Buttered Heart from a Churning Sky- a metaphorical Cultured Butter Tutorial

dairy, fermentation

If you want to see butter then look up. Sometimes a flat milk or heavy cream, and other times like puffy globs of fat clouds floating along in the buttermilk of the big bowl of sky. There is a Hindu story about that. The Gods had lost many of the treasures that gave them their powers including immortality and the way to get them back was to churn the treasures out of the milky sky. They used a mountain to do the churning, but it was too much for the Gods to handle on their own so they sought help from the Demon crew who all together got the treasures back. What an image, especially in the face of life’s sometimes unruly chaotic moments of loss, good and bad working together to shake up life to reveal its treasures hidden within. It’s interesting how our internal human processes can often mirror nature’s natural processes (who express themselves well with natural preservation). Wouldn’t it be more interesting when the challenges of life overwhelm our own horizon, to look up and see the clouds forming and say, yep it’s time to be made into butter again.

We all know that there are generally two ways to do most things anymore- the immediate way, reliably severed from the ecosystem, and the other that takes time and subtly penetrates and deepens into a moment that’s woven into existence’s greater expression. Butter can be made by buying cream, dropping it into a stand mixer, turning it on and walking away for long enough. The second, other way scours it of its purity, merging it with the natural imperfections with casein arm’s full of lactic acid bacterial life.

Letting time mature milk first separates the cream as the fat is less dense and will take its seat up high as a floating mountain (just be sure to be using unhomogenized milk). Other ways to do this is by force. Fresh milk can be spun, there are table top machines with varying levels of commercial and hobby ones, that mechanized or hand cranked, throw the milk and cream out in two different spouts using centripetal force based on their density. Using the slower method to create floating islands of risen cream lets you scoop the cream off, or another way to describe it is to skim.

After time has aged our cream into maturity where it can easily be plucked away separately, on its own we’ll let it keep ripening to the autumn of its life, where it gradually begins its rotting, just ever so much. This extra period is the culturing process where lactic acid bacteria adds interesting flavors, changes the acidity ever so slightly which helps with the final butter’s storage potential, and breaks things down to essentially get the final buttering ball rolling.

This culturing of cream can be matured for a couple hours or a couple days, relying on naturally occurring microbes or by adding your own through a kefir grain or backslopping a cultured product like yogurt, previous buttermilk or whathaveyou.

Then it’s time to churn. 

With the suddenness of a lightning bolt rushing fully charged through the sky, churning tares the old body to bits until a murky new shape slides out with better preservability. After enough agitating violence, whether in a butterchurn, shaking in a lidded jar, or mangled mechanically with a food processor or mixer, cream is taken beyond that glorious beauty of fluffy ethereal whippedness who will cling on to the very end until it can no longer and is finally broken. Given up, two separate parts spill out the other side, one blossomed into a new form solid and curiously floating in its old self, while the threshed buttermilk is spent and still.

Then strained from its old excess the butterfat globs are mashed into a single mass and dunked into an icey baptismal bath to be fully purged of all of the residue of the life it once knew. It’s massaged in changes of cold water until it runs clear and fresh, standing on the ruins of the past a soft butter has emerged.

In a final act of cleansing the butter is kneaded on a board, perhaps with a sprinkle of salt, as the last tears of buttermilk are drawn off and its new form is complete, ready to look forward with renewed and matured grace to flavor the moments to come.

The beautiful truth that butter is, aged, rotted, and dismembered to be shed of its excess is only fully realized when that solid seeming glob then does what it is made it to, just like any heart that has ever been shook, broken, and separated to ultimately gather itself into a new form, it is remade to be melted once again. Butter, reborn love spilling back into delicious vulnerability.


The leftover buttermilk is alive and cultured and can be used to backslop into future buttermaking like an heirloom sourdough starter, or like the wisdom of the past culminating to push the future into existence.

If starting the butter process with milk, which will need a hefty amount to yield much butter in the end, skim milk can be carried on to make cheese, such as this process for a naturally fermented ricotta cheese.

