Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Small Thoughts   20 comments

This may end up being a recurring series on this blog, or more likely it will be a one off occurrence. I want, simply, to write out a series of small thoughts I’ve had in the last two days and provide them for comment, consideration, or even contempt, should these provoke such a response. (I hope they don’t provoke such a response.)

This, admittedly, is more a product of avoidance than it is significant insight. Over the next week or two, I plan to finally roll out introductory posts (or in one case, a re-introductory post) for the four categories of posting that will be my main focus in this year. However, my introductory post to How To Be Poor may take a bit more focus than I have in the next few hours before I head up to Cannon Beach to visit a friend who’s in town. I wanted to post something today, though, so here are a few small thoughts I’ve had in the last 48 hours.
 

The birds are out in force today. The snow we received earlier in the week has melted, the weather has turned to a combination of rain and warmth, and our little avian friends are exploring, with considerable spring in their hop. They’re all over the gardens, rooting around in both our bare and cover-cropped beds, no doubt searching out bugs and seed. This isn’t much of a surprise; I imagine they’re hungry after multiple days of snow-covered earth. All this rain, as well, has likely brought worms to the surface and unearthed quite a few other tasty morsels.

It’s a real joy to watch them bounce around and explore. This is one of my favorite sights on the farm, of these winged creatures foraging. There is something mesmerizing about the behavior—and very gladdening of the heart.
 

Gate

The approximate design of the gates I built on Thursday, with the difference being that mine were made of standard boards, rather than small, beautiful logs like this one. Also, I shamelessly stole this image from a blog post at idostuff.co.uk. Check them out.

Yesterday, I spent most of the day building wooden gates for Lance and Tammi. I had a demonstration gate from which to work—built by Lance—a series of boards, a pencil, a hammer, a bucket of nails, and a miter saw. Each gate looked much like the gate at left, except made from more standard boards rather than fantastic, small salvaged logs. The gates will be used for lambing season, which is around April over at Lance and Tammi’s as opposed to right now at Meadow Harvest. (The many baby lambs there are incomprehensibly adorable.)

Over the course of the day, I made seven gates. I managed to get the process down quite well and really enjoyed the process of hammering endlessly at nails, marking the wood, buzzing the miter saw, watching the familiar shape take form. I have built few things in my life, not having grown up with much craftsmanship happening in our household and having worked retail jobs before starting to farm. I know this isn’t an original thought, but there is something very satisfying about constructing real, physical, useful items by hand. It feels productive in the best of ways. It feels like real, good work. And it is good, as the gates will prove useful tools, utilized in the service of raising healthy lambs and feeding the community. They were made with a mix of spare and low-cost materials and human labor—and they’re simple, attractive and functional. In an age when that often is not the case, I felt a real satisfaction crafting such tools.

It also helped me to realize I can build things and I even, dare think, can be fairly good at it. Not that my gates are of any surpassing quality, but the basic skill seemed to be there. That left me thinking that, with much more experience, I might be able to become a solid builder. That is an eventual goal of mine.
 

Last night, Ginger made a fantastic chili. Now, I’ve spent much of my life not being a fan of chili. I never hated it, but neither was a huge fan. My father made chili—good chili—and I did like that okay, but still was not in love with it. Then I became a vegetarian for something like twelve years, and let me just say that I am far less a fan of most vegetarian chilis. This is probably unsurprising given the fact that I don’t love beans. Ground beef, to me, was often the one saving grace of chili.

Ginger, however, has since revealed to me the secret of making great chili, vegetarian or otherwise. It’s the use of pumpkin or winter squash. The first time she did this in my presence, she simply used canned pumpkin. Future times, she’s used our own winter squash. Let me just say that this makes all the difference—I have yet to taste a chili Ginger made I didn’t enjoy. Last night, however, she outdid herself, not only through the use of sweet meat winter squash, but also some fantastic green chilies from New Mexico, which she discovered buried in the freezer. The resulting dish was absolutely fantastic, just a beautiful melding of flavors.
 

