An acquaintance some time ago took me up on my offer of a kombucha mother. They accumulate in my fridge and I had sent a call out. I gave him the mother with all the instructions and he said he would take care of it. A week later I met him and asked about his kombucha. He said, oh, he had forgotten all about the mother and it had died.

I was pretty upset about it. These mothers are alive. They live and breathe, as the video below shows.

On this rainy day, reading Thompson’s Growth and Form (“Nature works true to scale, and everything has its proper size accordingly”) while  listening to Beethoven’s Seventh, second movement (Allegretto) over and over again and sipping sumptuous kombucha tea (I’m getting the hang of it). All three are sumptuous, of course, but one is cerebral, the other mournful, and the other playful.

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August is all about food. All the colors are coming in now: deep green collards and brussels sprout leaves, yellow squashes, red tomatoes, orange peaches, purple eggplants, and blueberries are holding in there. The bees are turning the orange and yellow nectar (over)flow into oodles of honey. At the end of the month there will also be crisp apples.  Then the mushrooms will start rising up…

I am making food with the help of living organisms. A thick, moist sprouted whole wheat bread with lots of egg in it.  Kombucha tea with peaches going into secondary fermentation for carbonation and flavoring. Pickled cucumbers with the kombucha vinegar (pasteurized by the canning process). I want to try my hand at kimchi too, and will make sauerkraut as soon as my CSA box brings a fat cabbage head. In the meantime, I’m also experimenting with a biscuit roll. I follow my friend’s recipe but with jam instead of cream filling and it comes out just like my grandmother used to make it. It means a lot to me that the five eggs are “homegrown” and the jam homemade, from local plums, in this case.

Amie and I got books on goats at the library and getting goats seems like a whole new challenge. Goats were on our mind so much yesterday that when we read, in a beautiful book on flowers, the following quote:

– A flower is a leaf gone mad with love –

we attributed it to “Goatee,” then laughed and read the name right: Goethe.

Handling food, living or just plucked or dug, I think of how they’re all of them – roots, leaves, flowers, fruits – about always more life and sex (“love” in Goethe’s romantically correct jargon). This in turn proved the perfect mindset for me to read, in Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearbythe chapter “Ice.” It is about starvation and death and whiteness at the North Pole. The kernel is the story of Atagutaluk, who was trapped, with her family, in the frozen wastes. They ate the dogs, their clothes and shoes, then the children, the companions, the husband. She was found just in time, barely alive, a skeleton herself and “not human anymore,” she warned her rescuers. Solnit pairs the stories – for there are so many versions, each their own story, really – with fairy tales and myths of women  floating, steeping in the ocean, stripped to the bone.

What struck me was the contrast of this, my life of abundance, and Atagutaluk’s starvation. And how for the plants and animals in the world it is all about love/sex/more life, while for us the world is all about food. In some stories, Solnit points out, the heroine is restored (Atagutaluk’s story, and the folk tale the Skeleton Woman). But in others (the creation myth of Sedna), she remains at the bottom of the cold Arctic sea, afloat in a continual kind of dying, and the needs of the humans who tell the tale are addressed instead: out of her come the walruses and seals that feed them.

It is hard to tell where this leads, because it leads into so many directions. One is that I am thankful for the plants and animals that preserve my life. That, knowing who grew them, and where, and how, makes my thanks more concrete and thus more sincere. That perhaps my thanks returns something, puts some flesh back on those bones. That, at a minimum, the one who feeds me, regardless of whether I deserve it or not, is not forgotten at my table.

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The purple loosestrife and the goldenrod are blooming (*), and the sumac is on fire (**). Life is good.

I’m researching axes. I am sorely lacking in axe skills, which I think are the perfect skills to have: good for fitness through meaningful physical work, good for the mind as an exercise in mindfulness and purpose, and a skill to have down before the time it becomes necessary – a hard winter, a lot of trees down, TEOTWAWKI. At first I thought I wanted an all-purpose Hudson Bay Axe, recommended by Alex Leavens, whose axe skills video I’ve been studying. Though I’d still like one of those, I am now thinking I’d like to learn to handle a splitting axe first: an axe with which to split, not chop wood, but not a maul, which is too heavy for me. I’m thinking a nice long handle and a head that’s 4 lbs. max. I’ve been eyeing the Granfors large splitting axe, or maybe it’ll be the small one… We’ll see. I like to take my time choosing.

We’ve also begun talking about goats. Amie is of course all for it. She has already drawn the layout for the shelter and “play pen”. DH is cautiously interested, not so much for the milk or meat, I think, but for the shrub-eating capabilities (we spent two days battling the blackberries up front).  I’m the one who will be doing all the research.

I’m giving away three of the five kombucha mothers I made two weeks ago. Due to the high temperatures the teas basically jumped from tea straight to vinegar. It’s not a loss: the vinegar goes into the chicken’s water and into a jar for when I need it, and the mother pieces made vigorous “babies” for giving away. One mother I had to throw since it had mold in it. The fifth one I’m keeping to try another brew.

(*) The bees’ favorite nectar plants. They’re bringing in lots of honey now.

