Real Food
Savor the flavors of everyday real food, fresh from the garden or stored on your pantry shelves.

Naturally Fermented Peaches & Cream Soda

Mother-Earth-News_Peach-and-Cream-Soda_550-x-350

There’s just something special about late afternoons...a good day’s work is behind you, dinner is already cooking in the oven, and maybe you were lucky enough to have poked around in the garden a bit, making mental to-do lists for the season ahead. It really is my favorite time of day to sit back in a comfy chair, kick up my feet and sip on a delicious refreshing beverage for a few minutes of quiet...ahhhh!

This peaches and cream probiotic soda is one of my favorite afternoon treats. It gives me the boost I need to get through the rest of my day and finish well. Not to mention, all those probiotics help support my immune system  promoting good health! And you won’t find a single drop of high fructose corn syrup or caramel coloring in these sodas. Best yet, making naturally fermented sodas at home is very simple and with the following basics, you’ll soon be enjoying homemade sodas during your afternoon “ahh’s”.

Some of my other favorite beverages include Homemade Kombucha, Water Kefir and if it's a particularly chilly day, this Healthy Gingerbread Latte.

Fermented Peaches & Cream Soda in Glass

Peaches & Cream Soda

This recipe makes approximately 1 gallon of soda, or eight 16 oz. grolsh bottles.

Ingredients

5-6 cups fresh or frozen peaches
1 1/2 cups organic sugar
14 cups filtered water
3-4 Tablespoons organic vanilla extract
1 cup whey

Directions

1. Combine water, sugar and peaches in a large pot and heat over medium heat until bubbling.

2. Lower heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, mashing the peaches to release their juices (we like to use a potato masher).

3. Turn off heat and allow peaches to cool to room temperature, then strain the juice into a large bowl.

4. Stir in vanilla extract and whey (it’s important your liquid is room temperature before doing this step or you may damage the culture).

5. Pour liquid into a large, 1 gallon jar and cover with a lid (at this point the jar does not have to be airtight).

6. Let sit at room temperature to ferment for 3-7 days.

7. After 3-7 days, transfer soda to airtight flip-top bottles (such as the grolsh bottles in the picture) and continue to ferment at room temperature for for 1-5 days.

Check bottles daily for carbonation build up. You want to hear a “pop” upon opening. After the desired “fizziness” is reached, you’ll want to halt the fermentation process by storing them in the refrigerator (or cold storage if you have it).

Helpful Tips

Use bottled or filtered water when making soda and not tap water, the chlorine could inhibit fermentation.

Feel free to substitute sucanat, maple sugar or jaggery for the organic sugar, but I wouldn’t recommend using coconut sugar, rapadura or molasses as the flavor can be quite overpowering. (Find out about the differences of sugars and which are the healthiest to use.

It is not recommended to use honey in this recipe as it contains anti-bacterial properties that can interfere with the fermentation process. We want to make soda, not mead!

To obtain whey, simply strain whole-milk yogurt through a coffee filter for an hour or two. What drips out is whey! (Strain about 2-3 cups yogurt to obtain 1 cup whey, then enjoy your Greek-style yogurt with some berries!)

Fermentation times will vary based on temperature and climate. Ferments prefer temperatures between 68-77 degrees Fahrenheit, so if they’re warmer or cooler than this the above listed fermentation times will vary.

To make soda with a lower sugar content, you’ll want to allow for longer fermentation. Try keeping them at a slightly cooler temperature and allowing them to ferment for the full 7-10 days. For a sweeter soda, stick to a shorter fermentation time, such as 24 hours in the jar, and 2-4 days in the airtight bottles.  

If your soda is fermenting too quickly or too slowly, try changing the location in your home. For example, the top of the refrigerator tends to be the warmest spot in my kitchen, and our pantry stays quite cool.  

Bottom's Up!

Kelsey Steffen is a wife, mom of four, home-school educator and aspiring farmer living in North Idaho. Join Kelsey and her family over at Full of Days as they attempt to squeeze every ounce of joy into their daily life. Read about the happenings in the Steffen household, and follow along on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. Find all of Kelsey’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Try This Easy 4-Ingredient Artisan Bread

Finished Sourdough Bread Boule Loaf

I love the way that is smells when it’s baking. I love the sweet, yeasty flavor it adds to soup, salad, and homemade sandwiches. I love the crispy crust and the soft doughy inside of a fresh loaf of artisan bread.

