Field Trip: Yeast Hunting

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Flour. Yeast. Water. The basic ingredients of bread. We've done a field trip to find flour, but we didn't know where to get yeast outside of the grocery store. It comes in those little packets, right? And I've only heard of one company that makes yeast. So it seemed we had no choice. That was until, during our trip to Brant Flour Mills, Volker started talking about sourdough, and then we realized our Field Trip for yeast doesn't need to leave the kitchen.

We've always eaten sourdough. It's a tasty bread, but we never thought about what it actually is. Here's how it works: Instead of adding a packet of dry, store-bought yeast to your bread, you add a sourdough starter which is called a "wild yeast". It's simply a combination of flour and water, but it's invisible yeast and bacteria that works the magic as it ferments and sours the mixture. This wild yeast thrives naturally on the surface of grains, fruits and vegetables as well as in the air and soil. Lactobacillus, a friendly bacteria and the yeast work well together. The bacteria helps to produce the acidic environment that the yeast needs to grow. Both the yeast and the Lactobacillus digest the simple sugars in the flour, producing ethanol and carbon dioxide which make up the leavening bubbles.

I made my starter using the rye flour that I got from Brant Flour Mills. We've been using lots of spelt flour, but the rye, which ferments easily has been sitting in my cupboard waiting for this day. To speed up the process, I cheated by adding 2 organic unwashed grapes. The white, powdery dusting, or bloom on a fresh grape is the same yeast that is in the grain and air.

Here's the recipe and schedule for a sourdough starter. It's not a bread recipe, simply a guide to making your own wild yeast.

1. Mix 2 cups rye flour (can substitute rye for another flour), 2 cups lukewarm water & 2 organic, unwashed grapes

2. Cover with cheesecloth or another porous material that will allow circulation of air but keep fruit flies out.

3. Give it a good stir whenever you think about it, at least one a day.

4. You will start to see bubbles forming within the first 3 days (I saw mine in the first 24 hours), this means that the yeast is active, stirring it will help distribute the yeast throughout the starter.

5. Once your starter is good and bubbly, even rising up a bit, you can start to feed it.
Add 1-2 Tbs flour or leftover grains each day for about 3-4 days.

6. The batter will get thicker and start to rise and you want it to remain essentially liquid in form. You can add more water if it becomes so thick it is almost solid.

7. Your starter should be ready use. When you use some of the starter for a recipe make sure to leave some behind and replenish it. For example, if you use 1 cup of starter, you need to add 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water to the remaining.

8. Keep your starter going by feeding it every day or so if you are baking with it weekly.

9. If you are using your starter less frequently, going away, or can't care for your starter you can keep it in your fridge and it will slow the process, just make sure to feed it before you put it in the fridge and let it actively ferment for 4-8 hours. You still need to feed a refrigerated starter once a week. Take the starter out 1-2 days before you are ready to use it and keep it in a warm place, feed it to help get the yeast activity back up.

Remember Summer?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I was just doing some cleaning up on my computer and came across this picture that had slipped through the cracks. I don't know if you'll remember, but one of our posts a while back was a little tour around our tiny garden.

Our house sits really high compared to the street, so when you walk on the sidewalk there's a two-foot wall which puts our garden at a really nice, help-yourself level. This wouldn't have been much of a problem, except our watermelon plant felt like ambling around our lawn until it finally decided to grow its single fruit perched right on top of the wall. We figured it would only be a matter of days until some punks decided to play hackey-sack with it, but it stayed, day after day.

It stayed and nothing ever happened. It filled out, and we figured we could pick it any time now, but we kept it on the vine and thought to ourselves "just a few more days"... sort of like a slot machine "just a few more pulls." Then one day Mel sliced it open right then and there. We figured it'd be cracked on the inside and all pulpy-tasting. In fact, the watermelon itself had cracked on the bottom, but throughout it was perfect, and tasted, well, like it looks in the picture.

FYI, it's a Sugar Baby from William Dam Seeds, and was about 10".

Field Trip: Mushroomin'

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

We've been looking to head out with a mushroom forager for a while, and we mentioned it to Tracy from the Belworth House when we met recently and she gave us her friend, Aaron Elyck's number. It's always interesting calling someone cold. It's one of those things people aren't that comfortable doing, but so far, in all of our little food adventures, it's been the most rewarding way of meeting people.

