Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nettles, and things you can do with them

A while ago it was nettle season.

Well, it was supposed to be nettle season. Fact of the matter is, the nettles I was hoping for, never grew.

Instead, I begged a couple of bags of nettles from a friend.

I can already hear you all asking why on earth I would want bags of nettles. And what bags of nettles have to do with preserving.

Firstly - nettles, or stinging nettles, or those annoying horrid weeds that cause your hands to sting a whole lot if you accidentally grab one, are chock full of vitamins and minerals. The sting itself disappears after about 3 minutes of cooking (steaming, boiling whatever!) or after dehydrating. You can then eat nettle leaves like spinach - with a similar flavour - or you can dehydrate the leaves to make a delicate tea from.

Also, the stems of nettle plants can be retted down and turned into a fibre similar to flax, for spinning thread then weaving into cloth.


I wanted nettles, because I wanted to try brewing nettle beer.

Traditionally nettle beer would have been open brewed, much like most brewing was done. I, however, cheated and used my Coopers brew kit.

I rinsed the nettles (bags and bags of them, complete with caterpillars!) and then boiled them up (in three lots - there were many!) on my stove. Then the nettles were strained out the resulting liquid.

It was at this point that I began to have my first misgivings. My kitchen smelt like over-boiled spinach. The nettle-water was green and iron-ish and ... well, not something I could imagine drinking.

But I persevered. So soon we had 23 litres of 19-ish degree nettle water, sitting in a sterile fermenter. I added some bits of orange as per my recipe, threw in a kilo of sugar (standard sugar ratio for a full brew) and then, realising that there was no way to accurately measure the fermentable content of the nettle water and not wanting to under-do it, I added a further 250g of light malt.

Pitched the yeast, aerated it nicely, popped the lid and the airlock on, and left it.

It started bubbling away the next day. It bubbled away for a week. Then it stopped.

That's about what a beer brew normally does. It's not usually any different to that. I didn't bother with measuring specific gravity or any of that nonsense. I just winged it. In fact, I left the mix sitting there for another week before I bottled it out, just to be sure.

Then I bottled it per usual, except I only used half the priming sugar in the bottles, as some directions on the net had indicated that even once fully fermented, the mix can be volatile.

I bottle into glass. I had 3 full crates of glass beer bottles filled with nettle brew.
(It still smelled a bit... funky when I was bottling. I still wasn't sure. But once you've come this far, you don't give up yet)

I kept the crates in my laundry to avoid the ups and downs in temperatures that can happen when they are kept outside.

So a few weeks pass. I had read that one should leave the nettle brew in bottles for longer to age than beer. So I wasn't tempted to touch it.

But one day I came home, and my house smelt bad. Really bad. Incredibly bad. It smelt like someone had vomited something very very bad throughout the house.

A bottle had exploded in my laundry.

There was shattered glass and stinking, loathsome nettle... something??? all through my laundry. It was a disaster.

At this point I still hadn't given up hope. Sometimes a wild yeast can colonise a bottle and create havoc. It may have only been that one bottle.

I was, however, very cautious. Exploding glass bottles at high velocity filled with stinking revolting nausea-inducing muck are pretty scary. So I wrapped my stack of crates in an old couch cover, and left it there, whilst thinking about how to best handle the situation.

Over the next day, another 3 or 4 bottles exploded. My house smelt even worse - which I hadn't thought was possible. It was time to do something.

I do love my husband. I love him a lot. But he doesn't like to listen to me. It was only after he removed the couch cover from the stack of crates, shifted the stack of crates, and was bending over one with the dustpan that he realised perhaps I was right. A bottle exploded in his face, and almost took out his eye. He had cuts on his eyebrow and his hand. And the job was re-assigned to me and me alone, with a whole lot of cursing and swearing.

I determined that the best and potentially only solution was to remove the crates outside, wrap them even more firmly to prevent glass shatter fall-out, and scrub my laundry from top to bottom.

