need probiotics? like kombucha? try easier, tastier blackberry kvass

IMG_5417Yes, I’m a little obsessed with a fermented fruit beverage called kvass. I’ll admit it.  I just put up another gallon, this time with odds and ends I found in my freezer and crisper bin.  In my case, that’s tayberries, gooseberries, Gravensteins, and rose geranium. Surely the nectar of the gods.

I make no apologies for despising the nutritionist, food-measured-in-dietary-units national neurosis approach to dining, but since I’m clearly in the minority here and actually got some health benefit from my new hobby of making kvass, I’ll stagger on to the bandwagon and flop down, flabby and winded and horrifying, next to your favorite athlete for a moment.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention pleeeeease!

Last week I was feeling pretty punky and went through a course of strong antibiotics, a maneuver that would have guaranteed me a yeast infection in the days of yore.  Take acidophilous pills, cried the medical establishment.  Instead, I went red: a Russian drink so delicious, so sour and refreshing, that the Avenging Angels of the Grumpy sing, I only had a bit of nausea and marched back to health.

With this. Blackberry kvass. Behold.

IMG_5317IMG_3922IMG_5324IMG_5316If you can get your hands on wild blackberries and your neighbor has an apple tree, this drink will be even better, because it will be just about free.  Compare that to a paltry, precious glass bottle of fancy kombucha at Market of Choice!

The recipe is simple. Chop apples, add berries and everything else, add water and let bubble on counter for 2-3 days, or until sour and bubbly.  The last photo is the fruit strained from the jar after a couple of weeks.  It can be used for a second batch, which will be a bit weaker in flavor but still palatable.

You don’t need to add honey or a kickstarter for the fermentation like whey or a little leftover kvass from an earlier batch, but I think it really helps with the quality of the ferment.  I don’t do the double fermentation method, but if you want a fizzier, slightly more alcoholic drink (for kvass does contain very low amounts of alcohol thanks to the fermentation), place your finished batch in a couple of 2-liter plastic bottles, cap tightly, and leave for a few days on the counter until the bottle is very firm if you squeeze it gently, then refrigerate.

If you don’t have a gallon jar or want less, use this principle: fill jar 1/3 full with fruit, add kickstarter if you can, fill within a couple of inches of top with cold water.  More ideas of fruit and veg choices here.

Quick and Easy Wild Blackberry Kvass

Makes a gallon.

  • 1 large organic apple, quartered
  • 6 cups wild blackberries or frozen
  • handful of raisins
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup whey or leftover kvass to start fermentation

Add all ingredients to very clean gallon jar with lid.  Fill within a couple of inches to the top of the jar with cold water.  If you overfill, the bubbly fermentation action will make your jar overflow (take it from one who can’t seem to learn this lesson).  Screw on lid tightly. Check after 24 hours to make sure brew is bubbling; skim off any scum; and taste.  When it’s sour enough for you (for me, that’s about 3 days), refrigerate and let flavor develop for a few more days, then drink either straight or with more honey to sweeten.

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in which we muse upon the fruits of our labors with syrup

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

Clearly, Alexander Pope was not a skilled do-it-yourselfer, where a little learning motivates great — or at least good enough — things.

We at Culinaria Eugenius were full of a little learning this week, or rather the action-adventures of our swashbuckling preservation team.

In the accident haze, and, I’ll admit, in many months before the accident as I labored away and at home on academic pursuits, I lost that intimate and lovely control of my kitchen.  I didn’t have a clear sense of what was in my pantry, or hiding in the back of my refrigerator, or how many jars had been returned or washed and stuck in the cupboards in the outer Hebrides.  I depended on a group of others to provide me with everything and anything, including most of my meals, which had become a source of anxiety and not pleasure or pride.

Alienated from cooking, as it were.  A misguided food-hating feminist’s dream, perhaps, but not mine.

And because of this temporary hiatus from my labor of love, as I start cooking again without assistance or a firm understanding of what remains in my kitchen, hilarity and madcap hijinks ensue.

Canning folk often rhapsodize about the pleasing “ping” sound of jars sealing after you take them out of the hot water bath. I learned there’s a most unpleasing, higher-toned “plink” sound of breaking jars in boiling water.

It happened at one of those moments in which you are thoroughly exhausted — many hours of boiling down tomato pulp into ketchup, fussing with the spice profile mid-boil after not being able to find the right spices, the cheesecloth, the other cheesecloth, learning the housekeeper had used the cheesecloth as a rag, discovering not one but two of the jars had chips on the rim as you were wiping said rims after filling jars, the boiling and spattering ketchup is bitter — how? why?, more sugar?, limping out to the outer Hebrides to find the damn immersion blender, trying to find two more jars which have to be somewhere in here, you’re out of lids and have to limp back to the outer Hebrides, etc., etc. — and finally, you drop in the two remaining half-pints using your fingers because you misplaced the jar lifter in all that commotion, and…

*plink*

…like that stain on your very soul, you see the thin ribbon of red spreading through the boiling water, and you know you have about three seconds to crutch over to the cabinet to get a bowl, find a ladle, and scoop the damn jar out of the water before it turns your canner into an impromptu spaghetti sauce.