Naturally Fermented Ricotta


Ricotta is a very simple cheese to make that requires a little bit of heat and acidity to separate the curd. It’s common practice to add a splash of vinegar to achieve the necessary acidity however with a little more patience this can be done by just allowing the milk to ripen on its own.

Choose an unhomogenized milk, often in stores as “cream-top.” The process of homogenization is meant to destroy milk’s natural separating qualities which in turn hampers its curd quality. Leave the milk out to being souring. A starter of some sort is a great idea with pasturized milk and can ensure a more welcoming and interesting flavor. Anything from leftover buttermilk from a cultured buttermilk process or kefir would work great.

It’s a little intuitive at this point, but depending on weather should take a day or two or three. (The milk pictured above went a little long and while worked great, had a more pungent flavor.) As the lactic acid bacteria feed they will create a natural acidity. With a good soured milk all that needs done is to heat it up slowly to just about a boil, and when you see the curds begin to clearly separate, turn off the heat and let it finish the process for around 5-10 more minutes. High and longer heat will make a firmer curd, while the opposite is softer and more delicate.

Strain the curds out in either a cheese cloth, a fine strainer, or t-shirt even- though not necessarily letting it strain entirely. There is potential to decide the moisture content of the finished ricotta, which feels like the artful side of making this cheese. It’s better to strain less than more, and thoughtfully continue straining until it reaches an elegant and appropriate consistency for what you will be using it for.

Then sprinkle in salt to taste and enjoy fresh, with optional spices and herbs added.

Growing & Making Fermented Indigo Dye

fermentation, wildcrafting

My hunch without knowing the real story is that the plant indigo’s blue dying capabilities were discovered by noticing its damaged leaves. Insects chewed bits and pieces of the plants grown at the farm this past year and the color change was distinct, like a little window into the color capabilities it had.

Indigo is so cool, I’m learning as we get to know each other. Her processes rely more on observation and play than perfectly calculated math recipes. Our first attempt made a rain cloud gray color, though through nudging some variables around we eventually got those storms to pass and opened up some delicious turquois blue skies. Indigo also requires two fermentation processes- the first is complete when the indigo says it is, and the second is concocted and tended to with the care of a sourdough starter. A fermenter will be at home with indigo.

Japanese Indigo is in the buckwheat family and looked very much like smartweed, only bigger. It was easy to start from seed but seemed to need a long growing season. This year it’ll get started indoors in March instead of April like last year. Some say you can get two harvests of it in a season, not sure I saw the opportunity for that as mine didn’t size up well until maybe September, and then when it flowered saving seed became a race against the first frost. The plant grew well in our unirrigated fields and needed no special attention aside from the usual.

After cutting down the indigo (which I heard varying accounts of when to, like before they flower or right before they seed- which I went with the latter) the whole plant was stuffed in a 44 gallon NSF Certified Brute garbage can that has retired from fermenting wine, and topped with enough water to cover and weighed down with a rock plopped on top, nothing else added. A handful of plants were partoned in the field to finish their cycle of producing seeds for the follow year’s indigo.

The fermentation took place indoors at relatively 70 degrees since the outdoor fall temps we’re dropping to the 40’s at night. Without much delay fermentation started bubbling along and gradually the liquid got an increasingly inky appearance and smelled just about right. It was decided that the fermentation was complete when looking at the leaves they appeared noticeably spent of their color- that’s the best way to describe it. This was easy to see when comparing the leaves that looked drained compared to some leaves trapped on the inside of the indigo pile who still retained a full liveliness. It’s probably noticable between the accompanying photographs.

After yanking the plant parts out of the Brute and tossing them onto the compost pile, I began to aerate the liquid by taking a bowl and repeatedly filling and dumping the greenish water. The idea here is that in the presence of oxygen the pigment precipitates down to the bottom. Sounds about right to me- after ten minutes of splashing followed by a few minutes allowing it to settle, the color was clearly in a pile collected at the bottom. The greenish liquid has become yellow.

At this point the top liquid was carefully scooped out until it could fit in a 5 gallon bucket. The precipitated pigment was stirred back into the liquid so the whole thing could pass through a seive to get out any remaining plant chunks. When the pigment settles back to the bottom it can be further scooped off and then dried into a paste or a powder or saved as is in a jar, or it can be carried on straight to the final phase in the dying process which so many affectionately call the vat.

