Saturday, October 1, 2016

Soured Radishes

From March to May, My wife, son, two dogs, two cats and I lived out of the upstairs bedroom while the rest of the house was a construction zone. We had a microwave and use of the adjoining bathroom. I was waking up early to run into Eugene where I had taken a job in a tiny kitchen making Pho and Bon Mi. The shift in work was stressful but at least I was getting out of the house. As soon as our kitchen was finished I was digging through stacks of boxes looking for my crocks. I needed to get back to fermenting.

Arriving at the downtown Eugene farmers market I felt like Charlie walking in the edible Wonka garden. Of course I was overreacting. I was starving for some comfort, familiarity and a peek into what the Willamette Valley had to offer. We literally 'bought the farm' here and we aren't moving. I was meeting the local produce which I would use for the rest of my life. Remember we moved so quickly I hadn't really researched the local farming activity here. And yet I depend on my local farmers and what they grow for the inspiration which ultimately shapes my direction so this felt like an arranged marriage albeit there are a lot of farmers markets in this beautiful state. I admitted to overreacting. So anyway this was a big moment for me. I was excited and actually ready to make a ferment. Now to find the inspiration.

I walked away with red radishes, baby turnips and garlic scapes. The big, bright red radishes rose in bunched towers of assertion. There was an instant need in me to encourage their peppery bitterness to fester. The baby turnips on the other hand looked inviting like plump, soft marshmallows so of course I had to grab those. I found myself so drawn to these ingredients I needed to look behind the veil of this plane to reveal any possible meaning. Wikipedia had nothing but I did read a few more reputable sources on vegetable lore that would discuss how radishes were thought of to bring conflict and turnips were related to evil spirits. So I believe my first ferment in Oregon was more than a inaugural event. I was reaching out. To a dark place. Sure, but what a beautiful display of the creative process and subconscious content.

Soured Radishes

This BIG BATCH recipe yields 12+ pints of soured radishes and turnips. Perfect for Chefs, restaurants or having plenty to pass around.

4 quarts red radishes
2 quarts baby turnips
12 garlic scapes
3 cloves garlic
3-4 green cabbage leaves (I use cabbage leaves along with weights to help keep my ingredients submerged under the brine)
3/4 cup kosher salt
1/8 cup brown mustard seed
1/4 cup yellow mustard seed
2 teaspoons black peppercorns 
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Approx. 1 & 1/2 gallons of spring water or distilled water. 

  1. Remove greens from radishes and turnips. Soak radishes, turnips and garlic scapes in cool water for 10 minutes and then gently rub under water to remove any soil or debris. Rinse and drain. With a pairing knife trim off the root and sprout end of radishes and turnips. Trim off cut end of garlic scapes. Smash the 3 cloves of garlic and peel. Set aside radishes, turnips, garlic and garlic scapes. Compost trimmings.
  2. In a large saute pan combine brown & yellow mustard seeds, black peppercorns, star anise and cinnamon stick. Turn heat on to medium and toast, stirring occasionally until spices begin to toast and become fragrant. When spices are quite fragrant or you begin to see the smallest about of smoke rise from the pan, turn off the heat and continue to stir spices in the pan, toasting them until they cool. Once cool add the red pepper flakes.
  3. Dissolve the salt into the water to make the brine. Set aside.
  4. In a 2 & 1/2 gallon crock add half of the spice mixture, half of the garlic scapes and finally half of the radishes and turnips. On top of this add remaining half of spice mixture, garlic scapes the smashed garlic cloves and finally the remaining radishes and turnips. Cap all of this off with your cabbage leaves and pour the brine into the crock covering all of the ingredients with an extra 2 inches of brine above them.                                                                                                       * I added more brine to this with the intention of packing smaller jars so I could give them out to folks thus needing more liquid. Plus the fermented brine is fun to cook with. If you are going to be working/eating out of a crock or large vat you can just add enough brine to submerge the ingredients.
  5. Once everything is submerged add your weight and airlock or secured bandana. Stash your crock in a cool dark nook where it won't be disturbed yet you can easily access it for peeking in on the progress.
  6. TIMING: Check your crock each day for the first 2 days to make sure everything is submerged and always secure your airlock or bandana. After that if you are using an airlock check every so often to make sure it is secure. If you are using a bandana you will want to make sure to check the surface of your brine every 3 days to keep it clean of any possible growth by skimming if necessary. 
  7. At 2 WEEKS  pull the crock out and carefully remove a radish/turnip from the crock to test. Now this is your ferment so really there is no tradition on what end you are looking for except what you like. So cut open the radish/turnip your retrieved and take a look and taste. Your radishes and turnips have been fermenting and are alive and happy. What you want to look for is the texture, tanginess of brine and how much the brine has penetrated the vegetables. Put them back in their nook and keep checking until you are happy or store in refrigeration to slow the fermentation process and begin enjoying your ferment. *Remember refrigeration will slow the fermenting (not stop it) as well as crisp up the vegetables once they are chilled. I fermented my angry spirits for 4 weeks which was a little longer than I intended. They were delicious, but I would really examine my options at 2+ weeks should I ferment radishes again.  
  8. This ferment will keep for quite a while in refrigeration. Up to a month or more. You will notice a change in the texture and flavor of the radishes and turnips as time passes. They will eventually become sub par in quality and you will most likely discard any remains before they spoil.   HAVE FUN!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Friday, September 16, 2016


In 2015, Spoiled Rotten Vinegar and The Potager Cottage Project proved to be tremendous catalysts for change. Looking back I can see that many wheels had been in motion. Cherie and I had been looking for dual zoned real estate and farm opportunities in the northern California. We had been looking to grow both of our passions "under one roof". As a cottage food operator being recognized and invited to participate in the Good Food Awards ceremonies we would see just how our limited permits and location really affected our chances for growth.

