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Archive for the ‘sustainable diet’ Category

 

garden-august 2008-combined - BLOG???????????????????????????????In my last post I wrote about the 10-Day Local Food Challenge that I had decided to take on. Usually I write about growing food, but in reality, it begins with what we are eating. With each bite we take we have the opportunity to focus on a more local and sustainable diet, or not. Since my first garden in 1974 I have been putting homegrown food on our table. Not everything we eat is homegrown, but the amount has increased each year, along with my skills and experience in both growing and preparing it.

The conversations about the challenge on Facebook bring to light the roadblocks some have experienced, such as the distance they have to travel to buy from a local farmer, even if it is within the 100 mile limit. The time it takes to plan and shop this way are obstacles that have been expressed. Also, even if eggs are found locally, what the chickens are eating may not have come from within 100 miles and very well might be GMO grains.

In 2000 I became concerned about GMOs in both my diet and the diet of my chickens, so I began to prepare my own chicken feed. At first I would buy corn from a local farmer and add oats from the feed store and organic wheat that I bought elsewhere. Once I stopped selling eggs I kept fewer chickens and no longer bought corn twelve bushels at a time from the farmer. That farm has since switched to GMO varieties. Now I buy organic grains–corn, wheat, and oats–from Countryside Organics, which is within 100 miles from here. I haven’t checked lately, but I’m sure not all the grain is grown within that limit. Nevertheless, I included eggs from my chickens in my local diet.

Mississippi Silver Cowpeas and Bloody Butcher Corn

Mississippi Silver Cowpeas and Bloody Butcher Corn

In Grow a Sustainable Diet, I wrote that with a sustainable diet we would be eating less meat prepared in different ways. So, it is fitting that when I checked our freezer when I decided to take the challenge at the spur-of-the-moment, I found a package of chicken backs and a package of ground sausage. Although we have raised all our own meat in the past, now it is only the meat from our few young roosters and old hens that grace the table from our farm. I depend on the growers at the farmers market if I want more. This whole year has been a year of BUSY and my meat supplies were low. I cooked the chicken backs in a crock pot. There was enough meat to have chicken and gravy over mashed potatoes for a couple meals for my husband and I and chicken broth enough for potato soup for another couple meals. I had already used most of the Irish potatoes that had come from my garden this year, so was very happy when our daughter showed up with ten pounds from her garden. I made sausage gravy over mashed potatoes for another couple meals. Vegetables from the garden completed those meals. Vegetable soup was on the menu that week, as well as cowpeas with salsa. Homegrown Mississippi Silver cowpeas are a staple in my pantry. The salsa was some that I had put up from garden ingredients this summer.

As much as I enjoy growing our own food, I am happy for the farmers market to add variety. I bought some beef there and had pot roast for Sunday dinner when our son and grandson joined us at the table during the challenge. My homegrown corn provided cornbread and breakfasts of cornmeal mush over the ten days. I didn’t have a lot of wheat I’d grown in my garden this year, but I had some. That went into Saturday morning pancakes and the gravy I made with chicken broth and sausage. When I visit family in Ohio I buy maple syrup produced nearby and bring it back to Virginia. I counted that as a local product, not an exotic.

The exotics during my ten days were milk, butter, vinegar (to put on the kale, as a salsa ingredient, and to sour the milk for the pancakes in place of yogurt), salt, onions, baking powder, black tea, and whatever was added to the pork to make the sausage and bacon. We didn’t eat bacon during the ten days, but I cooked with bacon grease. The pork is grown locally on pasture, but also receives some grain. The farmers there are working toward eventually growing their own grain. The animals are processed within the 100 mile limit. The beef we ate was grassfed. I could have lived without the tea, since I also make tea from homegrown herbs.

The milk we consumed during the challenge could have been local, but it wasn’t. For seven years when our children were growing up we kept a milk cow, so I have experienced that. I participated in a milk share one year. When the farmer moved and sold her cows to another milk share I decided not to continue as a customer because too many distractions were creeping into my life to pick up the milk at a certain time each week. So, I understand how that is, also. With milk you can make butter, yogurt, and cheese.

String of onions.

String of onions.

Onions were included as an exotic because I was out of the ones I’d grown—or rather thought I was out. I found some later that week that had been a late harvest and were not in their usual place. With such a wet spring, I didn’t harvest as many onions as I had hoped to this year. Onions and garlic are really important for a healthy diet. We have plenty of homegrown garlic. There are not enough storage onions available at the farmers market and the garlic growers often run out of garlic before fall. If you are a producer, grow more storage onions and garlic for your customers.