It was a damp, cold Sunday morning that I pulled in to Aaron's long, wooded driveway. I had no idea what he looked like, if he was some crazy guy living in a cabin and if I'd even come out alive, but I was greeted by a nice house and a guy who doesn't look much older than myself. In fact it was surprising to see Aaron, in his green hoodie, because he just looked like a regular dude - A regular dude who loves mushrooms, and not the kind of mushrooms the majority of regular dudes like.

He put on his boots and raincoat and I held my camera under my coat as we headed out through the rain into the woods. Just around the pond next to the house he started cutting a Hen of the Woods from a stump, which according to Aaron, are pretty unmistakeable at this time of year. He then pointed out another mushroom that was a pretty potent and a relatively undiscovered hallucinogen. Everything after that is really foggy. Not really.

Foragers use a basket for a couple reasons. When you buy mushrooms at a grocery store, you usually put them in a paper bag so that they can breathe through the porous paper, rather than sweat and rot in plastic. But I learned of another benefit when I asked if it was ok to take all the mushrooms in an area. He said that the basket acts as a sort of sifter, sprinkling the ground wherever you walk with millions of spores. I totally believe this since I've seen, on a few occasions, our Shiitakes "smoking" with spores.

As we pushed our way through the woods we found lots of Hen of the Woods and a ton of Honey Mushrooms. Aaron said that the honey mushrooms are delicious, but they give a lot of people indigestion. Then he pointed out a mushroom that looked, at least to me, identical to it and said "This will kill you."

Humans like comfort and safety. We're not the most daring bunch. So when this little game of natural Russian Roulette comes along, we tend to opt out, which is only logical. But it doesn't have to be a game of Russian Roulette since the knowledge does exist. We're just too comfortable buying our cardboard button mushrooms that were grown in a barn to think too much more about it.

Which is why people like Aaron and his knowledge of wild mushrooms is so important. So we don't end up in a Wal-Mart world where we accept the things that are presented to us, not for diversity and sustainability, but for conformity and profitability.

While a lot of older people in my generation were being introduced to Super Mario, Aaron was out in the woods foraging with his grandfather. He learned what was edible, and what wasn't. He learned that a mushroom that was deliciously edible to his relatives from the Old Country sometimes looked identical to a completely different, poisonous North American mushroom.

This family link seems to be the only way to truly get knowledge since foragers are a notoriously secretive crew. If one generation decides not to care, the skill is lost. You'd have to work hard to gain the trust of someone to let them take you along. The only reason Aaron let me come along is because we stayed on his property. There's no way he'd ever take me to his favourite Chanterelle spot. It'd be like giving me the combination to his safe.

Meeting someone like Aaron is incredibly inspiring. A guy who you'd totally misjudge. You'd never guess he has such a crush on the forest. It's pretty evident when he tells stories of army-crawling on the ground and getting lost from looking down for too long. And judging by the photos he showed me of him and his 3-year-old son in the woods, this skill's safe at least for another generation.

Field Trip: The Last Apples

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Every year, thanks to our friends Jordan and Mary Anne (and now Marley) we go apple picking, followed by days of baking and eating apple treats. This year, a little short on time, we decided to take a chance and visit a different orchard. It was closer to home (about 5 minutes away) and seemed to be less busy.

Carluke Orchards is located on Shaver Road, just outside of Ancaster. It is a regular stop for cookies from their market and a ride on a swing on our way home from buying fresh chicken. But this time we stopped in for the main attraction - The orchard.

We started out by picking our half bushel of Northern Spy and Ida Red apples, both are good for pies and apple sauce. This took no time at all, since the apples are big. Next we went on a hay ride around the farm.

This is where we met Cherie, our guide. I quickly started asking questions about the land, and what they grow, which includes apples, pears, pumpkins, wheat and soybeans. Then I asked if they sprayed their apples (I am finding it hard to find places that don't). Her answer was yes. However, she said they they do it very minimally and only when absolutely needed.

Cherie said they have a few preventative measures to help minimize the amount they need to spray. First they spray the trees with a natural mineral oil. This is used to suffocate insects and pests, but they can only do it in the spring, before the tree has any blossoms or fruit. When the trees are in bloom, they're full of lady bugs and the honey bees that are essential for pest control and most importantly, pollination.

They also prune their trees more often than others. She said this opens up the canopy and allows more air circulation making it less of a haven for pests and disease. Then they do sample pest counts in various areas of the orchard and if the amount reaches a threshold, they'll spray, but only in the areas that pass that threshold.

So, yes they spray their apples. But we can't find anyone who doesn't in our area. The best we can do is to keep asking the question so they know that someone cares. A little pressure is good.

