Our Permaculture Kitchen Staples: sourdough, cheese, kraut, tibicos + jun

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Our household runs on a few key foods + drinks that we make from scratch each week with local ingredients and wild fermentation: tibicos, jun, no-knead sourdough, kefir cheese and kraut. Here’s how we make them!

Alrighty so for our final article of the year I thought I’d leave you with a bunch of small but delicious kitchen projects that are perfect to start when you’ve got a bit more time than usual – like the holidays.

For all these kitchen staples, once you get into the rhythm of them, they’re all very easy + quick to make regularly. They are amazing for your gut health and your family’s nutrition in general. And all from scratch, using simple, everyday ingredients.

In our kitchen we have a bunch of aims when growing, sourcing and cooking our food – to eat what grows nearby, to source with the seasons, and to adapt any fancy recipes to simple, doable ingredients that are within our reach.

Our main drinks at home are rainwater and sometimes tibicos + jun. Oh and tea and coffee in the morning to get us cranking, but you already know how to make those I’m sure.

The sourdough gets made once every 2-3 days, depending on how fast we go through it. The kefir cheese (similar to chèvre) gets made about once a week. And the sauerkraut gets made in big batches whenever there’s a glut of some likely vegetable, and lasts for months.

All together, these are our kitchen staples – any meal generally includes one or more of them.

All of these foods help keep our biome healthy, feed our tummies and help us live simply and cheaply. So we can focus on good stuff, and help us significantly reduce the waste, food miles + packaging that would come with purchasing these foods instead. Yeehar.

Tibicos – water kefir

Tibicos is THE drink of choice for our kiddo Ashar. It’s basically fizzy fruit soda that just happens to be homemade and probiotic.

Tibicos is a SCOBY (Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeasts) that originates from South America and usually is made on fructose (fruit sugars) and cane sugar.

But we don’t live nearby any sugar cane farms (the closest one is about 1,400km away) so we make ours on our own honey. And it works just fine.

First ferment:

We make our tibicos in a 2 litre glass jar which usually has about 2 tablespoons of the SCOBY grains in it. To this we add two pieces of dried fruit (for fructose), half an eggshell (for added calcium), and about 3 tablespoons of honey.

Then we fill up the jar halfway with rainwater (any filtered water will do), stir it all around, and then fill the jar with more water to an inch below the top, and cap it lightly to keep out bugs but still allow for gasses to release.

This first ferment sits on the benchtop for 2 days, bubbling away happily. And then it’s time for the second ferment!

Second ferment:

Over a large bowl (or sometimes directly into bottles) we pour the water kefir out – straining off the SCOBY, eggshell and fruit, which all get dumped straight back in the big jar, ready for another first ferment. We use the eggshell till it disappears (the SCOBY dissolves it over time) and the dried fruit for two rounds of the first ferment, then replace them.

The liquid that we’ve poured off, we pour into two 1 litre glass bottles, leaving about 1/4 headroom in each. And now it’s time for flavouring! We add one tablespoon of honey per bottle (for the microbes to continue to eat, this builds the fizz) plus pieces of fresh or frozen fruit, , and sometimes ginger or herbs as well. As much as you like is fine. Our favourite combinations include:

  • strawberry + orange
  • blueberry + orange
  • lemon + ginger
  • apple + pear + mint

Then those bottles get capped tightly and put back on the kitchen shelf for another day, until they are of a taste and fizziness that we like. If you like it sweet, you will limit this second ferment stage. If you like it dry (like us) you might leave it a little longer. Be careful to burp them every 12 hours or so to release the fizz a bit.

When they taste as we like them, the bottles of 2nd ferment tibicos go into our fridge to cool, and to slow down further fermentation. Cold tibicos is the best thing ever. Sometimes they don’t make it that far though and just get drunken straight up, they’re super tasty.

And around the cycle goes again – 2 day first ferment, 1-2 day 2nd ferment.

A note on transitioning tibicos from cane sugar to honey: we did this because we wanted to use local sweetness from our farm’s beehives, so we did half-and-half honey and sugar for a week before going straight honey. It worked fine for us.

However Miin from Dr Chan’s Tibicos suggested to me a few days ago that it would be good to give the tibicos a break from honey every once in a while to ensure the anti-bacterial agents in the honey don’t ‘run down’ elements of the tibicos grains. So if our grains get lazy, I’ll give them a round or two back on sugar. Thanks Miin!