After completing that task, thankfully injury free, I have ignored the mess.

Yep, you heard me. There is a 3-high stack of crates outside my laundry door wrapped in a stinky old couch cover embedded with broken glass and nettle goo. And I'm not touching it, not yet.

The fact is - there may still be one last bottle-bomb waiting patiently to go off the minute I decide it is safe to remove the rest of it's broken brethren. And I'm not willing to lose an eye.

Next nettle season, I'm making teatowels out of them. Seems much more harmless.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I have a dehydrator now. I haven't used it yet - tomorrow is going to be the day. I have a day off work and although i'm planning an outing with my kids, given it's school holidays, I'm going to use the dehydrator.
I bought it from a friend who found that it didn't suit her needs. And I confess - I bought it mostly for ONE thing - making roll-ups for the kids.
Kids seem to love roll-ups. they are sugary and tasty and easy to eat and fun to fiddle with. Only the bought ones at the shops have all sorts of added colours and sugars and thickeners and flavours and other things that Master 5 can't eat due to gluten intolerance, and master 7 shouldn't eat, because... well, who needs to eat NUMBERS when one can eat real food!

Anyway, I have made rollups before in a borrowed dehydrator from a friend. So i already know what I'm doing.

I use plums that I preserved in the Fowlers waterbath unit a year or so ago. They are a beautiful rich dark-coloured plum with a nice tart flavour. I preserved some alone in a light syrup, and some with some nashi pears, just in water.

So I drain the fruit in a sieve and use the juice for flavouring in ice-cream or something dessert-related. And the fruit itself gets blended up into a thick puree, poured onto the plastic sheets in the dehydrator (I only have one plastic sheet with this one. I'm going to use baking paper on the rest of the trays. It worked fine last time!) and spread out to an even thickness. Then we switch it on and away we go!

I've not used a dehydrator like this one before - it only has one setting and the fan is on top, not on the bottom. It will be interesting to see how well it works compared to the one I borrowed last time. If it seems to be fine I'll buy some extra trays for it as it's only got 4.

I'll let you all know tomorrow night how it went - hopefully with pictures but there are no guarantees there as our internet is being naughty at the moment.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Preserving is something you do when...

you aren't working a whole lot.


You can still preserve when you are!

The other weekend I came across a bargain at a local market. An enormous bag of butternut pumpkins, locally and 'organically' grown, for $10 a bag. I reckon it weighed about 15 kilos.

(I put organic in quotations because the gentleman who grows them isn't organically certified, but I did have a lovely chat with him about his garden and how he is a no-spray natural horse-poo fertiliser kind of fellow!)

So I wasn't really sure what I was going to do with them all. Originally I had planned to can some pumpkin cubes in the pressure canner - note, you can't can pureed pumpkin soup. According to the USDA the density of the resulting soup is such that even pressure canning for extended periods of time will not guarantee that the required temperature be reached in the middle of the jar, hence if you want to can pumpkin soup, can cubed pumpkin in stock, and puree it when you re-heat.

Of course, I haven't had a day when I'm not in paid employment since the pumpkin purchase, so I haven't had the time to pressure can anything.

I did, however, make up an enormous batch of pumpkin soup and fill my freezer with it. I still have other pumpkins left, which is fine, and I will post more recipes that are not preserving ones here about that later on - but this is my made-up pumpkin soup recipe.

Firstly - I heard from a friend that butternut pumpkins, when fresh, do not need to be peeled. This is great, because I hate peeling pumpkin. So when I was prepping this lot, instead of peeling them I scrubbed them all.

This recipe 3/4 filled my enormous stockpot, but cooked down to about 2/3 full once it had finished.

Scrub 8 small-medium butternut pumpkins, chop into biggish peices, de-seed and throw into stock pot.

Chop 3 onions and throw in as well.

