Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lacto Fermentation - version 1.5

Lacto Fermentation 1.5

We had attended the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Common Ground Fair in September, and specifically went to a session on Lacto Fermentation, Saurkraut and Beyond hosted by David Levi, a chef and restaurateur. He spoke about his new restaurant project, Vinland, lacto-fermentation science, health benefits of active cultures, and then he got down to making saurkraut. He discussed kimchee, lacto-fermenting carrots, and other amusing combinations, and let us sample some of his four-day old kimchee. Spicy hot, but really good.

He did stress that we all have lactobacillus in our kitchens, on the foods we eat, on our skin, etc. They are a core part of our living bodies, so yes rinse the jars and wash your hands, but don't sterilize anything.

We all looked at each other during and after this session and said, well, lets do this thing. There's no excuse to not, and we can probably get used to these new foods. Its a sustainable, healthy way to preserve the harvest, and we already like pickles, so we committed to giving it a try.

We started with cabbages and cucumbers from our local farm stand, bought 1/2 gallon canning jars, and got started. Despite our careful weighing and measuring, we had a bit of a crisis in the middle, described here on our home blog,, and so our results were mixed.

So here is the 0.5 to follow our 1.0 attempt.

Saurkraut: for every 5 lbs of raw cabbage, plan to use 3 Tablespoons of salt. I used this article, How to Ferment Garden Veggies – Simple and Healthful Preservation for some tips and basic recipe. We used iodized sea-salt. You can use non-iodized or whatever salt you want, but I don't believe the lactobacillus really cares - the salt is to keep everything else at bay while our friendly bacteria turn hard indigestible cabbage into tangy healthy saurkraut.

  • Shred the saurkraut into very fine bits. Personally, I think the finer the slices the better. Next time I'm using a food processor. In fact, I might take some of our prototype kraut and re-shred it and let it ferment some more just to see.
  • Massage the cabbage well with the salt. Pound it with a potato masher or french rolling pin, whatever you can to get it less crunchy and a little mangled. Mix well with the salt, the salt should be dissolved, evenly blended with the cabbage, and then the cabbage will start releasing water as the cell walls start to open up. Keep mixing and mashing.
  • Pack this into a large container. I think one big bucket or crock is probably best, because then you have one thing to watch, and it will be consistent. Mash it down well. Fill this up to an inch or two from the top of the jar.
  • Take a heavy plastic bag, like a freezer ziplock, and open it up. Set it inside your jar or crock, and fold down the open part over the top of the jar. Pour water into the bag. Loosely set the jar or crock lid on top of this open bag of water. 
  • This will accomplish four things: 1) Hold down the cabbage so when the brine fills up the jar, all of the cabbage is turned to kraut 2) Reduce surface exposure to bacteria in the air, preventing anything funky from happening, 3) Provide a way for carbon dioxide to be released without creating pressure inside your fermenting jar but still minimizing air (#2 above), 4) Allow for an aesthetically pleasing fermenting container to sit on your counter, without requiring a lot of head space for weights, airlocks, etc. 
  • We put a plastic container under our jar, because the brine will stain aluminum, enameled steel, etc.Wait a few days, and you should have some bubbling action. After a week or so, you may have white foam. You can remove the bag (carefully) and sample the kraut. You can rinse off / wipe off the foam from the bag and jar and then replace it.
  • Check to make sure the brine is keeping the cabbage at the top covered. If you need to add more brine, 2 1/4 cups of water with 1 Tablespoon of salt is the ratio you need. Just add enough to get the top cabbage wet, so when you add the weight of the bag, it does not flow up and over the sides.

Once its done, you should have a tangy saurkraut, and a lot of the cabbage crunchiness (or toughness) should be reduced. Store in the fridge, basement, etc. as the article above recommends.

Kosher Dill Pickles: Our first attempt was off in a couple of ways. First, we used slicing cucumbers. Second, we sliced the cucumbers. Third, we used grape leaves for tannin.

Here is how we did the next batch. The results speak for themselves - a nice crunchy pickle with a strong garlic and dill bite, tangy and delicious.

Starting Ingredients
Pickles - use pickling cucumber varieties only. These have a thicker skin and a smaller overall size, which will help them hold up to the brine and fermentation. Don't cut or slice or anything. Wash well. Bruised cucumbers will result in mushy pickles, so only ferment the best pickles.
Brine - 2 1/4 cups water to 1 Tablespoon salt. Use kosher / sea salt / iodized / non-iodized. Whatever as long as you mix it in the water until dissolved. Depending on your container, you may need a lot or a little brine.
Tannin - for a 1.5 gallon batch, we used 2 teabags of black tea. The tea settled to the bottom of the jar over time, and kept the cucumbers crunchy. Loose tea is probably better, so use about 1 teaspoon per half gallon container. Grape leaves might work, but we didn't have good luck. Tea is more compact anyway.

