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Monday, October 17, 2022

It's Alive!

I am a strange combination of healthy eating and eating absolute garbage, well not actual garbage, but snack foods and less than healthy foods. I like to feel that I'm making up for the less than foods by consuming much more healthy fare.

My healthy food of the week (hopefully it will last more than a week though), I'm doing water kefir now. I am somewhat familiar with commercially available milk kafir from the health food store and the healthier sections of the grocery store. It's much harder to find a commercial water kafir drink, I finally found one and wanted to try it before going to all the trouble of making my own water kefir drinks.

Turns out I did like it and began to learn everything I could on the subject, fortunately it is so so SO simple! No special equipment, no expensive tools, no complicated or long methods are involved. I went ahead and purchased a batch of fresh (not dried) kefir grains to start with, that bypasses the first steps involved in STARTING or activating the growth, I would be essentially starting in the middle of step 2, and since there are only 3-4 steps in total, and I tend to want (almost) instant gratification, I couldn't argue with that route.

So, just what the heck ARE kefir grains? Well, first off they aren't actually "grain", what people are calling a grain is a tender but rubbery, bouncy, almost like a soft gummy bear like texture nodule that this bacteria and yeast grow in, these living organisms grow their own structure to live in, and much like a happy sourdough starter, once you start your own colony of kefir, it will multiply, it will grow larger and you will most likely end up giving it away to your friends and family.

The kefir grains live and grow in a sugar water solution that you supply, that's all, you should also give it minerals, so brown sugar, molasses, anything like this that contains minerals will make your kefir happy. As they consume the sugar in the water, they ferment and create probiotics which happen to be super healthy for us!

So I ordered from a person on Amazon (Kefir Link), I wasn't exactly sure how much I would receive, there seemed to be lots of measurements and numbers being thrown around, it said 1/4 pound, then 7 ounces, I just don't know what 1/4 pound or 7 ounces of kefir looks like. The reviews sounded pretty good, it was going to be fresh (not dried) grains, the price was reasonable, so I pushed the button.

After I did that, I began to look around the SkyCastle for large enough glass jars and containers. I am a bit of a hoarder, I blame that on my dad who grow up in the depression, you don't throw away ANYTHING that might come in handy, no matter how far into the future that might be... much to the annoyment (is that even a word???) of PB... we have had this long term battle over how many glass jars and bottles I NEED to save, he is constantly asking me if I'm done with a jar or bottle, translate that to: can I throw it away now? Wellll, if it is of a good size and has a decent lid, then the answer is almost always NO, you can't toss this, yet. Eventually he does wrestle away many of my jars and bottles, but I manage to save back just enough.

I looked through my bottle/jar stash and found just the perfect couple of containers for my new pets. Hmmm, pets, well they are a living entity, they grow and multiply, I am feeding and caring for them, I'm not exactly eating THEM though you can, just their by-products. OK, enough of that visual.

I had a large 2 quart Mason jar that I saved from a cold coffee making setup, I just don't make that much coffee, hot or cold to use that size of jar, the other jar was from a cold coffee concentrate that I had bought from the grocery store, it's 32 ounces or 1 quart. The second jar has a small mouth, but it's the perfect size, honestly when I bought these originally, I knew I would be saving those jars for something I would do in the future.

My kefir showed up a bit earlier than I expected them to, and they stayed in my mailbox for a few days, in my defense, my mailbox is some 6 miles away and I don't tend to make a special trip just to check my mail, I knew I was planning on going to town in a few days, and the temperature was going to be mild,  so I figured it would be OK, I had read a couple of reviews from people in hot places who said they had left theirs in their mailbox for a few days in the heat of summer and it turned out just fine.

Once I got my kefir babies home, I still wasn't ready to start so I popped them in the fridge for a couple of days. I had read mixed thoughts on that, most said it was OK, a few said that wasn't ideal, the directions on the package even said not to do that, I'm such a rebel, I did it anyhow.

