The Fundamentals of Fermenting Alcohol

I had no idea how easy it was to make booze.

Truth be told I now know that I’d made it many times as a lazy adolescent who had a habit of leaving the jug of cider on the counter after pouring a glass.   I can remember more than one occasion that I returned to find it ‘spoiled’ as it bubbled and frothed on the counter.  I would wash it down the sink (even if I knew it was booze I probably would have any way – I was ‘straight edged’ and dead sober through my teenage years).

When I started to learn about making mead or wine or beer I had a really difficult time figuring out where to start.  Everything I read suggested big giant books and lots of reading and research and these things are good ideas if you want to learn how to make REALLY GOOD booze but I’ve always been the type that simply wants to learn the basics from top-to-bottom and then learn how to improve my creations.

GREAT BOOZE includes something that’s dependably safe to drink, tasty, often has a controlled and measured alcohol content, is repeatable and often made to some form of scale.  But that’s a long way from the fundamentals; which are, to me, essentially something that has alcohol and is safe to drink.

I’m not suggesting that this is how you should make your alcohol nor am I recommending the technique (though I’ve done it and do it with mixed results).  But I think it’s helpful to understand the very basic process of creating alcohol via fermentation.  By understanding the basics you can grow your technique and it’s easier to understand the fine print when you know where each step is headed.

There are a few basic principals when it comes to fermenting things to create booze:

  • Yeast helps convert sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol.  Too little sugar will starve the yeast; too much will also prevent fermenting.
  • Not all yeast is equal.  You can use ‘wild yeast’ (that’s the stuff floating around your kitchen at all times) but you won’t know what type of yeast you’ll get and you could end up with mixed results (for example, some yeast is prone to creating vinegar which, while tasty, is a different end-goal).
  • Many use a campden tablet to kill wild yeast before adding brewers yeast to sugar and water to make booze.  This is often an overnight process.  Yeast and campden tablets are available at most homebrew stores or online.
  • Fermenting happens when sugar and yeast are introduced to each other at the right temperature (avoid extremes on either side).  Sugar can be in many forms including raw, honey, molasses or even from fruit.  Most yeast will not tolerate alcohol greater than 20% (40 proof) which is often created with a still.
  • Sometimes people add a yeast nutrient which will help ensure the yeast grow strong and bold.
  • Sanitizing everything is important as you go.  Again, a homebrew store is your friend to get you started here.
  • Yeast will have a certain alcohol tolerance.  Once it raises a certain percentage, the yeast will die.  This often creates sentiment at the bottom of that fermenting vessel which you remove by siphoning the liquid above it (this is often called ‘racking.’)
  • Most fermenting is done in an anaerobic environment (i.e. without oxygen).  An airlock is a device which uses a small amount of water to form a barrier between the inside of the fermenting vessel and the outside world – as CO2 is created it forces the oxygen out of the environment.  This is important because a sealed jar (i.e. with a lid) could easily shatter with the pressure created by the ferment.
  • Fermenting is sometimes done in stages (often referred as ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’).  This is sometimes done to remove the sediment but often used to add other flavors (such as fruit) at different stages of the process.

Booze made is this way is often referred to as country wine, fruit wine or (in the case of honey), mead.

When sugar, yeast and liquid are combined with the lack of oxygen, they will create booze.  This is often aged then bottles where it’s sometimes aged again.  Sometimes people add a small bit of yeast just as they bottle their final product.  You must take care not to add too much yeast or the bottle can explode (you can get guidance from a brew-shop once again).

When I was young I was making booze by accident; the cider fermented with wild yeast in the air (or yeast that was already in the unpasteurized cider we got from a farmer) and booze was being created when I tossed it.

If you’re more experienced, would you add anything to the list above?

Looking for more information?  Here’s a recipe for T’ej which is an Ethiopian Honey Wine that’s made with water and honey and the wild yeast around you!

Is Maldon Salt Worth the Price?

My Father and I have taken a few cooking course together at a local college and we’ve often heard the Chefs praise “Maldon Salt.” I’d heard the same from Chef friends and really hadn’t experienced it until about a year ago.

If you haven’t heard of Maldon Salt before, it’s a type of Sea Salt that is produced in the U.K. The manufacturers claim that it doesn’t leave a “bitter after taste that some salts leave; instead a freshness that enhances the flavour of all natural and fine foods.” I can vouch that it tastes like salt but I haven’t experienced a bitter after taste in any salt that I can recall.

