Cooking

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I recently got a new kombucha SCOBY and, after a hiatus, got back into brewing. I always start with a quart, move up to a half-gallon and then jump into our two-gallon vessels.

We drink it straight after it has a good tang to it but we also really enjoy bottling it in airtight bottles to create a bit of carbonation. More often than not I just throw a few pieces of fruit into the bottles to flavor it but sometimes we’ll splurge and throw in some juice instead.

Airtight fermentation can be dangerous, and not for health reasons. Anything you make or ferment at home is going to be far less dangerous than what you can purchase from a large food system. The danger in airtight fermentation – usually beverages, but also vegetable ferments in jars – is that carbon dioxide gas builds up as a by-product of fermentation.

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This is great in that it provides the carbonation in water kefir, kombucha, and other delicious fermented beverages. The danger is that if you do not use the correct vessel, it can literally explode. We’ve had this happen in the middle of the night with fermented pickles that I’d forgotten to burp. The ensuing baseball bat, find the intruder scenario made for a funny, if heart-pounding, scenario.

That is why I highly recommend checking your vegetable ferments and quickly burping them a couple of times a day in the first week or two when the majority of the carbon dioxide is produced.

Kombucha can be bottled into canning jars, but keep in mind that these jars are not designed for such a task. I was reminded of this the other day when, standing near the counter, Stewart ended up with kombucha all of over his legs. Our floor and cabinets received a similar fate. Thankfully it was a clean break and no one got hurt, but this may not always be the case.

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The day I bottled this kombucha the baby was fussing in the sling and I reached swiftly for a quart jar, seeing as it was the nearest available vessel. We generally bottle kombucha in old store-bought kombucha bottles we’ve collected or flip-top bottles designed specifically to withstand the pressure of carbonated beverages. And now I am reminded of why.

So never, ever be afraid of homemade anything but always, always use the appropriate vessel.

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It was late the Friday before Thanksgiving; the sun was setting, the milking crew heading out the door. We had planned to practice the offerings we’d be bringing on Thursday, but oh the rush of Friday. Supper hadn’t exactly been decided on yet, our usual kefir smoothies were low on ingredients, and, of course, everyone was hungry.

Can I hewp you make pie, Mama?” little Annie asks.

Unless we are surrounded by fire or blood or a screaming baby, I simply do not know how to say no to this. Take a deep breath and forget the chaos; pie it is.

I throw some gluten-free flours into a bowl and get out the fat. I mix the flours, she cuts in the fat, and we add a few tablespoons of water. It’s all a guessing game at this point but really, when you cut fat into flour and fill it with something sweet and rich and spicy, you can’t get too far off course.

I quick wipe out the 12″ cast-iron skillet and plop the dough in the pan. This is where it starts – where big grins and little dresses and double braids park a chair next to Mama and I say go for it. She pats the crust down “Wit aww my might!” just after she gives me a kiss and flashes her gap-toothed grin.

She is fun, through and through, her presence in the kitchen like a collision of sunshine and chaos and rainbows.

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Ruthie is taking everything out of the cabinets and licking random spoons, leaving her trail of destruction as she goes. I am pouring a pot of hot water into the sink, trying to find one foot of counter space so that I can chuck anything plus kefir and egg yolks into the blender, and asking Elijah if he could please check for the fourth time to find the cans of pumpkin. What would I do without this boy?

The sink and blender are both filled. The (case of!) pumpkin is found and taking up way too much table space. Annie is showing the pie crust who is boss and Ruthie is… wait, where’s Ruthie?! We look around, check that she hasn’t run out the front door, and then begin the search. I finally find her where the clean bowl I had been searching for presents itself. She yells “Hide!”, throws her head back, and exudes maniacal laughter. Oh, this one is trouble.

We frantically leave the last of the fingerprints in the pie crust and throw it in the oven. And then everything goes into the bowl – maple syrup, coconut shortening, pumpkin, coconut cream, egg yolks, salt, spices. Uh, raw pumpkin pie filling tonight, folks. Homegrown egg yolks are good for you, right? This has nothing to do with the fact that I’m completely running out of time and there’s no way that pie will be done in time for supper. Ahem.

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Annie whisks it together like a mad woman and the blender heads out the door to find some solar power. The milk pail is back now, waiting to be strained, and Ruthie is sitting in the high chair in the middle of the kitchen because there are no things to rip from their place there. Also, that thing has seat belts.

Tomorrow is the Sabbath, I tell myself, as I survey the counter tops full of dishes. We clear the table of debris, plunk down smoothies and (completely store-bought) rice cakes, dates, and peanut butter. The pie crust is just out of the oven but everyone has already filled up. And then we realize the greatest outcome possible is upon us…

We will be eating Annie’s pie for breakfast on Sabbath morning.

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When she was born – the first girl to join her big brothers – becoming a pie-maker seemed a foregone conclusion. She’d help with animals, dig holes for blackberry bushes, and run barefoot down the dirt road with her brothers. And when all of that is done, she washes the dirt from her hands before standing beside me in the kitchen, slapping pie crust into a cast-iron skillet.

As beautiful as it is for me to watch (and then tell), I can’t convey how good her pies are… or how sweet it is to see the look between her and Daddy when he lets her take the first bite and waits for her reaction. And then she waits for his.

And now, I tell myself, when at all possible – and most especially when in a hurry – say yes to pie.