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


Chevon Cuisine: Give Goat Meat a Try

 

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Goat meat? Gross!

Most of the time, people who have that opinion have never actually tasted goat meat — known as chevon or capretto — or have tried meat from an old, culled goat that should not have been processed for food. This is where goat can get its gamey-flavor reputation.

I’ve had both mild, tender, young goat that is actually quite delicious and similar to lamb, and goat that was too strong to be edible, and it wasn’t cooked properly (blech). But, chevon that is processed correctly and cooked and seasoned well is wonderful, and it’s easy to understand why goat is one of the most consumed meats in the world.

We’re in our third year of raising Boer goats, primarily for show-quality animals, but it’s important to understand the end product of our livestock. Yes, we raise goats that “look pretty,” but what does that mean? Simplified, judges are looking for muscle tone and bone structure that will produce the ultimate carcass. The primary reason to raise Boer goats, however, is meat production, so not only do I need to be educated on raising Boers for the show arena, but also on the best ways to prepare our end product, and chevon is becoming more of a common meat in my recipe repertoire.

If you’re new to cooking goat, then I recommend starting with a package of ground meat, like sausage. You can find chevon at specialty meat markets, local processors who have a retail store, and directly from a friendly farmer who raises Boer goats for meat production. I like sausage links because they freeze well, and I thaw two at a time to use for a variety of dishes.

Ground chevon pairs well with Italian or Mediterranean seasonings, so it’s ideal for this stuffed shell recipe. If you’re skeptical, you can swap the goat for pork sausage. But, if you’re feeling adventurous, and want to impress your foodie friends, give goat sausage a try.

Goat Sausage and Red Pepper Stuffed Shells Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 20 dried large pasta shells
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 lb. goat sausage, or 2 large links (casing removed)
  • 1 16-oz. container ricotta cheese (or see my Three-Ingredient Ricotta Cheese recipe, use 1 batch)
  • 1 duck egg (OR 2 chicken eggs)
  • 1/4 cup diced sweet red bell pepper
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground dried fennel
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground dried rosemary
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried basil
  • Pinch freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
  • 1-1/2 cup shredded mozzarella (give or take … always err on the side of more)
  • 1 jar marinara sauce
  • Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley for garnish

Directions:

1.  In a large dutch oven, cook large shell pasta according to directions. I keep cooked pasta in room-temperature water while I continue the next steps. That way, the pasta won’t burn your fingers while you fill the shells with the meat-and-ricotta stuffing.

2. In a medium skillet, brown goat sausage in olive oil over medium heat. When the goat is halfway browned, add the garlic, red pepper, spices, salt, and pepper. Remove from heat once the goat is cooked through. With a spoon, remove goat meat mixture from skillet, putting it into a paper towel-lined bowl to remove excess fat and slightly cool. 

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese, egg, and goat mixture.

4. Add about a 1/2 cup of the jarred marinara sauce to the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish. This will help prevent the shells from sticking to the bottom.

5. Holding one shell, gently squeeze to open up the shell and spoon a tablespoon-ish of stuffing into the center. Relax the shell so that it closes and place it in the pan, seam side up. Repeat until you’ve either run out of stuffing or shells. I usually get 16 in my pan, or four rows of four shells. I always cook 20 in case they rip or stick to the bottom of the dutch oven while boiling.

6. Top each shell with a spoonful of marinara and a pinch of mozzarella. 

7. Cover pan with foil. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes, covered. Then, remove the foil and continue to bake for 10 - 15 minutes, or until the cheese starts to bubble and brown nicely. 

8. Serve with freshly grated parmesan, cracked black pepper, and chopped parsley.


Corinne Gompf is a writer and hobby farmer in Morrow County, Ohio. She is a graduate from the University of Toledo, with a BA in English, creative writing concentration. Along with her husband, Matt, and two children, Fletcher and Emery, Corinne raises poultry, Boer goats, rabbits, and chemical-free produce. Connect with Corinne on her Heritage Harvest Farm Facebook page, and read all of her Mother Earth News posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Butter That Stays Good for 3,000 Years

 

When most people picture Ireland, they picture our characteristic green fields and old stone walls. But Ireland also has lots of bog – the Bog of Allen, where I live, stretches almost a thousand square kilometres across several counties. Bogs are difficult to get through or settle in even today, so they were isolated, mysterious places, where characters in folktales met banshees or other supernatural beings, and a good place for starving and subjugated people to hide, or hide things.

