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Making Preserved Lemons

November 18th, 2009

I’m a huge fan of all things lemon. If I have a choice I’ll take lemon anything: cookies, cakes, scones, etc. Sadly lemons don’t grow in NE Ohio (unless you can manage an indoor tree) so finding a local source is not going to happen. The next best thing to local, is finding a small orchard to buy them from. I searched on-line and found a small orchard in California called Lemon Ladies Orchard. I ordered a 10-lb box of Meyer lemons and they arrived several days later.
I have so many recipes for these lemons I probably will run out of lemons long before I complete them all. First on my list was making a batch of preserved lemons for the pantry.
I picked out 15 nice lemons, coarse sea salt and grabbed a nice sized jar from the pantry. While I sterilized the jar, I washed and quartered 10 of the lemons (cut the stem end off and quarter lemons lengthwise). Next I added the lemon quarters to my jar adding a scant tablespoon of salt after each row. Pack the lemons tightly but don’t crush them. You can also add spices if you’d like, cinnamon, cloves, etc.
Keep adding lemons and salt until you’re up to the top of the jar (I used a quart jar, you can use 2 pints if you’d like).
When you reach the top, take the remaining 5 lemons and roll on the counter to soften (makes them juice better). Juice the lemons into the jar, add enough juice to cover the lemons, use more lemons if needed. Remove any air bubbles and top off with the remaining salt (you want to use about a half cup total for this recipe).
Allow lemons to ferment on the counter for 2 weeks (3-4 weeks if you used regular lemons and not Meyer). Shake the jar occasionally (every couple days) to redistribute salt. Store in the fridge and enjoy in recipes, they’ll keep for about 6 months. When you want to use them you can rinse the lemons if you don’t want to add so much salt to your recipe or you can leave them salty. They may acquire some white crystals, this is OK. Here’s a recipe for Israeli Couscous with Butternut Squash & Preserved Lemons.
Not wanting to waste any part of these lovely lemons, I decided to candy the rinds of the lemons I used for juice.
These little jewels are so tasty! I also used the syrup left from the candied lemons and made some lemon ginger hard candy. *recipe for candied lemon peel

What’s your favorite flavor?

Making Hard Cider

November 2nd, 2009

I decided to try my hand at making some hard cider this year. I’ve been making my own apple cider vinegar for a few years and I’ve heard it’s better if you start with hard cider. Generally to make my vinegar I simply pour cider into a big glass jar, cover with cheesecloth and let it sit for a few months until it’s vinegar, easy as that. I do buy unpasteurized cider from a small local press, so it contains the natural yeasts in it that ferment it and then turn it into vinegar.
I read up on how to do it, and the best article I found was over at Mother Earth News. I ran to my local brewing supply store (which happens to be Leener’s) and I bought some valves and one one gallon jugs and some of the yeast mentioned in the article (Red Star Cote des Blancs).
I decided to make a few different kinds of cider, one with only natural yeast, one with the natural yeast and the purchased yeast, and 2 gallons with only the purchased yeast. If you buy unpasteurized cider and you want to make your hard cider with purchased yeast you’ll have to pasteurize the cider to kill all the natural yeast. I decided to try a batch with and without this step to see how it would affect the final product.
In a few weeks I should be able to taste my cider and see the difference between the 3 methods. I’m very interested to see if the apple cider vinegar I make from this cider tastes different than the stuff I make without this specific fermenting step.

Anything interesting brewing at your house?

