One-Block Feast: Spring Garden Plan
(Page 3 of 14)
We’d fend them off with menacing foot thrusts while Honey chowed down. Within several days, she was back to her usual sleek self, and Team Chicken was able to relax.
At last, Team Beer attempted its most ambitious brew, using our own hops and our own agonizingly threshed and winnowed wheat and barley. Now we had to malt the grains—that is, make them sprout, which naturally converts their starches to sugars. Malted grain, once ground up and soaked in warm water, produces wort, the sweet liquid that yeast feed on and convert to beer.
Team Beer’s leader, Rick LaFrentz, is also Sunset’s head gardener and has a knack for making seeds sprout. He soaked our wheat and barley for hours and then enclosed the seeds in plastic bags to keep them moist. Within days, fine little root hairs and shoots appeared. A bit of drying and rubbing off of roots and shoots, and the malted grain was ready.
For help on brewing day, we enlisted a friend with lots of experience in home brewing from grain: Chuck Schwalbach, husband of Diane, who works in manufacturing at Sunset. Chuck brought in some very useful tools, including a plate chiller, which cools the hot wort almost instantly. As the ripe smell of wort filled the kitchen, we hoped that the grains had fully converted their starches to sugars. Without sugars, our beer would bomb. So it was a big relief when, at the end of the day, Chuck measured the new brew’s density and found that it had plenty of sugar: enough, he predicted, to give our beer 7 percent alcohol. We toasted our success with mugs of the grainy, sweet wort, tinged with bitterness from the hops.
Beer wasn’t the only thing we planned to brew for the spring feast. Months earlier, Chris Ryan, our executive editor and a dedicated tea drinker, had observed that our project lacked caffeine. We had assumed that growing coffee and tea would be impossible, that the plants needed to be shrouded in tropical mists. But no! Tea could survive our climate, apparently, if coddled. Back in the fall, Chris had tracked down some plants at a South Carolina nursery that were mature enough to yield leaves in spring, and sent away for three of them.
They survived the winter, and as soon as the weather warmed up, they began to unfurl small, shiny green leaves. It only took about a week and a half to wither, roll, ferment, and dry our minuscule harvest. To celebrate, it seemed fitting to have a tea party. We summoned up our inner Britons and made dainty tea sandwiches—and, not having the ingredients for scones, little tarts filled with clotted cream and preserves.
Team Cow was celebrating, too. We’d finally found a new cow. It had taken months of calling all over the area and beyond—to 4-H clubs, farms and ranches, even backyard cow owners. Our cow lived about one hundred miles to the south, at Claravale Farm, a raw-milk dairy near Pinnacles National Monument. It was a beautiful place set in a remote, grassy valley framed by mountains, with chickens clucking in the bushes, a pistachio orchard, several century-old buildings from the town that once stood there, and a milking herd of fifty-five Jersey cows.
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