One way to heat up a wood stove quickly is to use small pieces of oak. I learned this recently from Brian. Due to his kayak-building business we often have small sticks of oak around that can be thrown into the fire. This creates a near-instantaneous heat boost, as oak is a hardwood and, accordingly, burns quite hot.

I found myself today in the situation of needing to heat the stove quickly. Ginger had fired it up to reheat the aforementioned chili and we both wanted corn bread with it. I’ve been on a corn bread kick of late, making it left and right. When you have chili, you really should have corn bread, and we were missing it as we ate the chili last night. So today, the corn bread was a must. I delayed, though, and before long the chili was already hot, I hadn’t started the corn bread batter, and the stove’s oven chamber was only 150 degrees. What to do?

Well, we waited and I got busy. I went out to the wood shed, scrounged up some sticks of oak, threw them into the fire, then started making the batter. Before long, the oak was crackling away in the wood stove and I had the batter ready to go. Into the quickly-heating oven went the cast iron skillet and about three tablespoons of butter. Once that had melted, I swirled it around in the skillet, coating the inside, poured the rest of the butter into the batter, mixed it, dumped the batter into the skillet, and put the whole thing back in the oven, which was now up to about 300 degrees, thanks in large part to the oak.

Within a half hour, we had hot cornbread straight from the oven and hot chili that tasted even better than the night before. Outside, the rain fell and the birds hopped and inside, before long, Ginger and I both had contented bellies. A fine winter day, indeed.

Posted January 20, 2012 by Joel Caris in Farm Life, Food

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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.

Resilience and Stealth Infrastructure   17 comments

A Need For Response

For those following this blog, it’s likely become clear that I don’t expect our society, economy and general way of life—either here in America or elsewhere in the industrialized world—to last far into the future. Despite previous stages of this belief of mine, I don’t currently think that the end of our way of life will manifest itself in some extreme, apocalyptic moment. Rather, I have come to believe in the likelihood of a stairstep collapse, thanks to the writings of a certain Grand Archdruid. I think the underpinnings of what we consider modern society will come apart—as they, indeed, already have started to come apart—and this entire sorry game will unravel. I don’t expect that unraveling to happen entirely in my lifetime, but I expect to live through enough of its beginning to see and be forced to deal with quite the fallout. I have no illusions of a zombie apocalypse, but I neither have illusions of a relatively easy transition or the saving grace of new technology or a grand shift in consciousness that solves all our problems. We’ve made a mess of the world and we’re going to have to deal with the consequences.

Similarly, the mess we’ve made is a mess that most everyone in the industrialized nations have had a part in. That’s not to say there aren’t certain bad actors who have turned in virtuoso performances, but even they have almost certainly been functioning to some degree within the context of this insane society and culture we’ve all helped to create. I have been no stranger to bitter complaints about Obama’s failed promises—and much less a stranger to bitter and venomous rants about Bush the younger’s detestable administration—but Obama’s is a presidency in context as much as all the others. As a society, we have not shown a particular interest in being told the truth and even those of us who have opted out of our culture’s dominant narratives of myth have too often opted into alternate narratives of apocalypse that serve just as easily to protect us from the hard work a new way of life requires. That politicians are less than eager to tell us the truths that we are so quick to avoid ourselves is no surprise. It’s not particularly relevant whether they do it because they don’t know those truths or because they are actively ignoring them due to a recognition that speaking them would not be beneficial to them on a political or economic level. Either way, our broader society holds a certain level of culpability.

Within this mind frame, I wrote a recent post that served as something of a criticism of the Occupy movement. It was my attempt to advocate for a longer view within the movement: a recognition that our problems are not just about social and economic inequality—which is a serious issue, no question—but also a distorted view about what is a reasonable standard of living. I specifically called the American middle class way of life bullshit. I stand by those words. We have a worldview that is built on top of a fantasy of independence from hard ecological and environmental realities. That worldview is falling out from under us and we need to respond to that changing landscape immediately and with an intention based in community, care and cooperation. Unfortunately, that’s not a task that will be easy, and there are many forces, both external and internal, which will serve to push us toward more destructive responses.