My love for bread began as a child, when my Greek Yiya would bake homemade sweet bread during the holidays. I often tried to bake bread, but struggled to get it to rise correctly, or bake all the way through. So, many of my homemade loaves served better as a door stop than as a side dish to our meals.

I gave up on making dinner loaves, and started buying these beautiful artisan breads from the farmers markets and grocery stores for upwards of $5 a loaf. After we had a family of six to feed, I quickly discovered that children also love warm bread and that a loaf of bread can really extend a dinner for a larger family. I once again set off on a bread baking quest with similar results.

One day, I was researching survival meals, just in case, and came across this very simple bread recipe. I figured I had better try to bake a loaf so that I wasn’t using up food supplies that we might need in an emergency situation on an experimental recipe.

This bread required no kneading and four simple ingredients that are easy to store. Water, salt, flour, and yeast are all that are needed for the basic recipe — and it costs about 50 cents per loaf to make when the ingredients are bought in bulk.

I made one loaf for my family, and they ate it up in one sitting. This has become my go-to recipe. It turns out perfectly every time, and is so quick to prepare. I have started adding different ingredients to the dough also, depending on what we are having for dinner. A few of our favorite add-ins are flax seed, roasted garlic, sliced olives, and various cheeses.

Homemade Sourdough Bread Steps

4-Ingredient No-knead Bread Recipe

Ingredients:

• 1½ cups water (raw milk or whey can be substituted)
• 1 Tbsp yeast (two pounds costs $8 and lasts me a year)
• 1 Tbsp sugar (optional)
• ½ Tbsp salt
• 3 cups flour, any type (I use 1 cup whole wheat flour and 2 cups of white flour)

Directions:

Step 1

Warm the water, milk, or whey in a large bowl until warm (not hot, or you will kill the yeast).

Step 2

Sprinkle 1 Tbsp. yeast and 1 Tbsp. sugar on top of water. The sugar is optional, but I find that it helps the yeast rise quickly.

Allow to rest for about 3-5 minutes or until the yeast starts to sprout to the top.

Step 3

Sprinkle ½ Tbsp salt over the top and add the 3 cups of flour. Mix with a spoon until all ingredients are well mixed. The dough will be too sticky too handle.

If you wish to add anything to the dough (olives, cheese, herbs) this is the time. For the bread pictured, I added one cup of farm cheese, crumbled.

Step 4

Cover with a loose lid or greased plastic wrap and wrap the bowl in a towel or blanket. On warm days, I allow for it to rise on the porch or in a window. In the fall and winter months, I run the dryer for 2-3 minutes and then place the wrapped bowl into the warm dryer with the door closed.

Allow to rise for 3-4 hours or until doubled in size.

Homemade Sourdough Bread Rising

Step 5

After it has risen, the dough will be very sticky. Flour the top and your hands enough to be able to handle the dough. Gently form the dough into a ball by wrapping the sides under. Let the dough ball rest in the bowl while you warm the oven.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. I bake my bread inside a small, 24-ounce Dutch oven, and I also heat the Dutch oven in the oven during the preheating stage. After the oven reaches 400 degrees, simply drop your dough ball into the hot Dutch oven. Put the lid on and bake for about 40 minutes.

If you want a soft crust, leave the lid on until you can stick a knife into the center and it comes out clean. If you want a crispy crust, remove the lid after 30 minutes, and allow the crust to brown up.

Step 6

Remove the finished bread from the Dutch oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before slicing so that it holds its shape.

If you do not have a Dutch oven, you can bake the bread on a greased cookie sheet with a pan of water underneath. Fill the pan of water with about 1-2 inches of water and place on bottom rack while the oven heats up and while baking. You can also set one of those dollar-store tin baking pans over the top of your bread while baking to create a chewier and softer bread.

If you use the baking sheet method, you will still bake the bread at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Baking times will vary based on the shape of the loaf and your oven.

