Flatbreads from Your Morning Porridge

baking, bread, fermentation, Homegrown Grains

This recipe is a continuation of a ditty about the early days of grains and the gradual “rise” of bread. The first step to this process is making some fermented porridge, which is described in aforementioned ditty. I love the variability of a process where the same porridge can be cooked for your breakfast, and any leftover can become bread for scooping up your lunch and dinner. The more active the ferment obviously the better, so if your porridge has been sitting for a long time, scoop the scum off the top and make some flatbreads!

In modern days like we’re in where just about every aspect of a food and its production are able to be controlled for really specific outcomes, this recipe is a refreshing throwback to times when intuition and experience were more valuable than control, and “perfection” was likely defined in a less homogenous way.

Process

There are no precise measurements that make sense to give. However much fermented porridge you have to use is what you have, and obviously the water to grain ratio will be all over the place. Yet, none of that business should be much of a hurdle here.

Pour your porridge into a bowl. Add a sprinkle of salt. If you are doing this on a scale something like 16 grams of salt per 500 grams of final dough is good. If your breads are undersalted you can always sprinkle some finishing salt over them straight out of the oven. Always be careful to not over salt!

Start adding in flour that has good gluten building qualities. Store bought “Bread” flour is the ticket. Add gradually, mixing it into the porridge slurry until a dough gets formed. You’d want enough flour so it’s not a sticky dough but not so much that it’s super firm either. Intuition and experience right? Getting things right the first time is boring, you learn nothing. A recipe worth making is one that you earn a relationship with, right?

Give the dough a few kneads and let it rest. The goal is to have everything mixed and incorporated but being mindful to not overmix. Giving it a covered over night or long day rest is great. The dough can be stored in a container the fridge and used here and there if not needed right away.

When it’s time to make the bread, on a lightly floured surface cut the dough into whatever size your after, perhaps the size of a doubled golf ball? And then roll them into a ball. Let the balls rest for 20 or so min and in the meantime warm up a skillet on the stovetop to medium high.

After a little rest period, using as much flour as needed, roll out the balls into flat disks. You can press them first with your fingers, and toss them like a pizza or come in with your rolling pin. Play around with the thickness and size (which will also be factors in how hot your skillet should be) until you found what you like.

Cook the flatbread, flipping as needed until both sides are lightly browned and the bread is cooked all the way through. Breads can be dressed up with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of seasonings if that’s your bag. Then fill em up with delights!

Fermented Porrdige & Kvass

fermentation, Homegrown Grains

Sometimes the grandeur of bread makes the grains feel unrecognizable from the labored summer months caring for it, processing it, and cleaning it. Porridge makes me feel closest to my grains. Tortilla retains an intimate connection too. I remember reading a long time ago somewhere that a bread baker was the first specialized profession. It’s easy to understand for anyone who’s tried to consistently integrate the time intensive task into their daily life. Before bread “technology” became widely accessible, porridge was the primary way people consumed their staple grains.

It’s believable to say that porridge is the rough stone that was smoothened into bread by the running waters of time, fermented porridge actually! Before porridge maybe there were handgathered kernels chewed between your teeth. Actually doing this yourself is a jolting time warp worth doing to reset your racing clock. It’s become an annual moment after harvest for us to hand thresh a small bowlful of kernels and eat them as is, just to remember. Next I’d imagine was progressing to crushing kernels between stones, earth’s teeth, and maybe add some earth tears like water, and there you’d have a porridge. Uncooked it would be a chewy mush. With enough time it would ferment and soften more, maybe making it easier to eat and introducing humans to their first versions of a sourdough starter. With a little added flour, cook a fermented porridge into a flatbread and there’s a leavened bread. Add a little more ground grain for an even firmer dough and with more time and a cook, you got yourself a loaf.

Fermented porridge can be made from any grain: wheat, rye, corn, oats, rice, and so-on. It can be cracked, ground, whole, or even just sifted bran. A hand cranked meat grinder works great for cracked grain and often pop up in the tool sections of thrift stores for a couple bucks. It’s possible to crack them too by laying the grains on a hard flat surface, draping a towel over them, and pressing hard on them with bottom of a jar, a rolling pin, or maybe a rock.