A bog is a natural wetland, like a swamp or marsh – the difference is that the water is very acidic and low in oxygen, so that insects, fungi and even most bacteria can’t survive. Things buried in the bog don’t rot, so it made a clever place to hide things if you could find them again. Farmers here still find trees that fell in centuries ago, the wood stained black but not rotten. Sometimes they find possessions hidden in the bog that their owners never came back for; necklaces, coins, tools, swords. And sometimes they find stores of food, up to 3,000 years old and not only intact, but edible. Specifically, they find butter. 

Bizarre as that sounds, more than 430 caches of butter have been found in bogs, some small as fists, some big as barrels. The aforementioned 3,000-year-old butter weighed more than 35 kilos, the size of a child. And a surprising number of adventurous finders sampled the butter, and reported it delicious.

This doesn’t even count all the buried gastronomic treasure still waiting out there. Since we can suppose that people buried their butter to unearth and eat it later, and usually did so, these hundreds of finds must represent the small proportion of times that their owners died or the locations forgotten. This must have been a rather commonplace activity.

So why butter, you ask? A surprising number of foods around the world are preserved by being buried in the ground, but they are usually dried foods in arid climates (cheese in Italy), or sub-Arctic countries where the ground is freezing (salmon in Sweden), or where the food is meant to ferment in some way (eggs in China). In this case it’s waterlogged ground, it would probably disintegrate in the water over time unless it’s naturally waterproof, like fat. 

This might have been done with meat as well; Archaeologist Daniel Fisher buried various meats in a frozen pond and a peat bog for comparison, and found that after a year, the meat buried in the bog had no more bacteria than the frozen meat. If this sounds gross, keep in mind that fast-food burger you last ate might have been more than a year old as well.  

Also, butter makes a valuable and high-calorie food for poor agrarian people; with it you can fry food or preserve things like potted meats. It was also taxed in medieval times, so burying it could have been a kind of tax evasion.

The constantly-cold Irish bog would keep the butter solid, and it would only age like cheese; in fact, the one taste-tested by Irish schoolchildren was said to taste like well-aged cheese. Some people might simply have liked the taste.

Like most people these days, we have a refrigerator to keep food fresh, and it runs on electricity – and here in Ireland, we strip-mine our bogs to get turf, burn the turf in a furnace to produce heat, use the heat to spin magnets, and use the magnets to generate electricity to run the refrigerators to keep food fresh. Sure, we do a lot of other things with that electricity, but it’s an admittedly complicated process to keep your butter fresh – burying it in the bog creates no carbon footprint and generates no waste, and skips all the steps in between.

I like to experiment with old ways of preserving food; I learned how to preserve fruit over winter, how to preserve eggs in lime-water or isinglass, how to pickle vegetables or learn which mushrooms are edible. But in all those things I had people around to show me; lots of my older neighbours still make their own jam or wine. I don’t know of anyone who’s ever tried this who could show me how. Thankfully, it’s pretty straightforward – all you need is to access to one of the world’s peat bogs, and I happen to live in the middle of one.

I made some butter at home, which anyone can do; you just pour milk and cream into a jar, put on some music and start shaking. I couldn’t fill it more than a quarter full or we would just get whipped cream, so I had to do this many times to get the three pounds. At some point the sound of the sloshing changes, and you get a solid clump of butter in the middle of the liquid. Traditionally Irish housewives would pat the butter dry of its remaining liquids, but we simply clarified it. Then I froze it to keep it solid while I handled it, wrapped it in cheesecloth and a rope, and walked about ten minutes from our house into the bog.

I paced the steps first in one direction and then another to make sure I would remember the spot, and tied the rope to a nearby tree to I could find it again. 

Seventeen months later I dug up the butter, and while the picture looks pretty disgusting, once I washed it off and unwrapped it the butter looked much the same – a darker yellow and with an earthy smell, but not rancid. 