I made “zucchini” bread with homegrown sorghum for the flour and some late butternut squash that wouldn’t have time to mature in the garden before frost. We had locally grown popcorn cooked in butter for a snack. I also snacked on homegrown peanuts. Having the community to rely on, not just my own garden as I did for Homegrown Fridays, really expanded our diet. Except for the salt and the additions to make pork into sausage and bacon, my exotics were not so exotic and could have been produced locally or at home, if necessary.

This challenge was a good assessment of how far I have come on this journey—and it has been a journey. Eating this way didn’t happen all at once. Of course, my children are grown now and I work from home, which makes a difference. However, that doesn’t mean that I have more time than anyone else to make this happen. We all have the same amount of time, we just use it differently. If your ultimate goal is to have a local/homegrown diet, begin eating that way as much as is possible in the situation you find yourself in at the time. If you aren’t growing enough food yourself yet, and can’t find local options, choose food to prepare that you could grow if you had the time, place, and skills to do so. Certainly, there are limitations in the marketplace that have not yet been adequately addressed, but often the biggest limitation is ourselves. If we change ourselves, the rest of the world changes around us. Homeplace Earth

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logo-10daychallengeIn early September I received an email newsletter from Vicki Robin, author of Blessing the Hands That Feed Us. It gave notice of the 10-Day Local Food Challenge that would begin in October. It sounded interesting and I was glad she was doing that, but I was over my head in work and barely had time to read the email, let alone act on it. I was away from home from September 12-23 and two more newsletters about the challenge arrived in my inbox during that time. I’m back now—at least until October 24 when I leave for the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas—and I am beginning to get caught up. Thinking the local food challenge would make a good topic for my blog, I took the time to look into it.

The guidelines of this challenge are to select 10 days in October 2014 when you will eat only food sourced within 100 miles or so from your home. You are allowed 10 exotics, which are foods not found in that target area. You can do it by yourself or get others to join you. You can make a formal commitment to this project by taking an online survey and joining the Facebook Group for the project. Or, you can only make a personal commitment if you don’t want to be public about it. That’s okay, but one of the reasons for this project is to gather information about our local food systems and come up with ideas about how to make them better. The survey results and the comments from the online community will help toward that end. If it turns out that you can’t fulfill your plan to do this, that’s okay, too. No one will come knocking at your door asking to see what is on your plate. It is an opportunity to learn more about what you eat and where it comes from. Maybe you can’t do it for the whole 10 days–so do it for 5 days–or 1 day. If you aren’t ready to make a commitment, but want to stay informed about the project, you can sign up through the website for that, too.

Dinner for Day 1-acorn squash, sauteed peppers and green tomatoes, kale, roasted radishes, watermelon.

Dinner for Day 1-acorn squash, sauteed peppers and green tomatoes, kale, roasted radishes, watermelon.

The emails began arriving in early September to give participants an opportunity to begin preparing, but I was too busy to pay attention. With no preparation at all, I decided to jump into this and began my 10 days on Sunday, October 5. I say no preparation, but in reality I’ve been preparing for something like this for a long time. I have experienced my Homegrown Fridays when, during the Fridays in Lent, I only consumed what I had grown myself. No exotics allowed. This seems much easier than that. Sure, I have to stick to it for 10 days straight, but I have so many more options. On top of that, I have the luxury of 10 exotics!

Our dinner on October 5 included acorn squash, kale, and roasted radishes from Peacemeal Farm, homegrown peppers and green tomatoes sauteed in bacon grease that was saved another day when I cooked bacon from Keenbell Farm, and watermelon that I found hiding in the weeds when I cleaned up the garden. I made some cornbread that day from the recipe in The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe. The salt, butter, and baking powder that were required are on my list of exotics. The cornmeal and eggs were grown right here by me. This recipe requires no wheat. I already have jam made from local and homegrown fruit sweetened with homegrown honey.

VA 100 mile map - BLOGBesides being an interesting challenge (and promising to be easier than Homegrown Fridays) I was also attracted to this challenge because I used to assign my students at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College a project to contemplate what it would be like if the trucks stopped coming to the grocery stores. I told them at the start of the semester in late August that this would happen on January 1 and they needed to plan now to source their food for the next year from within 100 miles. We had many good discussions over that 100 Mile Food Plan project. They received extra credit if they marked circles on a highway map showing 25, 50, 75, and 100 miles from their home. Actually, just that act of putting the circles on the map was a real eye-opener for most. They began seeing all the possibilities, rather than limitations. If you don’t know where the sources are in your area for local food you can begin your search with www.localharvest.org.

Another attraction to the 10-Day Challenge is to put into practice what I wrote about in Grow a Sustainable Diet. In this book I show you how to plan a diet around homegrown and local foods, while at the same time planning to grow cover crops that will feed the soil. When your food comes from sources other than your garden, take the time to question the farmers who grew it about their soil building practices. It is great to do as much as we can for ourselves, but we don’t have to do everything ourselves. It is in joining with others in our communities that we gain strength and resilience for whatever the future holds.

I hope I have encouraged you to join the 10-Day Local Food Challenge. If you have been following my work and thought that Homegrown Fridays might be a bit too much to do, give this a try. To my former students, now is the time to update that plan you made years ago and act on it. To the current JSRCC sustainable agriculture students, this seems made to order for you. Put your plan into action! If circumstances prevent you from actually doing this now, at least begin to think about it. You could plan one meal, maybe with friends, with all the ingredients being homegrown or sourced locally. To those who have read my book, taking this 10-Day Local Food Challenge is an opportunity to reinforce what you have learned and expand your thinking.Homeplace Earth When you take the survey to join, there will be space to write additional information. Please take that opportunity to say that Cindy Conner sent you. That way they can track how people learned about he challenge. Best wishes to all who join this adventure!

 

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Floriani Red Flint and meal (L)-Bloody Butcher and meal (R)

Floriani Red Flint and meal (L)-Bloody Butcher and meal (R)

For some years now, during the Fridays in Lent, I have been only consuming what I’ve grown myself in my garden. You can read about my previous Homegrown Fridays here. I know from experience that this takes some concentration and dedication each Friday that I do this. We usually have something at a meal that comes from our garden or from a farmer we know personally, but limiting the meal to only what I’ve grown means no dairy products, no vinegar on the greens, and no olive oil. Also, this time of year if I’ve run out of potatoes and onions I have to buy them from the grocery store—something I’m not happy with. Last year, in spite of being terrifically busy writing Grow a Sustainable Diet, I kept to the Homegrown Fridays eating only what I had grown. This year I am deep into writing another book—Seed Libraries and other means of keeping seeds in the hands of the people. I really want to keep the momentum going on this newest book and decided to be kinder to myself and not be so distracted on Friday. Also, maybe if I back off a little on my self-imposed rules, others will find it more doable. Last year on my Homegrown Fridays 2013 post I invited comments from anyone who had tried the same thing and had no takers.

I’m still sticking to eating something that I’ve grown at each meal on the Fridays in Lent, unless I’m traveling and eating away from home. This year, however, the meals might also include some other ingredients. The stored staple crops I have available are the same as before—sweet potatoes, cowpeas, corn for cornmeal, garlic, peanuts, and maybe hazelnuts and walnuts. There are also greens from the garden, eggs from the chickens, dried and canned produce, and mead. Check my past Homegrown Fridays for examples of meals from only these ingredients.

This year I have some new additions. We made grape juice from our grapes in 2013. Not a lot, but some to save for Homegrown Friday breakfasts. Breakfast is still by the old rules. I have cornmeal mush cooked in water, rather than milk. The honey I put on it is a gift from my friend Angela’s bees (okay, so I bent the old rules a bit for breakfast since it’s not my honey). Our bees did not survive the winter in 2013 and, being so busy, we didn’t replace them. However, new bees are arriving this week. Yeah!

