Growing coffee

Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

Recently I watched a news piece about an impending world coffee shortage due to climate change. This got me thinking about how much I depend on coffee (a lot) and how I would be unable to function for a few days (maybe longer) if I had to give it up. I gave up coffee once, years ago, and the detox is hard and unpleasant. Because I like to do something instead of just worry about it, I decided to grow some coffee trees (the other option was give up coffee again, and that isn’t ideal). Growing coffee trees gives me an interesting learning experience in the future when it comes time to process the harvest. I went and had a look at our fairly local nursery for all things interesting (garden related); Daley’s Fruit Tree Nursery their online shop is amazing. They had a dwarf coffee variety called Catuai; so I ordered 2 plants.

While I waited for them to arrive, I did some reading about their care and growing.

Coffee is a rainforest edge species, meaning it likes to have a lot of sun, but protection from the hot Western afternoon sun. It likes to be watered regularly (who doesn’t?) and it is a fairly heavy feeder. The variety I chose is small enough to live in large pots, but I want to see how they grow in the ground in my garden too, so they will need some improved soil to get growing in and a fairly sheltered position.

We recently had one of our old ducks die (she had a good long life and died fairly peacefully), so I buried her in an old cement laundry tub next to one of our geese. I decided that this was the place to plant one of my coffee trees. I hope the pot is big enough and that the nutrients from Puddles (the duck) is acceptable to this little tree. We will see where the other tree ends up.

Making a scoby hotel

So it is time to take a break from making kombucha for a few months; I am not drinking as much as I was, and the batches are getting a bit too vinegary for my taste because of the heat and longer time between batches.

The vinegary large batch in the brewer can be used as cleaning vinegar, so I just bottled it up and left it to mature. Apparently it can be used to make salad dressings and in cooking just like apple cider vinegar.

The scoby was checked into the new scoby hotel. A scoby hotel is a clean jar with some sweet tea and a cup or two of starter kombucha. The only care it needs is a top up of sweet tea every month or so. I store the jar in the fridge and hope that the room service bill won’t be too high.

I know, scoby looks disgusting!
The new scoby hotel

I will start making kombucha again in a couple of months, hopefully the scoby will survive until my enthusiasm returns.

Accidentally making the lettuce last longer in the fridge

Some of the lovely greens in the trailer bed

The trailer bed is bursting with greens, it is so easy to stroll out and pick a salad base. Of course, I prefer to pick every few days and keep the leaves in the fridge. I’m lazy that way. The problem with keeping the leaves in the fridge is that they go slimy and bad by the second day, and then I need to pick more. That is a problem I may have accidentally found a solution for.

Let me explain… The lettuce and other greens are watered using washing water (the used water from the washing machine) and the remnants of the duck and chicken water pots when we refresh them. This means that the greens have a lot of unsavory bacteria on them (and silt), so the leaves need to be washed well and disinfected somehow.

The day’s haul of fresh lettuce leaves

I wash the leaves in a tub of water (which is then poured back onto the garden) to remove any dirt and silt. Then I soak them in a water and vinegar solution (1/2 cup vinegar to 5 litres of water). I use my home made vinegar for this, and it seems to work.

Soaking in vinegar solution

I use vinegar for all my cleaning; in a spray for kitchen surfaces, in the washing, as a floor spot cleaner, as an emergency bath addative (when I’m really smelly), as a medicinal additive in the animal waters, you name it. Using it to clean bacteria off food is a logical step.

Draining out the excess water

Then I discovered that the vinegar rinse keeps the lettuce fresh in the fridge for a week. You have to be sure to dry as much water off the leaves as possible and line the bag or container with a paper towel though (I keep trying to think of a washable version of paper towels for this).

Chopped lettuce ready for the fridge

I am so happy with this little discovery that I wanted to pass on the tip. A vinegar soak not only makes sure the lettuce is safe to eat, it also makes it last much longer in the fridge, and it is another use for my home made vinegar.

Lots more to pick

Making vinegar

I have always had a habit of wondering how random common household items are made, it drives my partner nuts. I will stop doing something to wonder (sometimes out loud) how something is made and if we can make it too. Sometimes I wonder how the process was discovered in the first place. In the kitchen, it is amazing how many everyday items can be made by neglecting them. It leads me to think that the greatest discoveries in culinary arts were probably made by very bad housekeepers. Vinegar is one of those things.