Jun – a grown-up ferment

Jun is another SCOBY-based drink – quite similar to kombucha in some ways, except it’s made of green tea and honey rather than black tea and cane sugar. But we vastly prefer it over kombucha – it’s more subtle and goes acidic less quickly.

This ferment is our ‘grown ups drink’ of the house, on account of the green tea, and therefore caffeine. Our 7 yo certainly doesn’t need any more energy. But i do, sometimes.

We make our Jun on green tea, honey and hibiscus tea (rosella) because when Meg gave me my Jun SCOBY (whose name is Sofie, by the way) that was the mix it was in, and it’s delicious.

First ferment:

We add a teaspoon of green tea leaves and also hibiscus tea leaves to a 2 litre jar, then pour over a small amount of hot water (again, rainwater – or any filtered water) and let it steep for 5 mins or so.

Then we add cold water up to the halfway mark and add 3 tablespoons of honey (or less, if i want a quicker ferment) and stir it all around. Then we fill the jar with water to 2 inches from the top and add Sofie the SCOBY.

Yes Sofie has bits of tea leaf in her. She’s fine with it, and so are we.

Second ferment:

Ever two days or so (usually at the same time as the water kefir, unless i forget or run out of time) we drain off the liquid from the Jun jar and do a second ferment – again, in two 1 litre bottles.

We first sieve out sofie the SCOBY and the tea leaves, and dump them in a separate, clean bowl. Then I put the tea leaves back in our 2 litre jar, add a little more green tea and hibiscus and repeat the first ferment process. We re-use the tea leaves twice, changing them as a batch every second round.

The second ferment flavours for our Jun are pretty minimal – we add another tablespoon of honey, and usually one of the following combinations:

  • grated turmeric + orange slices
  • grated ginger
  • dried orange peel + grape juice
  • cardomon pods + whole cloves + orange

Again, these capped bottles go back on the bench for a day, sometimes two, until they are of a good fizziness and flavour. Then once more its into the fridge to halt the fermentation, and into our tummies.

On a Saturday evening around the campfire, a glass of Jun with a slice of fresh orange, a sprig of mint and a nip of our friend’s home-made gin might just be the best thing on earth. And the rest of the week, Jun is also awesome on its own.

A note on booziness with both Tibicos + Jun: if you ferment either of these fine brews for long enough, they will develop a perceivable alcoholic content. We keep our fermentation times for both the first and second ferments short to avoid this, especially the tibicos.

This factor could be also used to your merry advantage, of course, but it you’re looking for ‘family-strength’ results, be aware. If in doubt, taste it before you serve it to small people.

No-knead Sourdough

This recipe is a combo of the no-knead bread we used to make for years (with just a tiny pinch of yeast) and Su Dennett’s masterful and extremely lazy sourdough recipe.

We make this great bread every 2-3 days, depending on our needs. It stores well as whole loaves for over a week.

To make this bread you will need a sourdough starter, for which the internet has a squillion recipes – or you can just beg a small pot of it from  a sourdough-making friend and keep that healthy. The method below is for one good loaf tin of bread.

It’s a 24 hour recipe, but the total work involved is less than 10 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups bread grain ground to flour (we’re using a local emmer at the moment, though spelt is our fave – wheat will do also) or 6 cups of wholegrain flour.
  • Sourdough starter – about 250-500ml, or however much you have
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • water

Day 1 – evening

Combine half your flour with all of your sourdough starter in a big bowl, and slowly add enough water to make a sloppy puddle dough – too wet to knead, but not a complete soup. At this stage the mix is VERY forgiving, so you can add a variable amount of starter, and substitute out some of the water for whey, if you have it.

Cover the bowl (we use a plate) and set somewhere at room temp overnight.

Day 2  – morning

Remove a portion of the mix from the bowl – this is your ongoing sourdough starter – we take out about 3 big tablespoons to put in a separate jar, add a little new flour to feed it, then set it aside.

Add the second half of your flour plus the salt to the bowl and mix it all around. You may need to add a bit more water at this point – you’re going for a slightly firmer mix this time – too wet to knead, but not a puddle, either. This is the point that you add anything extra that you want in the bread – seeds, nuts, fruit etc.

