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Water kefir, what a delight! When I bought the kefir grains eight days ago, I did not really realise how interesting these little things were, and quite how delicious the liquid from the brewing process is. Nor did it really dawn on me at the time that the grains are alive, (they are composed of beneficial bacteria and yeasts that are said to strengthen the immune system) and that all of the ingredients that go into the brewing of this drink are really there to provide nutrition to the grains. When they are healthy, they will reproduce. While the first batch was perfect, the second batch had a white fungus growing on it (pictured) by the second day, somewhat perturbed, I went to the internet and found this great resource: http://www.yemoos.com/mainwaterkefir.html The fungus thankfully turned out to be a harmless though undesirable mycoplasm that exists at the edge between sugar water and oxygen (seemingly some people capture this and use it for leavening sourdough) So I spooned off the fungus and watched it disappear down the drain and then proceeded as normal except that I thoroughly rinsed the grains and the mason jar this time before recommencing the process. I have not washed them since the fungus incident and they are perfectly healthy now (I started the fourth batch off this morning). I bottled the brew and left it for a few days to gas up, it was perfect, had a bottle with breakfast this morning! The way I now view the process is that every two days, I get to nourish and care for my kefir grains, in return, they provide me with a healthy, tasty, carbonated drink, better than any soft drink one could buy, complete with B vitamins and probiotics.

Basic Recipe for Water Kefir  2/3 cup water kefir grains/ litre (I used the whole bag, perhaps 1 cup of grains) 3 Tbs unsulphured dried fruit (handful of raisins/ some dried apple slices/ mixed fruit etc) 1 cup organic sugar (fairtrade brown sugar)  1/2 – 1 lemon, quartered (lemon juice acts as a pH buffer, peel and flesh provide minerals) 1 thin slice of peeled ginger (I never peel ginger, was not about to start now) 2 litre filtered water (I used tap water that I let stand for a few hours in a dish to allow the chlorine to gas off) Dissolve sugar in the water, to a 2L mason jar add all of the above ingredients, cover with a cheese cloth and let brew for 48 or so hours. Using wooden or plastic utensils, (not metal) strain the fruit out then pour the liquid off into sterilised bottles (I use glass bottles with skrewtop lids that had previously held a fizzy liquid, or a swing-top bottle) leaving the grains in the bottom of the mason jar. You can add a flavouring such as rhubarb or elderflower cordial at this stage to the bottles, this will cause the yeasts remaining in the liquid make carbon dioxide bubbles. Leave these at room temp for a day or two before storing in the fridge. Refrigeration will slow the gassing process.  Repeat the recipe with the grains that are in the bottom of the mason jar.

Elderflower cordial: I gathered elderflowers this week for cordial, which was duly made, using Richard Maybe’s recipe that is featured in his book Food for Free (one of my all-time favourite books), I have six wine bottles of the stuff and two smaller bottles sitting in the press beside the wine from last week. (The wine was not a big hit at the allotment party, leading me to the conclusion that I really have to get better at making wine) A foodie that I know recently told me that he freezes the cordial for use during the year as he finds that it does not store well- he cited curdling as a problem. I have never found that to be an issue,  neither is my freezer big enough to store 4 litres of cordial ice-cubes. I do however use citric acid and lemons every time, I wonder if that makes a difference? (I must admit that this batch of cordial is unfortunately a bit light on elderflower, as a restaurant that I sometimes supply with foraged ingredients got the bulk of my collection.)  Basic

Elderflower Cordial Recipe Per litre of water: Grated rind, juice and flesh of 1 lemon 25g citric acidelderflower cordial 1kg sugar 10 elderflower heads, largest stalks snipped off 1 litre of boiling water In a large bowl (stock pot) dissolve the sugar into the boiling water Add the lemon, citric acid and elderflower heads Leave for 24 hours, stirring occasionally Strain into sterilised bottles (wine bottles with skrew caps work well)  Label bottles with details and date of manufacture Dilute to taste or use as a base for making elderflower sorbet

Medicine chest: My quest for a medicine for sinusitis this week lead me back to elderflowers, seemingly they are also good for sinus infections, so an infusion of dried elderflower with a pinch of cayenne pepper was my tisane du jour for the last few days. I think that it is working! This week, I also harvested some Californian poppy (Eschscholitzia californica), stems, leaves and flowers these smell somewhat like fishy latex, these used in infusions according to my book (Penelope Ody’s Simple Healing with Herbs) as a mild soporific- aids sleeping and helps relieve pain.  Save