Adventures in Fermenting.

Fermented Food has a bad name. Literally, I mean it’s just not the most appetising of concepts. Sun dried food, for instance, sounds fabulous. Caramelized, similarly, has a good ring to it. Deep fried is fine, salted should be okay, confit is superb and even pickle is good but fermented, nope, it’s just not that appealing.

I studied microbiology in a University at the forefront of research into probiotics but, to my shame, most of what I learned went into a box in the attic and it is only recently that I have become seriously interested in fermented foods.

We are only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of realising the health benefits of consuming good quality fermented foods. It’s not just our gut flora that stands to benefit but even our mental health. I’ve just started researching this so you can expect to find me waffling at length. I’m putting a shout out here to anybody with fermenting experience or wisdom to share. Help me; I want to learn!

My kitchen now has more microbial experimentation going on than my laboratory desk ever had.

The sourdough adventure began after last year’s trip to Litfest when I came home with a starter from Riot Rye. Approximately fifty loaves of bread later, I am getting close to something truly good. I’m still not getting the really big air pockets that I’m after but the crust is fantastic. IMG_7138

The banneton proofing basket I bought in Ballymaloe gives those glorious concentric circles. I get a real kick out of using traditional tools that make a good job of something. I have a pair of wooden paddles for rolling butter into balls that make me grin from ear to ear. Simple pleasures.


Also in the above picture is a fresh starter from Arbutus breads which seemed to give my culture a boost.

I made my first sauerkraut when I was reviewing Rebecca Sullivan’s book (The Art of The Natural Home, review here). Can you see all the bubbles rising? It was very exciting to hear the pop when I opened the jar every morning to ‘burp’ it. I did NOT expect to like sauerkraut. I’d never eaten it before but this didn’t taste sour or cabbage-watery as I feared it might. It was more of a nice, crunchy salad with a bit of tang. Also, I thought this huge jar would last for months but no, we ate it all in a couple of days.IMG_6795Rebecca Sullivan. The Art of the Natural Home.

Rebecca’s book also had a recipe for making Kombucha so I had my eye out for a starter at Litfest and, yes, I found one. Here it is in the company of some fine cocktails.IMG_7103 (2)

Now, I have hit what may be an insurmountable problem. I don’t like it. I don’t like the taste of tea and I don’t like the taste of beer and this stuff, to me, smells like  the cart of empty beer bottles that I used to have to sort into crates on Saturday mornings. Eeugh. Any advice? I’m willing to knock it back medicinally but I’d rather find a way to make a pleasant version.IMG_7174

I’m in the process of reviewing a brand new book from Kristin and Christopher Shockey.IMG_7347

Unlike most cookbooks I review, nothing in this one is familiar. It’s all a journey into the unknown which I LOVE! I love learning, I really do.

The first thing I made was a basic chilli mash. This stuff is fantastic; I can’t get enough of it. We’ve probably added it to every second dinner for the past fortnight and I’m on the hunt for chillis on special offer. Again, can you see the bubbles? I’m not sure why I find that SO exciting.IMG_6865

Fermented ginger, fermented carrots and, wait for this, rhubarb kimchi. The kimchi has been a huge hit. Husband made up a second batch yesterday as we have run out. IMG_6861 (2)

Figuring out exactly how to eat these foods has been another learning curve. This dinner of pork meatballs with kimchi, fermented carrots and fermented ginger was incredibly tasty and satisfying.IMG_7170

I’ve been having the carrots with my lunch most days. This picture also shows the fermented mustard from Fiery Ferments. It’s made with lots of white peppercorns for extra heat and is, honestly, the most delicious mustard I can remember tasting. The book is good too (review coming soon).IMG_7134

I’ve had a slow growing theory of happiness growing in my head for the last few years which is based on the word satisfaction. I think that our lives, in many large and small ways, have changed beyond how we have biologically evolved to live. Our evolution, in other words, has been outstripped by the developments of modern life.

For this reason, I think, we are never satisfied. We spend hours trawling shoe shops that we once would have spent foraging (that’s my theory anyway). We buy ready-washed, ready-chopped vegetables in plastic bags where once we would have had the satisfaction of watching them grow and ripen. We accept the convenience of high sugar, high fat processed foods but they don’t quell our cravings; they don’t satisfy us. So we eat more.

We’ve done ourselves out of the labour, the learning, the patient waiting, the process of making food, all of which are ingredients in the satisfaction of it. We’ve made it almost impossible to reach that point where we feel yes, I have had sufficient, my appetite has been sated.