The taste was recognizably butter, but with an umami flavour a bit like parmesan or ripe cheese; I don’t know how baked goods would taste using it, but it was particularly good over popcorn. It wasn’t something most modern people would choose to eat regularly, but for people who faced periodic famines, it was an ideal store for lean times. 

Of course, this butter was only in the bog for 17 months, and the effects are probably very different over 3,000 years. So I’m burying more butter for a longer period of time – dozens of kilos -- and planning to unearth it in about three to five years, some further down the road. When I do, I’ll dig it up and report on the results, and if you want to come visit, you can be one of the few people in the world who can say they had this ancient food. 

I’m pleased to say this experiment was featured on the BBC Program QI, which looks at interesting facts from around the world: for more information search the internet for “QI” and “Quagmire” or look up my web site at Old School School.


Brian Kaller is a newspaper columnist and homesteader in County Kildare, Ireland. He gardens, keeps bees, interviews elderly neighbors about traditional ways of life, learns old-time crafts, and writes about it. His work has appeared in The American Conservative, Front Porch Republic, First Things, Resilience.org, GRIT and has been featured on the BBC program QI. Find Brian’s writings at Old School School and videos on Old School School on YouTube. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Eat Clean with Mercury-Free Wild Alaska Salmon Dip Recipe

SafeCatch Wild Alaska Salmon Dip

Eating fish is a special treat for us land-locked, rural Wisconsin homesteaders. When we do indulge in a salmon dip treat, we want real food and clean fish on our plate. Choosing fish that is both sustainably harvested and free from toxic mercury can be challenging to find, but fortunately innovative new technologies can now determine what’s healthy for our plate. 

The list of underlying health benefits of fish runs long, from being high in omega-3 fatty acids for heart and brain health to providing a wealth of vitamins and minerals. The hidden dark downside remains increasing high levels of mercury found in fish, a toxic substance that you can’t see, taste or smell. Coal burning power plants kick mercury into the air that then settle into our waters where it is eventually ingested by fish.

Mercury exposure can be especially harmful to pregnant women as it can lead to brain development disabilities, so much so that the FDA and EPA recommend pregnant women and women of child-bearing age avoid fish with notably higher levels of mercury.

Mercury Testing Technology for Fish

The challenge is how can you really know what fish is safe to eat? Fortunately, innovative sustainability entrepreneurs are forging new paths to connect us to healthy fish choices good for our planet. From chefs on the Gulf Shores of Alabama generating awareness of underutilized regional fish to San Diego sushi chefs featured on culinary tours who exclusively working with local fisherman, you can find increasing safe fish options while dining out.

When dining at home, we like to choose options from SafeCatch, a company blending technology with better seafood choices. SafeCatch revolutionized the industry by developing a process to test every can of fish they produce, which enables their tuna, for example, to have a mercury limit 10-times stricter than the FDA. They also use sustainable sourcing and harvesting practices that follow Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program guidelines, the global authority on ethical and sustainable standards.

Keto and Paleo Friendly

The growing popularity of diets like paleo and keto now further champion fish as a low-fat protein choice. SafeCatch’s ready-to-eat, shelf-stable products work well with today’s busy, on-the-go lifestyle and also for hardworking homesteaders. Take your garden-fresh salad greens, tomatoes and cucumbers and pop open a can of tuna already seasoned with tantalizing flavors like chili lime and habanero mint and you have a quick, healthy harvest supper.

The recipe below is our take on the classic Salmon Dip, highlighting the fresh salmon flavor. We use fresh, organic dill from our Inn Serendipity farm, but the recipe could be readily adapted with your favorite herbs as seasonings. We also use cream cheese and sour cream from Organic Valley for the recipe. 

Salmon Dip Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (1½ packages)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 tablespoon capers (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cans (5 ounces each) SafeCatch Wild Alaska Pink Salmon


Directions:

1. Cream the cheese in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until just smooth.

2. Add the sour cream, lemon juice, dill, capers, salt and pepper, and mix.

3. Add the salmon and mix well, but allow the dip to still have some small chunks of salmon.

4. Chill and serve with crudites and/or crackers.

Yield: About 2 cups


Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Sale, the award-winning  ECOpreneuring  and Farmstead Chefcookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son, Liam, and millions of ladybugs. Read all of Lisa’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

This Pancake Cake Recipe Makes an Easy Baked Breakfast

 