The prep work is easy, just covering your prepared grain with a generous amount of water or milk or nut/ seed “milk” to keep it submerged for a prolonged soak- a couple hours or a couple days or weeks at room temp depending how funky you’re feeling. The fermentation will help breakdown grain characteristics that inhibit digestion. In the morning, heat it in a pot until boiling, then lowering it to a short simmer, keep an eye on it all the while in case some extra liquid needs added along the way. The final consistency is up to you. Depending on where you’re trying to take your day, add a splash or nob of fat (buddder/ oil/ maybe bacon), pinch o salt, and any seasonings and delights (like those summer time berries you dehydrated or a potato) before cooking. For a quicker fermentation turn around you can backslop today’s porridge into a new one just like splashing in a starter. What an easy vehicle for any adventure.

Remember the rye bread recipe for traditional style pumpernickel from a few months ago? This one? The recipe used “scalding” which was heating a porridge situation until it was at least 160 degrees at which point the flour released its starches and gelatinized. In pumpernickel, this is what gave the gluten-lacking rye bread some bonding to help it hold its shape. This is the same process that occurs when cooking the porridge, transforming it into a lovely cohesive mush rather than water and grain that sit separately in a bowl like oil and water. It’s also the same process used for making injera which is a mixing of “fermented porridge” and scalded porridge to help the thin batter hold together.



Kvass

The same grains- whether cracked, ground, whole, or bran, but this time also adding old baked bread to the list, when covered with water and left to ferment is the beverage associated with Eastern European origin called kvass. There are a million variations to this beverage (including versions without grain), with many adding some kind of additional sugar whether it be cane, fruit, berries, vegetables, juice, honey, sorghum, or maple in order to get a spritely effervescent and maybe alcoholic beverage. Where’s the line between fermented porridge and kvass? Doesn’t seem like there is much of one, just don’t boil your kvass or you’ll lose the fire in that firewater. What’s the difference between beer and kvass? Beer gets most of its sugar out of its grains by sprouting them first (aka malting) and steeping them at a specific temperature (mashing), kvass is a little lazier and ferments things as they are with no special processes (although malt still may be used). It almost feels like kvass is a brew made of collected leftovers.

Winter is a good time to perch a brew of kvass on your radiators as if it were your hearth. To make it add cracked grains, old bread, and as much sweetener of choice as suits you. Dress it up with any other flavors and seasonings that inspire you. Don’t forget a little splash of sourdough starter to help get everything rolling (not required). Let the wild yeast ferment it at room temperature till it’s actively bubbling. Remember it’s winter so be patient. Then strain out the contents and enjoy.

(I suppose you can also not strain out the contents and warm it up into a nice porridge! Boom.)

Saving your own Koji Spores

fermentation, mold

One time a million years ago was the only time we ever purchased koji spores. As with our gardens and farms where the priority of seed saving carries us from one season to the next, hopefully adapting to the unique character of our land and weather, so it also made sense to foster that seed saving mentality to our spores and cultures.

Saving koji spores is as easy as growing koji because, well, they are the same thing. If you’re a grower of koji already then you can perhaps find the permission to follow through with your spore saving here.

To save koji spores we are simply looking for mature koji. I usually shoot for mature rather than over-mature as I feel better about a cleaner population. Many times I won’t even attempt to over-shoot my koji incubation, instead proceed with the process as usual, and put some aside for “seed” and it always ends up working fine. When growing your koji hopefully you can notice a bit of powder on the surface as that’s sign enough that’s ready. The bits I save from a batch are usually the best looking parts, with no discoloration or peculiarities. Those pieces are allowed to air-dry fully then they are bagged and stored in the freezer until the next time I make a batch of koji. To use them I’ll hand grind just before sprinkling on my newly cooked grain. And like any other culture, a little is saved again to keep it all going.

Making a Miso Tradition

fermentation, Homegrown Grains, mold

The winter solstice has for myself become the day for annual miso-making traditions. It’s after most of the hardy holdout plants are finally delt a frosty blow, and grains and beans from the year are (hopefully) dried and threshed and stored away. Miso was introduced to me with an aura of magic- one of the first ferments I interacted with and so carries the same wild mystic held by the woods on a full moon’ed night as when I met it then. It’s retained its magic over the years, and that seems like a feeling worth fostering in anyway possible.

