November 5, 2016

Ghee, The Shelf Stable Way to Store Butter

When building an emergency pantry stock there are a few important considerations to make. Nutrition is paramount, choosing nutritionally dense foods that are easy to assimilate should be the first order of business. Next is a shelf stable source of protein. Then foods that have roughage, staying power and good calories, (as opposed to empty calories). Sweeteners are pretty easy, sugar, honey, maple syrup, (must be refrigerated after opening, but is stable while unopened), and molasses, are shelf stable and provide quick energy. Oil is important to the body for the taking up of fat soluble vitamins. Without some source of fat in the diet, the body can not assimilate, vitamins A, D, E, or K, which are essential substances needed for normal function, growth and maintenance of body tissuesBut it is hard to find a really healthy shelf stable source of oil.

Shelf stable oils are few and far between. Vegetable shortening is stable and it has a use in seasoning cast iron, but should have no place in the human diet. It is a dangerous, processed transfat made from GMO soybeans... Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Olive Oil is a good choice for health and nutrition, but has a short shelf life. You can extend the shelf life by freezing it but it still won't last years. Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, is a really good choice. It has a shelf life of 2-5 years, but in the right storage environment can last indefinitely. It is my oil of choice since I am vegan and use no animal products. It also has health and medicinal properties, so I am going to put a gold star by Organic Extra Virgin coconut oil and say it is the best choice for health and stability, has a high flash point so it is good for stir frying, but also works great in baking. And then there is Butter... butter freezes well, but has a relatively short storage life even frozen. If you want to store butter, you can buy it canned at outrageously expensive prices, or you can buy butter buds, which have been highly processed, (I am suspicious of the health risks of any foods I don't process myself). Butter buds never really taste or work like real butter, (kind of like powdered eggs...), but it is an option. But if you are looking for a way to keep butter for long term storage, while holding on to the spreadability and taste of butter, then making ghee, (clairfied butter), is your answer.

Ghee is butter that has had all the milk solids removed from it. It has a high flash point, so it can be used in the skillet, in baking or can be spread on a piece of toast. It actually tastes more buttery than butter, so it is possible to use less and still get loads of flavor. In India, ghee is used in place of regular butter because it stands up to the tropical heat better without spoiling, it also imparts a lovely rich buttery taste to the foods it is used in. *A little side note... if you want spreadable ghee in warm weather keep it in the fridge, since it becomes a liquid in hot conditions and a solid when cold.

Making ghee is quite simple. You only need butter, (unsalted for baking and cooking, salted if you want to spread it on toast), and a few simple kitchen tools.

Equipment Needed for Making Ghee:

A heavy bottomed sauce pan, (size will depend on how much butter you are making into Ghee. You don't want the butter spattering or boiling over, so butter should only fill about half the cooking vessel.)
Wire mesh strainer
Good quality cheese cloth cheese cloth that is more like fabric and less like gauze)
A heat resistant bowl
Water bath canner
4 oz. straight sided jelly jars for small family, pint sized wide mouth jars for larger family, matching lids and bands

Since this is a process I only want to do occasionally, I usually try to do enough butter to make it worth my time. I will do 6 or 8 pounds of butter at a time. You can do more or less as you see fit.

The Process 

Over low heat, put butter in pan of choice, melt the butter until it is simmering.




Do not at any point stir... in order to distribute heat, gently rock the pan. It will be cloudy at first, then the milk solids will begin to separate from the fat. At first the milk solids will float to the top and look kind of lacy. 



Then some of it will sink to the bottom and the rest will remain as foam on the surface. At this point you need to watch it very carefully. You want to watch for a color change in the milk solids on the bottom from white to light yellow. If you get it right, the ghee will have an intense buttery flavor and smell and actually tastes more buttery than regular butter so you don't need to use as much to get the butter flavor. If the milk solids go from light gold to dark gold or brown, you will lose the intense buttery flavor and just have oil. It is still a shelf stable oil that has a high flash point and is good for many kinds of cooking, everything from baking to stir frying, but it will lack the wonderful buttery flavor if you let it go too far. When you see it turn from white to light yellow, remove from heat. Use a spoon to remove the milk solids that are floating, and then pour into a cheese cloth lined strainer that is sitting in a heat resistant bowl. Discard the milk solids. 

video
This video gives you an idea of the different stages you will see in the butter and will give you a good idea when it is ready to pour off. It doesn't however show me pouring the butter in the strainer... I couldn't video the process and pour at the same time!

