Blueberry-Ginger Kombucha

Its wild blueberry picking season here in Juneau and I’ve snagged a friend for a sociable evening pick. It’s been an amazingly sunny summer and blueberries are plentiful and huge this year. Even shady areas that usually have wormy, small, pithy berries are yielding large, plump, tasty berries! We meander along the roadside between berry patches, chatting amiably as we go. Elsewhere I’ve seen bear poop full of blueberry seeds but this patch is unmolested, probably too much human activity. After a pleasant couple of hours, the gathering dusk encourages no-see-ums and mosquitoes to unbearable levels and we pack Ziploc© bags of blueberries into buckets and head for home at about 9:00 p.m.

There are five species of Vaccinium, commonly known as ‘blueberries’ in Southeast Alaska, each with distinctive flavor, fruit size, color, bush size, and habitat: early blueberry Vaccinium ovalifolium; Alaska blueberry, Vaccinium alaskaensae; alpine blueberry, Vaccinium uliginosum L.; dwarf blueberry Vaccinium caespitosum and red huckleberry, Vaccinium parvifolium. The most commonly picked species in Southeast Alaska are the early blueberry, Alaska blueberry, and red huckleberry. Tonight, I’m targeting the early blueberry! Since retiring I’ve switched from picking by hand to picking with a plastic berry rake. Although I miss the sensual experience of hand selecting each berry, I love the fact that its increased my production by about 50 percent! This is a slightly misleading estimate because using a berry rake adds an additional step of removing leaves with a filter tray back at home, but I find de-leafing frozen blueberries an enjoyable winter task.

I used to use all my berries for cobblers, jams, and pies, but I’m finding that I don’t need to eat that much sugar. This kombucha recipe is a great use for my frozen blueberry surplus, domestic blueberries can be substituted but wild berries have a higher antioxidant and vitamin content.

Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage. It originated 2000 years ago, in China where it was called ‘The Tea of Immortality’. From China, it migrated to Eastern Europe and Russia, and more recently to Western Europe, and the U.S.  Anecdotally, it is thought to have a broad spectrum of health effects, but western medicine has not yet verified or disproved them. Being well-versed in the health values of other fermented foods, I am inclined to believe the anecdotes, and am anxiously anticipating reading the results of future studies of kombucha health effects.

I discovered kombucha a few years ago, when a friend gave me a bottle; I was surprised how much I loved this trendy drink with its slightly vinegary flavor. After getting tired of shelling out $4/bottle at the grocery store, I got a mother or SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) from a friend and started making my own. After an initial false start (involving a moldy slimy putrid mother) I am now producing several gallons a week and have shared my own mother with several friends. Here is my favorite recipe for blueberry-ginger kombucha!

Tools:

2 gallon jars

cheese cloth

large rubber band

large funnel

small funnel

hot water bath

Large sauce pan

6 18-oz swing-top bottles

canning jar grabbers

 

Ingredients:

Primary ferment

6 black tea bags

1 c granulated cane sugar

Mother (SCOBY)

¼ c vinegar

1 c unflavored kombucha

 

Secondary ferment

6 c blueberries

1 c water

½ c sugar

4 T grated ginger

 

Instructions:

Primary ferment

Add sugar to gallon jar. Brew tea, and pour into gallon jar while warm to dilute sugar. Add room temperature water to almost fill jar, leaving room for kombucha mother, vinegar, and kombucha. Do not overfill jar, there should be considerable air space between kombucha mother and cheesecloth cover. Cover jar with cheesecloth and secure with rubber band. Set kombucha in warm area (65 to 70 °F) out of direct sunlight and cover with towel. Brew for 7 to 10 days until desired sweet-sour balance and light carbonation is achieved.

