Hot and Sour Soup

Springtime is here, not just by the mercury but the produce aisle as well now.  

Yesterday we bought bok choy raab, spring onions, cilantro, and hakurei turnips.  What does that add up to?  If you said hot and sour soup, then you love vinegar as much as I do.  It might not be so heavily associated with light springtime brodos, but hot and sour soup has got it all: a bracing broth, the versatility to accept what the season offers, and a 0-60 of an hour, max.

Here's how it goes in the Keepwell household.  Pick some mushroom stems off of their caps, rough chop a small onion and a couple stalks of celery, and tear a tiny nub off of some ginger root.  Give that pile a quick go-round in the food processor, and sweat the resulting mash in a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil, in a decent-size saucepan.  Once you've worn off the raw edge, the vegetables will stop sweating and start sticking, at which point you can drop 1-2 quarts of water in.  Bring it quickly to a simmer and let it go for about 15 minutes.

Which is the perfect amount of time to get the other half of the recipe going!  Prepare some vegetables, dice up a little tofu, get some nice garnishes together.  You'll saute your mushrooms, spring onions, and any hard vegetables in a little more sesame oil. A quick cooking little cut like pork skirt goes in nicely right here as well - bonus points if you rub that sucker beforehand with gochujang or something similar that will really caramelize in the pan.  

By the time you really get cooking, your broth should have some flavor and be ready for final seasoning.  Then you put the two together and bring it up to a simmer.  Toss in anything green like asparagus in right before you serve.  

HOT AND SOUR SOUP, 4/29/2017

Double fistful of mushrooms (cremini in the picture, whatever you prefer)

1 bunch spring onions

1 bunch hakurei turnips

2 tbsp sesame oil

1 quart mushroom broth, as described above

dash Keepwell Vinegar brand black garlic vinegar

dash Keepwell Vinegar brand Carolina Gold rice vinegar

1 tbsp of your favorite red hot sauce (we use gochujang because we make dope gochujang)

dash soy sauce

1 bunch bok choy raab

4 oz fresh soft tofu, cut up

1 bunch cilantro

Pickled garlic scapes

Chop the white part of the spring onion, the hakurei turnips, and the mushrooms into bite-size pieces, and saute them in the sesame oil over medium heat.  They'll only take a minute to develop some color.  Remember they'll simmer in the broth for a second, so don't overcook them here.  

Season your mushroom broth with the vinegars, hot sauce, and soy sauce until it's lively enough for you, then drop it into a saucepan with your sauteed vegetables and the tofu.  Bring it all up to a simmer together, taste and adjust as needed.  Add the bok choy raab and plate it more or less immediately - it will continue to cook in the hot broth.  

Garnish with a fat handful of cilantro, hastily torn apart, and some pickled garlic scapes.  If your pickle brine from the scapes has any sugar in it, consider leaving it on the table for any guests who want a pinch of sweetness.

Aronia Berry Vinegar

Aronia berries are awesome.  I avoided them for a while because they'd been branded a 'superfood', but I was convinced by a glass of hard cider from Distillery Lane, fermented with aronia berries present.  The unpleasant astringency of the raw fruit becomes a mellow tannic drying after fermentation.  

So when Dylan (of Dylan's Oyster Cellar, where they're working on some fabulous Keepwell Vinegar mignonettes)  mentioned that his cousin at Chester River Aronia was trying to move some serious weight in berries, we knew what to do.  We are currently the proud owners of hundreds of gallons of tart, tannic, berry vinegar.  

The resemblance in mouthfeel to some grape wines is remarkable.  As we were casting about for dinner ideas the other night, I thought of beurre rouge, which uses both red wine and red wine vinegar.  The aronia berry vinegar has qualities of both, so we substituted it 100% for all liquid ingredients.  Delicious!

