Here in our house, the symbol of Valentine’s day is not the heart, but the scissors.
When Joey and I had been together just a few weeks, he gave me a case of phone books for my birthday. He’d stolen the box from the mailroom at our college, and, although at first look all of the phone books looked untouched, a deeper search revealed hundreds of tiny cutouts and notes all throughout the twelve books. I carted that whole case around for years. I couldn’t let it go. But finally I realized that we were in it for the long haul and I’d never have room for all the art. And that wasn’t even considering the kid art that would come later.
Joey is a whiz with the scissors. But he also has a quality I’ve always deeply admired but never possessed–he understands and respects the boundaries of a straight line. He has the focus and patience to create something right and perfect. I’ve watched him sit hunched over the kitchen table for 10 hours working on a birthday card for a coworker. He loves details and tiny pieces of tiny things.
The other night was that annual panic celebration before the valentines go out at school. As of 8:00 Rosie, who’d been at school late for drama rehearsal, still had sixteen valentines to go. She’d been working on these for weeks, and the table was covered with tiny pop-up messages tailored to each of her classmates.
I got impatient. I asked if maybe she could lower her standards a bit? Whip the rest out a little faster? She was calm. She knew better. She’s been through this with me before. But why would I make bad valentines?
I gave up. But only because Joey slid in next to her as prep cook. He’s the only one she’d trust to cut out those little hearts. And even Joey will admit that her valentine skills have far surpassed his own.
I’m a different creature for sure. I make things with big strokes, whether art of food. Tiny details make me itch. But I have my own affinity for the holiday and most years right around now I end up writing about roses. There were those pistachio rose biscotti and those rose caramels–I think without even trying I created a pattern. I’m happy to eat roses any day of the year, but it seems especially appropriate on this day of roses and scissors; love lost, gained, and held on to over the years. And this year, I thought I’d use it as an excuse to talk about my love affair with a certain slimy gorgeous inhabitant of my kitchen: my SCOBY.
(My family doesn’t quite appreciate her beauty, but they like what she does for us. But I think she’s GORGEOUS. A little dark, but that hasn’t seemed to be an issue.)
I’ve been making kombucha for almost a year now, so I’m far from an expert on the subject. I didn’t really like it until I tried a version last year from a Montreal kombucha maker that was really heavy on the hibiscus, and that got me started making it at home. I’ve found a method and mixture that I really love, and it’s become part of the weekly list of foods I make. So I thought I’d outline the process here, and then if you’d like to talk some about kombucha in the comments or share what you’re making, that would be great.
- I start by boiling 6 cups of water, then removing it from heat. I stir in 1 cup white granulated sugar, and then I add 6 teabags or 2 tablespoons loose black tea. I let the tea steep for 10 minutes, then remove it. Then I add 8 cups cold water.
2. That mixture goes into the crock, along with 2 cups finished (unflavored) kombucha and the SCOBY. I cover the crock with cheesecloth, then I let it sit out of the light until the liquid tastes good (not too sweet) and has a bit of bubble to it. It will also be a lighter color than it was when you began. In the summer this takes about 6 days, but in the winter it’s been taking more like 12 days.
3. When the mixture’s ready, I take the SCOBY out of the crock and set it on a plate. I rinse the SCOBY with cold water, and if a baby has grown from the mother I remove it. (This hasn’t been happening much in the winter when fermentation slows.) Then I scoop out 2 cups of the finished kombucha and set it aside. The rest of the finished kombucha goes into a jar with 2 tablespoons dried hibiscus flowers and 2 tablespoons dried rose petals. I top that jar with cheesecloth and let it infuse for 24 hours.
4. Meanwhile, back to my SCOBY. I’ve scrubbed out the crock, and I’ve poured the 2 cups reserved kombucha into it. I’ve also brewed a new batch of sweet tea (see step 1), and that goes into the crock as well. Then the SCOBY goes on top and the process begins again. (So during this time I’ve got TWO containers out on the counter, one with the newly fermenting kombucha and 1 with the finished infusing kombucha.)
5. After the kombucha has infused for 24 hours, I strain out the flowers and transfer it to clean bottles. The tighter the seal, the more possibility of getting some good carbonation. I let the bottles sit out at room temperature and then they go in the fridge. And that’s it. We drink all the kombucha as as soon as it’s gone, I’ve got a new ready batch.
A few notes:
Ikea sells bottles that seem like they’d be great for kombucha, but they have no seal! The bottles that originally contain those fancy French lemonades seem to be the best.
Of course, cleanliness is important. I don’t sterilize, but all of my crocks and bottles go through the dishwasher or are scrubbed with very hot water and soap.
I’ve found this to be a fermentation project that is VERY worth it. If you like kombucha, making it at home will save you lots of money. It’s very hands off and easy, and the results are great.
All you need to begin is a SCOBY and some unflavored kombucha. You can buy your SCOBY online, but if you ask around you’ll probably find a friend with a baby they can give you. And there are a lot of online resources for making your own SCOBY from scratch, too.
I’d love to hear about kombucha in your kitchen. How do you like to flavor it? Any tricks to share?
Happy love day, friends. Hope it’s a good one!