  • Wash the cucumbers, fit into jars. Pack tightly, and try to eliminate voids between and around the cucumbers. 
  • Add tanning source (tea) to the jars.
  • Prepare the brine, pour into the jars until the cucumbers are fully submerged. 
  • Top with the open plastic bag described above. Make sure liquid is still above the top of the cucumbers.
  • Wait a few days, you may see bubbling or foaming. Check after a week or so. The cucumber you test should not go back into the jar, since it will just turn to mush anyway. See if the fermentation is all the way through the pickle or just starting. 
  • Once you think they are done, add the Finishing Ingredients.

Finishing Ingredients
Garlic - we used 1 clove, peeled and cut in half, per half gallon jar. Next time, I might use a half-clove per half gallon, adjust to your own palate.
Dill - we used 1-2 sprigs of fresh dill per jar.
Peppercorns - we used 1/4 teaspoon per jar of black peppercorns. Use whatever you like.

Put all of these inside the jars, ensuring they are under the brine. After about a week, this gave the pickles a very strong garlic and dill flavor.

Final Processing
I feel like I broke every rule here. I took the pickles out of one jar and repacked about half of them into a new jar. I topped this off with brine, and put it into the fridge. These will be for eating as whole pickles.
I took the rest, and sliced the pickles into long sandwich slices. I packed these into three quart jars, and then topped them up with brine. These are also in the fridge. This let me find any of the pickles that had gotten mushy, and takes up a lot less space than the half gallon jars. Being already pickled and now refrigerated, these slices should stay firm.

Final Words
We are hoping this is a starting point for future fermentation. I'd like to try the red cabbage / beet / carrot salad fermentation David recommended as a nice compliment to morning eggs. It sounds like it would be colorful. And dilly beans, while they don't sound that great, might actually taste wonderful. So here's hoping this is the beginning of something really good.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Common Ground Fair Tips

At the center of the Fair is a Common. It is an oval. There is a Sundial on one side. This should be your meeting place. Not the Common, it’s about an acre in size, and on a busy day might have 1000 people sitting or standing on it, and another 1000-2000 people milling around it. The Sundial is unique, usually has kids all around it, on it, climbing over the rocks near it.  “Meet me at the Sundial at 12.” Try it, you won’t be sorry.
There is a loop road that runs through the middle of the fairgrounds. Like orbiting the sun, it is the long way, but it gets you there. A walkway around the sundial connects to the road like spokes on a wheel. On two of these spokes will be found just about every kind of food you could want.
Some of Our Favorites
I'm going to cover the best places we've found to get good food - but there is always something new to try. Remember though, just because there is a huge line at one place does not mean the food is awesome - I've never been in a line longer than 2 people deep for the crab roll place, and they serve some amazing food. 

People like to complain about high prices of the food, myself included, but I’m a Reformed Bumble now. Go to any other fair, and that fried haddock is still going to set you back about $9. And at the Common Ground Fair, it’s made with organic flour, milk and eggs to boot. 

Stand in the Common with the Sundial on your left, and face the Exhibition Hall. This is your 12 o clock. If you are looking at the fair map, rotate it slightly to the left so the train station is at the top and the Show Ring is at the bottom.

1) To the left of the hall, straight ahead is a spoke that runs to the Unity railway stop. On the right, near the end of this path is the Country Kitchen Demo tent. A good place to get free samples - one year, I got a whole turkey leg! During Kids Cooking Organic, you can get spaghetti squash and other yummy veggies to try. There will also be a Chef's Throw-down, not to be missed. Rhonda manages that area and she is wonderful.
2) The next spoke to the left, your 10 o clock, is also the way to the Children’s area. There are a number of food places this way. Pie Cones are usually here. Plan out your strategy – they will run out of blueberry by the end of the day, and Sunday may be slim pickings unless you love Indian Pudding. Flatbread was down here last year, they gave me two slices of pizza for the price of one because of holes in the crust. Ahh, the quest for perfection – it sure tastes good. 

