thanks Rachael for reading this over and checking it for me!
Thanks to Rachael Ward, of Bailey’s Local Foods, for sharing her water kefir grains with me! It’s been a fantastic (and yummy) learning experience for me and my family.
I started my journey by reading the Yemoos Nourishing Cultures website – the FAQ is very detailed and will likely cover any questions that you still have after reading this post. You’re welcome to ask me questions, but you can also head over to their website to see what they have to say.
This is delicious. Sweet and sour, freshly fermented and crunchy cabbage. And it’s pink. Hence the name. We have a lot of girls in our household, so the word ‘princess’ is often used as an adjective. As in, ‘princess cauliflower’ (dyed pink from beets), ‘princess rice’ (same), ‘princess soup’ (my attempt to copy my mother-in-law’s borscht), and my new favourite, ‘princess sauerkraut’ (a head of red cabbage made its way into the crock).
I documented my first attempt at making sauerkraut in a large crock, just in case it turned out…. and it did! Many thanks to my Grandma for giving me her very heavy 5-gallon-or-so crock.
So anyway, the first thing I do is buy a container of balkan-style yogurt. The purest one, with bacterial cultures and 6% fat. Then I suspend it in a fabric in a jar, so all the whey drips out. This whey helps seed the bacteria. You could also use goat if you have cow dairy allergies. I have a container of goat yogurt in my fridge, waiting for the next batch, just to try it out. What’s left in the cloth works well as a stiff sour cream.
Once that’s been sitting for a day you’ll have lots of whey. What’s in the photo is what I’ve used for 3-4 heads of cabbage plus other stuff. There’s really no exact recipe here…. but the princess sauerkraut contains 2 green cabbages, 1 red cabbage, 3 large carrots, and a bunch of radishes.
I use my food processor to shred the veggies, then put them in the crock.
Between each head of cabbage, I sprinkle about a tablespoon or a bit more of salt. Don’t use iodized salt. Sea salt works well, or the pink rock salt (princess household, I tell you…) works well.
And… mix it up.
The salt works to release water from the cabbage, which is what a good batch of sauerkraut needs. Everything under the juices stays well-preserved, even if there’s mold growing on the surface (although I don’t leave mine that long, I could if I wanted to). I help the process by mixing, punching it down, squeezing it in my hands, and pressing down. In the next photo you can see how nicely the juices have started coming up.
To keep it under the water, I put cabbage leaves around the outside edges and a plate in the middle.
And a big jar full of water on top of the plate to weigh it down.
And covered it to protect from RFCs.*
Then: the waiting. 5 days of waiting. Checking every day to make sure the water level was above the cabbage level. Sometimes a few times. Smelling it, making sure it smelled right. Trust me, if it goes bad, you know. It smelled good and sour the whole time, and made my mouth water waiting for it.
I thought 5 days was good enough and decided to taste test.
It was delicious, so I put it in jars and into the fridge. Yum!
Not long after (maybe an hour or so?), the crock looked like this:
SPICY kraut!!! 4 green cabbages, 3 lbs carrots, 2 bags radishes, 1 chunk of ginger, 4 jalapenos and 4 chili peppers. Plus whey and salt. Oh baby. It is good. (It’s now in my fridge too.) I would add more hot peppers next time though.
*RFC: Random Flying Contaminant. You never know when your 7-year-old is going to sneeze up long-distance gobs. And 9-year-olds doing dishes tend to create projectile suds somehow. And when hubby clips fingernails in the kitchen…. well…. you get the idea….
I am so lucky to have amazingly gifted women friends. One of them saw all my hot peppers sitting in a pile yesterday and said, ‘You know you can make hot sauce, it’s really easy.’ Then proceeded to give me a simple, tweakable, make-it-your-own type recipe. I hesitate to even call it a recipe, because it’s really what you make it. I decided to take the easiest route since I’m running out of time this week. Tomorrow I will be at the Greenhouse Growers’ Conference, and after that I have a very busy and full weekend. So, I got chopping right away. The pile consisted of Jalapeno, Black Hungarian Hot, Cayenne, and Fish Peppers.
