Winter is Coming – Brace Yourselves with Fire Cider

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Brrrr! Even on the mild Mendocino coast, the chill of winter is in the air. The rain has begun (thank goodness!) and the holidays are upon us. With so much happening, no one has time to get sick. Thankfully, you don’t need to get a flu shot to avoid the dreaded cold and flu season, there is a better way! Let me introduce you to my favorite flu shot alternative, FIRE CIDER!

I was introduced to this magical herbal concoction last year in my beloved fermented foods swap group, Coastal Culture and Abundance, though it is not actually a ferment, it’s an infusion in vinegar. Fire Cider is a traditional herbal remedy that has been made and shared by many herbalists for decades to help boost the immune system, fight inflammation and infection, and warm the body from the inside. Recently, a company tried to trademark the name Fire Cider, effectively attempting to “own” a generic herbal remedy and prevent others from using this generic name for their versions of it, even though it was being made and shared by herbalists long before their attempt to lay claim to it. Herbalists responded by boycotting the company, Shire City Herbals, and continuing to spread information about it so that people could make fire cider themselves and keep this lovely tradition alive!

From FreeFireCider.com, a group of herbalists working together with herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, who coined the phrase “fire cider” and started sharing the recipe over 25 years ago,  to protect the name Fire Cider from trademarks. They are committed to providing information and materials for the herbal community so that together, we can fight to keep traditional remedies free and available to everyone:

The remedy is used to help warm up the body, and generally acts a stimulant and antimicrobial used during cold and flu season.  Recently, a large company decided to trademark the name and is forcing small businesses who have made and sold it to change their product names.  Some of the companies and individuals in question have made and sold this remedy for many years longer than the company that trademarked it has even existed.  Many people feel this is a dangerous precedent to anyone who creates and shares recipes anywhere on the web or in books and this led to a filing with the US Patent and Trademark Office asking that the mark be deemed generic.  Until the company agrees to freeing Fire Cider from trademark restriction, a boycott of their product has been launched.

Fire Cider

Last fall, our Coastal Culture and Abundance group got together to make fire cider, each bringing some ingredients to share and an empty jar to take our fire cider home in, and we gathered again last week to make new batches for the coming winter. It’s becoming a really fun autumn tradition, and it’s a great excuse to get together, so I highly recommend making fire cider with friends and sharing the bounty!

You’ll find countless versions of this recipe online, but the basic recipe includes onions, hot peppers, ginger, turmeric, garlic, horseradish, citrus fruit, rosemary, apple cider vinegar, and honey. I like to add a variety of other beneficial ingredients like black peppercorns (to help activate the turmeric), oregano, burdock root, radishes, rose hips if I can find them, any other fresh herbs I have on hand, and plenty of different varieties of citrus and peppers. I usually skip the honey as well.

Fire Cider recipe from freefirecider.com

How to Make Your Own Fire Cider

Gather as many of these ingredients as you can, preferably organic. No need to peel anything!

  • ~1/2 cup fresh ginger root (grated or chopped)
  • ~1/2 cup fresh horseradish root (grated or roughly chopped)
  • ~1/4 cup fresh turmeric root, or a couple Tbsp turmeric powder
  • 1-2 onions, chopped (I like to use multiple colors)
  • 10-12 cloves of garlic (I just remove the outer layers and separate the cloves, no need to peel them completely)
  • a few hot peppers of various varieties, chopped
  • 2 or more citrus fruits, cut into rounds (lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit are all excellent additions)
  • a few sprigs each of fresh herbs like rosemary, oregano, parsley and cilantro
  • 1 Tbsp or so of whole peppercorns
  • ~1/8 cup or so of fresh burdock root
  • A few slices of turnip, radish, or daikon, if desired
  • raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar

Chop or grate all ingredients into small pieces. Grab a large jar – quart or half gallon size, depending on how many ingredients you have, and fill it up with ingredients. It helps to add a little of each ingredient at a time to create pretty layers in the jar. If you find that you are having to pack ingredients in tightly to fit them, I recommend moving everything into a larger jar, because you’ll want plenty of space for the vinegar.

