Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rotting Rhubarb and Sour Milk

Great blog title, I know, but that's what we're on about today. I've decided that this blog is no longer a knitting blog, but a whole life blog. I find it ironic that it's been this way for a long time now and I am just getting around to making it official. But I digress.
If you recall in my last post, or maybe the one before, I said that I had started my very first ever batch of homemade wine. I started with rhubarb utterly without intent. There was no plan. The kit was here, discussions were underway about what kind of wine to begin with. Ideally I wanted the first batch to come from the yard. We have berries a-plenty. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, black raspberries and blueberries grace our place, along with currents and gooseberries. But "patient" is not a word in my vocabulary, and when a trip to the farmer's market yielded some large number of pounds of fresh, organic rhubarb; well, the decision was made. Chopped, mixed with golden raisins, orange juice, cane sugar and after a time, Pasteur Champagne yeast, the blend began the process known as primary fermentation. When you open it (as you must ever few days to stir it up) it looks like this.
It smells like a blend of rhubarb, alcohol, and yeast with a citrus tinge. And it sounds a lot like Rice Krispies in milk. It is very much alive.After stirring it bubbles and foams, and the lid is snapped back on with the airlock firmly in place - gas may exit, nothing may enter. A week from today it will be racked, which means the solids will be sieved off and the remaining liquid will enter secondary fermentation in a 1 gallon jug. Somewhere in there it will be racked a second and possibly a third time depending on sediment levels and clarity. Eventually, in about six months, it will be bottled, and six months after that opened and hopefully not turned to vinegar. Only time can tell.
Now about that sour milk. The idea of making my own yogurt has always been appealing to me. I also have a thing for making my own tofu, but that has yet to reach fruition. I've studied up on yogurt makers, watched Alton's "Good Milk Gone Bad" episode over and over, but it just seemed like such effort, or expense. Basic and not well recommended yogurt makers run about $30; good ones are closer to $60. A.B.'s method (love ya truly, A.B., but...) has you adding honey and powdered milk and fussing over a thermometer which must be kept at 115 degrees F with the use of a heating pad - meaning constant electricity use.
Then I found out about crock pot yogurt, thanks to a posting by Tipper on Facebook about her yogurt experience. She made reference to the blog "A Year of CrockPotting", wherein there is a simple recipe for making yogurt at home in the crock pot. No additives, just milk and a half a cup of yogurt. No fussing - just cook the milk for a while, add your yogurt starter, and insulate the crock for a day. My love of my crock pot and slow cooker are known. Not the obsessive 'use it every day' sort of love but a deep and abiding respect for fresh scotch oats at 7am that cooked all night, soups and stews of mixed and varied cultural heritage and (today) braised ribs just like my grandmother made. Could I add yet another favorite to this multi-tasker's repertoire? I am in deep need of yogurt right now, and the more live things in it the better. Having been recently diagnosed with Lyme disease (more on that later) and put on a pretty intense antibiotic regimen Lactobacillis acidophilus and Acidophilis bifidus are my new best friends. We've always been close, but the ante in our relationship has been upped by the death of ever possible good and healthy flora in my body. The cost of organic yogurt is not small. $3.99 buys a 32-ounce container of Stoneyfield Organic. And we're not even going to talk about Fage, for which I swoon. Running low on yogurt I made a decision. One phone call, and Mr. Wonderful brought home a gallon of local organic milk which cost, he thinks, "around $5.00". I think this may be a high estimate. Regardless, that's 128 ounces of milk. The crock pot recipe calls for 64 ounces; a half-gallon. At that price, if the experiment were a success, I would get roughly 64 ounces of organic, fresh, whole milk yogurt, loaded with L. Acidophilus and A. bifidus for a whopping $2.50. That's a savings of about $5.50. So if this worked, it'd be a win all the way around. Well. Guess what?IT WORKED! And it is wonderful. A bit more tang than the average yogurt, which is perfectly ok by me since I like the sour. I will play with longer and shorter fermentation in the future to see if I can reduce that sourness a bit for the sake of Girl. But still; smooth, creamy, and made right here - not to mention the longer fermentation time of home yogurt versus store bought means a higher concentration of the healthy flora I seek to slurp up. The only thing better would be if the cow were mine.Mmmm.
I put half of it into the recycled Stoneyfield container, and the remainder in a strainer wrapped in a loosely woven 100% cotton dish towel (with chickens on it). Ideally this would be a couple of layers of cheese cloth, but as my cheese cloth has left the building this worked.After about an hour, during which time I checked it, squeezed it, and rigged it to hang I had this:which is about the consistency of sour cream, still with the creamy richness and flavor of the thinner stuff. Much closer to Greek yogurt, though still not as sweet. I saved the liquid run-off (whey) and added a bit of yogurt and honey to it, blended it well with my stick blender, and drank a high-protein all-natural fresh and local breakfast.
So there you have it. Rotting rhubarb and sour milk, both of which fill be with delight. Fermentation Rocks!


Anonymous said...

rhubarb jam for me today, and my MIL, besides being awesome and paying for my kitchen renovation this summer, *awesome* is also buying me a yogurt maker. I'm all about the multi-taskers but I'm not turning down gifts.
yay, for all your current foodie success!

Elizabeth said...

I hope your rhubarb rots beautifully! I'm sure it will turn out great.

Yarnhog said...

Lyme disease? Good lord, woman! Sending positive bacteria vibes your way...

booksNyarn said...

Woo Hoo! Well, admittedly still not a fan of rhubarb, but awesome rotting story!

And of course the yogurt...I had a spare cheesecloth from my (yest unused) cheesemaking kit and success!

Tipper said...

Congratulations on your yogurt! My first batched turned out, and second (using some of my leftover first batch as starter) did not. I need to try again, cause my baby loves her some yogurt.

I wanna try making wine and beer someday. Beer especially. Mmmm. Beer.

Debra in NC said...

Please do take the best possible care of yourself while you're in treatment for that dreaded lyme disease! I hope that it was caught early and that you'll make a quick and full recovery.

Judy said...

When I read the beginning of this blog, about the rhubarb and the raisins, I thought you might be making Rhubarb Raisin Compote. We used to make it some years ago, the juices from the rhubarb would 'implode' the raisins and they would be almost as big as grapes. It's sort of a dessert dish and was great with fresh warm milk on top. Good luck with your wine. I may have to try that crockpot yogurt idea.