Category Archives: In the Kitchen

Lacto-Fermented Cauliflower Pickles

If you’re just after the pickle recipe, scroll on down…

We are crazy about pickles, and every summer I can quarts of fresh-pack cucumber dill pickles. The fun of fresh-pack pickles, is that there’s no waiting around while they brine and no worrying about weird bacteria cropping up during the brining process. You chop up your ingredients, boil the brine, and can the goods all in one exhausting evening.

Last week, though, I tried something new.

It started with scads of cauliflower in the garden. Then Kelly and I made a trip to a magical place called Mountain Feed and Farm Supply, in Ben Lomond. It left my head spinning with all its nifty gadgets, and I brought home my very own ‘Perfect Pickler’ and wild ideas about probiotic cauliflower pickles.

Lacto fermenting pickles is different from fresh packing, but as it turns out, it’s not really harder to do, and it yields much greater benefits nutritionally. The Perfect Pickler’s trick is the airlock that fits into the lid of the jar; while your vegetables froth away, growing what are apparently millions of good bacteria as they lacto ferment (i.e. pickle), no outside air or ‘bad’ bacteria can get into the jar to taint your recipe.

Cauliflower pickles in process.

Cauliflower pickles in process.

The big logistical downside to lacto-fermented pickles is that they can’t be canned. The canning process would kill all of those wonderful probiotic bacteria, and render your pickles lifeless. Therefore, you’re stuck with them in the fridge. Being a big batch girl, myself, this is a definite bummer.

In terms of equipment, I’m still a little hazy on how much help the airlock is, given that the lacto fermented pickle recipes I’ve read thus far suggest opening the jar periodically to taste the pickles. Doesn’t this (along with all the air/bad bacteria in there to start with) negate the protective effects of the airlock?

If the airlock is indeed optional, one could just as easily pickle in a simple canning jar and lid and save the cost of the pickler getup. My fabulous gardening friend Tanya makes the best sour kraut I’ve ever tasted with just a regular canning jar.

The recipe I (very loosely) used directed me to let my cauliflower and brine sit in the jar for four days before adding apple cider vinegar and retiring the whole kit and caboodle to the refrigerator.

On day four, I dutifully opened the jar and tasted the pickled cauliflower. Delicious! But so lightly flavored, that I doubted it had really done its thing yet. After all, our house is consistently five to ten degrees colder than the ambient temperature assumed by the recipe (it suggested a household that does not drop below 70 degrees Fahrenheit).

I conferred with my better half, and we decided to let the pickles continue their science experiment for another day on the kitchen counter. I now think I should have checked the pickles again that evening, or at least by the following morning. Instead, I waited a good 30 hours. By this point, the fermentation had kicked into high gear, and the ‘Snow Crown’ cauliflower florets bobbed in a mysteriously purple bath of frothy brine.

I’m not sure how to describe the smell and taste, beyond ‘gassy.’ Kelly declared it still good, while I felt vaguely nauseous for the next half hour. It’s really not bad, I guess. For a first try. Maybe. There’s a gallon of it waiting for me in the fridge.

Kelly insists that the taste I found so off-putting is the result of a rather vigorous (but healthy!) fermentation/pickling. Maybe it will mellow with the addition of cider vinegar that the recipe called for? If not, there’s more cauliflower in the garden, as well as some monster cabbages on the way.

Ancestral pickles

By cookie-craving chance yesterday, I dug up a cookbook written in the 1970s by my grandmother’s younger sister Clara B. Clauson. And lo, tucked away in a chapter I’d never bothered to read, I found my great grandfather’s sour kraut recipe, and my great-great grandmother’s pickled green tomatoes recipe. Both call for crocks, with no mention of airlocks or looming threat of bad bacteria. People used to just deal, I guess.

While admittedly vague in spots (a ‘handful’ of salt for each head of cabbage), I’m excited to give these family recipes a spin as soon as I can get my hands on cabbages and green tomatoes.

In the tradition of my ancestors, here’s the approximate recipe for my pickled cauliflower (and really, it would have been undeniably delicious if I’d just stopped a day sooner!):

Cauliflower pickle ingredients (to be fudged and adjusted at your discretion!)

  • 1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, chopped finely
  • 1 bunch of parsley, chopped finely
  • 1 dried red pepper (sweet and spicy)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped small
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 bunch mustard greens, chopped finely


Enough brine to cover the vegetables at a ratio of 2 cups water to 2 tablespoons sea salt

Additional ingredients

  •  ¼ cup cider vinegar (to be added after the main fermentation)


Pack the vegetables in a gallon jar, cover with brine, and screw on the lid. Especially if you’re trying a canning lid, don’t screw it on tight. If you do, the jar may explode. My Perfect Pickler also came with a small ceramic cup that is supposed to float just below the screw-on lid. Again, I’m not yet sure how critical its function actually is.

Leave the jar on your counter out of direct light and away from any heat sources for exactly four days. As long as your house is below 74 degrees Fahrenheit, this should be fine (higher temperatures can cause mold to form).

If the pickles don’t seem pickle-y enough, let them sit out longer on the counter, but proceed with extreme caution and frequent taste tests.

When you judge the pickles to be done, add the cider vinegar and transfer pickles to the fridge. They should last for months, though they will continue to ferment slowly in the refrigerator.