Pour the ghee into jars leaving 1/2 inch heads space. Clean the rim of the jar well with a cloth with a little soap on it to eliminate any oil on the rim that might keep the lids from sealing. then use your two part lids and water bath process for 10 minutes. I have a control group of canned goods that I use for testing shelf life, I open one of each kind of canned goods every 2 years to check to see if it is still good. I have some ghee that is 10 years old, it is still as fresh and buttery tasting as it was the day I canned it. Ghee does not need to be refrigerated if used within a week or so of opening, which is why I put it in small containers, so it will get used up before it goes south. (You will know it has gone bad if you see mold starting to grow on the surface).

This is an easy project that doesn't take a lot of prep time and will provide you with a great shelf stable fat for your emergency pantry. Why don't you give it a try and let me know how it goes?

November 1, 2016

It's Tincture Time Again!

Winter is just around the corner and soon it will be cold and flu season. So every year in the fall I make the medicines that I will use to keep my family well during the winter. For the next 6 weeks my kitchen counter will be host to a collection of jars holding herbs that I am tincturing for use as medicine. There are several herbal tinctures that I rely on during the cold months. The first being Olive leaf, which is good for everything from curing the common cold to killing e-coli. It is an antiviral and a natural antibiotic and our go-to tincture to protect against the junk that passes through the population in the winter. Since I have asthma, I keep Yerba Santa on hand to keep my airways open, it works as well as the prescription drug Albuterol, without all the side affects. But for those who don't have asthma, it is good for keeping airways clear when you have a chest cold. Echinacea is an immune system booster that we use if we are succumbing to illness, I often mix it with other tinctures to increase the spectrum of protection from illness. Echinacea is better used at the onset of illness, rather than as a preventative. I make many herbal preparations, to keep my family well and to treat illness if we get sick, but these three are the primaries for winter. We also use the Fire on the Mountain Tonic , to make sure that we have a strong immune system and healthy gut so that we don't get sick in the first place. In the near future I will do a post on each of these herbs, giving a better explanation of their healing properties, when to use them and dosages. But If you want the tinctures for winter now is the time to start them is now since they take 6 weeks to tincture.


To make your own medicinal herbal tinctures you will need the best quality herbs you can obtain. I order most of mine from Mountain Rose Herbs or The Bulk Herb Store. Both have high quality herbs, lots of information, and tutorials. You will also need at least 90 proof clear alcohol, like vodka. I use 190 proof grain alcohol for the extraction process and then add water to dilute when I am ready to bottle the tincture.

 **As a side note, In some states sale of 190 proof grain alcohol is illegal. Here in North Carolina it is was made illegal a few years ago, so now I drive to South Carolina, (I am very near the border so it is no biggie for me). 90 proof vodka will do the job, if you can't obtain 190 proof grain alcohol.**

***WARNING! Grain alcohol and Isoprophyl alcohol are not the same!!! Grain alcohol is an alcoholic beverage and is purchased where you find other alcoholic beverages, Isoprophyl alcohol or wood alcohol, is a disinfectant and is poisonous. Drinking Isoprophyl alcohol can lead to blindness and possible death.***  

There are a few kitchen items that you will also need: a wide mouth pint canning jar, a two piece lid and band or a plastic screw top lid that fits a wide mouth jar, a plastic funnel, a bamboo chop stick or skewer and a pen, some adhesive backed labels and transparent tape.



Fill the jar 1/2 way with the herb of choice. If it is a light weight, fluffy herb, then press down slightly and fill again to the halfway mark. Do not pack tightly, since the herbs will soak up the moisture and swell in time.


 Pour the 190 proof grain alcohol over the herbs and fill the jar to where the screw threads on the jar begin, about 3/4 inch from the rim of the jar. You may need to top off the alcohol during the first day or so, as air bubbles dissipate and the herbs soak up the alcohol. It is necessary to keep the plant material covered with alcohol or it could spoil. Stir with the bamboo stick to dislodge air bubbles and uniformly wet the herbs, taking care to break up any clumps of herbs. Top off if the level of alcohol drops below the screw threads.