Melissa Souza lives on a 1-acre, organically managed homestead property in rural Washington State where she raises backyard chickens and meat rabbits and grows plums, apples, pears, a variety of berries, and all the produce her family needs. She loves to inspire other families to save money, be together, and take steps toward self-reliance no matter where they live. Connect with her on Facebook.


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Easy-to-Forage Plant in All Four Seasons: A Wild Edibles Primer

Chickweed Growing In Garden

Chickweed growing

Foraging keeps me grounded. It’s a way to connect with the earth through the soles of my feet and the nourishment it provides. It’s something I like to do throughout the year, as each season has its own unique offering of wild food.

My first memories of foraging were pulling sassafras saplings for my grandmother. I vividly remember the pungent scent of root beer wafting through the house while I waited impatiently for that delicious red decoction. It’s a sensation I’ll always associate with being a wild and free kid — a memory as sweet as the tea.

I spent my summers with my grandmother when I was young, tromping through the woods, nibbling on wild plums, and picking blackberries on the brambly edges and fencerows of her south Georgia farm.

It was a different world than the suburban life I lived the rest of the year. Those summers instilled my love of nature and laid the foundation for my lifelong journey into foraging.

For all I learned from my grandmother about wild food, though, there’s so much I never knew to ask. I never got to eat poke sallet with her, nor any of the foraged fare she would’ve cooked for her family as a matter of subsistence before I came along.

As I cultivated my interest in wild edibles after she was gone, I wanted to know more. My curiosity went beyond those common fruits of summer in the South. I wanted to learn about the wild spring greens, the fall nuts, and the winter roots.

The internet wasn’t so ubiquitous in those days, so I learned what I could from books, plant walks, and like-minded friends.

I made it a point to familiarize myself with new edible wild plants every year through all of the seasons. I have found that learning new plants gives me more confidence in my foraging abilities and incites me to branch out and learn even more. It also gives me more options for putting together a foraged meal.

Foraging Tips

If you’re just getting started foraging, here are a some simple guidelines that have helped me to stay safe and expand my foraging knowledge.

• Make positive identification before you eat anything wild, i.e., be 100% sure you’re not eating something that’s poisonous.


• Take a class or find a teacher. Learning from an expert can save countless hours and give you more confidence.


• Get a reliable wild edibles book or field guide. A book will not only help with identification, but it will also help you discover new plants.


• Don’t harvest in toxic areas. Places where pesticide has been sprayed, roadsides where exhaust settles, and similarly toxic areas should be avoided.


• Don’t over-harvest. I try not to take more than 10% or less, depending on the habitat, sensitivity of the plant, etc. Responsible harvest will ensure that you and the wildlife that depends on wild food will always be able to come back for more.

I think it’s also important to keep in mind that there’s a difference between “palatable” and “edible” — not all wild foods taste that great. The produce we’re accustomed to getting at the grocery store has been selected for its superior texture and flavor over the course of hundreds of years. Wild plants, on the other hand, have selected themselves, so to speak, for their ability to thrive. In most cases, that means they’re more bitter than we would like.

For me, the allure of foraging has as much to do with enjoying my meals as it does with knowing I’m eating what I harvested from the wild. So, I usually combine wild food with something more domesticated. For instance, I might make a salad with cultivated lettuce, foraged wood sorrel, and clover flowers picked from my backyard. Or spring rolls with rice noodles, basil, cilantro, chickweed, and redbud blossoms.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some wild edibles that rival any cultivated crop for flavor. But I wouldn’t say it’s the norm and my meals rarely consist of 100% foraged ingredients.

If you’re just starting to familiarize yourself with wild food, try to target common, easy-to-identify plants that actually taste good. It will make your experience much more enjoyable, which means you’ll be more likely to keep foraging and keep learning.

Here’s a list of a few relatively easy-to-find plants to look for through each season.

Spring Wild Edibles

Chickweed. This is one of my favorites. It grows in backyards and gardens everywhere, so it’s easy to find, and it’s one of the better-tasting wild greens. Chickweed is really good raw or cooked like spinach. You could even use it as a base for salad, because it has such a pleasant, mild flavor and tender texture.

