Hard Cider Update

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My cider stopped bubbling a few days ago, indicating that the yeast had produced so much alcohol that the cider was now too alcoholic for the yeast to survive. Rather careless and short sighted of the yeast, really. I gave it a few more days to sit still without bubbling to let as much of the dead yeast and cider sediment settle to the bottom of the jugs as possible and this evening Chris helped me siphon off the liquid into a glass jar, add some more sugar and then put it into bottles.We measured the alcohol content while we had it in the glass jug and it looks like its 7-8% alcohol. Hard cider is normally around 4%…oops! Before starting Christ and I had a disagreement about the type of yeast to use. I had read to use wine yeast (which is what I ended up using) but he thought it would be better to use beer yeast. Now I understand why– beer yeast is killed off at a lower alcohol content so it stops fermenting sooner resulting in a lower alcohol content and more sugars left in the cider. Due to the wine yeast used, this batch will end up being very strong and also very dry because so much of the sugar (both naturally occurring in the cider and added at the beginning of the process) was turned into alcohol. For my next batch I may try a beer yeast so that I’ll have a sweeter and less alcoholic cider. Generally, I like drier ciders though so I’m not displeased by these results!

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While a lot of dead yeast was left behind, there should still be a bit of live, active yeast left – somehow managing to survive its its newly alcoholic environment- to eat up the sugar we added. Since the cider is now in capped bottles rather than air-locked (i.e. air can escape but can’t get back in and cause contamination) this second round of fermentation will result in bubbles trapped inside the bottles– i.e. carbonation! We just added a little bit of sugar- 1oz for a gallon of cider- because we don’t want too much carbonation or else the bottles will explode. Most of the carbonation fermenting should occur within the first three days so I’m planning to pop the top on a bottle Saturday evening and see what its like. If its done, the rest will go in the fridge to halt any further fermenting and if it needs a bit more bubble then I’ll leave the bottles out for a bit longer.

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Now I just need to find a good source of inexpensive fresh cider. The cider I used is REALLY yummy but not inexpensive. I’d like to try a batch with a less expensive cider and see how different the resulting hard cider is. Cider is easy to make and there is some satisfaction in knowing you did it yourself, but with angry orchard on the shelves for $9 for a 6 pack, spending $7+ plus sugar and yeast for 9 bottles isn’t saving me much money. If only apple trees didn’t take years to grow…or maybe I could just find a friend with an orchard!

p.s. Out of curiosity, I tried making hard cider out of some cider I got from the grocery store. It wasn’t very expensive but it tasted good. Unlike the fresh, local cider it had some preservatives in it. I put in the same yeast and sugar as the first batch, let it sit, and guess what? no bubbles. The preservatives totally killed my yeast. While we were bottling today I checked the alcohol content on the grocery store jug and, as suspected, there was none. Now I just have a jug of cider with dead yeast floating in it that has been on the counter for a week. Oddly enough, it still tastes the same as it did when I bought it…

Hard Cider

Cider Ingredients

Today marks the beginning of my first experiment with making alcohol! I got some really yummy fresh pressed apple cider at a local orchard today, added a bit of yeast, popped an air lock on it and now…we wait. Hopefully I’ll have something tasty- and boozy- in about a month.

I followed these guidelines.

Hard Cider

  • 1 gallon fresh apple cider (pasteurized)
  • 1 packet of yeast (I used K1-V116 because it was the only wine yeast they had at the store)
  • 1/2 cup normal white sugar
  • 1/2 cup organic demerara cane sugar

Pour off a cup of cider and rehydrate one packet of yeast for about 15 minutes. Stir to dissolve the yeast and add back to the jug. Add sugar and mix well. Divide jug between two sterilized half-gallon glass bottles (growlers). Cap with an airlock. Let sit for one month.

After one month it’ll be tine for the second ferment. I’ll pour the cider off into a new jug, top it off with from fresh juice and maybe add something fun like some fruit or ginger, replace the airlock and let it sit another couple of weeks or months until it tastes good or I just can’t wait any longer. Since I’m doing such a small amount in this trial run I probably won’t bother with bottling it at that point and will just throw a party* and drink it all.