Making Sauerkraut for New Year’s

October 30th, 2009

On Wednesday I started my sauerkraut for our New Year’s Day tradition. We’ve been eating sauerkraut for New Year’s in my family since I can remember. We used to go out to my grandma’s house and she would have a big roaster full of sauerkraut, sausage and dumplings. When my grandma died my dad took over. He developed his own special recipe, changing it each year to make it better. It’s not your typical kraut recipe, it includes carrots, apples, tomatoes and all kinds of delicious goodness. For a few photos of my dad cooking on New Year’s and the recipe see this post.
Sauerkraut that ferments at cooler temperatures – 65 or lower – has the best flavor, color and vitamin C content. The fermentation process takes longer at these temperatures, around 4-6 weeks. That’s probably why it’s traditionally made in the fall. Looks like I’m making mine at the right time, it should be ready by mid-December and waiting in the fridge for New Years!
Making sauerkraut is quite easy all you need is cabbage (red or green), salt, and time (generally 3T of salt for every 5 lbs of cabbage). First you slice up the cabbage as thinly as you’d like, I usually do some really thin and some thick for variety. Then you put some sliced cabbage in a bowl and sprinkle salt over it, then smash with a wooden spoon or potato masher and mix. Continue adding cabbage and salt and mixing and smashing until the bowl is half full.
When the bowl is about half full I let it sit for 10-15 minutes to take a break and to let the cabbage wilt a little. This makes it easier to stuff into the glass jar I’m using as a fermenting crock. Transfer the cabbage to the jar, smash it down and continue working until all the cabbage is salted, smashed and packed into the jar. Let the cabbage sit overnight, if the brine hasn’t covered the cabbage make some brine (1.5 T of salt to 1 quart of water) and pour over the cabbage. I use a canning jar to weigh down the cabbage because I’m not comfortable using plastic. Let it sit for 4-6 weeks until it stops bubbling and it tastes like sauerkraut. You really can’t get much simpler. I’m hoping to try a few of the recipes in my The Joy of Pickling, Revised Edition
When I was making this I thought about all the women in past generations of my family that spent time each fall making sauerkraut for New Year’s. Connecting with our food heritage is such a wonderful thing. Hopefully our nieces & nephew will grow up with fond memories of eating Grandpa’s Famous Sauerkraut on New Year’s and continue the tradition with their families.

Do you have a specific food or menu that has been passed down through the generations of your family?

The Balance of Nature: Growing Soil

April 28th, 2009

SOIL (noun) – the portion of the earth’s surface consisting of disintegrated rock and humus.
Healthy soil is the foundation of a good garden. You can grow plants in bad soil but it will require tons of chemicals, and that’s not good for you or the environment. I believe real gardeners grow soil not plants. If we focus on growing good soil our plants will thrive!
We aren’t blessed with good soil here at Chiot’s Run. When we moved here 7 years ago the soil was in terrible shape. Years of chemicals and pesticides had left our flowerbeds a barren wasteland with few plants and not a beneficial insect or earth worm to be found. I wasn’t really in to gardening at that time, but I knew I needed to improve the soil if I ever wanted to have any flowers or plants. So we started our first compost pile and bought some organic chicken manure and worked it into the flowerbeds.
I’m glad I did that now, because even though our soil still has a long way to go, it’s beginning to become loamy and my plants are finally starting to flourish. I notice worms every now and then when I dig and other beneficial insects are returning.
So how do you improve your soil? There are many articles, books, and experts out there that will tell you to get a soil test done. I never have, I’m a bit of a minimalist when it comes to these kinds of things. I figure if people could do it years ago, I can do it now. I believe in working with the soil you have; adding good compost and feeding it well. There are ways to tell if your soil is deficient without a soil test.
First you want to figure out if you soil is clay, sandy, or loamy. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference, if it comes up in big chunks and gets hard as a rock when it’s dry, you probably have clay soil. If your soil has the same texture as your children’s sand box and it’s dry the day after a big rain, you probably have sandy soil. If your soil is dark brown, crumbly and stays moist but not too soggy, congrats, you have loamy soil. I have clay soil on my front hillside and sandy soil in my front flowerbeds.
The next thing you want to figure out is if your soil is acidic or alkaline. My soil is acidic, how can I tell? My first sign was the blue hydrangea. It’s the most beautiful shade of blue, hydrangeas only bloom this blue in acidic soil.
You can buy an inexpensive pH testing kit at your local garden center to test your pH. It’s simple, easy and fun! Do it with your kids for a science lesson. You can also send in a sample of your soil to a lab to get a complete test.
The best thing you can do for your soil is to avoid chemicals and pesticides and add compost, manure and other kinds of humus. You should stick to all-natural fertilizers made from rocks and minerals and natural materials (like blood meal, bone meal, greensand, wood ash, phosphate etc). Compost is by far the best thing you can add to your soil, and homemade is best because you know exactly what’s in it.

So are you a grower of soil? How do you feed & nourish your garden beds?


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.