Easy 100% Rye Loaf with Homegrown Rye

baking, bread, Homegrown Grains

Growing grains has become a bit of an obsession, however with the more fashionable challenges of chasing high gluten in wheat, rye fell to the backburner for a while. Reestablishing a connection with the simplicity of making super delicious 100% rye loaves has reignited a fervor for the grain. This bread is super low maintenance with excellent results.

Growing rye is very similar to growing wheat and this primer can be used. Rye tends to be the first of our winter grains to be ready for harvest.

Sponge

  • 125 g starter
  • 280 rye flour
  • 280 water

Final Mix

  • All of sponge
  • 100g seeds: sunflower, flax, pepitas, sesame, etc (optional/ amount is variable)
  • 50g coarse rye (if possible, otherwise make up for it in rye flour)
  • 230 rye flour
  • 280 water
  • 15 salt

Mix the sponge ingredients the night before, we’re aiming for it to rest 12 or so hours. The reason being that rye bread is unique in that it contains high amounts of amylase enzymes, and left to their own device these enzymes will consume too much starches in the dough and cause the end product to be gummy. The way to avoid this is to create an environment unsuitable to their activity, thus we make an extended fermented sponge to boost the overall acidity.

When the sponge has done its thing, mix all the remaining ingredients together. Note that the seed situation is entirely based on preference. I find that 100g of sunflower seeds suits my desires. We have our own grown pepitas, flax, and sesame but usually save them for other occasions.

The dough should be sticky but won’t quite hold together, it’ll be more like a batter because of rye is naturally low gluten. Grease a common 8″x4″x3″ loaf pan with oil or butter and transfer the batter to the pan using a spatula to push out any air pockets and making it even. Dip the spoon in water to smooth out the top.

Using a second loaf pan of the same size, flip it upside down and lay on top to make a nice dome for final proofing. The dough is ready for the oven when cracks and holes appear on the surface. The time will be reflective of the temperature. It could be a hour or two, or over 12 hours. Depends.

When it looks ready, pop the loaf into an oven preheated to 450 degrees, including the loaf pan on top for humidity, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the top pan for the final 10 minutes of baking time to get that final coloring on the top.

Remove the loaf from the baking pan and move to a cooling rack. Let it cool undisturbed for at least 12 hours. Then slice thinly and enjoy with anything!

Easy 100% Rye Loaf: 24 hour Bake Pumpernickel Style

baking, bread, Homegrown Grains

If you poke around you’re likely to find that most pumpernickel bread recipes ask for a dark sweet component, usually in the form of molasses or beer. However legends persist of a traditional pumpernickel bread that excludes all sweeteners while still sporting pumpernickel’s characteristic dark color and and malty sweet flavor. One version of this technique can still be found today as the Westphilian Pumpernickel from Germany, coming from a time long before shortcuts were the going-style. While some in that region lay claim to the creation of the traditional pumpernickel technique by way of a resident baker forgetting a loaf in the oven for a very long time, it’s certain that people have been forgetting about loaves as long as their have been ovens. And all of those pioneers of the baking world blessed with forgetfulness paved the way for a greater understanding of the process modern times refers to as the Maillard Reaction.

This recipe utilizes a method called scalding, which is basically cooking a percentage of the recipe’s flour and water until it gelatinizes. This method is often helpful in dealing with low gluten grains, like rye, in order to create structure and maintain moisture.

Scald

  • 262g rye flour
  • 262g water

Stir ingredients together in a small pot and warm over medium low heat, while constantly stirring. Continue until a thermometer reads 160 degrees F or seeing the grains appear gelatinous.

Dough

  • All of Scald
  • 225g rye flour
  • 19g salt

Mix all ingredients together and place in a small pan lightly greased with butter or oil. Either place another pan of the same size on top as a lid, fixed in place with foil crimped around the edges or with just a covering of securely fixed foil. There will be no rising with this loaf so head space isn’t a concern.

Place in a 220 degree F oven for 24 hours.

When out of the oven, remove from the loaf pan and cool on a cooling rack for at 24 hours before cutting into it.