*by throw a party I mean invite one or two friends over and get drunk off of hard cider. Since the cider will probably be ready right around my 30th birthday, we’ll call it a birthday party.

Eat At Your Own Risk

Lately I’ve been posting about canning and fermenting a lot and included some of my own recipes. Please note, though, that I am by no means an expert at preserving food. I frequently refer to things as “experiments” because that is exactly what they are– a good outcome is not guaranteed! If you’d like to use my recipes please go right ahead but do so with the knowledge that a) you may not have the same results as me and b) what you do end up with MAY NOT BE SAFE TO EAT. Clearly, I have yet to kill myself or anyone that I’ve fed my canned and/or fermented foods to but that doesn’t guarantee their safety. Please do not ever follow a recipe you find online for preserving foods without first doing some research into safe food preservation. The National Center for Food Preservation is my go-to source for safe food preservation practices. The Ball Blue Book also has a great reputation though I haven’t used it myself. Most of my canning experience is with water bath canning so I generally only can foods with high levels of sugar (jams/jellies) or acid (pickles, tomatoes) and always water bath for a minimum of 10 minutes (longer if the center for food preservation recommends it).

Fermented foods can be upsetting to some digestive systems even if they are technically safe to eat. If you don’t normally eat fermented or probiotic rich foods its generally best to start with small quantities or be prepared for a bit of digestive unrest (i.e. lots of gas and frequent trips to the restroom). This doesn’t mean the food has gone bad, just that your body needs to adjust to a new diet. If there is one thing that my sheep and goats have taught me is that its important to change diets slowly to give the digestive system to adapt. Thankfully a sudden change is much less likely to kill a human than a goat!

If in doubt, recipes for canned goods can always be kept in the fridge or freezer for extra safety and/or can be cooked prior to eating.


Fermented Tomato Powder

2014-08-31 02.54.20This is one experiment which is neither a failure or a success but somewhere in the middle. Yes, I turned tomatoes into powder but it doesn’t have as much tomato flavor as I expected it to have and I haven’t found a great use for it yet.

I was inspired by this recipe. I packed a bunch of very ripe tomatoes into a jar and left it to sit on my porch for a while. Actually I kind of forgot about it and left it out there for 8 days. I got lots of bubbling but because it was packed tightly and sealed I didn’t have anything nasty growing in it when I finally opened it up.




I decided that I didn’t want to mess around with making a bunch of little balls so I just spread the fermented tomato mush out on a pan and set my oven on its lowest temperature setting and let it dry. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ideally I would have used a dehydrator with a temperature setting for this step so that I could make sure that I dehydrated it at a cool enough temperature so as to not harm the healthy probiotics that the fermenting created. Since I don’t have a dehydrator I used my oven on its lowest temp setting with the door propped open slightly to lower the temp even more. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Once the tomato mush was completely dry I used a mortar and pestle to grind it up. I ended up with some powder and some flakes. If I’d wanted a finer powder I could have used a spice grinder (or coffee grinder). 2014-08-31 02.54.06You can see in this picture how a big quart sized jar full of tomatoes shrank down to less than half of a spice jar of tomato flakes. Because the flavor isn’t amazing and it produces so little, I’m not sure if I’ll repeat this experiment or not. It would most likely work better with paste tomatoes which have less liquid but this year we didn’t grow any. I’ll definitely be growing paste tomatoes next year so that I can make tomato paste and thicker sauce and may try dehydrating it again then!


Remember that I am not an expert at food preservation, so while you are welcome to be inspired by my experiments please do you research on safe food preservation techniques first!

Pepper Jelly

2014-08-21 17.17.32We finally succeeded in growing bell peppers this year which, when combined with the jalapenos that we always have good luck with, gives us everything we need to make pepper jelly! We always get lots of requests for pepper jelly from friends and family and we like to keep some around for ourselves (its great on chevre!) but it takes a LOT of peppers. Next year I really need to make sure that we plant more especially since I’ve discovered that it works just fine to pop them in the freezer until I have enough ripe peppers – and enough time- to make a batch of jelly.