Sounds interesting! I am always trying to come up with new ways to flavor my kombucha. My go-to flavor is blueberry with a bit of pineapple. I mash the fruit and let it sit in finished kombucha for about a day, and then strain out the fruit solids.
I like mine fermented 2 weeks, so I have 2, 1-gallon jars I started a week apart. Every weekend I flavor/bottle a batch, rinse out the jar and set Up a new batch to brew 2 weeks.
I buy frozen fruit, berry mixtures are my favorite, fresh strawberries in season. I heat the fruit with a little sugar (no water), mash it well, and strain it to create a syrup. I bottle it in 2-cup glass jam jars. I leave it on the counter 48 hours then refrigerate the jars. When I’m ready to drink it,
I strain it into a glass.
I think I need to start a second batch, because we keep running out before the next batch is ready! In the summer it all goes so fast, but now an every week rhythm would be great.
When i bottle mine, i add chunks of peeled ginger. It tastes like ginger ale. We love it this way.
I love ginger too. I went through a phase of ginger and mint, and that was really wonderful.
These are certainly inspiring instructions, whose quality I can testify to with all the passion that Valentine’s Day commands.
All of these floral/fruit infusions are fascinating! But I’m realizing that my boyfriend (kombucha homebrewer for about 8 years) actually does the same thing–by finding different kinds of teas with fruits and blending them. There’s a smoky oolong with mango that does really well; blends of fruity green teas and black teas have also been great. And for the holiday season, he’ll do a Russian Caravan tea (black tea with fruit/flower bits), steeped along with cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg to make a Christmassy booch.
Even more than the flavored teas, the swing-top bottles have made the biggest difference in quality! The year we figured that out–an accident–I got a case of grolsch bottles from the local homebrew beer supply shop (and some custom personalized labels, courtesy of an artist friend). The bottles still going strong after 7 years (the labels have seen better days…)
Emily- your boyfriend brews the booch with the flavored teas? Everything I’ve read says to steer clear of that but I have a cabinet full of crazy flavored loose teas that I’ve accumulated that I would LOVE to make kombucha out of!
I’d also like to hear more about this. Usually the advice is to avoid flavored teas OR switching teas a lot, so I’d love to hear how this goes!
Marian Welch says
I love how you give your Kombucha this beautiful color. I sweeten my kombucha with maple syrup and like to use fresh ginger, fresh mint and lemon balm. In the winter time I use herbal tea bags along with maple syrup!
Marian- do you use maple syrup instead of sugar in the initial fermentation? Or do you sweeten afterwards?
Marian Welch says
I use it in the initial fermentation only.
I can’t believe yours ferments in just 12 days! I’m in Massachusetts too and I need at least two weeks to get it how I like in this weather! I always make blueberry/ginger/turmeric booch but I LOVE hibiscus so I’ll be trying this once the batch on my fridge is ready.
I got perfect bottles on Amazon for around $25 for 16 bottles. They’re the swing top kind and are THE BEST and help make lots of carbonation 🙂
It’s funny- I was just comparing my booch with someone else’s, and she liked it way more fermented than I do. So my 12-day booch might be too sweet for you, and I also get impatient!
Thanks for sharing your process! I’ve got my third batch on the counter right now. I put the first two in the fridge after removing the SCOBY, with no second fermentation, because I’m scared of bottles bursting! I’d really like to venture to flavoring and second fermentation. I’m also interested in the continuous brew posts I’ve seen floating around.
Can you tell me where are you getting your rose petals and hibiscus?
Hi Jean! This is usually where I end up sourcing herbs: https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/catalog/herbs/bulk
I love brewing my own Kombucha! My favorite tea blend is 3/4 Black tea & 1/4 Green. I find this gives me a smoother flavor than straight Black tea. I use 2 family size black tea bags in 4 C water with 2-3 green tea bags or 1 heaping Tbsp loose leaf green tea. After I’ve brewed my tea and water is still hot, I dissolve 1C white sugar and let cool. I then add this into my 1 Gallon Brewing jug, add cold filtered water, then my 2C of Kombucha & Scoby. In the summer I only need 4-5 days to rebatch into bottles. I like to add a little Maple syrup to each bottle before filling. I have used Pineapple, and Lemon ~ these really fiz up quickly! I didn’t take out the fruit though so I think I will try following that method others mentioned. Adding a few pieces of diced apple was really tasty.
From my research, the ones to avoid are the ones including strong spices & oils: Orange peel, Cinnamon, etc. I have used flavored Black teas with no problems at all. My favorite was a Black tea/Mango ~ yum!
FYI, if your Kombucha gets too vinigary to drink, it makes a great hair rinse! Just dilute it with water by 50 -70% depending on what your hair likes. 🙂
Do you have any advice or good resources about separating the mother from the babies?
I just started making kombucha and am on my 3rd batch and haven’t separated any of the layers. The mother was kind of dark (although healthy) and the new layers are bright white and thin. I am unsure whether I need to separate each time (or every few times).
I only separate the baby out when it seems really obvious that it’s ready to separate. Often it will be nearly separated by itself, but this can take a long time, and is really dependent on the conditions. I’d just let your mother continue to build- it’s okay if it has new layers!