Sticking to annual miso-making means there are countless jars who present like vintages of wine marking out the years. The differences between the young and old ones are tremendous. It’s something that if you make, I highly recommend then hiding it from yourself for a couple of years. Just the other day I unearthed a crock that has been living on my porch for two years. It’s made of our homegrown marfax beans and danko rye. The location was an accident, probably nowhere anyone would recommend. I never really covered it or protected it from weather. The ceramic weights were covered thickly in fly pupal cases. After pulling them out and scraping off the top layer it was gorgeous miso with a fruity alcoholic smell the rest of the way down. It was scooped into a series of peanut butter jars to continue aging in the basement somewhere I already can’t recall.

Here’s how we’ve made miso, generally this same way every time, and may you find a way that works for you and becomes your own:

Preparing the Koji

First you’ll need some koji spores. Most people love GEM Cultures. If you’re really impressive you can go outside and find some growing out there somewhere. Either way add your cultures to a cooked starchy grain, mix, and incubate in mid-80 degree temps until your mold spores have colonized the grain. Since we mostly make our misos from homegrown grains like wheat or rye, it takes some extra cooking soften the grain enough to receive the mold. In other cases like with rice, a kernel that is just-cooked through and holds its shape is best. When your grain is cooked spread it out to let dry some and cool to about a mid-80’s temp and inoculate right away by spreading and mixing your spores in. The finished koji grain can be dried and saved or used immediately.

Preparing the beans

Unlike when making tempeh– who does better with beans cooked juuuust right (not over cooked), miso has no such need. Cook your beans fully after a nice overnight soak by boiling them, but in this cook no salt is needed.

Strain and let the beans cool. Often times I’ll let them sit out until the next day because life is busy.

Mixing

Next it’s time to combine the beans and koji’d grain. The many styles of miso can vary according to the ratio of each, as well as the salt levels but my usual aim is eyeballing a 60% bean and 40% koji ratio when preparing the ingredients. Whatever I come out with in the end is what I mix together in the biggest bowl I have. Something like a potato masher can be used but I feel like this is a job for your hands to make the beginnings of your paste. The beans will mush but obviously the grain won’t yet. You can still get the general idea of the consistency already though. Add a little water here and there to get a consistency close to paste with the understanding that things will be breaking down more over time.

Then mix in salt. I hold true here to the salt to taste perspective. Salt, mix, taste, salt, mix, taste. You want something salty but pleasantly so. Not overwhelming, but not under salted.

Packing & Aging

Pack the miso in a jar or container pushing down to minimize air pockets. Leave ample head space for the big initial fermentation event on the horizon (the photo below shows too little headspace and the consequential overflowing). Many folks like to put a fresh sprinkling layer of salt over the final miso surface. It’s possible to pop a screw lid on top but the miso will commence fermentation and need some gas release. I like a loose-fitting lid but a cloth with rubber band or similar is good too. When the vigorous fermentation eventually ceases it’s a good idea to throw on some kind of lid. Depending on your conditions the miso could dry out. I’ll let the fermentation boil to a dripple in a bigger vessel, then transfer the miso to mason/ peanut butter jars and lid them to be taken to the basement for long term storage. I like breaking them down into many smaller jars so when one is being actively scooped from, the oxygen exposure is limited to just that jar as with all the microbial activity in there, things will begin to grow.

Consume when you’re ready to- in a few months, a year, or many years.

Saving Tomato Seeds from Your Garden

farm, fermentation

When venturing out to save tomato seeds look for the plants and fruits that are performing best- most beautiful, undamaged fruit, best disease resistance, excellent flavor, etc. A single tomato, depending on variety can yield perhaps enough seeds alone for the following year, making it a crop you can still continue to enjoy while simultaneously saving its seed. I like to pick ripe fruit throughout the year from the best plants while keeping detailed notes for each batch of seeds that gets saved.