The Risk of Demagoguery

One of those responses that I worry could happen is the Occupy movement turning more and more toward a movement of revenge. I’m not saying this is what will happen, but I do consider it a legitimate and reasonable concern. As the world economy continues to spiral out of control, austerity measures assert themselves ever more harshly and the ability to get by financially for a majority of the population becomes more challenging, our collective level of stress will rise. And the sort of harsh and stressful environment I think we’re facing in the near term will be a fantastic place for demagoguery to flourish.

Understand, I think many in the financial industry should be doing perp walks and the lack of that reality is a massive failure of justice and the rule of law. Similarly, the way Obama swept the war crimes of the Bush administration under the rug was despicable. But all of these injustices happened, again, within a societal context. And that context is something that all of us have played a role in. Hell, if you’re reading this blog, I can pretty much guarantee you that you had a role in this reality, because the internet and the vast infrastructure put in place to maintain it and provide access points to end users (i.e. me, you, and somewhere around two billion other people) is an infrastructure built on vast ecological destruction. It is an infrastructure built on economic and social inequality. It is, as well, an infrastructure that helps to perpetuate the sort of war crimes that the Bush administration engaged in. While the Iraq war might not have literally been conceived in a cartoonish, movie villain style plot geared toward oil capture (though it certainly may have) our country’s never-ending need for fossil fuels brought that war into existence. The outsized existence that we have become accustomed to powered the mechanizations that led, tragically, to that war. It’s easy to put it all on the head of W and Dick Cheney, but that’s the sort of short view that leads to demagoguery—of which I have engaged in, believe me—and the convenience of never having to examine oneself in the mirror.

The Need for Good Work

It also leads to the convenience of not having to throw oneself into the challenge of doing good work. The myth of progress leads inevitably toward desires for utopian schemes. We imagine new ways to structure our economy or our government or our cultural institutions to lead to a gloried future, a cornucopian golden land in which we have everything we’ve ever needed or wanted. We proclaim the ability to smooth out the inherent vagaries and fallibility of human behavior, if only we create the proper context for their existence. The problem here is that we seem too quick to place our hopes into the utopian basket of revolutionary change (or forced utopia that always seems to be waiting on the other side of apocalypse, once all the people we don’t like have died) and too hesitant to engage in the long, hard work of actually creating new cultural and economic contexts that can indeed inspire better behavior and constrain damaging impulses.

Let me provide an example. I have been meaning to write this blog post all day. However, I didn’t start it until late afternoon. For multiple hours before that, I poked around on the internet engaging in largely useless but satisfyingly distracting behavior. This is a common theme of mine: the lack of self-discipline and the propensity toward distraction. Overcoming it can only happen through restraining my own behavior, dedicating myself to what I consider worthwhile pursuits, and ignoring the need for overstimulation. This is all hard—oddly hard—and it as often as not devolves into me wasting hours of time looking at shiny things on the internet because, you know, it’s easy. Writing, on the other hand, is intensely satisfying when it comes out well but also, often, extremely hard. It’s so much easier to read about the NBA or look at my blog stats or read someone else’s hard work. This, of course, extrapolates out to TV, shopping, bitching about whatever we happen to not like at the moment, speaking rapturously about whatever we happen to like at the moment, eating, drinking, and a thousand other ingrained societal behaviors that serve to distract us and keep us from the hard work of making our life and community better.

Another example. I have participated in the Occupy movement and thoroughly enjoyed my time marching and shouting, protesting and bonding. I met great people, I felt empowered, I believe without question that I did good things. I also thrived off the emotional power of laying the blame for our very messed up world at the feet of other people. I felt the bonds of shared outrage and anger. I felt the easy pull of demagoguery. This is a fine line, of course—where does a legitimate demand for justice end and the blaming of problems on everyone else but yourself began?—and I have not figured out the exact placement of that line. I probably will never figure it out exactly. But there is a line and I think all of us need to both be very aware of it and be constantly vigilant in wondering whether or not we are crossing it. This is especially true in our culture, where distraction and shallow soothings are constantly championed at the expense of the long, hard work of figuring out how to live and work well in this world.

