Sunday, 26 February 2012

Lactic Fermentation

This has to be one of the simplest, and best, ways to preserve fresh garden vegetables. It doesn't involve cooking and it keeps and enhances the colour, flavour and texture of your surplus to enjoy in the less productive times of the year. You can use many different vegetables depending on what's available and the preparation is the same for all of them:-
Wash in cold water to remove soil etc, but leave the skin on as you are relying on the natural enzymes and bacteria to start the fermentation process. Use only home-grown or organic to avoid treatments which may prevent the process from starting.
Slice thinly with a sharp knife - get your friendly spoon carver to show you how to sharpen a knife properly!
Start with a couple of layers in a preserving jar with a little sea salt and pound gently with a wooden pestle to break down the cells to release the liquid.
Add more layers and salt as above and keep pounding/pressing the vegetables until the jar is full to the top and the liquid is covering it. This will take about 4 times the amount you think and is not a quick process. If you are short of time stop reading blogs and emails for a day and you will be able to fit it in easily!
The jar should now look like this:-
Put the open jar in a bowl to catch any liquid which will overflow. Put a jam jar full of water (for weight) on top as you need to keep pressure on the vegetables. A cloth over the top will keep it clean. Leave it in a warm room for a few days. Every time you pass it give the weighted jar a press and soon bubbles will start to rise as the fermentation begins:-

After about a week, depending on the temperature, the fermentation will have slowed down. Remove the jam jar, add any liquid from the bowl to cover the vegetables and seal the top and store in a cool, dark place ready for the time you have run out of fresh produce. This will also save you a bike ride to the shop. You will have a crisp and very tasty food which is quite different to pickle. Use it as a winter salad but do not heat it as this will damage the lactic ferment which is good for the digestion.

What vegetables to use? Well, white, red and green cabbage all work well, especially if combined in layers of different colours. This is how sauerkraut is made but a lot of commercially made ones are sterilised after filling the jars which destroys the ferment. I also use beans, beetroot, celery, peppers, chilli, carrots, root ginger (very fine threads and only a little) and spinach, but not onions as they dominate the flavour. Seaweed and wild foods can be added for variety and extra minerals. Use strongly flavoured things sparingly otherwise you will not be able to taste the other vegetables.

Kimchi is made this way too, but a lot of chilli is added to really spice things up! Use small preserving jars so you can experiment with different combinations. Leave the sealed jars for a few weeks, if you can wait that long, and once opened keep a liquid layer on top and store in a cool place until finished. If you leave it too long after opening a white mould develops so probably best to put it on the compost heap which will enjoy the extra bacteria, and use smaller jars next time.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Multi-purpose Spoon?

When I was on the survival course four of us grouped together to reduce the effort needed for fire making and cooking. I soon found out that my nifty folding titanium spoon, which is excellent for camping on my own, wouldn't hack it for larger quantities. A spoon had to be made quickly from the wood used for the fire. No problem, as I had an axe and a knife, so 5 minutes later a multi-purpose but very crude spoon was in use. It worked quite well for stirring, serving and also for eating, and I was impressed by the wood as it worked well, was very dense (despite being a 'softwood') and was even used for poking the fire!
The wood had grown slowly and was very heavy and still green, so, being a keen  carver, I brought some home to identify and make some spoons with. These have spatula shaped ends for cooking, but with sufficient bowl depth to use for serving too. Not quite the multi-purpose spoon as they are too big for eating with.
Turns out that the wood is Lawson's Cypress which I checked with my 1972 copy of Herbert Edlin's 'Wayside and Woodland Trees'. He mentions another variety of Cypress which was discovered near Welshpool by someone called Leyland. It was being widely propagated as it had potential for quick timber production. I wonder if anything came of it?!!!!!!
I only have 6 spoons made from it and probably won't come across any more for a long time.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

View from bivvi

Dawn, Saturday, -7C, 6 hours before snow arrived.
Camera battery had frozen. I warmed it up in the sleeping bag but could still only take this one pic. I was on Cannock Chase on a woodland survival course. Why, you may be wondering and so was I! Last minute decision which seemed like a good idea at the time. Was quite snug in my bivvi with two sleeping bags but not looking forward to getting out in the biting wind to get the fire going and cook the porridge. The wind had swung from the north to a south westerly and the bright morning was already closing in with the threat of snow. The tarp was arranged to cover the campfire and keep the worst of the wind out. Bang on 1pm the snow arrived, very fine at first which blew into everything, then larger flakes to build up a thick coating by late evening. The temperature had risen a little but it felt colder with anything damp freezing quickly so it was a relief to get into the cold but dry sleeping bag. This really was a survival course! Sunday morning was dull but calmer and with virgin snow everywhere a doddle to spot all the wildlife tracks left overnight including a lone badger in a sett not 30 yards from the camp.
So, what's the point? Could I do it I suppose was one reason, but you learn a lot in these situations and some of the skills are transferable to everyday spoon carving life. I prefer to work 'on site' which for spoon and bowl carving means close to the source of the wood. The finished products are much lighter to carry than the wet logs and all the waste can be used to keep you warm with a small but efficient fire.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Not just firewood!

Here is a bunch of spoons made from 6 of the trees cut down last week.
I used a similar shape for all to give a feel for the qualities of each wood used. From left to right they are:- birch, aspen, ivy, goat willow, hawthorn and sycamore. The aspen and ivy were both new to me for carving and gave a very contrasting experience. The aspen was easy to carve but needed a very sharp knife to get a reasonable finish. It has hardened a lot in drying but I think it would be better suited to cooking/serving spoons. The ivy was dense but with straight grain and gave a good finish from the knife. It can be carved thinner than the aspen which is better for an eating spoon. The goat willow and hawthorn were both from heartwood giving lovely grain patterns. Both the birch and aspen have a translucent quality which shows how the spoons thin out at the edge to give a better mouth feel when in use.
This ladle was made from a naturally bent branch of willow rescued from the village bonfire pile! The grain follows the line of the handle and bowl giving greater strength.

Nearest I've got to making woodland wine.