January Garden Harvest

January was by far our best garden record keeping month on record. Kelly was a terrific sport, and together we faithfully weighed and recorded every fruit, vegetable, and herb that came in from the winter garden (right on down to 1/32 lb. cilantro harvests, I might add). May we keep this level of disciplined record keeping through the next eleven months, and may we find less tedious and time-intensive ways to do it meaningfully.

Maybe in February I’ll come up with an aesthetically pleasing table to show off the totals and tally the monetary savings, but for now, without further ado…

January harvest totals

  • Eggs: 6 (a sore point, for sure. The Barred Rock is still molting, and the Barred Leghorn mysteriously quit after the first week of January)
  • Cilantro: .91 lbs
  • Kale ‘Winterbor’, ‘Nero di Toscano’, and ‘Wild Kale Blend’: 1.03 lbs
  • Parsley: .5 lbs
  • Mustard ‘Ruby Streaks’: 1.88 lbs
  • Broccoli ‘Umpqua’: 2.06 lbs
  • Lettuce ‘Heirloom Garden Blend’: 1.13 lbs
  • Mustard ‘Tah Tsoi’: .19 lbs
  • Spinach ‘Donkey’: .81 lbs
  • Spring onion ‘Purplette’: .41 lbs
  • Cabbage ‘Parel’: 7 lbs
  • Navel oranges: .5 lbs
  • Lime ‘Bearrs’: 2.75 lbs
  • Chard ‘Rainbow’ and ‘Fordham Hook’: .25 lbs
  • Leeks ‘King Lear’: 1.75 lbs
  • Cauliflower ‘Snow Crown’: 5 lbs

January total: 26.17 lbs

'Parel', our favorite small cabbage. With our switch next season to all open pollinated varieties, we will have to find a replacement for this great cabbage.

‘Parel’, our favorite small cabbage. With our switch next season to all open pollinated varieties, we will have to find a replacement for this great hybrid cabbage.

How to Make Loquat Liqueur

Honey bees love loquat blossom nectar as a winter food source.

Honey bees love loquat blossom nectar as a winter food source.

Our loquat harvest was incredibly small last summer, and something special seemed to be required. Rather than make loquat jam with so little fruit, I made liqueur this year, using the entire harvest – 4 1/3 pounds of fruit.

Liqueur making takes patience and it felt a long way from summer when I finally bottled the loquat liqueur this chilly morning. Small though my sips were, I can say it’s one of my favorite liqueurs that we’ve made so far. The flavor is subtle, but sweet and well-rounded.

I’ve started using shochu, or Japanese vodka, for most of my liqueurs. It doesn’t have the alcoholic punch of vodka (it’s 48 proof, compared to 80 proof vodka), and its very slight sweetness makes it compatible with most fruit. Read on for my original recipe and notes.

Loquat Liqueur ingredients

• 4 1/3 pounds loquats, washed, flower end removed, halved and pitted to yield 2 pounds of fruit

• 1 cup sugar

• 1 large handful of green coriander sprigs

• 1 750ml bottle shochu

Loquat Liqueur directions

1. Put fruit, sugar and coriander sprigs in jar and add shochu. Shake until sugar is dissolved.

2. Store in a cool, dark place, and continue to shake occasionally over 6 months. Discoloration of the fruit is normal, but watch for mold (I didn’t have any problem).

3. After 6 months, secure cheesecloth to a container, and strain liqueur through cheesecloth. Allow fruit solids to sit in cheesecloth overnight.

4. In morning, remove cheesecloth and gently squeeze into the container.

5. Bottle liqueur.

Additional tips for homemade liqueur

1. In my original recipe, I used a medium handful of green coriander sprigs (cilantro plants gone to seed, before seed dries). I’ve increased the measurement here because I can’t really taste the coriander in the liqueur, and I’d like to. Next year, I’ll increase the amount of coriander. You can leave out the coriander, or substitute a different spice or herb.

2. I actually used one bottle of shochu plus about 1/8 of another bottle, which was leftover from some other liqueur project. Obviously, you can adjust the quantity of shochu and sugar, depending on how much loquat fruit you have on hand. When I first started making liqueurs, I aimed for a 2:1 ratio of fruit to sugar (by weight). I’ve since been experimenting with less sugar, and with honey also. I then add alcohol to fill whatever jar I am using.

3. Be sure the lid to the jar has a good seal. If it doesn’t, add plastic wrap on the inside of the band before closing. This helps prevent mold, though it isn’t common for mold to form in the presence of alcohol.

4. You can use cheesecloth or any similar type of cloth or bag to strain the finished liqueur. The tighter the weave, the better: this helps strain out the sediment.

5. I let my liqueurs steep for six months. When I made my very first plum liqueur, the recipe called for six months. The results were awesome. I’ve followed this timeframe ever since. You might be able to subtract some of this time for other fruits, but I wouldn’t with loquats. They have a very subtle flavor, and the timing allows for maximum flavor extraction.

Just before straining.

Just before straining.


This is what loquats and coriander look like after six months in shochu.

Loquats and coriander after six months in shochu. We usually discard the fruit after straining.