Tomatoes for seeds can be cut open or just smashed, then placed in a jar to let ferment for a day or two. The fermentation helps separate the seed from the tomato flesh and any membrane that might be clinging to it. Fermenting too long can possibly have an adverse effect on germination later on.

When you’re ready to strain, shake up the jar and let things settle. This will help get the viable seeds to collect at the bottom. Next I’ll pull out the tomato solids I can grab with my hands then top the jar off with water. Carefully pour off the water and the remaining tomato debris should pour out with it. Keep refilling the jar and pouring out until the water is clear and clean. Then you can strain out the seeds and lay them on a surface for drying.

Dry gradually, which I do by leaving either on my breezy porch or in a room with a ceiling fan on- caution that fruit flies will be looking for them. Mix up the seeds occasionally to ensure even drying as they can tend to clump up. After a lazy week or two pack them up in a jar or bag or elsewhere safely away until you’re ready to use them next season.

Saving Zucchini & Cucumber Seed

fermentation, homesteading, Vegetable Fermentation

Zucchini and cucumber seeds are vegetables that both use a little fermentation to help in saving the seeds. When saving them you’ll want as mature of a fruit as you can get. Even after you harvest them it can help to let them cure for a couple days before cutting them open. It’s still a strange feeling to stop eating the favorite plants of a crop and let them grow out for seed. Maybe the pleasure is in the hope it gives to next year.

For zucchini start by cutting off any “neck” that is only flesh and doesn’t contain any seeds. Then carefully with a good knife cut the first half inch or so or around the perimeter of the vegetable so it can be pulled apart into two halves. The reason for this procedure is to prevent throwing a knife straight through the seed cavity and slicing a handful of them.

Next, scoop out the seeds.

Or thumb out the seeds.

The seeds will have a thin coating around them. To remove that place the seeds and anything stuck to them into a container and cover it with water. Add a cover to keep the flies out and ferment for 1-2 days. Caution not to forget about the ferment for too long as it can eventually begin to deteriorate the seeds germinating potential.

After the light fermentation the seed should be free from their covering. Check to make sure then you can stir up the seeds in the water, the good seeds should sink to the bottom and you can pour the rest off the top. This can be repeated by adding more water, stirring, and pouring until the seeds are generally clean. Then drain, rinse, and dry the seeds in a warm, dry place, and mix them up periodically to keep it going evenly.

Strawberry Amazake

fermentation

Amazake is a Japanese sweet beverage/ porridge made from koji mold and grain that can be reminiscent of a smoothie. (Mold smoothie? Yum.) Amazake is easy to make, wonderfully delicious, as well as vegan and sugar free. Its unique earthy sweetness is provided by enzymes in the koji that saccharify the grain starches into sugars. It is the infant state of sake and mirin, as amazake is the stage where sugars are being made to later convert into alcohol.

Making amazake is just mixing koji, a cooked grain, and water, and letting it incubate in a jar or sealed container for around 6-12 hours. The ratio of ingredients can be changed to your preference but a good starting place is 1:1.5:3/ koji: cooked grain: water. Incubation needs to be on the warmer side, ~120-140 degrees, as the higher temperatures are what activates sweeter results.

This is definitely a good “taste as it moves along” type recipe as you find your perfect “sweet spot.” An over mature amazake will start tasting sour (alcoholic).

When you have the amazake of your dreams incubated you can just pop it in the fridge to put the brakes on the fermentation. It’ll likely keep creeping along but you probably have a few days before it starts souring. For a refreshing summer smoothie give it a blitz in the blender, but if you do, why not also toss in a couple strawberries or whatever else you have on hand? Yum.

It’s also possible to make amazake from leftover grains from dinner as well as things like oat “milk.” To sweeten and inoculate your favorite non-dairy “milk” do a 1:3 ration of koji to “milk” and follow the same procedure.

Need some koji? Buy some online or get some spores to make your own.

Fermented Nettle for the Garden

farm, fermentation

If you take the stinging nettle season very seriously- as I hope you do- we previously mentioned a couple of ways to preserve them, but now it’s high time to transition with the plant as it grows. Personally I’ll never pick anything taller than my knee and here in Pittsburgh stop right around May 1st. After this point the tender leaves and stems will become courser as the stem elongates and she prepares to flower and set seed. Let’s let that happen and let the seeds drop too, then we can cut down the tall stalks to use as an all-purpose fertilizer for our gardens. We’ll be trying out in earnest this year making some fiber from them too, which we hope using this technique will produce some good results.