If the virtues of Maldon Salt were limited to taste then the benefits would be tough to justify when compared to the cost (it can cost 2-3 times the amount of other sea salt).

The real magic of Maldon Salt is it’s texture.  The salt comes in flaky pieces.  Each piece is a different size and shape and adds legitimate texture when used to finish (i.e. used when serving) a dish.  Salad, fish and meat are enhanced with a subtle crunch that’s added with the salt.

Although I’m sure some people cook with it, I keep other salt on hand for that.  When used to finish dishes, maldon salt can last a long time and add a noticeable different that, in my mind, is worth the increased price.

Are you willing to pay extra for maldon salt?

Tomorrow Night – $700+ in Prizes, Community Support and Fundraising

I don’t normally push our own events this hard.  But desperate times call for desperate measures.

I visited 3 restaurants in Leslieville tonight and, with construction, there were a total of 8 people dining at them.

In order to promote local food businesses we are having a fundraiser at Hi-Lo tomorrow night (100% of proceeds are being donated to local charity; we’ll share the amount publicly of course) and are giving away more than 40 prizes from local restaurants. The prizes are meant to encourage the winners to get out on the town in the middle of construction season.

Tomorrow Night   $700+ in Prizes, Community Support and Fundraising

Prizes have been donated from:

  • The Riverside BIA
  • Leslieville Farmers Market
  • Left Field Brewery
  • F’Coffee
  • Dangerous Dan’s
  • Butchers of Distinction
  • Appetite
  • Hi-Lo
  • Table 17
  • Enoteca Ascari
  • Tabule
  • Aft
  • Prohibition
  • Glas Winebar
  • Skin and Bones
  • The Vine Agency
  • Rock Lobster
  • Boots and Bourbon
  • Comrade
  • Mary McLeods
  • Random House
  • Hooked
  • and more are still coming in…

We’ll be selling raffle tickets and encouraging all to mingle. There are more than 40 prizes and the bar fits about 60 people – your chances of winning are great!

(We start selling tickets at 7 and will start drawing at 8 and hope to wrap up draws by 10:30 if not earlier)

Please consider coming out and liking/ sharing this post to encourage others to do that same..

If you’re not in Toronto, you can still support your local businesses.  Summer is a deceptively difficult time for many restaurants and small businesses and your support makes a big difference to them – and your community.

Homemade Cherry Juice from the Steam Juicer

I continue to be blown away by the results of our steam juicer.

Homemade Cherry Juice from the Steam Juicer steam juicer Cherry cherries [Read more...]

How to Cook Sausage on the Stove

On a blog where many of the readers make their own sausage from scratch it might seem odd to write a post about something as basic as cooking said sausage.  Sometimes, when I write posts like this, I am informed that ‘everyone knows how to do that’ and I sometime hesitate at sharing the fundamentals.

There’s 3 reasons why I share these things:

  1. They’re fundamental.  Important.  If you don’t do them right you’ll be paying the price many times in your life.  They’re more important than the next food trend or obscure ingredient because you’re likely to use them often.
  2. Not everyone knows how to do them.  Really, it’s true.  Even experienced cooks can improve their cooking by examining the flaws in their fundamental techniques that were often learned long before many learned to ‘properly’ cook.
  3. I messed them up.  I like to share my mistakes and my mistakes give me an opportunity to learn and share.  I’ve burned more sausage while also serving plenty of the same sausage undercooked than I care to admit.  In order to overcome this I ruined plenty of sausage by cutting into them to test if they were done and drained most of the moisture, fat and flavor from them.

How to Cook Sausage on the Stove [Read more...]

Thank You

Last Wednesday we announced that we were hosting a festival in September.  And that we’d launched a new website for our events.  We even announced a few events there without teasing them here.

On Thursday we announced the book that we’ve been working on for a year (it will hit shelves in 2016).  We asked for volunteers to test recipes.

By the time Saturday rolled around, things were very…real.  Incredibly exciting, relieving (we’d been keeping these ‘secrets’ from our online presence for a long time) and comforting.  The preserving community from around the world sent us congratulations, kind words and offers of help.  We are so incredibly thankful to this community and each of you who shared your excitement, kind words and offers to help.