I basically cut most of them into 4 pieces. 2 if they were smaller than jalapenos. Wear gloves if you have sensitive skin or are prone to forgetting that you were chopping hot peppers and often rub your eyes. No kidding, the sting does hang around for a day or two if you’re not careful how you handle them. I don’t really like gloves so I have a system: I only touch the peppers with my left hand. My right hand holds the knife and scratches my nose if it itches. Later, I need to remember not to touch my face with my left hand. Usually I can remember, but not always. Eyeballs don’t appreciate hot pepper juice at all. And my skin is so sensitive, even after washing my hands it will still tingle if I touch something with my hot pepper hand. And my hand will sting for a day too, depending on the scoville units of the pepper. So consider yourself warned.
Put all the chopped peppers in a pot with 2 cups of water and 2 cups of vinegar. The vinegar/water mixture should just cover the peppers, so adjust accordingly depending on how much of each you have. This amount worked well for me, and I had maybe 5 cups of hot peppers?? Or so. I didn’t actually measure. And, you’ll notice, I didn’t actually seed them. Just left all the seeds in. Hey, I’m making hot sauce. It’s supposed to burn, right? Well. If you like flavour and can do without the extra heat, pull out all the seeds too. This is the point where my left hot pepper hand usually starts to burn. It helps if you use a spoon (right hand) to scrape them out.
You can also add some garlic cloves or onions and other spices too – what flavours do you like in a hot sauce? Throw it in!
Once you’ve got them all in the pot, turn on your range fan and put them on the stove to boil. Once they’re boiling, though, turn it down to the point where it just simmers. Leave them there for at least an hour. More is ok too. You’ll want a lid on that mother, because holy cow does it ever burn your throat if you breathe in that steam. Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT lean over the pot. EVER. Your throat will close and burn and you will be thrown into a wild coughing fit that leaves you running out into the back yard gasping for air.
When they’ve simmered to your liking, turn off the burner and leave the pot to sit on the stove all night.
In the morning you will be treated to the cheerfully delicious smell of pickled hot peppers.
They will be cooled, which is how you want them for now. Blend them using whichever method works for you. The immersion blender method was slightly terrifying for me, since the mixture was fairly shallow. There were hot pepper bits flying out of the pot. I ended up using the lid as a shield and almost ran down to the shop in the basement for some safety goggles. If you have one of those blenders with a lid, you might want to use that even though there are some extra steps involved.
You control consistency. I blended until it was mostly smooth but there are still a few little wee chunks. And seeds.
Get all your canning stuff ready if you want to preserve your hot sauce.
Heat up the hot sauce, bringing it up to a boil, but be careful of splatters. It’s much more likely to splatter once it’s been blended. Find your inner knight and wield that lid like a shield. Or grab your goo goo goggles from the basement. Either way. Let the sauce stay warm until all your jars are ready for filling. Fill them, process them, and store them! Hopefully you’ll be left with a good amount of sauce that won’t fit nicely into a jar. Keep that in the fridge and apply liberally to whatever your heart desires.
Be careful during cleanup – that stuff is powerful. It may look like tomato sauce, but it’s killer.
This is so easy. I’ve been using this laundry soap for a few weeks now, and I’m really happy with it. It’s a very simple and pure soap, and it does a great job too.
All you need is:
1.5 cups borax
1.5 cups washing soda
1 bar of your favourite soap
1. Finely grate the bar of soap.
2. Mix with the other ingredients.
I put mine in a large ziplock baggie, but you can use whatever container you have handy. Use about a tablespoon or so per load. You might need more if you have a top-loading washer. Mine is front-loading and one tablespoon is plenty.
Thanks to Kerry-Ann for this recipe!! I don’t know if it’s hers or if she found it somewhere, but it’s a good one. The original called for Dr. Bronner’s soap, but I just used what I had, so that’s my contribution to the evolution of the recipe.
This weekend is the Guelph Organic Conference! The Expo and Tasting Fair is open to the general public, for FREE, so if you want to eat some yummy organic yogurt and chocolate and carrot juice, (among other things) please come check it out! While you’re there, come say hi – I’ll be downstairs near the book table. My display space will look something like the photo on the left. Possibly without the lights, depending on whether I get electricity or not. I’m pretty sure I requested it, but it was so long ago I can’t remember.
I’m getting pretty excited for the show – I had a lot of fun last year as a member of the general public – and I hope you can come. There are also many opportunities to learn new things about growing food, and to purchase organic seeds without paying for shipping!!
In other news, I made a savoury discovery this week:
I cooked some venison chops with smoked sausage and apple and shallots
Then, at the end of cooking, I took the 1/2 inch of juices, liquid pork fat, apples, and shallots, and blended them up using my stick blender.
I call it – AWESOMESAUCE.
I’m not sure there are words in the English language to describe it. Basically the best gravy ever… but also reminded me a bit of the cheese sauce usually served with broccoli. Maybe because we were eating broccoli and cauliflower that night too? I ate the sauce with everything. It’s free of dairy and grains, so I am super happy with it.
I didn’t realize that the liquid would instantly turn into this thick, slow-moving sauce. I guess the fat basically emulsified into all the other ingredients. It still hasn’t separated, after being in the fridge overnight.
Plans are underway to try this with other food and fat combos and see what happens!
p.s. Don’t forget to come to the Guelph Organic Conference if you can!
Winter is upon us; we’ve had a few snowfalls over the past little while, and I’m feeling like it’s really winter now. Temperature of -15 celsius helps too, but walking in the backyard in shin-deep snow really does it for me.
I had a bag of carrots and a bulb of fennel, and wanted to make something yummy and warming, and this recipe is the result. I hope you like it! As always, feel free to tweak it for your own tastes.
My recipe page is still in its infancy, but the Amazing Grain-Free Spice Cake listed there is also very warming, if you’re in the mood to curl up with a book and some cake. For me that’s, oh, only every day.
I’ve been working away at this business, though. Too much to do, no time to bake cake right now. I’ve been approved as a vendor at the St. Jacob’s Market in Waterloo, I’ve put together a Catalogue of Seedlings and Patio Pots for you so you can see what I’m planning to grow, and I’ve started creating a template for my Grow-Along email newsletters.
Plus, some major learning and brainstorming has been taking place. Exciting! To me, anyway. It’s mainly about business and marketing (so much to learn!). What I’m planning will affect my customers, so I thought I’d share my thoughts with you.
Top Priorities for SKG
2. Foster a food-gardening community. ~ facebook group “Kitchen Garden Club – by SKG”
3. Be accessible. ~ through email, facebook, and this website
4. Have fun with gardening, and help others have fun too. ~ new pin designs coming soon!
How you can be part of the excitement:
2. Let me know your thoughts about this – am I on track? Am I out in left field? What would help make your food gardening easier? I want to know!
4. Buying products is cool too.
This ‘salad’ is pretty simple – 3 kinds of sprouts, red peppers, and ground beef. It’s my lazy lunch, adding veggies to meat after the meat’s been warmed. Cooking the sprouts would destroy many of the health benefits, so I wouldn’t do that. So yummy – the radish sprouts taste like radishes, and the broccoli sprouts taste like broccoli. The pea sprouts are starchy sweet.
Here’s a photo of what the sprouts looked like just before I had my salad. The peas sure have stretched! Broccoli too. It’s prime eating time! Guess what I’m having for meals for the next few days? Yep. Yummy sprouts.
I don’t think I’ll blog much more about it though. Is it getting tiring? I’m kinda feeling like I’m ready for the next topic. No major ideas yet though. But surely something will come to me.
Oh! I know. I’ll show you something really pretty tomorrow. Stay tuned.
I made some sauerkraut last week after a bit of a hiatus; my last few batches didn’t turn out so well and I was a bit discouraged by the lack of yummy eats after the days of fermentation. This batch turned out ok, although next time I think I’ll let it ferment a bit longer so it has a stronger flavour.
It’s super easy. Do you want to make some? Here’s what I did:
1. Find a medium-sized cabbage, some sea salt, caraway seeds, a big bowl, potato masher, big spoon, wide-mouth mason jars, a drip-catching pan that fits the jars, and a food processor with shredding attachment.
2. Take any yucky leaves off the cabbage. Take some nice ones off too, and save them for later.
3. Shred the cabbage with the food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, that’s really too bad because it makes this part a whole lot easier.