Once your jar is full of colorful ingredients, fill it with apple cider vinegar. Using a plastic lid or a layer of wax paper under the metal lid to prevent corrosion, cap the jar and let it sit out at room temperature for at least 4 weeks, preferably in a cool, dark place like a cupboard. Turn the jar over or give it a good shake every few days or whenever you remember to, letting all the goodness infuse into the vinegar.

Once it’s sat for at least a month (no harm in letting it infuse longer if you like), strain the liquid into a jar and keep it in the fridge. The solids can be composted or if you’d rather not waste them, I dry them in a food dehydrator for a day or so, then grind them all up in a coffee grinder and use it as a spice blend. If you like, you can add about 1/4 cup raw honey to the liquid to make it a bit more palatable, but I don’t really mind the taste, so I leave it out.

Fire Cider

Now that you’ve made this lovely concoction, how do you use it? It can be taken by the spoonful or in a shot glass as a healing tonic whenever you feel a cold coming on (have water handy to chase it with!), or you can take it regularly as a preventative measure. I add some to my homemade salad dressings, and you can also use it as a marinade or add it to any recipes that could benefit from a little kick. Basically, anything you’d use vinegar for, you can use fire cider for, and it will add a bit of spice and all kinds of immune boosting benefits.

Fire Cider is easy and fun to make, and it adds a gorgeous festive touch to your countertops while it steeps. And it’s especially fun to make with friends, so gather your tribe and make a party out of it!

How do you use fire cider? Do you add any special ingredients not listed above? Please share your tips in the comments!

Creative Recycling in the Kitchen: Veggie Broth from Scraps

Perhaps I’ve internalized my hippie methods enough by now that it is second nature for me to throw my veggie scraps into a bag in the freezer, or into my worm bin or compost failing that, but I think it should feel weird and wrong to throw perfectly useful things away. There are some very simple ways to make our lifestyles less wasteful and more sustainable, and many of them are as simple as asking “what would my grandma or great-grandma do?” Saving veggie scraps to make vegetable broth is one of those things that I am pretty sure would make my granny proud. Plus, homemade broth is SUPER healthy and nourishing.

Free food makes me happy. Reducing food waste and using every last bit of every resource you have does too. So when I realized how easy it was to make veggie broth from little leftover bits of vegetables, I kinda wanted to kick myself for not starting the habit sooner.

Here’s how it works: get a big gallon freezer bag or two. As you cook, save the ends and skins of onions and garlic, pepper innards, tough ends of broccoli stalks, root veggie peels and ends, ginger and carrot peels, celery ends, parsley and cilantro stems – any clean but unused plant matter that would add good flavor to broth. Add these odds & ends to the bag as you’re cleaning up from cooking and throw them back in the freezer. Once the bags are getting too full to close easily, empty them into your largest stock pot and add filtered water until it reaches the level of the veggies, leaving a few inches of space for it to boil. I usually throw in some healthy additions at this point: dried seaweed, a bay leaf or two, a few chunks of fresh turmeric and ginger, peppercorns, a handful of flax seeds, maybe some dried mushrooms or hot peppers, and whatever spices I feel like adding. Stir it all into the water and let it come to a rolling boil before turning the heat down a bit.

veggie broth

Boil your veggies for a good 20-30 minutes at a low simmer, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary. I usually cover my pot with a lid but make sure it doesn’t boil over. I rarely have a timer on, I just let the veggies simmer while I am home and busy for an afternoon, and check on them every so often, turning the heat down a bit more as they start getting mushy and faded in color. Once everything looks pretty mushed out, I turn off the heat, cover it tightly and let it all cool completely, sometimes letting it sit overnight.

Once the pot is cool, it’s time to strain. This is where it gets tricky. If you have a large ladle, you can ladle broth over a strainer into jars for storage. Or you can pour the broth from the stock pot into a large bowl or pitcher, and then into jars. I freeze a few jars (make sure to leave an inch or two of space) and put the rest in the fridge to use within a couple of days. Great for soups, risotto, or just drinking hot by the mugful as a cleansing and nourishing tonic. Every batch is a little different and it’s easy to adjust the seasoning to whatever purpose you had in mind.