I tried a new corn in 2013 and find I like the taste a little better than Bloody Butcher. Floriani Red Flint corn didn’t yield as well as my tried-and-true Bloody Butcher that I’ve been growing for more than twenty years, so I’ll be working with it to see what I can do. I’ll be planting both varieties in 2014. When I first planted Bloody Butcher I had also planted a yellow variety that I don’t remember the name of. Bloody Butcher did much better than the yellow corn, so that’s what I stuck with. Since Floriani Red Flint and Bloody Butcher are both red corns, I was surprised at the difference in color when I ground them into cornmeal. You can see in the photo that Floriani Red Flint is yellow and the Bloody Butcher cornmeal is purple, which I was already familiar with.

cowpeas with dried tomatoes and onions

cowpeas with dried tomatoes and onions

Changing the rules gives me the opportunity to tell you about my dried tomatoes in olive oil. When I dry tomatoes in my solar dryers, sometimes there are ones that aren’t quite dry when the rest are. I put the not-quite-dry ones in a jar of olive oil that I keep in the refrigerator, adding tomatoes as I get them. An easy and tasty dish is to sauté a cut-up onion in the olive oil from that jar, along with some of the tomatoes. Add some cooked cowpeas until they’re heated through and there’s lunch. I often refer to those tomatoes as flavor bites and add them to scrambled eggs and quiche.

blessing_130516_A1-198x300If you’ve enjoyed following my Homegrown Fridays, you are going to love reading Blessing the Hands that Feed Us by Vicki Robin. If her name sounds familiar, you may know her as co-author of Your Money or Your Life. I read Blessing the Hands that Feed Us when it came out in January this year and thoroughly enjoyed it. Robin limited her diet to what was grown within 10 miles of her home for a month! It all began when a friend wanted to find someone to feed from her garden for a month and Robin, who refers to sustainability as an extreme sport, offered to give it a try. Before starting on this adventure she put some thought into it and decided to widen her diet to the ten miles to include dairy, eggs, and meat, but the bulk of her meals came from her friend’s garden. She allowed what she referred to as exotics—oil, lemons and limes, salt, a few Indian spices, and caffeine–which enhanced her meals. Giving yourself limits like this doesn’t so much limit you as it does open your heart and mind to so many more issues at hand. If you include exotics, how are the workers responsible for growing them and bringing them to you being treated? How is the soil that grows these things being treated? The food you get from local growers—how is it grown and are the growers getting a fair return for their labor, knowledge, and care? Is the treatment of the soil your food is grown in building the ecosystem for those living nearby and for the earth community at large?

One of the things that Robin brought up in her book was that as we go forth in these changing times we need to be operating out of love and not fear. I talked about that same thing in Grow a Sustainable Diet. Both books also talk about community. We do not live in a vacuum, needing to provide all of our own needs. Yes, on Homegrown Fridays I explore what it would be like if my diet only consisted of what I’d grown myself. I do that to bring my own focus to what is really important to me and examine what I really need. It deepens my appreciation for what I eat all the other days of the year and for the people and the land that supply what I can’t. When Angela gave me that quart of honey last summer, I truly valued it, knowing that my homegrown supply from the previous year would be running out. My Lenten Homegrown Fridays begin the thought process about what it would take to go forth in a peaceful, loving way that treasures all of life.Homeplace Earth

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Come out and see me at my book signing on Saturday, February 22 at Ashland Coffee and Tea, Ashland, VA 23005. It is a good treatment for the spring fever you will have by the weekend with the warming trend coming. Find more upcoming events at http://homeplaceearth.com/5.html.

Book Signing and Movies-flyer-FACEBOOK

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homegrown feast for two

homegrown feast for two

Growing up Catholic I was familiar with the term Feast Day. It was a day when certain saints were remembered. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any food feast on those days and the only celebration would have been attending Mass. I assume other cultures somewhere celebrated with a food feast at some point, and maybe still do. St. Patrick’s Day receives a lot of attention. We have feast days within our family when we celebrate birthdays. Weddings, especially, are feast days and the happy couple celebrates that day from then on. We need to declare other events in our lives as feast days, if only for one day, and pay particular attention to the feast involved. I’m sure you can find many things to celebrate, so I’ll concentrate on the food part in this post. This photo is one I took when I was writing my Homegrown Fridays post in 2011. Our dinner that evening was sorghum noodles, tomato sauce, and steamed collards—all food from our garden.

