Finding Inspiration in Culture & Community: The Reedsburg Fermentation Fest
October 26, 2012, 6:40 pm
Filed under: Farm, Fermentation, Food | Tags: , , , , , ,

I went to one day of the more-than-a-week-long Reedsburg Fermentation Fest last Saturday. WORT’s “In Our Backyard” interviewed Sandor Katz and Erin Schneider live on the radio the week before the fest started, and because I ended up filling in as co-host with the amazing Rob McClure, I got to ask Sandor some questions on air. The day I drove up to Reedsburg, I went to one of Sandor’s workshops, and one with Vanessa Tortellano and Alla Shapiro of NessAlla Kombucha here in Madison. I interviewed all three of them.

We aired the interview with Sandor on Wednesday and with NessAlla on Thursday. That part was totally fun, which I expected.

What I didn’t quite expect, maybe because I’ve been fermenting things for a while and started to take it for granted to some extent, was to walk away totally inspired and reinvigorated to ferment, to preach fermentation, to try new things, to share, and to “bubble over.” A lot of it was Sandor’s talk on the bigger picture of fermentation.

Sandor Katz on Fermenting Social Change

When I got home to Madison that night — well, first I had to do a few hours of work on a report that we published at work today, but then soon afterwards — the first thing I wanted to do was ferment something. And, in Vanessa and Alla’s workshop, they’d shared some lemongrass ginger kombucha that was delicious. So I decided to try making some. I’d never made flavored kombucha before. Not for any good reason. I just hadn’t tried it. Cosmo Joe was here with me after painting on State Street all day, so he got to watch the process.

Can you see that funny-looking little nugget floating amidst the various tea bags in the middle there? That’s a dried reishi mushroom from Kingbird Farm. I boiled it with the ginger before I added the oolong and fresh lemongrass (from the Dane County Farmers Market). Does anyone know what reishi does to kombucha? I didn’t, but I decided to try it.

I tried the brew for the first time today, a little early I thought, but what the heck, it had been warm for a few days. It was downright tart! I haven’t had kombucha ferment that quickly in a while. Maybe it was just because I poured a new batch of sweet tea in with my scoby right after bottling the last batch rather than waiting a while, maybe it was because of the reishi, who knows — I don’t, anyway.

So I bottled it up and added a little maple syrup to see if I can get some bubble.

My last batch, which I bottled right before making the sweet tea for this batch last Saturday night, doesn’t seem to have had enough residual sugar when I bottled it, because it stayed flat.

Speaking of bottling, a few weeks ago I bottled the red wine vinegar I’d started a while back.

That same night (October 6th), I started the batch of root kimchi I’m about to jar up for this month’s CSYay. It has (can I remember it all?): cabbage, multi-colored carrots, daikon, beauty heart radishes, black radishes, French breakfast radishes, rutabaga, scallions, garlic, ginger, and Thai chiles. I know I’m forgetting something.

I pulled off the cloths and tried it today, and it’s delicious (especially the stuff in the lighter colored crock, which is *supposed* to be the same as what’s in the brown but apparently is just different enough).

Back to today: I bottled that last batch of kimchi and made the sweet tea for the next batch. This time it’s half black tea, half green tea, with some roasted dandelion. I’ll add some frozen raspberries after it’s done fermenting, if it seems like it’ll go well.

And I’ll leave you with this: some foggy bottoms at Trautman Family Farm this last Tuesday:

For the rest of the images that accompany this post, please visit my F(ermentation)Log on Posterous.


Piima Cream Experiment
March 8, 2009, 4:12 pm
Filed under: Fermentation, Food

The results from the aforementioned piima cream experiment (wherein I try to culture cream with viili) are in:

On the left is a jar that contained a very high proportion of viili culture to raw cream. This produced a very thin, more kefir-like beverage (in the bowl on the left), quite tart. On the right is a larger jar that contained much more cream in relation to viili culture (I just poured in enough viili to coat the sides before pouring in the cream). This produced a much thicker, very mild-tasting and lovely slightly soured cream (the bowl with the spoon in it) which immediately made me think of ice cream, so we stuck the inner chamber of the ice cream maker in the fridge in preparation. I've never tried piima cream, so I can't judge the results properly, but my guess is that the one on the right is most like piima.

