I’m not a big fan of sauerkraut. That fact, I’m embarrassed to say, kept me from exploring fermentation in my own kitchen. My change happened when I got a copy of Sandor Katz’s 2003 book, Wild Fermentation, from the library. Reading it, a whole new world opened up for me. I learned about bacteria (the good kind) and yeast and the “cultures” they create and maintain. I discovered that all human cultures have a rich history of fermenting. I began to understand about the health benefits (strengthened immune and digestive systems) of consuming what is essentially predigested food - such as yogurt, kim chee and and even coffee, chocolate and cheese - that has been predigested by microbial bacteria, yeast and mold which makes the nutrients more accessible to our human systems. In the end, I came to see fermentation as an antidote to cultural homogenization. I was inspired to enter the adventure.
 
I decided to start by brewing fermented beverages. It turns out that beverage cultures multiply and fermenters are a generous group. Amy Steffan gifted me an extra kombucha SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), fondly called a “mother,” and I had picked up dehydrated water kefir grains that Jared Blumer had donated to The Home Grown Institute Silent Auction (different culture from dairy kefir, water kefir ferment results in a carbonated soda-like beverage). In my 3-quart glass jars, I took the plunge. Mixing water and sugar (ugh! sugar? yes, the cultures feed on sugar. I have since learned that I can also use other sweetners - certain fruit juices, agave or maple syrup) is the first step for both kombucha and water kefir. The recipes branch out from there - kombucha is flavored with black tea, and water kefir is traditionally flavored with more fruity blends. Then you wait. The water kefir ferments more quickly, in 24-72 hours depending on temperature and some other factors. The kombucha can take as long as 7-14 days. As the culture feeds off the sugar, the beverage gets less sweet and starts to develop a tang. The water kefir gets bubbly. The idea is that after that initial 24-hour or 7 day period, you start to taste the ferment until it suits your palate.
 
My first batch of water kefir was a smashing success. I had used lemons, raisins and ginger and left it for three days. I bottled the liquid in brown flip-top bottles I picked up at the newly opened Malt House home brew shop in Mt Airy and left it out one more day to increase the carbonation. My first batch of kombucha was not as successful - okay, but not great. I had been going out of town on day 10 of the fermentation for 5 days. It wasn’t quite ready when I left and with a few 90-degree days while I was gone, it was just slightly overdone when I returned. But I was not discouraged. I have learned that fermentation, like so many other sustainable and regenerative skills, is a practice.
 
Now Sandor Katz has a new book, The Art of Fermentation, published just last month. I had the pleasure of hearing him at an author event at The Free Library this week. He spoke eloquently about Role of Fermentation in Evolution, Culture and Community. He bemoaned the “bacteria phobia” we have in American society when in truth the vast majority of bacteria are beneficial and necessary for good health. The new book is an incredible 528 pages of history and how-tos, with illustrations and extended resources. Although I just asked my library (Springfield - part of MCLINC) to order it, I think it is going to be one for my personal bookshelf.
 
Yesterday, I started a new batch of water kefir. Although I’m loving the lemon/raisin/ginger combo, my son had his own idea... cranberries and lime with a little vanilla to give it that cream soda feel. I’ll let you know how that goes.
 
(photo credit: Emily Aufschauer)
 
 
Changing Notions About Fermentation
Thursday, June 14, 2012