brewing

REFLECTIONS ON A YEAR OF MAKING

 

A colossal year. January came in quietly and exited to the sound of newborn cries and, if there can be a sound attributed to new parent delirium . . . that sound, too. On this, the last day of 2018, we are flooded with gratitude / surprise (that we survived) / calmness for a year that was hardly easy, but so deeply important. It was the year our lives changed forever, whereby now we wear the indelible mark of parenthood. Being lost for words on the subject, we have thusly decided to share the tangible markers of our year: the things we made with our hands. May this final post of the calendar year offer a dash of encouragement, as well. And, let us just say: If you’re reading this, you made it to see another year. Whatever storms you weathered, rainbows you rested under, or multitudes of circumstances you were brave enough to see through, here you are. Well done! Truly. Here’s to another.


There was beer brewed.

Nine of them, to be exact. It was a year about harping on familiar styles, while tweaking the ingredients so that the same beer was never brewed twice. There were four pale ales—each of which were dry-hopped with a novel combination of hop varieties; two saisons—one brewed with dandelions, and the other with cranberries; and two farmhouse ales—one a “base beer” for future experimentation, manifest in a second iteration featuring rhubarb from our neighbor’s garden. And then there was the proverbial black sheep, a lager made with hops from the experimental hop yard at work, which (tragically) became my first batch to be dumped after becoming contaminated with wild yeast. All in all, roughly 50 gallons of beer made its way out of the fermenter and into our bellies over the course of the year—not bad at all.

rhubarb farmhouse ale homebrewing beer by samantha spigos
homebrewing pale ale beer by samantha spigos
pale ale homebrewing by samantha spigos
homebrewing beer farmhouse ale by samantha spigos
homebrewing cranberry saison by samantha spigos

There were garments and woolens made and mended.

This was the year knitting took on real importance. I knitted fewer things, but each one served a purpose and filled a gap. At the beginning of 2018 I vowed to not buy any new yarn, instead focusing on making do with what I had. (Which, by the way, was in no way a measly stash. My coffers are blessed with wool.) This was in an effort to curb my own consumerism and truly contribute to my family’s needs in a cost effective way. I ended up purchasing three skeins of wool to make two hats with, and I bartered for a reduced cost of the yarn for Rosemary’s Christmas stocking. You can peek the whole of my knitting pursuits over on Ravelry. Upon realizing Mark and I were wearing through all of our best (and expensive!) socks, I took up darning. For a week in the summer I did nothing but darn socks in my spare time, managing to teach my sister along the way. One summer afternoon, we darned socks at the library for a few hours. A real small town, simple pleasure sort of day if there ever was one. Our pile of to-be-darned socks continues to grow, but I know I will get to them, slowly. Mending and making do. Finally, I sewed two dresses for my daughter: Easter and Christmas. This is a tradition I hope to continue throughout her young life.

+ Learn how to darn a sock — it’s easy!
+ A big book devoted to mending.

knitting fringe field bag camel wool by samantha spigos
wool diaper cover soaker yarn scraps by samantha spigos
wool baby blanket knitting handmade by samantha spigos
handmade wardrobe peppermint geranium dress by samantha spigos
handmade wardrobe knitting hand knits by samantha spigos

There were fermentation experiments, vegetables grown, and sourdough loaves.

Mark’s farm job meant our kitchen table was always graced with tomatoes in the summer. We canned dozens and dozens of pounds of tomatoes, which we are delighting in now. One day he came home with thirty pounds of carrots. It seemed… a lot of carrots. We promptly put the lot of them into our three gallon crock under brine. Fermented carrots were easily my favorite experiment this year, though it turns out thirty pounds was not enough! To borrow one of my dad’s favorite turns of phrase, by autumn’s end they were “all et up.” Together with my sister and her kids, we managed to ferment around fifty pounds of cabbage into sauerkraut — just in time for New Year’s day. The lacto-fermentation projects were great, but 2018 was the year of sourdough. Baking weekly loaves of bread to slice and to share was the best practice I took up this year. Grounding, familiar, good.

+ Fermenting crocks to get you thinking of putting food by next season.
+ Sourdough wisdom shared here.

sourdough country aurora bread loaves by samantha spigos
tomatoes organic sourdough bread loaves by samantha spigos
fermented carrots fermentation by samantha spigos
buttered bread tomato sandwich by samantha spigos
rye challah loaf baking bread handmade by samantha spigos

There was a laundry line built.

I wrote about laundry and air drying on the line back in July, but it bears repeating. We love our basic pulley line, and if you fancy yourself interested in line drying, that summer post is merely one among many that can help get you started. I have not taken the plunge into winter air drying outdoors. I tried it once and the clothes never did dry, but all of our Amish neighbors do it, so there must be a way! (If anyone has helpful information to share, please do!)

clothesline laundry air drying by samantha spigos

And that’s sort of, we suppose, a wrap! Our hats off to you, 2018.


