Thursday, May 16, 2013

Yeast and Sour Dough Starters

I recently got lucky enough to be given an Amish Friendship Bread starter.  The bread is easy to make and the kids love it.  It makes a sweet dessert bread and we’ve made cinnamon, banana, and chocolate chip varieties just by adding different ingredients on baking day.  The directions refer to the starter as a sour dough starter and that got me to wondering about making actual sour dough bread.   I’ve scoured the internet looking for sour dough starter recipes (since no one has given me one), and they all look about the same.  You need flour, water, yeast, time, and patience.  Here’s where the fun part comes in though – you don’t actually have to add yeast, you can allow it to gather in your starter from the air around you.  You can also add ingredients that will spur the creation of yeast and add a bit of a particular flavor if you like something specific. 

I will admit that although I have baked bread for years, I had no real idea where the yeast came from – other than the grocery store.  I always imagined it as kind of like pollen.  I could picture myself getting some cheesecloth and going outside to harvest it.  Wrong!!  It’s a single cell fungi that is all around us.  It will naturally gather in your starter and get to work.  Quite a while ago, people learned how to cultivate yeast from certain sources to produce a variety of flavors.  These help create unique tastes for wines and other spirits, but can also alter the taste of true sour dough bread.  I recently read that grape peels are a very good source for a sour dough starter.  Juniper berries can also be used.  My grape vines aren’t producing grapes yet, but we have a slew of juniper berries around here.  (At this point, you can see the wheels inside my head turning, and you know that I have to give this a try).

Here are a couple of links to sour dough starters.  If you’re feeling adventurous, you might want to give it a try.  There is also a link to a forum discussing the various successes and failures of the process.  Of particular interest to me is the one about the juniper berry yeast starter.  That’s my kind of experiment!

Here is one that collects the yeast from the air around you:  

Here is one that has you add a package of yeast: 

And here is the fun juniper berry yeast starter experiment:

Enjoy – and good luck!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Growing Mushrooms Indoors

I saw a link floating around online a couple of months ago about growing mushrooms indoors.  You just needed a five gallon bucket, enough coffee grounds to fill it up, and a starter kit.  Ok.  I like mushrooms and like to try new things, so why not.

I did a little research, read a few reviews, and ended up ordering this:

The instructions left a little to be desired, but they did include a phone number to call if you weren’t sure about things.   I filled the bucket with a lot of help from the good people at the local Starbucks and got busy.  Look what I ended up with!

Yes, that is a quarter sitting on the mushroom.  It is there for size reference.  I think I was actually supposed to eat these monsters before they got this big, but I couldn’t resist letting them grow a bit.  My plan is to eat most of them but leave one or two to dry and go to spore.  The idea is that I can then start again and have a regular supply.  Economically speaking, these would be expensive mushrooms if you only got one batch.  Fun either way, but not cost effective.

So there you have it.  You can grow mushrooms indoors without much trouble.  You just need a source to get started.  I remember going mushroom hunting with my parents many years ago.   We’d occasionally come across button mushrooms that had dried out.  If you stomped on one, you could see the spore burst out into the air.   If you know your mushrooms and know of a place to find wild ones, maybe you could gather your spore naturally.   I can see a hike in the woods with my mushroom field guide in the near future!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Continual Sowing: Beets, Turnips & Radishes

Do you sow a little beet seed each week? How about your turnips and radishes? If you're not, you certainly should. Remember that you only get one root per seed planted. If you plant some seed every week, not only will you get more harvest, but it will be staggered through the season, instead of a glut of roots and then nothing.
One exception to this is if you intend to can your harvest. In that case one large harvest is preferred, though you can always stagger sow a lesser amount for fresh eating.
Let a few go to seed, so you can collect them for next year!

Growing Wild

Look at some of the gorgeous wild plants growing along the roadsides! Just beautiful, and growing up lush and healthy with no help from humans. Is it any wonder why Michele and I search to find out which of them are edible?