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Pepper Jelly

1.5 cups of finely chopped bell peppers plus one pepper set aside for garnishing

1.25 cups of finely chopped jalapenos plus eight peppers set aside for garnishing

5 cups sugar

1.25cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup white vinegar

1 pack liquid pectin


Chopped Peppers

Chop all of your peppers, removing seeds, except for the ones set aside for garnishing.

Pepper Jelly Cooking

Combine chopped peppers, sugar and vinegar in a pot and cook until the peppers look like this photo.

garnishing peppers

While your jelly is cooking, chop your garnishing peppers.

Bring to a rolling boil and add pectin, stir while boiling for a minute and then remove from heat.

Pour through a sieve into glass jars, removing all the cooked bits of pepper.


Add a couple of spoon fulls of garnishing peppers to each jar.

Process using waterbath canning method.

As your jars are cooling on the counter, flip them over or shake them occasionally to redistribute the garnish peppers. If you don’t do this, they will all float to the top where you can’t see them. For an attractive jar and an even distribution of pepper chunks in your jelly you need to catch the jars when they are still fluid enough for the pepper chunks to move around, but thick enough that they won’t rise back to the top!


Remember that I am not an expert at food preservation, so while you are welcome to be inspired by my experiments please do you research on safe food preservation techniques first!

Small Victories

New Patio Furniture

With my long list of failed experiments posted, its time for some small victories. Example A: our new porch furniture!

We’d been talking about buying new porch furniture since early spring. Last spring we screened in our patio/porch which turned it into a wonderful, bug (and chicken) free space to relax in. It was a lot of work but well worth it (especially since my parents spent a long weekend with us helping with the hardest parts!). Now that our porch is screened in and we are spending so much time out there we realized that the old, mismatched, hand-me-down furniture we’d accumulated over the last decade just weren’t cutting it anymore. Plus we had a couple of guests literally fall through the bottoms of our chairs. That is embarrassing for everyone. In part due to our inability to decide on colors and style and (mostly) due to our sticker shock at the price of nice patio furniture we kept “talking” about getting new furniture but didn’t actually get around to doing it until mid summer and guess what? Patio furniture starts going on sale around mid summer! Apparently that is when stores likes Lowes, Home Depot and Sam’s Club start switching their seasonal items over to fall and start trying to get rid of their summer items. We ended up finding a beautiful set of good quality furniture for more than 50% off from Sam’s. Woohoo for   saving money!! It was still expensive but we felt much more justified in our purchase when we were able to save so much. Hopefully by going with a high quality (and previously very expensive) set we will get many more years of use out of it than if we’d gone with one of the “budget” sets we were also considering.

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Of course, my thrifty gene couldn’t be satisfied with the thought of all new furniture- even if it was on sale- so I had to add in some re-finished bits as well. My parents also replaced their old patio set this summer and while their loveseat and chairs were beyond saving thanks to having been used as a teething toy by their labradoodle, they had a couple of side tables that just needed a new coat of paint. I also found some old metal folding tv trays at a junk shop. Everything got a fresh coat of black spray paint et Voila! now we have plenty of side tables to set drinks and plates on to go along with all our new seating!

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I’m even attempting to keep some potted plants alive on the porch but we won’t call that a victory just yet– I’ve never managed to keep a potted plant alive for longer than a couple of weeks so I’m crossing my fingers….but not holding my breath!

Blackberry Bourbon Jam


Blackberry Mush in the Food Mill

Earlier this summer my mom brought my some blackberries from her yard and they were delicious, but after traveling all the way from North Carolina in the back of her car they were perfectly ripe when we got them and quickly started to down the soft, sticky slope of over ripeness. So, of course, I made jam. I could have made ordinary blackberry jam but we still had some of that in the pantry from last year so I decided to try something new– Blackberry Bourbon Jam. Its pretty good. A little weird. Very bourbony. If you don’t happen to live in the middle of Bourbon Country like I do you might want to use less bourbon for a more subtle flavor.


