Sunday, March 28, 2010

first try at a ginger beer

Based on this ginger beer how-to I set out to make my first ginger beer. I simplified and modified the recipe a bit, and also doubled it to produce two gallons.

In three quarts of water I boiled for 30 minutes a cup of shredded/pulped ginger, 16 tablespoons of lemon and orange juice, and a cup of white sugar. It should have been two cups, I realized later.

I strained into five quarts of cold water, cooled in an ice bath to 80 degrees, and pitched half a teaspoon of Muntons ale yeast proofed in 3/4 cup of water.

It went into four two liter bottles. Upon sampling I was surprised by its lack of sweetness. That is when I realized that I forgot to double the sugar. I added 1/4 cup of corn sugar to each bottle, but did not taste again or take any gravity readings.

I think the flavor has more lemon than ginger character. It could just be that my ginger sensor is a little blown out right now since I was nibbling on it raw.

It's now resting at room temperature. I think I'll probably test one, two, three, and four days of fermentation.

2010-03-30 update:

All bottles were rock-hard in less than a day. The first bottle went into the refrigerator after 24 hours at room temperature. The second went in after 48.

The first two are pretty comparable. Carbonation is stronger in the second, and it may be just slightly more dry. I think I pick up the slightest hint of yeast and a touch more ginger bite in number two. All of those differences could be the effect of the effervescence, but they result in number two being more successful.

It's really pretty good. I don't detect any of the orange juice. The lemon is strong; I'd actually dial it back a bit and try the lime of the original recipe. It's far, far less sweet than the commercial ginger beer I have had most recently, Reed's Ginger Beer, which is so cloying as to make me queasy.

I don't think the degree of carbonation can actually increase much, so the next two bottles should give me a pretty good read on how the sweetness changes.

I wouldn't say that I can detect any amount of alcohol. A half cup of table sugar and a half cup of corn sugar per gallon gives an original gravity of only about [(3.5 oz 46 ppg + 3.5 oz x 42 ppg) x 1 lb / 16 oz], or 1.019. Even if it attenuated completely it would be less than 2.5% ABV, and I'm sure it will be less in actuality. This stuff should be only 80 - 90 calories per pint -- that's compared to 145 in 12 ounces of Reed's. This is quite a nice light summer drink.

2010-03-31 update:

Added number three to the tasting tonight. Absolutely massive carbonation, demanding several minutes of bottle opening ministrations. It wasn't quite chilled. One effect of this is that it kicks up all of the sediment, which probably affects the result.

That said, I don't actually notice much difference between two and three. Possibly a bit more dry. I'll have to try again tomorrow when both are equally cold. Number one is not entirely flat, but it's close to lifeless. Definitely dominated by the others.

I bought a bottle of Reed's Extra Ginger Brew. Bleah. It's like syrup compared to mine.

2010-04-02 update:

Tasting number four completed the flight. I compared to number two and it is assuredly drier. I measured the gravity of both. With temperature adjustment, number two was 1.014 and number four was 1.011. I don't know that I have a preference. Assuming that my original gravity estimate is correct, that would be about 1% ABV, or nothing to worry about if the boys want some.

I think it's pretty easy to experiment with the recipe in very small amounts. Unlike beer, I don't think that any yeast strain I'm likely to use is going to make much of a difference. Starting with a base of ginger and sugar it should be easy to incrementally add ingredients until reaching something that seems worth upscaling and bottling.

Friday, March 19, 2010

fruit trees in the ground

After weeks of front yard digging, tree removal, Japanese maple relocation, leveling, backfilling, and rock hauling I finally reached the point where I could plant the fruit trees that had been heeled in for three weeks.

Looking out from the front porch they are, left to right, a 4x1 apple (Queen Cox, Belmac, Rubinette, Pristine), a 4x1 Asian pear (Shinseiki, Yinashi, Hamese, Mishirasu), a 4x1 European pear (Orcas, Rescue, Highland, Harrow Delight), and a self-fertile Mount Royal plum. They went in on about the 7th of March.

I got them all as bare root trees from Raintree on a visit to the nursery. They look pretty good but could use some pruning to clean out some inward growth and to get some of the grafts in better balance. Unfortunately they are already budding so I may need to wait for the new growth to reach a few inches. I don't know very much about pruning yet.

I have pulled so many rocks out of the ground while digging holes in Seattle that I could personally reconstruct a glacier's ass. It looks like the Japanese maple is going to survive, at least.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

simple crusty beer bread

I saw this recipe for a partial whole wheat modification of this no-knead simple crusty bread from the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book. I thought I'd touch it up a bit with some beer and vinegar, along the lines of the Cook's Illustrated almost no-knead modification.

Here are the goods:
  • 1.5 tablespoons Morton kosher salt
  • 1.5 tablespoons active yeast
  • 2.5 cups warm water
  • .5 cup beer (Cerveza Caguama)
  • 2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar
  • 340 grams white whole wheat flour
  • 635 grams all purpose flour
Stirred the yeast and salt into the liquids in the KitchenAid mixing bowl. Added the flour. Mixed on 1 for about a minute. Left to rise for 2.5 hours, then refrigerated.

Baked a loaf the next day. Let the dough ball rise for a little under an hour, slashed fairly deeply, then baked on a stone at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, with a steam tray.

Wonderful! The oven spring was proportionally greater than I've ever seen. The small loaf remained dense, at nearly 20 ounces, but with a tender crumb and good crust. We had it for dinner while still warm and it was excellent. I would try 35 minutes next time. Should try slashing in a way that lets it open up even more, too. And I'll bet the fraction of whole wheat could be increased.