There is lots of science now behind the benefits of fermented foods but I think there’s more to it than even that. Taking two days to make a loaf of bread, or two weeks to make a filling for the sandwich, is hardly what could be considered practical. But, it’s flipping satisfying. And there’s a taste, I can’t pin it down but I’m certain of it, there’s a taste that hits a spot in my brain and the only word I can find for it is satisfaction.

I did warn you about impending waffling, didn’t I? Tell me what you think.

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39 thoughts on “Adventures in Fermenting.

  1. I love this post, Lynda 🙂 . I’ve been baking bread (and other yeasted goods) for many years now, but it wasn’t until a couple months ago that I finally got a sourdough starter going. My loaves aren’t very high, but my goodness they certainly do taste good! (I used the Manuel’s Rye Sour recipe from The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book – A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking, and then used their whole wheat sourdough recipe for the bread itself.) I love how absolutely basic and minimalistic these sourdough loaves are! I’ve never made any other fermented foods, though, and for some reason hesitate to do so. (I may have some not-so-fond childhood memories of sauerkraut to blame, but perhaps your post will be enough to nudge me into trying it.)

    I too, ponder happiness (I confess it’s been on my mind a lot over the past 20-some years, along with other lightweight matters such as The Meaning of Life 😉 .) I think you’re onto something with the concept of satisfaction, and I especially like the way you’ve tied patience (aka delayed gratification) into the equation. (And yes, I completely agree with your foraging theory.) For me, the word “purpose” has always seemed to run hand-in-hand with happiness, which I do think fits in nicely with the words you’ve used: labour, learning, patience and process. (I have a post I’ve been working on for *cough*nearly-a-year*cough* about just these sorts of ideas. /rolls eyes/)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Purpose! Absolutely! I’ve had that one in mind too. Purpose, for me, is usually about exercise. I’d rather scour the bathroom tiles than go for a pointless jog…that sort of thing. I love the feeling of getting something done. Perhaps Purpose is the motivation and Satisfaction is the reward? We could be on to something here! Write that post, woman! Do it.

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  2. I was happy to see you post about fermenting. It looks like you have had lots of successes. Even the Kombucha seemingly turned out okay even if you didn’t care for it. I’ve just had my first go at fermenting vegetables. I tried carrots. They were a dismal failure. They tasted incredibly salty, but I thought they would improve once they were chilled. They didn’t, and after a week or so mold developed. I have no idea what I did wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As an absolute beginner, I can’t offer much advice but I think the salt concentration is probably the most critical thing. It’s also something that isn’t always given accurately in recipes. Every person’s teaspoon or tablespoon isn’t the same. I like the chilli recipes in the Shockeys’ book because the chilli flavour is great but also the chilli adds a reassuring preservative element. I’m sure I’ll have a few disasters along the way but so far so good (except for the yucky Kombucha!).


  3. I think you are amazing and inspiring! And I love this post! We’ve made homemade saurkraut for years. In fact, we make a part of it – Krautfest – I love these other ideas too. My new daughter-in-law is a certified nutritionist and she talks about the health benefits of fermented foods too. That loaf of bread!!! O M G! How I would die for a starter of it!!! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jodi, thank you! I wish we could meet up to swap sourdough starters for Sauerkraut expertise! Are you free to divulge secret family recipes? The only sauerkraut I’ve ever eaten is the one I’ve just made so I’m desperate for knowledge!

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  4. I’m a HUGE fan of fermenting, so beneficial, both in terms of microbes and unlocking extra nutrients in the vegetables. I love the taste as well. I’m not a fan of things pickled in vast quantities of vinegar, but fermented is just right. I invested in three or four jars with air lock lids. Once the ferment is finished I can put ordinary lids on, but the air lock is good for when it’s bubbling. I have been known to stand in the kitchen watching the bubbles. I love that it is a live thing, sometimes bubbling more, sometimes calming down. It’s fascinating! I have the Shockeys’ book called ‘Fermented Vegetables’ which is brilliant. Like you, I love learning all about something new. CJ xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right. The hunt is on for those air lock lids. I think we are committed to the whole fermentation thing now so I can splash out on a bit of kit. They are not easy to find here.
      I think I should probably get that first book too.
      I’m so pleased I’m not the only one who stands watching the bubbles! Let me know if you have any ‘wish I’d known that at the start’ tips or favourite recipes! The only kmichi I’ve ever eaten is the one I’ve just made so I really am reaching into the dark!