 We make lots of other yummy home alcohols, and you can too! For instructions on how to make plum wine, check out our post, Homemade Plum Wine Results; for additional tips and tricks (this year’s batch is based on that first recipe, but is turning out much tastier!) check out Homemade Plum Wine, 2013; to learn about the hands-down yummiest plum liqueur on the face of the earth, take a look at Not-Traditional Umeshu.  

2014 Garden Resolution #1: Improved Garden Record Keeping

Happy New Year to gardeners and gardens everywhere! I have two gardening resolutions for 2014. First: improved record keeping.


Keeping garden records

This year, I aim to faithfully record all of our planting and harvesting, as well as calculate the approximate monetary value of the harvest. The idea of keeping gardening records delights me (no, really, I’m weird like that). Unfortunately, despite my best intentions over the years, our garden records remain mediocre at best.

As I explained in a garden record keeping post almost two years ago, we (usually) keep track of our planting and harvesting using a binder method I developed after interning on a small organic farm/CSA. In theory, these records are quite detailed, including date sown, vegetable variety, quantity sown (and age of seeds), number of plants to emerge, the bed in which they are planted, transplant date, units harvested/pounds harvested, date of harvest, and a section for additional notes. Ha!

Many other food gardeners and small-scale farmers make a point of keeping careful records and tallying money saved. Their blogs inspire me toward better self-discipline, and I am grateful to them for reminding me that really good record keeping is not only ideal, but also possible. Thomahaak Family Farm keeps fabulous records of produce harvested (right down to herbs weighing fractions of a pound).  I appreciate Dog Island Farm’s tally of both farm savings and expenditures. Starving off the Land has gone so far as calculating calories harvested, setting goals for the percentage of household caloric need met by first-hand food.

Recording small harvests

Aside from lack of consistency in actually writing things down, one of the most challenging aspects of garden record keeping for me is the fact that we often harvest very small quantities of veggies and herbs. If, as occurred yesterday morning, I wander outside in my pajamas to pick a few sprigs of parsley, a small bunch of cilantro, and about five leaves of kale to throw into a smoothie, how do I effectively and efficiently record this?

It was January 1st; my resolve was brand new, and I had nowhere to rush off to. Under Kelly’s skeptical eye, I got down the small kitchen scale and attempted to weigh the bounty. The parsley and cilantro each weighed in at approximately 1/32 lb. The kale was more like 1/16 lb. That’s if I trust my scale—an old, non-digital thrift store find.

Kelly pointed out that she doesn’t see how keeping these kinds of records actually benefit our gardening efforts. She also informed me that she was not prepared to follow my example. She suggested that employing a rougher estimate of our planting and consumption habits still allows us to adjust future planting accordingly, without going off our gourds trying to weigh every sprig of parsley.

I see her point.

Still, I am moved to redouble my record keeping efforts and to experiment with how to do this in a sustainable and useful manner.

Keeping records for smarter gardening

I would argue that good garden records make for smarter gardening. It’s easy to implement changes in the garden when you have the facts in front of you. We have adjusted the varieties of onions we grow based on our yearly yield. This is possible because we weigh the harvest every spring and compare varieties. If we tally money saved on produce grown at home, we can make smarter choices about how to prioritize space in our veggie gardening beds.

Record keeping can also serve as justification to ourselves for how we allocate our time and resources. I grow food for many reasons—not all of them rational. But record keeping can illustrate the good, solid, sensible reasons to grow food. It can provide us with data and supportive evidence for the difference our gardening efforts make in our diet and budget.

I can promise right now that this year’s records won’t be perfect, but I will experiment to improve our system and our consistency. In the first two days of the new year, I’ve started jotting records on our 2014 calendar. I think this method will be especially useful for tracking eggs—an almost daily harvest. I am also considering creating standardized measurements for certain common small harvests. For example, knowing the weight of the small bunches of cilantro, parsley, and kale I add to our smoothies, I may record these harvests as ‘small bunch cilantro,’ rather than weighing each bunch.

How do you keep your garden records? And why do you keep them (or not!)?

Sweet and Salty Dried Persimmons

DSCN5462Our favorite way to eat fuyu persimmons is dried. They have a sweeter, nuttier, all-around richer flavor than fresh persimmons. Starting in mid-October, we pick boxes of persimmons, and I fire up my crotchety dehydrator and start slicing fuyus. This year, we have branched out in two ways.

First, I had the questionable idea of salt curing persimmons in canning jars. This project is still in process, but I am happy to report that the contents of the jars has sunken, and there does not appear to be any strange fungal growth or other concerning developments. Stay tuned.

Second, astute reader, Carolyn, suggested sprinkling a little salt on the persimmons in the dehydrator. Voila—the salty persimmons I craved without the over-the-top excess of submerging fruit in a jar of salt. Brilliant!

We gave this a try last week, doing our best to peel the now very soft persimmons. After slicing the fruit and loading the dehydrator trays, I carefully sprinkled the tops of the persimmons with kosher pickling salt. The results are tremendous. The salt brings out the flavor and complicates things a little. The persimmons are sweet and salty, with a chewy candy-like texture. If we weren’t so greedy, we would be giving them all away for the holidays! Next year I plan to experiment more with spicing the persimmons before drying them.

Home-Cured Olives, Step by Step

I drove north in mid-October to visit dear friends and to harvest olives. I was actually a little late. Many of the olives in the surrounding towns had already turned black, but I was lucky to find a few pockets of green olives on my friends’ trees.