As you get near the road, on Friday only, on the right is the Youth Enterprise Zone tent - a great place to stop in the morning. They usually have baked goods – ham and cheese croissants last year and homemade sodas, at very reasonable prices. Support the next generation!  On Saturday and Sunday, this may be an empty tent with chairs. A good place to get out of the sun/rain and take a break.
3) The next spoke, will be at your 9 o clock, points toward the large Amphitheater in the distance, and is where you can find some great hot drinks from the Solar Cafe (a solar/wind/biodiesel powered bus). Or they might be to the right of the Exhibition hall, things change.
4) The next spoke, at your 7 o clock, leads toward folk arts and crafts. If you want to experience open flame cooking, the Maine Guides who are out this way will set you up. Wisdom, stories and yummy samples will be had, they ask for a $1 donation. Cinnamon rolls and maybe donuts this year?
Farther down along this spoke, on the left, is the bean hole beans area. It sounds plain wrong, but these may be the best baked beans you ever will eat. It’s a tiny cup, so I went for the beans with pork last year. Again a $1 donation is suggested. Watch the blacksmiths work while you enjoy your yummy treat.
5) The next spoke, your 6 o clock runs between Agricultural Products and Crafts. Follow this and you will reach the road, across the road on you right (with the Common behind you) are all of the animals and livestock demo areas.
6) The next spoke, your 4 o clock, is the left half of the second major food area. The food area goes all the way to the road, wraps around and comes back again. Right on the Common is the Seafood place. You can’t go wrong. The haddock is light and juicy, shrimp are flavorful and scallops are heavenly. I’m not a huge fan of their tartar sauce, but you can enjoy all of their seafood with or without. You will want to go back for more. Plan carefully.

Just as you start down this spoke there is usually a French fry place. Definitely worth a try, the fries are unlike any you can get anywhere else.
About halfway down on the left should be the crab roll place. They toast the rolls first – that’s how you will know you are at the right place. It’s usually just two people, selling only crab rolls – the meat is sweet and juicy without very much mayo. The rolls are smoky and crusty and soft inside. Use two hands, they pile on the crabmeat and you don’t want to lose any. 
Near the end should be another Pie Cone place. If the first one is out of something, they just might have what you are after.

If you get to the road and cross it near the First Aid tent, you can approach the farm house. Some years there are presentations on baking bread in a wood fired oven, again there are usually samples to be had.
On the very end wrapping around to the next spoke is Caldwell Farms and their amazing burgers. They are usually near the Spotlight Stage. Great burgers and free music - what a great way to feel welcome.
7) The next spoke at your 3 o clock is rest of the food area. 
Local Sprouts is near the Seafood place. Now that the Fair allows coffee, they have one of the best breakfasts going – coffee and breakfast sandwiches. Top that with fresh maple doughnuts, down the spoke just a little bit on the right side and you are good.
Down this spoke on the right, are three top places. Veteran’s for Peace is usually first, with their Pea Soup and Bread special. You get a delicious vegetarian soup with yummy bread for around $5 - a very solid deal. Halfway down is usually the Shitake Mushroom place. Get this early, since they always run out. Lightly battered and fried, it tastes unique and amazing. Farther down is Sal’s Calzone. Get one before early afternoon, because they can sell out. Also I’d recommend Friday or Saturday for the largest selection. Definitely get marinara and parmesan on top.
Tips for Stretching Your Fair Dollars

  • Bring snacks and a sandwich for lunch and have supper on the Fair, both you and your budget will be happy. 
  • One more time, Veteran's For Peace, Pea Soup with Bread has to be the cheapest meal going.
  • I've seen people set down in the Common with a basket, take out a knife and a loaf of bread and start making meals for their friends. All are welcome! Just remember to pack out any wrappers and trash you bring. The Fair strives to be zero waste, and every little bit helps.

2012 Common Ground Fair

For more details about Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners, quarterly newsletter and membership information, and the complete Common Ground Country Fair schedule and information, visit
My History with the Common Ground Fair 
I can’t remember which year was my first at MOFGA’s Common Ground Fair; my elementary school took us to the Windsor Fairgrounds on Friday, the free-for-school-kids day, so I remember being a Fair aficionado by the time I was in 7th or 8th grade.  
I have memories of someone teaching people how to tightrope walk with a rope about three feet off the ground, Jud the Jester performing, a Punch and Judy show (in a fit-up to make Riddley Walker proud), amazing fried rice, Sal’s Calzone and of course, the nectar of the Gods, birch beer.
One year there was a face-painting artist who painted a detailed dragon on my cheek for a dollar; I kept it intact until I had to go to bed that night.
I think my parents started taking us on Fair weekends once they were involved with MOFGA, so I also got to start seeing the organizers in action, the behind-the-scenes work that made it all come together.

