Kombucha’s Recent History

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Kombucha is the centuries-old beverage made by fermenting sweet (green, black, white, or oolong) tea. The ferment develops a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts) pellicle and liquid. As sugar is consumed by the ferment, it forms a lovely balance of acids. Acetic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, butyric acid, and more mingle together to give kombucha it’s refreshing tart taste. Juices and fruits are added after the initial fermentation to impart flavor and feed the yeasts to provide a gentle fizz. The final beverage is packed with vitamins and enzymes believed by many to provide a wide array of health benefits, including supporting gut health.

There is yet to be a large body of controlled research to definitively put a stamp on the benefits attributed to kombucha. The US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health has several studies and published articles of interest including https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24290641 . The strongest connection is that probiotics may improve gut health.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26960543 addresses the suitability of fermented foods as a source of probiotics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30197628 discusses enhanced shelf-life and nutritional properties of fermented foods. Https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28115036 eve refers to low/no alcohol fermented beverages as a food group. Other fermented foods such as Tempeh, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and pickles would fall into this group of potentially health-boosting, probiotic-rich powerhouses.

The kombucha market was fairly limited in the US when it hit a rather large speedbump in 2010 over a crisis of regulation. Fluctuation in alcohol contents that deviated from the allowed .5% maximum led to halting sales. This opening on the shelves gave smaller brewers the opportunity to enter more markets and expose Americans to more variety in commercially produced kombucha beverages. This shake-up in the commercial market set off a cascade and resurgence of the beverage popularity.

The US market for kombucha is 180 million US dollars, with 95% in organic products. According to www.statista.com the market is poised to top 1 billion by 2023.

“US retail sales surged 37.4% in 2017,” while the rest of the non-alcoholic beverage market grew a skimpy 1.2%, according to www.foodnavigator-usa.com

Huge sales are just a part of the picture. Homebrewing which has been popular since the 70’s has grown at a rapid rate. While some would claim that home-brewed kombucha is dangerous, others brew it by the gallons and claim it has cured everything from the common cold to cancer. There isn’t much evidence of either other, but that hasn’t stopped the growth or the public support of kombucha. Green tea, cane sugar, filtered water, some starter (kombucha from a previous batch), and time. It is inexpensive to make, delicious, and potentially part of a healthy diet.

I am a long-time kombucha brewer and drinker.  Each person has to decide what is right for themselves and their family. I love the taste and how it makes me feel. We strive to limit the unknown ingredients in our food and like to control the process. At the same time, we are trying to live a fiscally responsible life and develop skills that have the potential to be lost and share those skills. I will share with you how I make my kombucha and some resources where you can research and find more information on brewing your own, should you decide to pursue fermenting at home. Stay tuned for the next article in the series. I will be sharing step-by-step instructions for making kombucha from a starter or from scratch. Enjoy!

 

*We are not claiming any health benefits of kombucha. We are just sharing the facts we have found and our own experiences consuming and brewing fermented beverages. You assume all risk should you choose to brew and consume kombucha.

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Maple Tree Tapping in Southeastern Virginia

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Tree Tapping Season in Southeastern Virginia

Most maple syrup produced in the United States comes from Vermont, but that doesn’t mean we are shut out from the practice of sugaring. Virginia’s below-freezing nights combined with the mild above freezing days of late-winter can mean a short but prolific running of the sap. At 36° latitude, Virginia is on the lower edge of maple sugaring country. It is unique to the area above 35° latitude and east of 95° longitude.

Native Americans have been harvesting the sap and boiling it down since before the Pilgrims arrived. Maple syrup has been reported to have been on the menu of the first Thanksgiving in 1621.

Maple syrup was even a patriotic, politically-correct, sugar-alternative leading up to and during the Civil War, as traditional sugar used southern, slave labor.

Sugars are near-perfect foods in that they store well for very long periods of time and have a high caloric content needed in times of survival.

