My pet scoby …

I am a complete novice when it comes to fermenting Kombucha.  But I decided to try making it myself after sampling several bottles of commercially produced and boutique organic Kombucha. I found them to be either overly effervescent, or the flavours not to my liking.  So after consulting the internet, I decided to “give it a go”.  And it’s fascinating – like having a small, well-behaved but slightly repulsive pet.

I managed to grow my own scoby, the hard way, from the dregs of a bottle of local organic Kombucha. It took six weeks, but it may well have taken less time if I hadn’t sniffed, prodded, poked and held it up to the light every day.  I probably didn’t give it enough sugar either, because once I added a little sugar syrup, the sad looking scoby perked right up, and within a few days “she” was blowing bubbles.

Happily blowing bubbles

So throwing caution to the wind, I made up my first big batch of sweet tea, let it cool and then slid the scoby into the jar. She promptly flipped on her back and sank like a stone.  OMG – I’ve killed her!  Consult the internet – apparently not a disaster, it happens quite often.  After a couple of days she rose to the top of the jar and I was able to flip her back.

OMG I’ve killed her!

Then she started growing all sorts of trailing appendages and dropping bits of sediment.
Consult the internet again – apparently normal.  I’m a bit dubious because “normally” something that looks like this would go in the compost.

What’s going on here?

And then yesterday, on the seventh day of fermentation, I drank my very first glass of home-made Kombucha and it was delicious. Just a touch of sugar, a little effervescence, and a hint of black tea.  Poured over ice cubes on a horrible, hot and windy 36 degree day, it really hit the spot.

I’m not a tea drinker, and I’ve always found black tea to be somewhat bitter, but I really felt like it didn’t need any other flavouring.  Well, perhaps just a bit of ginger or a little Turmerix powder for extra health benefits.  The next batch is already fermenting …

Some hints:

  • Here is a link to the website I used to get me started – she is very informative.
  • I used the proportions: 1 litre filtered water, 2 organic black tea bags, 55g sugar, 100 ml of store bought organic Kombucha. I used the dregs from the bottom of the bottle.  Once you have fermented your first batch, you can use 100 ml of that to start your next batch.
  • Make sure you keep the scoby covered with cloth, and sterilise your jars and bottles by filling them with boiling water.
  • Start tasting from the seventh day, when it should be slightly sour and fizzy. The longer you leave the scoby in, the more vinegary it gets.
  • I filtered the Kombucha through cheesecloth to remove most of the sediment
  • Finally, here is a link to a website which shows what your scoby should and should NOT look like.

The cabbage experiment …

For the last week, my house has smelt like a sauerkraut factory. In fact, unless you are partial to the smell of boiled cabbage, the word you would probably use would be stink rather than smell.  The aroma of stale boiled cabbage is NOT nice.

What was supposed to be a quick eco-dyeing experiment with Purple Cabbage, iron and eucalyptus leaves, turned into a week long obsession quite by accident. On discovering that I had run out of plain cotton fabric to insert between the layers of fabric and leaves, I decided to improvise by inserting sheets of ordinary copy paper before wrapping it around bamboo and simmering it in a pot of cabbage water and iron.

I expected that the paper would be a soggy mess destined for the compost pile, but no, there were some really lovely outlines of leaves on a soft aqua background …

So then of course I was hooked. I had to continue, with different weights of paper – 80gsm, 110gsm and 250gsm, and fresh leaves, dried leaves and leaves soaked in iron water. Endless possibilities.

At the same time, and in the same pot, I was trying fresh and dry Eucalyptus citriodora leaves on linen …

And some unidentified dry eucalyptus leaves on Raw Silk

Every morning I bounded out of bed to see what unbundling suprises awaited me. But eventually, I had to stop, clear everything away, and simmer some citriodora leaves for a few hours to get rid of the stale cabbage aroma.  I’ll be at it again as soon as I’ve caught up with my garden jobs.

Burnt Citrus syrup …

OMG – I’ve died and gone to heaven …
I’ve just tried my first batch of home-made Burnt Citrus Syrup and it tastes fabulous.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. About a month ago, I lunched at Popla, a new Bellingen restaurant, where I tried their home-made Chinotto Mocktail.  It was spicy, sour, sweet, smoky, citrus and delicious.  It set me thinking about an Italian soft drink I had tried when I was young.  So I tracked down a bottle of Chinotto and tried it – it was truly HORRIBLE!  When I looked at the ingredients, I discovered that it was entirely made of chemicals – not even a trace of the Chinotto orange after which it is named.

Surely with my abundance of ugly, misshapen citrus, I could do better?

After a few minutes searching on the internet, I had enough information to give it a go. You need sweet and sour citrus – I used orange, mandarin and cumquat with a few bought, locally grown pink grapefruit. For the spices I used coriander seeds, rosemary, cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns, cloves (sparingly) and star anise (also sparingly).  I chopped the citrus into chunks, popped them on some baking paper in a large roasting pan and sprinkled over the herbs and spices.

Then I slow roasted them in the oven at 130C (260F) for four to five hours. Your kitchen will smell wonderful, but the result will look a bit like a baking disaster. Never fear, it’s all good.

I allowed the citrus to cool and then split it into three wide mouthed sterilised jars, filled them with sugar syrup and waited for one month. This is the hardest part.

Then it’s tasting time … try the syrup in sparkling wine, with gin, soda or tonic water. Pop a piece of the burnt citrus in the bottom of your glass and eat it at the end when it’s a bit sozzled.  Amazing and a little bit deadly.  Tasting is quite strenuous so excuse me, I need a little nap …  after which I will post the full recipe.

Hibernation dyeing …

I can’t believe that it’s two months since I last posted something on my blog.  My excuse is that I hate cold weather and I have a tendency to hibernate over winter, only venturing forth on nice sunny days to prune something before scurrying back to the fire.

Winter hasn’t been entirely unproductive though.  Two of my eco-dyed scarves won a prize at the Bellingen Agricultural Show. It’s not exactly the Sydney Show but who cares!

I made up an “artist’s book” of my paper and fabric dyeing successes (and failures)  for display at our local library…

The display was mounted by the Mixed Up Art group as part of Readers & Writers week. The group held a bookbinding workshop in May, and whilst my bookbinding/sewing skills would benefit from some (a lot) more practice, the book held together and much to my surprise was featured in our local paper.

On rainy days, I have been experimenting with leaves gathered from the garden and on my morning walks.  Some leaves were disappointing – yielding absolutely no colour – but others such as Ornamental Maple and Native Tulipwood rewarded me with soft silhouettes, Geranium varied leaf by leaf, steamed Purple Carrot worked well,  but sometimes the bundle wrapping was more successful than the fabric piece.

The “compost experiment” failed primarily because I forgot about it.  By the time I dug it out of my compost heap, the bugs had munched on the silk and the bacteria had broken down the fibres.  Note to self: write a reminder in your diary!

One of my experiments using Native Tulipwood leaves on Habotai silk which was then dipped in a purple cabbage and iron bath – was particularly successful.  Depending on whether the cabbage is permanent or fugitive, this scarf may be a contender for next year’s Bellingen Show.  It’s all a bit of fun …