Secondary ferment

Sterilize swing-top bottles, funnels, and gallon jar in hot water bath, remove and cool. Add blueberries, sugar and grated ginger to sauce pan, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then strain mixture through cheesecloth-lined large funnel into second gallon jar. Fill each swing-top bottle with ½ cup sweetened blueberry-ginger juice. Top off with kombucha and cap. Secondary ferment at room temperature for 3 days or until lightly carbonated, then refrigerate and enjoy at your leisure! A secondary ‘mother’ will form in each bottle, it is edible but slimy and flavorless, and can be strained out when the bottle is poured.

Salt-Wrinkled Potatoes with Mojo Rojo and Mojo Verde

Besides rhubarb and kale, potatoes are one of the only garden crops that really WANT to grow in Southeast Alaska. I just finished pulling my potatoes and once again the fingerlings (Rose Finn) outperformed the heck out of the other two varieties I planted (Yukon gold and Sangre) in terms of both poundage and lack of any scabbing. Every year I swear to plant nothing else, but I do love the beauty of variety. Is there anything lovelier than a bucket of red, white, yellow, and blue potatoes? Anyway, beauty aside, the Rose Finn are also delicious. My favorite way to cook them is salt-wrinkled and dipped in red and green mojo sauce in the style of the Canary Islands. This is a very simple recipe, but I have messed it up by paying inadequate attention to the salt level. Besides potatoes, this recipe employs several other ingredients that I grow, the tomatoes and jalapenos come from my greenhouse, the cilantro and parsley from a deckside herb planter, and the garlic from the garden. Home grown garlic has an oily potency unequalled by anything I have ever found at the grocery store, so this recipe might need to be adjusted according to your personal preference. In the Canary Islands, where it originates, there is no set recipe for mojo sauce, it varies from family to family and depending upon the contents of your cupboard at any moment. The ratio of wet to dry ingredients can also be adjusted to match the desired consistency. The sauce is a bit tastier if the ingredients are incorporated slowly in a mortar and pestle, but I love the convenience of a food processor!

Salt-wrinkled new baby potatoes with mojo rojo and mojo verde

Tools:

Deep sauce pan

Food processor

 

Ingredients:

Salt-wrinkled potatoes

2 pounds new baby potatoes

1 cup salt

Water to cover potatoes

 

Mojo rojo

1 red bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp black pepper corns

2 tsp hot paprika

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 large tomato

2-3 cloves garlic

1 tsp sea salt

½ c extra virgin olive oil

½ c apple cider vinegar

½ c almonds

1 slice bread

 

Mojo verde

1 bunch cilantro

*1 bunch parsley

4 jalapeno peppers

2-3 cloves garlic

½ c extra virgin olive oil

½ c lemon juice

½ c almonds

1 slice bread

1 tsp sea salt

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp black pepper corns

 

Instructions:

Salt-wrinkled potatoes

Put potatoes in large, deep sauce pan. Dissolve salt in several cups of hot water, add to sauce pan of potatoes. Add warm water to cover potatoes. Potatoes should be floating, if they are not, add salt in 1/8-cup increments. Boil potatoes until tender, dump boiling water and return to low heat, tossing potatoes to turn until they are dry and slightly wrinkled.

Mojo rojo

Broil red and yellow peppers until skin is slightly blackened and flesh is tender. Remove skin, stem, and seeds and add to food processor. Toast cumin seeds, paprika, red pepper flakes, and black pepper corns lightly in dry cast-iron fry pan, grind in mortar and add to food processor. Add all remaining ingredients and process until smooth.

Mojo verde

Remove stems from jalapenos and add to food processor. Add next eight ingredients as well. Toast cumin seeds and black pepper lightly in dry cast-iron fry pan, grind in mortar and add to food processor. Process until smooth.

Leftover Salmon

The several seasons I spent commercial fishing ruined me forever for most sport salmon fishing, I just can’t sit in a boat for hours while moving slowly and catching nothing. Fortunately, we have a wonderful salmon fishing opportunity here in Juneau! Sockeye salmon are stocked by our local hatchery into landlocked Sweetheart Lake creating a fishery where Juneauites fill our freezers with lovely plump, bright sockeye salmon. Because these fish cannot spawn (sockeye salmon biology requires them to transit a lake to spawn in the inlet stream or lake shore) regulations permit fishers to harvest the salmon with dip or throw nets and the bag limits are generous.

