Friday, June 13, 2014

Sourdough Nettle Rye Bread recipe - or let's get Medieval on Your Nettles

Yesterday I made an adaptation of an adaptation of a medieval recipe for Nettle Bread.  It's exceedingly delicious, with a sweet and moist rye bread crumb.  I like it sliced thin, lightly toasted and smothered in butter (homemade is best) and a few drops of honey on top.

Rustic nettle bread

We have the perfect growing place for stinging nettles, it's moist year round, it's acidic, it's downhill from the neighbour's manure pile so the soil is overloaded with nutrients.  There is not much else that will grow there, but the nettles thrive.  So I harvested a large basket full of just the leaves.  My nettles are getting a bit old and scraggly, but if you have young nettles, you can use the stem as well.

Although I made a huge batch of nettle bread this time, I'm going to scale down the recipe for you.  Those of you without constant access to nettles might have to wait till they are available in the shops in the spring... Far too expensive for something available free in the wild, but when that's all you have... well, you make do.  The bunches sold in the store are about a cup worth - but you can use more or less depending on what you have on hand.

blanching nettles
(in the water I used for brewing small ale later that day.
This should be interesting)

The recipe I used for inspiration comes from the beautiful book The Medieval Kitchen, a social history with recipes by Hannele Klemettila (the final 'a' in the name has those two little dots on top).  The author uses modern yeast and caraway seeds.  I hate caraway seeds, possibly more than I hate mushrooms.  They disgust me.

Last year I used Klemettila's recipe and it's quite nice (without the caraway seeds).  It's written in a way that assumes you are very comfortable baking bread and the recipe uses modern ingredients and methods that were not available in the middle ages.  Like most of the book, it is more an attempt to introduce the modern pallet to some of the medieval flavour combinations.  Combine that with the layout and gorgeous pictures, I think it's a good introduction to medieval food.

For me, it's not enough.  In the middle ages a person couldn't just drive down to the supermarket and pick up a packet of yeast.  They had to capture their own yeast, very much like we do with sourdough today.  In fact, in some parts of Europe, it was exactly like we do with sourdough today.  To keep the bread as medieval as possible, I used sourdough instead of modern yeast.

Because the nettles have so many natural sugars, I figured a heavy rye bread would do the trick.  And I was right.

This bread uses a sponge so start it the evening before you plan to bake.  It is also a bit different than many bread recipes in that I only rise it once.  It's a trick you can use for sourdough when you can't guarantee you'll be available to shape the loaves for the second rise.  This creates a more rustic texture, sometimes creating those big air pockets in the loaf.  I kind of like it.

Stinging Nettle Sourdough Rye Bread

About 1 cup of fresh nettles - or a lot more if you have it
1 tsp salt
Sourdough starter
Rye flour
Wheat flour
1/2 tsp Whole fennel seeds
1 tsp honey (optional - makes it no longer vegan)

The night before baking day, we make a sponge:

  • Put 2 Tbs sourdough starter (from the fridge or already active is fine), 1/2 cup water, and enough rye flour to make a thin batter.  Cover with a cotton or linen towel and leave on the counter overnight.  This is called the sponge.
  • Feed your starter as per normal - I'm assuming you are already slightly familiar with sourdough.
Now it's baking day, let's get's medieval on your nettles
  • Toast the fennel seeds in a dry fry pan until they smell amazing then put to one side to cool.  While it's toasting, you will want to shake or stir the seeds quite frequently to ensure nothing burns.  When cool enough to handle, coarsely grind it with a mortar and pestle or a spice mill.  
  • Bring a fairly large pot of water to the boil and dunk the nettles in the boiling water for about 3 minutes.  Take the nettles out and put them in a bowl, add about a cup of cold water to the nettles.  When the nettles are cool enough to touch comfortably, take them out of the cold water and strain them - keep the cold water, we're about to use it.  Let's call it nettle rinse water.
  • Combine the nettle rinse water, sponge, 1 tsp salt, toasted fennel seeds, a handful of flour, and a handful of rye flour.  If you are using honey, add it now too.  Mix it up well and put it to one side.  
  • Take the nettles that have drained, chop them up as finely or as coarsely as you like.  The cooking should have neutralized the sting.  Add this to the flour/sponge/fennel/water mix above.  Stir vigorously, almost whisking it in as this will help to activate the gluten in the flour and ensure the nettles are well incorporated into the dough.
  • Add another three or four handfuls of rye flour, or about 1/2 a cup, and mix well.
  • Add regular flour by the handfuls, mixing between each addition, until you have a shaggy mess.
  • Put the shaggy mess onto a well floured board or counter, kneed it until no longer shaggy, but instead a lovely smooth.  
  • Shape into one or two loaves, then put on a baking sheet.  Cover with a towel and leave it alone until double in size.  This may take an hour or it might take 8, depends on your yeast and many other factors... most of which are beyond your control.  A lot of people like to leave it somewhere warm, which is okay, but for me doesn't make as nice a texture or as long keeping loaf.  Just put it somewhere where it isn't in a draft.  
  • When it's double in size, preheat the oven to 400 F.
  • While the oven is heating up, use a very sharp knife to carefully cut some lines in the top of the bread.
  • Bake at 400 for 35 min for the small loaves, or 40 min for one large loaf.  Bread is done when it sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom.
  • Take out of the oven, wrap the loaves in a cotton or linen towel and leave at least 12 hours to cool before storing in plastic.  Or if you are hungry now, wait at least 10 min before cutting into it.
So beautiful, ready to rise

Affordable: Yes, if you're harvesting your own nettles and not paying grocery store prices.  The nettles add a lot of nutrition and a little bit of bulk to the bread which is pretty awesome.  Nettles are very healthy - just google stinging nettles to find out all the good things they do.

If you omit the honey, this is a vegan friendly bread.

Tradition and transition?  It seems to have been quite common in medieval times, but the tradition has died out.  As a Transition bread, however, this is going to be a good recipe to keep around.  A dense nettle bread is very common during starvation times, like during World War 2 for example.  Usually wheat flour is one of the first things to be rationed, so breads were made with whatever grains were on hand, and often augmented with nettles and other nutritional weeds that are usually ignored in times of plenty.

We would be foolish to think that we won't ever have a starvation time again in The West, but for now, it's actually quite a yummy bread, the nettles adding  a little bit of tang, sweetness, and even help prevent the bread from going moldy.

nettle toast and honey, delicious.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cucumber, garlic scapes, and dill fermented pickles recipe

Here's a very delicious fermented pickle I've had the privilege to make.  The garlic scapes are from my garden, but the cucumbers and dill are from the store.  I plan to make this again later in the year with my own cucumbers and dill, but use whole garlic instead of the scapes.  It's tasty enough, but the scapes add a special something that is really yummy.

The other day I was lamenting the price of cucumbers in the store.  It was considerably higher than normal for some reason, but fresh fruits and veg are doing this more and more frequently these days.  But I found some cucumbers that had just come in at my friends shop, and bought the lot.  They are those lovely small cucumbers, tiny little seeds, so crunchy and tender.  

A good 20 plus pounds of cucumbers plus a garden full of scapes, and a few other vegs tossed in the pot for good measure, means that I made 6 gallons worth of pickles in an afternoon.  This recipe isn't for that much, but you can easily scale it up or down to your liking.  I'll do it per pound, so per each pound of veg you add...x this and that... very simple.

My recipe is inspired from this... okay, it's basically the same only modified for the open vat ferment style instead of the small jar ferment style.  Very good recipe, but far too small an amount for how good it tastes.  The ratio of dill, garlic and cucs is up to you entirely.  If you want pickled garlic with a hint of cucumbers, do that, if you like cucumbers best, do mostly those.  If dill drives you crazy with love and passion, go nuts.  But basically, I tend for 10 to 50 garlic scapes per pound of cucs, or one bulb of garlic for 2 pounds of cucs - I love garlic.