Maple syrup is commonly used to top pancakes and waffles but may also be used to sweeten drinks like lemonade and tea, lend sweetness to marinades for meats, flavor candies, muffins, cakes, frosting, and oatmeal. Plus, it makes a nice gift.

Add to the utilitarian uses the medicinal properties of maple syrup and I find even more reasons to harvest, process, and store it in our pantry. The maple sap has many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It may have anti-inflammatory properties, has a lower glycemic score than regular sugar, and is a component of many popular cleanse diets.

Maple season is wrapping up for me. This year was super fast and furious. It started quickly, flowed fast, and then as fast as it appeared, the season ended. We tap Red Maples, but you can also tap Sugar Maples, Silver Maples, or Black Maples ( as well as many other trees).

To find out if you have trees suitable for tapping, identify the trees you have on your property and map them. https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/388/388-802/388-802_pdf.pdf The 4-H Forestry program has some valuable information for learners of all ages.

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Tapping hole

You will need to identify mature, healthy trees at least 12” in diameter.

You only need some simple supplies to tap trees: drill and drill bit 9sized for spile), spiles, tubing, cheesecloth or fabric, hammer or mallet, and buckets, bags, or jugs to collect sap.

I found inexpensive kits on Amazon as well as Tap My Trees www.tapmytree.com/shop www.tapmytrees.com/product/beginning-tubing-kit/ , Lehman’s www.lehmans.com/category/sugaring-supplies Merchants from Walmart to Tractor Supply sell sugaring supplies and kits. Order supplies well ahead of time so that when conditions are right, you can tap right away.

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Plastic spile and jug
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Metal spile with hook for bucket

You will need to check your area’s expected tapping date with the Local Extension Office, but the sap flows between late January and early March in Virginia. When the night’s temperatures are below freezing and the day’s temperatures are above freezing, the expansion and contraction squeeze the sap up through the tree. The wider the swings, the faster it flows. The season may last as long as six weeks for us. This year, it only lasted for three weeks. We tap each tree twice if possible. Trees12-18” can support a single tap, those 18-25” can support two taps, while those 32’ or more in diameter may support as many as six taps.

Start with clean equipment. Use a very sharp drill bit and good quality drill so that you may make a single hole 1 ½ inches deep, at a very slight upward angle, in one single pass. Resist the urge to drill back and forth as it may seal the hole. If there are wood bits at the edge of the hole, use a toothpick to sweep them out and promptly tap in the spile. The shavings of a healthy tree will be very light brown. If the shavings are dark brown, choose another tree. Do not tap within six inches of another hole or the hole from a recent year. You should see tree water or sap dripping. I prefer to use food-grade tubing attached to cleaned-out plastic milk jugs, rather than buckets or bags. The tubing resists debris getting into the sap and saves time filtering the sap.

I check the jugs every morning and every evening, emptying and filtering through cheesecloth or fabric, then refrigerating or freezing the yield until I am ready to cook it down. When the sap is flowing well, I will get a gallon a day from a tree. At times the flow may slow to a trickle. The sap will continue to flow until temperatures stabilize and remain above freezing day/night, and the tree buds. At that time the sap will get a bit cloudy and take on a bitter taste.  Remove the taps from the trees with a pair of pliers, and all equipment should be cleaned and sanitized and stored for the following year. The tree will heal and be ready for tapping again next season.

It takes about 40 parts sap to make 1 part syrup. Boiled sap (which is not reduced down to syrup) may also be used full strength as a drink or “light” sweetener. Five gallons boils down to about one pint of finished syrup. A few years ago, we ended up with 191 ounces of finished syrup and had a nice assortment of holiday gifts to share. We also made rock candy that year.

Our freezer is full of the wonderful sweet water/sap from the Red Maples that my grandmother planted. We are the fourth generation to live in our home and are blessed to have the legacy of our ancestors to help us subsist. In the coming weeks, I will find a nice day to sit outside and cook the syrup while I crochet or read a good book or two. Check back, and I will be sharing the cooking process in a future post. Until then, start scouting your trees and planning next year’s tapping adventure.

