About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Fermenting in a cold climate

This house is never very warm, but at this time of year it can be flippin' freezing! When we wake up in the morning, it's typically 12°C (54°F) or less, rising to 14 or 15°C (59°F) by the evening. It's not exceptionally cold outside - around freezing - but our house is poorly insulated. It's on the to-do list. In the meantime, humans and cats are not the only ones affected by low temperatures.

It amused me to see advice on a fermentation forum not to warm things up:

Let's take sauerkraut as an example. You should keep it rather cold (18-20 degrees Celsius) while fermenting.
Hahahahahaha... ah, um, excuse me. Sorry, but the idea of 18-20°C (64-68°F) as rather cold is too much for me. Maybe for a few weeks of the year (but not last year) my kitchen might reach that temperature. All the same, the point about getting the temperature right is worth noting.

I find that yeast, in particular, struggles with the low temperatures; it gets a bit sluggish below about 14°C. This can affect rising times for bread dough quite severely - What, three in the afternoon and it still hasn't risen? I wanted that for lunch!

I'm a bit short of warm places, too. I don't have an airing cupboard - the usual warm place - as my hot water tank is exceptionally well insulated. There's a hot pipe behind the cooker, and I'm vaguely considering building an insulated cupboard around that, but on the other hand, I'm also vaguely considering fitting a valve so the hot water doesn't flow out of the tank when the stove's not lit, so that might reduce its effectiveness in warming the cupboard.

My solution is a very basic mini heater:

Bread dough in tin, hot water in bowl.

I fill a soup bowl with hot water from the kettle, and stand the bread tin on top of it. This works remarkably well, though may need refreshing once or twice during the rising time. If I have dough shaped on a baking tray instead of in the tin, then I set it over the mixing bowl. Just heat the thing that needs heating.


  1. I've just started experimenting with fermented foods, planning to have a go at making my own saeurkraut (as well as mayonnaise but that's a different story). Good to know this about colder temps, though our house doesn't get nearly as cold as yours does!

    1. I've found sauerkraut really easy, even without any starter. If you use red cabbage, it changes colour as it gets more acidic, so you get a nice indicator that it's working (also it tastes better). Have you tried anything else, yet?

  2. Oh my... I am always puzzled when I hear of people living in a much more temperate climate than mine, whose homes seem to be much colder and draftier. I hear similar stories about Australia and New Zealand and I'm just amazed that good insulation isn't the norm there. I also think I've heard that most homes don't have central heating... can't even imagine living like that! Of course, in these parts if you had poor insulation and no central heating system, you'd likely to have frozen & bursting pipes after the first winter!

    Anyhow, I am just experimenting with eating yeast again. I tested positive on an allergic skin test for yeast ages ago, and haven't been able to eat it since. But apparently medical understanding has progressed and they now know that a positive skin test doesn't necessarily mean you have an allergy to eating said substance. I haven't actually attempted to make yeast bread yet, but it's on my list, so I'll keep the temperature thing in mind if I do give it a go.

    1. I'm not sure why houses are so poorly insulated here. Maybe it's because we don't have such severe winters, so we don't actually die of cold. Most are centrally heated, now, but not all.

      My house is two centuries old, and was built as smelting works, so I don't suppose insulation was high on their list of priorities at the time! The owners before us did things like knocking a doorway through between the kitchen and the lounge, so you don't have to go round outdoors (still no indoor staircase, though) and building an extension so there's now an indoor bathroom. Even the 1980s extension is very poorly insulated, though. I really don't like taking a shower at this time of year!

      Ooh, it would be good if you found that you can eat yeast after all. No point making bread if you can't eat it!

    2. Can you get the extension insulated with that cavity wall stuff? (I imagine the original part of the house has no cavities to insulate!)

      I used to work for the National Trust and I remember being told that lots of problems were caused with old houses when they were made too airtight- chimneys blocked up etc- as the circulation of air was needed to prevent mould (probably other things too, but it was a while ago and I have forgotten!)

      I can't imagine not having an internal staircase though, brrr!

    3. The extension doesn't have cavities, either, it's single thickness breeze blocks. Really. It loses even more heat than the rest of the house, though that might be partly because it's on the north end of the building.

      We're not aiming to seal up draughts. I'm aware of the problems it can cause (thanks for that, anyway), and we'd undermine it anyway by opening windows.

      The lack of an indoor staircase isn't as much of an inconvenience as it sounds, because only one floor is habitable. Downstairs is so damp that I wouldn't even try living in it, so we treat it as outbuildings. We effectively live in an upstairs bungalow, which means that heat escapes down, as well as through all the walls and the roof!

  3. Hah! Our house is also 'rather cold'- the thermostat is at 15C morning and evening and at about 8C during the day when we are usually out. (I don't know what the actual temperature is, I just assume the thermostat is vaguely accurate...)
    It only gets turned up to 18C if we're ill/have got very cold or wet when running/walking.

    I often put the bread on top of the radiator or next to the oven...it seems to rise ok (must go and make some bread now, actually!)

    1. Those double radiators are great for standing a bread tin on, aren't they? We only had single rads even when we had that kind of heating, now we have underfloor, which is not quite the same!

    2. I can't imagine leaving the bread on the underfloor heating works quite as well!

      There is one of those fancy radiator covers in our living room which is great for warming bread- though I often have to remove a cat or two first! The kitchen radiator us our only double one- also home to sleeping cats (and drying towels!)

    3. That's another advantage to a bowl of water - less competition from cats!


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