My home made vinegars, made from home brewed wines

Vinegar is a double fermented product that uses yeasts to make alcohol then bacteria to turn the alcohol into vinegar. Apparently the process can be completed in the same container by adding dried fruit and water to a bucket or jar, stirring it every day and keeping it covered with an air permeable cover (like a cloth). The acetobacter in the air will turn any alcohol into vinegar. It can most usefully be used to turn bad wine into good vinegar.

Vinegar has been made and used for about 5000 years in most parts of the world (maybe longer). It has been used to disinfect and preserve food (the original use of marinade was not to improve taste, it was to make old meat safer to eat), it has been used to clean wounds and treat digestive complaints (and as a base for delivering medicine). It has been used as a cleaning and disinfecting agent in household cleaning and to preserve specimens in the lab. Here at the humpy, we use it for all the above uses (well… not too many specimens preserved). I buy a 15 litre tub of white vinegar twice a year and many bottles of apple cider, balsamic and specialty vinegars as well. If I can make my own, there is one less thing I need to buy, as well as the satisfaction gained by knowing how to make something myself.

My vinegar shelf

For my vinegar experiments I used some of my home made wines that didn’t taste very good. I had a batch of mead (honey wine) that tasted harsh and had a faintly musty flavour, so I knew I wasn’t going to drink it. Instead of wasting the hours of work that went into making it, I decided to have a play at making vinegar.

The collection of recycled wine bottles I use for brewing

The mead was poured into a smallish kombucha brewing jar that I had spare. Then I added a bottle of apple cider vinegar I picked up at the local Co Op to the jar and put a cloth cover on it. The apple cider vinegar was raw, meaning it had living bacteria colonies in it. That is it really, I put the jar up on a shelf and left it for two months.

The vinegar grew it’s own Mother… just like kombucha does

When I had a minute, I just poured the vinegar through a filter and bottled up the results. It tastes mild and smooth; I think this would make a great vinegar for shrubs. It is good as a salad dressing and in marinades too.

The vinegar Mother from the top

The Mother was left in the sieve, so I poured a new batch of old wine into the brewer and added the Mother to it. This should get the vinegar making off to a good start again.

Filtering out the yeast lees and the Mother
The Mother ready to go to a new home
The vinegar brewer ready for new wine
This is a batch of blueberry wine that went a bit musty, now it will be blueberry vinegar

Now I know how to make basic vinegar, I think I will branch out to making fruit vinegars too. For me, the vinegar making answers a question I had about how the product is made, and it allowed me to use a product that had no other use. I will continue to make vinegars at home and eventually I would like to make enough to use for cleaning too.

Everyday life holds so many small but important mysteries; how is vinegar made? How was it discovered? What can be added to vinegars? What can I make from my vinegar? These are just the questions I had about vinegar, I have many more questions to be answered and each day brings new wonderings. There is no room or time for boredom or stagnation of the mind… life is just too interesting.

Mulberry wine

Our mulberry tree is loaded with fruit this year; the branches are groaning and sagging towards the ground (much to the delight of the chooks and ducks). I think the huge crop is due to the tree having access to the chook compost for years while the chook pen was beside it, and also the application of a fair amount of washing water and dirty water from duck watering pots. Whatever the cause of the crop, I am thankful. I spent a half hour picking ripe mulberries and there are still plenty left for the birds, later cooking, eating fresh from the tree in passing and freezing for later. That time under the tree, hearing the birds calling all around me, feeling the gentle breeze on my skin and thinking about what I can make from the riches provided by this tree, were a rare moment of peace and contentment… I am deeply grateful. So, to celebrate, I am making mulberry wine.

First, the mulberries need to be frozen while I collect enough for a large batch of wine. Freezing the fruit before making the wine seems to help in the fermentation process anyway. So I bagged up this pick; I need about two kilos of fruit for a decent batch of wine, maybe one more pick of the same size.

Next, the fruit is thawed out and the bulk ferment tub was sterilized.

Two kilos (about) of mulberries and five litres of water with one and a half kilos of raw sugar stirred in were added to the tub, along with a sachet of wine yeast, 300ml of fruit juice ( raw blueberries in this case) and some yeast nutrient. An airlock was added to the tub and the long wait begins.

You can see the mix of mulberries and blueberries in the must

The fruit was stirred daily with a sterile spoon. The ferment started within a few days. It fizzed and bubbled when stirred.

I love the pink froth when it starts to ferment.

