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.

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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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