When It’s Time to Admit Defeat

Well, you haven’t heard any updates on my sourdough starter or sauerkraut for one simple reason – they both failed. As it turns out, my pantry is the perfect spot in the kitchen for abject neglect. I was quite excited about having a proper pantry closet in my new kitchen – it’s about five and a half feet tall (like me!) and maybe two and a half feet deep. The bottom shelf is just perfect for my stockpots, canning equipment and my most often-used baking pans. The middle shelf holds beverages, flours, often-used serving platters and cutting boards, and the top self holds some pie plates and my projects.

I assumed the sauerkraut would be a no-brainer. Shredded cabbage, a salt water brine and a few weeks. Not so. The liquid never really reduced (but was it supposed to? Or is the commercial stuff drained?) What was much more alarming, however, was the smell. It didn’t smell like good sauerkraut, it frankly smelled like death. There wasn’t an appealing thing about it. And then I noticed the mold. A thick, active carpet of green and grey mold just sitting there, looking ugly and stinking up the place. What did I do wrong? Well, likely plastic for one thing. I don’t think a good fermentation can take place in a cheap, off-gassing plastic tub. There’s a reason why crocks with wooden boards and tops have been used for centuries I guess. And I don’t think I had the cabbage submerged enough. It was all under the brine, but had I weighted it better, it would’ve been compressed more. Clearly I need to do a little research on the hows and whys of making good sauerkraut. That will be on the reading list for the rest of this winter.

Then there was the sourdough starter. I’ve got a good understanding of how the starter is supposed to look and work, but to be honest, I just forgot about it. I mixed it up, gave it’s first feeding and then promptly forgot about it. But the time I remembered it was in there, it had oddly separated – solids on the bottom, liquid on the top. And it too, smelled absolutely horrendous. In addition to my neglect, it’s my suspicion that plastic aided in it’s demise. A few years ago I went on a quest to ban as much plastic from the house as possible. But now it’s started to creep back in… time to crack down again! I hate plastic, and I can’t believe it’s so prevalent in my little urban homestead.

Sometimes you have to admit defeat. But that doesn’t mean sitting down and giving up. Not at all. Sometimes you have to just acknowledge the failure, glean what lessons you can from it, and try again. So I’m going to try to get the plastic back out of house. I’m going to start small like I did last time, in the kitchen. It’s definitely doable. The sourdough starter and sauerkraut are back on the agenda. Sauerkraut I’m going to read up on a bit so I can get some insight into the technique. I’m going to look for “time-lapse” photos on the internet so I can what things are supposed to look like at each stage of the game. If anyone knows of good sauerkraut-making resources, please share! And the starter – I’ve just got to remember it’s there (and ditch the plastic container). Maybe for the first week, I’ll leave it on the counter where I can see it until it’s established. And then I’ll stick it in the fridge so I only have to feed it once a week – which is really only as often as I bake bread anyway.

And lest you think I’m a complete mess, where I everything I touch recently gets spoiled, there were two notable successes from the pantry recently. Thank god it’s nearly impossible to ruin alcohol. The earl grey gin came out quite nicely. I steeped two earl grey teabags in about two cups of gin for oh – probably about a month now. I think it will make a tasty martini or a wicked addition to a cup of tea some cold Saturday morning. And then there was my trio of snaps. After steeping for a long time (six weeks? Two months? See how the pantry makes me forget about things?) there really wasn’t much difference in the flavor/aroma profile, except the apple one was a bit lighter and fresher. So in the interest of balanced flavors (as well as having a decent quantity of finished product) I blended all three together. It’s a nice, spicy, very drinkable snaps that I plan on taking to Christmas. I decanted both liquors into two glass swing-top bottles I had saved (which my husband thought was crazy, but they’re six bucks new! These were free, and required only pantry space to store). They look quite nice on our bar, and I do enjoy a nice little shot of snaps every now and again when the weather gets nasty outside. But for the record, next winter’s snaps will the apple spice one, at about a three-week step for the best flavor.

So, some successes but also some failures. But when it comes down to it, sometimes you just have to try, and then try again.

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4 thoughts on “When It’s Time to Admit Defeat

  1. Yeah, I had the same problem with sourdough starter as well. For the first batch, I religiously fed it every day for about a week then the smell became horrendous (smelled like puke or worse!). Then second time I ‘cheated’ with a hint of active-dry yeast in the mix and it seemed to be going to the right direction. But then I baked two loaves of bread out of it and it tasted so BLAH…!!! Some said the starters might not have matured yet after starting for only 2 weeks … so as of today I am keeping the starter for about 2 months and I will try again this weekend…. wish me luck!

      • I failed, again. The dough didn’t rise at all even though there are lots of bubble in my starter. I guess I am sticking to the store-brought yeast for a while…..

      • So odd, I wonder what’s going on? Just off the top of my head, are you keeping the starter in a closed container or one with a cheesecloth covering? Maybe that’s the problem? I know I had mine in a closed container, so I think that’s part of the reason it failed. Or maybe it has to do with temperature during the rise – was it possibly to cool where you had your dough proofing? Don’t give up Crystal!

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