Nope, that’s not a typo. I came up with this idea of a pancake cake over the winter break, when the kids really, really, really wanted pancakes. After about four days into the break, feeling ragged and kinda like I was in the middle of surviving some kind of apocalypse, I was on the verge of a middle-aged meltdown. You know, the holidays and attempting to make them memorable for the kids. The get-togethers and seasonal commitments. The last-minute shopping. The in-laws. The constant cooking and laundry. The man-cold my husband was bravely suffering from (eye roll). The last thing I wanted to do was dig out my heavy skillet and stand by the stove for half an hour, slinging batter and flipping flapjacks while my hair absorbs the smell of hot oil.

It was a light bulb moment: Hey! I can pour this into a cake pan and bake it. Then we can all enjoy nice, warm pancakes together, instead of me resigning to eat the cold, misshapen rejects after everyone else has eaten their fill and forgotten all about poor ol’ mom in the kitchen.

But does this really taste like pancakes? Yes! And it’s a perfect recipe to keep in mind with maple syrup season on the horizon. I have been seeing a lot of social media posts from my friends who are checking their lines and getting ready for the sap to start flowing. I. Can’t. Wait.

And I hope you try this recipe and customize it to however your family likes it. Pancake cake can be topped with all kinds of deliciousness: bananas and chocolate sauce, blueberry syrup and lime zest, maple cream and pecans, candied apples and vanilla ice cream. Heck, it’d even make a nice strawberry shortcake (with extra whipped cream, of course) after June berries are ripe.

Pancake Cake Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2-1/2 cups pancake mix
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 duck egg (OR 2 chicken eggs)
  • 1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions:

1. Heavily grease (with butter) a 9x13 pan. This will give the cake a nice crust. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In large bowl, combine mix, oil, milk, vanilla, egg, and spices. Stir until well blended. 

3. Pour batter into pan.

4. Bake for 15-ish minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.

5. Serve with butter and warm maple syrup, cinnamon apples, or whipped cream. Or, all of that, plus a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I don’t judge (wink).


Corinne Gompf is a writer and hobby farmer in Morrow County, Ohio. She is a graduate from the University of Toledo, with a BA in English, creative writing concentration. Along with her husband, Matt, and two children, Fletcher and Emery, Corinne raises poultry, Boer goats, rabbits, and chemical-free produce. Connect with Corinne on her Heritage Harvest Farm Facebook page, and read all of her Mother Earth News posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Avoid Food Waste with this Broccoli Chutney Recipe

Abra Berens presenting at National Restaurant Association Show

Good news on the battle against food waste: Leading chefs across the country are taking on the fight with creativity, flavor and a dedication to sustainability. At the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, Chefs Hari Pulapaka of Cress Restaurant in Deland, Florida and Abra Berens of Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan, shared their passion for thoughtfully using up as every last fruit peel and vegetable core which, turns out, cooks up to a tasty chutney. 

As homesteaders, we personally know the value of the food we grow when we raise it ourselves. From seed and field to table, the time and resources needed to raise healthy, high quality produce and meats motivate us to not let anything go to waste. Kudos to the growing movement of innovative chefs joining this fight against food waste by embracing the challenge of creatively finding a way for every cauliflower core and orange peel to end up on the plate.

Chefs Fight Food Waste

“For me as a chef, it inspires my creativity and makes me think about new ways to use things and certainly makes me feel better about the work that I do,” shares Chef Hari Pulapaka, the award-winning chef at Cress Restaurant in Deland, Florida, recognized for his innovative work in the area of food waste reduction. At his restaurant, you’ll see the same farmers he buys from stopping by later to pick up food scraps for animal feed and compost. Items that other restaurants would just add to the landfill, like vegetables stems and cores, Pulapaka uses in everything from sauces to soups and chutneys like his Core Value Chutney recipe below.

“The beauty of cooking and mitigating food waste is it gives you a new way to look at some of these ingredients that we see day in and day out and new ways we can showcase the flavors and honor the farmers that grew them,” explains Chef Abra Berens, whose family farm roots and personal farming experience add up to her strong use it up outlook today as a chef.

Making Restaurants and Homesteads More Profitable

Restaurant chefs understand their audience at the National Restaurant Show as fellow chefs and other restaurant entrepreneurs need to make their business profitable. The same holds true for any homestead. 