And that is the idea I keep coming back to. This is an idea championed by Wendell Berry, and there’s no question that I have been greatly inspired and influenced by my readings of him. We have to begin—or for those who have already begun, continue—the hard work of figuring out how to live and work well in this world. That’s an incredible challenge. I would argue it’s the central challenge of being human, of being alive in this world. What else could be the point? For what other reason could we be here? It’s not to see who can die with the most toys. It’s not to see how high a percentage of our life we can spend being distracted by shiny, technological toys. It’s not to discover how quickly we can convert the living creatures of this world into cheaply-made commodities. And it’s not to find the one person who’s screwing everything up for the rest of us. It’s the very personal work of living well in this world. That is a challenge. That is a huge, never-ending challenge—a lifetime of work, the question that only has incomplete, always changing answers.

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Photos: Tonight’s Pizzas   Leave a comment

That’s right, Of The Hands has returned from its (my) self-imposed hiatus. The farming season has wound down, the CSA is finished, the cold and rain have set in and winter looms large. I suddenly have a whole lot of free time and plan to use it to get back into the writing. I also have been using it to get back into the cooking (not that it ever really stopped.) Last night, I made a lamb stew and tonight I dived into some good, old-fashioned pizza making. Tomorrow I’ll have a real post for you. Tonight, you’ll have to do with some dinner pictures.

Winter squash sauce with caramelized onions, chanterelles, roasted garlic, goat cheese and sage.

 

Roasted tomatoes, pesto, some stray caramelized onions and chanterelles, goat cheese, parmesan and romano.

Posted November 14, 2011 by Joel Caris in Food, Photos

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Photos: Off-The-Grid Cooking   Leave a comment

Tonight we’re making chicken soup with the bones of two raised-and-slaughtered-on-the-farm chickens that we cooked up over an open fire last night. The soup’s being cooked on our rocket stove, which was made here on the farm utilizing clay from the land.

Cooking off-the-grid style, using a rocket stove made with clay from the land and burning pieces of scrap wood from around our wood shed. Chicken soup is indeed good for the soul.

The Abundance of Summer   1 comment

Purple peppers are just cooler.

Yesterday, Brian told me to watch the moon that night. Its track across the night sky would be a preview of the sun’s track during the winter. The moon would show me how little sunlight we would have.

And indeed, the moon’s track was low on the horizon that night, skimming along just below the tops of the trees upon the ridgeline on the southern side of the property. Shafts of moonlight would occasionally flood the farm as the moon slid into an open space between two trees, but it would soon disappear again. The overall message was clear: those trees, while quite effective in shielding the farm from wind during storms, are also effective in shielding the farm from sunlight in the winter. It’s going to be a dark winter.

This understanding serves to make me appreciate the farm’s current abundance even more. As I wrote a few days ago, the sun provides the farm with an incredible amount of wealth: food, energy, warmth, pleasure. It transforms the land and the life upon it, including us. It helps to provide an almost unimaginable abundance.

Garlic hanging to dry.

We have so much food right now. Nearly every meal seems a ridiculous spread, each day a testament to the current bounty. The farm is now pumping out cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, basil, squash, beans, carrots, beets, and potatoes. Not to mention kale, chard, salad greens, arugula, spinach, head lettuce, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, parsley, blueberries, and I think there may be a few stray strawberries around, too. The chickens are providing their own abundance in the form of multiple eggs a day. Brian, meanwhile, has been catching Chinook salmon, providing us with incredibly delicious fresh fish. Ginger has been trading at the farmers market, using our incredible veggies to bring home cherries, peaches, raspberries, locally-baked breads and pastries, local milk, blue cheese and grass-fed meat. Before long, we’ll have melons, corn, another round of snap peas, duck eggs, wild blackberries, honey from Ginger’s hives, and a few apples from the still-young orchard.

It’s not just the food, either. The farm is blanketed in beautiful flowers and the growth of everything (including the weeds) has exploded. There are birds everywhere, the cats are playful and energetic, the chickens and ducks are ever-busy, and uncountable wild creatures, bugs and critters abound. Thanks to the sun, we usually have abundant electricity and hot water. And, finally, we find ourselves with a never-ending stream of engaging, thoughtful, hardworking Wwoofers.

