Archive for January 2012

Revisiting Old Fermentation Projects   9 comments

Today marked my first day off from working since I returned to the farm. As such, today has been more relaxed. I’ve been puttering around the farm, having a decadent and leisurely breakfast of french toast and bacon, doing some relaxed reading, a bit of cleaning, preparing dough to bake bread later this evening, and noticing old fermentation projects.

This last came about due to Ginger mentioning the possibility of a dinner using sauerkraut. I went exploring what we had on hand, knowing I made some this summer and that I even had a couple quart jars of the stuff from a year and a half ago floating around. The sauerkraut from this summer sat in a crock out on the porch and, upon the last check, it had been covered by quite a bit of nasty looking mold. It might be able to be saved, but I didn’t feel excited about trying. So next, I checked the oft-ignored cold box in the house and scrounged up a quart jar about two thirds full, made in the summer of 2010 when I was farming at Sauvie Island Organics. That, too, had molded on the top—though perhaps not to the same degree as the crock sauerkraut.

Voicing my distaste for that jar, Ginger noted from upstairs that I had a few other random fermentation projects I should check, sitting on the kitchen shelves in mason jars. One was a batch of ginger carrots and the other a jar of cherry chutney. I hadn’t forgotten totally about the carrots—I consistently would catch glimpses of their orange presence while in the kitchen—but the cherry chutney had long exited my memory. Curious now, I pulled down the ginger carrots and took a taste. The fermentation process on these had clearly gone into overdrive. Most of the liquid had dried out and while the carrots hadn’t turned moldy (perhaps due to the ginger) they had turned to the consistency of mush. They also had an incredible bite to them, not so much from the ginger as the long fermentation and high build up of lactic acid. They weren’t particularly pleasant, but I imagine they could give quite a boost to the digestive system. Perhaps they could be turned into a tonic.

The cherry chutney also packed a punch, but it had better survived the long months of quiet shelf life. This had been my first attempt at chutney and came from a recipe in Nourishing Traditions, dusted off after Ginger acquired multiple large boxes of cherries from a fellow market vendor on the cheap. After spending an hour or two pitting the cherries alongside some WWOOFers, I decided to finally try out a chutney recipe—something I’d been wanting to do for years but had never gotten around to. Lo and behold, the recipe turned out great. A mix of cherries, cloves, coriander seeds, and the zest and juice of an orange, the chutney ended up sweet and spicy, with a bite from the lactic acid.

In the months that followed, the chutney sat on the shelf, somewhat forgotten as, while I loved it, I wasn’t entirely sure what to use it on or with. Tasting the chutney now, I found that it had preserved wonderfully, not molding a bit and essentially becoming tangier. The lactic acid had increased, but otherwise it was the same lovely chutney. So now I have to figure out some way to eat it. Perhaps just a spoonful or two with the occasional meal for digestive purposes and to add a little something interesting.

Finally, having explored these random jars of fermented foods, I remembered my forgotten bottles of ginger ale out in the tool shed. I started making ginger ale this year and it proved a success—with certain caveats. The bottle conditioning proved a bit overzealous, creating a drink carbonated to the point that it would either explode out of the bottle upon opening it (though I developed quite the skill for popping the cap outside while holding a large glass and being able to immediately direct the fountain into said glass, preserving most of the soda) or sometimes just shatter the bottle. This happened with one batch sitting on the same kitchen shelf that the chutney now sits on. I was standing next to the bottles when one of them exploded, sending out small shards of glass and sticky soda. Somehow, none of the glass hit me. Needless to say, I moved the soda to a less exposed place, which in this instance meant a box tucked away in the tool shed.

Of course, I promptly forgot about the soda. It was made on July 19th—much of it is still out in that box in the tool shed. I noticed it about a month ago, much to my surprise and chagrin, and so today I figured I should give one of those bottles a try since I was in that mode of past project exploration. The reused beer bottle was dirty, the cap a bit rusty, but it otherwise seemed okay. I pulled my trick of popping the top outside with a glass handy and pretty soon had a nice mug of fizzy ginger ale, no worse the wear for being nearly six months old. In fact, it was delicious and I drink it now as I write this post.

So by my final count, that’s three less-than-successful projects (though all of them had their day) and two that had survived the months of neglect to still provide tasty, fermented goodness. Not a bad haul for such a lack of attendance! And a good reminder of one of the joys of fermentation projects: they’re alive and changing and so you never quite know what you’ll end up with as you let them play out their existence. While the moldy sauerkrauts don’t shock me, I didn’t expect the ginger carrots would fail to mold but turn to mush as their brine dried out or that the cherry chutney would remain mold free and as delicious and edible after multiple months on the shelf as shortly after I made it. It’s a pleasant surprise to return to old projects and find their success continuing, and a nice reminder from the less successful ones that a bit of care and attention can make the difference between maintaining something useful or losing its function.

For 2012, then, I resolve (amongst many other resolutions) to provide more care to my fermentation projects and to be more attentive to my food preservation attempts. As for my other 2012 resolutions relevant to this blog, that promised post is still coming. It should be up later today, in fact, or Sunday evening at the latest. And for those who have done their own fermentation experiments, feel free to share your successes and failures in the comments. I love a good bit of fermentation, and am always interested in hearing what others have done.