For lye curing, green olives work best. Those that have started to turn, with patches of grey or yellow-green, or those that are grey-green, work well also. The blacker the olive, the more ripe it is, and the more likely it is to fall apart during a lye treatment.

This is my third year curing olives, and my second using lye. The first year, I couldn’t find lye locally, so I tried the dry salt curing method. It took well over 3 months, many of the olives rotted, and the final results were quite intense. The flavor of the olives was extremely concentrated, and for me, unpalatable.

Last year, I wised up and bought lye in olive country, at the local hardware store, before heading home. The store had a huge end-cap display. As I approached, the friendly sales guy said, ‘Ah, curing olives?’

A note about lye: It is a caustic chemical, and can burn skin and eyes on contact. Follow directions about handling and disposing exactly. And while it’s the active ingredient in Drano, it’s not the only ingredient. If you can’t find lye, do not use Drano to cure olives.

I’ve been working with a very old Extension recipe for home-cured olives and decided to see if it had been updated. It had, and it had been greatly expanded, too (see new recipe here) (Note: This link appears to be unstable. Keep trying if you get gobblety-gook; it should work at some point!)

Here’s my 21-step process, recipe and tips included. Thanks to Sarah for her marvelous editing, breaking down the process to make the instructions very clear and easy to follow.

Sorting the olives

1. Cull any bruised, mushy or otherwise subpar olives. For home-curing, olives mildly affected by olive fruit fly are fine. According to UC Davis, a bad infestation will cause your fruit to rot, so curing right after harvest may impede rotting. I found about 1/5 of last year’s harvest affected, and I culled the most damaged olives. I discovered, however, that one or two holes left by larvae on less damaged olives allowed for quicker penetration of the lye, so this year, I left them. These olives turn out softer, which I like. You may also need to sort olives by size, since olives of differing sizes will absorb the lye at different rates. My olives were all the same variety and pretty much the same size.

Culled olives. One of the trees had a heavy scale infestation, which you can see, as little specks on the olives. Other olives were wrinkled, dark, or had sunken spots.

Culled olives. One of the trees had a heavy scale infestation, which you can see as little orange specks on the olives (click on picture to enlarge). Other olives were wrinkled, dark, or had sunken spots.

Olive lye soaks, step-by-step

2. Transfer to a container with a built-in spigot, like a cooler or a brewing bucket. The container should be food-grade plastic.

3. Use a quart jar or gallon jug to begin filling the bucket with enough water to cover the olives by an inch or so. Keep track of how much water you’ve used to fill. This amount determines how much lye you use (and later, how much salt).

Olives covered in water in brewing bucket. Ready for round one of lye.

Olives covered in water in brewing bucket, ready for round one of lye.

4. When you determine how much water will cover the olives by a few inches, reserve some of the water to make your lye solution. For example, I used 7 quarts of water, estimating that one more quart was needed to cover the olives. So, I reserved one quart to mix the lye. To mix the lye, I wore gloves, long sleeves, pants, and a bandana wrapped around my nose and mouth.

5. I used granular lye at the rate of 3 TBS per gallon. Since 8 quarts equal 2 gallons, I mixed 6 TBS of lye into the quart jar of water. Be sure to stir gently to dissolve the lye, and be careful of the fumes created by mixing.

6. Add the lye solution to the olives slowly. Then stir everything gently (to mix, and to avoid splashing) with a stainless steel or wooden spoon.

7. Let the olives sit for 12 hours, stirring every two hours or so.

8. At the end of 12 hours, drain off the lye. I do this in the sink, running cold water the whole time it drains. I also wear my protective gear, as described above.

9. Fish out a few large olives with your stainless steel or wooden spoon and rinse under cold water. Test for lye penetration by cutting a segment of the olive away with a knife. When lye has penetrated to the pit, the flesh should be yellowish green all the way through. In my test olives, the flesh around the pits was still whitish and milky. This meant the olives needed another round of lye.

10. Again, fill olive container with water, reserving some of the water to make the lye solution (see #4 and #5).

11. Prepare lye solution as above (see #5). (Note: UC Davis’ new curing recommendations differ from their old ones at this point. I largely followed the old ones because they had worked for me last year.)

12. Let stand for 12 hours, then drain and test several large olives. If the lye has penetrated, you’re ready to rinse (see #14). If not, a third round of lye is necessary. I felt unsure whether my olives were done, so I decided to do a third round of lye.

13. I prepared a weaker lye solution at this point, mixing 2 TBS granular lye per gallon wearing my protective gear. I let the olives stand for another 12 hours.

Leaching lye out of olives, step-by-step

14. After 12 hours, the lye test showed full penetration. I drained, then rinsed the olives twice by filling the bucket and draining it. Don’t forget to let cold water run in the sink while draining the lye.

15. After rinsing twice, I filled the bucket with cold water and let the olives stand for 12 hours. For the next 2-3 days, you drain and add cold water every 12 hours to leach out the lye. You do not have to measure the water for this step.

16. After 2-3 days, taste an olive to check for lye. Lye tastes soapy and feels soapy to the touch. When you can no longer taste the lye, you are ready for the next step. It may take up to 8 days to complete the leaching process.

