Archives for posts with tag: upcycling

I’m so excited about this new book Radical Mycology, the literary embodiment of an inspiring website.

Here’s a fantastic and quite tantalising glimpse into the book from the great teachers at Milkwood Permaculture . I really appreciate all the photos of pages inside the book, especially the ones of the impressive Table of Contents.

Have a listen to Peter McCoy and get yourself inspired.  I certainly am.  I don’t know how to have the time to take on a major new interest, but if I find it, this will be it.

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Fortunate am I to receive occasional parcels of unsold bread from a friend who runs a really top quality bakery here in mid-Wales, Andy’s Bread. A few months back he gave me several loaves of pumpernickel, a dark, dense and sweet rye bread.  His version includes whole rye grain, rye chops, rye, sourdough, molasses,  and old pumpernickel. The loaf is coated in rye chops (and baked in a hot oven which is then turned off overnight); a “lid” is placed on top of the tins to “steam” the loaves and prevent their drying out.  Andy’s pumpernickel is something special– and not so dissimilar from his Borodinski breads which contain coriander seeds and powder, malt extract and molasses.  These are true artisan breads in that they come from long and varied traditions and are expertly crafted in particular, local conditions.

Andy’s pumpernickel makes great croutons for leek and potato, and split pea soup; I will be using some from another batch tomorrow for chocolate Christmas bark as per Claire Ptak’s wonderful recipe here.


Being gifted with food that is “surplus” or “waste” anyway is really freeing, and allowed me to feel I could experiment.  I’d long been curious to try Bread Kvass, so in the absence of any planned trips to Russia or Russian communities elsewhere, I knew I’d have to try to make it. I also wanted to reproduce an effort from a while earlier in which I made a sourdough cake from recycled bread.  And I sadly found out that the friend who taught me her resourceful and roughshod approach to bread had died– so I was of a rare mind to bake bread. Read the rest of this entry »

New Lives for Your Christmas Tree, and Pine and Juniper Needles in General

The link above is a wonderful resource– great ideas for infusing oils, vinegars, fats, booze, spices, teas, syrups, and more.   Our Christmas tree happens to be plastic, something my husband found in a skip and eagerly rescued, and we’re all attached to setting it up and taking it down every year.   But we miss the scent and the naturalness and sacredness of a real tree.  So many things to do with conifer needles.  Looking forward to exploring the writings on this link in general.

Here’s another, if you are a high-end meat-eater, roast your lamb on a Christmas tree branch:

Earth Apples

I grew these! I’m proud of them! They began with a slightly lesser volume of potatoes that went green in our pantry — and of course I could not simply throw them away or even compost! Instead, I chitted them on the window-sill until they were gnarled with roots (or are they shoots?), then planted them in a plastic pot. Kept mounding up, then moved them, at the end of the summer, into a new raised bed we managed to make happen. And the leaves grew and grew and finally, we harvested them. Not many, but enough for a supper for the four of us, and so good boiled, with butter and salt and pepper. And I really tasted,for the very first time, a sweetness and a freshness, and why potatoes are called Earth Apples.


Six organic pineapples have travelled long miles, no longer smell sweet, have soft brown spots, and are not going to sell at the shop where I sometimes work. I bring them home with the idea that i’ll make a wild-crafted vinegar for all of us who work there, to play with in our cooking – a fun and exotic ingredient.

Wild “scrap vinegars” are inspiring and incredibly easy. I’d always read that one needs to begin with a “mother,” those strange, gelatinous “creatures” that float and grow in vinegar– amalgamations of yeasts and bacteria that float and sink like jellyfish…  My understanding now is that mothers represent a visible home for acetic acid to culture, but that actually you don’t NEED one (human beings a different story.) Through history we haven’t always invited acetic acid fermentation as much as we’ve sought to avoid it!