“It’s easier to sell the economics to everyone, including business owners. If you want to be in business, simply don’t waste food,” adds Pulapaka, who in addition to a love for food has a passion for numbers with career roots as a math professor before this new life chapter in the kitchen. He and Berens see mitigating food waste as an opportunity to both do good for the planet and the restaurant business. 

“It’s a shift in your mindset to be creative as you already have this stuff in your kitchen,” sums up Pulapaka, a mantra that we homesteaders can readily relate to and his Core Values Chutney recipe is the perfect example philosophy. “Remember the entire vegetable is edible and this recipe can readily use up whatever you have on hand.” 

As Chef Pulapaka simmered his chutney during his chef demo, the blend of citrus and savory aromas warmed up the stage at National Restaurant Show. We joined over 42,000 other attendees to explore flavors new and trends within the food-service industry, such as the rise of plant-based proteins and meat alternatives.  Cheers to this hopefully growing movement of chefs leading the ongoing challenge of mitigating food waste. May we, as customers, support those establishments that share this value, and also adopt this approach in how we cook at home.

Core Values Chutney

By Chef Hari Pulapaka of Cress Restaurant

Ingredients

  • 1 pound leaves, stems, and cores of broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower (or a mix), washed
  • 1 cup nuts (such as almonds, cashews, or peanuts), toasted
  • 3 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 3 limes, zested and juiced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup white or golden balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons skin-on ginger, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 bunch basil leaves with tender stems, washed
  • 1 bunch cilantro with stems, washed and roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley with stems, washed and roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeño (with seeds), chopped
  • Granulated sugar, as needed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 

Method

1. Prepare the vegetables: gently boil the broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower leaves, stems, and cores in a large pot of salted water.

2. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 18 minutes.

3. Drain well and cool to at least room temperature.

4. Make the chutney: in a food processor, grind the nuts until they are a fine crumb. Add the citrus juices and zest, garlic, olive oil, honey, vinegar, ginger, and mustard. Process well.

5. Add remaining ingredients, including the boiled vegetables. Puree well.

6. Taste the chutney and adjust the salt and sugar levels, as desired.

Yield:  Approximately 4 cups


Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Sale, the award-winning  ECOpreneuring  and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son, Liam, and millions of ladybugs. Read all of Lisa’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Cheesemaking Failure: A Tragedy in Three Parts

Homemade yogurt with blueberries 

Picture courtesy of Wendy Chamberlin.

It began, as so many bad ideas do, as a chemistry experiment.

During my last year of high school, I took chemistry at home in our kitchen. I was homeschooled until college, so this wasn’t a sign that my school had messed up—it was an inventive way of meeting the state’s requirements. The book I used, Culinary Reactions by Simon Quellen Field, offered recipes to illustrate the chemical concepts it explained. In the chapter “Colloids, Gels, and Suspensions,” the example it used was cheese. So that was my homework: Make cheese.

No problem, I thought. I’ve made cheese before.

Part One

The basic principle behind making cheese is that it’s just fermented milk. When milk begins to ferment, its whey separates from its fat. Unlike other forms of fermented milk, such as yogurt and kefir, cheese has as much whey squeezed out of it as possible before eating. This is what makes it solid. While thick Greek yogurt has been strained, most cheese is strained, then pressed under heavy weights. Only the loosest cottage cheese skips this step.

So—oversimplifying a little—cheese is cultured, squished, and sometimes aged milk fat. To get the fermented milk to a point where you can strain it, however, you have to make sure its whey has separated enough that you can cut the milk fat into curds. Before that point, it’s still essentially a single liquid solution—there’s a little whey on top, sure, but what remains underneath that layer is impossible to strain, because you can’t use cheesecloth to separate a liquid from more liquid. You need to achieve curd consistency.

How do you do this?

In the fall of my senior year in high school, I began my chemistry experiment. I sterilized a pot, to make sure the only cultures that got into the milk were the ones I had put there. Then I filled it with milk, which I cultured with a heavy dash of buttermilk, and left it in the oven with the door open—where it was warm enough that the bacteria could do their work—for thirty-six hours. At the end of that time, I dissolved a quarter tablet of rennet in water and mixed it into the cultured milk, then went back to waiting. This time, the wait was shorter: By the end of two hours, the book promised, the rennet would have separated my milk into whey and curds. Two hours at most.