And sure, you could have called your neighbor to see if she had two teaspoons of Pomona pectin on hand when you realized you only had half of the pectin you needed after the tayberry jam was already boiling and about two minutes from being finished, and, of course, you can’t drive out to the store anyway, given the leg.  But instead, you do what anyone with a little learning would do: started messing around.

Because it was low-sugar jam, you don’t have the option to just boil it down.  You ponder adding more sugar, but can’t measure the fruit pulp at that point, it being boiling and all, so you surmise that the aluminum water (already added) might react with another kind of pectin.   Luckily, you have a jar of apple pectin stock jelly on hand!  And more quince stock pectin in the freezer.  You add both, hoping for the best…

…and it’s the best tayberry-quince syrup ever, and 14 half-pints of it.

But tasty, no?  And a thick, molasses syrup, so you were at least partially right.

So to Mr. Alexander Pope, I say:

LET THEM DRINK NOT FROM THE PIERIAN SPRING; LET THEM DRINK SYRUP.

We tried it and we liked it, over zucchini pancakes.  And not a single mishap.

On this Labor Day, may all your labors be recognized, your pickles an art form, your jam jellied, your ketchup free of glass shards, and your work a source of healing.  May you be well enough to do the things you love, to pray with your feet, to turn your poetry into action, and to feed a challenge to the status quo.

berry season hits the willamette valley

What a stupid headline.  With what, a squish?  But that’s all I’ve got today.  So here, take someone else’s offering:

This gorgeous, gorgeous shot of Russian peasant girls presenting berries, so gorgeous I’ve been saving it for you since a friend of mine posted a link to the set on Facebook, is from a turn-of-the-20th-century Russian photographer who chronicled Russian life via train.  Check out the entire, remarkable set by clicking the picture, which links to the Denver Post gallery of the collection of the Library of Congress.

As for me, I’ve been dodging rotten berry bombs from various administrative unpleasantness as I prepare for my next trip to Zurich and London.  I’ll be studying sex in London and food in Zurich.  I don’t do well with unanticipated changes of plans and uprootings, and there have been plenty this week.

To stay calm, I’ve been jamming.  It’s no secret in preservation circles that we seal up things in jars and stick them in cupboards to try to halt the natural progression of life into decay and keep something perfect, just the way it is, for longer than life would allow.  That’s what berry jam does for the fleeting, rich, green moment of July.

Check out the size of these beauties.  Tayberries are elongated, maroon blackberry crosses, with quite a bit of raspberry in them.  I wrote about what they are here last year.

It’s tayberry season now for the next week or so.  Their reputation is beginning to spread in the Willamette Valley, but not many growers cultivate them.  Why?  After putting in my own tayberry last year, I discovered the reason.

This is why people don’t grow more tayberries.  The thorns are thick, soft, and sensitive, running up the vines all the way to the leaf tips.  They stick to everything and anything.  Most cultivated raspberries have more manageable thorns.  Some don’t even have thorns of note.  But tayberries don’t hold back in thorniness.

But bought, tayberries are the best berry around.  Check out Lelo’s post with a berry comparison (I’m the comment by “Eugeniq,” a rather nice typo if I do say so myself).  Anyway, besides the Crème de Violette version I mentioned in the comment, I’ve had some fun with tayberries this year.  My 2010 jam series is a platonic pair: Old Bachelor and Old Spinster tayberry jams.

Old Bachelor tayberry jam is soused with my Old Bachelor liqueur, put up last year with booze, sugar, and mixed cane berries and cherries.  The recipe is inspired by Christine Ferber’s discussion of this old French cordial in her book, Mes Confitures.  The essence of summer.

And then, inspired suchly, I had to make Old Spinster tayberry jam to go with it.  Old Spinster has a handful of rhubarb thrown in to add some bitterness, and a single fragrant rose geranium leaf pressed in to the top of the jam before canning.  (This is the leftover jar):

I think that’s right, no?  Old Bachelor fragrant with liquor and red candy; Old Spinster complicated by rhubarb and rose.

I didn’t get a chance to make my Old Crazy Cat Lady with cat hair and Danish salmiak licorice Tyrisk Peber granules, with a dash of absinthe.  But the thought was there, believe me.

What are you doing to doll up  your plain cane berry jams?

yet more rain — with berries

…and the strawberries are ripening slowly, and without much sweetness.  It’s frustrating because I just finished a story on local strawberries, with every intention of adding gorgeous photographs of the crop in full season.  Not this year!

But my green caneberries are hopeful, and surely the rain will stop by July, right?  I have a good crop of little blackcaps (black raspberries) with their magenta-fringed blossoms:

and raspberries of various sorts.

But this is my pride and joy, my very first honest-to-goodness homegrown tayberry.  The tayberry is a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry (like the more popular boysenberry or loganberry).  And yet the plant is of a wholly different character than the raspberries and blackberries: low to the ground, slow-growing, languid.  But since I love these berries so much, I think it might be worth it.