A big part of homestead life is providing for yourself with the abundance that the land and your community provides. Along this line I’ll be periodically making posts on Preserving the Harvest. This will essentially be a how-to with a little how-come, on preserving seasonal abundance on the homestead. The natural ebb and flow of abundance on the farm and in the garden is something that we have moved away from with the artificial, industrial, commodity based, extraction model of modern agriculture. Well here at Traditional Catholic Homestead we aim to embrace that natural seasonal abundance eating fresh in season, and preserving the surplus to enjoy later. So what, you might ask is in season and abundant in North-Central Idaho mid-April… well not a whole lot, but we’ve got a reliable supply of milk coming in right now. Milk is one of those essential homestead luxuries that can be bountiful year round, if you play your cards right. I won’t go into the timing and techniques to make that happen right now, but I will share with you one of our family’s favorite ways of preserving and enhancing the usefulness of fresh milk if you have more than you can drink right away.
We make kefir, a delicious and healthful fermented drink from the surplus milk we get from a friend. Kefir is a cultured, fermented milk that is rich in enzymes, probiotics, and B vitamins. It is tolerated well by folks who are lactose intolerant (most of the lactose in the milk is consumed in the fermentation process), provides a complete protein profile, and enhances intestinal biology with a wide array of probiotics. Kefir is made using kefir “grains” which are a combination of bacteria and yeast.
These living organisms clump together and form small, gelatinous masses held together with polysaccharides. These grains are strained from the finished kefir before you drink it and are used to make the next batch. Under ideal conditions the grains will multiply and you’ll have an ever increasing supply! Any excess grains you end up with can be used in smoothies, eaten out of hand, or fed to livestock (chickens love ’em!) or pets.
The basic recipe for making your own milk kefir is pretty simple: add 1/4 cup of kefir grains to 1 quart of milk (raw or pasteurized), cover, and let it sit out at room temperature for 24-48 hours. You should start tasting the kefir after about 24 hours and every few hours after until it reaches a flavor, and consistency you like. After you’re done with the primary ferment use a strainer or cheese cloth to separate the finished kefir from the grains. Then repeat into perpetuity. We’ve kept finished kefir in the fridge for about a month and a half without any problems (it does have a tendency to get bitter over time though). My feeling is that if kept in cold storage milk kefir will last several months with little ill effects. Making kefir is a bit of an art, but not nearly as involved or time consuming as making cheese.
There is also a closely related probiotic beverage called Water Kefir.
This is made basically the same way only instead of milk you use water mixed with sugar. The grains are selected to consume fructose instead of lactose, but they are essentially the same.
We use 1/4 cup of sugar to every quart of water. This stuff goes quick though (the kids love it!) so we make a gallon at a time! You end up with a pleasant pro-biotic soda like beverage that you can add whatever flavoring you want to (we like elderberry syrup, or blueberries). Most of the time we don’t even bother putting the finished water kefir in the fridge. We leave it sit out on the counter, out of the way, and draw from a pitcher whatever we want, then add the flavorings. Like I said this stuff goes fast, so I have no idea how long it will last like this. So far it’s made it about five days!
Whether you’re preserving the harvest with Milk Kefir, or replacing sugary drinks with Water Kefir: the benefits of this healthful, probiotic beverage of antiquity is a standout in the homestead pantry. Kefir grains are inexpensive, and readily available through many sources. One purchase and you will have a self perpetuating system of preservation and abundance. Experiment with it and enjoy the harvest!