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Ginger Water Kefir, Part 2
March 8, 2009, 12:58 am
Filed under: Fermentation, Food

About 48 hours later, the ginger water kefir that I set up on Wednesday was nice and tart (although still thin-tasting, a general complaint I have about water kefir), so I bottled it Friday.

Due to inadequate closure of the little baggies of water kefir grains, some of the grains had gotten loose and were floating among the pieces of grated ginger (a hazard of putting the ginger loose in the sugar-water rather than laboriously juicing it).

Other than that, the process went pretty well, I felt, so I set up another batch, but first I cleaned off those loose grains, then emptied out the bags of grains and cleaned those and separated them out in smaller amounts into more bags because they were looking a little crowded…

Here's a look at all the things I had going in the kitchen Friday (that being the cooler of the two "fermentation stations"):

Now the kefir (back right) is strained and in the fridge, as are the two jars of experimental piima cream (wherein I try to culture cream with viili) in the front.

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Ginger Water Kefir
March 5, 2009, 1:50 am
Filed under: Fermentation, Food

My recent experiments with water kefir have been mixed.  Of the first two batches, the one with dried apricots did quite well– a little thin-tasting, but nice and tart and a little carbonated– while the one with dried cranberries turned muddier and muddier (the rapadura I used lending itself quite nicely to that) with an unpleasant thickness to it, and the grains became quite murky and mushy.  Note to self: no more dried cranberries.  I put those grains in sugar water in the fridge to rest for about 24 hours, and they actually made a very tasty drink out of the sugar water.

In the meantime, I put the other batch of grains into another batch of sugar water with the same apricots.  This batch fermented to tartness very quickly, without much depth of flavor.  Note to self: don’t reuse dried fruit.

I read that water kefir grains seem to love ginger best, and we love ginger beer best, so yesterday, I decided to try making ginger water kefir according to Dom’s recipe.  We couldn’t find fresh young ginger, so I used what we had, but otherwise followed the recipe to a T, even adding the blackstrap molasses despite the fact that I was using rapadura as the sugar (because that line of the instructions got hidden at the top of a following page of my printout).  Baking soda, check.  Eggshell, check.  Spring water, check.  Dried Turkish fig, check.

Ginger Water Kefir: Batch #1

I mixed it all up, put a lid on it, and came back to stir it after about 24 hours, then stirred it again later this evening and tried some, only to discover that just about all the sweetness was already gone!  Drat.  So… what to do?  I bottled it, in four beer bottles, and I’m keeping an eye on those caps.

I mixed up another batch right away, but first I checked on the grains.

Little Baggies of Water Kefir Grains

Both batches were looking OK, the mushy ones that had been in with the cranberries a little less so but still not as pristine-looking as the others–

Water Kefir Grains: Batch #1

Water Kefir Grains: Batch #2

— so I took them out of the tea bag and rinsed them in a piece of cheesecloth under running filtered water to get rid of some of the mush.  I realize that a lot of that mush may have been new young grains, but they didn’t strike me as very healthy new young grains, so down the drain they went with the water.  I was surprised by how nice they turned out after their bath, shave and a haircut.  Almost exactly like the other bag of grains.

Rinsed Water Kefir Grains

So in they went together in the new batch of ginger, which varies from the first in that I left out the molasses and decided to put the grated ginger straight into the liquid rather than bothering with the arduous, dirty-dish-making process of juicing it with sugar.

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March 5, 2009, 1:36 am
Filed under: Fermentation, Food

Last week, I was feeling discouraged by the state of the uneaten viili in its jar in the fridge and decided to try to make cheese out of it.  We’ve made “farmer’s cheese” or cream cheese– a simple, soft, spreadable cheese– out of soured and clabbered milk before, and I followed that model.  I poured the viili into a cotton napkin over a jar and let the whey run through, leaving the viscous solids behind.  This took a while, and I transferred it to the fridge after a bit.  Normally, what runs out into the jar is just translucent whey.  In this case, there was quite a bit of more opaque, white viili that ran through, too, and I let it, squeezing the napkin every once in a while to make sure that all that was left behind was what was really solid.  When it was quite dry, I transferred it to a bowl and mixed in salt, pepper and herbes de provence.

I accidentally made it a little too salty, but otherwise, it’s quite nice, with a very nice, silky texture and mouthfeel.