Basically, to make vinegar, and it is SO basic– you get fruit, or fruit scraps, raw or cooked– you place in water, add some sugar, make sure there is air, and wait. Stir when you walk to discourage baddies and to encourage oxygenation, which acetic acid bacteria like.  This stage is represented by the photograph on the left, above.  First your concoction turns a little alcoholic, then you wait some more. Then your “wine” begins to sour, vinegar-sour. It’s THIS easy. Keep stirring, to keep it airy and so that films of yeast don’t develop, nor moulds on any bits of solid that pop up out of the liquid. At some point, after it’s begun to sour, you strain and then bottle, as in the photo on the right, and then as time marches forth, your vinegar gets ever more vinegary, until eventually it reaches its highest acid level.

(These kind of vinegars are different from fruit vinegars in which the fruit is boiled in sugar then strained and steeped in a pre-made vinegar. These sweet vinegars – you might be familiar with blackberry vinegar made this way– are nice but to my mind too sweet, too boutique, and acutally less useful in a daily way. |And they are closer to “shrubs” and certain varieties of old-fashioned cordials that are really nice to drink mixed with water or bubbly-water and quite refreshing in hot weather. In that context the vinegar would have been a preservative for the sweetened fruit mixture.)

Last Thanksgiving (a festival of gratitude I celebrate with my England-born children) I saved the peels from all the apples that went into pies, and made a load of scrap vinegar.  I also experimented with cooked scraps,  fermenting the skins, seeds and cores that didn’t make it through the food mill of the apple sauce I simmered and jarred.  And I bottled a similar batch made with the tough skins and cores of quinces.  These vinegars have all been lovely in salad dressings, to brighten sauces and stews, in marinades, and sometimes just to drink in water for a little refreshment and alkalising…  The pineapple vinegar was a wonderful brightening lemon-substitute in some guacamole I made…

And more: my husband brought home from a supermarket, a bag of reduced-for-clearance pears– they weren’t ripe and a month later, forgotten, they were still not ripe.  I cut off a few bad bits and…  chopped into water and sugar they went.   This is the vinegar that now, on my kitchen counter, seems to be clouding with forms that I’m hoping, fingers crossed, are early “mother” formations.  Annother,  rhubarb: I’d chopped and simmered and intended to make a rather labour-intensive cordial for a friend.  On that day, I was overcome by a migraine, lay down in the dark, allowing that huge pot to languish sadly.  As it did the next day, and the next, until finally I put it in the fridge and …  and…..  and…..   But all was not lost, and I’ve now several large bottles of Rhubarb Wild-Vinegar, a brightener that was the amazing secret ingredient in a spicy chickpea curry.  Also: Plum Honey Vinegar, Blackberry Apple, and now, as I edit, I’m setting myself the experiment of making a winter-squash flavoured condiment with the pulp that surrounds the seeds I intend to roast.

Warning: we are advised NOT to make long-term preserves (chutneys say) with vinegar in which the acid level is not measured to be sufficient to counteract the growth of botulism spores– at least I’ve read this on the internet.  (Though I am not convinced, in the case of many jarred chutneys, that sugar is not the main preservation agent and vinegar there to counteract the sweetness for a savour condiment– but what do I know?)

One reads about verjuice / verjus in historical European recipes.  It’s a kind of sour juice  made from unripened grapes and sometimes, crabapples.  I’m sure there were infinite local and individual varieties.   I’ve come to see my “scrap vinegars” — through the stages of a little sour through to the final, acidic vinegar — as a really interesting culinary twist on the continuum of juice-wine-vinegar and a citrus / sour element of modern global cooking styles.   My vinegars allow me an amazing range and subtlety of flavours that are truly local and extremely economical, made as they are from what would otherwise be thrown out or composted.

Making scrap vinegar is addictive and fun.  Rotting kiwis?  Tried it– flavour not so nice though, and it became a great home-made cleanser to keep by the kitchen sink, deglazing grease and burn effectively from dinner pans.  I’ve also made an effective cleaning product just fermenting peels and green off-cuts from potatoes– added sugar, air, time and…. voila, something very cheap and useful– definitely effective up-cycling.