While farming is a joy year-round–even when the cultivated food has yet to arrive–it’s particularly satisfying this time of the year. When the incredible abundance arrives and you find yourself with an almost embarassing selection of delicious, fresh, healthy foods to choose from every day, the true glory of being a farmer–of this way of life–makes itself clear. This, here, is one of the many rewards of good work. Not only abundant and delicious food, but the forging of community and the fostering of life, health and happiness. While it may prove a dark winter, the memory of such a bright and sustaining summer will no doubt carry us through.

The summer makes kittens playful and keeps them adorable.

Posted August 12, 2011 by Joel Caris in Farm Life, Food

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The Fermentation Prelude: How to Extract Whey from Raw Milk   6 comments

An entry in The Household Economy

My full whey station set up, spread out on the kitchen table. The glass in front has beer in it. Not sure how that snuck into the picture.

My earliest homesteading activities involved food. I think this is common and appropriate; food is basic and elemental, inspiring and accessible. It makes sense within our culture to homestead via food because food is still so capable of connecting us with the earth on a basic level. Despite the incredible success of the industrial system to take over and pervert food within our society, we still respond to it on a very basic and emotional level. Food triggers memories within us, connects us to friends and families, and reminds us of what it is to be human. Many of us still garden, even if we also eat industrial, processed foods. And many of us still preserve food–sometimes from the bounty of our own gardens and sometimes with produce from the store. Either way, that’s a very basic connection and one that many of us still maintain.

The reason my early homesteading involved food is because one of the main books that inspired my interest in homesteading was Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon–and Nourishing Traditions is a book about food, through and through. It’s an alternative cookbook aligned with the Weston A. Price philosophy of eating and rails mightily against not only the industrial food system, but a good deal of mainstream health and diet beliefs. It deals in traditional foods and contains quite a bit of information and many recipes involving the fermentation of foods, demonstrating various ways of lacto-fermenting vegetables and fruits, championing homemade condiments and sauces that are lacto-fermented, and recommending using lacto-fermentation as a way to help break down grains before eating them.

Nourishing Traditions (and another book, Real Food by Nina Planck) altered much of my thinking about food. One of the manifestations of that new thinking was to start drinking raw milk and, in general, eat more raw dairy products. I tracked down a source of it (not the easiest thing in Oregon, as there are strict laws governing how you can legally obtain raw milk, requiring that you purchase it directly on the farm) and before long I decided to engage in what I consider my first real homesteading activity: obtaining whey from raw milk.

Whey is essentially the liquid aspect of milk. It’s what’s left over when milk is curdled and strained, separating out the proteins from the liquid. When obtained from raw milk, cultured milk, or yogurt, whey contains active cultures and bacteria–it’s a living substance. It is, in fact, an incredible healthy and robust living substance and, as such, it’s the perfect additive to various foods to kickstart the lacto-fermentation process. In lacto-fermentation, these bacteria basically start eating whatever food is immersed in them and then excreting lactic acid as a waste product. That lactic acid, in turn, builds up and ultimately preserves the aforementioned food by creating a brine that is too acidic for putrefying bacteria to live in. In other words, this is how you naturally pickle vegetables. Rather than putting them in a vinegar solution and then boiling them to kill off any bacteria, you use lactic acid-producing bacteria to create a living environment that is inhospitable to putrefying bacteria, thus keeping the food from spoiling as long as it stays in that environment. The benefit of this process is that the food is significantly healthier for you. It’s easier to digest and laden with living cultures that will assist your digestive system.

This process also works without whey, simply by putting whatever you’re attempting to pickle in a salt water brine, which slows down the putrefying bacteria long enough for the natural lactic acid-producing bacteria in the air to get into that brine and do the work described above. Whey just gives this process an incredibly effective head start by putting the bacteria into the brine right from the beginning. It also allows this process to happen in other environments that don’t work with a salt water brine (such as making homemade mayonnaise and then preserving it with a bit of whey so that it will keep for months in your refrigerator rather than just a few days.)

The front jar is milk after it's separated and the back right jar is full of strained whey.