Chickweed is a cooler-weather plant, so in some areas, you can find it all winter. In others, you can find it all summer.

Sassafras. Sassafras tea is what comes to mind for most folks when they think of this tree. But what’s not as well-known is that the slightly lemony, young, tender, raw leaves of sassafras are great in salads. It’s something you can eat through any part of its growing season and, of course, you can use the roots for tea any time of year.

Summer Wild Edibles

Lamb’s quarters. Another excellent wild green, lamb’s quarters can also be cooked like spinach or added to soups and stews. Young leaves are tender enough to eat raw, but they’re high in oxalic acid, so eat in moderation or cook to destroy (most of) the acid. Lamb’s quarters can be eaten in spring, summer, or fall — whenever it has leaves.

Daylily. I’m talking about the Asian variety that has naturalized throughout most of North America. Stay away from true lilies, which have bulbs — they’re toxic. Daylilies (hemerocallis fulva), on the other hand, have tubers that resemble fingerling potatoes. The flower buds are excellent raw or cooked. Flowers, buds, young stalks, and tubers are all edible. Eat the newer, white tubers any time of year.

One caveat regarding daylilies: A small percentage of the population is allergic and suffers nausea after ingesting. If you’re not sure, try a small amount before digging in.

Daylilies Blossoms

Fall Wild Edibles

Hickory nuts. I think hickory nuts are one of the most overlooked native nuts. They’re a bit of work to get into, but if you’re willing to put in the time with a hammer or a heavy-duty nutcracker, they’re worth the effort. Eat them raw or roasted. Try to get them before the worms do.

Persimmons. One of my favorite fruits, persimmon ripens in the cool of fall, often clinging to the tree to remain through winter. Even after they’ve dried and shriveled on the branch, they’re usually still good. Conventional wisdom tells us that persimmons don’t ripen until the first frost, but that’s actually a myth. Just make sure they are completely ripe before eating or you’ll end up with an unpleasantly puckered mouth from the astringent tannins.

Winter Wild Edibles

Wild onion. Truly a cold-weather plant, the wild onion thrives in winter and the greens can sometimes be seen peeking up through snow. Use the leaves just as you would cultivated green onions — they’re every bit as tasty. Eat the bulbs, too, although they’re much smaller than their domesticated counterparts.

Pine needles. Pour boiling water over white pine needles to make a refreshing hot drink that’s full of vitamin C. In days past, when fresh fruit and greens were scarce or non-existent during the colder months, indigenous peoples relied on pine needle tea to stave off scurvy and other maladies. Make sure to look for white pine, because it has a milder flavor than other pines. And stay away from “pines” that aren’t really pines, like yew, which is extremely toxic.

As you learn more and more wild edibles, you’ll become more receptive to the edible gifts of nature, and you’ll approach foraging with more of an open mind.

When you walk into the woods, instead of asking, “Where can I find a few dandelions?” you’ll ask, “What do the woods have to offer me today?”

Eric Orr is an avid gardener, subsistence hunter, primitive skills enthusiast, and amateur green woodworker. He lives on a rural homestead in the southern Appalachians with his wife, Cindy, where write about wild food, lead edible plant walks, and supplement their food supply by foraging. Find Eric at Wild Edible and Camp Woodsmoke, and connect with him on Facebook.


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Two Orange Marmalade Recipes: Coarse-Cut and Irish Whiskey

Visits to markets with upscale produce departments have yielded some fantastic citrus fruits. Here are recipes for two kinds of orange marmalade to stock for breakfasts all year as well as welcome gifts. Unlike the commercial pectin recipes that call for a ratio of 3 cups fruit to 5 cups of sugar, these are low sugar with a ratio of just 1:1 or less.

Coarse-Cut Orange Marmalade Recipe

Yield  8 half pints

Ingredients:

• 4 pounds Valencia or “juice” oranges
• about 8 cups sugar
• may need additional fresh orange juice, not from concentrate

Directions:

Unless the oranges are organic, give them a quick scrub.