[Postscript:  Don’t prematurely bottle and cap– until all the sugar is finished fermenting, even these liquids need air.  I just had a messy frothy soda-fizzzzzzzzzy experience that erupted all over my clean outfit.  And that’s better than a glass explosion.  Just remember: Vinegar wants air, so keep yours exposed while they are “maturing”.   🙂   ]

I hate throwing out food, for the money, for the sense that so many resources have gone into that food, for the idea that I’ve lost control of what we buy balanced with what we’re eating. Lately milk seems to be going off, just mildly, before we finish it– it just gets that little bit sour and unpleasant and not drinkable on its own or with porridge or cereal, as my children consume it most if at all.

In the past I’ve “cultured” excess milk with a smaller proportion of live buttermilk, a cultured product available in some shops, a soured, living-culture milk that is useful in baking because its pleasant acidity, in conjunction with baking powder, causes a gaseous reaction that leads to nice leavening, or rising, as for pancakes and certain cakes, etc. To do this, you simply mix a bit of the cultured buttermilk with a larger proportion of your milk, leave it at room temperature for a while, and in some hours you begin to have a thicker, silkier “buttermilk.” You can do the same with cream for a soured cream– very nice to eat and cook with, as well.

This week we’ve twice had milk going off, and I’ve tried several experiments, all successful.


The first time, we realised the problem when I poured some of the milk into our visiting friend’s coffee, and it curdled.  On the spot there I decided to curdle the whole lot, so I heated it all up in a pan on the stove, strained the curds in a sieve, and divided the liquid whey into two jars. (Had it not curdled this way, I would have added just a squeeze of lemon juice or a teeny bit of vinegar.) The curd I let sit, and it became like the most basic of “curd” cheeses / farmer’s cheese– a little bit chewy, very dry and plain in flavour.  Of the wheys, one went straight into a sour-dough starter, later to become pizza dough and flat breads.  I used the curds cheese mixed with other melting cheeses on the pizza, which I privately labeled Sour Milk Curds and Whey — not such an appealing name but a very appealing, nutritious supper made with foods that might have been thrown away.

In the other bottle of whey I mixed two spoons of creme fraiche, and it transformed nicely into a kind of thin buttermilk, similar to what I’ve described above.  (Sometimes what is called buttermilk is the liquid that remains from the cream that’s been shaken into butter– lots of terminology that I am not worrying about too much.)  A week later it still feels fresh.  I put some into a pineapple smoothie (over-ripe pineapples I got for free) which I then pureed and froze into a nice icey snack for after-school– kind of like a sherbet or milky sorbet.

I want to note that neither the curd cheese nor the “milks” from the whey had the ikky off taste or smell of the original milk.  I don’t know how past-best milk would have to be before this kind of activity were no longer possible.

And then, this morning:  I was pouring milk for the porridge, and again, unexpectedly, it smelled sour.  Really not sure why, as totally within the sell-by dates, but I was determined to try something else.  So, as before, I heated the milk, and separated the curds in a sieve.  The liquid is sitting in the fridge, awaiting inspiration- perhaps to ferment something, To Be Announced. The curds this time are especially creamy:  I mixed them with, you guessed it, creme fraiche, because I tend to have it, as a living and delicious dairy product for puddings and soups.  The spread, pictured above, has a creamy, fresh Ricotta feel, delicious honestly like fresh buffalo’s milk mozzarella I once tasted in Rome, and tastes lovely smoothed on bread.  I think it would be wonderful in a tart, sweet or savory, in a crepe, in a blintz, anywhere you might use a soft cheese.


I’ll never be throwing out sour milk again, always instead seeking ways to transform it.  And I’m looking forward to having kefir grains in my life again, to see what might be possible.  Stay tuned.

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