Juju in the Air

 Cazenovia Cider Label, Good Life Cider, Clients: Melissa Madden, Garrett and Jimmy Miller, 2014

Cazenovia Cider Label, Good Life Cider, Clients: Melissa Madden, Garrett and Jimmy Miller, 2014

It has been a while. I should apologize for my neglect, but quite candidly, it is what it is. The past month has embraced many things including an unexpected visit from Alex, Kitty getting into a pattern, a trip to Sagamore and the opening of the new Rongovian Embassy on top of the day to day. We have had some bloopers with the furnace and stove. We have had huge  hedges trimmed and things closed down in prep for winter. And then of course, there is the ginger bug.

Say what? A ginger bug? Well, let me wheel this back a teensy bit. My friends Melissa and Garrett along with Garrett's brother, Jimmy are making hard cider (label shown to the left). They are also making exquisite ginger beer from the organic ginger that  Melissa grows in her high tunnels here in the cold (not tropical) Finger Lakes. The Ginger beer they make is dry and lemon-y and makes a girl wistful for hot summer afternoons or cozy evenings by the woodstove. It is bright and shiny as a blue sky morning and is certainly not kids stuff. I helped Melissa at Cider Week (at the Rongo) --tabling and sampling to get their name out as their hard cider (designed by yours truly) is on the way. But, to get attention on Good Life Farm, they sampled this dreamy sparkling Ginger beer which the crowds went gaga over...and I thought...hey. I should make some of that.

To back up even more, I have turned my new little pantry room into Mommy's Fermentation Room. I pressed a ton of apples -- actually juiced them, and am making big containers of vinegar. I have one of apples. I have one that is apples with one big fat red beet pressed with the apples giving me a vinegar that is rich, deep purple. I have a container of "apple peel" vinegar which is made up of apple peels that are fermenting in water sweetened with honey. There is really not much to make vinegar...it is the cultivation of the "mother", a cloudy amalgam of bacterial that translates the wild yeast magically in the air (I know that there is "science in this" but I prefer to stomp my feet and hope that the juju and the good magic works versus something as sensible and rational as science can 'splain all of this)...and converts the sweetness to alcohol (hard cider) to then the next step which is vinegar. Sounded simple from my reading on the web, and it is. I just need to keep an eye on it and see how sour I will let it go.

The interest in vinegar came from the ton of refrigerator pickling I have been doing in response to our CSA being big on beets this year. And guess what? I am making some pretty fine pickled veggies with beets being at the top of list. They are good enough, we eat them for breakfast (more like I eat them for breakfast and offer them to the crew. "No thank you. Please pass the jam"). The pickled baby brussels sprouts are good too. And, speaking of beets, I am making a slaw these days from shredded beets, carrots, cilantro, oil and lime juice that we eat  batch I grate up another immediately. Big hit here at 2 Camp St.

So back to the bug. So Garrett and Jimmy are making this sublime organic ginger beer, and we are talking about it in the early fall sunshine out at their Farm. It dawned on me that they would love  my newest favorite magazine...so I whip out my new copy of Imbibe Magazine and there is an article on shrubs and Ginger Beer and we all get really excited, sort of like the happy bacteria chomping away on all the sugery goodness in the juice I had brewing in the Fermentation shack--one idea feeding the other. I ended up giving them my copy of the magazine-- and going home to take out all the electronic books the New York Public Library has online. Turns out, there are many ways to make Ginger Beer, but the most interesting way for me, was to cultivate a "wild-fermented"Ginger bug, essentially, a biga or a starter (as in bread) for drinks. It is ginger, water and sugar and lots of stirring and watching. Also...no closed jars (cheesecloth with a rubberband to hold it in place to keep the flies out but let the yeast in) because it's got to to the same thing that our friends, the vinegar do....which is to invite the bacterial to come and chomp on the sugar--and develop it into a fermented base which will give us a spritz or natural "bottle conditioned" carbonation.

Why have a pet when you can feed and be entertained by a Ginger bug. So much fun.

Here is someone who is intelligent and writes charmingly on the magic I am fumphering around to communicate:

The Splendid Table>>

So, I am busy planning Thanksgiving and am going to (hoping I am not going to the hospital this year) be prepping the whole shebang in advance of the holiday. I am making turkey stock as we speak. I have baked a ton of sweet potatoes to make a sweet potato dish (never, ever have done that....not big on sweet food, but I think its a worthy try)>> Ruth Chris Sweet Potato Casserole. I have all the goodies ready to be added to the stuffing bread and parsley all cut, sauteed and frozen. I have the better part of a dozen apples on the stove simmering in lemon juice and cider, ready to make into applesauce for the Thanksgiving leftovers. Tomorrow, the stock will be strained, skimmed and some will become a mess of gravy for the day of and the day after that I will freeze in advance. Gravy is a big deal around here. I will have extra stock for Thanksgiving cooking...ready to go...and a clean refrigerator thanks to all the stockmaking (now referred to, by the hipsters as "bone broth"). I have frozen a pile of grated beets (gold and red) with carrots for a salad. I also have hot beets ready to peel and pickle for another jar of red side dishes.

I have two huge stalks of brussels sprouts that need to be pared down and the sprouts  sliced paper thin to roast on the big day. I will prep the mashed potatoes the day before and let the potatoes sit in water and destarchify. There are the cranberries to be made and frozen. This year, I am going rogue and adding fresh ginger to that mix. I think that will be sublime.

I have baking to do (cornbread and pumpkin bread, ginger snaps, and some pecan bars).  A friend is bringing pies. I might even make a spice cake as I love them...and having a  robust dessert offering is just plain fun and feasty.

Gotta go. Tomorrow I will rant about my planning around this year's advent calendar. I am smiling a lot to myself as I am amused by where this is going.... Lets hope the work measures up to the dreaming.