Homemade vegan sausages

I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who didn’t like sausage. It’s a miracle that someone figured out a way to make the nasty bits of pig taste good.

Lots of people don’t want to eat those nasty bits, though. Morningstar’s vegetarian sausages are very good. Like the real thing, I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who didn’t like them. But they’re also very expensive.

Many vegans make their own homemade sausages. If you Google for recipes, you’ll find many of them on the web. The ingredients vary a great deal and usually include a legume in some form mixed with wheat gluten (also called vital wheat gluten — same thing). I haven’t seen a recipe which, like mine, uses cooked soybeans.

Here’s how to do it. As usual, this is an outline, not a measured recipe. Improvise according to your own taste…

Cook some soybeans in a slow cooker until they’re soft and turn a medium brown. This probably will take 18 hours or more. Drain the beans and put them into a food processor. Don’t process them into a puree. Leave some texture. Mix your sausage spices into the beans. I prefer a breakfast sausage — sage, red and black pepper, dried garlic, dried onions, and other spices in smaller quantities. Add some salt and some olive oil. Stir all that really well. Then add the wheat gluten (it’s like a flour). Stir that well, then add water until the mixture is moist, like bread dough, and holds together pretty well. Mix it all very well. Today I used about 3 parts soybeans to about 2 parts gluten. Half of each would work fine.

Make logs of the mixture and put it on a square of aluminum foil. Wrap it up in a log shape and twist the ends of the foil. Then steam the logs for 30 or 40 minutes.

When the logs are cool, you can slice them into sausage patties and brown them gently in olive oil.

Chocolate applesauce cake

For more than 50 years, this has been my favorite cake. My mother first started making it when I was in grade school. I’ve had it as a birthday cake more times than I’d care to count. But since today is Thanksgiving and tomorrow is my birthday, that seemed like occasion enough to make a particularly sinful version of the cake.

I’ve found that this cake loves to have nutmeg, or cherries, or both, in the icing. So to the plain white icing (butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and soy milk) I added nutmeg. I also threw in some chocolate-covered cherry cordials and let the mixer chop the cherries and chocolate into the icing.

The remarkable thing about the cake itself is that it contains no eggs. The only liquid ingredient is applesauce. This makes a dense, hearty cake that stays moist for a long time and keeps well. My recipe is written in pencil on a very old piece of notebook paper. Here is the bare bones recipe. Experienced cooks will know what to do with it.

Cream together 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of butter (I use olive oil instead of butter). Add half a cup of cocoa and mix well. Then add 1 and 1/2 cups of applesauce and mix again. In a separate bowl, sift together two cups plain flour, 2 teaspoons of baking soda, some cinnamon, and some nutmeg. Fold the flour mixture into the other ingredients.

Put the batter into two 9-inch cake pans that have been buttered and dusted with flour. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes, until a toothpick stuck into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Many years ago, in Sausalito across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, I won a Valentine’s Day chocolate contest with this cake. For the icing on that cake, I chopped lots of maraschino cherries into the icing and made the icing pink.

It’s also a vegan cake if you substitute olive oil for the butter. I’ve never tried it, but you probably could substitute coconut oil for the butter in the icing.


I’ve mentioned before on this blog how much I’ve enjoyed the Two Fat Ladies cooking show, which I’ve been watching on DVD. Mostly their cooking is far too meaty and too heart-stoppingly rich for me to want to cook or eat. But I watch them for inspiration, and for insight into the roots of American cookery, much of which comes from the British Isles. The show also is a good travelogue, and good comedy. Their joy in cooking, and the cultural experience they bring to it, make the series a must-see, in my opinion.

They were in Yorkshire on one show, and they made kedgeree using smoked haddock bought in a village fish shop. The kedgeree actually looked quite good to me. I’ll not find smoked haddock around here, but those of us who live inland and who often use canned fish are always looking for new ways to use canned fish other than salmon cakes or tuna salad. In particular, now that we know that sardines are very good for us, it occurred to me that sardines would work nicely in kedgeree. There are a jillion ways to make kedgeree, but the defining ingredients are rice, smoked fish, onions, something green (such as fresh herbs) and boiled eggs. I left out the boiled eggs, having had an egg for breakfast. Chopped celery was the handiest green vegetable I had. I used lots of garlic.

The kedgeree was excellent. Those strong flavors love each other.

Sardines, onions, garlic, celery, and leftover rice

Black Twig apples

Black Twig apples straight from the orchard

I was watching an episode of the Two Fat Ladies cooking show last week (I’ve been working my way through the entire series on DVD), and they were making a dish with apples. One of the ladies said, “But don’t use Golden Delicious. They have no flavor.” Then they had a little discussion about how Americans don’t know much about apples.