My Family and the Fair
One year, at the Fair on a Saturday with my dad, we got hummus sandwiches on whole wheat pitas with sprouts and Tahini dressing. As a kid, it tasted to me like someone had put glue onto some dry woody bread and threw grass on top with some weird sauce that looked good but tasted all wrong.   As an adult I would probably enjoy that meal now - funny how things change.
I kept going to the Fair through High School, since my parents were members and volunteers. I helped set up the sounds systems one year. Another year, we went around putting up signs. Endless signs.
Amy and I met in the Fall of 1990, and with one thing or another, we did not make it to Windsor that first year. However, we have every year since. We volunteered together, one year doing evening security and wearing large trash bags over our clothes to try to keep the downpour of rain out. We kept going each fall, and when the Fair moved to Unity, we experienced that first year where there was so little water and such dusty fields everywhere in that very warm fall. 
The Fair and Kids
Once Adam and Olivia came along, we found that they wanted to spend most of their time in the Children’s Area. We were glad to be with them, and realized that we could help out in a big way. So we signed up and managed the Children’s Area for four years. It was an amazing amount of work on the first year, learning where to find things, organizing everything, and getting rid of so much junk! Once the supplies were organized and the junk tossed and the mothballs cleared away (who came up with that one) we just had to figure out how many volunteers we needed, when and where, and also how the live music and performances would fit and what to do when someone cancelled.

Where does everything go?
I kid you not, I made about 20 versions of a Visio diagram to scale and worked over and over where things could go. Do we have the nursing tent in the shade where it might be less visible, or in the sun where everyone can see it but it will be beastly hot? Can we fit the art tent next to the stage, and can we keep that open area in front of the woods? Does face painting need a huge tent, or only a little one? Where do the port-a-johns go? 
What is going on?
Activities – would the Maine Apple Tent people be there? Would the papermaking guy? Do we have paper rolls for painting? What about clay? What about boards and hammers and nails for nailing? It was a huge responsibility, keeping everyone’s kids safe and entertained during the Fair weekend. 

A lot was great – paper bag crowns, Rhonda and Taran, Dahby, the Wall of Sound, The Garden Parade, paper making. 
A few things were not; missing out on most of the Fair for four years, dealing with 200+ volunteers each year and having the 1 or 2 who would a) do nothing b) give attitude or c) both. Handling the School groups or Church groups who wanted to volunteer, but who would not do anything unless the request came from the teacher or a God, I suppose. 

As our kids were becoming interested in things outside the area, and it made sense to move on. We’ve spent the past six years enjoying the Fair at our own pace. 
Two years ago, I stood in the cold, sipping hot cider, and listened to Jim Gerritson's inspiring Observations from Thirty-five Years of Watching the Maine Organic Community Grow. Here are a few bits of his keynote:
  • "If you are a new farmer I think the best thing to do is to grow vegetables. Vegetables return a high gross income, and startup costs are modest. Once you become competent you can sign up CSA subscribers and sell to them every year."
  • "Start your farming small, avoid debt, and put off getting into debt until you’re stable and know what you’re doing. 
  • "In the state of Maine we’re small farmers, we’ve got to make our living from quality and working the margin, because we don’t have the scale to make it on the volume." 
  • "The final thing I’m going to say is, it took Megan and me many years to develop our niche. We've been farming for 35, so for about 15 years we tried growing strawberries, and dry beans and vegetables and beef and sheep and a CSA. Don’t get frustrated. Your niche is out there; you just have to be open to finding it. Grow what you love."
Last year, I was inspired by Russel Libby's keynote, Putting the Pieces Together – Our Next Food System. Here is one of many excellent quotes: 

"A few of us have been part of conversations about how much more farmland would need to be in production to meet 80 percent of New England’s food needs – and one thing it would mean [is] about 2 million acres in production in Maine, up from about 800,000 acres now."
I'm continuing that inspiration, dreaming of a homestead farm that just needs some trees cut to make room again for fields, and planning out my visit to the Fair. 

