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Wales, United Kingdom
Documenting one couple's attempts to live a more self-sufficient life.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Goodbye, Pebble

We went to visit Ian's parents in Devon last week, returning on Friday evening. Pebble greeted us at the door, had some dinner, then raced around like a mad thing for a while before settling on my lap. A little later, I got up to get our dinner and not long after that she started complaining. At first we thought it was just because we'd switched the heat off on her bed (seed propagator at other times of year) but it soon became obvious that she was in pain. We called the vet, monitored the situation for an hour or so, then decided she really did need medical attention urgently so arranged to meet a vet at the surgery. He couldn't give us a definite diagnosis until morning, but said that the symptoms suggested rat poison. We left her with him to do what he could for her, but by morning she was dead.

Today, we buried her in the garden, where I'm planning to plant an elder tree. She did love elderflowers.

Here are some memories of a beloved cat.

Sunday, 2 November 2014


The thing I hate most about depression - apart from the sluggishness and not caring about anything - is that it makes me stupid. I can't concentrate, I get (even more) absent minded, I forget things. Then stuff like this happens:

Glass cover removed from solar panel when it was sunny, forgotten about, then blown over when it was windy.

Then I hate myself for being so stupid, and I just want to cry.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Sauerkraut and other fermented things

This may make me sound a little odd, but I really like cabbage. Not when it's been boiled too long and served plain, a la school dinners, but steamed until just tender and served with a little acid of some kind - lemon juice, vinegar, apple sauce, and chutney are all good - it makes an excellent side vegetable. My favourite kind of cabbage is red, with the tightly-formed heads. I'm not sure whether it really tastes any different from white or green, but it's so pretty when it's cut.

Sliced red cabbage

It's hardly surprising that I should like sauerkraut, since this is essentially cabbage in acid, specifically lactic acid. Even better, from the point of view of making it, is that I don't even have to buy the acid myself, since, with a little encouragement, bacteria will make it for me. The process goes like this: I add a layer of finely sliced cabbage to a jar, sprinkle on a little salt, press down with a pestle, and repeat until the jar is full. There are no precise measurements involved, or indeed any measurements at all.

To reduce the chance of mould growing on the top, I weigh down the cabbage with (washed and boiled) beach pebbles, which I sprinkle with more salt then top up with water before closing with an air locked lid. This might sound like overkill, but I get a lot of mould growth. It's all very well saying, Just scrape off the mould and discard the top layer, but if you ferment in relatively small jars, as I do, that top layer can be quite a high proportion of the total.

Stones and extra salt

The other appeal of red cabbage is that the pigment is an indicator, so it displays the acidity. Here are two jars, one freshly filled, one after a couple of weeks of fermentation:

Sauerkraut, before and after. Such pretty colours!

As for the other fermented things, I've come to the conclusion that lactofermentation is not the best treatment for everything. It works well for cabbage, which is why this is a classic, and for unripe sloes, which is totally obscure (I haven't heard of anyone else trying it) but make a good alternative to olives. The important thing to bear in mind is that the fermentation process alters flavours in other ways than just adding acid. To my surprise, it completely destroyed the aniseed flavour of Alexanders. Wild garlic leaves work well, but the result is not a substitute for garlic, it's an entirely new flavour. Samphire kind-of worked, but the result was disappointing. I'll stick to vinegar for preserving this in future. Courgettes were successful, but I found that I don't really want to eat pickled courgette that often. Do you ferment things? Have you come across anything that works really well?

Overall, I've found that lactofermentation is a useful preservation method for some things, but it's not universal in its application. I still think it's magic, though.