After your trip to the orchard you can go into their little store/bakery where they sell honey that is produced on their farm, jams, jellies, pickles, and of course, cider. There is a bakery counter with cookies, muffins, breads and other yummy treats (Jesse bought the most delicious loaf I've eaten in a while, potato scallion bread, yum!).

So if you are up for a lovely fall adventure, head over to Carluke Orchards, or find an orchard local to you. Hurry before they're completely done. You definitely won't regret it.

Mellamade Apple Pie

For The Crust

• 5 1/2 cups all purpose flour (this time I used 3 cups white and 2 1/2 whole wheat)
• 2 tsp salt
• cut in 1 lb of non-hydrogenated lard

• in a one cup measuring cup mix 1 egg, 1 tbs vinegar and top up to one cup with cold water

Mix in only enough of the wet mixture for the dough to stick together (if it is too sticky, put it in the fridge for a while).

For the Filling

• peel, core and slice apples
• mix in some lemon juice, cinnamon, vanilla and honey (Neumann's Honey)

Assemble Pies, top with an egg wash.
Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, then another 40-50 minutes at 350 degrees.

Serve with Vanilla Icecream!

Field Trip: Chef Tracy's "Field Gate" at Y U Ranch

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tracy Winkworth of Waterford, Ontario's Belworth House prides herself in supporting local food producers. She's happy to take anyone through her long list of farmers, foragers, brewers and vintners and even happier to temporarily move her restaurant right to these suppliers.

She calls these events "Field Gate". We were invited to attend her most recent gathering at Bryan and Cathy Gilvesy's Y U Ranch, where they raise Texas Long Horn Cattle. We learned about the ranch as we ate a variety of dishes, each of which featured their beef.

When we arrived we walked around the back of the barn where we found a big black contraption smoking away. It turned out to be a barbeque/grill/smoker that the various (but not all!) courses we were going to be cooked on that evening.

Inside the barn were stacks of round hay bales surrounding a long elegant table set for dinner, and Tracy along with her crew cooking up some appetizers. Guests were invited to try a selection of beer from Railway City Brewing Company, and wines from The Organized Crime.

After the first round of appetizers, Bryan took us on a hike through his forest and told us a little about his ranch. He is a leader in sustainable agriculture and seems quite proud of the work they have done restoring and developing natural systems to improve the environment and create a healthy local ecosystem on the farm. The trout stream, prairie grass, hedge rows full of native carolinian flowers, bees, and bird houses all work together and are as much a part of the farm as the cattle themselves.

Y U Ranch is LFP (Local Food Plus) certified. LFP producers focus on the whole picture of food production which includes environmental protection, wildlife enhancement, energy efficiency and sustainable local food. LFP also helps link farmers and processors to customers to help them support their local economy.

At the Ranch, the cattle have plenty of room and can forage for grasses that they would have found growing naturally a long time ago. They rotate through different pastures, depending on the time of the year, while a separate pasture is baled and used for winter feed. Bryan and Cathy's cattle only eat grass. They've never had grain, which is an impressive feat. And they only get corn, which is essentially candy to them, to get them up to the fence for everyone to see.

Back at the barn, we were immediately greeted with beef tacos, dry ribs, bacon wrapped jalepenos, gourmet corn dogs made with 100% beef frankfurters (Tracy introduced us to these at Feast of Fields a few weeks back), sliders, and beef spring rolls.

Now that we were all completely full of appetizers, we sat down for a four course dinner. We started out with beef consommé with a carrot dumpling. Next up, carpaccio served with mushrooms, beets, sprouts and lettuce as well as a sweet potato bread topped with blue cheese. For those of you that don't know, carpaccio is thinly sliced raw meat. Normally, I'd never order something like that off a menu, however I was a good sport and tried it. It felt a little strange to be eating raw meat, but it turned out great. We were just taken through the complete history of the animal, so we were pretty comfortable with the idea.

The main course was a halved butternut squash served with scalloped potatoes and topped with a thin ribeye steak, while a side of vegetables were served in a hollowed out pumpkin. Finally the meal was closed with a lovely dessert of apple and sweet potato bread pudding with caramel sauce and a crabapple on top. Paired with a glass of ice wine, it was a sweet finish to great evening.

I've never been so full in my life. And especially never been so full of good local food. We were definitely the youngest people at the event, which is a start, but we hope to see younger and younger people out to events like this in the future.

If you want to buy beef, visit Y U Ranch's website and contact them. It'd be worth the trip down to pick up a bunch for your freezer. While you're there, make sure you take a long walk through the