Sugar, Saccharification, & Homemade Reindeer Lichen-Malt Syrup

alcohol, fermentation, sugar

Question: how is potato vodka made? Like, how is a potato turned into alcohol? You need sugar right? Shred a potato into water, ferment it and what happens? Yuck. So where does all the sugar come from?

Alcohol made from grains uses malt to produce sugar. Malt is a grain that is sprouted for just a few days, then is dried and possibly roasted. A grain kernel contains mostly starches, which is that prized stuff we eat every day in various forms of flours. When the seed begins to make new life, those starches are converted into sugars (denaturing its bread-worthy-ness) through enzymes to assist in the growing of that new plant. What an amazing human moment this must have been to nibble on a just sprouted seed and taste a sweet kernel! (Here is a malt-making tutorial).

Similarly another likely result of curious human nibbling was in the case of moldy rice in Asia. The white fuzz later became referred to as koji and also converted the plentiful starches on grains into fermentable sugars.

While it’s probable you’d get some additional sugars from molding a potato in koji, I wouldn’t necessarily go about sprouting it. There has got to be a better way.

In both cases with the malted grains and with the koji-cultured grains a similar thing is occurring- the process of saccharification. By way of enzymatic activity present starches are being converted into sugars. But not only can they do it for their hosts but they actually hold the capacity of converting additional starches as well. This is known as its diastatic power. Any additional starches that get added, the brewing universe refers to as adjuncts. Therefore malt and koji can be used as the sugar-making “starter” which we add something else- possibly cheap, plentiful, and packed with starches- like the potato!

Or… lichen!

Why lichen? Reindeer lichen specifically, aside from being good landscaping for your model train set, has been found to be also packed with starches- packed as in 94% carbohydrates compared to the potato at 14%. A little inverted compared to the mushroom world, most lichens are edible, with the minority being problematic. The only drawback is that, in the case of reindeer moss, it also contains acids accumulated over time which can erode stone and when in your stomach, while it won’t kill you, doesn’t feel great. Therefore in order to make sugar from it we first we need to leach out the acid, which is easily done with the help of an alkaline water bath using lye, cal, or baking soda.

It’s done like this:

  1. Cover the lichen with water in a pot and add 1 teaspoon of lye, bring to a boil, turn off heat, and let soak for 24 hours.
  2. Drain and rinse.
  3. Take a small piece and dry it. Taste a nibble for any bitterness. If there is any, repeat steps until its gone. It should take 2-3 changes of water to do. When the coast is clear, proceed to drying the whole thing.

Supposedly history tells us that lichen’s hayday came during World War 2 when the supplies for sugar beets and potatoes were low, yet demand for alcohol was unwavering and spirits were made from lichen. However it never really took off as the processing of it was never cost effective. Prepared lichen could be crushed and used in bread, added to thicken soups and sauces, or we can go on to convert it into sugar, thusly:

  1. Combine crushed malt and crushed and dried lichen in a 1:1 ratio. (Note: this ratio was randomly picked to ensure the desired results)
  2. Heat water separately to 155 degrees, add to the grain and lichen mixture to cover liberally and hold at 150 degrees for 1-2 hours. Why you ask? Because the enzymes need to be broken down in order to be accessed and 150 degrees gelatinizes many things including grains. Note also that at 165 degrees all enzymes are destroyed. How shall I heat it may you ask? Perhaps a pot in the oven if your oven goes low enough, a pot in a dehydrator that goes high enough, maybe this handy incubator design, or a thick pot with a keen eye on stove and frequent stirring.
  3. (Optional). You can let the mixture cool overnight to allow more time for the enzymes to further breakdown the starches.
  4. Strain and squeeze excess liquid from the solids.

You can now either boil your sweet liquid into a molasses-like malt syrup or go ahead and brew it, distill it, or what have you.

Reindeer lichen, often referred to as Reindeer Moss, is fairly abundant in our region, especially in our nearby forests. One thing you should know is that reindeer lichen is extremely slow growing, about 3mm per a year. While expansive patches exist in Western Pennsylvania, it’s always worth considering such details to decide whether its worth it to harvest. My little harvest was to explore the rumor I’ve heard about lichen as a sugar and I hope you found it worth it.