Fill stockpot with chicken stock ( or vegie stock, or whatever you have on hand - I used powdered stock as my canned stock from last year is all gone)

Throw in some flavoursome bits - I used Nutmeg, and Sumac, and some "mediterannean" seasoning that I had, which has oregano and almonds and a few other bits in it. Taste it to see if it's ok.

Throw in some red lentils. I used a half a packet. Adds some protein and some fibre and some other good bits too.

Cook until pumpkin is soft, then use a stick blender (carefully! because the soup is hot!) to blend all the pumpkin into a puree. Then cook for a bit longer until the soup has reached a consistency that you are happy with.

Ladle into containers and fill your freezer up! I tend to use Tupperware in my freezer - mostly because I take soup to work as it's easy to heat up/defrost.

Well, that's it really. Easy and by keeping the skins on the pumpkin the texture is a little bit more chunky, and I reckon you get more vitamins included in the mix (if the heat doesn't cook them out first...)


Friday, February 26, 2010

The tomato sauce odyssey

*this is a pic-heavy post!*

So! Some sauciness!!!

Herein lie the tomatoes. Was pleasantly surprised this time - this big 20 kilo boxes were $22 each, but they are Roma tomatoes! Last time the 'sauce' tomatoes I bought were big round ones with more juice than flesh. (love the 70's carpet, and 70's lino??? Keep an eye out - there's more!)
Next step - I put the tomatoes in a big bowl of water, wash them, then chop them and put the chopped up bits in another bowl. (Roll on moss green tiled splashback and another shade of moss green faded laminate....)

Here you can see half of the chopped tomatoes in my big pot. My stove is pretty annoying - there's not much room for big pots!
This is the post with chopped tomatoes (10kg), 6 big green apples also chopped, 2 litres of white vinegar, 5 cups of white sugar, assorted herbs and spices, and *just* enough room for the 2 kilos of onions that I chopped next. No, there are no pictures of me chopping onions. I was too busy crying and crying and crying. Next time I'm buying pre-chopped frozen onions and to hell with the expense.

This is my tomato puree device. It is awesome. However in my kitchen it is a bit of a PITA. The thing fastens onto a benchtop with a suction pad - but the only place I can really put it where there is space that's LOWER under the end where the sauce comes out is on my kitchen sink. And the draining board is NOT a flat surface that happily takes to a suction cup, so I kind-of have to hold it with one hand while turning the handle with the other....

Here is a dishrack full of washed jars. I will be sitting them in the sink with almost boiling water on them to get them hot again before I fill them. It's a tag team game in my kitchen - with only one sink it gets a bit tricky! You can see I'm using a mixture of FV jars and recycled jars with new lids.

The sauce all cooked down ready for processing through the machine.

A part of the processed sauce, ready for pouring into hot bottles.
Here you can see what's left over after the mix has gone through the machine. This lot is destined for my compost.

You can see here that my canner simply doesn't fit on my stove-top with anything else - so everything has to be done one at a time. When I sell enough craft to buy a new kitchen, I'm going to have a much bigger stove-top with bench space either side so the enormous pots can all fit at once *heaven*

The inside of the canner. I'll be using it as a waterbath only, so I won't use the lid.
The canner filled with jars, and water - I still need a little more in there though!

And the jars after processing. Three of the jars didn't fit in this round of processing - they will go in the fridge, and tomorrow when I do the next lot, I will pop those in too. Obviously, since they will be cold, I'll put them in the canner BEFORE the water starts to get hot, so they can be brought up to temperature first!

That's the first round of tomato sauce. So roll on tomorrow, for the pasta sauce version!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tomato Weekend

Well, this is it.
It's 9.05 in the morning, and I've just printed out my recipes (again!), written the shopping list, and I'm just about to get out my jars and lids and things.
Then it's straight up to the fruit n veg place, and today will be tomato central.