1. Score each orange lengthwise in eight strips. Peel off the rind, then take each piece of rind and use a small, sharp knife to scrape about half the white pith off (this is easier than it sounds). You want the rind to be less than ¼-inch thick with some, but not all, of the white pith. Put the scraps of pith aside in a small bowl.

2. With scissors, cut all the zest into 1/8-inch slivers. This takes time, maybe 3 hours, so put on some music or a book on disk and relax. Wrap a Band-Aid or some tape around the base of your thumb to protect from the friction of the scissors. You should have a generous 4 cups of zest strips.

3. Squeeze the oranges to extract the juice. The easiest way I found is to cut the oranges into quarters and squeeze them in a lemon squeezer. If you have a juicer, that would be better. Put all the seeds aside in the bowl with the saved pith and discard the empty membrane. You should have 4 cups of juice. Add “bought” juice if necessary.

4. Tie the seeds and pith into a cheesecloth bundle. Take a piece of cheesecloth about 18 by 36 inches, fold in half, put the seeds and scraps in the center and either tie with string or do a “hobo” knot to firmly enclose the bundle.

5. Combine the zest strips and the juice in your jam pot, nestle the wrapped bundle down into the center. Bring to a low boil and then simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside overnight.

(The reason you bundle the seeds and pith and simmer is to first, tenderize the zest strips and second, to extract the natural pectin in the seeds and excess pith.)

6. The next day, remove the bundle of seeds and pith and squeeze and wring to get out all possible juice. Discard the bundle.

7. Now add the sugar, stir well, and bring to a low boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Continue to cook at a low boil for about 30 minutes. Clip on a thermometer for accuracy and bring the marmalade up to 220 degrees, the jelling point.

8. While your marmalade is cooking, set up your water bath canner and have jars, ladle and funnel at the ready. When the water comes to a boil, dip all the jars, two-piece lids, the ladle, and funnel to sterilize them. Arrange them on a clean towel to drain.

9. When the marmalade has reached the jelling point, remove from heat and stir a minute until any foam on the surface has disappeared. Ladle the marmalade into the jars and apply the lids. Process in the boiling water bath for 7 minutes, and then remove to a clean towel. Space the jars on the towel about an inch apart so they cool quickly. Listen for the “ping” of a good seal. Store your jars of marmalade in a cool, dark cupboard.

Irish Whiskey Orange Marmalade Recipe

Recently, I made this grown-up marmalade. It’s dark and rich and I added a slug of good Irish whiskey. The marmalade doesn’t really taste like whiskey — it’s strongly orange with just that lingering hint of Irish. Delicious. The basic recipe is the same as above except for the sugar and whiskey. Be sure to use Irish.

Yield 7 half pints

Ingredients:

• 4 pounds Valencia or “juice” oranges
• about 7 cups organic turbinado sugar
• may need additional fresh orange juice
• ½ cup best Irish whiskey

Directions:

Follow the directions above right to the jelling point. Off the heat, stir a minute or two until the marmalade subsides, and then stir in the Irish whiskey.

Process and store as above.

Be sure to label all your marmalades and preserves throughout the year. Include the date on your label and note down the recipe in your canning journal.

Coming next: Two kinds of lemon marmalade!

 Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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What You Really Need to Know About Rendering Lard

8 pounds of unrendered leaf lard_rsz

Rendering lard is easy and way more cost effective than buying rendered lard online or from a reliable butcher, but there are important aspects of rendering that never seem to be shared in magazine articles and blog posts.  So I'll start with the most important thing: clean-up.

You do not want to wash your lard-covered pots and utensils so that melted lard goes down your drain.  Trust me.  It will solidify and coat your pipes wherever the lard happens to be when it cools down, joining with rust particles, food particles, hair, whatever, into a drain-clogging, plumber-requiring mess. So:

Tip 1: Line your counter with newspapers before you start.

Tip 2: Have a plate or other container in which or on which you can rest your utensils to avoid drips.  You will capture perfectly clean lard, which you can add to your jars.

Tip 3: Plan to wash everything in a dishpan with very hot soapy water and dump the dirty water outside when you are finished.  Do not run it down the drain; do not use your dishwasher.