All that being said, today I found myself with somewhere around three gallons of soured raw milk sitting out on the counter. This milk came about a few different ways. Some of it was from a large pail of milk I had inadvertently acquired just before taking a week long trip to Portland and it had soured before I returned home. Some was from a cheese-making experiment that did not quite work out. And some I just didn’t drink before it soured because I hadn’t been in the habit of drinking milk. (I had a couple months there when I wasn’t receiving it.) The beauty of raw milk, though, is that because it’s a living food filled with active bacteria and cultures, it doesn’t actually go bad when it sours. It just changes. It doesn’t taste as good, but it’s perfectly drinkable–if anything, it’s healthier for you. But since I don’t particularly like to drink sour milk, I decided to extract the whey from it instead, with the intention of embarking on future fermentation projects.

The whey being strained through the towel and into the pot. The towel catches most of the milk solids and allows the liquid whey to pass through.

The first step in getting whey from raw milk is to leave the milk out at room temperature for a few days until it separates. I just put it out in whatever jar or container it already was in and tuck it away into some corner, making sure not to completely forget about it. Within one to four days, the separation should have occurred, which you can usually tell happened if you have your milk in a glass jar. As you can see in the picture, the milk will often separate enough so that there is a layer of clear(ish) liquid visible. Sometimes that layer doesn’t appear, though, and so after a few days I’ll open up the jar and stick a spoor or knife down into the milk to see if it has solidified. If it seems to be something of a gelatinous mass throughout, it should be ready. (Note that you can use a plain, live-culture yogurt if you don’t have access to raw milk. You don’t have to put the yogurt out in advance, either. Just use fresh yogurt in place of the raw milk and follow the rest of the instructions as normal.)

The separated milk after being dumped into the strainer lined here with a towel (or you can use cheese cloth.) Not the prettiest, admittedly.

Next, you want to set a wire mesh strainer over a large bowl, then line the strainer with a couple layers of good cheese cloth or a towel. I used cheese cloth the first time I separated whey, but I found it allowed more of the milk protein through than I preferred. I later switched to a thin, organic cotton flour bag towel that drains slower, but otherwise works great.

Once you have your strainer and towel set up, you can dump your jar of curdled milk into the strainer. You should have an initial rush of whey that drains through into the bowl and then you’ll be left with the more solid mass, from which whey will drain for a couple hours if you let it. I typically let it drain for awhile and then later tie the towel’s corners to a wooden spoon so that it forms a small bag hanging from the spoon. You can then hang this over your bowl and let more of the whey drip out for however long you’re willing to wait.

Here I am holding up the cloth bag of separated milk. You can see the whey streaming out into the pot.

Now you’re almost done. Once all or most of the whey has dripped from the bag, you can simply pour the whey into a mason jar and store it in the fridge. The whey should keep for many months, ready to provide an assist any time you need to lacto-ferment something or soak some grains. Or you can just drink the stuff–it’s extremely healthy for you and will give a great boost to your digestive system. As for the leftover curdled milk proteins in your little cloth sack, that’s basically fantastic cream cheese! It’s a little different than what you would buy in the store. It has a sharper taste and isn’t as smooth of a consistency, but I’ve spread it on a bagel and found it to be fantastic. It also is far healthier for you and, like whey, is full of good cultures and bacteria that will give your digestive system a nice charge.

The leftover milk solids (protein and fat.) This is nutritious stuff, but I don't have the desire to deal with it today. So out it goes into the woods, where a whole host of other creatures will enjoy and partake in its nutritious bounty.

Unfortunately, my various milk products that I separated the whey out of today were all pretty well-aged. As such, the milk proteins were funkier than I prefer and I knew that if I kept them and threw them in the fridge, I would never get around to eating them. So I decided to dump it all, which I at first felt guilty about. It seemed like such a waste of some very nutritious food. But, of course, there’s no need to waste that food even if I don’t eat it. I took it out into the woods on our property and found a secluded spot to dump it. While I won’t be eating this good food, it will feed literally millions–if not billions–of other creatures. Tons of microbials will munch on it over the next few days, a variety of bugs and insects will surely get into it, and I imagine a few little critters will have their share, as well. There’s plenty of life on this land–the food won’t go to waste.