17. I continued to drain and refill every 12 hours until day 6, when by taste and touch, I felt the lye had been thoroughly leached out.

18. The next steps depend on how long you wish to store your olives. We store ours in the fridge, so we follow the long-term storage recommendations, a two-step process. (You can also pressure-can them.)

Brining for long-term storage

Step 1: Medium brine

18. For long-term storage, the olives first undergo a weeklong soak in a medium brine. This prevents them from wrinkling during the strong brine. I gently pour my olives into the sink for a final rinse of water and cull any that have fallen apart, have sunken or discolored soft spots, or look otherwise ‘suspicious.’ I add warm water to my bucket (using the water measurement for the lye treatment; see #3) and make the brine by mixing 3/4 cup pickling salt per gallon of water. Then I add back the olives. They sit like this for 7 days.

Step 2: Strong brine

19. After 7 days, the medium brine solution is poured off and replaced by a stronger brine – 1 1/2 cups of pickling salt per gallon of water. The olives steep in this for 10-12 days, before the final brine.

Final brine for refrigerator storage

20. I poured off the strong brine and prepared a final brine for the olives, again at a rate of 1 1/2 cups of salt per gallon of water. I store olives in mason jars, so I pack the olives in the jars, then pour this brine over them, covering them completely. Then they go into the fridge. UC lists ‘long-term storage’ as ‘2 months or less.’ We have stored our olives in the fridge for up to a year without any problems.

Olives are stored in fridge in 2-quart/half-gallon and 1-quart jars. Ok, maybe next year I'll be pressure canning them.

Olives hogging the fridge, stored in 2-quart/half-gallon and 1-quart jars. Ok, maybe next year I’ll pressure can them.

Eating the olives (!) 

21. Before eating, soak the olives in plain water for about 24 hours to leach out the salt. Refreshing the water once or twice during this time helps, but isn’t necessary. You may leach for more time or less, depending on how salty you want your olives. Taste after about 12 hours and take it from there.


Salting Fruit

We can, and dry, and ferment it, but we have never preserved fruit with salt. Maybe it’s the copious boxes of persimmons in the kitchen, or the buckets of pineapple guavas, or maybe it’s simply the chilly weather making me crave salty foods, but it came to me yesterday: I want to salt-cure fruit. Really, why not?

I turned to the trusty labyrinth of Internet recipes and came up short. Sprinkling salt on fruit? Sure. But packing fresh fruit in salt? Must not be tasty, ‘cause no one seems to have done it. The only reference I found to salt-cured fruit is an article on fruit cocktails.

I decided to forge on. I used quart and pint canning jars, kosher salt left over from this summer’s fresh-pack dill pickles, and fresh fuyu persimmons and pineapple guavas.

I cut the persimmons into eighths and the pineapple guavas in half longwise. I poured a half-inch layer of salt into each jar before beginning to add fruit. I also made sure that all of the chunks of fruit were separated by salt. So far, so good. The jars are behaving themselves on the kitchen counter.

According to the cocktail article, it can take months for fruit to cure in salt. When the fruit is cured, the author describes steeping it in hot water and adding sugar. I am curious what other (palatable) uses salt-cured fruit may have beyond cocktails. I’ll keep you posted.




Homemade Plum Wine, 2013

I learned a few lessons last year making plum wine for the first time (Plum Wine Results). I’m not sure which is most important, but the number one change I made this year was using ripe fruit. Of course, the plums ripening coincided with my family’s annual get-together, so before I left, I went through boxes of fruit on a daily basis, bagged ripe plums, and stuck them in the freezer, whole.

Juicing the plums

When I finally had time, I thawed the plums overnight in a big plastic crate and began juicing. As I did last year, I juiced by hand, squeezing fruit then tossing it into a fine-mesh nylon bag strapped over a 5-gallon bucket. When the fruit pulp had reached about the size of a soft ball, I held the mesh bag in one hand and squeezed and milked with the other until I felt satisfied with the amount of juice extracted. If you have help, you can wait till the pulp is bigger in mass before squeezing. I was working by myself, and the softball size worked well for my hand size.

Plastic crate to left; juiced plum debris for liqueur in middle; me and my softball-sized bag of squished plums to juice in foreground. I juiced directly into the bucket that I used for my primary fermentation.

Plastic crate to left; juiced plum debris for liqueur in middle; me and my softball-sized bag of squished plums to juice in foreground. I juiced directly into the bucket that I used for my primary fermentation.

Since last year’s plum liqueur was the true star of the season, I didn’t try to squeeze every last ounce of juice out of the pulp. I figured some juice would be useful in this year’s batch of plum liqueur.

Starting the wine

I ultimately produced about 5 gallons of juice. I ended up freezing half a gallon, and used the remaining 4.5 gallons for the wine. I added campden tablets, even though I had frozen the fruit, because the juice sat out for periods in the kitchen. The recommended rate is 1 tablet per gallon of ‘must.’

I have also semi-graduated to wine-speak, mostly so I don’t make an ass out of myself when I go ask questions at the brew shop.

One difference between the process I follow (courtesy of our friend Richard) and recipes I have found online is I use straight juice versus smashing fruit and adding water. It is recommended to allow the must and campden tablet mixture sit at least 24 hours – and no more than 48 – before beginning the process of making wine.