After about four days, the bubbles started rising from the airlock and it is time to remove the fruit must from the wine. I carefully scooped out the fruit with a slotted spoon, then poured the new wine through a sieve into a jug. The new wine was poured into a demijohn and an airlock fitted to complete the ferment process.

Second ferment begins

After a total of about two weeks, I siphoned off the liquid bit (the wine) and bottled it in a new demijohn with an airlock attached. I set it to age for a month or so to clear the sediment from the wine and let the flavour develop.

Lastly, I bottled the wine into sterile bottles and stored it to drink and share with friends over the next few months. I bottled 12 bottles from 2 demijohns of wine. I refilled the demijohns from the fermenter and put another batch on to ferment. In total I should get 36 bottles of mulberry wine from this year’s harvest (as well as a heap of baked goods, syrup and cordial); that tree deserves all the washing water I can throw under it.

#coronavirus- making kombucha

I don’t like soft drinks; something about the carbonated bubbles makes me avoid them. I do like to try new things (I’m adventurous with food); I happened to try kombucha one afternoon and to my surprise I loved the flavour. So I went looking for how to make it (because, while I may be adventurous, I am also cheap).

So I watched a few YouTube videos and read some blog posts about making Kombucha and how good for you it is. Then I found a local (ish) company that sells Kombucha kits, so of course I bought one.

How does kombucha work? The short answer is; the magic of fermentation. The sugars in the tea are converted to alcohol by the yeast community in the scoby (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast), then the bacteria in the scoby feed on the alcohol to produce a kind of vinegar. The tea also provides a little caffeine, tannins and other flavours to the brew. It is possible to make a kind of kombucha from oak leaves (but I haven’t tried that one yet). The scoby makes a new layer each time you make a batch of kombucha, and needs to be divided every now and then. It can be used to make fruit leathers, or a vegan leather substitute. It can also be given away to friends or used to start a new kombucha batch, or even used to make soap or other skin care products (I look forward to making scoby soap). After all that reading, I was excited to start making my own.

When the kit arrived in the mail, it contained a glass 8 litre jar with a plastic tap, a piece of closely woven fabric (and a rubber band), a bag of tea bags, some sugar and a sealed bag of slime (a scoby). Instructions were included and easy to follow.

I have made about 4 batches using this kit so far and it is an easy process that doesn’t require a lot of fiddling about. So I thought I would go through it here.

Before beginning the process of bottling kombucha, boil the kettle and make a strong pot of tea. I have only used black tea so far, but apparently you can also use green tea and white tea (any tea without flavourings is OK). This pot of tea needs to steep for a few minutes until it is very strong. I use 9 tea bags per batch and I make it in the coffee plunger so I can squeeze the tea bags and get the last of the dregs from them.

When the tea is steeped enough, I pour it into a bowl and mix in 3/4 of a cup of raw sugar. Apparently you can use any kind of sugar (and even honey) as long as the yeast has enough sugar to convert to alcohol (and then to vinegar). The sugar needs to be dissolved completely, so I give the tea a mix with a spoon and set it aside to cool a bit while I bottle the previous batch.

I was lucky enough to be given a supply of those lovely Grolsch beer bottles by a friend (Thanks Lucille), they are perfect for making kombucha in. I wash and disinfect 8 of these bottles, including scrubbing the little rubber seals on the stopper. I pour some fruit juice into each bottle; I have tried orange juice, apple and black current juice and now mango juice. In the future I will try ginger and other herb teas (with sugar) and maybe some fresh juiced fruit from our trees (mulberry springs to mind). The possibilities here are endless, as long as there is some sugar in the flavouring it will make bubbles in the brew.

Now for the moment of truth; bottling the brew. The tap on the bottom of the jar is very useful here, I just fill each bottle almost to the top using the tap. I leave the scoby in the jar and fill bottles until the scoby is sitting about level to the tap (for me that is 8 bottles). These bottles are sealed and set aside in my kitchen cupboard for 2 days, then moved to the fridge or given away to friends. I do label the bottles (mostly because I give them away to friends).

Now to top up the brewer for the next batch. I add another 2 litres of cold water to the sweet tea in the bowl to cool the lot down to body temperature, then pour it into the top of the brewer. Sometimes I need to top up the jar with a bit more water.

The new brew then sits quietly on the kitchen counter next to the sourdough until next week. The brew time varies with the daily temperature and with individual taste preferences.

The finished product is a lovely sparkling, fruit flavoured drink that is apparently good for digestion and internal bacteria balance (with occasional globs of gelatinous pre-scoby). I pour my kombucha into the glass through a tea strainer to remove the inevitable little bits of slime (they are harmless, but gross).

