Home Brewed Kombucha

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha has been around for over 2000 years. It s a drink made by fermenting sweetened green or black tea. The sugary tea turns into kombucha with the help of a SCOBY—a.k.a. “a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast”—which looks a bit like a floating mushroom. Except it’s made of live bacteria.

During the fermentation process, the yeast and bacteria in the SCOBY feeds on the sugar in the tea, releasing probiotics as well as B vitamins, enzymes, and organic acids. The fermentation also naturally creates carbon dioxide gasses, naturally carbonating the drink. This is why it is so fizzy.

How to make your own home brew:

First, get your hands on a SCOBY, fermenting jars and some reusable bottles for the finished product. So far, I think Amazon is great for economy, 2-day shipping, and availability of supplies. Local home-brew shops also carry these supplies. Glass, stainless or ceramic are good choices for brewing kombucha. Some people use wood barrels and claim it adds wonderful dimensions in flavor to the brew, which I do believe, but I have an aversion to anything I can’t sterilize and wood barrels aren’t as readily available. Avoid plastic, and any metal that is not stainless steel. Kombucha can cause leaching during the brewing process with these materials.

You can order your SCOBY from Amazon or speciality sites that sell the organism. It should come in a packet surrounded by kombucha starter liquid (DO NOT DISCARD THIS LIQUID). If you are lucky enough to have a friend that can supply you with a healthy SCOBY, all the better. If you have to purchase your SCOBY, you may also wish invest in a bottle of live, raw, unflavored Kombucha to serve as your starter. If getting a SCOBY from a friend, ask them to include 2 cups of starter kombucha. Keep your SCOBY in a sealed, sterile environment at room temperature prior to brewing. Never refrigerate your SCOBY.

New SCOBY, came with a bonus baby 🙂

Next you will sterilize all your equipment. You want to promote the good bacteria but not introduce anything unwanted that could lead to contamination of your brew. I run everything through the dishwasher, using non-reactive pots for steeping tea, and glass fermenting jars and bottles. Then I rinse them after the come out of the dishwasher to insure that there is no soapy residue at all, as it could kill the lovely organisms you are trying to feed.

With a healthy SCOBY and sterilized equipment, you can begin your brew.

Basic Recipe

1 Gallon Chlorine-free water
4-6 Black or Green tea bags or 1-2 tablespoons loose leaf tea (I use 3 Ice Tea size Black Tea bags as my preference)
1 Cup Sugar
1 full-size kombucha SCOBY 
1-2 cups mature kombucha starter liquid

Equipment:
1.25 Gallon Brewing Vessel
Pot or Kettle for boiling water
Muslin Square 
Large Rubber Band

Instructions for brewing

  1. Heat 1 quart of the water to just below boiling in a non-reactive pot. You can either steep in the pot, or add to your brewing vessel. Allow your tea to steep for 10-15 minutes, and then remove tea.
  2. Add cup of sugar to brewed tea while it’s still hot and stir until it is completely dissolved.
  3. If you did not use brewing vessel to steep your tea, transfer it to the brewing vessel now.
  4. Add remaining cool water. Allow to cool to room temperature before proceeding. Cover loosely with clean muslin cloth to prevent impurities from getting into the tea while it cools.
  5. Once the tea is cooled below 100 degrees Farenheit, you may add your SCOBY and the starter liquid. If you are using your hands, make sure they are clean, but don’t wash with anti-bacterial soap, or use a clean stainless spoon to transfer SCOBY to the tea. Add 1-2 cups of mature, raw kombucha on top of the SCOBY, either provided from a friend or from a verified raw, unpasturized source.
  6. Cover the jar with a breathable cloth and secure with rubber band.
  7. Place in a dark storage space, that will maintain a temperature of 65-85 degrees Farenheit. Ideal range is 75-80 degrees. In the winter, this may be hard to maintain, but not to worry, komucha will ferment acceptably at lower temps, but it will require a longer brewing cycle.
  8. Allow tea to ferment for 7-21 days. You will need to taste your brew to get the desired level of sweetness/tartness. I slip a clean straw below the SCOBY about 5 inches and take a sip. You can do this as early as 5 days after you begin your brew. In warmer temps, it will brew faster.
  9. Once your kombuchas is fermented to your prefered taste, it’s ready to harvest.
  10. Remove SCOBY to a clean sterile bowl and loosely cover with a cloth. Collect at least 1-2 cups of mature kombucha from the top of the brew to use as the starter for your next batch.
  11. The rest of kombucha is available for drinking, either straight from the vessel, or you canbottle it with or without adding flavors.
  12. Start a new batch repeating steps 1-10. If your SCOBY has replicated itself, you can separate the new SCOBY and start a second batch or store it in SCOBY hotel.

You can flavor your finished kombucha with fruit juice, fresh fruit or leave it unflavored. To increase the natural carbonation of kombucha, you may choose to bottle condition it. Fill your bottles leaving head room and seal. Let sit another 3-7 days in a dark storage area at room temperature, and then transfer to the refrigerator. The kombucha will continue to ferment as it sits in the dark, increasing carbonation, and maybe even developing a little SCOBY. Placing in refrigerator stops the fermentation. I like to stop my second fermentation after 5-7 day, longer and the brew gets more tart (which might be your preference) and a lot of pressure from carbonation can build.

There are a lot of great resources on the web and e-books or written books. I’d encourage further investigation and suggestions from other reputable sources. Suggestions on locating a healthy SCOBY, choices in fermenting vessels, flavorings, and maintaining SCOBY health are plentiful on the internet.

The SCOBY Hotel

Depending on your rate of consumption, once you get going, you can use the new SCOBYs produced by the process to increase your production. Or you can keep it smaller by storing SCOBYs in a SCOBY hotel. This is basically a vessel that allows you to store live SCOBYs, occasionally feeding them a bit of fresh kombucha from a newly brewed batch. Keeping extra SCOBYs will let you experiment with your brewing conditions knowing you have a back up in case something goes wrong. You will have your own healthy SCOBY on hand to start again. You can also gift a SCOBY to an interested friend from your SCOBY hotel.

Tips for the best fermentations

  • Do use properly steeped tea. Under steeping will result in a weak brew, oversteeping a bitter brew.
  • Do sterilize all your equipment to make sure that the good bacteria and yeast are not contaminated by unwanted organisms.
  • Do keep your fermenting kombucha in a dark place until you are ready to harvest.
  • Do use chlorine free water in both your tea and when cleaning your SCOBY or setting up your SCOBY hotel.
  • Do use unflavored, non-pasturized starter for your first batch. If purchasing brewed kombucha from a store for this purpose, please check to make sure the cultures are live. I’ve used the GT brand with good success.

Smokey Rhubarb BBQ Sauce

Yeild: 6 – 7 Cups

This sauce is a bit sweet and sour, but still retains the basic elements of a traditional BBQ Sauce. It’s very versatile and creates good carmelization and glazing when added on the grill. Pork and chicken work very well with this sauce.

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil
1 Medium Onion, Chopped
6 Cloves Garlic, whole
4 Cups Rhubarb, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 Cup Ketchup
2 Tablespoons Molasses
4 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Worchestershire Sauce
1/8 Teaspoon Liquid Smoke
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1/4 Cup Butter
1 Cup Beer
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Cup Rhubarb & Strawberry Sauce or other Sweet/Tart Jelly
Salt and Pepper to Taste
1/2 Teaspoon Tabasco (optional)

Instructions

  1. Gather all ingredients.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchement paper.
  3. In a large bowl, toss onion, garlic, and rhubarb with avocado oil. Spread mixture evenly on prepared baking sheet. Cook in oven for 18-20 minutes until rhubarb is soft. Transfer to a large sauce pan.
  4. Add all other ingredients except salt, pepper and tabasco to the sauce pan. Heat over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until the rhubarb is falling apart, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Using an immersion blender, blender or food processor, puree sauce until very smooth.
  6. Return sauce to pan if not using an immersion blender. Add salt and pepper to taste, optionally, add Tabasco sauce to taste. Adjust level of sweetness by adding additional brown sugar or molasses if desired, or make more tart/acidic by adding additional apple cider vinegar. This is where you can adjust the sauce to your personal taste.
  7. Insure all ingredients are well combined.
  8. Will store refrigerated for up to a week. For longer storage, you can freeze BBQ sauce in a freezer container for up to six months, or use a canning method for storage up to a year. I chose to process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes to can the BBQ sauce for longer storage.
Ribs cooked on the Pellet smoker glazed with the Smokey Rhubarb BBQ Sauce

Notes

If you don’t have Rhubarb & Strawberry Sauce on hand, you could substitute Red Pepper, Tart Cherry, Currant, or a combination of these Jellies to get the sweet/tart flavor needed. Optionally, you could add fresh strawberries or raspberries during the phase when you cook down the roasted rhubarb with the other liquid ingredients.

This is a forgiving sauce, and you can play with it to make it your own by changing up ingredients, just checking the flavors and insuring balance. When I first started the sauce it just didn’t seem quite right until I added a very small amount of liquid smoke and that made all the difference.

Rhubarb & Strawberry Sauce

Yield: 8 – 12

I remember first eating rhubarb out of my Great-Grandma Lamb’s garden. Esther Lovina Heaton Lamb was the first person to introduce me to the marvels of rhubarb (and gardening in general). As a skinny six year old, I would raid the garden in late spring for gooseberries and tart rhubarb stalks. My face would pucker, but I loved a fresh stalk of rhubarb. Sometimes I even added salt to it. It was years before I could get my mind around cooking the stuff and adding sugar to it. My mother did not encourage eating sugar, and I didn’t know what I was missing, so we were both happy.

I use this sauce over ice-cream, with butter for rolls and bread, in grilled cheese and charcuterie sandwiches, as a base for BBQ sauce, and as the start to a family favorite: Strawberry – Rhubarb ice-cream. The quanities here are for a large batch recipe, but it can be cut down by 1/2 or 1/4 easily to make a smaller batches. It freezes well, or can be canned for longer shelf-life.

Ingredients

8 Cups Rhubarb, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
8 Cups Strawberries, washed and quartered
1 to 1 1/2 Cup Sugar, to taste
1 Lemon, juiced and seeds discarded
1/2 Cup Water

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot or dutch oven. Use only one cup of sugar initially. Additional sugar can be added later in the process if desired.
  2. Place on stove top and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer (medium to medium-low) and cook for 45 minutes, or longer, depending on how thick you want the sauce. Stir frequently to prevent sugars from sticking to bottom of pan and scorching. Near the end of cooking, taste and adjust sugar in 1/4 cup increments until desired sweetness is achieved.
  3. Serve warm or cold. Refrigerate to store for up to one week. Freeze for up to six months, or utilize a sterile canning process to preserve for up to one year.

About Rhubarb

I have two beautiful rhubarb plants just off the border of the back lawn. Rhubarb is one of the things I can grow in the open yard vs. the fenced off garden area because the deer, rabbits, squirrels and birds will leave it alone. My rhubarb plants were established from rhizome starts provided by a neighbor reducing his rapidly expanding crop. I felt fortunate and grateful to recieve a well-acclimated, edible variety. Today, it is well established and produces up to 5 pounds of rhubarb per plant per year. Eventually, I will need to divide it and share it with another rhubarb enthusiast.

Rhubarb is grown from divided rhizome roots, or seed, does best in Northern climates, and begins to emerge from dormancy in the late winter and early spring. The leaves are actually poisonous and should be avoided. Wild animals know this instinctively and will not bother Rhubarb mixed in with your ornamental beds. Do not try to feed it to domestic pets and livestock.

Rhubarb does not have to be relegated to a formal fruit and vegetable garden setting. There are ornamental, medicinal, and culinary varieties. I accidentally bought an ornamental cultivare as an early vegetable gardener, quickly recognizing my mistake when it bloomed beautifully, and rained seeds from very hollow stalks that were not at all edible. I’ve transferred this lovely specimen to a place where it provides cover for baby Quail each year, and now grow the edible varieties separately.

Ornamental Rhubarb

Edible Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a vegetable and not a fruit as some would suspect as it is often paired with sweeter fruits and berries. While the leaves are poisonous, the stalks are edible. Rhubarb has high fiber, and is a great source of calcium, vitamin K, vitamin C, iron and manganese. It does carry oxalates (as do almonds, spinach, kale and nut butters) which inhibit the uptake of calcium. Yes, it ironic that it has high levels of calcium and oxalates that bind that calcium and prevent absorption all at the same time. Cooking helps break down oxalates and combining with fruit further reduces the concentration even further allowing more of the available calcium to be absorbed.

Rhubarb is originally from Asia, where it was primarily used for medicinal purposes. It was highly valued for its healing property and was traded with other countries by Asian emperors as a commodity along with tea. It made its way to Europe, via the Silk Road, but was not really introduced into culinary arts until the 1700’s where it first emerged as a filling for pies and tarts.

Homemade Meatballs

This recipe is for a big batch of meatballs, intended to be prepped ahead and frozen for use in dishes such as traditional spaghetti and meatballs, meatball soups, meatball sandwiches, appetizer meatballs, etc.

Yield: 80 meatballs if formed into balls using approximately 2 tablespoons of meatball mixture. I typically use a cookie scoop to measure so I get uniform meatballs. Meatballs can be made larger or smaller to your preference. I like mine to be 2 tablespoon size as they reduce slightly when cooked and make the perfect 1-2 bite meatball. This recipe can also be reduced to 1/4 the amounts listed to make approximately 20 meatballs for a single meal and used immediately.

This recipe has very basic seasoning and is neutral so that flavors so the meatballs can marry with a variety of sauces and soup bases. This allows for versatile use of these meatballs in a variety of dishes.

Ingredients

20 oz. Ground Pork
32 oz. Ground Beef
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
15 oz. Ricotta Cheese
1 Cup Dry Bread Crumbs
4 Eggs, beaten
1 Cup Parmesan Cheese
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Pepper
1 Tablespoon Onion Powder
2 Tablespoons Dried Parsley

Instructions

  1. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly to combine and evenly distribute seasonings.
  3. Using a measuring spoon or scoop, measure meat mixture into the preferred size meatball.
  4. Place meatballs in uniform rows on the parchment paper until you fill baking sheets. Keep going until you run out of meat mixture. You can place the meatballs very close to each other, but do not let them touch.
  5. Cover meatballs lightly with plastic wrap and place baking sheets in freezer for 2 hours until meatballs are frozen.
  6. Remove meatballs from freezer and package using zip-top freezer bags.
  7. Return bags to the freezer until ready to use.
  8. For use in other dishes, thaw meatballs and then cook according to the recipe direction by oven baking, pan frying or dropping into soup broth. I typically put 2 dozen into a 1 gallon bag. They lay flat in the freezer and stack nicely.

Notes

  • Place 24 to 30 meatballs into a 1 gallon zip-top freezer bag and store them in the freezer flat. By freezing before putting in bags, the meatballs will not stick together when added to the freezer bags. The desired amount of meatballs can be removed individually. The remainder can be left in the resealed bag in the freezer.
  • Other herbs and seasonings can be added as desired.
  • If using a seasoned bread crumb, you may need to reduce the salt in the recipe.