How to Malt Homegrown Grain

Homegrown Grains, alcohol, bread, sugar

Malt is a grain that has been sprouted for a short period and halted in order to optimize its enzymic potential to convert starches into fermentable sugars. It can be a useful ingredient to have around for making sweet malt syrup, for baking, and for fermenting into alcohol.

This works on any grain, whether it be corn, millet, einkorn, wheat or other. Each grain differs in respect to its diastatic power, which is a measure of its potential enzymic activity.

Process

Soak grains in enough water to cover for about 10 hours.

Strain and put in a warmish place. We’re shooting for around 70-75 degrees. Rinse by covering with water and straining every 8 or so hours, stopping once some germination begins to show.


For optimal diastatic power we’re letting the sprouts develop until the acrospire is about the same length as the seed kernel. The acrospire is the little shoot that is the new plant as opposed to the rootlets. It grows in the opposite direction of the rootlets. If the kernel is allowed to continue growing it will eventually use the nutrients itself to assist its own growing and our diastatic power will be compromised.

Some “mixing” or turning with your hands may be helpful as the rootlets leg out in order to encourage uniform growth. In big malting operations they will rake them.

When the kernels are ready to halt their growing process dry them for 8-10 hours at 120 degrees. This produces a “green” malt. At this point the rootlets should flake off easily. It’s thought by some that they contribute bitter notes and are separated and removed before proceeding.
If additional flavor is desired move the malts to an oven at 170- 180 degrees and roast until the color and aroma suits you. Raising temperatures above 165 degrees destroys the enzymes however, not allowing the malts to contribute to any adjunct starches. This non-diastatic malt can be used to contribute sweetness, flavor, and possibly color to your bread, beer, or whatever recipes.

Diastatic malt (not dried or roasted above 165 degrees) can be combined with additional starches to make sugar through a mashing process that involves holding the crushed grain and adjunct at 150 degrees for 1-2 hours. Learn more about this and how to make a malt syrup here.

If milling and using for bread baking it is recommended to use nondiastatic malt, or use diastatic malt in small quantities (0.5 – 2% total flour weight) and only for breads with short fermentation times. Diastatic malt is a great energy source for yeasts however it can break down too many starches resulting in a gummy crumb.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Cooking with Sauerkraut – Bigos

cooking with ferments

Bigos is a Polish dish often with cabbage, a meat, and some other assorted vegetables. It works as an incredible starting point to inspire infinite variations of winter meals. The word “authentic” often get tossed around with recipes, but the most authentic way to make this dish may be to use whatever ingredients you have stored up in your larder or cellar.

The base of bigos is a heap of sauerkraut. We make our kraut for the year in 5 gallon buckets that we’ll scoop out handfuls for this recipe. The kraut is simmered as long as you have time to let it. The other ingredients are up to what you have. Big chunks of garlic and onions are natural companions, as would be roots like carrots, rutabaga, beets, potatoes, and radishes, as well as any dried herbs. Then toss in protein which could be your homemade sausage, frozed-away or cured meat, or homegrown beans or tempeh.

Use any variety of your winter storage veg and meat to go with your sauerkraut.

Chop everything up and toss it in.

Then dump on a heap of kraut.

Pop on a lid and let it stew on low heat for as long as you will. Don’t forget to salt to taste. The colder it is outside the darker I crave a brown caramelization. Stir occasionally.

Enjoy with a big dollop of sour cream or yogurt!

Homemade Tempeh

fermentation

Quick n’ easy Ferment Pittsburgh take on making homemade tempeh- in any shape.

Give your choice of bean or beans a good long soak, ~12 hours or so.

Cook the beans in boiling water, being careful to not overcook them. You’re after a bean that holds its shape. Its okay if it’s a tad undercooked, al dente works great. Mushy beans not so much.

