Tag Archives: DIY

Fermenting Fridge

21 Jan

This barely counts as a project because of how simple it was.

I wanted a fridge I could use for homebrewing in hotter months (keep beer at 60-70F, or cider at 50-60F), that I could use to homebrew lagers for the first time (control temperatures in the 35-55F range at different stages of fermentation), to slowly lacto-ferment vegetables (not really necessary, but to do longer, slower multi-week ferments around 60F even when it’s warmer), or even to retard bagels (rest in a cool place overnight to slow yeast growth while allowing lactobacilli a head start).

I’d read a bit about DIY ways to replace the thermostat on a conventional fridge… and then dug up a much easier way.

img_7744I bought a Danby DAR044 Compact Refrigerator (price varies, about $180 when I bought it) and an Inkbird Temperature Controller ($35).

The Inkbird temperature controller is a simple pre-wired alternative to custom temperature control relay boxes many people build– it has a temperature probe and two outlets, and turns on whatever’s plugged into the “heating” outlet whenever the temperature is below a certain setpoint, and turns on whatever’s plugged into the “cooling” outlet whenever the temperatures above a different setpoint.

I just plugged the mini-fridge into the “cooling” outlet, with the temperature probe threaded up through an existing hole in the back rear of the minifridge that leads into a drip tray. You remove these two screws to remove the drip tray:


And use a drill to slightly enlarge the drip hole from the outside and fish the temperature probe up into the fridge:img_7742

That’s it. It just worked.

It worked so well I set up a second fridge, so I could be fermenting beer or pickles in one (at 60-65F) while lagering or long-term storing fermented vegetables (or keeping beer cool) in the other at 35F.


As one example, here’s the temperature of the fridge over the course of brewing a lager– at 55F for the first few weeks, raised to 65 for a few days, then lowered to lagering temp at 35…


And typical contents: fermenting chiles, preserved lemons, and sauerkraut:


Cornmeal Pancakes

10 Dec

For a less traditional savory breakfast, I enjoy the polenta-like, 100%-cornmeal, ‘Johnnycakes’ style of pancake with greens and eggs.

But for eating with maple syrup or a special occasion, I like a fluffy cornmeal-and-wheat-flour mix:


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From a little bit of experimentation, my current favorite recipe goes heavier on the cornmeal (50/50 mix with flour) for flavor and texture, and includes either buttermilk or some yogurt. For a small batch of about 7 pancakes (2 people):

Mix together dry:

  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup white flour (or 1/4 cup whole wheat + 1/4 cup white)
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder (or 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda**)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Then add and lightly whisk in:

  • 1 egg
  • 1.5 T melted butter
  • 2/3 to 1 cup* buttermilk depending on the desired texture
    • I’ve also had success substituting a 50/50 mix of milk and greek yogurt (without buttermilk you need something acidic to activate baking soda)

Pre-heat a skillet on medium-low (especially if it’s large compared to the burner, to ensure more uniform edge-to-center heat), cook batter until bubbles start to pop through on the top and the bottom’s browned, flip, cook a few more minutes.

For extra credit and a really fresh corn taste, use fresh-ground dried flour corn you grew in your garden:


And then cook over a wood stove in an off-the-grid cabin:



* Side note: Varying the amount of liquid really changed the pancakes. 2/3 cup buttermilk made a thick, almost cornbread-like batter (shown on the wood stove above), which resulted in a delicious, thicker, slower-cooking pancake. We actually preferred the texture of this one that’s a step toward cornbread. On the other hand, 1/2 cup yogurt + a bit over 1/2 cup milk led to the pancakes at the top of this post– light, spongey, and fluffy (and faster-cooking).

** Side note: Some day I’ll read and experiment more to get to the bottom of the baking powder vs. baking soda question— it’s not clear to me why some recipes combine both baking powder and baking soda– if the recipe includes acidic liquid like buttermilk or yogurt, I’d think that baking soda should suffice, whereas if you’re using double-acting baking powder with any liquid, I don’t see why you’d also need baking soda…

Strawberry Balsamic Cider Peppercorn Shrub

17 Aug

Shrubs (drinking vinegars) are one of my favorite ways to preserve fruit — it goes a long way, it’s shelf stable even at room temperature, and it works as an addition to sparkling water, in salad dressing, or in a cocktail. Between holiday gifts and internal consumption (especially since I bought a Sodastream), the citrus shrubs from April and December were mostly gone. Fortunately, a trip to Swanton Berry Farm (pick-your-own) resulted in a box of small, flavorful, moderately-overripe-and-turning-to-paste-under-their-own-weight strawberries.

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Macerated in sugar, strained, and mixed with a few Tbsp of peppercorns and a 50/50 mix of aged balsamic and Bragg cider vinegar, then left to sit for a few weeks before straining again and bottling:



Tart and refreshing with even a tablespoon in a glass of sparkling water: