Want to learn how to be more self-reliant? Try baking your own bread or making your own cheese!
Not only can you reduce you shopping costs, but baking, cooking and preserving can be fun for the whole family, whilst teaching them new skills and more about localised food.
Here we have five easy recipes to create delicious, healthy, homemade foods.
Like milk kefir, water kefir grains are a special blend of bacteria and yeasts that thrive in nutrient-rich, watery environments.
¼ cup water kefir grains
¼ cup sugar
Juice of 1 small lemon
2 roughly-diced (chunky) figs (dried or fresh)
Heat 2l of water in large pot and bring to the boil.
Stir in the sugar to dissolve.
Allow to cool and pour solution into 2 or 3 large jars. Add ⅛ cup of kefir for each litre in a jar – you can work out the approximate proportion. Add the equivalent pieces of 1 fig and 1 tsp lemon juice for each litre too.
Cover with cheesecloth and allow to ferment for a few days. Taste – the longer it ferments the stronger the taste will be.
Strain mixture, discarding the spent figs, but keeping the water grains for another time, and collect the juice. Re-culture the grains and store in a refrigerator.
The juice can be drunk anytime, kept in the refrigerator until needed, or you can ferment it even further.
For a secondary ferment, pour ¼ cup of any fruit juice or 1 tbsp sugar into a 1l swing-top bottle.
Fill with water kefir until very near the top. This will enable you to produce a flavoured kefir drink or one that is fizzy.
Allow the bottles to ferment for another day or two on the kitchen bench. Store in refrigerator until needed. Be careful when opening as gas pressure may cause contents to shoot out.
Sourdough bread is fermented by wild yeasts in the air. You initially culture a starter, much like ginger beer, and then use this to make the loaf of bread.
Ingredients for starter
300g plain flour – can be organic, white, wholemeal, gluten-free, rye, a combination of these – your preference, but fully wholemeal or rye loaves are quite heavy and don’t rise as much, so best to mix with white flour in the ratio 1:1.
Method for starter
Initially mix 100g flour and 100ml of water in a bowl to make a sticky paste. Cover with a damp tea towel.
Leave on the kitchen bench for 2 days. (Check the tea towel – keep it moist.) The dough should look bubbly – if no evidence of bubbles then leave for another day or so before feeding.
Each day for the next 2 days (days 3 and 4), mix in 100g of flour and about the same of water to make a soft dough. It shouldn’t be too runny, so maybe less water sometimes.
Divide the sourdough into two. You only need about 200g dough to make the bread; the other half is used as a starter for another loaf.
Place this new starter in the refrigerator and feed every few days with a little flour and water to keep alive if you are not going to make another loaf straight away.
Ingredients for bread
1 tsp salt
240ml water, plus extra as required
Method for bread
Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl add 240ml water to the sourdough to make it runny.
Pour the sourdough mixture over the flour and mix by hand. Add water, or a little flour, as required to make soft dough – not crumbly nor sticky.
Knead the dough on a lightly floured bench or plastic kitchen mat for about 10 minutes. Flour your fingers and hands too and work the dough until you find that it is elastic.
Return the dough to the large bowl and cover once again with a damp tea towel. Let it rise overnight (it should double in size). Popping bubbles means it is more than ready for the next stage.
Use your knuckles to knead the dough once again. It will decrease in size. Place back in bowl, cover with damp tea towel and let rise again over 5 or 6 hours.
Turn the dough onto a baking tray. Gently shape it a little to make a cylinder and slash the top once or twice with a knife to vent any water as it cooks. Cook in preheated oven at 220ºC for about 30 minutes. Check to see if it sounds hollow when tapped and is firm. Remove from oven and turn onto a wire rack to allow the bread to cool.
Did you know?
The addition of salt is an important step in many fermentation processes. The salt slows the rate of fermentation by yeasts and bacteria.
Do not add it at the start of some recipes as you won’t get the fermentation working. So for sourdough, you add the salt to the dough to be baked but never to the starter.
Simple hard cheese
The difference between making a soft cheese compared to a hard cheese is that you add a proper culture to make the flavour you want and you need a cheese press to really compress the curds. Because hard cheeses are left to ‘mature’ for some time, it is also important to ensure all containers and implements are sterilised – usually by boiling in water for 5 to 10 minutes.
½ tsp salt
Cheese culture (mesophilic – room temperature variety)
Rennet or vinegar
Gently heat milk in a pot (or water bath) to 30ºC.
Add the bacteria culture, stir in and try to maintain the warm temperature for about 30 minutes. Monitor your thermometer as overheating will kill the culture.
Turn off the heat and allow the curds to coagulate (clump together). Cut the curds into small chunks.
Now reheat the curds and maintain a temperature of about 25-40ºC for another 30 minutes. Reheating the curds forces more whey out.
Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Strain the curds through muslin, sprinkle the salt on and gently blend together.
Scrape the curds into a container that has a small hole or two on the bottom (this allows whey to drain away). Place the container into your press, add weights and leave for an hour or so.
Remove weights, open up press, gently flip cheese over and re-install press and weights. Keep pressed overnight.
Next day, unwrap cheese and keep in a cupboard or pantry to keep dust off and so on. You could turn every second day. As it matures the taste changes. Different types of cheese require different maturation times. After a few weeks try a piece to see if that’s the taste you like. Some cheese surfaces are sealed by melted wax, so moulds don’t grow on them.
Did you know?
Rennet is a mixture of enzymes produced in the stomachs of ruminant animals such as cows, sheep and goats. These enzymes act on the proteins (casein) in milk and cause it to curdle (to become the curds).
Normally you need to use the specific rennet from an animal to work on their milk, so calf rennet works best on cow’s milk.
There are also vegetable rennets, and these are derived from particular moulds and extracts from plants such as figs, capers and thistles. Acids such as citric acid (lemon juice) and acetic acid (vinegar) will also curdle milk if you cannot obtain a suitable rennet.
Soft cheese from milk
2 tbsp vinegar (or lemon juice or 1 tbsp rennet will do)
Option: pinch of salt
Heat milk to about 40ºC (or 80ºC if you are using raw or unpasteurised milk) in a saucepan, constantly stirring with a wooden spoon so the milk doesn’t scald.
Add the vinegar and mix thoroughly. This will turn the milk into curds (solid part) and whey (liquid part).
Allow to cool to room temperature and then pour the mixture through a muslin cloth. Squeeze the cloth to remove all whey. I sometimes add another tbsp of vinegar to the whey because you usually get another small amount of curds that you can filter out.
Scrape all curds into a bowl. Add salt and gently blend in.
Place in a refrigerator. Eat within 3 days, after which it tastes tangy and is better suited for recipes that require cheese in cooking.
To make into a block of cheese, wrap the cheese in a piece of muslin or cheesecloth, place in a shallow dish and then add a weight on top to flatten (another dish, a block of wood). You need a shallow dish to contain the small amounts of whey that continue to be squeezed out. Leave in refrigerator for a day, unwrap and cut into cubes.
Don’t expect a large amount of cheese from your litre of milk. About 10-12l of milk are required to make about 1kg of cheese, so 1l makes less than 100g.
Did you know?
Milk is made up of a protein part, which separates into ‘curds’, and a watery part, which is the ‘whey’. The whey contains water-soluble minerals, lactose, proteins and many beneficial microorganisms that can be used to ‘seed’ other cultures when fermenting vegetables and beverages.
Most of the proteins in milk are known as casein proteins. Curds form when lactic acid causes the casein proteins to coagulate (curdle) together.
Fermented dairy products can be easier for us to digest because the sugar (lactose) has already been broken down and the complex protein casein has also been broken down into amino acids.
1 tbsp plain yoghurt culture (must be live culture)
Heat milk to about 40-45°C (if you think milk may be contaminated, then heat to 80-85°C to pasteurise it, but let it cool to 40°C again).
Add yoghurt culture and stir in.
Keep mix warm by placing in a thermos flask or wrapped in something to insulate the mix.
Test the mix after 6-9 hours. The longer you leave it, the more sour it gets. Once you are happy with the flavour, keep the yoghurt in the refrigerator.
Heating milk is important to denature the proteins – this treatment stops the yoghurt staying lumpy.
If you want to thicken the yoghurt, strain the mix through a cheesecloth and either discard or keep the ‘whey’ that passes through. To flavour yoghurt, add chopped fruit, honey or vanilla essence.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have immediate success with these fermented food projects.
It took me a few times to get the sourdough so it didn’t look and taste like a rock, but the lemon curd, yoghurt, soft cheese and a host of others worked perfectly the first time, and still continue to be so. Persevere.
These recipes have come from Ross Mars' book, How to Permaculture Your Life. It is filled with a range of recipes, fruits and veggies, skills and techniques to help you create a more self-reliant home and lifetsyle. You can get it from our shopping site here: www.green-shopping.co.uk/how-to-permaculture-your-life.html
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