Every bite we take is a vote for how we want the earth used to grow our food. If we really take that thought to heart we become mindful of what we are eating and where it is grown. To be healthy beings, our food needs to be grown in healthy soil. My other posts, my DVDs, and my book will help you plan your garden to feed the soil, while growing to feed yourself. Most likely, you are not growing all your food. That brings the opportunity to find growers who pay particular attention to the soil to provide you with good food. Farmers markets have sprouted everywhere and many have times when they are open during the winter months, allowing you to source your food directly from the growers. That way you can inquire about their practices. Grocery stores, even big ones, are carrying more local food. Foodhubs have been established for small growers to pool their produce to sell to the large buyers. In the big scheme of things, it is not practical for a large store to deal with many, many small-scale growers. Also, there are small-scale growers who don’t want to sit at the farmers markets waiting for you to come by. For them, the foodhub is a welcome place to sell what they grow, as are restaurants. Eat at restaurants that buy from local, sustainable growers. You can find sources of local food at www.localharvest.org. Find out what you can about each grower you buy from. Just because they are local doesn’t necessarily mean they are organic or sustainable.

travel table service kit

travel table service kit

We are often involved in potluck dinners. That’s the way to go with a large group of people. Hopefully everyone brings a large dish of food to share so there is enough food for however many people show up. When I was the faculty advisor for the Sustainable Agriculture Club at the community college we came up with the idea of a sustainable potluck, since we didn’t want to have to buy or throw away paper and plastic products. In a sustainable potluck, everyone brings their own non-disposable table service—plate, cup, and silverware. We loved it! To make that experience even more enjoyable, one year our daughter Betsy gave me a birthday gift of a travel kit with plates, silverware, and napkins (red work handkerchiefs). Her old bluejeans provided some of the fabric. This kit is so handy. When my husband and I travel we even take it to the hotels that only offer Styrofoam plates for the free breakfast.

The sustainable potluck idea worked so well I suggested it to my beekeeping club. It took a few times for some folks to get used to the idea, but now it works like a charm. There is no trash! I didn’t have to mention it at the handspinning group I joined. They were already bringing their own table service to their potlucks. I belong to one other organization that has a potluck twice a year. When they start to make plans I bring up the idea of bringing our own table service, along with our potluck dishes. Each time the response is a flat-out no, with no discussion. I know that others in the room agree with my idea, but they never speak up. It is painful for me to see the trash accumulate at these events, so I choose not to attend. When new ideas are suggested, if you agree you have to speak up. That is the only way to bring about change.

Every action we take is important—whether it is the food we eat or how we eat it. Where will all that trash go if we choose to generate it? Our county landfill is full and the trash is now shipped elsewhere. Our celebrations should not be responsible for trashing someone else’s backyard. Planning a zero waste event can be a fun challenge. You can learn more about how to do that and feed a crowd at my Homegrown Wedding post.

Each day, each meal can become a feast when we contemplate what we are eating and how it is grown. The closer we are to the source, the more sacred our food and the act of eating it becomes. In naming feast days and preparing the food, we have to remember to be thankful that we have something to celebrate and thankful for the food that will be shared. An attitude of gratitude puts us in a position for well-being in so many ways. We all know people who pick out the bad in everything. We need to look for the good. Everything is important and everything has something positive. Find the good and celebrate with food from your garden or local sustainable sources.Homeplace Earth

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VA 100 mile map - BLOGWhen I taught the class Four Season Food Production at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, the first project of the semester was a 100 Mile Food Plan. Working in groups, the students were to imagine their food supply was going to be disrupted and their only food, beginning January 1, was going to be from local sources. The project was due in mid-September, so they were to feel fortunate that they had this heads-up months in advance. In real life disruptions occur with increasing frequency with no advance warning. They would have to source their food within a 100 mile radius of where they lived.

The students would need to find sources for winter food and be able to store it or preserve it now. Or, they would need to know a farm where they could buy it as needed, since the grocery stores would be closed. They could grow it themselves, of course, but that would take awhile and winter was coming on. This was a year-long plan, so growing it themselves would be planned in. If the animal products in their plan depended on feed shipped in and not grown locally, that would be a consideration.

My intent in assigning this project was to acquaint them with the local food system. I wanted to get them out to the farmers markets to talk with the farmers and find out what was available. I also wanted them to think about exactly what it was they ate and how much they needed for a year. They received extra credit if they brought in a highway map of Virginia with their location pinpointed and circles at 25, 50, 75, and 100 miles away. It had to be a highway map so that it showed all the localities. When they first thought of this 100 mile limit, many students thought it would severely limit their choices until they actually put the circles on a map. Even if you are not familiar with Virginia, you can see from my map that there are mountains on the left and the ocean on the right—all within 100 miles from my house as the crow flies. The area goes north into Maryland and dips into North Carolina to the south. Make a map of your own and see what you would have to choose from.

