The Real Know How

How-Tos, Videos, Tutorials — Ramping Up for the 21st Century

Archive for the category “cooking”

Snails: From Farm to Kitchen and from Garden to Kitchen

I got interested in this topic after reading about the taste for snails that Italian immigrants to New York City in the 1800s brought with them in 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families. I had known that escargots featured in classic French cuisine but I hadn’t gotten much further than that. I was curious, though.

Curious again, I looked into religious dietary restrictions. Snails, as a mollusk aren’t Kosher — so as well as being out for Jews, they wouldn’t be allowed for Christian groups that follow Jewish eating laws either. Snails are haram for Shia Muslims and for strict Hanafis but are permissible for most Muslims. It actually seems to have been a controversial subject amongst Muslims.

A little Googling showed quite a few snail farmers in the UK, like H & RH Escargots in Canterbury, Kent. Their welcome page says “We are a mother and daughter business farming edible snails: Helix aspersa maxima, since 2006, supplying you with delicious snails through local restaurants, gastropubs, farm shops and farmers’ markets.”

I found an interesting video from a segment of Brit chef, Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word in which he tours a UK snail farm, samples snails in garlic butter from the farmhouse kitchen and then after finding out that the farmed snails are literally garden variety has his kids hunt down about a dozen in his backyard and walks us through a new way to prepare them.

**In the video, he mentions the steps that you need to take if you intend to eat snails from your garden, as you need to ensure that any toxins they may have eaten clear their systems.

Note: Since this is Gordon Ramsay and the clip is taken from British TV where swears are allowed, he swears once during the clip.

I noticed that the UK snail farmer had mentioned that his farm operation was very labor and water intensive. This didn’t sound very sustainable to me.

Then I found this video about “free range” snail farming in Australia. Looks like they’ve planted a crop for the snails.

Here is a detailed look at Stephane and Nathalie’s snail farm in France. It seems like they are the only workers on their farm and so they clock really high hours between caring for the snails and processing them.

Keeping up with Snails from iei media on Vimeo.

Hakusai tsukemono (Japanese Pickled Cabbage)

Probably most people have heard of kimchee by now, but I’m guessing that fewer of us, unless we have Japanese roots or have lived in Japan know about hakusai tsukemono, Japanese-style pickled cabbage.

Apparently, it’s eaten flavored with perilla leaf (shiso), hot pepper, ginger and/or garlic with soy sauce as an after-fermentation-add-in, as a snack or light meal. Here are two versions:


kenjisan makes his hakusai tsukemono which he says his family calls “koko” with chopped cabbage and perilla leaves as the base. After fermentation, to finish it offer, he adds ginger, garlic and soy sauce. Then it’s ready to be eaten with rice as a snack.


superscheu shows us how to make pickled cabbage over three days. This version sees large Napa cabbages sectioned in quarters, salted and weighted and salted and drained repeatedly. The cabbage is flavored at the end stages with red chilies.

I don’t know enough about Japanese cuisine to weigh in on which method is more “authentic.” Maybe we can have duelling chefs. Anyway, my guess is that there are all kinds of variations on this pickle, though the differences in the two remind me of whole cabbage kimchee vs. the cut-up cabbage kimchee.

The Canning Queen of the Desert

A short profile of Classy Parker, who is an NYC urban vegetable gardener and canning teacher.
she talks about the important of farming in the city, fresh food and preserves made from what is grown in the community.

The Canning Queen of the Desert from Etsy on Vimeo.

Sweet Potato Syrup – Homemade Sweetness

Grandpa's Cheese Barn's Sweet Potato Syrup

Grandpa's Cheese Barn's Sweet Potato Syrup


From George Washington Carver’s How the Farmer Can Save His Sweet Potatoes and Ways of Preparing them for the Table (He connected his process with starch making):


This is very easily made, all that is necessary is to grate the potato, the finer the better, put into a cheese cloth or thin muslin bag and dip up and down, in a vessel of water, squeezing occasionally, continue washing as long as the washings are very milky.

Allow it to settle five or six hours or until the water becomes clear, pour off; rewash the starch, which will be in the bottom of the vessel, stir up well, allow to settle again, pour off the water and let dry, keep the same as any ordinary starch.


Use exactly the same as cornstarch in cooking; I am confident you will find it superior to cornstarch; it makes a very fine quality of library paste, and has very powerful adhesive qualities.

In certain arts and trades it is almost indispensable.

By saving the water which the pulp was washed in first, in the starch making process and boiling down, the same as for any syrup, a very palatable, non-crystalline sugar will be the result; this sugar or syrup can be used in many ways.”


From Anoplura at S/he also uses shredded sweet potatoes but instead of rinsing and squeezing them in cheesecloth as Carver suggests she puts the shreds with water into a pot.

“Raw sweet potatoes have a lot of sugar, and even more starch. Cooking them activates enzymes which convert some the starch into even more sugar. You can maximize this enzyme action – and thus the amount of tasty syrup you get – by holding the temperature in the correct range (in the case of sweet potatoes it’s between 140 and 150F) for an hour. In brewing or distilling, this is called “mashing”.