So don’t throw those veggie peels and scraps away when you can save them and suck their vital life force out! After you’ve strained out all the liquid, you can compost the leftover solids, rinse out your bags, and let the cycle begin again. And now you’ll be rewarded from cooking with fresh veggies at home with delicious vegetable nectar! Mmmm. Perfect winter project if I do say so myself. I just made the batch pictured above yesterday! 🙂

The Delicious Joy of Fermented Foods: A Step in My Food Journey and a Kimchi Recipe

A little over a decade ago, I had a self-described “black thumb” and managed to burn soup made from a powdered mix. Fast forward to today, and you can’t shut me up about food, unless perhaps you’re putting something delicious in my mouth. I’m actually a bit shocked that this is my first food-related post on this blog, as much as I am involved in learning everything I can about the food industry, what is really in our food, and growing, making, and preserving it. It’s a miracle that I do not weigh 400 pounds, as much as I love to eat and share food.

Next month is my ten year “veggieversary,” which is a very important date for me not just because it was the moment when I decided I didn’t want to support factory farming or eat the flesh of my fellow animals any longer, but it’s the moment  I really started paying attention to what I was feeding myself; the very beginning of a lifelong journey. I was halfway through college and at my first Rainbow Family Gathering in Modoc County, California. Over the course of the week I spent at the gathering in beautiful national forest, I had my heart and eyes opened by the amazing community I encountered, and I learned so much. At Rainbow gatherings, everyone is fed (for free) each evening in the main meadow. Thousands of people sit on the ground in a circle and are fed by groups of their brothers and sisters with big ladles out of buckets and coolers. And to ensure that everyone can eat (and also to make food storage and preparation in the forest easier), all of the food served is vegan. “If I can enjoy hippie stew and rice & lentil schlop served out of a bucket, eaten out of a dusty bowl out in the woods, for a week straight and still think each meal is delicious and nourishing,” I thought, “why can’t I do this all the time at home?”

I had been thinking about going vegetarian for some time as I learned more about the food industry and factory farming, and had stopped eating fast food several years before, but had never really been exposed to how vegans and vegetarians eat until Rainbow gathering. I had my last piece of meat at the gathering, and from that point forward I made a conscious effort to think before I ate. I began learning more about food and nutrition so that I’d be sure to stay healthy on a vegetarian diet, began reading labels and books, doing research and trying recipes. The following year, I switched from shopping at a supermarket to buying the majority of my food from the co-op and farmer’s markets, and I started eating mostly organic. I started a garden and added to my cookbook collection. I got involved in animal rights and was vegan for some time, always adding and subtracting from my diet as I researched more and learned what made me feel healthiest. As of today, I’d describe my diet and food philosophy as “whole foods organic vegetarian locavore with vegan tendencies” or perhaps “octo-lavo vegetarian foodie gardener,” but labels are tricky, and my diet is always evolving. (Never devolving though, I’ll never eat meat, seafood, or GMOs now that I know better).

My most recent food obsession has been the wonderful world of fermented foods. My friend Elika started a local cultured foods swap group, and after hearing and reading about the benefits of fermented foods and beneficial bacteria for years, I jumped at the chance to join and learn more.  This small group meets once a month to learn about making some kind of fermented food, and we each make a big batch of something to divvy up and share with the group. It’s like a potluck but we get to bring 12-15 jars of delicious fermented foods and other bounty home with us!

Treasures from my first fermented foods swap

Fermented foods have been a major part of the human diet since the beginning of human history (until just recently, in the age of pasteurization and the mass production of food). We have historically fermented foods to preserve them and prolong the bounty of harvest, make them more digestible, and to add the many health benefits that live cultures provide. Microbial cultures are essential to our digestion, immunity, and our very lives – our bodies are full of them and we are constantly in a symbiotic relationship with billions of bacteria and single-cell life forms. Modern food culture, with its sterility and obsession with cleanliness (and the very long-range transport and shipping of food) demonizes bacteria when in fact our health and lives are dependent upon them! Almost every ancient culture has a staple cultured food associated with it – truly putting the culture in cultured.