When I was ready to proceed, I added sugar at a ratio of one pound to one gallon of  must, again per Richard’s recipe. This time, instead of dissolving before adding, I added straight to the bucket, and stirred and stirred until the sugar was dissolved. After I added and dissolved the sugar, I scooped out some of the must and made my yeast mixture in a pint jar that I had sterilized.

Adding the yeast

Last year I used champagne yeast, and sure enough, my wine had an off-flavor of champagne. So this year, I used EC-1118, also recommended for fruit wines. While it is also a champagne yeast, I thought it might yield a wine a little less dry than the champagne yeast. At least, that’s what the guy at the brew shop lead me to believe.

Once the yeast started taking off, which took about 15-20 minutes, I gently poured it across the surface of the must, as I had read somewhere I should do, then covered my bucket with another mesh bag, bungee-corded in place.

If you want a clear wine, you can also add pectic enzyme. This helps break down the pectin in the juice, so that the resulting liquid is clear versus opaque. I didn’t add pectic enzyme because I’m ok with the opaqueness. It’s not a displeasing murkiness; it’s just opaque, and the color is vibrant. I used Santa Rosa plums, so the color is a rich magenta. If you want to use pectic enzyme, I think the recommended rate is 1 teaspoon per gallon of must.

The primary fermentation

Back to my bucket: I have read tons of talk on brewing and wine-making forums about yeast and oxygen and oxygen and oxidization. Richard’s original recipe had his must and yeast working away for a week or so in a bucket covered with panty-hose before he racked and transferred to a carboy. I did that last year, but this year, I let the bucket sit like this for 48 hours, before securing the lid and air-lock in place. It seemed like a good balance between letting the yeast proliferate in the presence of oxygen and sealing the wine off from oxygen.

As it is, the yeast went nuts before I secured the lid and airlock. I believe this is largely due to the location of the bucket – about 6′ away from the oven – and one 36-hour jam session. The must actually rose all the way to the top of the 6-gallon bucket before collapsing. Yikes. Some forums say the yeast going fast and hard can affect the flavor of the wine, so I am concerned about the eventual flavor. But it is also known that champagne yeasts go hard, so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

After securing the lid and air-lock (my bucket has a pre-drilled hole that fits a #6 or #6.5 rubber stopper, into which an air-lock fits), I left the wine alone for a few days before looking into the bucket via the hole to monitor the activity. I believe it took about 6 days for most of the activity to die down.

First racking

At this point, I racked the wine into my glass carboy, which I had sterilized. I didn’t have a racking cane, which I do now, so I aimed the spigot at a funnel seated in the carboy and lined with a mesh bag, and turned ‘on’ the spigot. The spigot was about 6-8″ away from the funnel to minimize splashing and oxygenation. There was a lot of debris!

Last year’s wine also was not sweet enough, which I did not realize until we had bottled it. So, after racking into the carboy, I added 2.5 more pounds of sugar directly into the carboy. I swirled this around until it was dissolved, then wrapped the carboy with a towel to protect it from light and put it to rest under the dining table.

The secondary fermentation, second racking & first taste test

After a few days, more yeast activity showed. This went on for about a week and a half or two weeks, until the yeast dropped to the bottom of the carboy. I ultimately let the wine sit in the carboy for about a month before racking again. That’s where it stands now.

As I mentioned, last year’s wine was not sweet enough for us. And, after tasting some of this year’s batch during this second racking, I can say it still isn’t sweet enough. This year, however, I know to back-sweeten BEFORE bottling, which is my plan. I think I’ll let the wine sit for awhile before adding sugar, on the off-chance that any yeast might still be present, and hungry.

Always more to learn

Next year, I think I’ll double the sugar ratio, say, two pounds per gallon of must vs. one pound per gallon. I hesitate to make too sweet of a wine, and it’s also possible that the wine, once aged, will be tasty enough as is. The learning curve continues.

Winter Vegetable Varieties

winter veggies

I confess: I love winter veggies more than summer veggies. When people talk about how GREAT homegrown tomatoes are, I like to interject: ‘Yes, but what about homegrown cauliflower? Or kohlrabi? Or peas?’

In that spirit, here’s a rundown of what’s out there in the greenhouse, germinating and growing. As an aside, I used to have a system: I’d plant seeds in jumbo six-packs, water once, place in a small cold frame (pre-greenhouse), then wait for germination before watering again. That served me well when I used Fox Farms’ Potting Soil, by far the best potting soil I have ever used for starting veggies and flowers.

A little over a year ago, however, my local source stopped carrying it because they ‘liked’ the salesperson of the new soil they’re now supplying. This soil is inferior. Germination was a little inconsistent, and it did not work at all for the lettuce and spinach seed, which I had to re-sow using Fox Farms. Now, 11 days later, the lettuce and spinach are germinating. In the greenhouse, we’ve also started covering our cell packs with a plastic sheet until germination. This helps conserve warmth, and seems to speed along germination.

Beets: Sarah is a big fan of beets. I like to grow them, but I’m not able to keep up with the harvest. For reds, good ol’ ‘Early Wonder’ is a long-time favorite, and at least around here, tends to bolt less quickly than some of the other reds, such as ‘Detroit Red’ and ‘Dutch Baby’. For yellows, the basic ‘Golden’ beet has served me well, and of course, there’s ‘Chiogga.’ It’s not an especially creative selection of beets, but all perform very well for us.