  5. I have no idea about any of this so you’re teaching me a lot. I’m doubtful it’s for me but as I have no idea what any of this tastes like, how do I know? Perhaps some reading and experimenting is in order and I very much look forward to reading more from you as usual, Lynda. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the ‘satisfaction’ idea though. People just don’t have the time in their busy lives to do so many of these things but I’m lucky to just work part time and have the satisfaction of mostly cooking meals from scratch and making all sorts of things. Even started to foray into a bit of gardening – I suppose it also links into mindfulness and enjoying the process as much as the finished product. Thank you for your blog x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was exactly the same and, remember, I’ve only just begun so it’s all new. It’s really hard to find ‘tasters’, I think you’d have to know someone who was fermenting. I suggest finding a recipe for a small batch of something and giving it a go. I should have put this link in my post:
      I’m so pleased that you ‘got’ the satisfaction idea. I do waffle a lot in my own head and I’m not always sure I make any sense at all !


      1. I was catching up with ‘The Archers’ yesterday and they were talking about fermented foods, so it may well become more mainstream now 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading! I was humming and hawing about it for ages but I always feel better with a good thick book to rely on. This is the only one I’ve tried but it is working well so far. Their first book, Fermented Vegetables, has also been recommended to me by lots of people who I would trust.


    1. Thank you! It’s all a grand adventure! By the way, you have inspired me to start collecting avocado stones in the hope that I might try some natural dying over the summer holidays. These are the activities that somehow calm my soul. I haven’t decided whether I’m getting to the root of something deep or, more probably, I’m just weird. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh you will enjoy natural dyeing so much, it’s just like chemistry too. If you have any questions, ask away. The one thing I did learn with avocado is that if you want a strong colour, the dye bath needs to be quite alkaline and that this can be achieved using washing soda which can be made by putting bicarbonate of soda in the oven! You can mordant with soya milk although avocado stones don’t need a mordant as they are full of tannin. Just make sure that you scour whatever you are dyeing otherwise the dye won’t take very well, although with avocado this can result in a beautiful blush. Rebecca Desnos produces some great dye results. Enjoy! Ps I bought the fiery fermenting book and I’m looking forward to my first chilli sauce 🙂


  6. I’ve just started trying this, because several people have recommended it for inner health, so it’s great to see your blog and instagram posts. I’ve started with a mason jar of fermented veggies, and at the moment, there are lots of bubbles coming up from the bottom when you tilt the jar. I’m not sure if I’ll recognise when it’s ready though 🙂

    I love your theory about satisfaction. For some time I’ve thought that maybe people who need to spend more time providing the basics of life for themselves don’t have time to get depressed. But you’re right, the other side of the coin is that the activities themselves bring them great satisfaction. Thanks for the lovely thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Instagram is great, isn’t it? It’s just so easy and immediate. I just have to take care that it doesn’t eat up all my reading time! As you say, knowing when they are done is the difficulty. I am erring on the side of underdone as we are newbies and the kids aren’t overly enthusiastic. I’m hoping to break them in gently. I find the chilli really helps though,partly because the kids are distracted by the spiciness and stopped thinking about the fermented factor. Thanks for reading.


  7. What a satisfying post!!! I love fermented foods….really I should get into doing it myself….I say let the Kombucha go….it does have a smell about it for sure….I am just getting into green teas and adding fresh fruit to mine, but its aroma is nothing like an ole bottle of beer…LOL I am excited about the spice hitting your table….I love hot, spicy food….and so happy I lie near the border so I get access to all the wonderful chilis…
    your pictures are great and the cabbage looks great….xxkat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kat, I can see how the bit of heat gets kind of addictive. We have a very limited selection of chillis available to us and I have SO much to learn! It’s exciting though, and fun. All insider knowledge and tips gratefully received!


  8. Waffle on, dear Lynda! Totally agree with the satisfaction thing. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, more satisfying than planting, growing, nurturing, picking and using something, be it flower or food. Kimchi intrigues me, as does all the fermenting but, apart from sourdough, we’ve not explored it in this house. Yet. Great post, as ever. x

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Good to see this. I made my first kimchi earlier this year and it was delicious. If I had more space and time I would no doubt have kilner jars bubbling everywhere, but – alas – both fail me right now. Still, I might manage to do the rhubarb kimchi recipe before the season finishes

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rapidly running out of fridge and shelf space here too. Mind you, we are getting through jars of rhubarb kimchi at a shocking rate. It goes with everything. Definitely worth a try. I’m experimenting with gooseberry kimchi at the moment which may be a step too far…!


  10. As soon as I have some more shelf space in the pantry, I’ll give this a go. I’ve only been pickling onions and shallots so far this year. Your photographs are brilliant, and deserve to be in their own cookbook x

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It was so easy, I don’t think I’ll ever buy them from a store again. I’ve now tried making mustard, which I thought would be a complicated science, but was so easy – I’ll have to post the recipe up x

        Liked by 1 person

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