My sister sent me Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz for my birthday, and since my sweetie is half-Korean and loves the stuff, I was immediately drawn to making kimchi for the swap group. This spicy Korean traditional condiment is ridiculously easy to make, as many fermented foods are, with a little practice, patience, and research. Simply put, it’s spiced pickled cabbage. But boy can it be more exciting than that sounds!

I tried the classic (cabbage, carrots, and daikon radish) recipe in the book, then the radish and roots version. I don’t have a crock yet, so I just let the kimchi ferment in several quart jars in my kitchen, covered with a towel. I’d check the jars, pushing the veggies under the brine, each day, and after about a week, I’d move them to the fridge after deciding they tasted “ripe.” I now put kimchi on breakfast scramble, veggie dogs, sandwiches, salads, and just eat it plain – it’s SO GOOD!

I highly recommend Wild Fermentation or any book by Sandor Ellix Katz to begin your foray into fermented foods.  I am looking forward to making sauerkraut this afternoon for the next swap, and trying cheese, sourdough bread, ginger ale, tempeh, miso, yogurt, vinegars, and mead in the future. So many wonderful possibilities!

Here’s a kimchi recipe based on my favorite batch of kimchi so far, which was a combination of the regular and roots recipes in the book, with a little added variety because that’s how I like it!

ALL the veggies kimchi

ALL the Veggies Kimchi

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons sea salt
  • 4 cups filtered or spring water
  • 1 pound (1 – 2 large heads) Chinese cabbage (Napa and/or bok choy)
  • 1 – 2 daikon radishes
  • 1 – 2 carrots
  • small handful radishes
  • 1 -2 turnips
  • 1 – 2 beets (different colors are nice!)
  • 1 burdock root
  • a few sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes)
  • a small handful of snap peas (optional)
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 – 2 leeks
  • 4 – 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 -3 hot peppers or chiles
  • 3 tablespoons fresh grated gingerroot
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons fresh grated turmeric root
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated horseradish root

Process

Mix a brine of about 4 cups water and 4 tablespoons of sea salt. Stir well until salt is dissolved.

Coarsely chop the cabbage and slice the carrots, radishes, daikon, turnips, burdock, beets, peas, and sunchokes into thin rounds or bite-sized pieces (or grate them if you prefer a finer texture). Make sure the root veggies are well scrubbed, or peeled if the skin is tough. Put the veggies in a large bowl and let them soak in the brine overnight or for at least a few hours.

The next day or after a few hours of soaking, prepare the spices: mince the onions, garlic, leeks, and peppers, grate the ginger, turmeric, and horseradish finely, and mix them all into a paste.

Drain the brine off the veggies, reserving the brine. Taste veggies for saltiness – they should be pretty salty, but not unpleasantly so. If they’re too salty, rinse them, but I usually sprinkle in a bit more salt.

Mix the veggies with the spicy paste in the large bowl. Then stuff into your crock or jars (even a plastic bucket will work – just don’t use metal containers for ferments). Pack it tightly into the jars – pushing down with your fingers as you go so that the brine rises. Once the jars are near full, press down and add a little of the reserved brine if necessary so that the vegetables are fully submerged.

You’ll want to weigh the veggies down (with a plate that just fits in a crock, or with a smaller jar, and a weight of some kind like a boiled rock or brick or container of water) to keep them under the brine. One fancy way of keeping them nicely tucked under the brine is to take a napa cabbage leaf or two and tuck them into the jar on top of the veggies, tucking the corners under and then pushing down on the entire leaf layer so brine rises above it. Cover the jars or crock with a clean cloth or towel and ferment in an out of the way corner of your kitchen or other warm place.

Taste the kimchi daily and push the veggies down under the brine. Take out any moldy pieces and keep the jars covered to keep out dust and flies. After about a week of fermentation, it should taste ripe and spicy. Move it to the fridge when you think it’s done, and top it off with a little salt brine once in a while to keep it fresh if needed.

This kimchi was a big hit at the swap and it seems to disappear quickly, so I’ll definitely be acquiring a few crocks so I can keep a batch of this going all the time. Yum!