Cucumber and Garlic Scapes Dill Pickles

  • cucumbers
  • garlic or garlic scapes or both
  • fresh or dry dill.
  • salt
  • optional - chili pepper, other veg like carrots
  • water
  1. Weigh out the veg.  For every pound of veg put aside 2 tsp of salt.  Add one Tbs of salt to the pile (for the pot as they say).  
  2. Cut up the veg how you like.  The more surface area the faster they will ferment.
  3. Layer it in a clean crock (no antibacterial soap, this will kill the bacteria that we need to ferment the pickle), layer of veg, sprinkle herb, layer garlic, layer of salt, layer of veg... and so on.  Save a good Tbs of salt for the top.  When you run out of veg, sprinkle the rest of the salt on top.
  4. Put a plate or cut a piece of plastic or wood or whatever you have on top of the veg/salt layers.  It needs to be smaller than the opening so it can weigh down the pickles, but not too much smaller that the veg can get around the inner lid and float.  Weigh it down with a jar of water or clean rock, or the like.
  5. cover the whole thing with a cotton or linen cloth to keep the bugs out and stop the dust getting in.
  6. Place somewhere at cool room temp, between 10 and 20 C is ideal and ignore it for 12 to 24 hours.
  7. The veggies will make their own liquid, but probably not enough.  Add clear, clean water to the vat until the veggies are submerged.  Cover it back up and ignore it.  
  8. After three days to a week, open up the vat and take out a few cucumbers (with clean hands/tools) to taste.  If you like it, put the pickles in jars in the fridge.  If you would like it more sour, replace the inner lid and weight to make certain everything is submerged.  Cover again with cloth and ignore for another week.
There may be mold.  It happens but is seldom harmful.  If the mold is black or the vat smells rotten - toss it it the compost immediately!  Otherwise, trust your senses to tell you if it's okay to eat or not.  Mold isn't always bad for you.  In fact, a great number of molds are good - antibiotics come from mold, blue cheese, miso soup, sake rice wine... all contain friendly molds.  Most molds don't care about humans one way or the other, some are helpful and some are harmful.  But the point is, not all molds are bad.  If you feel uncomfortable with mold, then don't eat the vat.  If you don't mind it, and it's not black mold, then scrape off the mold, maybe sprinkle some more salt, and make certain everything is submerged below the water.

If you are making this in the heat of the summer, which is likely given the way cucumbers grow, and don't want to eat it right away, then feel free to add more salt.  In the summer, I usually put in 1Tbs salt per pound of veg.  In the winter, when it's cool, I'll add a lot less salt, maybe 1 tsp per pound of veg (this is my basic guide for all vegi ferments like kimchi or sauerkraut).  

You can make these pickles for the flavour, or to preserve the cucumbers or for the health benefits of probiotics.  I find this recipe very affordable, especially when my own cucumbers are in full production... although if you are buying the cucs, then maybe wait for them to be on sale.  

This is a traditional method to preserve cucumbers, and also one very good for transitioning away from dependence on big business and long range food transport.  Make this in the summer when you have cucumbers coming out your ears, then you will be able to enjoy pickles well into the winter, maybe even next spring.  For preservation, it's helpful to keep it in a cooler location.

Yes, this is vegan friendly.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Harvest and noodles

Lately I've been wondering into the garden and picking random things, then brining them into the house for lunch.  This is what I brought in the  other day.  From left to right, Chickweed, Mangel Wurzel leaves, and a garlic scape.

I'm a bit disappointed in the garlic, usually it goes to see much later in the year, about the same time as the pickling cucumbers are ready.  Last year I made this really delicious fermented pickle from them.  But not this year.  Right now the cucumbers are at an all time high price in the shops, and our home grown cucs are a long way off.

These Mangel Wurzel leaves are actually a kind of animal fodder food.  We are growing them for the first time this year to feed to the sheep and goats over winter.  The leaves we feed in the late summer when the grass is too dry to grow, and the roots we keep for winter feeding.

But to me, the young Mangel Wurzel leaves look and taste like chard, only better.  So I've been munching on them too.

Another one of those one-pot-meals.  Toss everything in, a bit of bacon, some noodles, some carrots, garden veg, then put it on low heat for an hour or five.  Very, very tasty.