I knew nothing of a vat prior to this experience and have been thrilled by its relation to many of the other starter cultures kept around the house. It reminds me most of a sourdough starter in that it is a living organism that needs refreshed prior to use, can go dormant, and preforms best when in its most fervently active. 

Here’s as far as I understand it: at this point the indigo pigment is a separate thing in the vat, like rocks in a bucket of water. Therefore the indigo needs to be dissolved so it can cling permanently to the fibers, and in order to do that it needs a couple things:

First is an addition of either lime or wood ash or lye to create an alkaline environment that falls somewhere between a pH of 9-10 and makes the bucket smell like you’re baking pretzels. Before this step my indigo would only turn any fabric gray. This is an intuitive guess but without a pH meter, like before pH meters were made, perhaps lime/ lye was added until the desired color was produced. Relating note, I had given up this dying attempt after only getting gray. Eventually this dyed sock (below) found its way into the laundry and made it through with full color intact. After discovering that, it reinvigorated the desire to figure out this indigo thing, now with a really nice pH meter. Using that same vat but with a corrected pH, you’ll see the lovely sky blue that came of it. Who knew?

Next is to create an environment absent of oxygen, because as previously mentioned, with oxygen present any dissolved indigo would precipitate to the bottom. Recognizing that when making wine for instance, a vigorously active fermentation is when it is most protected from oxygen, a vigorous fermentation should do the trick! So in went all the weird sugars in the cabinet- old brown rice syrup, some molding maple syrup, a dump of white sugar- cause heck, and a healthy splash of happy sourdough starter. Yum. 

Lastly is a good warm temperature. Perhaps in a natural setting this is best done quickly after harvest to cash in on the summer heat. I saw the best results with my dye the hotter I could get it, which was around 100 degrees. Going too hot would start killing the microbes so it’s worth being mindful of that. With a 5 gallon bucket it’s a challenge to keep it warm so I wrapped it in a borrowed seed heating mat and that seemed to do good enough.

After a couple days the vat was bubbling away wonderfully. I prepared a clean white cotton cloth by soaking it in water and ringing it out then dropped it in the vat, carefully trying to not distrub the liquid enough to introduce any unnecessary oxygen. After a few minutes I checked it and started getting a nice blue. What’s neat, as indigo dyers will tell you, is that indigo realizes its blue color on fabric as it is reintroduced with oxygen so upon immediately taking the fabric out of the vat you get to watch the fabric fade into blue. Neat. After a couple plunges with water rinses inbetween it seemed that the strength of the dye I have makes a lovely light, turquois blue. The vat then proceeded to dye a few other peice of clothing before getting retired with a lid on it to hibernate in a corner until the dying urge returns, and the pH is re-limed to standard, and the fermentation reawakened to dye again.

Koji Fried Chicken

cooking with ferments

The full potential of shio-koji, a mixture of koji, salt, and water hadn’t set in until a few days into the pandemic lockdown when a box of random food found it’s way into my home. Inside it was a curious array of items that provoked varying degrees intrigue and whatever the opposite of intrigue is. Tucked away with the mystery foods was a huge bag of blended rubbery meat peices, complete with fake grill markings called “fajita style” chicken strips. Considering the present circumstances, figuring heck- having something to eat is always a blessing, whatever it is, I drowned the pretend chicken into a pool of shio koji and after a few days cooked it up and was impressed- not with the “chicken,” but with the incredible and dynamic flavor imparted by the shio-koji.

Real quick to be clear, koji fried chicken likely has some origins that we can trace back fairly recently to a fella in Ohio. I mention that because the “repost” internet culture of regurgitating other people’s great ideas can feel disingenuous and deceptive. While my own connection to this style of meal I often eat nowa-days stemmed from the aforementioned story, the idea was something I’d heard of before and so gave a whirl in my kitchen and now post online primarily in support of our Pittsburgh-based monthly fermentation-inspiraton newsletter.