Now I have made a few batches, I have some scoby extras to play with; I’m not sure what to try first, but if you are a local and want to have a go brewing kombucha, leave a comment here and I will eventually get a scoby to you.

#coronavirus- A new vegan butter recipe for baking

I have to say it…I am loving the extra time at home gifted by the pandemic. It seems there are a lot of people finding it hard to stay home and stay away from other people, and a lot of people are in risky situations daily; I feel for those people, but I don’t feel the stress they seem to be feeling. The loss of life and the fear aside, this has been a positive experience for me so far. I have found myself pausing to enjoy life more often, taking time to watch the sun rise and set, to watch the insects in the plants in the garden and to enjoy the company of all the small creatures around me. I have had time to work on home projects that have been sitting idle for a long time (some of them, a very long time) and time to fiddle around in the kitchen too. Yesterday I made the easiest vegan butter ever, for baking with.

I really wanted to make some chocolate chip biscuits, the thought wouldn’t leave my mind while I fed animals and pulled weeds. I didn’t have any butter in the fridge (we don’t use it much any more) and the biscuits made with oil always seem a bit odd tasting to me.

So….I made a batch of vegan butter to bake with. This butter is a little different to my usual recipe. The usual recipe uses coconut oil as the fat component, I was out of refined coconut oil, so I wondered if I could substitute another oil (the answer is ‘yes, you can’). I also didn’t have any lecithin and I wondered if it was strictly necessary (the answer is ‘no, not really’), so the resulting quick batch of vegan butter was whipped up and baked into choc chip biscuits in no time at all.

I started with a cup full of almonds that I ground up in the blender as fine as possible (this turned out less fine than I wanted, but still workable).

I added the other ingredients to the almond mash;

1 cup soy milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cup vegetable oil (rice bran and olive oils this time)

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

I blended this lot up for about a minute and when I stopped it had become butter.

The consistency is soft, like a really thick sauce, and it needs to be refrigerated for a few hours to be usable as a spread.

I just measured it out into my biscuit dough and made my long awaited choc chip biscuits.

They were yummy!!!

The green sheets are my new silicon baking sheets. They are completely washable and reusable. I hope these will allow me to stop using baking paper, and give me one less item to buy in the supermarket.

A new kitchen for the humpy and the house

The cupboard above fell to pieces.

One of our old kitchen cupboards fell apart; it was a third hand, patched up old thing, but it served us well for many years. Instead of patching it up again, I decided to go with the option we had identified for the house (when it is finally built); a garage storage system. We can use the storage system in the humpy, then move it to the house when it is finished.

Instead of spending thousands on a chipboard, prefabricated kitchen for the round house (which wouldn’t really fit anyway), we decided to go with stainless steel storage modules. So I went online and found some reasonable options. To be fair, the prices were only reasonable if you factored in the decades of service we expect from this kitchen.

The delivery truck came right out to the humpy; a total unknown experience for courier companies up until this week. Usually we have to take a trailer in to the local town to pick up anything delivered ‘to the door’ by courier companies. He unloaded the flat pack boxes and drove away fast, no doubt vowing to never deliver out of town again.

We got to work putting the cupboards and bench together in between bush fire preparation and animal care, and managed to get everything sorted and put away with only two days work.

My partner un packing the first box
The inevitable pause to read the instructions and puzzle over what language they are written in.
Putting the bench together
The panels and little packets of screws were leaned up against every surface.
The bench and two rolling cupboards with timber tops put together and filled with kitchen stuff. Then the old cupboards were taken out and the contents stacked all over the kitchen while we put the new one together.
Part of the old cupboards were cut down to give us even more stacking space in the new cupboard.
All sorted and put away. I managed to get rid of a few things from the old cupboard, but not as much as I had hoped.
This is the big cupboard with the doors shut.
A new stainless steel bench to fill up with washing up.
Notice the coffee and wine bar; I painted an old book case with the purple and gold paint left over from painting the bin system and stacked our coffee and tea on it. Then I thought I may as well keep the wine there too.
I haven’t had kitchen draws for years, it is nice to be able to put things away in draws like a normal person.
Doesn’t the cutlery look neat…so far.
The biogas stove has a new shelf and it is going so well we sometimes have to think up things to cook with it just to use the gas. We are thinking about getting another gas bladder to collect all the extra gas we are currently losing.