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Apple Butter

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Easy Slow Cooker Apple Butter

5 pounds of apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks

4 ½ cups white sugar

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon Himalayan sea salt

1 pinch ground cardamom

Place all ingredients in slow cooker.

Cook, covered, on high for 3 hours.

Reduce temperature setting to low and cook for 12-14 hours until dark brown.

At this step, an immersion blender can be used to make the apple butter super-smooth.

Uncover and cook for 1-3 hours to thicken.

Spoon into clean jars and process in waterbath canner (15 minutes for pints) or store in the refrigerator.

Apple Cider Vinegar DIY

 

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Imagine gallons of healthful apple cider vinegar…for free. It is easier than you think.  Follow the easy, step-by-step instructions to turn waste into liquid gold.

If at all possible, start with organically grown apples. The redder the skin, the darker the finished vinegar will be. Any apples can be used. If you have an abundance of apples, the entire apple can be used. It is more efficient to make your apple cider vinegar when you are also processing apples for other recipes, such as applesauce, apple pie filling, apple juice or apple butter. The skins and cores which are left over from the recipes may be used instead of simply being discarded or tossed on the compost pile.

What you will need:

A large glass jar (1 or 2-gallon size works well)

Peels and cores from 5 pounds of apples

2 tablespoons of sugar

Water

Place bowl of apple peels and cores on the counter to rest and brown for 24-72 hours. You want them to turn brown, so let Mother Nature do her work on them.

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Once brown, place the peels and cores in a large, wide-mouthed jar.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar over the peels and cores.

Pour enough room-temperature water over the apples to cover the peels and cores.

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Cover with a piece of fabric or cheesecloth tied off with a string or ribbon.

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Store in a warm, dark place for one month.

A mother will form on top of the mixture. It will resemble a jellyfish and is desirable. DO NOT THROW THE MOTHER AWAY!

Scoop out the mother and set aside in a bowl.

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Strain apple pieces out of the liquid.

Return liquid to the large jar. If you do 2 batches at once, they can be combined at this time.

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Replace mother on top of the liquid.

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Re-cover jar with fabric and set aside for an additional 2-6 months until finished

.Finished apple cider vinegar may be stored in the refrigerator to keep it fresh.

Easy Slow Cooker Apple Butter

5 pounds of apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks

4 ½ cups white sugar

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon Himalayan sea salt

1 pinch ground cardamom

Place all ingredients in slow cooker.

Cook, covered, on high for 3 hours.

Reduce temperature setting to low and cook for 12-14 hours until dark brown.

At this step, an immersion blender can be used to make the apple butter super-smooth.

Uncover and cook for 1-3 hours to thicken.

Spoon into clean jars and process in waterbath canner (15 minutes for pints) or store in the refrigerator.

Our Take on Comeback Sauce

Comeback Sauce is a southern favorite. It is fantastic on salads, as a dip, on meat or seafood, as a secret sauce on sandwiches, and anything else you can think of. There are as many variations as there are family cookbooks. It has everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. Mix some up in a quart Ball jar and keep it in the fridge for several weeks. Go ahead and play with the recipe to make it your own!

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Homestead Comeback Sauce 

1 ½ cup mayonnaise 

¼ cup ketchup 

¼ cup olive oil 

5 tablespoons brown sugar 

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 

1 teaspoon spicy mustard 

½ teaspoon garlic powder 

½ teaspoon hot sauce 

1 teaspoon lemon juice 

1 pinch cayenne pepper 

¼ teaspoon allspice 

Mix all ingredients together and chill well. Great for seafood, dipping sauce, burgers, French fries, or salad dressing. There are tons of variations of this southern, Mississippi favorite. We find it’s better after chilled for 24 hours. Our original sauce contained chili sauce and did not contain brown sugar but we changed it after a discussion with a sandwich maker at a local, well-loved (now closed), sandwich shop.   