Set bowl aside, covered, at room temp.

Day 2 – evening

About 2-3 hours before you want to bake, grease a loaf tin, and pour the dough into it – it will collapse. Then cover and put somewhere warm until you bake it – generally until it as doubled in size.

Bake at about 180ºc for 40-50 mins, until the top is nicely browned and the sides pull away from the tin a little.

Turn out onto a rack and wait till cool to cut. It is very good.

Notes: the above is a guide only, vary it at will – its a very adaptable method. If we have a bit of whey left over from cheesemaking we’ll replace half of the water in the first ferment with that. Caraway seeds in and on the bread is very good, as is fruit.

For keeping the starter alive till the next loaf is made in a day or so, we add a tablespoon of flour and a splash of water each day.

Wild fermented Chèvre

Cows milk works fine for this cheese also – whatever you’ve got or can get locally, use that.

This staple has come about in our kitchen because we milk the Melliodora goats 3 times a week, so we have milk to spare.

This cheese is a staple reaction to that – it’s a tangy yet cheesy probiotic powerhouse protein, can be used in all sorts of ways from simple spread to garnish, and keeps in the fridge for weeks.

Oh actually I’ve already shared this recipe – here it is.

Notes: recently I forgot all about a batch of this in its second draining phase – after the salt and chives were added – it was draining for at least 48 hours, if not longer. The result was the best batch yet.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is a magical mix of vegetables, salt, bacteria and time. And we could not live without it.

Any over abundance of veggies at Melliodora (and at our previous abodes) results in us making a big crock of kraut – sometimes just one vegetable variety, sometimes ten at once. It’s all good.

Here’s our classic sauerkraut recipe that we’ve been making since working with the awesome Sandor Katz in 2013, at which point we became entirely converted to the way of the kraut.

Variations for the drier vegetables in our lives:

Sometimes, though, the veggies you have to work with may not give up the liquid you wish them to. This was the case in early spring when we had a glut of three cornered garlic, a delicious local wild green / weed hereabouts.

We knew there wouldn’t be enough liquid in the greens to make a brine unless we blended it all up – which we didn’t want to do, mostly because it was far easier just to chop them up a bit.

So we combined a big basket of the three cornered garlic, cut up into 10cm bits, with a bag of carrot that we grated.

We added coriander and dill seeds as we packed and pounded the greens and carrots into a fermentation crock (with no added salt), and then we added a 10% brine over the whole thing, until it was just submerged.

This brine was a substitute for the liquid that usually comes out of the veg during the pounding process, and the salt thats usually added along the way.

Then we proceeded to ferment  the kraut in the normal krauty way – and 2 weeks later it was done, and it was delicious. There was enough for everyone, and their friends, too.

Since then, we’ve also dealt with a glut of celeriac root in the same way – by grating, pounding, adding spices and pouring brine over the lot before fermenting as per a normal kraut.

The grating/brining technique has been a a great way to turn ‘too many vegetables’ that also aren’t very juicy into delicious condiments that go with many dishes, and work as excellent barter also.

So that’s the basics of our permaculture kitchen – the things we eat every day.

Ontop of that there’s all the vegetables we grow (or swap, or buy locally), our own eggs and honey, local grains + legumes we access via our local wholefoods co-op, fruit from the Melliodora orchards, and occasional home-kill meat from friends, swapped for various condiments or skills. It’s a pretty simple diet, but a good one.

The thing I like best about all this is that we’re engaged in our food system, as much as we can possibly be. Which means we can limit our impact, and make informed choices, each and everyday, about our own consumption.

And in a world out of balance, that makes me feel empowered, even if it is on the small scale of things. Fuelled by simple, wholesome food, I am more powerful. To fight like a lion for what i believe in, to communicate and share goodness, to stop and rest, and to wake up to goats cheese on sourdough toast tomorrow, and do it all again.

Or hey, food revolution aside, you could just make the Jun and add it to your holiday cocktails! That would be a start also.

And before you know it, you’ll be hooked on great tasting home-made everything, and your kitchen will be just as full of from-scratch staples as ours is… just you wait and see. Let us know how you go!

Do you make any staples in your kitchen? What are they? We’d love to hear…

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