Tip 4: Rendering your own lard is ridiculously more economical than buying it.

Where do you find leaf lard to render?  Any butcher shop that sells pasture-raised meats will be able to sell you leaf lard, though you may have to special order it.  You can also buy rendered pasture-raised lard online.  Here's how the economics work out.

rendered lard_rsz

I recently rendered about 8 pounds of leaf lard at the cost of $1.99 per pound (about $16 total).  It made 10 cups leaf lard (good for baking), 11/2 cups rather porky lard (good for stovetop cooking), and 3 cups cracklings (good for putting in cornbread, topping salads). When you buy lard online, you pay by weight, about $1.50 per ounce, plus shipping, for pasture-raised lard.  My batch of 8 pounds of lard made about 100 ounces, not counting the cracklings, so my cost per ounce was about $00.16.  Quite a difference, no?

Tip 5: You can save trim from other parts of the pig to render into lard.  This lard is fine to cook with, but it will not be suitable for pastry because it will have a porky taste.  Render it separately from the leaf lard.

When you are ready to render your lard, chop the lard into small pieces. 

lard beginning to render_rsz

Tip 6.  A frozen piece of fat is no harder to chop than an unfrozen piece, but it will be less slippery and easier to handle.

Tip 7. When all the fat is chopped and in the pot, add a little water to coat the bottom of the pot and prevent the fat from scorching (it will boil off). Stir on occasion.

Tip 8: Stick around. 

best remove lard as it renders_rsz

I hear there are people who render fat in the oven and walk away from the kitchen, but it is my opinion that the longer the fat rests on the cracklings, the more porky it will taste.  So as the fat melts, I like to remove it from the pot. I know the last batch I remove will be darker and porky tasting, but the early batches will be white and neutral in flavor. Filter the fat through a paper coffee filter as you take it out of the pot.

Tip 9: Canning jars do break on occasion and you don't want it to happen when you are rendering fat.

I used to store my chicken, duck, goose, and pork fat in canning jars.  Then one day, when I lifted up a jar of still warm goose fat I had just rendered, the bottom of my canning jar separated from the sides.  My canning jars are old.  Some have gone into the freezer.  Some have had multiple canning baths.  Having spent hours clean up that mess—and it was a big mess—I now play it safe and store my fats in quart-size plastic containers, which seem to multiply in the drawer so I always have plenty. I leave one quart container of fat in the fridge and store the rest in the freezer.

Tip 10: If you can, render the pork outside in a slow-cooker or run the fan in your stove hood.  Otherwise your house will indeed smell somewhat porky.

Pastries are flakier; cookies rise higher; vegetables brown better in sautés, stir fries, and oven roasts; and all fries are less greasy made with lard.  It is absolutely worth your time.chocolate chips with tallow or lard 2_rsz


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Making Liquers and Infusions

Blackberry vodka 

Wouldn’t it be nice to present your guests with a glass of home-made schnapps to round off a home-grown and home-cooked meal ?

Well yes, maybe, but legally almost impossible. Even in France, where I spend a lot of time and the attitudes to alcohol are a lot more relaxed than in the Anglo-Saxon world, making schnapps only becomes worthwhile if you have a great deal of your own fruit, and are extremely creative when you report to the authorities how much you made. Otherwise the tax you have to pay (yes, I know. tax on what you have produced yourself) becomes prohibitive.

Burning schnapps is not actually that difficult, practically, but it can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing, which is one of the reasons why it is so restricted. John Seymour talks about how Indians living in the foothills of the Himalayas used to burn their illegal hooch in such a way as to evade detection by the British authorities, who predictably took a pretty dim view of such self-reliance. I’m not recommending anyone try this at home!

You take a large vessel, filled with wine or whatever other weak alcohol is to be distilled. This you put over the fire. You invert another vessel, this one slightly smaller, over it, to form a large, domed lid. Floating on the surface of the wine, like a small boat, is a third vessel, this one much smaller. The idea is that the alcohol, which has a lower evaporation temperature than water, will turn to vapour, condense on the domed lid, and drip into the smaller vessel.

