The saga of Jesse’s experimentation with apple cider vinegar continues!
After the first successful batch, I had a couple of batches go bad on me, so I figured I’d do another post covering the mistakes I’ve made and the fixes that I’m working on.
Just to recap, the process of making apple cider vinegar is pretty simple (full post here). Take your apple scraps and put them in a wide mouthed jar covered by a couple of inches of water. Cover the mouth of the jar tightly with a cheesecloth, stir a couple of times a day for 3 weeks, and voila! After the bubbly booziness, the resulting liquid will have turned acidic due to the life processes of various micro-organisms, and there you have apple cider vinegar.
As long as you don’t mess anything up…
The second batch of vinegar that I attempted, I had the idea of adding yeast to speed the fermentation process. Suffice to say that I was perhaps over-exuberant and the yeast population expanded exponentially, to less than desirable results.
With the third batch I didn’t add yeast (relying only on the wild yeast that already existed in the apples themselves), but then I also didn’t stir the resulting concoction quite often enough, and after the apples absorbed enough water to expand, they basically started trying to climb out of the jar. It was not a pretty sight, with any apple material that was above the water line developing a thriving civilization of mold/bacteria.
With this most recent batch, I decided to make a simple mechanical device to keep the apples below the water level and make sure that they fermented properly, without actually going bad.
I used a spare cottage cheese container (cottage cheese being the one packaged food item that we’re allowing ourselves, we have a number of them), and a wood barbecue skewer, pictured below:
I cut little slits in the container, and shaped it into a spiral that would fit into the mouth of the jar, and hold the apples below the water. Observe!
So far, it appears to be working fairly well. The “mother of vinegar” bacteria culture is collecting on the device a little bit, but nothing too serious that a little rinse hasn’t taken care of. I’m still stirring the mixture every day, but now I don’t have to worry about running home from work to make sure that it gets done on any kind of rigid time schedule. By the end of next week, the vinegar should be ready to go!
We’ve been so blown away by how much discussion our zero waste project has been generating, and by how many people are already doing some or all of these things in their own homes! We also get a few popular questions; namely, has it been challenging? and does it take a lot of time?
“Challenge” and “time” both being relative concepts, I thought that rather than answering these questions in a binary yes or no fashion, I’d summarize what an average week looks for us right now. You can judge for yourself! Another way to see what we do day-to-day, is to follow us over on Instagram!
Our zero waste goals affect most of our home life in different ways, so I’ll be tackling this idea in installations. This post is going to focus on the good stuff: FOOD!
What food we buy and how we get it home accounts for a large chunk of our waste reduction efforts. Over the course of the week, we make 2 – 3 grocery trips, which is actually no different than our pre-waste not days. The big thing is that if you aren’t buying anything packaged and processed, you are relying a lot more on fresh veggies and fruits that have a shorter lifespan. We also buy a lot of root vegetables, dry beans, grains, etc that last quite a bit longer. Except for trailmix – it doesn’t seem to matter how much we buy, we always need to buy more. 😉
I would say that one of the major benefits to buying non-packaged and processed food, aside from obvious and numerous health benefits, is that in order to create variety in our diet we usually snag one or two novelty items (eggplant, split peas, a different type of bean) to experiment with in the kitchen. Fun, and colourful!
This is a stage that didn’t really warrant its own heading before we started our zero waste journey. Present day, preparing our food has become a weekly fixture, because all the food that we are buying is in its whole, unaltered state when it gets home to our counter.
A lot of our food prep isn’t actually a weekly process, so what I’ve done is made a rough list of our necessities, organized by the frequency with which we need to make them (always in bulk).
requires 6 hours of on-and-off attention, plus 30 mins prep the night before, and an hour in the oven the day after (worth every second, I promise)
sourdough crackers: weekly/every two weeks
takes under an hour to whip up several batches
hummus: every two weeks
leave chickpeas simmering for a few hours, then takes about 10 minutes to blend
apple sauce: every two weeks
simmer apples on the stove, or forget about them in the slow cooker, then blend for 2 minutes
tomato sauce: every two weeks
same as the apple sauce! if you’re feeling industrious, add some onions
pie crust: monthly
make a big batch of dough, roll, and freeze in our accumulated old pie plates; 45 minutes
pizza crust: monthly
we use the sourdough cracker recipe, and just roll it a bit thicker and into a pizza crust shape; they seem to freeze quite well! takes about 20 minutes
vegetable soup stock: monthly/every two months
put all old veggie leavings from the freezer into slow cooker with water, and come back in eight hours; 5 minutes of time if you take the scenic route
That’s about it! Everything else we make from scratch when we feel like having it: pancakes, quiche, ice cream, soups, stews… nothing from a can or a package, and generally nothing takes more than about 30 minutes to whip up. And let’s be honest, we aren’t dealing with particularly high stakes here; if we don’t have time to bulk food prep, we just live without it until we have time. The challenge here is that if we fail to prepare, there can be a feeling of scarcity in our fridge and pantry. No packaging means no easy grab and go options beyond raw fruit and veggies, so we really need to keep on top of food prep in order to avoid feeling deprived in any way.
For something like my bread recipe, which is certainly the most time-consuming on the list by far, we always have the option of buying it from somewhere delicious like the Night Oven instead. If we ever get a food processor, I may move to making my own nut butters, and doubtless that will cut down a little bit on the time spent using our trusty immersion blender!
Is zero waste food a challenge? Yes and no. Most of our grocery experiences have been painless, and we aren’t really too ruffled if we can’t have something because it’s packaged. Most of our recipes are pretty foolproof and quick, and the ones that have taken some tweaking are honestly much more rewarding once we have them all sorted out. Again, most of the challenge comes in needing to plan ahead for our food needs, but there’s a definite benefit to spending our time on these visceral essentials.
Which leads to the big question: Is it time consuming? Ultimately, neither of us are really approaching the project from that lens, turns out. We do indeed spend more time planning and preparing our food than we would if we weren’t always working with whole ingredient. Both Jesse and I find ourselves look at it this way: we would ultimately be allocating that time to something, likely less immediate and nurturing, like squeezing in an extra errand, some TV, or some other glorification of “busy” that would have us out of our home for another hour here and there. We are simply choosing to allocate some of that time to processes and help us to slow down and connect with how we’re fueling ourselves. We would be spending some degree of time preparing our meals anyway, and our from scratch recipes just mean that we’re generally eating better, healthier options. The bread is admittedly quite time consuming, but it’s completely elective on my part – we could definitely be meeting our zero waste goals without me becoming a baker. I’m just really, really enjoying getting into bread making.
And see, that’s the thing. I’m enjoying it. As we go along, I’m challenging a lot of identities that I carried for a long time for no real reason. “I’m not a baker.” “I can’t cook.” “I don’t have time.” The fact is, taking time to plan out our food, making each other things to eat with love and care, these are really rewarding (and unexpected) bi-products of the Waste Not project. Our date nights often include cooking and food prep now, and with it comes conversation and some of the most real moments I’ve ever had with someone else. I think it’s worth the time! 🙂 ❤