Returning Home   12 comments

Monday evening, I returned home.

In literal terms, this only entailed pulling up the farm’s gravel driveway in my car, coming back from about a week and a half spent in Portland celebrating the holidays with family and friends. Yet, it was more than that. Stepping out of the car, I heard the creek from which we drink and noticed its volume had increased. It was louder, yes, but also surely held more water. While I was away, a few storms had descended on the farm after an unusually dry December. The creek no longer was a whisper but instead a chorus, infusing the quiet night air, and that chorus immediately caught my attention and bound me to the land. I listened to it a moment and marveled that I even noticed the difference. It was a small epiphany.

After that moment, I walked to my yurt. Entering, I noticed the sharp scent of firewood and stood again—another small moment of wonder—letting that wonderful smell wrap itself around me. Mingled with the sound of the creek, the smell brought back memories of camping, of those necessary moments in which the natural world asserted itself as a dominant element in my life. Knowing that this was my life, my home, I felt a certain joy then that I had managed to grab hold of that particular happiness and integrate it into my daily life. The smell of firewood was typical now, rather than a brief, annual-at-best escape from work and the mundane happenings of a life too far removed from trees and dirt and creeks and rivers, lakes and hiking trails and a forest floor carpeted in fallen pine needles and twigs and leaves and billions upon billions of microscopic critters.

Somehow I had found that and made a home in the midst of it.

Thinking about all this in the vague terms of the meditative mind, I settled into my yurt for the evening only to have M, one of the farm’s cats, show up at my door. I let her in and she jumped into bed with me, kneading my chest and purring loud, occasionally gnawing on my hands in her particular way. She, too, felt like home. I was there for her birth—the only person there, as a matter of fact—and so she is a definite tie to my time here. Her presence is a constant reminder that while I do not own this farm and my place here is temporary, I am a part of it. For now, I have a home here.

While my time here on the farm will necessarily end in a few months, that doesn’t negate my sense of home. I may not live here on the farm come spring, but I plan to live nearby on another farm—assuming my plan works out—and certainly I am staying in the area, regardless. My ability to do this lies in large part with another element of that night I returned home: the anticipation, lying there in bed with M, of the new job I would be starting the next day. I have been working for a few months now for Meadow Harvest, a farm down the road that raises grass-fed beef and lamb. But that night, I was anticipating the start of my second job in the area, with a farm further down the road which also raises animals: cows, sheep, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and even a couple goats. With that second job, I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of security and know that it would work for me to stay in the area.

I’ve only been here ten months, so it may not seem like a big deal for me to plan to stay for at least another season. But since I started farming in 2009, I’ve lived a transitory life. Each year, as the season has wound to a close, I’ve ended up leaving to go back to Portland, hang out for the winter while considering my next move, and then start at a new farm in the spring. Granted, in 2010 that meant staying in Portland to farm, but even that felt transitory. I found a new place to live toward the start of the season and I never knew if I would stay in Portland beyond that, despite the fact that a large part of me wanted to. And, indeed, I didn’t. I came here instead. I moved to this farm in March and have been here since, uncertain of where I would be in 2012.

For awhile, I figured I would likely move on, just as I had before. But I also didn’t want to do that forever. At some point, I wanted to settle. My ideal would be to settle on my own farm, but I haven’t felt quite ready for that yet and—more importantly—haven’t had the means or the opportunity to make that happen. But then came a moment earlier this season in which I started to think about staying on here at R-evolution Gardens into next year, though in a different capacity. There was talk of my integrating more into the farm, becoming not a partner, but someone perhaps more permanent. I could teach homesteading classes and figure out a way to eek out a living while helping to build the farm’s educational components.

That idea faded. I didn’t necessarily feel prepared to take on that role and as plans for the farm’s future changed, my ability to stay here long term looked less likely. But something else started happening during all those changes. I began to integrate more into this community, through small conversations and simple asides. When the opportunity arose, I started to work at Meadow Harvest. Then Lance and Tammi, owners of the farm I just began working at, asked if I might be interested in picking up some work with them after their then-current employee made her planned move to a different town. I said yes, and yesterday that work began.

I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but somehow I made a life here. I’m beginning to integrate into a community in a more permanent and sustainable way than I have been able to elsewhere in recent times. Somehow, ten months after first moving here, I came home to an evening when everything seemed right—when stepping out of the car and settling in for the evening assured me that I had found a place where I could say I would be for the foreseeable future. I’m not saying I’ll never move again. I suspect I will. But for the time being, there’s no deadline for transience in my future. I’ve found a place here on the Oregon coast. I have good work, friends, a small social network, and a place to stay.

I even, in the last few weeks, have started to form a plan of action for the next year. It’s something of an ambitious plan for me, and I doubt all of it will play out exactly how I want, but I have high hopes and excitement for it. In the next couple days, as time permits, I’ll write about that plan here on the blog. Much of it will dovetail with my writings and form the basis of multiple posts. I plan some big steps this year in my ongoing attempts to craft a satisfying, creative, low-energy, low-money, rooted life. I’ll be writing about all of that as the year unfolds, as well as delving into a variety of related philosophical issues. Stay tuned.

Posted January 4, 2012 by Joel Caris in Farm Life, Place, Work

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