Here is the schedule of what I want to do this year:

10 am The Holistic Orchard: Growing Healthy Fruit
11 am Keynote: Unraveling Consumerism, Shannon Hayes 
12 pm Build Local Resilience with the Transition Model
1 pm Microhydro for Stream & Tidal Current
2 pm The Culture & Horticulture of Elderberries
3 pm The Organic Tool Box: Orchard Pest Management
4 pm Wild Mushroom Foraging for Beginners

1 pm Poly-Culture Orcharding in the 21st Century
2 pm Apple Tasting or Homemade Rocket Stove Demo 
4 pm Radical Homemakers Reading & Workshop

9 am The Soils of Maine
10 am Farmland & Tree Growth Property Tax Programs
11 am Woodlot Pruning for Profit
2 pm Lacto-Fermentation: Sauerkraut and Beyond

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Watching BBC TV in America - Part 2

Quick Update - we just watched the third episode of Doctor Who Series 7, and are looking forward to the new Series 3 of Downton Abbey. We learned the below steps the hard way, so I've posted instructions here so you don't have to figure it out yourself. Tor made a few less than intuitive changes. For one, you now cannot edit the "torrc" file while Tor is running, which is a pain until you figure out why it won't let you save your changes. For another, the Tor Button is no longer available, which makes the proxy changes a manual step. Finally, Tor seems to be running a lot faster, so it balances out the first two issues I suppose. 

Now I'll work in my keywords, so Google likes me...

How to watch Doctor Who in America. How to watch Downton Abbey in America. How to use Tor to watch BBC TV. How to use Tor with Internet Explorer. How to watch Doctor Who in the United States.

1) Download Tor from here:
You will get the Tor Browser Bundle. It will ask you where to unzip the folder so put it wherever you like. 

2) Look inside the new folder. Find the "Start Tor Browser" executable. I created a shortcut to this file on my desktop. Now find the file "torrc". It will be located under the "Tor Browser\Data\Tor" directory. On my computer, that is "C:\Program Files\TOR\Tor Browser\Data\Tor"

3) Double click the file, "torrc" and open it with Notepad. You will be adding these two lines to the end. 

ExitNodes {gb}
StrictNodes 1

This tells Tor to only connect you to Great Britain based proxy hosts. 

4) Set the socks proxy for your browser. 

  • Firefox: Tools - Options - Click the Advanced tab, then the Settings button. Check Manual proxy configuration, in the SOCKS host put "" and enter Port: "9050". Leave everything else blank and click "OK". Click OK twice and you will be back to the browser. 
  • Internet Explorer: Tools - Internet Options - Connections. Click LAN Settings at the bottom. Check the box under Proxy Server, click the Advanced button. Under Servers, for SOCKS put "" and enter Port: "9050".  Leave everything else blank and click "OK".  Click OK three more times and you will be back to the browser.
  • Chrome: Click the Wrench, then select Settings. At the bottom, click "Show Advanced Settings". Internet Properties will pop up, Click "Connections". Now this is the same as IE.  Click LAN Settings at the bottom. Check the box under Proxy Server, click the Advanced button. Under Servers, for SOCKS put "" and enter Port: "9050".  Leave everything else blank and click "OK". Click OK three more times and you will be back to the browser.

Because this is now a manual step (instead of the old TorButton plugin described in my original post) we have decided to use Internet Explorer for Tor, and Firefox for regular Internet. The reason is we can start up Tor, launch IE (with the proxy already set), and surf to the BBC without having to change anything. If we wanted to use IE for regular browsing, we'd have to undo the proxy changes, which is a bit of a pain.

5) Launch the Tor Browser from the shortcut. It will open the Tor control panel and will quickly connect you to a Great Britain based host. It will also launch a Firefox Portable window. This lets you know you are connected to Tor. You can minimize both of these, but don't close them unless you want to stop Tor. 

6) Launch your browser of choice, with your preset SOCKS proxy to connect to Tor (step 4 above).  

  • Doctor Who on the BBC at (Series 7 is currently airing, Series 1-6 are on Netflix) Airs at 9 pm on Saturday night in Great Britain, which means that by 5 pm Eastern time or so, the current episode should be available online. 
  • Downton Abbey on ITV at (Series 3 started tonight, Series 1 and 2 are on Netflix).  Airs at 9 pm on Sunday night in Great Britain, which means that by 5 pm Eastern time or so, the current episode should be available online.   

NOTE: Both the BBC and ITV only leave current episodes online for a limited time. 

For the new Doctor Who series, we have only 20 days from the Saturday it airs until it is pulled offline. That means that as of today you have only 5 or 6 days left to watch "Asylum of the Daleks" for example.

For the new series of Downton, we have 30 days from the Sunday it airs until it is pulled offline. 

Q: Is it legal?
A: Yes. Some nice person in Great Britain has set up their computer so you can connect to it and see how the Internet looks from their side of the pond. As far as the BBC is concerned, you are a local visiting their website. On ITV, you may even get to see some commercials. See my original post here: for a longer discussion of legality.

P.S. Roseanne Cash (Johnny's daughter) watches Downton when it airs, just like we do. Come to the dark side, we have cookies....