Do you have a bunch of ripe fruit you don’t know what to do with? Frozen enough banana bread to feed the neighborhood for weeks? Kids are sick of smoothies? Dehydrating is a quick and easy way to preserve your overripe fruits, and the roll-ups will keep for a month on the shelf (I’ve read they will keep a whole year if wrapped well and frozen, although they’ve never lasted long enough for me to find out!).
I have a nice dehydrator that I use, but fruit leather can also be dried in the oven. The process couldn’t be easier:
Blend your fruit(s)
Pour onto tray
Blending The Fruit
Basically, any fruit can be used, either singly or in combination with other fruits. Spices may be added for variety, if desired. I prefer to use overripe bananas as my base, and add other fruit to that. The batch I made this week had several combinations: Banana/peach, banana/plum, banana/strawberry, banana/peanut butter, and one tray of just pureed grapes.
The riper the fruit, the better. I like to take my bananas and smoosh them up as I’m placing them into my blender. I then add whatever other fruit I’m using (cut up small), and pulse until everything is blended, with a fairly smooth consistency. Some small chunks are just fine and add a nice texture to the finished fruit leather. I used approximately 2 bananas and two pieces of the larger fruit (peaches, plums) per tray. With the strawberry/banana blend, I used about a cup of berries to every two bananas.
Pouring The Mixture
I have a couple silicone tray liners for my dehydrator that work very well, but they can get pricey. If you don’t have the liners, a layer of parchment paper cut to fit your tray will work perfectly. If using your oven, simply line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Pour the blended fruit onto your parchment or silicone and spread out thinly with a spatula. I find that once I get the fruit spread out where I want it, I just lightly tap the tray on the counter and it evens everything out nicely.
To dehydrate in your oven, just use the lowest temperature, place the cookie sheet on the middle rack, and wait 6-8 hours. I usually set my dehydrator at around 135 degrees, and it takes about 8-12 hours. Your fruit leather is done when it is tacky, but not wet. When you touch the fruit leather, your finger should be a bit sticky, but there should be no visible fruit on it.
Peel the finished fruit leather from your silicone/parchment liner, roll up tightly, and slice crosswise into little rounds. They store well in a Rubbermaid container or Ziploc bag.
The mushroom lab is complete! Mike has some micelium started. When it is mature, he will be hanging up his shingle on Etsy, selling mycelium syringes and substrate to fellow mycologists. We are still waiting on some much-needed supplies, but like everything else, there are “supply chain issues.” Soon, though.
This lab is the culmination of over a decade of dreaming and planning. So many times we were discouraged, thinking it would never happen. The false starts, the lack of funds; it has truly been an uphill struggle.
Then one day a couple months ago a random thought completely unrelated to mushrooms led to a flurry of manifestations. Brilliant ideas started coming. Outside-of-the-box thinking helped us to work around the obstacles in our path, and suddenly it all just fell into place. And here we are, soon-to-be entrepreneurs!
It’s the end of January, and we are chomping at the bit to get this business started. Fortunately, the lab isn’t just about mushrooms. Mike and I have had so much fun playing with different ferments while waiting to launch. So far we have experimented with:
Lacto Fermented baby carrots
Lacto Fermented garlic cloves
We have had many successes, and a few spectacular failures. Most heartbreaking was the loss of our kefir grains. Our grains were multiplying and we were able to make a gallon of kefir at a time. Some close-to-spoiling milk tainted the grains, and they took on that “off” flavor, making subsequent batches equally nasty. We just received some new grains on Wednesday and are starting over again. Keeping a family of 7 in kefir is quite a challenge.
Tepache is a Mexican fermented pineapple drink, and it is awesome and healthy! The best part is only the skin and core of the pineapple is used, along with some spices and a bit of brown sugar, so it is nearly free to make. Mike has designed an awesome system for brewing, which makes the entire process super easy. I am considering a YouTube video on tepache making.
We had a lot of fun making wine. We lost a batch of white wine because we were keeping it too warm. Being beginners, we started off making wine using just frozen juice from the grocery store. I am so looking forward to using fresh fruit from the homestead: Blackberries, mulberries, and elderberries are on the roster this summer. Mike racked off the first batch into two one-gallon jugs. We bottled one jug and left the other one for an extra week/10 days. The difference in flavor and clarity was amazing. It’s a simple dry grape table wine, nothing fancy. But quite tasty. We are looking forward to honing our skills and making some awesome wine. As soon as we get a quart of local honey, we will be venturing into making mead, which is wine made with honey.