Broccoli: I wish I had made a list of all the broccoli varieties that I have tried over the years, because there have been many. I like that many of the newer varieties are selected for side-shoot production, and ‘Sorrento’ is one of these. It makes a medium-sized head and tends toward good-sized side-shoots, even before the main head has been removed. The heads of ‘Umpqua’ get quite large, but they can get ‘chalky’ if left too long. If our broccoli heads get too big, we let them go to flower for the bees. Bees love broccoli flowers, less so cauliflower.

Cabbage: We tried a variety called ‘Parel’ last year and were really happy with it. Not only is it small (about 6–7″), and thus manageable, it’s incredibly tender and sweet. I have had success harvesting red cabbage plants in late spring/early summer, leaving the stalk, and getting a second crop of several smaller cabbages late in summer or early fall. I did this last year with ‘Ruby Ball,’ another smallish variety. I’m going to try that method with ‘Parel’ this year. It’s a great way to jumpstart the fall and winter garden, and this pleases me.

Small heads of 'Ruby Ball' cabbage developed through the summer and are almost ready to harvest.

Small heads of ‘Ruby Ball’ cabbage developed through the summer and are almost ready to harvest.

Carrots: I have had the best results from ‘Nantes’ and ‘Nantaise,’ which seem less finicky than other varieties if the soil isn’t perfectly friable. Yes, you’ll get some misshapen ones, but overall, these two varieties produce a dependable carrot that has excellent texture and flavor at any age. We also found ‘Nantes’ to have good keeping quality right in the soil.

Cauliflower: I’ve landed on ‘Snow Crown’ as my go-to cauliflower. It produces massive heads, if you let it, which stay tender and tasty. But this variety can be a little unforgiving if you don’t get starts into the ground when they’re ready. We have a favorite cauliflower recipe, courtesy of Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking (1982). It’s simple, quick and amazingly delicious. In fact, that may be all we use our cauliflower for. I make this in my big sauce pot, because I often double the recipe. It goes quickly.

Cauliflower with fennel and mustard seeds/Baghari phool gobi


  • 1 large or 1 1/2 medium cauliflower, cut into flowerets about 2″ long, 1″ wide (at the floweret) and 1/3″ thick (I’m not that careful, but the pieces should be somewhat uniform, so that some aren’t over- or under-cooked.)

  • 7 Tbs vegetable oil (I’ve used canola and olive, or sometimes olive oil and butter)
  • 2 tsp whole fennel seeds
  • 1 Tbs whole black mustard seeds
  • 1 Tbs very finely minced garlic (one heaping Tbs for us)
  • 1/4 tbs turmeric
  • 1/4 – 1/3 tsp cayenne (I use 1/8 – 1/4 tsp)
  • about 1 1/2 tsp salt (I use a total of 2 when doubling; this is a salty dish)
  • 4 Tbs water

Soak flowerets in water for at least 30 minutes. Drain just before cooking. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium; when hot, add the fennel and mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the garlic and fry until the garlic is lightly browned. Add turneric and cayenne. Stir once, then add cauliflower, salt and 4 Tbs of water. Stir and cook on medium heat until the cauliflower is just done. It should retain its crispness and there should be no liquid left. Add more water if it evaporates before the cauliflower is cooked. Devour.

Chard: I always grow a chard plant or two, for those times I’m sick of kale and/or the spinach needs a break from harvesting. ‘Bright Lights’ seems to be popular, and I do like it. It’s milder than the straight red-ribbed varieties, and it adds a splash of color to the garden and plate. I really like ‘Fordhook Giant,’ which is a straight green-leafed variety. Its flavor is succulent, and a little more spinach-like. We were also able to get the chard to grow through our cool summer this year. We didn’t eat it as often as we fed it to the girls, but I was glad to have fresh greens for them.

Fava Beans: I like to grow favas every winter for soil-building, eating and bee forage. I’ve always grown ‘Broad Windsor’ because I didn’t know any better. Last year, however, my acupuncturist alerted me to the myriad varieties out there, and gave me a few pounds of ‘Superaguadulce morocco,’ which I plan to try this year. I’ll keep you posted.

Garlic: Sarah is a master ‘Elephant’ garlic grower, and it is very satisfying to harvest baseball to softball-sized bulbs of garlic. For others, we gravitate to the hardnecks. I’ve grown ‘Spanish Roja’ about three years in a row in clients’ gardens, and that always performs well, even when you worry that it won’t. ‘German Red’ is fun for its uniform clove size and overall appearance. One of last year’s better performers was ‘Susanville,’ a softneck variety, which yielded nice-sized bulbs and has a milder flavor for fresh eating. We also really like ‘Duganski’. There’s a whole universe of garlic varieties out there; last year we tried about eight, but the above were the best performers. I also experimented last fall with planting small cloves to see how they would perform; most of the literature says to only plant the largest cloves. I’m glad I did, because for whatever reason(s), many of these small cloves did just as well as the larger ‘prime’ cloves. If you’re concerned about garlic white rot, check out this link.