I am really looking forward to cooking in this new kitchen space. It feels clean and fresh. The space seems much bigger in there now too.

Making bean brownies

In my quest to use more of our Madagascar beans I found a recipe for black bean muffins. I thought I would try them with half black beans and half Madagascar bean. In this recipe I used half a cup of Madagascar beans soaked then boiled for 20 minutes and one can of black beans. This added a bit of volume to the recipe, but didn’t change the texture at all.

Dried beans need a lot of cooking to get rid of the gas-making qualities and to minimise the ‘beaniness’ of the flavour. I really wish I had a wood stove so I could have legumes simmering away at the back of the stove without using gas.

Madagascar beans looking pretty in their jar.

Black Bean Muffins recipe (the original from the link)

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 ounce) can of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 eggs*
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (or sub honey)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon brewed coffee, optional to enhance chocolate flavor
  • 1/2 cup high-quality unsweetened cocoa powder (or use cacao powder)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling on top

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with baking liners and spray the inside of each liner with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Place black beans and 1 egg in food processor and process until beans are well blended. Add two other eggs, maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla and coffee; process again until smooth. Next add in cocoa powder, baking powder and salt; process once more until smooth. Next fold in 1/3 cup of chocolate chips.
  3. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Sprinkle remaining chocolate chips evenly among the tops of each muffin batter. Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffins comes out clean. Place on wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then remove muffins from tin and transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Keep muffins for a day at room temperature, then transfer to fridge and place in an airtight container.

I decided to cook the brownies in a slice tray, because I didn’t have any muffin papers and I never follow instructions to the letter anyway.

All the ingredients except the Madagascar beans; they are boiling on the stove.

Of course I used more eggs than the recipe demands (my daughter is away, so I can use up eggs to my heart’s content).

This is what the beans look like blended with an egg

Don’t be alarmed (like I was) if you get to the pouring point and you have what appears to be a bean and chocolate shake. The liquid nature of the mix made me panic a bit, but it firmed up nicely once in the oven.

All ready to pour
Yum

Well, this one is a hit. It tastes good, is full of fibre and protein, it uses some of my home grown food plants, it tips it’s hat at being healthy (sort of) and did I say it tastes good?

While I was searching, I also found these recipes to try…

Chickpea brownie mix

Bean fudge

Making nut milks- soy milk

I thought it was time to give DIY soy milk a go; it is cheaper to make than to buy and my partner has swapped over to soy now because dairy milks are giving him heart burn. My eldest daughter has been using non-dairy milks for a long time (she has an allergy to animal proteins) and I seem to go between the two extremes. While I don’t enjoy the flavour of meat at all, I do LOVE milks, cheeses and yogurts (and I miss milking my cow) but I also like the plant based alternatives just as much.

I found some interesting options for making the milk; the first is a straight forward method that involves boiling, blending, filtering and heating the soy beans. The second is a brief video showing how to pulp the soy beans without a blender. I thought I might cheat and use the blender for this one, but it is comforting to know that I can make it without the fancy tools.

My first attempt at this milk went like this;

First, I soaked a cup of soy beans in water overnight. The next morning they were swollen up and ready to blend.

The ratio of soy to water is anywhere between 1:4 to 1:9, I chose to use the middle ground of 1:6. This means that I will end up with close to 1.5 litres of milk from 1 cup of raw beans. To begin this process, I added 3 cups of water to my soaked and drained beans and blended them for an epoch (well…2 minutes or so).

Then I strained them through a nut milk bag (basically a jelly bag if you are into making jams and such).

The pulp left in the bag can be used to make all sorts of things (including soy flour).

Next I poured the juice into a thick bottomed saucepan and added 3 more cups of water. This lot was then heated to the boil while stirring periodically (while I cleaned the kitchen of soy juice flecks). I kept it at a low boil for about 15 minutes, skimming off the froth as I went (and making new soy juice flecks in the kitchen). During this time I got distracted and let the pot boil over a little bit. Soy milk is a real pain to clean off the stove top.

As I stirred, I skimmed off the froth.

After it all cooled off a bit I poured the milk into a container and put it in the fridge. I can use this milk for cereals, drinking (with vanilla added), add to coffee (for my partner) and for cooking.

As it cools the milk forms a skin. I poured it through a makeshift sieve funnel.
The makeshift sieve funnel
My first 1.5 litres of soy milk.
We had a nice chai latte to celebrate. It was good.

Now for the cleaning up…again.

Maybe I can try making tofu at home too in the future.