Write out on a label the name of the herb, the day you started it and the day the tincture will be ready,(the ready date is 6 weeks after the start date). Also note what kind of solvent was used for the tincture. Vodka is only 90 proof and has already been diluted, grain alcohol is 190 proof and will need to be diluted before use, so noting what alcohol you used will help you avoid dilution mishaps later.


Screw the lid on tightly, invert once or twice and then wipe the jar with a clean, dry towel. Apply the label and then cover the label with tape if desired. The tape will prevent ink from running if the jar gets wet during the tincture process. I have found that the two piece lids are water tight, but the plastic lids can sometimes leak around the edges, so I just cover the label to be safe. It is very frustrating to have ink run and the identity of a tincture be in question. If you are doing more than one kind of tincture at a time it might be difficult to tell one from the other if the labels are ruined.

Finally place the jars out of direct sunlight and invert the jars daily to move the herbs around in the alcohol. It is a good idea to put them somewhere that they will be seen, to remind you that they need daily attention . The jars should be inverted at least once a day everyday for a week, at this point they can be put in a  cabinet out of the light and out the way, but need to be inverted several times a week for the remaining 5 weeks.

When the 6 weeks are up and your jar of herbs and grain alcohol are deep green, it is time to start phase two of this project.



Equipment you will need for decanting your tinctures:

Finished tinctures
Glass bowl 
Measuring cup or container with pouring spout
Small measuring glass like a shot glass with liquid measure marks on it, (Walmart)
Strainer
Cheese cloth
One 2 oz. amber bottles with dropper lid per tincture being made. (Mountain Rose Herbs sells them for $1.50 ea. or you can use a recycled  dark glass bottle like a vanilla bottle, but you will want some sort of dropper for dispensing the tincture).
Small glass funnel that will fit in bottle or a squeeze bottle with nozzle, (Michael's may have them in the cake decorating section, I also found a set of 6 at Sam's for about $4)
Sticky backed labels or paper labels and clear packing tape


Put the strainer in a medium sized bowl and line with cheese cloth. Pour the contents of the tincture jar into the strainer.


Gather up the edges of the cheese cloth, hold them together, with the other hand twist the cheesecloth holding the herbs until contents are tightly drawn up. Squeeze the cheese cloth "bag" to remove any remaining tincture, until it stops dripping tincture. Some herbs are soft and this will be easy to do, other herbs are woody and squeezing the bag will not produce much liquid, if the herbs are woody, just give it a squeeze for good measure and move on to next step. Dispose of the plant material, there is nothing of value left in in it at this point.


For a 2 ounce bottle, pour 1 ounce of tincture in a small liquid ounce measuring glass pour it into your small measuring cup. 


Then fill the measuring glass with one ounce of purified or distilled water and add to tincture in the measuring cup. This makes a working solution. Stir to mix.


Place small funnel in the 2 oz. bottle and fill the bottle. If you measured carefully, there should still be room for the dropper to fit in the bottle without overflowing. If you want to make sure not to force tincture out when initially fitting the dropper in the bottle, stick the tip of the dropper in the bottle and draw up some of the liquid into the dropper, then let the dropper down into the bottle and screw the top on firmly.


At this point you should label your dropper bottle with the contents and the fact that it is a dilution or "working solution", as well as the dosage to be taken and any warnings that need to be read before using. The rest of the tincture should be kept in the concentrated form, in a jar with a close fitting lid. If possible, store in a dark glass jar, but if that is not available then use a canning jar or other glass jar, label well with the contents and dilution instructions and store in a cool dark place. The tincture concentrate will last a long time (years), if stored properly. The diluted tincture will last a year or longer. I label my bottles and then cover the label completely with clear packing tape, so that any dribbles will not run the info on the label. I reuse my bottle over and over, I just wash them thoroughly and remove the label before reusing.

I hope that you will give making your own herbal tinctures a try. It is simple to do and the tinctures will be very helpful in keeping you and your family well!

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