4. Put the cabbage in a big bowl and mix in 2 tablespoons or more of sea salt. And caraway seeds, if you like them in kraut. They’re optional.
5. Let it sit for awhile. Clean the food processor, check your email, like my facebook page….
6. Next, stomp it with the potato masher for a bit, until it’s really juicy. If you pile it all in the middle of the bowl and then press down with the masher, juice should ooze around the masher. Then you’re done mashing. Might take 8-10 minutes.
7. Get your big spoon and scoop it into the wide-mouth mason jars bit by bit, pressing down between every 1-2 scoops. Make sure it’s really pressed in there. Leave 2 inches from the tops of the jars.
8. Find those nice cabbage leaves you saved for later, and trim them so they’re a bit bigger than the size of the jar. Use them to cover the top of the sauerkraut, and sort of push down on them until the juice starts oozing around them.
9. Put the lids on, but don’t screw them down tight. They should be loose enough to allow leakage, if needed.
10. Put the jars in the pan designated to catch drips.
11. Leave them for 3 days. You’ll see the juice level rise in the jars as the lacto-bacteria ferment on the cabbage.
12. Taste and see if it’s strong enough for you – if not cover it back up and let it sit for a bit longer.
13. When you like the flavour, put it in the fridge and close the lid tightly. You want to prevent evaporation of the liquid at this point, and the ferment doesn’t need to have overflow capacity anymore.
14. Leave a comment for me and let me know how it went!
Note: if something goes wrong, you will know. Sauerkraut should smell sour, not rotten. If it smells off to you, don’t eat it. If you’re not sure, ask someone who loves sauerkraut to smell it and taste it for you.
Last weekend my father-in-law showed me how to butcher chickens, so I have some organic, n0t-quite-free-range but good old scratch-in-the-dirt chicken in my freezer. They were the happy birds living in my backyard for the summer. I kept them fed and watered and they mostly sat around and ate. White Rocks do that. Bred for eating and gaining, you hope to goodness they don’t have a heart attack before it’s harvest time. These four made it, and it was time.
So I had a lesson in how to do things the quickest and easiest way possible. First the head comes off (father-in-law did this part), then you hold the legs while the wings flap for a bit. The bird then gets dunked in 160 degree water to loosen the feathers. It’s hung upside down while you pluck the feathers out. Repeat with the other birds.
The next stage after that is the part where you “take the motors out”: the innards, also called offal. It was during this stage that I learned how to properly prepare a gizzard. Well — first I learned that the gizzard is the stomach. Then I learned how to slice around the edge a bit, open it up and take out the lining along with the contents.
My first attempt at preparing this for eating is pictured above. In the pan is one heart and one gizzard, cut up and cooked. I had read about a marinade for offal, and wanted to try it. Lime juice, jalapeno, cilantro, ginger, garlic. It was really gross. I think I must have done something wrong.
So the next thing I will try, on a friend’s recommendation, is boiling then frying in butter. I’ll let you know how it goes. After that, I have two more sets of heart and gizzard, and I’m up for trying new things. If you have a recipe you’d like to share I’d be happy to hear it.
Oh – and the cat ate the liver. He loved it.
Yesterday I washed and sliced a sinkful of plums and put them in the dehydrator. 24 hours later, we have delicious fruit candy with a bit of a sour taste – it hits the kids’ taste buds right in the sweet/sour spot that all kids seem to have. And the only ingredient is plums.
These are no ordinary plums, either – we get them from a local supplier who picks them up in Niagara, from an almost-organic farm. Normally these types of fruits (think peaches, pears, plums) would get sprayed about 15-18 times in the growing season with all sorts of chemicals. This makes me shudder – and sometimes I get an itchy rash from conventional fruit.
These fruits from the local Niagara farmer are occasionally sprayed – maybe 5 times – and never within the window of time when they’re being picked. The farmer uses organic methods in other ways, even though he’s not certified – he feeds the soil lots of great compost and manure and uses whatever organic methods he can. He only sprays when he absolutely must in order to save his crop. He’s still replenishing the soil from all the years of depletion that preceded him.
I am happy to support his almost organic farm – because this fruit doesn’t bother me like regular fruit does. I don’t get tingly itchy lips when I eat it. And it’s so tasty!