That asid, here is how I’ve been doing it:

Making Shio koji marinade

Shio koji is a slurry using koji rice, water, and salt that is left to ferment. The mixture matures with time into a sweet, salty, umami porridge that is perfect for using as a marinade as the enzymes in the koji asssist in breaking down the ingredients and infusing flavor. If you’re not familiar with koji, it is a fungus, usually grown on a grain with certain enzymes that are responsible for the unique flavors in products like miso, sake, and shoyu. Shio is great for almost any meat, including all poultry or even different vegetables to add another dimension to your cooking.

Making shio is very easy. Combine a koji inoculated grain to water at a 1:2 ratio. Add 1 tbs salt per 2 cups of mixture, or to your preference. Pop it all in a mason jar with lid fixed snug, give it a shake, and let it do its thing fermenting at room temperature.

If you’d like to get well acquainted with it, taste it every couple of days and note how it changes. After about 2 weeks you should be at a decent spot of maturity to do some marinating. However feel free to go as long as you wish. You can also put it in the fridge to mature slowly for a long time.

Marinating the Chicken

I’ll use about a quart of shio for a whole chicken, roughly without being exact, that’s about 1 1/2ish cups or two grabby handfuls in a quart mason jar, then topped off with water. Then add 1- 1 1/2tbs of salt depending on how salty of a person you are. Shake it up and let it ferment at room temp. You can make 2 or 3 of these at a time so you’ll have another one ready whenever you make your next chicken.

After at least a week, but more better to be three, take a leak-proof bag and empty the shio into it. Then add a couple cloves of minced garlic, a handful of thyme, some cracked pepper or pepper flakes, a couple slices of lemon, then plop in your whole chicken and tie the bag shut. Through the outside of the bag mix and massage the marinade into the chicken coating the whole thing and put it in the fridge.

Every 12 hours or so flip the bag over so the marinade is getting to the top and bottom. Marinate at least overnight, but a day or two is good too. When it’s getting near time for the meal, take the bird out of the marinade, give it a light rinse to get the koji goop off and dry it off. Drying can happen two ways depending on how much time you have. The long way is to place the bird in a colander with a liquid catch underneath and leave it openly exposed in the fridge for ideally a full day. The short way is to do the same thing except not in the fridge, but in the middle of the room with a fan blowing on it, turning every so often for a uniform dry skin. The second way is how we do it about 90% of the times.


Pre-heat your prefered frying oil to 375 degrees.

Meanwhile break down the chicken.

For the fried breading use flour as a base and season to heck out of it with your favorite seasonings or mix. Things like paprika, mustard, black pepper, thyme, onion powder, garlic powder, etc, etc. Or go whatever route excites you- 5 spice powder? We’ll add a handful of cornmeal too for texture. Don’t forget to add salt as well. Often we’ll mix everything together and cook a little test peice to check the salt level because there are a lot of variables at play here, like how long and strong your marinade was.

When the oil is ready, coat your chicken peices in the flour mixture, then plunge them thoroughly into a bowl of buttermilk, then bring them back to for a full coat of the flour mixture and drop in the frying oil. Fry for 10 minutes.

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.


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.


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.)

Growing & Fermenting Horseradish

farm, Vegetable Fermentation

Growing Horseradish

Horseradish easy to grow. It’s a vigorous plant that can thrive in many conditions. Deep lose soil is best for straight taproots that otherwise would be fine but a little gangly. (You’ll see the piece used in the pictures here must have hit a rock and took at hard left.)

Plant pieces in full sun a couple inches deep and for fuller roots cut away new green shoots as they sprout above ground leaving only around 2-4. If planting multiple plants spacing of 30 inches recommended. Mulching is also a good idea. Feed with a high phosphorous, low nitrogen fertilizer to promote root growth. Harvest after the leaves wilt from frost making sure to leave some behind for the plant to continue growing. Aim for new growth as the root will become woody after enough time.


Wash and peel your horseradish root.

Cutting up the root is a tricky endeavour because the heat of the horseradish will fill the air. I like using a fine grater over a food processor because in my experience the food processor created a spicy plume that overwhelmed the room. Either way hand and mouth protection isn’t the worst idea if you have it.