Blackberry Bourbon Jam

  • 6 cups  blackberries
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 3 TBS lemon syrup
  • 1/2TBS vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup bourbon (or less)

Combine sugar and blackberries in a pot and cook until the blackberries have fallen apart. Use a food mill to remove the skins and seeds. If you are feeling lazy you *can* skip this step but I don’t like the texture of blackberry jam with the seeds left in. They get stuck between my teeth.

Once you have a smooth, lovely syrup add your remaining ingredients.

Pour hot jam into jars and water bath process for at least 10minutes.


Note: I didn’t use pectin in this recipe and it turned out great. This may be because I used lemon syrup that happened to contain some of the lemon rind in addition to the juice (lemon rind naturally contains pectin), because I cooked it for a long time (it took me a while to decide on my ingredients so I just let it simmer while I was experimenting with adding a little of this, a little of that…) or because I added so much sugar. I’m not sure if it would set as well without pectin if I tried it again. I do usually add pectin to my jams to ensure a nice firm, spreadable texture without having to cook for a long time or add excessive  sugar (though let’s be honest it, I add a ton of sugar anyway. I like my jams to be sweet!) According to the handy dandy Ball Pectin Calculator you would want to use about 7.5 TBS of “Real Fruit Classic Pectin” for this recipe which I believe is equal to almost 4 packets of liquid pectin. That seems like a ton of pectin to me, though, so take that information with a grain of salt.




Remember that I am not an expert at food preservation, so while you are welcome to be inspired by my experiments please do you research on safe food preservation techniques first!

Gardening Fails

While I’m on a roll, here are some of the rather disappointing things that have happened in the garden this summer (I promise I’ll start posting about successes again soon)


Why can I never manage to grow lavender? A week ago this plant was perfect and beautiful fresh from the nursery. Now its almost completely dead. You can’t see it in the photo but the marigolds next to it are blooming beautifully.

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This is not what turnips are supposed to look like. 2014-08-16 18.17.05

My basil was beautiful all summer and had turned into a giant basil explosion which I was dreaming about  harvesting and filling my freezer full of wonderful pesto to enjoy all winter long. I just need to to get some other things done so that I’d have time….apparently I waited too long. My rich green lush basil hedge has turned yellow and withered and covered in ugly brown spots.

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Beautiful Basil Bushes

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More Failed Experiments – Fermenting Edition

Brined Carrots

Brined CarrotsI had some extra carrots in the fridge that needed to be used up so I thought I’d experiment with fermenting veggies in a brine. “Everyone” is doing it and it couldn’t be easier– mix salt and water, submerge veggies, wait. I decided to use this recipe because isn’t her website pretty? And aren’t her images eye catching? I should have compared this recipe with others, such as this one. If I had, I might have realized that one Tablespoon of salt per cup of water is A LOT OF SALT. I bet you can guess my results. Yep, carrots that taste like you just swallowed a mouth full of sea water. Yuck.

Thankfully I only made a little jar so I didn’t waste much. I do plan on trying this again with much, much less salt.


Technically this experiment is ongoing so I won’t call it a failure yet, but based on how it smells I don’t have high hopes for it. I can’t actually remember which recipe I used but basically I just pureed a bunch of jalapenos and cayenne peppers in my magic bullet, added some salt and stuffed it all into a glass jar. I didn’t have a real airlock at the time so I used plastic wrap with a weight on top. This was where I made my biggest mistake– I don’t think I had it set up quite right and it wasn’t as air tight as it should have been. It may have been contaminated by who knows what. Since the recipe I was using (and have since misplaced) said to let it ferment for a month I’m going to give it another week or two just in case something miraculous happens. I’d like to try this again but I think I’ll try fermenting the peppers whole like in this recipe ,  using whey to jump start the fermentation so it doesn’t take as long (more time fermenting = more opportunities for something to go wrong!) and using a proper airlockHot Peppers