Saturday threw us a bit of a curveball – I was at least a week away from testing and figured I had everything under control when I found out that rhubarb was finishing 10-14 days earlier than previous years.  It was time to scramble!  It took almost a day to get 15 pounds of volunteers and another day to share it with friends and family who were willing to test on short notice!

Testing meant building our testing forms, figuring out how to send recipes and get feedback – it was a hurricane of activity.  Here we were with a lineup of testers, little rhubarb and I had no efficient way of distributing recipes!  It was a little comical but, with the help of a bunch of people across our city (and across the border), we were able to get the recipes tested!

In some ways we’re now ahead of the schedule – but I haven’t hit my goal of completing all preserving recipes by July 1st.  Thankfully I’m taking a 4-day weekend and have a goal of finishing the final 50 recipes (the key ingredients, techniques and ideas are documents) will be complete by Tuesday.  I’m really excited about having 4 whole days to bear down and knock them out and hope to share that we’ve caught up by then.

I’m then hoping to start to contact each of you who offered to help (you can still get in the action if you’d like).  I’m going to start with the early summer fruit that’s appearing and will be in contact with everyone before long – thank you for your patience, it’s a bit of a zoo around here.

My real inspiration for writing this note was to say thank you.  And though I’ve said it above, I need to say it again.  I just don’t think I have the right words to express how deeply touched – and thankful – we are to all of you for helping inspire this project.  I’m beyond excited (and a little intimidated) to be entering testing where, in a way, we’ll be cooking together!

So, once again, thank you.  This book is going to take a village to raise and we’re thankful to be part of one!



WellPreserved – The Book Announcement!

We shared two secrets with you yesterday.

We held the biggest secret for today:

WellPreserved   The Book Announcement!

Dana and I are thrilled to finally share the news that we’re working on our first cookbook! It will be published in the Spring of 2016 under the Appetite by Random House imprint. We’re thrilled to be working with Robert McCullough and his team at RHC. The instant we met Robert we knew we wanted to work with him (and talk butter churns and rosé among a tonne of other things…)

Previous International titles from Appetite include River Cottage Veg (Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall), Jerusalem (Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi), The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Deb Perelman) and What’s for Dinner (Curtis Stone).  They are also massive supporters of Canadian talent and have printed The Toronto Star Cookbook (Jennifer Bain), The Butler Speaks (Charles MacPherson)and Beerology (Mirella Amato).

We are both thankful and completely excited!

There are so many people that have helped with this journey – and so many more that we’ll need to thank before we’re done.  We could list 50 or 60 people – plus every reader, tweeter, facebook sharer and more to say a big thanks to.  For now we just want to share the excitement – and the credit – that has brought us to today.  This announcement is the result of hundreds – if not thousands – of people who have added their voice to WellPreserved over the years.  So thank you.

We’ve been working on the book for almost a year. From pitching to publishing – it will take almost 3 years to complete.  We’ll share some details as we continue to work on it.  Here’s what we’ll tease you with for now:

  • All of the recipes are 100% new content.
  • It will showcase many different styles of preserving.
  • It’s going to feature preserving as well as showing how you can use preserves in regular everyday cooking.
  • It’s going to feature some awesome photography and feature a lot of Dana’s art and design.

We’ll also be sharing our adventure as we go! Follow #WPcookbook

We’re looking for recipe testers – No Experience Required

Are you interested in being involved in the project?  Are you willing to test a recipe – or several?

If you’re interested in testing, we have a form (it should take less than 5 minutes to fill out) which will help us stay organized and help ensure that selected testers get to test things that they want to eat.

Onwards and Upwards

We can’t wait to see what the next 2 years have in store – and we’re so excited to have so many people joining us in this journey – we hope you’ll be part of it with us!

Strawberry Preserving Round-up

We send a weekly newsletter focused on a single-topic related to preserving, cooking, local food, foraging, gardening or something else.  Our goal with the newsletter is “to be the most useful resource in your inbox.”  The newsletter includes links to many other websites with ideas sharing knowledge about the topic as well as original content, announcements and occasional contests from us as well.  As an added bonus we send all subscribers the link to a file for labels that Dana hand-designed so you can print your own designer labels to decorate your jars.  You can sign up here.