This project sure was an ice-breaker. One thing that always happened in my classes was that people talked to each other. Each group had to assess the strengths of each of its members. Someone may have land available for future growing and others may have money, tools, skills, storage facilities, or muscle to contribute to each “community”. They would need to show on a chart what foods they found and where, how much they would need of each food for the year for their group, and how it would be stored or preserved. I also wanted their comments on what strengths and weaknesses they found in our present local food system. This generated plenty of discussion about what would happen if everyone had to suddenly depend on these local sources and what, if any, changes in their lifestyle and diet this project encouraged. I always enjoyed the interaction among everyone. I remember one group that had both a long-time vegan and a young woman whose family ate mostly meat.  When you are planning for a community, everyone must be considered.

Ashland Market SignWhen I first started teaching at the college in 1999, farmers markets were few and far between. It amazes me how many there are in 2013, with the number growing each year. I was one of the founding farmers of the Ashland Farmers Market. I stopped selling vegetables after the 2001 season to concentrate on teaching in order to put more knowledgeable consumers and producers at the markets. The produce, meat, eggs, and honey sold at the Ashland market must have been grown within a 30 mile radius of the town. If shown as a circle on my map, it would be just outside the inner circle. Most markets don’t have such a limit. Besides farmers markets, there are many other options for people to connect with local growers. You can find sources for food grown in your area by checking www.localharvest.org.

The two items my students had the hardest time finding were grains and cooking oil. There was much discussion about the possibility of making oil from the black walnuts that are prevalent in the area. That was before the Piteba, a home-scale oil press, was available. Even with that press, I’m sure the novelty of making oil from walnuts would wear off quickly. There was also much discussion about a source for salt. To really learn, you need to begin with questions and my students generated lots of questions while doing this project. You are probably familiar with Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a story of one family eating locally for a year. Once that book came out in 2007, many people began to think seriously about where their food comes from. About the same time, the book Plenty by Canadians Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon was published. This couple had fewer resources than Kingsolver’s family did. They ate a lot of potatoes and tried their hand at sauerkraut which smelled up their small apartment. I encourage you to read both books.

It can be quite a shock to your system to change your food supply suddenly. It is much better to ease into it and make changes gradually if you want them to last. The change needs to start in your mind, and that’s why I had my students do this project. I didn’t expect them to come up with all the answers to a plan that could be implemented right away. That would take much more planning. I did expect them to begin to question their diets and food sources. It certainly got them to focus the rest of the semester on actually growing their own food.

The next project was on cover crops and then there was one about designing a season extension structure to cover a 100 ft² bed. Although it was not required to build the structure they designed, many students did and managed to get it planted that fall. With the first project, all agreed that if we actually had to depend solely on local supplies, there would not be enough food for everyone. With that in mind, they went ahead and built their structure. For the last project, each student was assigned a vegetable and had to write a newsletter about it as if they were a farm and this was their featured product for sale. I left the college in 2010 to be able to address a larger community. The classes continue with my daughter Betsy Trice as the instructor. Betsy has put her own spin on the classes, but she still assigns the 100 Mile Food Plan. If all the grocery stores were to close on January 1, where would your food come from?Homeplace Earth

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Mead Jug and Book--BLOGMead is an alcoholic beverage that you can make by fermenting honey and water. The first year that I made mead was 2007 which was the first year that I kept bees. Since the production of my bees went to building their hive that first year, I bought honey from friends at the farmers market to begin my mead-making adventures. So, even if you don’t have bees, you can still make mead. My first batches were with honey and water only, but since we have grapes, I usually add them to the fermenting pot. I think using grapes would technically make it honey wine, but I use the terms mead and honey wine interchangeably.

It was the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz that got me started. Page 29 has a recipe for T’ej (Ethiopian-style Honey Wine). It sounded so simple I just had to try it. Mix water and honey together in a 4/1 ratio, cover it loosely and stir it several times a day for a few days until it is bubbly. Then put it in a jug with an airlock. As you can see in the picture, the jug that I use is a one gallon glass apple cider jug. I have found that not all one gallon glass jugs have the same size opening in the top. I prefer jugs with a 1½” opening over the ones with a 1¼” opening. Corks and airlocks are readily available from suppliers of winemaking equipment. The airlock allows the gas bubbles to escape, but doesn’t allow new air in. The ingredients don’t include yeast because you are gathering natural yeast from the air. That’s the “wild” part of this fermentation. If it would drive you crazy to make something without knowing exactly how it will turn out, you might as well stop reading right now. This is a fermenting adventure and there is nothing exact about it.