In February Cherie and I learned of some property for sale in Junction City, Oregon. We moved in March. Our home of four, batches of fermenting vinegar, the girls (our chickens) and all. I want to open a flood gate of all the upset and effort a spontaneous and large move can generate in order to impress a sense of chaos upon you as the reader, but it will have to come piecemeal. There really is no time. It is now September, six months into our journey and we are, in a sense, still moving.

In gaining this amazing opportunity we have inherited loss in many ways. From uprooting a budding business and (sub)urban farm project to saying goodbye to our home state and all of our family and the sudden passing of a dear friend, Liz. This friend was the person responsible for opening the door and lighting the fires of this change. We had accepted there would be setbacks and loss, and life is still deciding on the frequency and severity. Sounds like a journey.

As for Spoiled Rotten Vinegar, that story will be told here as I find out myself. Sure there is a plan and goal, but there are those twists & turns that will add strain and yet, character to the project. At the time of the Good Food Awards I couldn't produce enough vinegar to meet supplier's demands and now I am starting over. So much has and will change. Ironic that most of what I practice is to nurture change and yet I have the hardest time with it myself.

Future home of Spoiled Rotten Vinegar.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Good Food Awards 2016

Graham Klee Wiles-Pearson with Alice Waters
This past weekend we had the honor of receiving a Good Food Awards 2016 medal for our Blackstrap vinegar. It was an inspiring experience to be in the company of Slow Food founder, Carlo Petrini, chef and farm-to-table activist, Alice Waters, philanthropist and sustainability activist, Nell Newman, and so many others who we admire. This year there were 1927 entrants from 33 states with 176 winners in 13 categories. Winners were determined through blind tastings by a panel of over 200 industry experts. You can see the full list of winners here.

US! (Cherie and Graham Klee Wiles-Pearson)
While we are incredibly proud of the recognition of our work and methods, this weekend's events left us more with a sense of profound necessity for the adoption of sustainable and humanitarian practices. Carlo Petrini's words at the awards ceremony emphasized the significance of community and of understanding the value of what we have as opposed to what we want. It is the individual that has the power to promote positive change by embracing such change in their own life.

During Sunday's Marketplace our vinegar table was accidentally placed among the honey vendors. We found this to be a lucky privilege as we were able to spend some time getting to know these amazing keepers of bees. What impressed us the most was that their primary focus was to educate others on the importance of bees in agriculture, and on sustainable bee-keeping methods. The award-winning honey was just a happy byproduct.
Meeting distributors and retailers at Saturday's Mercantile
Over this next year we hope to be able to expand the production of Spoiled Rotten Vinegar and our beloved urban farm, Potager Cottage. We want our business to grow but our focus on learning and promoting sustainable living practices has become primary. We will be sharing our journey with you along the way on this blog as well as on our Potager Cottage blog and on Facebook (here and here). We hope you will follow along and spread the word!

Blackstrap Vinegar

Since I started fermenting vinegars I have made both traditional varieties and then some pretty unconventional concoctions. There never is a guarantee when working alongside mother nature that your desires will be met in the end result, even when a repertoire has been developed. Still once I feel confident and satisfied with a recipe I inevitably immerse myself into the mystery of possibility.

My insatiable appetite to create and explore has led me to building a selection of vinegars which I now sell. It was this curiosity which gave life to my favorite vinegar which I now produce - Blackstrap Vinegar. I am proud to say that this delicacy was made without intensive trial or research, rather it was made on a whim with a standard ratio of ingredients inspired by one of my favorite pantry staples, blackstrap molasses.

I found myself complacent with the successful progress of three vinegars I had fermenting in my shop yet I wanted to play. Without any spare cash to spend on produce or specialty ingredients I rummaged through my kitchen until I found myself staring at a partially used jar of organic blackstrap molasses. Without any other reasoning other than assuming that the sugars in the molasses might convert into alcohol and then the alcohol ferment into vinegar, I measured and blended the ingredients. To add another touch of carelessness to the process I hadn't considered that all of my vinegar fermenting vessels were being used so I poured my brew into a plastic gallon milk jug, cutting a larger hole in the top for oxidation. I cut piece of bandana to secure over the opening and into the dark corners of my shop it would go until the day I would begin to test it.

Upon tasting the ferment near it's expected completion I was a little concerned. The consistency was very viscous and the flavors of the molasses minerals were stronger than the acid content. It was like tasting soured blood....I imagine. With the lack of an appropriate acidity I decided to keep the mixture fermenting which would be the beginning to a whole new vinegar experience.

An extra four months later I pulled the blackstrap mixture from the dark corner of my shop to see what I had. I could not believe what I was tasting. Quickly I carried the jug into the house where I could get a better look and taste of my vinegar. Removing the silky, rich caramel brown mother from the surface I could see and smell the rich, almost black vinegar waiting inside. Tasting the vinegar was one of the most rewarding experiences of my culinary life. First taste on the tongue is rich. As rich as it looks black. Melting into the back of my palate the acidity and sweet hit me simultaneously followed by the best part. That mineral flavor from the molasses gave hints of earth, iron and caramel. Quickly I rounded up my wife to try this new creation. I needed a palate that had no idea what this was and no emotional investment in the project. Out of all the other faces she has given me when tasting my vinegars I could tell this taste was causing deliberation. Later in the evening after some time had passed she looked at me and said, "Balsamic?...but with more going on."

Of course I did not want to hear that I had simply recreated a renowned vinegar from odds and ends in my garage. And I knew that I indeed had not. So I took the balsamic reference as a compliment and focused on the differences. We did, however, proclaim in our kitchen that we had just created America's reply to Italy's ever loved Balsamic Aceto.