Lacto Fermented Baby Carrots and Garlic
Next to lacto fermented sauerkraut, the baby carrots are a family favorite. Lacto fermented veggies are packed with healthy probiotics for gut health. The fermenting process not only keeps the produce from losing any nutrients (as opposed to cooking or canning), it actually makes the nutrients more bioavailable. I have not fermented garlic all by itself before. Can’t wait to start using it to boost our immunities.
Update: I just checked the garlic. The entire lab was filled with its pungent aroma. Absolutely perfect. The baby carrots are crunchy, slightly sour, and delicious. The new kefir? Not so much. It was spoiled again. I think we may have an issue with fluctuating temps in the lab. But as Ma Ingalls said: “There is no great loss without some small gain.” Still, though, out of everything we’ve been doing the kefir is everyone’s favorite. So there are seven very disappointed people here on the Homestead.
Many people are familiar with beet kvass, a fermented drink made from beets. Another traditional kvass is made from rye bread. Quite honestly, we didn’t care for it very much. At some point we are going to try again with some homemade rye bread and see if we can’t improve it the next time.
Rye and Sourdough Bread
I am especially excited about being able to make bread again. This rye bread recipe was my uncle’s from when he was a baker in the 60s-70s. I felt so honored to be able to bring this family recipe back to life, especially as my lovely Uncle Louis had recently passed.
The sourdough bread was a bit more challenging. I don’t think it will be a part of my regular repertoire, as I simply don’t have the time right now to nurture the starter on a daily basis. If I had a full kitchen and was baking bread several times a week, I would definitely incorporate the sourdough, but it’s just too much right now with my job. I can go several days without having a chance to tend to it. Sourdough bread is a fairly complicated endeavor, especially when working in a makeshift kitchen. My two loaves were flat and ugly, but quite delicious.
February should be quite a busy month. Mike will soon be getting the last few things he needs to launch his Etsy shop. I have done some basic setup on Etsy for him, but we still have a lot of work to do on it before it goes live. We will also be revamping his Facebook page. And then there’s Instagram, which I truly don’t understand. TikTok, Spotify, YouTube……it will definitely be a learning process.
My granddaughter received a neat little Vlogging camera for Christmas. I am hoping to borrow it and start making some simple “how to” videos for YouTube. Again, a big learning curve for me. I am at the age where I simply hand my electronic devices over to my kids to set them up for me.
We will be working on some more wine soon. There is a scoby in the fridge just waiting for us to start some kombucha. And my winter greenhouse has been terribly neglected. I will be venturing in there today after a two-week absence; I should have a ton of kale, greens, radishes, and beets to pick.
It is nearly time to start my seeds for spring. I have a mini greenhouse within the big greenhouse with shelving, heat pads, and lights. It’s hard to believe that spring is just around the corner already.
There are just so many different projects here in the pipeline for us. Lack of time seems to be our biggest obstacle right now. There is so much we want to do, and yet there are still only 24 hours in a day. I look forward to the day I am able to retire and spend my days having fun, doing all the things I am passionate about.
If you have any questions or comments about any of our projects, I would love to chat with you about them. Please contact me and I will be happy to discuss what we are doing here on the Homestead!
While I enjoy a bottle of store-bought kefir once in a while, it truly pales in comparison to homemade, whole raw milk kefir. It’s a tangy, effervescent treat packed full of healthy probiotics, and flavor variations are limited only by your imagination.
The legend is that the prophet Mohammed gave the first kefir grains (not actual “grains;” they are colonies of beneficial yeast and bacteria) to the Orthodox Christian people of the Northern Caucasus Mountain region in Russia, with instructions on making kefir. The Caucasus people embraced their gift, considering it a life-giving elixir with many health benefits. For generations, the Northern Caucasus people were well-known for producing more than their fair share of centenarians.
For centuries, possession of these grains was kept strictly amongst the people of the Caucasus region. In 1908, using some underhanded tactics including a honey trap utilizing a company spy, the Blandov brothers obtained ten pounds of kefir grains and began producing kefir for Russian doctors to give to their patients.
