Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

April 15, 2012

Day of the Dregs

Filed under: food, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 2:44 am

The day before yesterday, I took an exploratory look at three gallons of cider I’d left in the basement and forgotten about all winter long. For several weeks last fall, I’d let the stuff ferment in its plastic milk jugs, venting the caps when native microbes had puffed up the jugs with carbon dioxide gas. Then I just left ’em there. I figure that they experienced temperatures from 55 to 75 degrees F (two of the gallons were near both the furnace and an exterior wall), over the months.

I siphoned the cider off the sediment (aka lees ) by mouth, taking a drastic risk in the process. Would I be sucking hard cider, vinegar, or some sort of unspeakable spoilage? It turned out to be hard cider, some sour, flat, alcoholic cider. Thank goddess I hadn’t lost gallons of potential booze. The cider is off the lees, in new jugs under a cap or fermentation locks.

Gallon jugs and mug if cider

The cider that lived!

The cider hasn’t resumed fermenting, despite the addition of some sugar water and a few granules of yeast nutrient. I think that the yeast in it is truly dead, and it needs a new surge of freeze-dried microbial troops to get going again. A good second fermentation with the right additives might make this into a really nice batch. One of the gallons might be turned into vinegar, by inviting in aerobic bacteria. It seems like a shame to destroy perfectly potable booze, but hard cider goes by the glass, cider vinegar by the tablespoon.

In the meantime, I am left with a big blob of sediment: it’s the sort of deceased yeast that vegans use as a nutritious substitute for Parmesan cheese, and New Zealanders press into Marmite. I remembered that Sandor Katz used it in “Wine Dregs Soup:” when I looked it up in Wild Fermentation , the idea of the soup is to substitute out 1/4 of your veggie, chicken or beef stock with wine dregs (“dregs” = the lees and left-behind wine/cider after siphoning). Katz suggests French onion soup.

I nabbed a recipe for Onion Soup from Mark Bitman’s “How to Cook Everything,” and promptly bastardized it into something I could manage on a day’s notice (no “real croutons” or homemade beef stock.) I took 6 sweet onions and sliced them up as thin as I could, then melted 1/4 cup of butter in a cauldron and tossed the onions in. I cooked them about 40 minutes over medium heat, turning them occasionally so as to have less browning and more turning-into-jelly.

Cooked Onions

Cooked 'em Onions!

Next, I dumped in a quart of Kroger beef broth, a pinch of dried thyme, three chopped sprigs of fresh parsley, and a bay leaf. Finally, the scary ingredient: the leftover stuff from the cider production, the sediment at the bottom of an old milk jug. I swirled the dregs into a homogenous cloudy substance, then measured out a cup and a quarter into the soup. I brought it to a simmer for fifteen minutes, during which time it gave off a most awesome smell of apples, onions, and alcohol.


Do you really expect me to eat that?

After the simmer, I tossed store-bought croutons, shredded mozzarella and parmesan from a can onto the soup, and stuck the cauldron in the oven at 400 degrees F. After awhile, the top resembled a well-baked pizza (this isn’t the authentic way, but Tamara said that if she was eating the crud from the bottom of that jug, she was going to get a proper American proportion of cheese!)

Although she had to block out the memory of the jug, Tamara liked the soup, and I did, too. It’s very rich. In the future, we’ll use a better quality beef stock, and a little more liquid. I’m satisfied with the experiment: I learned that there is really nothing wrong with the dregs!



  1. You are a brave soul … and Tamara deserves a medal. I think it’s Kitchen Basics that makes a beef broth I find okay; it comes in a box. One note: I believe the onions are supposed to get very brown–for a proper french onion soup, you want caramelization, On the other hand, if you were happy with the results, what does it matter.

    Comment by Kris — April 15, 2012 @ 6:48 am

    • We agree to brown the onions better next time, although that’s not what How To Cook Everything said. Today I tried some dregs in my ramen/egg drop breakfast soup, and that was quite earthy and umami. Delicious, but I shudder to think of the free glutamate level.

      Comment by paragardener — April 15, 2012 @ 4:45 pm

      • I looked at the Bitman recipe and he said not to brown the onions too fast, as you want a melting mass of onions. So I guess they should brown, but slowly. Other recipes I’ve seen have emphasized the caramelization, and I agree after many times cooking French onion soup. On another note … can’t believe you’re still eating ramen! Hah.

        Comment by Kris — April 16, 2012 @ 3:59 pm

    • I agree Kris; I am VERY brave! I did like it, mostly … but I couldn’t get that sludge look outta my mind. In the future, we should use (only) beef broth and carmelized onions.
      Ethan says that the dregs have a more noticeable taste in his Ramen/egg drop soup, so he can use his dregs in that from now on …

      Comment by Tamara Noel — April 15, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

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