We leave early Saturday from the Douglas Boat Harbor, loaded with equipment (large coolers filled with ice–check, chest waders–check, shotgun–check, cast nets–check, dry bags with backpack straps–check, filet knives–check) and happy expectations. It is late July and reports from Sweetheart Creek have been good, the word is that the sockeye are large and abundant this year. We push off and head south, the early morning ocean parting calmly before us as we whiz across the mouth of an uncharacteristically quiet Taku Inlet, encounter a little chop near Grand Island, and, and round Point Styleman into Port Snettisham, finally coming to rest at the head of Gilbert Inlet where we anchor and row ashore. As planned, we’ve hit the Inlet at high tide so we don’t have far to pull the inflatable into the rye grass and secure it before heading up the rough trail to Sweetheart Creek. In the woods, there are large brown bear poops every 500 feet or so, I glance back and am happy to see that Steve, an accomplished hunter, has the shotgun on his shoulder. Teenage Luke trails him, shouldering his pack as the emerging man he is. Crossing the Creek, we head upstream along the right bank, scrambling through the woods we are happy to find ourselves the first to arrive at the top pool. The water level is high so we perch on logs and rock outcroppings to fling our cast nets into the pool below the barrier falls. It requires both skill and strength to fling the net so it lands in a back-eddy where sockeye will be resting and begin retrieving it after it hits bottom but before it snags on a rock or submerged log. We plug away valiantly, two of us fishing and one cleaning throughout the day, breaking for a bite to eat mid-day. As the day comes to a close we have not quite reached our 25-fish per household bag limit but are satisfied with our catch and want to vacate the area before dusk comes and bears get assertive so we load up our drybag packs, struggle to our feet and head back downstream to the boat. At the lowest pool, we encounter a skinny mom with three cubs and cautiously skirt her to reach the trail on the other side. We are not so lucky with the tide this time and have a longish carry to get the inflatable to the water’s edge but soon we and the fish are all back aboard and heading for Juneau, fish nestled into ice we slog through a northerly chop to reach the boat harbor. Exhausted, filthy, happy, and rich with salmon.

Almost everyone can do a good job cooking fresh-frozen wild Pacific salmon Having salmon in the freezer come fall is a great feeling but the difficulty of freezing salmon in pieces of the right size for a single meal leads to one of the more wonderful problems of living in Alaska–what to do with leftover salmon?! Here is a recipe I use to solve this ‘problem’.

Salmon nettle pinwheels

Tools:

Cookie sheet

Spatula

Medium-sized bowl

Cookie rack

 

Ingredients:

8 oz cooked leftover Pacific salmon filet

1 egg

3 oz feta cheese

1 finely chopped shallot

1 finely chopped small garlic clove

1 oz finely chopped nettles or spinach

1 oz dried wild mushrooms, rehydrated or store-bought

½ tsp black pepper

 

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry

2 oz grated parmesan cheese combined with 3 oz grated Monterey jack cheese

 

Instructions:

  • Defrost puff pastry at room temperature for 40 minutes or until pliable
  • Preheat oven to 400 °F
  • In a medium sized bowl, flake salmon filet and add to it the next seven ingredients, mix well
  • Spread pastry evenly with salmon mixture, leaving a ¼-in gap on the leading and tailing edges only
  • Roll the pastry up
  • Cut roll into 12 rounds
  • Lay rounds flat onto cookie sheet
  • Spread rounds with the grated cheese mixture
  • Bake for 30 to 35 min in middle rack of oven
  • Remove and transfer to cookie rack to cool

If these pinwheels are meant to be an appetizer, consider cutting the pastry spread with salmon mixture in half and making two separate rolls for a total of 24 smaller pinwheels.