 

When You Are on the go and a Fast Food Lunch Isn’t an Option

When your truck is your office and you are moving from one job site to another, it’s easy to start scrimping on nutrition. After all, we start early in the morning and I didn’t always plan the night before. One of the things that made me start paying attention to what was in my cooler, is when my coworkers sat hungry. I started carrying a little something extra every day. 

My go-to tools for always having lunch as a great cooler and purpose-built containers to keep foods hot or cold. 

Lunches don’t have to be expensive or unhealthy.  My favorite container is a Thermos for hot foods. The easiest last-minute, hot lunch, is ramen. Before you freak out, realize that you don’t have to add the whole seasoning/salt packet.  A scoop of leftover veggies is awesome added to it. To make it, I crumble a ramen cake (19 cents) into the hot food container, add seasoning or leftover veggies. Heat water in the microwave or teapot and add to container. Secure lid and put it in the cooler. By lunch, the ramen is cooked. When the temps are super-cold, it is a welcome treat to have something hot. 

The neat thing about the hot container is you can put any hot food in it. Wait, leftover turkey and potatoes, stuffing, ribs, meatballs…whatever is lurking in the fridge.  

My second favorite is a good hot beverage container or two. Coffee for the morning and tea or cocoa for later. Today’s Thermos jugs come in all sizes. Maybe carry a little extra to share?  

For cool drinks, I freeze water bottles and use them to chill the cooler and during the day they melt and become drinkable.  

You can’t go wrong stashing granola bars in your lunch, they are a quick pick-me-up mid-morning or afternoon. Other easy snacks are pretzels, peanut butter pods, Cheese sticks or dices, nuts, vegetables, marshmallows, raisins, cookies, homemade pudding or yogurt, 

Sandwiches are great.  I have learned that two clean, dry, lettuce leaves placed next to the bread keep it from getting soggy. No more mushy mayo sandwiches.  

Frozen yogurt tubes are awesome when it is hot outside. Kept in the cooler, they thaw by lunch. 

Eating healthy foods is important but you always want to make sure you have something sweet and something salty as a treat to battle against dehydration and low blood sugar. Working outside with an afternoon headache from either of these things is no fun. 

If time is short in the mornings, try to prepare things on the weekend to carry you through the week. Some of my favorite lunch items are listed below. 

  • Boiled eggs 
  • Fresh fruit
  • A jar of canned goodness from your stash
  • Fruit cocktail
  • Apple sauce 
  • Any casserole  
  • Homemade yogurt with jam or mix-ins 
  • Ramen packages 
  • Soups or soup packets 
  • Chicken and rice 
  • Apple juice or orange juice 
  • Quinoa and a meat of choice 
  • Oatmeal 
  • Frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches 

I have a couple of coolers, depending on my mood. My favorite cooler is great for anyone that does meal-prep and needs to carry a full day’s worth of food. It contains sleeves for 4 large drink bottles, dry goodies, and six meal trays. For shorter days, I have found a smaller cooler with an 18 can capacity, cool little storage tray, and it can be padlocked closed.  

Start to think about how you would pack up Mom’s leftovers and build your lunchbox around them.  We know bringing our coffee saves a significant amount of money. According to USA Today, “On average, Americans spend about $20 per week getting lunch in restaurants, or $1,043 a year.” Wow, just wow. I’m already regretting all the leftovers that didn’t get eaten and ended up in the trash. 

Not only am I on a mission to eat and spend more responsibly, I would like to think that there is less waste and fewer single serve containers headed for our landfills. For the past year, I allowed myself to eat lunch out once per week as long as it was inexpensive. This worked well.  

Little steps. 

Take Your Prepping Efforts to the Next Level

Let’s be honest.

A lot of preppers lose steam building their supply because it takes such a long time and so much money.  You shop the sales, you buy in bulk, you continuously do inventory, and discover that you still don’t have the supply you’d hoped for.

Do you want to know the secret to getting prepped and doing it fast?

It’s having a plan and support.

