Mar 27, 2013

Yeast Is Yeast, and Homemade Is Best!

Our ongoing study of the monochromatic kingdom of non-flowering plants allows us to chalk up baking as science. I'm talking yeast here, peeps. (I love homeschooling!)

To get us primed we read through the lower book, Molds and Fungi, in one sitting (a very UN-Charlotte Mason thing to do. whoops.) Lots of facts in an easy-to-read format. I learned plenty myself.
The other book, Molds, Mushrooms, and Other Fungi, is more Dorling-Kindersley style with lots of pics and stuff. Darling daughter Mei freaked at both of them at times. Therefore, boys will love them.

Our science curriculum, Considering God's Creation, is neatly lining up with the monthly Outdoor Hour Challenges at Handbook of Nature Study where they're currently focusing on Lichens, Mushrooms, and Moss. (You can see our other entries on lichens here and fungus here.)Yeast, being a type of fungus like mushrooms, I figure it fits right in.

Fungi, we learned, grow by sending out hyphae, which are like little tentacles looking for food, usually in the form of something dead. Get enough hyphae, and you've got yourself a registered, incorporated mycelium. When these hyphae want to start a new colony, they shoot some spores into the atmosphere (e.g. your breathing space) and hope to colonize in the great beyond. But the work is done in the dark, mostly underground. It's happening everywhere and we should be glad of it cuz' if it weren't, well, in a nutshell, we wouldn't be here to tell about it.

Want to see a mycelium at work? You won't have to go far. Got a rotting woodpile? Matted dead leaves you forgot to rake? How about well-seasoned shredded mulch? That's where we found this:

The white stuff is not some sort of messed-up spider web. It's the mycelium full of hyphae. And it's eating away at that mulch. Which is why we have to keep replacing it every year.

Another place we were able to observe fungi was on the bread that we purposely let go for the sake of science. After over a week in a Baggie with a piece of old brie, we got this:
Calling Alexander Fleming

 Not like you've never seen that before (deliberately). But it makes for cool microscope study. We're also comparing the french bread with a piece of cinnamon bread (not shown) to see if cinnamon indeed retards spoilage. It seems it does!

Notebook page from Considering God's Creation

So back to that yeast. It does not do the hyphae thing. But is IS a fungus. I'm so glad we know how to use it. It makes some of my favorite things possible. Like bread. I recently got my second bread machine and have gotten back into this fun, healthy, delicious hobby. And the timing was PERFECT because we were going into this yeast study.

Yeast makes the bread rise simply by---well---burping. You feed it, it eats, it digests, and it burps. And the burps make the bubbles that make the bread rise. Doesn't sound so appetizing when I put it that way, but...

Now to coalesce science with baking even more, we had to grow some starter. A starter is a happy little town of live yeast that live in a jar, and that you feed and take care of.  (You can name yours. Ours is Fi-dough.) If you do a good job, the yeast will reward you by rising your next batch of dough. But this will be a different flavor because THIS yeast is SOURDOUGH! And it happens when those spores that a yeast fungus releases are caught and given a nice home of flour and water.

Baker's yeast.
Want to try it? There are many, MANY places on the web that will teach you how to grow a starter. We ordered a fresh one for our purposes to ensure success. You can get some here. Did you know that they will taste different depending on where they are from? Because each region has a different yeast floating around in it! That's why a San Francisco Sourdough Bread can only call itself  S.F if the starter was actually grown IN San Fran!

Here, Mei is doing another experiment with some yeast to show how much it "burps." 
Mix a 1/2 cup lukewarm water with 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of dry yeast (doesn't matter what kind.) Set it aside for 15-30 minutes.
If you do it in the ziploc bag, like we did, keep a close eye on it or you will get to experiment with cleaning starter off the walls.
Left: Mixing up the ingredients to grow yeast. Right, the proof! Ka-BOOM!
Before: cold from the frig
Here's another example of just how fast yeast can grow. We took some of our sourdough starter out of the frig and warmed it for just 30 seconds in the microwave. It increased in volume by at least 2 tablespoons just from being warmed up!

After 30 seconds in MW: frothy yeast.
 But here's the best experiment of all: a piping hot loaf of homemade sourdough bread. If only we had some taste-testers! Any volunteers?

Got yeast? Got comments? Tell Mother All About It!

There's a Fungus Amongus!

In the natural kingdoms of the world, the non-flowering types are the Rodney Dangerfields. They don't get much respect. We're talking molds, fungi, mushrooms, that sort of stuff. But they don't deserve the "dis" they get. They decompose stuff, make nutrients available, draw or retain moisture, and on and on.Without them, as Dupont would say, life itself would be impossible. In the last couple of weeks, our attitudes toward these un-green things have been altered. We might still go "Eww," but at least it's an educated "Ewww."

With encouragement from the Outdoor Hour Challenge, this month we have spent a number of our daily walks looking for members of this kingdom. 

We realized our woods are rife with the evidence of decay. As I said in my last OHC post, We Like Lichens, these woods have suffered a lot of attacks by nature the last few years, being in a straight line with prevailing westerly winds. The historic D.C. derecho storm of 2011 brought down many trees along with Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. So, sadly, finding trunks and branches covered in bracket fungi wasn't all that surprising anymore. 

Anna Botsford Comstock in The Handbook of Nature Study puts it:
"...those of us who have come to feel the grandeur of tree life can but look with sorrow on these fungus outgrowths, for they mean that the doom of the tree is sealed."

On our hunts, the bracket fungus was the most abundant as it was not dependent on warmer conditions like mushrooms would have been. It's really just there year-round, so we were able to spot many examples during this unrelenting winter. It was interesting to learn that, unlike your basic toadstool-type mushroom with its "gills" under the cap for spore production, that the brackets release their spores through tubes found on the underside.

Various bracket fungi. Oh, and BLUE SKY for a change!

Below you can see a bracket that I harvested. Starting at the top left you can see the firm top side of the bracket, next the soft spore-producing underside, then (bottom left) a close-up of the tubes from which the spores are released. The last picture shows what you can DO with these fun-guys!
Outdoor Hour Challenge Fungi and Mushrooms
The undersides of these are now hard and brown from the cold and dry winter. It was surprising to find a fungus for drawing on in January 2007.

We have an annual tradition at our vacation cottage of finding a bracket fungus specimen and creating a scrapbook of sorts by etching little glyphs and captions into them as keepsakes of the season. Some years the woods are bursting with them, other years we can go all summer before finding even one. We have a basketful. I used to display them on a windowsill until I noticed black "dust" spilling out of their undersides. I wrongly concluded it was the result of little drilling bugs. Now, thanks to our study, I know it was the spores being released. I find spores less disturbing than little bugs. That's just me. 

If you want to make one, our advice is to look after heavy rains. They are fresh and moist then. Carefully, without touching the soft white side, break one off from the trunk.( The big ones can be very stubborn. ) Carry a basket or sack to help you tote it out unharmed, or you will be hiking with a fungus in your hand until you get home. 

Don't wait, but get right to work while the fungus is still fresh. Using any sharp instrument--pen cap, golf tee---draw and write on the soft white side. Plan your design because you can't erase! :-) Again avoid holding that side because your fingertips will also be preserved! 

When finished, stand it somewhere and it will dry and harden within a short time--a day or two usually. Then it is almost indestructible. The buyers of another old cottage nearby found a treasure trove of "artist's fungi" from the previous owners that were headed to the dump. They rescued them and found some to be dated from fifty years ago!

So who needs Creative Memories?  Have FUN-gus!

Got Fungus? Got Questions? Tell Mother All About It!
 photo DesignH2.jpg



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...