Drain the beans and spread them out to dry and cool off a bit. Spread them out on a clean towel does a nice job. In the end you want the beans to be dry to the touch and about warm-lukewarm temperature. At this point add your tempeh starter at the suggested rate of your starter and mix well in a bowl.

Before you incubate you’ll need to pack the beans up so the fungi can knit them together into a cake. All that is required is covering enough to keep the beans humid and some air holes for ventilation.

You can place your beans in ziplock plastic sandwich bags with holes poked in them every inch or so to accomplish the classic tempeh cake look. A shallow pan like a casserole dish works well too, perhaps with a lid of cling wrap with a few holes poked here and there. Or better yet, why not make it a shaped cake pan? Below is Tempeh Wonder Woman.

This is one here is just a plastic bag filled with inoculated beans and incubated.

Incubate the beans in a humid environment at around 86 degrees for 24- 48 hours. If you’re using a pan or dish, the oven or a dehydrator could work well. This incubator tutorial using a lamp is our preferred method. However in the winter time a radiator is perfect and in-season.

The tempeh is done when the white mycelium has knit together and smells fresh and fungal. If let gone too long darker colors will develop and so will smells and flavors maybe more preferable to hard-core tempeh aficionados.

Lacto-Fermented Snowflake Ornaments

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Imagine replicating the infinite wonder of a snowflake’s crystal structure in a fermented vegetable.

Process

Follow the technique for “Grated Lacto-Fermented Vegetables of Any Kind.”

After week or more of fermenting, drain the excess brine from the grated veg by squeezing it out as best as you can.

Then arrange the vegetables into basic circle and star-like shapes on a tray and dehydrate according to your preferred method. Keep in mind that you’ll be dehydrating a fermented product so there will be a prevalent scent abound.

A good tip is to pack the shreds dense enough so that can knit and your shape will hold together well. Wreath wire was then used to make the loops to complete the ornaments.

This idea was inspired from Kiriboshi daikon, which are strips of shredded daikon preserved through dehydration and are a great addition to winter soups.

Enjoy!

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Grated Lacto-Fermented Vegetables of Any Kind

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Typically root vegetables are the proper candidates for grating into a lacto-ferment. That is because they are firm and contain enough water to complete the process self-contained. I often refer to these ferments as slaws, which may be another good way to picture them. They are a great companion for garnishes and dressing food up from hot dogs to salads and soups, or even as a simple stand alone side with maybe a kiss of olive oil.

Batches can be made with a single variety or a blend like carrots & beets, and then dressed up with herbs, hot peppers, garlic, or other seasoning combinations that move you. Consider any root vegetable to employ: beets, radishes, turnips, carrots, rutabaga, etc.

Process

Clean and trim the veggies.

Grate with a common kitchen grater. Then mix with salt by adding according to your taste preference.

Pack the mixture with any run-off brine into a jar, crock, or other container. Cover with a lid or cloth and ferment at room temperature.

Be sure to keep the veggies submerged in the brine as needed.

I leave my “slaws” out indefinitely, leaving them on the counter until they eventually get all eaten up by dolloping a heap here and there throughout the winter.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Making A Sauerkraut Tradition (general kraut tutorial)

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Sauerkraut is easily the number one food we eat in the winter. With fall rolling through we make a huge batch annually to use with almost every meal. A long slow simmered sauerkraut is the perfect canvass to marry with anything in the cellar- roots, potatoes, sausages for comfort all winter long- with a big dollop of yogurt.

We make ours in quantities that fit into 5 gallon buckets and if you were interested in doing the same, Home Depot and Lowes sell a white food grade 5 gallon bucket and lid in their paint section. I know food grade plastic is less than ideal but our house in an urban row stays pretty mild. The buckets with snap lids wonderfully safeguard the kraut from getting too gnarly, being a fly residence, and keeping the smell from filling the house. The 5 gallon size also accommodates 50# of fresh green cabbage perfectly. Having an abundant amount makes using it often as easy as remembering it’s there.