(**) I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of rain and knew I’d not be harvesting staghorn sumac berries for sumacade. Berries for eating or steeping should be harvested after a long dry spell; rain washes away the taste. That didn’t, however, stop me from driving to the landfill and harvesting 5 gallons of spikes (or panicles)  for smoker fuel. Dried sumac berries are good fuel, burning long and smoking cold. The area where the bushes grow is a busy road where trucks pass, so I wouldn’t harvest there for sumacade, spice (zatar) or medicinal purposes (it’s a powerful antioxidant). I do know a patch of sumac that is away from traffic and herb/pesticides. I’ll harvest those when it’s dry again.

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Handling these makes your hands slippery smooth and the sour-sweet smell is divine.  On the other hand, any small cut will start smarting from the acid. You also need to resign yourself to getting lots of bugs, some biting, some not, on you as you wade through the bushes or cut up the panicles.

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I cut away as much of the stems as possible, then spread the berries (with smaller stems) on screens that I put in our attic, which is warmer and drier than anywhere else in the house. When it gets really hot up there the fan comes on, making it a perfect drying area.

 

The kombucha SCOBY started as a quarter coin (the mother) in a store-bought bottle. I put it in a pint jar with Indian Chai, where it grew a second layer (SCOBY baby) on top which soon occupied the entire surface. Then I moved it again to a large cookie jar, where a third layer (SCOBY grandchild) quickly formed on top. That’s three layers. Here they are, peeled apart.

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I brewed four teas: one Indian Chai, an old Assam, a new Assam,  and one Irish Breakfast, each with 1/4 cup of cane sugar. Once they cooled down to room temperature we were ready to start brewing our first kombucha teas.

Handling the SCOBY, pulling it out of the jar and inspecting it for mold (none, it was very clean) was an interesting tactile experience. Organic is a good word. To know that it is a living, growing organism or rather, coalescing population of living organisms added to the awesomeness.  I then peeled the layers apart. That too was neat: they formed distinct layers (“generations,” in essence) which came away easily.

I put the first baby (the second layer) back into the now very acidic brew that the SCOBY had been growing in (adding some tea and sugar) as a hedge in case the other mothers perish in their new jars. Then I put the original mother (oldest and smallest generation) into the Irish Breakfast. I cut the third, largest and newest layer, into three and put each piece into the Assams and the Indian Chai. Each SCOBY was accompanied by a cup of the original, acidic brew.

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Like this, I see, if they all thrive, I’ll have lots of SCOBYs to give away!

Literally taking off.

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By monopolizing the entire surface of the liquid, the SCOBY created an air-tight seal. The yeasts underneath kept on going, producing more CO2 than could stay dissolved in the ferment, so the gas started to push the SCOBY up. I pushed it down into the liquid, and it will floating on top again, even thicker, in a few days.

We’re (hopefully) at the tail end of the second  heat wave of the summer. The house, after accumulating heat over the past days, hit 88 at 3 pm, with 70% humidity. Outside, in the shade, it reached 97F (36C) . But it seems I’ve acclimatized. I wouldn’t say that I was comfortable, but it was bearable to do some chores inside and out, like feeding the hens, hanging the laundry on the line. Around 5 I headed outside to water the garden and to harvest some more beans, etc.

Yesterday I spent two hours in the afternoon weeding the haricots verts bed and harvesting 3 lbs. of beans. That evening, Amie and I enjoyed a meal almost entirely grown on our property (all except the butter, salt and pepper):

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The kombucha mother is loving the hot weather. Compare:

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Kombucha mother yesterday

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Kombucha mother today

It smells divine. I can’t wait to brew me some tea.

 

 

The Melomel – mead with raspberries – seemed ready to be bottled. There were no more bubbles coming up through the mess of bleached raspberries on top. The one gallon yielded three bottles, here posing in my darkened desk area (another heat wave is upon us).

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This is the mash: the color was almost completely transferred from the berries to the liquid.

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The kombucha mother too was ready for the next step: I transferred it to a larger container and added tea and sugar. It’s about 1/8″ thick. Once it covers the wider surface in the new container and has thickened a little more, it’ll be ready for making kombucha tea and sharing.

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In the image below you can see the original plug from the bottle I bought at the grocery store. The rest grew around it.

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Here’s another experiment in fermenting fun: kombucha.

After several unsuccessful tries to get a kombucha mother (a SCOBY – a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeasts) from friends, and the usual apathy and mistrust when eyeing mothers for sale on the internet (ha), I found myself at the refrigerated case of kombucha and other such drinks at Whole Foods. Checking out a bottle of Synergy Drinks Organic and Raw Kombucha, I found the mother still in it and thought: what’s to lose?

I did some research on the net and found this article, on how to make kombucha from a store-bought drink, and its accompanying article, that the method no longer works, because after the great kombucha recall of 2010, manufacturers reformulated the drinks, making it “virtually impossible to grow a kombucha scoby from a store-bought bottle of kombucha anymore.”

Well, I tried it anyway, and the mother is growing!

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The fat quarter-sized disk in the left of the jar is the mother that came from the bottle. The rest is new growth!

The mead is ready. The bubbles stopped rising, the liquid is clear, and at the bottom of each 1 gallon jug is this:

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Graveyard of a gazillion dead yeasts

DH likes the taste of it and had a whole glass while racking. I like it sweeter, so I racked one jar into a new jar with about a quart of freshly picked (local) raspberries and four tablespoons of honey. This officially makes it a melomel.

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That should send it through one more round of fermentation and then I’ll bottle it.

The other jar I’ll bottle as is, to let it finish fermenting in the bottle, which will give it some extra fizz.