After dumping the milk solids, I still had myself quite a bounty: over a gallon of whey. Luckily, it’s the height of summer and there’s plenty of food around that can be fermented. Over the next weeks and months, I plan to make pickles and sauerkraut, to ferment squash, make kimchi and chutneys, to lacto-ferment roasted red peppers (I did this last year and they were amazing), make live culture homemade condiments, probably soak some grains, and more. This is part of the beauty and excitement about extracting whey from raw milk: it’s a prelude to still other projects. It’s a laying of the foundation. It seems, then, appropriate that it was my first real homesteading project. It led me to further projects and set me on a fermenting path I’m still on today.

The project's results: over a gallon of fresh whey from raw milk, ready for use in various fermenting projects.

Tonight’s Gift   1 comment

Earlier tonight, Brian (who is the co-owner of the land I’m farming on) arrived home triumphant, holding a 10 pound wild Chinook salmon he caught while out on the nearby Nehalem Bay in a row boat. He carried the fish with a certain pride and excitement, exhilarated at his success. He had about ten hours invested in catching the Chinook, providing–from a purely utilitarian perspective–a reasonable exchange of a pound of fish per hour of work. From a physical and spiritual standpoint, on the other hand, he had traded a combination of play and work for unmatched sustenance.

After Ginger and I admired the fish for a few moments, Brian unearthed a new fillet knife and soon we both stood over his catch, laid out on a wooden table outside. Brian carefully slit open the fish’s belly, made a few cuts around the gills and then began to scrape out the guts of what turned out to be a male fish. It was fascinating to watch. I couldn’t help but think that the fish’s interior seemed surprisingly simple and well-organized. It was not a mess in there, which on some odd level is what I expected. The organs were well-arranged, packed tight but functional, each residing well in its place. The fish’s body was purposeful. Brian’s cleaning of it was, as well.

As Brian opened the fish, cutting each side of flesh away from the bones, he accidentally left a few good pieces of meat still attached. These he went back to and sliced off carefully. We shared in these fresh, raw strips of the Chinook, eating them both in celebration and with a certain reverence. I’ve never eaten raw salmon in that way and so it was both a new experience and a treat. The taste was mild, the texture somewhat chewy but not unpleasant. I could feel my body responding to the meat. It not only tasted good, but felt good.

Our farm kitten, M, inspects and tastes the Chinook.

Once done cutting the fish, Brian temporarily hung the remaining carcass on the fence, intending to pack it away later to be used as crab bait. As the cats quickly discovered it and began inspecting, playing with and nibbling on it, we retreated into the main house with our bounty. The wood stove, fired up in search of hot showers on this surprisingly cool August evening, awaited the Chinook and Brian obliged with half of the fish, settling it onto a metal pan and sliding it into the oven unadorned. He had caught the fish at 7:20 that evening. Within an hour, we were eating raw strips of it. By 8:45, we were eating cooked, dripping pieces of it. The flesh was tender, flaky and delicious. The belly meat was like butter. We ate it with our fingers, walking back and forth between the salmon on the counter and the hot wood stove, marveling at the amazing taste, the incredible texture, the gift of this food–this creature.

And it was a gift. It was a gift of nourishment, of the passing of one life to provide for others. It was a gift of the amazing fertility that still exists within the local land, despite all the abuse and degradation it’s received in recent decades. It was a gift of Brian’s work, his play, his desire to teach me, and of this community I live in. But it also was a gift of connection to a tradition and culture rooted here in the Northwest. Tonight, we ate fresh salmon with our fingers, bound by the sharing of that food and the sustenance provided us by the land and sea. We did this much as past communities, tribes, and native cultures have. We shared in a human tradition that extends back thousands of years and derives from this land and the interplay of its inhabitants, both human and nonhuman.

Tonight, we laid claim to and celebrated this tradition. We did it with our hands: piece by piece, taste by taste.

Posted August 7, 2011 by Joel Caris in Farm Life, Food

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