Once the root is grated you can add a pinch of salt and any water if it seems too dry. You could also add a splash of vinegar with or instead of water- the vinegar neutralizes the enzymic reaction that makes the horseradish spicy, so adding some asap will lessen the spiciness of your condiment.

Lastly, pack your horseradish into jars to ferment at room temp. Use it as needed throughout winter to wake up your potatoes, sausages, and other comforting meals. If you want purple horseradish like seen in some stores, just mix in a little bit of grated beet before packing it into jars.

Don’t forget to save some nubs if you need to plant more out in the spring. Roots will maintain in the fridge or cellar in a plastic bag for many months. You could also try your hand “forcing” the leaves for fresh horseradish greens in winter.

Homemade Bacon


Late fall and early winter always stirs thoughts of the annual pig harvest as this cold post-farm moment invites the perfect time to stuff, smoke, and cure meat for the year- especially in accord with the season of holiday feasts that follows in tow.

For those who have always been curious about venturing into the world of preserving meat there is included in the monthly featured recipes the technique for making your own bacon. It’s a perfect first-go as it’s easy, safe, and as deliciously rewarding as a homemade treat should be. This recipe is the one I’ve used and tweaked for many years for well over a hundred batches of bacon I’m sure. For me this belly is destined to enliven this winter’s miso soups.


Get ahold of a slab of pork belly. Talk to your local pork farmers or head to your butcher shop. You can usually find them in ~5 pound sizes, with a full belly averaging around 12- 15 pounds.

As with most recipes your salt is the most important ingredient to be thoughtful about and then after that it’s all play. For salt you’re looking for about 2.8% of the belly weight. For a 5 pound slab that would be around 64 grams.

Now with bacon there is also a second salt called pink salt or curing salt (different than Himalayan). In Pittsburgh you can get this either at Penn Mac or The Pittsburgh Spice and Seasoning Company. Curing salt contains sodium nitrate which helps meat fend off dangerous microorganisms in processes where meat is held for significant periods of time in the “temperature danger zone” (which is a phrase used to describe temperatures that make microbes happy, like room temperature)- which is the case in curing meats. The curing salts also have an effect on flavor and color, helping meat retain a red color rather than gray and giving it that flavor that is synonymous with bacon. Making bacon without nitrates is possible but will produce a porky flavor rather than bacony, if that makes sense.

Typically your pink curing salt should provide a recommended amount which should be in the ballpark of 0.2 ounces per 5 pounds. Keep in mind that too much pink curing salt is a bad thing so do take care to measure this one out well.

After that the remaining seasoning is for you to decide. Some suggestions per a 5 pound belly are:

  • Sweet Stuff: add 55 grams brown sugar/ honey/ or maple syrup, or some blend of each
  • Garlic- mince 2-3 cloves
  • A Bay leaf
  • Go wild on the herbs, especially thyme. Gotta love when fresh is available.
  • Black peppercorns- teaspoon or two

The sky is the limit here. You can use gochujang to make a kimchi bacon, add a splash of whiskey, just as long as your salt and pink curing salt is consistent.

Mix everything together- both salts, sweet stuff, and seasonings, and rub it all over the pork belly to coat it. Put the belly and any seasoning that fell off in a bag, stacking them if you have multiple slabs, and place it in the fridge for 6 days. Flip and turn every day or so to keep the marinade even.

I usually aim for a 1 week process so on the 6th day take the belly out of the bag and place it on a rack with a tray beneath it to catch any falling juices and put it back into the fridge. A cookie sheet with a plate underneath works well. We are trying to dry off the belly. I do this primarily because I smoke my belly and smoke doesn’t stick to wet things well, but it also has a great effect on the roasting color by doing this step. Air drying meat before roasting is a great idea, like chickens for roasting. *Some recipes recommend rinsing the belly prior to drying, I presume to remove any excess marinate so maybe the herbs and sugars won’t burn during cooking. I used to do this but don’t anymore. I don’t have any problems and I like the way it looks more. Go with your heart.