Encouraged by that success, and having started a new batch of viili to replace the old (I’d reserved some as a starter), yesterday I went looking for something to make more cheese out of.  I knew I’d be picking up dairy from Pennsylvania today, so I needed to clean out the fridge and make a bit of room anyway, and the last batch of PA milk was too sour to enjoy on its own, so I took that out and let it finish separating on the counter, then did the same thing, letting it drip overnight in the fridge before mixing the solids with the same herb blend this afternoon.  Since I started with more milk than I had viili, there was more whey and more solids.  Believe it or not, I added a little too much salt again, but other than that, it’s good again, without quite the same texture but otherwise similar.  It’s interesting to me that there isn’t more difference, actually.

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Water Kefir
February 26, 2009, 5:46 pm
Filed under: Fermentation, Food

In the annals of our fermentation efforts, Matt and I don’t have many stories of non-spontaneous ferments, ferments which need introduced starters to go– except, of course, kombucha, viili, yogurt…  So OK, a few.  But today I started a new one.  I’ve been on the lookout for kefir grains, for both dairy kefir and water kefir, for a few weeks, and yesterday, I received a package in the mail from a friendly Brooklynite with water kefir grains (and information and advice) to spare.

I didn’t have time to start the brew yesterday, though, and I needed mineral water and dried fruit, so today, with all the ingredients and tools in order, I rinsed the grains and divided them into two cotton tea bags (with about 3 Tbsp. of grains in each, the suggested dose).

For one batch (the one on the left in the pic below), I dissoved 1/3 c. of rapadura in almost a quart of Fiji water (which the donor of the grains said the grains like best) and added dried unsulphured organic apricots.  For the other (the one on the right), I dissolved the same amount of sugar in almost a quart of Whole Foods brand spring water and added dried organic cranberries.

They look rather odd with the bags floating in the foam of the unrefined sugar.

The trick now is to wait for 24-72 hours, until the water kefir tastes properly fermented.  Can I do it?  We’ll see.

I’m interested in finding out why the kefir grain scoby’s are said to do better in water with high mineral content.  I’ve done a bit of preliminary research without finding out much, unfortunately, but there’s a lot of information on all sorts of aspects of kefir here:

More when the water kefir is finished!

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January 16, 2009, 5:22 pm
Filed under: Fermentation, Food, NYC

I may have mentioned previously on this blog Matt and my obsession with all forms of fermentation this summer (and, to a lesser extent, previously).  I may have posted a picture of an insane amount of lacto-fermented food, with a glimpse of some of the home-fermented beverages Matt had been tinkering with.  I may have posed some of my finished knitting projects with beet kvass.  In other words, we’ve been doing a lot of fermenting, and we thought we were pretty well into a fermented trajectory that could only bring us, well, to being completely fermented, generally speaking.

But, lo, the universe had more in store.  Last Sunday, Matt and I both went to see Sandor Ellix Katz, author of Wild Fermentation, a book we have used a great deal, speak at Green Spaces in Brooklyn, at an event sponsored by Just Food.  It was a great event, very inspiring, but he didn’t go into great detail, as it was pretty introductory and not really a workshop as much as a “talk.”  I remembered, however, that he was teaching a four-day class at Natural Gourmet, a block and a half from our apartment, and after some dithering over the price, which especially for someone funemployed who doesn’t make any money to speak of even when she is employed, is substantial, we decided it was an investment in our future, and I signed up at the very last minute.

The class started Monday, and tonight is the final night.  If I were to try to describe all that I’ve learned here, I would have to go on for paragraph after paragraph, so I’m just going to send you to a pictorial essay of sorts here.  I’ll update the set after tonight’s class, during which I may get to show off our beet kvass, wild-fermented cider (from Sandor’s book) and t’ej (also from Sandor’s book)!  I hear we’ll get to make more kimchi, taste some vegetable ferments that were started Monday, make some fresh beet kvass, make a yogurt cheese called labneh and make soup with pickled brine.  I’ve also been promised that I’ll be able to bring home a disgustingly healthy-looking kombucha mother that I’ve been told works beautifully in green tea (so maybe I can try it in white tea, too?) and some viili (a Finnish ropy milk whose name I’m still not exactly sure how to spell) to propagate in milk at home.  Woohoo!  Check the Flickr set tomorrow for more!