Now, if anyone from the authorities should come passing, you have no still, just a large bowl of wine, which is perfectly legal, a large empty bowl, maybe for doing your dishes in, and a smaller bowl, upside down on the floor in a corner somewhere. I don’t know what was in it. The cat knocked it over. Again, I mention this because it is interesting, that’s all.

Alright, so you like the idea, but the risks, legal and health-wise, put you off. Well, maybe instead of producing something totally from scratch, you could improve something terrible and mass-produced. I like this way, because it allows me to drink alcohol of a much higher quality that I could afford to buy, is a lot simpler than distilling, and a lot more appetizing than moonshine. Or maybe it could just be your first step to distilling, depending on where you live.

Making liqueurs and infusions couldn’t be simpler. In fact, this is one of the cases where a recipe might actually cloud the meaning of what I am trying to say. I include one simple recipe to get you started, but after that, you can go off on your own, applying the principles to whatever flavouring takes your fancy.

The base alcohol can be as cheap as you like, but with as little taste as possible. The kind of vodkas you might find left over after a less classy sort of house party will do nicely. The sort with names like  “Molotov” and “Kalashnikov”. I made the blackberry vodka after my sister and I made the punch for my wedding. We planned to make one load with booze, and one without, for the kids. Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication, and at the end of the party we had some surprisingly sober guests and a few leftover bottles of vodka.

For the flavourings, I have used berries, but you can experiment with any type of fruit you like. There is a bar owned by friends of mine where they sell mushroom and chilli vodka. Well, I say they sell, they offer it, I don’t know how much actually gets bought.

Here in Austria, Zirbenschnaps is very popular. This is made by infusing cheap fruit schnapps with unripe swiss pine cones, and sweetening to taste with honey or sugar. It is very good, and supposed to strengthen your immune system, although you do have to be quite fit to make it in the first place. A friend of mine is a climber, and she climbs to the tops of the tallest trees in the mountains to get the very best pinecones to make the schnapps, which are then halved and soaked in schnapps for about three months.

The same friend has an aunt who makes lavender schnapps. Again, the base is a cheap fruit schnapps, and it is flavoured with lavender and sweetened with honey. It tastes as innocent as your grandmother’s pie, but it is not. A couple of shots of it are very drunk-making.  Friends of mine use a foraged herb, sweet woodruff, known as Waldmeister, to make a bitter digestif.

Time is a great mellower. The roughest of alcohol, and the sourest of fruit become quite palatable after a few months in the bottle together with some sugar. Leave them a year, if you can, and the result is delicious, mellow and complex. I’ve heard things get better still as time goes on, but I’ve never had the patience to find out.

Now don’t for one minute think that an infused vodka, gin or schnapps will taste like those awful Absolut flavoured vodkas favoured by underage drinkers. These taste rich and powerful, some of the best ones are almost like a port. The fruit is the whole point of it, totally overwhelming any residual notes of Kalashnikov.

You can get really creative, knowing that nothing can go wrong. There can be no spoilage, as the alcohol preserves anything, and quantities are very flexible. I’ve seen a recipe for a quince liqueur, which I would like to try if I could get my hand on some quinces, and my next plan is to infuse alcohol with apples, spices, and raisins to make a “Brantapfelschnapps” – baked apple schnapps.

Blackberry Vodka Recipe

Ingredients

1 bottle vodka (I used a 75 cl bottle, just scale up accordingly for more)
3 cups blackberries
1 cup of sugar

Instructions

1. Mix the above ingredients in a large open-necked vessel.

2. Shake until the sugar is dissolved, and then leave for at least three months before draining out the solids.

3. I strained a second time through a coffee filter, which took a long time and was very sticky but was worth it to make the resultant crystal clear, jewel coloured liqueur.

Now go crazy! I’d love to hear what other flavourings people have come up with. What about coffee, or citrus flavours? Almost any fruit would work well, such blackcurrants to make the famous crème de cassis, originally from Dijon, the aforementioned quince, or lemon peel to make the Italian limoncello.