Kale: I like a variety of kales and have settled on a few favorites. ‘Winterbor’ and ‘Blue Curled Scotch’ are especially good for fresh eating. I also like ‘Nero di Toscano’ (Dinosaur Kale) and ‘Russian Red’. I bought a seed blend called ‘Wild Kale Blend,’ but found it to mildew rather quickly in the greenhouse. Nonetheless, I’m trying it again this year, with the goal of planting it out sooner. We’ve been able to get Dinosaur kale and ‘Blue Curled Scotch’ to grow through the summer for the past few years: we pinch the flowers when it wants to bolt in the hottest parts of summer, but we’ve had cool summers, so it’s performed nicely.

Kohlrabi: Kohlrabi used to be my favorite winter vegetable. I was so excited to eat something raw and sweet, rather than steamed or cooked, in the middle of winter. I ate it by itself mostly or used it in salads, and often included it on veggie trays I composed for parties. The one time I did steam it, I was really disappointed by how much character and taste it lost. I’ve stopped growing it, because for the last few years, I didn’t harvest when it was prime: at about 2–3″. I’m not sure there are better varieties than others, but I do think it’s critical to harvest at the right size, so that it’s sweet and tender. I will say that I prefer the green varieties over the purple varieties.

Leeks: We like leeks, but we have a limited reparte when it comes to using them. And we haven’t experimented much with varieties: we grow what we buy as starts, typically ‘King Lear.’ Who knows if these are the best? But I include leeks here because I discovered a few years ago that I could let unharvested ones go to flower and sit in the ground all summer with or without water. In fall, I cut them to about 6″, and start watering them (if I haven’t been), and presto, they start forming new leeks from the over-summered bulbs. These leeks will eventually reach an excellent size, and apart from the crop rotation question, I don’t see why I shouldn’t keep propagating this way. At one client’s garden, we have been growing leeks like this for 3 years.

Leeks re-sprouting after a summer of rest.

Leeks re-sprouting after a summer of rest.

Lettuce: I like the romaines for overwintering around here, and the Garden Heirloom Blend by Territorial Seed Company is my hands-down favorite. It’s not strictly romaines, but it features several, and for size, tenderness, flavor, and slowness-to-bolt, it cannot be beat. In spring, I am a salad hound, combining lettuce, spinach, Tah-Tsai mustard, kale, and fresh herbs, like cilantro or dill.

Mustards: Mustards kind of burn my sinuses, so I like the milder ones. ‘Tah Tsai’ is one of my favorites for its texture, flavor and shape, and it’s pretty much the only one I grow these days. I eat it fresh, and if cooked, a very light braising is what I’d recommend. Otherwise, its character gets a bit lost. I have grown ‘Mizuno’, which I like when young, and we are trying ‘Red Streaks’ this year, so stay tuned.

Onions: We’ve been experimenting with storage onions in these parts for the last few years and have landed on ‘Yellow Granex’ and ‘Red Amposta’ as good selections for our climate. This past spring, both cured themselves directly in the beds, without flowering or needing to be knocked back. Both yield a medium-sized onion, which might be due to my propensity toward dense planting. I also like to use them as ‘green onions’ when they’re young, thereby thinning them. When I do this, the occasional ‘Red Amposta’ will achieve a larger size, but the ‘Yellow Granex’ tends to stay in the medium range. For a true green onion or spring onion, my all-time favorite is ‘Purplette.’ It’s great when it’s young: crispy, with a sure, but light, flavor, and these features carry over into spring when I harvest when the bulbs are 1–2″. I love fresh favas, sauteed with ‘Purplette’, tons of garlic, salt, and olive oil.

Peas: We love ‘Sugar Snap’ peas. Very traditional, but pretty awesome at any size. ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ is a good snow pea variety. We usually plant both. It’s rare for them to make it back to the kitchen once harvested, and Sarah’s mom will tentatively ask if she can pick some, too. I’ve tried shelling peas, but we don’t have enough space to warrant devoting that much for the size of the yield. Besides, I like eating the pods.

Spinach: I have settled on ‘Olympia’ as my favorite. It is semi-savoy, with thick, large leaves and full flavor. It also produces for a very long time before bolting in spring, and it withstands our cold spells (20s–30s°F). We also tried ‘Bordeaux’ a few years ago from Sarah’s seed stash. It was pretty and tasty. I’ve grown ‘Bloomsdale’ for clients, which is tasty and also does well around here, but it can be slow during cold spells. For Sarah’s Spinach pesto recipe, click here.

The weather can be part of the fun and challenge of winter vegetable gardening, but ‘fun’ is the operative word. Have fun!

Pre-Equinox Harvest

Today is the first rain of the season–earlier than usual and heavier. Under ominous clouds this morning, Kelly and I brought in “the harvest”: ‘New Girl’ tomatoes, ‘San Marzano’ paste tomatoes, ‘Sun Sugar’ cherry tomatoes, ‘Big Red Beauty’ bell peppers, ‘Golden Bell’ peppers, ‘Japanese Long’ eggplants, ”Traviata’ eggplants, and mystery volunteer tomatillos. One picture might have sufficed, but I am so delighted by all the colors that I’ll share several. Happy almost-Fall!

DSCN5392 DSCN5390

We harvested the apples several weeks ago and have been juicing them and eating them raw, but today we began drying the rest.

We harvested the apples several weeks ago and have been juicing them and eating them raw, but today we began drying the rest.



The rainy garden. Yay!