Showing posts with label homemade stuff. Show all posts
Showing posts with label homemade stuff. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


A while back, when Mrs V and I were training to walk the West Highland Way, at least one day a weekend you would find us out in the mountains with our good friends Dave and Ali traipsing along trails. One of those weekends, and actually an Ali-less hike, we started out from Milam Gap in the Shenandoah National Park headed for the Lewis Falls. Perhaps the most unexpected thing we came across during the hike were feral apple trees.

Before this area was a national park, the Milam apple was a local staple cash crop, and there are some fascinating pictures of apple, and 'sider', sellers at the trail head. As we hiked back to the car we agreed to return in the autumn and glean as many apples as possible with a view to making our own cider. Thus a few weeks ago we returned with a couple of bags to fill with feral apples, mostly fairly small and tart, but a few bigger, blander ones as well - I also picked some thistle heads for making cheese with at some point.

There was however a problem, we didn't have a press with which to get at whatever juice was in the apples. Eventually though Dave decided to invest in a hydraulic press and we got together to see what we could get. First things first though, I must admit that this was a small scale project, just a half bushel or so of apples, and they really didn't look promising, as you can see.

Given the small scale of the project we decided not to worry too much about how we were going to grind the fruit, preferring to pound the apples to a pulp using a 2x4 and an aluminium brew pot.

The important part of this run was to test the press, and as you can see from the following pictures, it was a resounding success.

Once we were done, we had about a gallon and a half of fresh pressed apple juice ready to just sit around and let whatever wild yeast was on the apples do it's thing, and with it plans to increase production on the next run!

Said next run came a week later. Dave had been out walking his dogs around the Crozet area and noticed orchards with lots of dropped apples on the floor. Having inquired as to the ownership of said orchard he learnt that it was possible to glean fallen apples for a pittance, and thus we set a date and time to meet up and gather what we could between the three of us. Again Ali wasn't able to join us, but studying for her PhD defense was an acceptable reason.

Over the course of a couple of hours the three of us managed to glean about 4 bushels of fallen apples, gathered into burlap coffee sacks that weighed down Dave's car to a rather worrying extent.

We headed back to Dave's place to test out his even newer bit of kit, for he had built a grinder!

Having a grinder made short work of turning the shit ton of apples we had gathered into a respectable pulp for putting into cheeses in the press, and after a few hours of grinding, pressing, drinking Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest and my home brew best bitter, we ended up with 17 gallons of juice, all of which is fermenting away to make that most wonderful of glorious booze products, cider. Even though I am first and foremost a beer drinker, I do have a soft spot for cider, especially in summer, with a Ploughman's lunch....ahhhhh the idyll.

We paid $20 for the apples, which works out to $1.18 per gallon of juice, given 8 US pints in a US gallon, we will be drinking cider sometime next year for just $0.15 per pint. Not a bad return on investment for a couple of hours labour in an orchard, and then several hours drinking and pressing juice. Almost makes you wonder what the mark up is on commercial cider?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Beer Brine Bacon

It's fair to say that I enjoy making stuff. By 'making stuff' I don't mean building things, mechanical prowess, and being an all round jack of all trades. While I can knock together a few bits of wood to make a firewood stand, or use logs scavenged off our land to make a garden fence, I am not the kind of person who wants to have a fully functioning workshop in his garage. When I say that enjoy making stuff, I mean that I enjoy making stuff to eat and drink.

I am sure you know that I brew my own beer, but I also make bread, love baking (I do a mean almond shortbread), making chutneys and jams is a great way to kill an autumn afternoon, and recently I have started making my own bacon.

My early stabs are the curing arts were very simple, face bacon using a pig cheek, and belly bacon dry cured in little more than salt, sugar, and some spices. I get my pork bellies from our local Whole Foods, and it works out that a pound of meat, some salt, and a little time results in a bacon that puts the mass produced stuff to shame, and costs pretty much the same. Mrs V and I now refuse to buy bacon at all, which reminds me that we are running low so I should sort it out and make some more.

Being a Brit though I grew up on bacon being 'back bacon', that is taken from the loin with a bit of the belly still attached. Sure we had streaky bacon, but I always preferred a rasher of back. Confident in my curing chops (pun intended), I decided to try and source the relevant cut of meat to make a wet cured back bacon. Serendipity intervened one Saturday morning when I noticed a loin roast at Trader Joe's that bore an uncanny resemblance to what I was looking for. A little short on the belly bit, but sometimes you just have to take what you can get. My first back bacon experiment went well, and tasted great griddled in a cast iron pan.

Wet curing uses a brine of salt and water, and what is beer other than water with malt, hops, and yeast? So I thought to myself that I would make beer brined back bacon. The genesis of this idea was reading about a cure for hams used in Suffolk in England, which uses a dark beer for the liquid. While there is plenty of crossover between making ham and bacon, I wanted to research the idea of Suffolk cure bacon rather than ham, thus I came across this post on Adventures With The Pig.

Taking that post as a jumping off point, I settled on the following cure:
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp celery seed
  • 1 tsp coriander seed
  • 2 tbsp molasses
  • 5.5oz Starr Hill Dark Starr Stout
  • 2 bay leaves
I ground up the peppercorns, coriander seed, and bay leaves in my pestle and mortar, mixed in with the salt. Having squared off the piece of meat, thus giving myself a very fine pork chop for my tea, I put said pork in a large Ziploc bag, chucked in the cure mix and rubbed it thoroughly into the pork. With that done, I poured the molasses onto the meat, and through the bag so as not to sticky up my hands, rubbed that into the meat as well. Finally I poured in the stout, sealed the bag - pushing out enough air so that the liquid covered the meat, and let it sit in the fridge for 7 days, turning each morning just to ensure an equal cure. After a week, it came out of the bag looking like this:

Having patted it dry, the now cured bacon went back in the fridge for another 7 days to dry out before slicing and freezing for future use. One thing I have learnt is that I either need a better knife for slicing the bacon or I need to invest in a meat slicer. Naturally I had a couple of slices to make sure it wasn't terrible, and indeed it was far from!

My next wet cure bacon plan is to replace the stout with Schlenkerla M?rzen so that I can get some smoky character in the finished product while I learn how to manage my smoker. I think I can safely say that another step toward my 100% homemade fried breakfast has been taken!

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...