Stinging nettles contain a wide span of nutrients leafy green plants love such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium. By doing a basic ferment those nutrients are released for easier access. The liquid can be dumped at the foot of a plant or sprayed on the leaves for foliar feeding. This fertilizer is best for leafy green plants or plants in their growth stage, that is, before showing any signs of transitioning to flowering.

The process is easy. Cut down the tall nettles and stuff em in a bucket. Cover them with water, with rainwater being best, and let get good and stinky (outside naturally). Use anytime really. Depending on conditions we tend to start using it once the plant looks good and broken down and use a sprayer to foliar feed a lot of crops. It’s really satisfying to leave the farm behind in a cloud of stink.

Homemade Cream Cheese

dairy, fermentation

Cream cheese is another very simple cheese that is worth making if you’re able to get your hands on some really good local cream.

We culture via the David Asher method of using kefir. A simple plop of our kefir into the cream and we’ll let it sit out for a day at room temperature and then strain the grains out before heating. This culturing makes sure that our pasteurized cream has strong populations of the beneficial microbes we need. And perhaps according to your taste preference you can let the culturing go a little longer, or not.

The next step is to warm up the cream gently to a temperature comfortably warm to your finger, or say around 80- 90 degrees. Heat slowly and carefully, then add a small dose of rennet. (Rennet is the curdling agent we need to make this cheese. Here’s a decent source for getting it either derived from animals or vegetables.) We use animal rennet, which is very effective and we use the smallest drop we can get for a pint of cream. The drop is mixed with a 1/4th cup of lukewarm water and then gently stir in and all around for 20 seconds or so. Let the cream settle for an hour or two and it should have a yogurt like consistency, after which we like to plop it in the fridge overnight as we feel it makes a very loose curd a tad firmer for when we get to straining. Is it true? Who knows but nonetheless has evolved into our cream cheese making process.

When you’re ready to start straining prepare your set-up such as laying a towel, or even just a ink-less t-shirt over a colander with a bowl underneath. After carefully ladling in the cream, pop it in the fridge to slowly strain to the thickness you desire while occasionally mixing to encourage an even strain. Often times we’ll let it strain for up to 3 days. As it thickens up you can ball up the cloth and hang it, up to you. Doing things as gently and gradually as possible feels good sometimes.

When the cream cheese is strained to your liking mix in salt to suit your tastes and pack away.

This is a great recipe to dollop on your bigos, or naturally, to pair with your bagels.

Spring Rain Kombucha

fermentation

Is there an added benefit to a poetic tumble into consumable nature? Who knows, maybe just a strange feeling of connectedness. (Who couldn’t use a little more non-electrified connectedness?) Eating seasonally is a great start to nurturing a sort of ceremonial significance with what’s happening outside. It can begin as an arrangement of local ingredients on your plate and then expand to things like chasing the first stinging nettles for soup to welcome the coming growing season, or the wondrous moment of your first bite of summer’s tomato on a sandwich; it could also be a little more creative.
Here is a fine example of a whimsical take on kombucha, that while noted here for our current season of spring, could be replicated any time of the year, with as many variations as your imagination.

Process

1. Lay an open, wide vessel outside to collect the rain that is coming on fast over the horizon.


2. Rush out to the woods, or wildest patch of growth near you and pick modest amounts of different edible herbs, possibly in various states of grows (roots, arial, flower, fruit, etc). Whatever is exciting to you.


3. Filling your fermentation vessel with your collected rainwater, add the spring herbs to steep, and perhaps some green tea.


4. Add your recently made maple syrup, or honey from you bees, or your neighbors bees, or any sweetener meaningful to you or best you can manage and sweeten to your preference.


5. Plop in your SCOBY, affix your cloth covering, and let the brew come bubbling to life, just like the post-rain cricks that trickle down hillsides, feeding the spring herbs around its edges.


6. And lastly, and quite importantly, repeat annually or with each new season.