The next day preheat your oven or smoker to 250 degrees and smoke or cook for around 90 minutes or until an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Feel free to add a little more time if it needs it to finish off the gorgeous color.

First thing after it’s done, eat a fresh hot bacon snack by working the odd nubs that hang around the edges. This is one of the highest moments of human experience, relish in it. Then let the belly cool and then refrigerate it. If you’d like to slice your bacon, whether by hand or if you’ve got your hands on a commercial meat slicer it’s best to toss the belly in the freezer until it’s about 1/3 frozen. This will give you a slab that is firm enough to make uniform cuts more easily.

Bringing in the Harvest: Root Cellaring, to “Forcing”, to New Seed


The first frost that cuts down the most vulnerable plants pulls like pulsing tides the unabating freezes who crash on to the ground until most growth is finally silenced. Carrots and parsnips generally survive and so long as the ground isn’t too frozen can be dug up as needed. But the moment- just before the ground freezes- many of the other root characters are gathered up, the leaves cut off about an inch from their growing point, and brought inside to join us- and the mice- to be saved from these conditions too extreme.

Different vegetables have different temperatures ideal for keeping them in dormant long-haul storage. In looking for a place in your abode or other to act as a “root cellar”, you can keep an eye out for cold protected spaces- an unheated closet, an attic, an odd nook under the staircase, or beneath your porch. The best option I have is under the cellar door which gets some insulation laid on top and is not perfect but tends to be good enough. For a good root cellar cool temperatures (~45 degrees is great, but you can get by with warmer for a while, just not as long), moderately high humidity (which can be assisted by storing veg in a moist medium like sand or sawdust or leaves in bags, boxes, and crates), and a certain degree of air flow in the room to clear out any off gassing from the vegetables and spoilage organisms. All of that mostly pertains to most root veg, potats, etc. Some others such as onions, and garlic store best with dryer conditions closer to 50 degrees, while squash and sweet potatoes can do lukewarm temps so second as a living room decoration well, and that only gets better if let’s say in late winter a squash starts to rot and then you can put it on the tv stand and watch it decompose together with your family and friends until the flies come home.

If those stored roots are given too much moisture or heat they can sprout, which is likely to happen because a good system is an imperfect system. A tradition likely discovered through that thinking is the “forcing” of plants. Chicories with strong taproots like radicchio, endive, and dandelion, are favorite candidates, but other well-rooted folks like rhubarb, beets, and asparagus also can be intentionally tricked into sprouting new growth indoors. There are lots of different ways to do it but generally the roots are dug up in the fall, topped, and stored in the cellar just as if you were keeping them. When you choose it’s time for forcing, the roots are transplanted into containers of soil, this time watered well enough with around 50-60 degree temps ideally. Often times these second sprouts can be tough or bitter so forcing is done in the absence of light for sweet, delicate leaves. The forcing can be staggered for a continuous supply of fresh greens in the winter, and in some cases getting multiple cuttings is possible, after which the roots, at least of the chicories, can be roasted and ground into coffee. Keep an eye out for the possibilities, like if you store onions you’ll probably notice a few sprout uninvitedly. Why not place these in a shallow dish of water by a window for fresh winter scallions?

Now let’s not stop there. Let’s say we continued allowing those sprouted roots to grow, well they will eventually shoot flowers right? Many of the aforementioned veg are biennial which means they flower in their second year. Where we live in Western Pennsylvania our winter temperatures can kill some biennial plants begging the question: how do we collect seeds from them? By bringing those plants inside like beets and radishes and storing them our cool nook or root cellar, we are inadvertently also enroute to saving them for seed. When the weather breaks in the spring they can be planted back into the earth outside to complete their reproduction cycle. This transplanting also provides enough placement control if someone were trying to avoid cross-pollination to boot. Other non-root-centric biennials, like let’s say you were afraid of your cauliflower dying overwinter for instance, are entirely dug up, cleaned of leaves for a naked stem, and stored in a bucket of lightly moist soil at a spot in the cellar to protect them from killing freezes and devoid of sunlight to keep their dormancy until it’s safe again to transplant outside.

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.