Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tiddly Beer Beer Beer

A long time ago, way back in history or more like last weekend, we had a little get together to brew for a friend's birthday. I hastily put together a recipe for a black lager (aka schwarzbier) using a few grains we had laying around. We're still lacking a few pieces of equipment needed to pull off an all-grain recipe so we had to pick up a can of malt extract.

I dub this beer September Black Lager.

2 lbs. American Vienna
2 lbs. American 2-row
1 lb. Roasted Barley

3.5 lbs. Liquid Amber (Muntons)

1 oz. Liberty (60 minute boil)
1 oz. Spaltz (15 minute boil)

Oktoberfest/Märzen Lager Yeast

The main difference between lager and ale is the temperature at which it ferments. While ales ferment at room temperature, the lager yeast we used ferments most comfortably in the 52 to 58 degree range. To keep the lager cool we're using a converted freezer that can maintain higher temperatures (and uses far less electricity) than a standard unit. The bitterness for this recipe may be a little low for the style but we had to substitute Liberty and Spaltz hops for what originally should have been Tettnanger and Hallertau. The shop we get supplies from stocks imported hops and apparently Germany had a bad crop this year. Yet another reason we are making room for hops in our garden this spring.

Check out that bubbling caramel goodness. Only five more weeks until it's ready to bottle!

Learning Valuable Masonry Skills

We finally started the enormous task of repairing the neglected brick barbecue in the back yard. Our neighbor tells us that one of her family members that lived in our house built it long ago. Since we moved in this brick fireplace has been sort of an ancient ruin hinting at the mid 20th century glory days of our house. It sat somber in the weeds evoking memories of 1960's and 1970's style summer cookouts and outdoor parties with cold beer, charbroiled burgers and hotdogs.

You can see the Gardeness hard at work exercising her background in historic preservation. The plan is to add a cast iron griddle to give us more options as to what can be cooked on the grill. It's not quite finished yet but close enough we can almost taste the burgers.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Spicy Dill Spears

Last week we found time to make a batch of refrigerator pickles from a few of our cucumbers. It has been a week and they are now fully flavorized. We threw together four pints of deliciousness from cucumbers and fresh dill out of our garden. Along with store bought dried spices, the recipe called for dried hot peppers to give them some bite. We also added some Amish garlic to ward off the evil spirits in these parts.

Now that we have a cucumber plant we've gone through more vinegar in the past two months than the three years we've lived in this house. It's wonderful learning how to prepare simple foods that we take for granted as coming from a jar or can. We hope to step up to an actual canning process for our next batch of cucumbers (not just refrigerator pickles).

Monday, August 4, 2008

The First Harvest

This past Friday marked the Gaelic/pagan holiday of Lughnasadh. In times past this was a celebration of the beginning of the harvest season. Typically this was a time for bonfires and handfasting weddings. Though nowadays few people celebrate (or are even aware of) the holiday outside of Ireland, we found it pretty fitting to what's happening in our garden.

Our first harvest of the year includes these cucumbers, crook-neck squash and green beans. We're quite pleased with our first attempt at providing for ourselves and look forward to celebrating the continuing harvest season.

Barrels of Monkeys! Oh wait...

The delivery man loves us. He has to, otherwise why would he leave such wonderful things on our doorstep? Maybe it's because I pay him to, but anyway, this past week he brought us two 50 gallon rain barrels! While not quite as fun as a barrel monkeys, they are infinitely more useful.

These used olive shipping containers have replaced our spray painted 55 gallon plastic corn syrup barrel from ebay. Now, for those of you thinking "Why would anyone want to ship used olives?" unfortunately I can't help you, but for the rest of you asking "What was wrong with the old one?" here's the deal. A few months ago we almost ran it dry between rains, then when the rain did come the barrel quickly filled and gobs of water just poured onto the yard. I then went back to ebay and if you can believe this, there were no corn syrup barrels of the same design to be found. So we broke down and started collecting water in a plastic tote. Let me tell you, a plastic tote full of swampy water and a spray painted plastic drum just don't spiffy up the look of a backyard.

After a bit of research I fell in love with the 1127-B from the lovely people at Eagle Peak Containers. They may not be as eye catching as oak wine barrels but for the price they make a world of difference and they're saving us bundles in water bills.