The presence of beer was more evident than in any bread I've made, contributing a superb yeasty flavor without any of the cloying sweetness that I think I've detected the times I've used Budweiser. The Cerveza Caguama, a light lager from El Salvador, is something I bought for a party where I suspected Corona drinkers to be present. It looks and tastes about the same, although notably skunkier. It is paradoxically tolerable when intolerably cold, but this bread is a much better use for it.

2010-03-19 update: I baked another loaf today and gave it a central slash and about four more curving ones on each side. It worked even better, and looked like an armadillo! I may have to do something with that theme.

Monday, March 15, 2010

one-minute ciabatta bread

How could I possibly pass up a one-minute ciabatta bread hack?

Before leaving for work:
  • 1/4 teaspoon active yeast stirred into
  • two cups warm water
  • 600 grams (about 4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 mounded teaspoon Morton kosher salt
Came together with perhaps 15 seconds of hand mixing. Poured into a very large greased bowl and let it rise all day (temperature mostly in the low sixties, probably).

Baked it in the evening for 25 minutes at 425 degrees on a baking stone, sprinkled top and bottom with a Tuscan herb mix. I also used a steam tray. The large greased bowl made pouring this wet dough onto a prepped pizza peel easy, so I achieved a pretty good shape and easily snapped it onto the stone.

Oven spring and crust formation were nice. It ended up nearly semicircular in profile.

It does take more than a minute, but taking all prep and cleanup into account it's probably no more than five, and that's quite excellent for this very palatable result. Really tender but chewy crumb, nice flavor, great with butter.

It probably could have baked for another five minutes. I'll try it with a higher protein flour next time, which I think would make the texture closer to other ciabattas (ciabatti?) I've had. As-is, though, it is quite worthy and would be an admirable sandwich bread.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

evergreen huckleberries in the ground

Around the end of February I planted five one-gallon evergreen huckleberries (Vaccinium ovatum) from Raintree. They have quite a few blossoms and a good bit of new growth. Within a day the squirrels were at them so I rigged a temporary cage from bird netting.

According to Raintree:
The best fruiting plant for the shade. A native of the Pacific Northwest. This evergreen bush is beautiful throughout the year. In the spring and the fall the foliage turns from green to a striking bronze color. The late summer ripening berries are a dark blue; tart and flavorful. The fruit is a little smaller than a blueberry. The shrub grows best in the shade where it can reach 6-8 feet without pruning. In the sun it only grows to 3 feet tall. It has a compact, full growth habit and spaced about 3 feet apart makes a beautiful evergreen hedge.
I was thrilled to find something that was both evergreen and fruiting to put along this shady fence.

I did some searching for information on propagation. It's pretty interesting how many sites contain exactly the same text, with no indication of the original source! The upshot is that propagation from cuttings can be sporadic. Growing from seeds works well.

Propagation questions came to mind both because I might like to put more along the fence, and because the squirrel attack resulted in one broken branch, which I immediately stuck into a pot of wet dirt and have been watering. It seems to be doing fine, showing new growth, and a slight tug seems to offer resistance that suggests root formation. We'll see!


Monday, March 8, 2010

hops growing vigorously

The Cascade and Centennial hops have been up for at least a month. The Centennials in particular are growing rapidly. I'll need to get the twine strung pretty soon.

The Goldings are just now making an appearance but look very stout.

These are all from the rhizomes I planted last year. They didn't go in until May 9, and didn't sprout until May 17. The difference in vigor is enormous. I think in just a few more weeks they'll be about where they were in June. Perhaps I'll have a real crop this year!

remnants of last year's garden

Pulled the next-to-last square of beets yesterday. Roasted the roots, and used all of the greens in a beef barley stew. The greens were lovely, having been growing nicely for weeks.

The chard has continued to produce steadily, surviving both dry soil and a complete waterlogging. It's definitely been happier in the greenhouse.

 The curly parsley in the greenhouse has been growing vigorously for a few weeks.

Italian parsley that I planted late in the year and didn't ever do much has begun growing, too.

The carrots both indoors and out have stayed small but I imagine will take off soon.

The fennel in the greenhouse mostly survived but has a lot of aphids on it already. I don't think it liked the period of terribly high humidity, either.

The parsnips in a bucket paused, but have begun growing again. I planted these really late and also left them in small pots for too long.

Small lettuces also seemed to idle away the winter, growing slowly but doing fine.

In general it seems that all these biennials did OK.

a gutter planter

I've toyed with vertical gardening ideas for a long time. Before I decided to build the greenhouse last year my thoughts were largely of going vertically up the back wall of the house. It still seems to me that with the right approach a big south-facing wall could be enormously productive without being a ton of work. But, that's not what I did.

The other night I happened across this article about using rain gutters as planters. It mentions people using gutters around deck railing, too. My deck is perfect for this, and I've always meant to build planters to run along that sunny rail. A trip to Home Depot and a couple of hours of work and I now have nearly 19 feet of seeded planter in a supremely convenient location.

It's worth mentioning that the gutter itself is dirt cheap at $5 per 10 foot segment, but man do they put the screws to you on every other bit you need. I was about $40 by the time I had the end caps, connecting segment, and supports every two feet. But compared to the wooden planters I've built and hung in other places it's less expensive, rock solid on the railing, and should last forever.

It's a bit of an experiment, but I'm pretty confident that I'll find something that works in it really well.

2010-05-22 update: It's working nicely.

carrots from the square foot beds

Several weeks ago the boys and I finally pulled the two squares of Nantes carrots they planted last spring. We never thinned them adequately, so had quite a few smallish ones. We got 38 ounces in all.

They were pretty good. Some were a little ragged for having spent the entire winter outdoors. They were not as sweet as I'd expected. I'm going to try a couple of other varieties this year, plant less heavily, and thin more thoroughly.