There is so much information out there that sifting through it all to find the things that will work for you could be a full-time job. What’s more, a lot of it is contradictory. And, you know, if you had $10,000 sitting there to spend on preps, it sure would be a lot easier.

There is help available, though.

Lisa Bedford, The Survival Mom, and Daisy Luther, The Organic Prepper, created a course called The Prepping Intensive. It is an 8-week course that takes all the guess work out of getting prepped, and best of all, they help you to create a plan that will work for YOUR family, not some idealized website family.  They won’t suggest that you move out to the boondocks, either, because they know that many of us are tied to urban locations for a variety of reasons.

Don’t have a lot of money to get prepped with? Don’t worry! Many of the steps on the to-do lists are cheap or even free.

You’ll get this training and information from:

  • Downloadable guides
  • Printables
  • 24 live webinars
  • Live interviews with the experts, with plenty of time for Q&A
  • Weekly check-ins for accountability
  • A like-minded community of people on the same path as you

You’ll also get a BONUS 1-year membership to the Preppers University Student Center, with its library of downloads, extra classes, and forum. Go here Prepper University to learn more about the Prepping Intensive, [insert affiliate link], and use coupon code TAKETEN for $10 off the registration fee of $139.

This could be the most important class you ever take and it’s one I personally recommend.

Find out more about upcoming classes and get your FREE 2017 Prepper Planner at Prepper University This is an affiliate link. Thank you.

Shipwreck Pie, Minus the Shipwreck

Shipwreck Pie (featuring boxed dehydrated flavored potatoes)

This version of shipwreck pie uses an inexpensive, boxed, (any) flavored, dehydrated, sliced potatoes. Our family favorite is Rosemary & Herb with Creamy White Sauce but try others for unique flavors. The end result is a fancied-up many-layered meatloaf that is good served with vegetables, pasta, or rice.

Ingredients:

1 boxed dehydrated sliced potatoes with flavoring packet

1 lb. ground beef (divided into 2 equal portions)

2 cups beef broth

1 ½ cups shredded Colby-Jack cheese

1 medium onion diced (diced finely and divided into 2 equal portions)

2 tablespoons butter, sliced into thin pats

4 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

 

In a well-greased slow cooker, layer the ingredients as follows:

  1. Dehydrated sliced potatoes from box mix
  2. 2 cups beef broth poured over potatoes
  3. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of nonfat dry milk over broth
  4. 2 tablespoons of butter sliced thin into pats spaced evenly on top
  5. Sprinkle ½ of seasoning packet from box
  6. 1 pinch Italian seasoning
  7. ½ cup Colby Jack cheese
  8. ½ of the diced onion
  9. ½ lb. ground beef
  10. ½ seasoning packet
  11. ½ cup Colby Jack Cheese
  12. ½ lb. ground beef
  13. ½ of the diced onion
  14. Pinch of Italian seasoning
  15. ½ cup Colby Jack cheese
  16. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons flour over surface
  17. Remainder of Italian seasoning sprinkled on top

Cook on high for ½ hour, then on low for ½ hour. Can keep on warm up to 2 hours.

Easy Slow Cooker Yogurt

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Slow Cooker Yogurt

This is one of the easiest ways you can save some serious money. If you eat yogurt, add up how many little, 5-7 oz. cups you go through in 7-10 days. For the cost of some milk, yogurt, gelatin (optional), and electricity, you can make the creamiest homemade yogurt. It is so easy!