I'm thinking that I'll only do a few kilos today. I know it's not going to be enough to last me the year. But my 'tomato weekend' just got turned into what is practically a 'tomato day' thanks to a 15 yr old and his excursion (yes, it requires my personal supervision!) tomorrow afternoon/evening, and what looks like a free floor for my craft space (aka the garage) which requires picking up. A days' worth of loading pavers versus another 70 odd kilos of tomato preserving .... well, I can't look a gift horse in the mouth, now can I!!

So The plan is to get through a Quadruple batch of tomato sauce (ketchup I think it's called in the US - on that side note, if ketchup is tomato sauce, what is catsup???) and a Quadruple batch of pasta sauce today. That's about 40 kgs of tomatoes.

I like my tomato puree machine, because without it I'd have to skin and de-seed the tomatoes using a seive, which would add so much time to the process! As it is, I just wash em, roughly chop em, cook em down for about a half hour til they are all mushy, then run them through the machine - then put the resulting puree back into the pot with the rest of the pasta sauce ingredients if it's the pasta sauce I'm making. If I'm doing the tomato sauce I do it the other way round - cook the diced tommys up with everything else and run it through the machine at the very end.

I should get off here and get on with it. It's 9.12. Lots to do!

PS I will try to take photos during the process today. Try. You'll have to forgive the kitchen. Even though it's not dirty at all, it's so old that it looks dirty. Too hard to explain - you'll see in the pics!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Preserving is fun - but not in a South Australian Summer!

In fact, South Australian summers are best reserved for .... making beer!

Well, sometimes.

I thought I would just blog a little about the making of beer. I have a standard Coopers brew kit and I really like it. I also have a few non-standard things that I prefer to use - like glass bottles instead of PET.

Making beer in the Coopers kit is really really easy. The main dramas to be aware of are cleanliness and temperature control.

Once you've got a sterile fermenter (the big round thing with the lid on it and the tap at the bottom) you pour in the can of premixed malt and hop extracts, add a kilo of your choice of extra fermentable goodness (white sugar, dextrose, malt, a combo.... hell, if you're making stout chuck in a can of condensed milk *droool*), stir it all up with some hot water, fill up with tap water to the 23 litre mark, throw in your yeast and stick the lid on.

It CAN get complicated. Different types of beer use different types of yeasts, which have a different ideal fermenting range. Keep in mind that if you aren't at all fussy about your beer, and you just want something vaguely beer flavoured, with a bit of an alocholic boost, for drinking after a hot day in the garden - temperature control aint that important.

If you want something specific, like a german lager clone, you need to get fussy both with your yeasts and possibly whether or not you go the whole hog and malt and mash your own grains to get the goodies to brew the beer from in the first place.

I'm lazy, I use the can options above. I have a heat mat for brewing when it's cold. Somewhere I have a thingy that you plug in between the powerpoint and a fridge, with which to set the fridge temp to about 12 degrees which is perfect for lager brewing. I've not used it, because my brew fridge died.

Anyhow once your beer has fermented as much as it's going to (there's a small art to determining this effectively - it uses a thing called a hydrometer. It comes with the kit, and is fully explained, so I"m not going to!), put it in sterile bottles with a little extra sugar (comes in handy pre-measured doses in tablet form from - you guessed it - Coopers!), stick on your lids, and let it sit for a couple of weeks. Then drink it.

Another thing I've been doing lately is brewing some cider. It's quite possibly even EASIER to do than beer. All you need to do is get yourself a set of these and then you can follow said directions to your heart's content. I use bought long life juice. Apple and blackcurrant is the preferred choice here, because it's quite difficult to find Apple and berry where I am. Sometimes I spice it up with some nutmeg and cinnamon when I add a little bit of sugar in it - for extra kick.

So enjoy the hot water by making your own cooling beverages!

PS despite the heat, it will soon be tomato time again. I'll be taking 2 weeks off work this time round. We ran out of sauce, pasta sauce and soup, and I'm also down to my last jars of passata, so I really really need to do more this time! I shall endeavor to take photo blog type things of this mammoth tomato effort!