—M+S (and Rosemary, underfoot during the writing of this post)

BREWING + CANNING | A HOMEMADE LIFE

 
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A few years ago, we approached an extremely talented artist about crafting a logo for our new blog, the concept of which boiled down to this: A Homemade Life. It was an ideal we aspired to, which inspired us. We'd traveled a good bit, ventured out of our respective comfort zones, and met a lot of cool, very cool people doing & creating cool, very cool things. That is to say, they were spending their lives not so much as consumers, but as producers (who also enjoyed the distinct pleasure of consuming the wonderful things they were producing). We wanted a piece of that pie. And starting a blog (this blog) would allow us to document our journey, while surely keeping us honest along the way. 

The final illustration that landed in our inboxes was a pure manifestation of what we were reaching for: ingredients fresh from the field, and a well-loved cast iron for cooking them; an abundant honey harvest to enjoy with homemade bread; jars, jars, many mason jars; and, of course, home-brewed beer. It really is a lovely image, and fortunately enough, one that represents many of the experiences we've enjoyed over the past few years. Still, in the interest of keeping it honest, it's important to admit that those experiences don't just happen everyday. For instance, we hadn't canned any tomatoes for two years despite our frequent vows to do so. As for home brewing, that had only happened three times in two years.

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...until last Friday! Sometimes you get an opening to Make Things Happen, and Make Things we did. The reality, we've found, is that such self-reliant tasks often need a bit of outside help to actually happen. Like when your boss at the vegetable farm generously allows you to take home two crates of tomato seconds, free of charge; and when your parents let you invade both their kitchen and garage for the day, filling the air with the swirling aromas of tomatoes simmering & hops thrown into the brew kettle. 

So, Sam cranked the hours away with The Squeeze-O — an incredible, old-fashioned tool lent to us by the same generous veggie farmer mentioned above. I settled into the familiar routine of cleaning, sanitizing, brewing, and then cleaning & sanitizing some more. It was a wonderful day devoted to All Things Homemade, right down to the lovingly-knit wool cap that I wore all day (thank you, Sam!). Now, there is tomato sauce put up in the cupboard for winter; there's beer, too, just waiting to be bottled. 

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—M

DOWN HOMEBREW | FAT TUESDAY IPA

 

I love beer. It fascinates me, everything about it: the vast array of styles, ranging from crisp, light pilsners to thick milk stouts; the various combinations of ingredients and techniques associated with each, always centering around the same basics—water, malt, hops, and yeast; and the rich history, which includes the world's oldest continually valid food and drink regulatory law, the Reinheitsgebot. Speaking of history, did you know President Carter effectively legalized homebrewing when he signed H.R. 1337 into law in 1978? Needless to say, when it dawned on me that I could brew my own, my first thought was, "Sign me up." 

Now, before I make myself out to be some sort of beer guru, I should explain that brewing beer is actually quite simple. How To Brew author John J. Palmer sums it up best:

1. Malted grain is soaked in hot water to create fermentable sugars.
2. The malt sugar solution is boiled with hops for seasoning.
3. The solution is cooled, and yeast is added to begin fermentation.
4. The yeast ferments the sugars, releasing carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol.

5. When the main fermentation is complete, the beer is bottled with a little bit of added sugar to provide carbonation.

That's it—people have been doing it for thousands of years, literally. Of course, the art & science of brewing has advanced much over the years, especially in recent decades. Without the craft beer revolution that has turned America into Mecca for suds & hop heads, I would have never given any more attention to beer than what is demanded by a bland adjunct lager with fewer than 100 calories (Hint: It rhymes with "mud geyser"). But after years of developing a palate for Berliner Weiss and Trappist Ales alike, touring breweries, and consulting resources like BeerAdvocate and RateBeer, my desire to brew at home became too much to ignore.

Still, it took awhile for me to actually dive in. But with the help of a teacher (pictured below, with beard) and an investor (also pictured below, with flaming hat), I finally did it. We held our inaugural Wayne Co. brew day at the end of January, bottled the beer on Fat Tuesday, and cracked it open just in time for our farewell to Ohio. 

A few weeks in the making (and a few days in the drinking), I would consider our first effort a great success. We brewed an India Pale Ale, the style that made beer "click" for me four years ago. As I will do for all future Down Homebrews, I have profiled "Fat Tuesday IPA" below.


Fat Tuesday IPA

Style: American India Pale Ale (IPA)

ABV: 5.5%

Hops: Chinook.

Malt: Irish Stout, Caramel 60, Wheat, Honey.

Overall: A nice, aromatic, and highly drinkable IPA;
an encouraging first effort. The lower alcohol content
seems to bring out a more distinctive hop & malt character, resulting in a well balanced beer.

Appearance: Pours a hazy sunburst orange; topped with a pillowy, bright paper-white head.

Aroma: Notes of pine and citrus; very hoppy.

Taste: Hop forward, with a juicy, floral character; somewhat spicy, herbal; balanced by rich, toasty malt profile and a bit of honey sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Medium, smooth; nice, crisp carbonation and relatively low alcohol content for an IPA.


—M