I couldn’t agree more. I make the same complaint all the time, especially when I pass the apples in the grocery store. I’ve probably said it a thousand times. Apples must be ugly. “Pretty” apples are bred for grocery stores.

Some people also would be afraid to buy an apple with a name they haven’t heard of. They want the mass-market varieties — Golden Delicious, Winesap, Granny Smith, etc. They’ve forgotten the names of the old home-orchard varieties.

I bought my apple trees from Century Farm Orchards in Caswell County, North Carolina. I had to make a trip there today to pick up two apple trees I had ordered — two two-year-old Arkansas Black trees to replace two young trees that died during the summer. Century Farm specializes in old Southern varieties of apple trees. I have 10 apple trees in my little orchard, and they’re a mix of old Southern varieties: Arkansas Black, Limbertwig, Kinnaird’s Choice, Mary Reid, Smokehouse, Summer Banana, William’s Favorite and Yellow June. I also have a Pumblee pear tree from Century Farms. The trees were planted in 2008. I’m not expecting the trees to be mature enough to bear apples for probably two more years.

Winterscape returns

A rather violent storm blew through during the night. It was the strongest wind I’ve yet seen at the abbey. The rain was blowing sideways for a while, hitting the windows by the bucketful and running off in sheets. There was an impressive light show made by the lightning through the upstairs gothic window. Lily, the cat, ran and hid in her secret hiding place inside the overstuffed chair.

The wind blew almost all the remaining leaves off the trees. This morning, the woods, for the first time this year, are winter woods.

The grass looks fantastic. I’m smug about the fact that my grass is still very green, while almost everyone else’s has turned brown. I’m not sure why this is. No doubt it has something to do with the turf repair Ken and I did in late August. We reworked the bare spots and flung quite a lot of seed, lime, and fertilizer. But I also think that my grass has nice, deep roots and thicker growth. Maybe it’s payoff for the trouble I took to preserve my topsoil after the pine trees were removed early in 2008. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’ve sowed many different types of grass seed during the past two and half years, hoping that the variety best suited to any particular spot would take over there. I’ve always sowed nitrogen-fixing clover along with the grass. And maybe it’s because I don’t mow it too close the way most people do. I was conflicted about having a yard to mow and was highly tempted to let it all run wild. But if you’re going to have turf, it ought to be good turf. I believe I have mastered grass farming. Now on to other things.

Typewriters rule!

Before computers came along, no possession was more important to me than my typewriter. I have been fascinated with typewriters — or anything with keyboards, really — for my entire life. I got my first typewriter when I was about 10 years old. My father even had an old touch-typing textbook, so I taught myself to type correctly right from the start.

In the 1980s, after I had computers and printers, I got rid of my typewriter. But I always longed for an IBM Selectric, particulary a Selectric III. The Selectric III was the very pinnacle of typewriter technology. I finally acquired one in 1997. The San Francisco Examiner had a whole pile of them abandoned in the basement, so I rescued a Selectric III. It worked pretty well for a while, but eventually, unless they’re kept oiled and maintained, Selectrics get sticky and stop working. Mine needed to be soaked in a bath of cleaning solvent, then put back together, lubricated, and adjusted. It was a splurge, but I finally got this work done. My Selectric III is now working like new.

The work was done by Bert at Executive Business Machines in Winston-Salem. Bert has been repairing typewriters for 65 years. He got started with IBM Selectrics in the 1960s, when he took an IBM class on Selectric repair. I also found out from Bert that he used to repair typewriters for the Winston-Salem Journal. That’s the newspaper where I got my first job and where I worked until I moved to San Francisco in 1991. So, without knowing it, I’ve been using typewriters maintained by Bert since 1966, when I first went to the Winston-Salem Journal as a weekend copy boy.

I’ve been thinking that there ought to be typewriter clubs these days — for people who still have and use typewriters and who send each other typewritten notes in the mail just for the heck of it.

Bert with my newly reconditioned Selectric III

The abbey organ

The organ at Acorn Abbey is getting up in years. It’s a Baldwin HT2, built around 1966. It has its aches and pains. The speakers sometimes pop because of dirty potentiometers that seem to need another cleaning with Deoxit, and that low pedal B-flat is clicking noticeably and needs new felt. I finally made a video, mainly to preserve the sound of these old Baldwins. There aren’t many of them left.

I’m an amateur organist, and I play only for my own fun and to annoy my friends. I had good teachers, though, and such limited technique as I have is correct organ technique.

If you listen to this with nothing but computer speakers, you won’t hear all the sound. Organs produce high and low frequencies that small speakers can’t reproduce, so unless you use good speakers or good headphones, I’m doing that pedal work for nothing.

Solar gain

The front door and hallway around 8:30 a.m.