Sweet, Sad, Mushy Cake

Sourdough Starter

Sourdough Starter

Remember that “Amish Friendship Bread Starter” that everyone’s mom had in a plastic bag on the counter in the 90s? It turns out that that mushy monster was actually a “Mother Culture” or “Starter” like all these other crazy experiments I’ve been doing. Ideally I’d like to get a starter from someone whose been keeping one alive for years (or decades, even!) but until I find one I decided to make my own using these instructions. The starter itself isn’t a failure, I don’t think, but my first batch of bread using it was! Actually, I didn’t make bread. I made cake. I wasn’t in the mood for kneading bread so I thought, cake will be easy. Unfortunately I had forgotten that I cannot make cake. I’m not sure what I do wrong but it seems like every time I try to make cake I end up with liquid middles and burnt edges. I had the same problem with the pound cake I made earlier this summer though it ended up tasty enough that the burnt edges were worth cutting off. This time I made one big loaf rather than two smaller ones which made the problem much worse (imagine a lake in the middle of my bread, rather than a small pond). And the flavor is just kind of “eh” which makes the textural problems more noticeable. Its still edible and makes a decent vehicle for cream cheese but certainly isn’t what I’d hoped for.

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Next time I’m asking Chris to make  bread, his loaves always turn out perfect.



Remember that I am not an expert at food preservation, so while you are welcome to be inspired by my experiments please do you research on safe food preservation techniques first!


This summer has been all about experimenting– experimenting with recipes, with gardening, with owning a dairy animal and figuring out what to do with it… Experiments are exciting but the natural result is that sometimes they succeed…and sometimes they fail. And as any scientist will tell you, there are almost always more failures than successes. Of course that scientist will tell you that a failed experiment gives you just as much information as the successful one, but that sort of logic isn’t as comforting in the kitchen or on the farm. I haven’t been blogging as much lately mostly because I’ve been really busy with real work, but also because so many of my experiments have had poor results and those just aren’t as much fun to blog about.

Milk Kefir

If you don’t know what milk kefir is, its basically a fermented dairy product that uses yeast and bacteria (“probiotics”) to turn regular milk into a slightly thickened, somewhat fizzy and supposedly much healthier drink. I’ve had store bought kefir and it reminds me of drinkable yogurt but with a slight fizz that is quite pleasant. People often use it as the base for smoothies.

Mistake 1: I ordered kefir starter expecting to receive kefir grains (which are reusable) but got a powdered culture instead which isn’t as easy to reuse. This was a disappointing discovery but I plowed ahead anyway.

Mistake 2: making the assumption that something made at home with goat milk would taste anything like commercially made cow milk kefir flavored with who knows what.

Basically my kefir just tasted like old goat milk that had gotten thick and sour and icky. Maybe it could have been saved by adding a ton of sugar and flavoring but if I did that I’d kind of offset all the extra healthiness I added through fermentation. I can get probiotics in other ways that don’t require as much sugar and flavoring to be palatable.

Water Kefir Grains
Water Kefir Grains


Water Kefir

Water Kefir is similar to milk kefir except that you use a water/sugar solution to feed the yeast/bacteria grains. I’ve heard that you can make awesome healthy homemade “sodas” with all the fizz and flavor of soda but with the healthy probiotics of kefir. Someone in an online fermenting group sent me some of her grains and I’ve been diligently feeding them sugar water for a couple of weeks. So far I’ve made a lot of sweet, slightly yeasty water but very little fizzing. I’ve tried leaving it out on the counter uncovered and capped and in the fridge capped. The results aren’t bad, really, they just aren’t what I was hoping for.


Ginger Bug Soda

Supposedly another way to make homemade soda is by using a ginger bug. Since I love gingerale I thought this would be perfect. I’ve had the same results as with the water kefir, though. I end up with a sweet, slightly yeasty liquid – gingery this time- but no fizz. In my attempts to produce fizz I left some capped on the counter for too long and I think that I *may* have accidentally produced ginger vinegar, complete with a tiny vinegar mother.


I’m still experimenting with the water kefir (WK) and gingerbug. I’ve heard that sometimes with the WK it takes your kefir grains several cycles to get established and really start thriving and all it takes is a spoon full of sugar a day. The gingerbug hasn’t been tossed out yet and I’m feeding it sugar but I’ve stopped feeding it ginger since it feels like I’m just wasting a relatively expensive ingredient. I suspect my gingerbug will end up in the compost pile soon.