Fast forward to last Thursday, that was the day, the day I would get everything ready and start my kefir farm. I found 2 suitable jars, I had coffee filters and rubber bands, I didn't have the exact sugar I really wanted to start with (a less processed, more natural sugar), I did have some regular brown sugar, that would work for now.

My water is about the most perfect part of this, it's well water so no chemicals, no fluoride, we do put bleach in the tank, but just enough to make the water safe to STORE, it's actually pretty good water otherwise. It is also high in minerals, which is something the kefir likes, so it's not a worry.

I had 2 containers of kefir grains, tightly packed in these things that you would see in a food take out for your condiments. I added about a quarter cup of brown sugar to the water and added the kefir grains. A few hours later, I realized I wanted to mark the level of the kefir grains at the bottom of the jars so I would know how much they grew, I could tell that they had already puffed up a bit. 

I placed the covered jars in a darkish cabinet and covered them with a towel, apparently kefir are shy and prefer to work in the dark. The following day, I marked a second line to show their growth, one jar seemed to be doing better than the other, it could have been the fact that my jars were 2 different sizes and the smaller jar just made it look like those kefir were doing better. 

So today (Saturday), it had been 2 full days, the kefir grains had puffed up, gotten larger and definitely multiplied, some of the grains were floating, a really good sign, and there were bubbles, at the top of the jar and buried within the kefir grains themselves.

I considered going another day, but thought I should taste my experiment first. I didn't know exactly what to expect, except for the descriptions of those who described what theirs smelled and tasted like. The descriptions were yeasty, fermented, sour smell. Mine definitely had all three of those things going for it. It is said that a properly developed liquid would no longer taste sweet but rather yeasty, fermented and slightly sour, well it also had all of those things going for it as well. I could barely taste a hint of the former sweetness it had started out with. 

I wanted to do a second fermentation, which is where you drain off the liquid, saving back the kefir grains and a little bit of the fermented water, then you place that liquid in another glass container with a good lid, at this point you can add fruit, fruit juice or a myriad of other things to add a flavor and wait for the juicy bubbles to form.

Yes, it does get fizzy, at least what I've seen on other YouTube videos on the subject. It's not supposed to take very long either, just add whatever fruit or juice you wish, bottle and wait. That's where I am now. I managed to hide back a hand full of large glass bottles with good lids, I filled 2 of the larger ones and a smaller one. I added grape juice to one, a mix of fruit juices for another, and for the smaller one, I cut up a lemon and put that inside of the bottle.

I closed up the lids tightly, something that may or may not be risky, if you want lots of fizz (and I do!) you have to tightly cap your bottles, but you have to either burp them, or don't let them go for very long. I've seen on YouTube from 6-12 hours, or 24 hours, I suspect it depends on the fruit or juice you add and the temperature where you are storing your capped bottles. The warmer it is, the more it ferments and the bubblier it can get. Right now we are at the cooler end, not cold enough for a fire in the wood stove, but definitely cooler, generally in the 50s F inside of the SkyCastle.

I keep looking at my bottles sitting on the shelf, I know they won't explode, at least not yet... it's been around 6ish hours, I did open one of the bottles just a little to see (or hear) if it was building up any pressure, and I'm happy to announce, it did release a tiny bit pressure! So, success so far. 

I'll probably pop them in the fridge tomorrow and later in the day, give them a taste test, I'm hoping it turns out and that I like the flavor. I just remembered that I have some cucumbers in the fridge, I wonder how that would taste??? 

I also started my second batch of kefir water, this time I had the sugar I wanted to use, a turbinado style sugar I order from Sam's Club, I also added just a little regular brown sugar, I thought I had some molasses, and I might, I just can't find it. Brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses added so it should be just fine. 

My kefir critters have easily doubled in size and volume. I'll have plenty to share around in a very short time. I know of 2 friends who are very interested, and I'm sure once word gets out, I'll have quite a few people wanting to start their own kefir farm.

How about you? Are you familiar with water kefir? Have you hade it? Do you grow your own? What are your favorite flavors to add?

If you wish to order some fresh kefir grains, you can order from the same place I got mine, they are alive and thriving, click here Kefir Link

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