Building a house will make you crazy. But one of the advantages of new construction is the greater energy efficiency of current building codes. Stokes County’s insulation requirements, for whatever reasons, are stricter than surrounding counties. For example, the amount of ceiling insulation required will not fit between the joists, so 2×4’s must be nailed on top of each ceiling joist to create a deeper channel for insulation. Building codes and inspections are a source of anxiety during construction, but after a house is finished and you get that coveted certificate of occupancy, building codes are a source of security.

I confess that the plan for the house at Acorn Abbey was selected more for its style and features than any practical considerations such as heatability. Still, at only 1,250 square feet, I’m not heating a barn. The house’s south-facing orientation, by pure luck, turned out to be perfect to get maximum solar gain in the winter and minimum solar gain in the summer. In the winter, when the sun is low in the south, the sunlight pours into the south-facing, east-facing, and west-facing windows. In the summer, when the sun is overhead, very little direct sunlight comes in those windows (except the west-facing windows, where I installed shades), and the sun heats mostly the attic.

Last winter, I did not have any draperies downstairs. Even though my windows exceed the building code requirements for efficiency, still any window is going to lose more heat than a wall. In particular, I could feel cold air around the north-facing double doors leading to the rear deck. I made a point of investing in heavy draperies before another winter. The four big windows in the living room now have heavy velvet drapes. Two of those windows face north. I bought thermal curtains to cover the double door to the deck. Curtains for the upstairs gothic windows are going to have to wait another year. The ceiling is high in that room, and the windows almost reach the ceiling, so heavy 12-foot-long draperies (9 feet wide) will be required — expensive and beyond my budget for now.

I don’t have any way to quantify the increased efficiency of the drapes, but my subjective impression is that they help quite a lot. For the past four or five days, we’ve had daytime highs in the upper 60s and nighttime lows of around 39. During weather like this, the heating system never runs, day or night. Daytime solar gain brings the upstairs temperature to about 73, downstairs to about 72. At night, with the draperies all closed, the upstairs temperature drops to about 66, and the downstairs temperature drops to about 65. Cooking breakfast raises the downstairs temperature to 66 or 67. The house then warms gradually during the day as the sun pours in. A ceiling fan in the upstairs bedroom, the room which receives the biggest dose of sunlight through the gothic windows, helps to push some of the warm air downstairs.

If I ever built another house (and I won’t), I think that, as part of the planning, I’d study the solar potential of each window and its orientation. There are online tools (which know the elevation of the sun above the horizon at any time of year) that will help you do this. Acorn Abbey is not a solar home, but every little bit helps. I like to ask people what their heating costs are, and so far no one I’ve asked has had lower heating costs than I have. Every time the heat pump comes on, I cringe a bit not only because energy is being used, but also because I’m adding to the wear and tear on my heat pump, which I want to last for a long, long time.

The eastern side of the living room

The downstairs bedroom, through the bay window

The lower stairs

The upper stairs. The spot of sunlight on the right is coming through the front dormer, which faces south and is not visible in this photo.

The upstairs bedroom. All the photos were taken about 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 11.

Time to make sauerkraut

You need cabbage, crocks, a scale, a shredder, and the right kind of salt

Making sauerkraut is not my favorite chore. Shredding the cabbage is tedious, and bits of cabbage go everywhere. I did the job out on the deck to keep the mess out of the kitchen. I use Harsch crocks, which are made in Germany especially for making sauerkraut. The Prago cabbage shredder requires a lot of manual work, but it does the job and gets the cabbage exactly the right thickness for sauerkraut.

I made 15 pounds of sauerkraut today, from cabbage bought in Virginia. I used a little more salt than last time — 3 tablespoons per 10 pounds of cabbage. Next spring I hope to make sauerkraut from my own homegrown organic cabbage.

The first tasting should be in early December.

Shredded and in the crock

I keep the crocks under a table near the kitchen

The garden in November

Winter rye grass

Back in October, I used the tiller to work 650 pounds of organic fertilizers into the garden area, then I sowed winter rye as a cover crop. The rye grass is doing well. Not only will it make a nice winter cover crop, it also should serve as a great source of winter greens for the chickens. Each morning when I let them out of the chicken house, they immediately start eating grass and clover. They have a craving for greens. I’m pretty sure that it’s the chlorophyll that gives their egg yolks such a deep orange color.


The beets and turnips have survived the light frosts and freezes we’ve had so far. I want to let them grow as long as possible, but I’ll have to pull them all the day before the first really hard freeze is forecast.

A frostbitten young fig tree

Patience, looking shabby

One of the hens, Patience, has been moulting. She lost her tail feathers. She looks pretty shabby at present, but I can see the new feathers coming in. She’ll need those feathers soon enough.