Reader, I waited for eight.

That evening, forced to confront the fact that my milk was not, in fact, going to separate into whey and curds, I poured it down the drain.

Part Two

What had gone wrong? Had the oven light, which automatically goes on when the door opens, killed my bacteria? Had I re-contaminated the pot after sterilizing it and introduced a microorganism that competed with Lactobacillus? My milk had smelled warm and fermented, so I didn’t think that was the case. Then what had my mistake been? I didn’t know, but I wasn’t ready to give up.

During my second attempt, I stored the pot in the oven again, but used less rennet. This time, my milk fat solidified—not as much as the demonstration in Culinary Reactions had showed, but enough that I was able to cut it into curds. I warmed them to coax out as much whey as possible, then began straining, a process that took all day. It was nine at night by the time I performed the finishing touches: salting the cheese, then microwaving some dried cherries with sugar and water and stirring them in.

At this point, the recipe called for a 50-pound weight. I was supposed to press the cheese to drain out extra whey and age it in the refrigerator. I didn’t feel confident enough with power tools to make myself a cheese press, however, and to prepare my cheese for aging, I would have to roll it in melted wax, which meant melting wax in an aluminum container on the stove. That just seemed like a waste of resources. What I had approached cottage cheese consistency, which seemed cheese-like enough to me to pass muster. Skipping the last step, I covered the bowl of cheese and put it in the refrigerator.

The next day passed without an opportunity to share my cheese with my parents presenting itself. And the day after that, my parents came upstairs with some bad news.

“Honey,” said my mother, “about your cheese?”

They were both standing on the stairs, watching me, which meant it was serious. “Yes?”

“Apparently homemade cheese has a shorter shelf life than other cheeses,” said Mommy.

“It’s covered in these lumps of brown mold,” said Daddy helpfully. “I didn’t know mold came in that color.”

Here’s the silliest mistake I’ve ever made in the kitchen: I mourned all day and ignored the tickle of intuition telling me to check my parents’ work. The next morning, I uncovered the bowl, which my parents had left on the stove overnight to save fridge space. You’ve guessed: It looked exactly how it had looked when I’d put it in the fridge three days prior, except that a little bit of whey had separated because my parents had taken it out of the refrigerator.

“Mommy? Daddy?” I said. “Are these your lumps of mold?”

Mommy leaned over and peered into the bowl. “Yeah, those.”

“Those are cherries.” (See photo above)

My cheese had been fine when my parents had well-meaningly removed it from the fridge the previous day. My inaction, however, had led to it being left out on the counter for too long. None of us dared eat it now. That evening, I carried the bowl of cheese outside with the air of a funeral procession and scraped it onto the grass, where my cat tried to eat it.

Part Three

For the next nine months, my priority was finishing high school. I graduated in June, receiving an Advanced Studies diploma despite having gotten uninspiring results in my cheesemaking chemistry lab. With three months before college stretching ahead of me, I decided to try one last time to make cheese.

I checked my old textbook/cookbook out of the library. I went back through the steps. Sterilize the pot, check. Culture the milk, check (but this time, to avoid wasting money if something else went wrong, I used a cheaper milk and made a half batch). Because I’d been worried that the oven light had killed the bacteria during my first try, I left the pot on the stove this time; since it was summer, the air was warm enough. After thirty-six hours, the milk was ready for rennet—in fact, it had already curdled, but I didn’t know what would happen if I tried to cut the curds without adding rennet, so I dissolved a half tablet of rennet in water and left it for an hour.

At the end of the first hour, my cheese-to-be was more liquid than it had been before I’d added rennet. Feeling the first stirrings of foreboding, I let it sit for another hour. When two hours had gone by without change, I summoned reinforcements.

“How much rennet did you put in?” said my mother.

“Half a tablet. The recipe called for a quarter, but it said half would make it curdle faster.”

“Did you remember you were making a half batch?”

A beat.

“No.”

We sat with the enormity of that. Could four times the necessary proportion of rennet have made my cheese refuse to curdle? That didn’t seem right. Rennet is supposed to make cheese curdle, not give up on curdling.

“Can I make a suggestion?” said my mother, when it became clear that we were stumped.

I said reluctantly that suggestions were allowed.

“Give up,” she said. And I was so tired of making cheese, I agreed. Instead, since I had made quite a lot of perfectly good yogurt, I ate it unstrained with jam for the next two weeks.

Takeaways

What did I learn? Well, I got one in a long line of lessons from the universe telling me to trust my intuition—and take responsibility for errors when they happen. Although my parents apologized for their part in ruining my second batch, I was responsible for it, and it was my choice not to verify whether my parents’ “mold” was supposed to be there.

As for the technical craft of cheesemaking, research after the fact tells me that moving the cheese out of the oven during my third try may have been the wrong decision. Cultured cheese refusing to set “is most commonly caused by the temperature being too cool at the fermentation stage,” Cultures for Health tells us. “If you have let your cheese ferment for 12 hours and there is no firming up or change in the texture of your milk…move the cheese to the oven and turn on the light.” In other words, don’t be afraid of warming up your cheese as it curdles.

But perhaps the most important lesson I learned was that even when things don’t work out according to plan, the world doesn’t end. After all, I made some awesome yogurt. Particularly for those of us who take responsibility for our own food, and consequently run into all sorts of misadventures the rest of the world just doesn’t experience, laughter is an essential skill. So is moving forward: Even though I’m sick of making cheese after this experiment, I still prioritize eating real food and building a relationship with the earth. And ultimately that’s the important part: looking forward to the next adventure.

Claire E. is a college student interested in sustainable development, independent living, and the stories and music that connect us. You can read more of Claire's blog posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Delicious Cherry Cake

 

Nothing says Christmas like this beautiful Cherry Pound Cake. Studded with bright red cherries, it is a delight for the eyes as well as the palate. It’s deliciousness crossed my path not too long ago via Rock Recipes, Barry Parson’s blog out of Newfoundland, Canada. According to Barry, no Newfoundland Christmas table would be complete without it. Newfoundland, as you may know, is the easternmost point of North America, so much so, it has its own time zone, one half hour earlier than the eastern seaboard.The Rock, incidentally, is what the locals call Newfoundland.

This cake makes two generous loaves, but you can use a springform pan or a Bundt/Tube pan as well. I made it in two loaf pans, freezing one for later, and, of course, eating the other. It did not last long. It was very well received by the other half, namely, the hubby. Barry recommends rinsing the cherries first, and I agree. It keeps the batter from turning pink in my opinion. I also cut the sugar slightly, by 1/2 cup. If you want it sweeter, go for it. So, without further delay, here’s the recipe:

Cherry Pound Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb chopped glace cherries with 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 cups butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp almond extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup lukewarm, undiluted evaporated milk

Directions

Preheat your oven to 325 F.

1. Rinse the cherries in a colander to remove any syrup they may have been stored in. Pat them dry between layers of paper towels.This step helps prevent the cherries from sinking into the batter as well. Depending on their size, cut them into halves or quarters and set aside for later. They will get tossed in 1/4 cup flour later but not until just before they are folded into the batter.

2. Cream together the butter and sugar well.

3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition until light and fluffy.

4. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts.

5. Sift together the 3 cups of flour and baking powder,

6. Fold dry ingredients into the creamed mixture alternately with the warm milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. As a general rule, I add the dry ingredients in three portions and the milk in two portions.

7. Fold the chopped cherries that have been tossed at the last minute in the 1/4 cup flour.

8. Bake in a greased and floured springform pan, tube pan, or two loaf pans, lined with parchment. (Sue’s note: I definitely recommend the parchment in the loaf pans.) Bake for 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of your pans. 

9. Let the cake cool in the pan(s) for ten minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

References:

Parsons, Barry C. “Rock Recipes: Christmas” St. John’s, Newfoundland: Breakwater Books, 2016. Also, www.breakwaterbooks.com. Last accessed December 2, 2019.

Parsons, Barry C. Rock Recipes: www.rockrecipes.com Last accessed December 1, 2019.

You can follow the further adventures of Sue or sign up for a class at her website or email.  Read all of Sue's Mother Earth News blog posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.







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