Aronia Berry Beurre Rouge

1 larger shallot

1 sprig tarragon

1 bay leaf

1 cup Aronia Berry Vinegar

1 stick of cold butter in 1/2" dice

Mince the shallot up nice and small.  Bring the vinegar up to a boil with the shallot, tarragon, and bay leaf. Reduce at a simmer until it's jammy and almost dry; there should only be a few tablespoons left.  Turn the heat off and whisk the butter in, a few dice at a time.  It should emulsify readily.

Serve with scallops, duck, beef, or just a nice pile of potatoes, mushrooms, and onions.

Aronia buerre rouge, with "hen of the woods" mushrooms, charred spring onions and potatoes Macaire.

Aronia buerre rouge, with "hen of the woods" mushrooms, charred spring onions and potatoes Macaire.

Turns out, centuries of Japanese tradition had something to contribute to the conversation

Sometimes we get pulled back to earth.

We have been refining a method for converting grains into vinegar for a few years now.  It's informed a little by the miso-making process, has some notes cribbed from beer brewing, and then sloshes into our regular routine for finishing and aging all of our vinegars.  It's either a synthesis or a corruption of traditions, depending on where you stand. I will say that it does a good job pulling the character of rye or toasted barley through a long fermentation.

It was around our fourth or fifth time ruining expensive Carolina Gold rice that we decided that our method simply did not work for rice.  We were surely making vinegar, but losing all of the flavor of the grain.

Sarah decided to follow the technical instructions for the production of sake, following them strictly enough that we purchased the special strains of yeast, rather than using our usual collection of raw natives.  

The resulting rice wine vinegars, first of Carolina Gold and then from some freshly polished Koshihikari from Blue Moon Acres, are exceptionally aromatic, sweet-smelling, wistful and elusive. We found what we'd been missing.  Addition by subtraction of arrogance. In its place, pride can grow. 

Vinegar Tasting Party

Come down to Little Red Fox on Saturday December 10 to taste some vinegars with the real deal makers, Sarah Conezio and Isaiah Billington (that's us).  We'll have some interesting flavors for you to try, bottles for sale, shoot, we'll make some (vinegary) snacks.  

Matt Carr and the team at Little Red Fox have been some of our earliest supporters at Keepwell Vinegar - if you're not familiar with the shop already, they have good food and coffee, Chef Bobby uses our ferments in creative ways, there's some cool locally-sourced merch and produce, and they make a heck of a croissant.

So come check it out and guzzle vinegar til you pickle your esophagus!

Little Red Fox/5035 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20008/12.10.2016 10A-Noon or later

Origins: A Speaker Series: The Episode with Keepwell Vinegar In It

Origins: A Speaker Series is an awesome show taped for the Heritage Radio Network at Artifact Coffee in Baltimore.  The show has covered Pennsylvania Dutch food ethnography with William Woys Weaver (first lesson, 'Penn Dutch' is not a strict synonym with 'Amish'), growing healthy grains and baking with freshly milled flour (here they had the farmer and the baker representing - both personal heroes of ours), and a bunch of other topics anybody who likes to think about what they eat will enjoy.

And they had us on!  Listen to the episode we appeared in here alongside some much more well-spoken people.  We got some really interesting question before we had to wrap up, although there's one that I answered poorly - someone asked which apples we favor for our single varietal apple cider vinegars.  We always get better at this one, but I've added an emphatic favorite since the taping: the York Imperial, an apple that first sprang from York, grows well there, and was once the most widely grown apple in the area surrounding for its qualities as a cider and sauce apple.  The flavor is sweet enough, sharp enough, but also really pleasantly woody and tannic.  Making hard cider to drink is almost never done with a single varietal, there's just too much balancing to be done.  I'll bet if one apple could do it though, it'd be the York Imperial.

Of course, we have hundreds of gallons of that going thanks to the efforts of Ben Wenk, who's bent over backwards to press varietals at their peak for us using apples from his family's farm, Three Springs Fruit Farm.  Indicentally, he spoke at the most recent Origins taping, all about orcharding.  Look out for audio release soon!

York Imperial Cider reading 1.063 Specific Gravity- a Potential Alcohol of 8%- or Brix of about 15.5%...nice and sweet!