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Making the Decision to Purchase a Grain Mill

GrainMill 

This Christmas, my husband surprised me with a grain mill attachment for our Kitchen Aid mixer.  Avid bread makers and do-it-yourselfers, we had talked about making this purchase for a while but hadn’t yet because it seemed like a big investment and we wanted to be sure it made sense.  I tend to overthink things (as you’ll perhaps guess from this review) so luckily my husband did some research and used the holiday as an excuse to bite the bullet. 

So, am I happy with the purchase?  Definitely.  Below I explore our (his) choice in grain mill as well as a number of considerations that have lead me to believe that this purchase was a good move.

Health Benefits of Grinding Your Own Flour

One of the reasons we wanted to purchase our own grain mill was an attraction to making as much of our own food at home as we possibly can.  Yes, we still have to buy the wheat berries, but we believed that starting with the berry instead of the already processed flour would provide us with a fresher and more nutritionally-valuable ingredient.  Our instinct is backed by scientific research that demonstrates that flour can lose a variety of nutritional components in less than two weeks after being ground.  This is because the protective coating of the berry has been removed and the grain and can be less stable, especially when exposed to heat or humidity (hence why some freeze flour for longer term storage); nutrients break down and the flour can become rancid.

Return on Investment

we typically purchase King Arthur Flour in bulk (because we are lucky enough to live relatively close to the King Arthur Flour factory store in Norwich, VT) and store what we aren’t using quickly in the freezer.  We keep both All Purpose flour and White Whole Wheat on hand for our regular baking, and we buy smaller amounts of things like rye and regular whole wheat for special recipes.  Though we often prefer to purchase organic products, we do not always buy organic flour because of the price differential.  However, my husband purchased both a 5lb bag of organic white whole wheat berries and a 2lb bag of organic “Emmer” wheat berries when he purchased our mill (www.breadtopia.com).  Initial test runs showed us that ounce for ounce, grinding our own organic flour came in at about the same price as purchasing a regular 5lb bag of non-organic (but good quality) flour from the grocery store.  Buying a 25 or 50lb bag of conventional flour was still going to be cheaper overall, but the ability to lean toward using more organic sources is a plus.  Lucky for us, King Arthur Flour and our local health food stores both sell wheat berries of various types so we are able to source these locally without having to order online.  That said, we highly suggest checking out some of the more unusual varieties and flavors available through companies like Breadtopia.  Not having to store our flour in the freezer may also lead to energy savings.  Of course, the cost of grain and storage is only one part of the equation – you also have to decide how much you’re willing to spend on your mill.

The Right Mill in Our Price Range

There are a variety of mills on the market and they range in price.  The first way we narrowed it down was by looking at mills that were made for in-home use and not for the scale of use that would be required by a business.  Among the options available are some truly high quality mills that look beautiful on your counter top and grind flour to a very fine texture much like what you would buy in the store; these models can handle higher frequency and quantity of use.  However, these models can range from $400 – 800.00 and that price point was not within reasonable consideration for us.  Mid-range models were more appropriate for our ability to invest and the frequency with which we assumed we would use the mill (once or twice a week or a few cups at a time). 

The next consideration was space.  We seem to have a lot of kitchen gadgets and tools and not that much counter space.  We wanted to be able to use the mill frequently without having to take up valuable real estate on the counter top or having to store it in the hall closet where we might be less likely to reach for it.  My husband made a great choice (in my opinion!) in the Mockmill Kitchen Aid Grain Mill Attachment.  This smaller mill separates into two parts (the mill and the feeder) and attaches right onto the kitchen aid mixer that we already keep on our counter.  It is easy to take on and off and stores easily in the same place as our wheat berries.  The Mockmill has coarseness options for grinding; even on its finest setting, it does not grind flour as finely as what you would purchase from the store.  But if, like us, you actually like a little bit of bite in your bread that’s not such a bad thing.  Both pancakes and bread made with our home ground flour had a  “toothsome” texture which we enjoyed.  The only downside is that we probably won’t use this flour for more delicate products like cakes, but since bread and other hearty pastries are made much more regularly in our kitchen this made sense too.

While we won't use our grain mill on an everyday basis, we are likely to use it about once a week.  For us, this was reason enough to make the investment, which will hopefully last us for many years to come!

Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here


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