Crock and stainless steel pan with fermenting mead.

Crock and stainless steel pan with fermenting mead.

I put the honey/water mixture (and fruit) in a 2 gallon crock or a 2 gallon stainless steel pot covered by a cloth. I stir several times a day and at the end of a week I strain out the fruit and put the mead in a jug with an airlock. After it has been in the jug with the airlock for a few weeks is where it gets tricky. The directions on page 29 say to leave it for 2 to 4 weeks until bubbling slows, then drink it or age it. The first year I did this I took that to mean that I could bottle it at that stage. I found out that bottling it too soon could result in popped corks. If you are looking for a crock like the one in the picture and can’t find one locally, check with ACE Hardware. They can order it for you and have it delivered to the store, saving you shipping costs. In the photo the mead pots are sitting on the woodstove. There is no fire in that stove, it’s just a convenient place to put those pots in the summer. I use 2 gallon containers in order to have plenty of room with the fruit. If you are only fermenting honey and water you could use a one gallon jar.

If you are going to try this then you also need to read Chapter 10: Wines (including mead, cider, and ginger beer) in Wild Fermentation. That chapter explains aging, siphoning, and bottling. Now I leave my mead age for a year or two in the jugs before bottling. It’s hard to wait that long the first year, so make enough to try some early and put some away.  One thing I don’t seem to get around to doing is racking, which means siphoning it from one jug to another, then continue to let it age with the airlock. Racking separates your finished product from the sediment, which is supposed to result in a more delicate flavor. There is nothing wrong with the sediment; in fact it is full of vitamins, and it can be used in making salad dressing or other recipes.

Mead bottles and corker--BLOGThat brings us to bottling. I recycle wine bottles and am always on the lookout for extras. Wine bottles need to be corked and that involves a corking machine to insert them with. Although not expensive (about $19) I was hesitant to spend the money, but then, I’m always hesitant to spend money. However, that appliance makes corking the bottles incredibly easy and I’m happy to have one. There are some bottles that come with their own plastic corks “tied” down with wires. The ones we have are the result of buying sparkling lemonade or juice at a health food store. (It is a good thing to serve to children when the adults are drinking something stronger.) We just fill those bottles and tighten the “corks” with the wires. You can see both types of bottles, the corker, and a few corks in the photo. I write pertinent information on masking tape as a label for each bottle in storage. If I’m giving a bottle as a gift I’ll make a nice looking label when the time comes.

To transfer the liquid from the jugs to the bottles you need a siphon, which can just be plastic tubing. This might sound crude, but to get the liquid flowing, you need to suck on the end of the tube that will fill the bottles. Once it starts flowing, insert the tube into the bottle. For each gallon I’m siphoning, I have five clean wine bottles at the ready. At a level lower than the gallon jug, the wine bottles sit in an oblong cake pan that will catch any drips as the siphon goes from bottle to bottle. I’ve recently acquired a mini auto-siphon (a size that fits nicely into a gallon jug) that eliminates the need for me to suck the end of the tube and it works quite nicely. I have learned to leave a 3” headspace when filling the wine bottles and only fill the gallon jugs to the base of the handle (you can see that in the top photo). Even if the action appears to have stopped by the time you fill the bottles, just the transfer can stir things up a bit and it’s good to have plenty of room. With the gallon jugs, air can escape through the airlock, so you won’t be popping it off, but things could bubble up at the beginning and enter the airlock (which you don’t want) if you fill it too full. If that happens, just take the airlock off, clean it, and put it back on.

I’ve made mead using herb tea for the water, but I didn’t like it enough to make it again. I usually add grapes to the honey water mixture, preferring the green seeded grapes to the Concords we grow. I’ve also made mead with elderberries and blackberries. I had more popped corks with the berries than with the grapes, but I can’t say for sure it was the berries or something else I did that caused those corks to pop. Until you get the hang of it, you might have some corks that pop. It will do you well to keep that in mind when you choose a place to store your bottles.

Having meals, including beverages, from only homegrown supplies is exciting. I’ve mentioned having mead on some of my Homegrown Fridays. It is nice to have homegrown/homebrewed honey wine occasionally at home and it is great to give as gifts. I’ve posted my mead recipe on my recipe page here if you want to join in the adventure. Remember, the learning is in the doing and it’s all fun!Homeplace Earth

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