If you simply want sweeter potatoes and more juice, I would cook longer at a lower temp in a covered dish. This gives the enzymes more time at the sweet spot to convert the starch to sugar, and makes the resulting juice less likely to burn.

If you want to go all out and make a pot of sweet potato syrup (which sounds delicious), you’ll need a meat or candy thermometer, some cheesecloth or fine strainer, and a pot or double boiler.

Start by shredding the raw sweet potatoes in a grater or food processor. Then toss them into a pot with just enough water to cover. Less water means better starch-to-sugar conversion. You want just enough so that it doesn’t burn. A double boiler is helpful here, if you have one.

Slowly bring the temperature up to 150F, while stirring, then cover and turn the heat off. Check on it every 10 minutes or so for an hour. Apply heat and stir whenever the temp drops below 143F.

The liquid should be noticeably sweet, and the potato shreds should be soft. Dilute the mixture with 3-4 times its volume in water. (i.e., if you have 1 pint of shredded potatoes and water, add 3-4 more pints of water.) Move to a larger pot if necessary.

Apply heat, and raise the temperature to 170F, stirring as you go. This will stop the enzyme action, and start to free the sugars trapped in the shredded potatoes. Once you hit 170F, turn off the heat. Strain the shreds out of the liquid by pouring it through a strainer or cheesecloth.

You will now have a tasty, but dilute sweet potato syrup. You want to reduce this by half, or even 2/3rds to make a thick syrup. A double-boiler or slow-cooker is strongly recommended here. (you don’t want to waste an hour-plus of work by burning it!) Go slow, and check the viscosity regularly with a metal spoon. Take a small sample and let it cool to see how thick it is at room temp.

Note that the above instructions will also work with pumpkins and most other types of squash, except that most of them don’t have enough naturally-occurring enzymes to convert their own starches to sugar. To accommodate this, you need to crush up a tablet of Beano and mix it into the shreds in the “mash” step.

How to Build A Hay Box

A hay box (or hay cooker, insulated box, straw box or fireless cooker) is a method of cooking that saves energy.

From Wikipedia: “Food items to be cooked are heated to boiling point, and then insulated. Over a period of time, the food items cook by the heat captured in the insulated container. Generally, it takes three times the normal cooking time to cook food in a hay box.”

Hay and straw, even blanketing can be used as insulation — but we now have so many insulation options. A quick trip to a big hardware store reveals that, that we can build super-insulated hay cookers.

This is old technology that is now being revived. You can get fancy with the box building it out of wood or as in the following video keep it simple by using a cardboard box. According to Wikipedia, in the past, “Some types were provided with soapstone or iron plates which were heated during the preliminary cooking on the stove and then placed in the fireless cooker either over or under the cooking pot. In these types, a non-inflammable insulating material was used.”

Advantage: Can save on huge amounts of energy. Risk/Disadvantage: Again via Wiki “…there is a risk of bacterial growth if the food items are allowed to remain in the danger zone for one or more hours. For this reason, food cooked in hay boxes is normally reheated to boiling before eating. Using a food thermometer eliminates the guesswork.”

In this video Aaron Mackley shows us how to build a hay box using a cardboard box, styrofoam panels and aluminum foil. I would probably go with an insulator other than styrofoam, especially around something hot because it is just nasty, toxic stuff, but…

Build an Insulated Hay Box from Aaron Mackley on Vimeo.

Beet, Carrot, Ginger Kraut

In this video, Diana Lehua shows us how to make a beet, carrot, ginger kraut. The kraut is a lacto-fermented food — so it’s made with salt and left to sit for a day or more to develop. Diana uses a plastic pickle press that forces the the grated vegetables down into the fermentation liquid and out of the air (where the fermentation bacteria won’t be active).

She doesn’t say if this recipe has a history, but it is a lot like Eastern and Central European fermented pickles. Lacto-fermented pickles have active cultures, don’t require canning and can be kept for stretches at cool temperatures. In both Europe and Korea where people make these kinds of pickles they are stored for months in ceramic crocks that let air circulate through the pickles and keep them cool. In Korea, they also bury their kimchee crocks to keep its temperature constant.

I haven’t made this recipe yet, but would probably add crushed garlic to it for more zing. I’d also rather make my fermented foods in glass over plastic and you can make recipes like this in glass by choosing the right size jar, packing it tightly and topping it up with brine if necessary.

How to Make Hand-Pulled Noodles

Luke Rymarz explains a noodle making technique traditional to Asia. His wheat noodle ingredients lists and dough recipes are here. He writes that it took him more than 30 attempts to perfect his recipe and technique.

Intro to the box style solar oven/cooker

This is a video produced by the manufacturer (or a distributor) of a brand of solar ovens/cookers (both terms seem to get used). As this is a commercial item it’s been realized to a really high standard but as the overall technology is simple and solar ovens in general aren’t hard to make, I like to think of the SunOven displayed here as inspiration.

If you don’t want to DIY, you can of course buy a SunOven. They retail for upwards of $200. Neat features it has: it’s parts fold up to make it portable, a cooking shelf that adjusts to how you’ve angled the oven and an adjustable foot to let you change the angle (to face the sun as it moves in the sky) more easily.

The presenter here does a really good job of explaining the features of a solar oven and how it works.

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