By 1960, kefir had been introduced to the West and today almost everyone knows what it is.
Homemade Kefir Recipe(Helpful tips follow recipe)
Quart Mason Jar
Cheesecloth/clean towel and rubber band
1 Tbsp milk Kefir grains (Note: Water kefir grains will not work with this recipe)
4 cups whole milk (I use fresh, raw milk, but pasteurized milk works also)
Place your kefir grains in a clean quart Mason jar, as well as any liquid they were packed in
Add 4 cups of milk
Cover mouth of jar with clean cloth and secure with rubber band
Place in a warm area for approximately 24 hours (top of the fridge is a good spot)
After around 24 hours, the kefir will be thick and creamy. Using a fine non-metallic strainer, pour your finished kefir into another clean jar. You will be left with your kefir grains in the strainer. At this point, you can simply drop them into another jar and add more milk for another batch, or you can add a small amount of milk and store them in the fridge for later use.
Some people like to simply put their kefir in the fridge at this point and use it after the first fermentation. I like to compare the taste to a thin, somewhat fizzy Greek yogurt drink.
However, if you wish to flavor your kefir, make it even more fizzy, and mellow out the tartness, this is the time to do it. You will need some bottles, preferably with a clamp-on lid as seen here:
Place whatever you wish to flavor your kefir with into the bottles. You can add a couple chopped up raisins, a finely minced strawberry or two, or whatever else you wish to use. Do not add a lot of fruit; the sugar causes further fermentation, and you don’t want an excessive amount of pressure in the bottles. Using a funnel, add your strained kefir to the bottles, leaving 1″ headspace, and clamp the lids down.
Leave your bottles out for approximately 6-12 hours, tasting frequently until the flavor has mellowed to your preference. The warmer it is, the faster the ferment. I like to start taste testing at about 6 hours and then every few hours after until it is how I like it. Conversely, you can also just put your second ferments straight into the fridge. It will continue to ferment but will just take longer.
Kefir is an excellent and delicious substitute for buttermilk.
You can make a delightful and healthy Ranch dressing using kefir.
It takes several batches for your new grains to “mature” and reliably produce thick, creamy kefir. Don’t get discouraged if your first few batches aren’t perfect!
It is best not to switch milk types. If you start with whole, pasteurized milk, don’t suddenly switch to raw. I would introduce the new milk you wish to start using over a couple batches before making the change.
Everything that comes into contact with your kefir and grains should be non-metallic.
Kefir grains reproduce! You may get to a point where you have more than you need, or you may wish to just take a short break from making kefir. Simply rinse your grains well with unchlorinated water and place in a clean jar. Cover your grains with milk so they are completely submerged, put a lid on, and store in the fridge for up to a month. When you’re ready to make some more, simply rinse and drop into your milk.
If you don’t have room on your counter or if you work away from home for long hours and can’t be there to take care of your kefir as it ferments, you can actually make it in your refrigerator. Add grains to your milk as usual and place in the fridge. It will take a good bit longer to make your kefir, but it works.
A second ferment is completely optional, but it does add great depth of flavor and increases the effervescence of the kefir. You also receive the added benefits of the nutrients from the fruit, as kefir makes those nutrients much more bioavailable.
Making your own soft kefir cheese is so easy. Simply strain your kefir when it’s done, then leave it on the counter in a warm spot for another 12-24 hours. The kefir will separate into curds and whey (the whey is a great starter for lacto fermented foods, and a healthy boost for people, pets, and houseplants!). Placing a bowl underneath to catch the whey, line a colander with 2-3 layers of cheesecloth and pour the curds and whey through. Let the whey drip out for 5-6 hours, then gather the cheesecloth up, give it a firm twist, and hang it up over the bowl. Once the whey stops dripping, unwrap the cheese and add flavorings if desired. You can make a wonderful fruity spread or go savory with garlic and chives. Stores in fridge for a couple weeks.
I haven’t tried it yet, but apparently you can even make a hard cheese out of kefir using the technique above, but then placing weight on the cheese to express more whey. It makes a crumbly hard cheese that grates well.
I am so excited to finally have a place to make kefir again! It’s something that I love doing and experimenting with. If you have any questions about the kefir-making process or have some suggestions I haven’t mentioned here, I’d love to hear them!