This weeks theme was: Strawberries!  New preservers will find everything they need to learn to preserve strawberries and veterans will (hopefully) find new ideas and great preserving ideas for the first fruit of the year!  Strawberry wine, spicy preserves and recipes for beginners are all included.

Strawberry Preserving Round up Strawberry strawberries round ups [Read more...]

4 Things I’m Learning About Homemade Hamburgers

I’m particular about hamburgers – mostly in a bad way.

Like many people, I have a strong emotional connection to food.  It’s not my parents fault or the fault of society or my upbringing; this one falls squarely on my shoulders.  This doesn’t make a difference on most days but I catch myself craving certain foods on days that are particularity fantastic or horrible.  I have a fairly healthy relationship with food but when I’m having an stressful or emotional day it is the place I go to find comfort or celebrate success.  I’m aware enough to know that I’m eating in ways that are been triggered by emotion but seemingly powerless to change my behavior.

Which brings me to hamburgers.  If there’s one food that I eat way more than I felt philosophically comfortable with, it’s frozen hamburgers.  You know the ones; the ones you get at diners.  They come in packages with waxed paper dividing frost-ridden layers of meat mixed with filler and meat bi-product.  Meat-like burgers really.

My connection to them is even more ironic given that I grew up with many homemade burgers that were made with ‘real’ ingredients (often including moose or deer) and were cooked perfectly.

We eat a lot of vegetarian meals, especially at home. Nearly 100% of the raw meat and fish that comes into our home is from small farms and/ or sustainable sources.  But the odd diner hamburger comes through – and I’ve struggled to find a homemade version that connects with the same emotional appeal as the ones I grew up with.

Until now.

Before sharing my four ‘secrets’, allow me to share one that didn’t make the list.  In the search for a better homemade burger I made super thin patties last year.  They were about the size of a frozen patty.  They cooked quickly on high heat, charred well and had a great texture when combined with condiments.  I played with all sorts of additional ingredient and almost wrote this article back then.  I’m glad I didn’t; my burger strategy has done a completed turn-around!

Here’s my 4 tips for better burgers:

  1. Weigh your meat.  This isn’t essential if you’re cooking 1 or 2 burgers but essential if you’re cooking more than that to ensure that all burgers are cooked evenly.  An extra pinch of meat can easily weigh 5-10% more (and take that much longer to cook).  I like to use 225-250 grams (about a half-pound).
  2. Hands-off.  Food television tells us to handle the meat minimally.  While this makes sense I think it’s more important to make sure that the meat is built into a perfect cylinder.  If you form the patty between your hands it will often be thick in the middle and thinner around the edges.  I form the patties on a cookie sheet and push a second sheet down on top to evenly press the patties.
  3. Salt and pepper.  Lots of both.  Nothing else.  Meat, salt a pepper.  No egg. Not breadcrumbs or brown sauce or crackers.  Good (great) meat and salt and pepper.  Treat it like a steak – and it will be amazing.  Place patties in the fridge to help them ‘come together’ and cook without effort.
  4. Heat.  Medium-high high and flip once.  If you cook them too hot, they’ll need frequent flipping and risk burning.  Place them on medium-high and, when the edges start to change color and blood appears on the patty, it’s ready to flip.

What’s your secret?to a better burger?

Kick-Up the Jams Round-Up

We send a weekly newsletter focused on a single-topic related to preserving, cooking, local food, foraging, gardening or something else.  Our goal with the newsletter is “to be the most useful resource in your inbox.”  The newsletter includes links to many other websites with ideas sharing knowledge about the topic as well as original content, announcements and occasional contests from us as well.  As an added bonus we send all subscribers the link to a file for labels that Dana hand-designed so you can print your own designer labels to decorate your jars.

This weeks theme was: Kick-Up The Jams!  Bourbon, pepper, balsamic, habaneros, elderflower, ramps and candied ginger all find their way into jam in this weeks round-up as we take a look at some of the less common combinations of flavours that can be added to fruit and jam!

Kick Up the Jams Round Up waterbath round ups Jam

You can sign up for the newsletter here.

Every Wednesday we share the links from the previous weeks newsletter as we know that some of you would prefer to read these on the site and that sharing the links here increases the reach/ exposure of many of the writers working so hard to share their passions.  These links celebrate the work of so many people working hard to share knowledge and their passions of cooking, preserving and the love of the kitchen and we want to help spread the work of great sites and blogs. [Read more...]