York Imperial Cider reading 1.063 Specific Gravity- a Potential Alcohol of 8%- or Brix of about 15.5%...nice and sweet!

Vinegar Pie

I'd like to say that my love of vinegar pie came from my childhood or my grandmother, but I'd never honestly heard of it until we had this excellent version made with vinegar fermented from Cheerwine at Comfort in Richmond.  It's hillbilly food to be sure - the custard compares well to pot de creme or creme brulee without any of the more expensive or perishable ingredients like heavy cream or egg yolks.  Even the citrus that's so important to lemon curd or key lime pie was once out of reach to most in the Appalachians.

Ginger Vinegar Pie from Origins: A Speaker Series at Artifact Coffee in Baltimore

Ginger Vinegar Pie from Origins: A Speaker Series at Artifact Coffee in Baltimore

So pie is my first answer every time someone asks me what, exactly, one ought to do with a fine vinegar.  The relatively low amount of fat lets the character of the namesake ingredient shine through, meaning that the flavor possibilities are only as limited as the selection of vinegars in your cupboard, and the bite of the vinegar is a pleasant surprise; your brain pops a little as your palate shifts gears, recognizing how good the tang of acetic acid is against flaky dough and sweet egg.  

Vinegar Pie

Crust

.5# butter (225 g)

2 cups pastry flour (300 g)

1 tsp salt (5 g)

.5 tsp baking powder (3 g)

2 tbsp vinegar (30 g)

.5 cup ice water 

Whisk together your dry ingredients in a bowl that's comfortable for your arms.  Rub butter into the drys by hand until all of the flour feels greased up; small hunks of butter should remain.  Add vinegar, then just enough ice water to bring the dough together as you distribute the wet through the dry. You may have a little ice water left over.  Chill and rest your dough.  Roll the dough out to fit a standard 9" pie pan, line pan with dough, chill and rest.  Blind bake with weights.

Custard

1.5 cup sugar (300g)

3 eggs (150g)

1.5 Tablespoons flour (15g)

1.75 cups vinegar - of your choosing! Sarah loves to use our Bitter Lemon or Ginger (375g)

1 tsp salt (5g)

Pour warm custard into baked pie crust.  Bake at 350 F until a shake on the pie gives you a tight jiggle.

Baltimore Sun loves cocktails with Keepwell Vinegar

Woodberry Kitchen has been a great supporter of ours from before day one.  Not only did Sarah and I both work there for years, they've been there to try out all of our vinegars from the very beginning and help us refine our results.  According to the Baltimore Sun, the bar at Woodberry has been using the vinegar to great effect in their cocktails.  I'm gratified that our stuff tastes so good in cocktails, but it's really a testament to the skill and creativity of the bar that they're able to help revive the tradition of adding that little acid pop with vinegar.  Hats off!

Meeting Our Growers Halfway

The process of fermentation is like a universal donor - there is some way to preserve any food by just controlling the direction of its rot.  If there is nutrition there, we as humans are not the only ones looking to feed from it - there are millions of little bacteria ready to jump in front of us in line.  It's one of the most exciting things about running a business for whom fermentation is the primary technique that we can support a wide variety of growers.  Almost anything with a decent amount of sugar can eventually become vinegar.  

That means that we can support farmers who grow grains, fruits, and vegetables, growers who keep bees and produce honey, guys who tap maple trees.  We can tap into the incredible amount of perfect produce that will never get put up for sale to the public because it's the wrong size, or has a little character to its appearance. It's the best way that we figured out how to support the entire landscape of local agriculture.  You got a lot of clingstone peaches with split pits early in the season?  You can't sell them at market?  Hook me up, peach vinegar coming right up (about this time next year; it's a long process).  

Viognier grapes from Mark Cascia Vineyard on Kent Island.  Mark had no room left in his tanks, so he had no reason to harvest these until we came along.

Viognier grapes from Mark Cascia Vineyard on Kent Island.  Mark had no room left in his tanks, so he had no reason to harvest these until we came along.