What you need:

  • a slow cooker, thick beach towel, small clean containers for finished yogurt, and a whisk
  • 1 gal of milk (fresher is better, pasteurized is fine)
  • 3 TBS powdered milk (optional- use if you want thicker finished yogurt)
  • 1 small packet Knox gelatin (optional- great for thicker yogurt)
  • 1/2 cup yogurt with active cultures (save some from previous batches or use store bought as a starter. Just check the label for active cultures)

Pour milk in slow cooker. Mix in powdered milk if you prefer a thicker yogurt or if milk is high heat pasteurized. Turn on low. Let milk cook for 3 hours.
Unplug slow cooker and let sit for 3 hours without removing lid.
Scoop out 2 cups of the warmish milk and whisk with active yogurt and optional gelatin.
Return milk mixture to slow cooker and whisk quickly into warm milk.
Cover still unplugged slow cooker. Wrap in thick beach towel to retain heat and leave sitting without disturbing for 8-10 hours (this is where I go to bed).
When the cover is lifted and you scoop your spoon through the creamy yogurt you won’t believe how easy it was!
Scoop into containers and refrigerate promptly.
Top the unsweetened yogurt with fresh fruit, jam, or chocolate syrup. It’s so yummy.

If you like sour cream or Greek yogurt, simply strain through cheesecloth overnight in a colander in the refrigerator. The whey that collects is wonderful for making bread, lemonade, or even acidifying the soil around plants.

Now, you do the math. You can get a gallon of yogurt for the price of milk and some extras in 16 hours.

Let me know what you do with yours.

Electricity, My Pocketbook, and the Environment (part 2)

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Turning off the Light Bulbs, TV, and Pull the Plug on Chargers

Mobile Phone Chargers

It turns out that a cell charger uses quite a bit of power just being plugged in. That means when the phone is fully charged, well, every minute after that is a waste of electricity. The power drain (http://www.treehugger.com/culture/treehugger-homework-unplug-your-cellphone-charger.html) is amazing and sickening at the same time.

Today I’m timing my phone to see how long it takes to charge and then unplug it. Once I know how long it takes, I’ll be able to set a kitchen timer and then unplug the phone (without constantly checking it). Some phones will chime an alert when fully charged but being hearing impaired, I like to have a ballpark estimate. I just love kitchen timers, not sure how much difference it will make but willing to try. I sure won’t be leaving it plugged in overnight anymore! I also found a bunch of solar chargers on Amazon.com and am snapping one up an extra to use on the go, at work, and when camping.

Unplugging

We have been trying to adopt new habits that will cut our dependence on the public electrical grid. So far it has been hard to remember all the new things to do each day and we are constantly reminding each other when we slip up. But I know it will get easier and each new habit will become a way of life.

The habit for today is for me to start unplugging things when I am done using them. I have to tell you that this one delights my Hubs, AKA “Mr. Safety.” He would unplug the fridge when I wasn’t looking if I wasn’t careful. Ha! No, really, he has been trying to get me to unplug for years.

Play Detective 

Looking for ways to cut the electricity has become a bit of a CSI experience in our home. I’ll find myself standing in front of an appliance, scratching my head, and wondering exactly what it costs to operate. Then, there is my trusty new friend, the Kill-A-Watt meter to measure the usage and set the issue to rest.

Some things aren’t so simple to measure but yet we know they make a difference. Insulation, for instance, helps conserve but is difficult for homeowners to measure–without waiting for the fuel and electric bill.

Sadly, my home is an oldie and needs some attention in the insulation area. I found some great videos on YouTube.com that show it step by step. My hope is by bringing the insulation up to par we will reduce the number of times the furnace cuts on and off, thus saving electricity and biofuel. We may also be able to nix some of the electric wall heater use.

Lights 

This one probably goes without saying, except we don’t actually DO it all the time.

You guessed it! Turning the lights out when we leave the room. When prompted, I always respond with something like, “I was going right back in there.”  The truth is I get pretty sidetracked, hence the kitchen times clipped to my collar. Ha ha ha.

Repeat after me: “I do pledge to make an effort to turn out the lights in the room as I leave. I agree to thank the person who reminds me and not to make up an excuse. I also agree to use daylight if overhead lighting is not needed.”

It doesn’t seem like much, but in my house, it’s huge. People can always tell when I’m home because the house is lit up like a Christmas tree. I go to one room for something and then flit off for something else. Before I know it, there are lights turned on in every room! And don’t even think about what happens if I need to run to do a quick errand. Oh, my! This could save me a ton of money.