For sourcing your cabbage and other assorted veggies, if you’re making a large enough batch you might sell out the farm stand. Give the farm a call ahead of time and ask for a bulk order. If they have it they’ll be happy to accommodate. And then you’ll have no need to buy any of that out of season cabbage from the grocery store this winter.


The creative whim that can go into a sauerkraut from spices, herbs, fruit, and different vegetables is really special. I hope your creativity can be your guide whether you are making a pint, a quart, or more. We tend to make a bulk “traditional” batch, and portion smaller amounts off for making something more eccentric.

Here’s The Sauerkraut Process

Peel off any weird outer leaves from your green cabbage. Cut the cabbage in half to remove the core, then proceed to slice the cabbage into ribbons or whatever shape you’d like.


Mix with salt, let’s say 1 & 1/2- 2tsp per a pound of cabbage, but salt to whatever is your taste preference, there’s no wrong answer. Then massage, pound, stomp, or club your cabbage until its giving up its water.

Now pack the cabbage and its brine into your fermenting vessel of choice, pushing it down so that all the cabbage is in brine. Be careful not to overfill as it will rise and possibly spill over, so give a couple inches of headspace.

Either affix a lid or place a weighted cover and then a cloth draped over to keep the cabbage under the brine and the bugs out. I really like fixing a lid on top. It takes most of the work out it things. The Co2 that results in fermentation will protect the kraut from oxygen. Contact with oxygen carries the risk of mold growth and mushiness. Without a lid the Co2 doesn’t get trapped and maintenance to keep the cabbage submerged in the brine will be necessary. With the right amount of headspace in a bucket with a lid, we’ll just move it to a cool area and not touch it until we start tapping into the larder around Thanksgiving.

In the fall it’s really nice to take advantage of the mild days and cool nights by leaving the kraut outside in a shady area to ferment. We only bring it in once it starts getting too cold, then it move into the cellar or a cool corner of the house where it slowly disappears every day, one scoop at a time.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Growing a Sorghum Syrup Tradition

homesteading, Uncategorized

Growing and pressing sorghum is a fun crop to have in your garden rotation for homegrown sugar. Sorghum stalks are filled with a sugar-rich sap that once pressed out takes just a short bit of boiling to get syrup.

Growing sorghum

Growing sorghum is similar to growing corn. Look for cultivars that specialize in being pressed for sugar over ones that favor its grain production. Direct sow after the last frost in a bed prepared with high fertility with 1/4″ depth. Space similarly to corn with rows 3-4′ and 8″ in row. Overseeding is fine as you can thin as they grow up.

Harvesting

Harvest sorghum when the grains on its seedhead reach soft dough stage. This means that the grain has filled in and no longer exudes a milky ooze when bitten. They should be red colored. This happens usually towards the end of September and early October here in Western Pennsylvania.

To harvest pull all the leaves off in the field, which can be done by hand. Using a pair of snips cut off the seedhead. These can be saved and used as grain and/or seeds for next year. Then cut down the stalk using a machete, sickle, or other method and stack the stalks.

Sorghum stalks are firm but can snap easily. If it happens its not a big deal but it helps to keep in mind where you’re planning to press to minimize moving them around.

Pressing

We’ve tried pressing sorghum a couple of different ways. The first time we tried we used a wooden hand-cranked apple crusher. It was immediately obvious that we were missing out on a lot of juice. A proper pressing mechanism is handy.

A tabletop sugarcane press does a great job. They seem to cost around $100- $250, but can do a lot of sorghum every year.

Get a friend and start cranking. Do a handful of stalks at a time according to how much your machine and cranker can handle. Usually we’ll have one person feed the stalks and the other turn the crank as the juice flows out to a pot below.

Boiling

Sorghum syrup boils down at a 10:1 ratio rather than 60:1 like maple sap. It’s a much quicker process and one I don’t mind doing on my home stove, as it’ll be just a few short hours.

Boiling will make a lot of crud on the top so skim the surface throughout the process. Boiling is done when a the sorghum reaches you desired syrup consistency. If you have a hydrometer, 74 Brix is the level of store-sold syrup. We fill them in mason jars hot and flip upside down for a seal.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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