Where I Learn – Fermentation Part 2

In our semi-homestead years, my father fermented many pounds of his homegrown cabbages into sauerkraut we ate all winter. I helped. It was interesting and definitely tasty, but it was decades before I adopted fermentation for myself. 

I was inspired to start by nostalgia, curiosity, and some recipes, but there were two things that kept me only tentatively practicing for a good while. 

One was that in the sources I used, there was no general treatment of the lactofermentation process and how widely it could be applied, so if a flavor profile or texture missed the mark, I didn’t understand enough to explore my own tastes or improve on a result.

The other reason, one that it took me a real shift in perspective to release, was fear. The first recipes for lactofermentation of vegetables I used talked a whole bunch about the dangers of contamination and the importance of sanitation and were very much in the “set it and forget it” camp, apparently because opening a jar might mess it up. In short ferments of the type I was exploring, in which changes happen somewhat quickly, I’ve learned that keeping an eye on things as they progress is quite important. 

It’s very hard to observe and learn what’s going on with a process if you feel that you can’t peek inside a jar until that process is pretty much complete. The practice of leaving things be and not checking on them actually led to many more failures for me. Once I learned from other sources how to become an active participant by proper preparation then checking, tasting, using eyes and nose to observe changes in the food, I became much more comfortable with using methods proven over thousands of years. Before the days of airlocks and glass weights, fancy jars and StarSan (a sanitizing agent used in the food industry), fermentation was a way to keep families fed over the winter. It was also, practiced properly, a straightforward way to keep that food safe to eat. 

Now I know how to help my ferments thrive and they are a regular part of my daily life, as you know if you read Part 1 of this series… 

Where did I learn? Sandor Katz helped me shift my practices. I recommend that you check out his blog and his books, especially Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation, for a great understanding of fermentation and how it has been used around the world.

Here are other fermenters I’ve learned from, both through their books and in online classes:

Pascal Baudar has books and classes on foraging wild food. I use his Wildcrafted Fermentation and The Wildcrafted Brewer often. I very much enjoyed a webinar I took from him on fermenting mushrooms, which I’d never tried before. It is a delicious addition to my toolkit. 

I made my first vinegar (a different set of processes from lactofermentation) after reading Harry Rosenblum’s Vinegar Revival Cookbook, but I’ve learned even more from Kirsten Shockey and her book, Homebrewed Vinegar. Still more learning she’s opened up to me is through The Fermentation School, one of the communities from which I learn.

Through reading Katz’ books and others, I got curious about koji, which inspired me to read Rich Shih and Jeremy Umansky’s book, Koji Alchemy. That book led me to KojiCon, and my fermentation community grew by leaps and bounds. I’ve met one lovely human in person as a result of that event, and connected with many others. Most are on Instagram, and some of those make really great YouTube videos. You can explore the fermenters I follow there (I’m valerie_learning), or better yet, ask me for suggestions in your particular area of interest. 

Another online community in which I’m fairly active is The Crock of Time on Discord. All levels of fermenters with a wide variety of interests gather there. 

As I write this, more books and more communities to engage with have come my way. Ask me what’s new!

I’m so grateful that with these places to learn, I’ve been able to find folks who help me demystify processes, ingredients, cultural histories, and to learn more about food deserts and food insecurity, and the critical interaction between fermentation and robust, sustainable food systems to keep people and the planet thriving. 

One additional place I learn is from supporting small batch makers of the foods I ferment or am interested in learning about. Tasting the result of care and deep experience with a product inspires me to expand my learning and practice in making my own fermented foods. This also helps me understand which processes I want to explore more deeply, and which I want to leave to others. 

Where do you learn about the things that make you curious? 

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What I Ferment – Fermentation Part 1

  I spent almost a month trying  to articulate why I’m so focused on fermenting food at this time in my life. I guess I’m not finished thinking about that, and you can look forward to something more someday. For now, I’ll start with the stuff itself. 

What I make shifts with the seasons, and also with what’s in the fridge that needs using. This means the techniques used might shift too. I’m very much an opportunist in my fermenting journey, inspired by what’s in front of me to make something new.

I lactoferment kimchi, nut cheeses, hot peppers, and many other vegetables. They are eaten as  side dishes, spread on crackers or put into salads. Some are dehydrated to use as seasonings.

I make milk kefir, which goes in cereal, into a special hot sauce for further fermentation, or becomes a soft cheese.

There are the continuous yeast bugs and honey tonics made from fruits, spices, and sugars, which in turn ferment teas, oats, or sometimes jams with their bubbly goodness. Tibicos, or water kefir,  is  another beverage fermenter that adds fizzy variety to my collection.

And then there’s koji. With it I make that special hot sauce mentioned above, plus amazake, the creamiest, dreamiest sweet porridgy stuff. I’ve also used koji to make mirin and  miso. 

There’s vinegar, too, which has its own set of amazing fermentation processes going. I’ve made some very tasty ones, but I’m still studying and learning. 

On a typical day I might consume 8 or so of my own fermented foods, in addition to yogurt or cottage cheese, which I purchase. I didn’t even mention my sourdough bread or crackers.

It’s all delicious. It’s always a variety, and my body appreciates it. As I’ll discuss another time, there are other reasons to ferment.

 What’s in your life that your body appreciates? 

chiles being buried in sakekasu, a pickling bed
cedar cones in honey
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Tidy or Wild?

My father was a gardener, too. More than fifty years later, as I recall being invited to help, I still see in my mind the straight precise rows of shoots he’d seeded along strings staked taut around each tidy square of soil. I remember the abundant green of the expanse of vegetables replacing a big patch of lawn, the bushels and boxes of produce sitting in the cool shadow of the porch. 

I see, too, the poorly hidden disappointment in his eyes at my straggly rows, the unevenly spaced seeds, then in the kitchen the vegetables chopped in every size when it came time to cook our bounty. He tried to hide it, but I always knew. Precision and science and sweat ruled Dad’s garden.

Mine is ruled instead by dreams, I sometimes think. Of course I use science. The seasons and soil biome, the weather, the right seed types for my Pacific Northwest garden influenced by marine weather systems. I spend very little time on precision, paying some attention to spacing, then pushing back. I plant wiggly rows if it suits me. I tuck stray starts or seeds into empty spaces and glory in the tangle of green textures that tumble across my garden beds.

My garden is wild. I wonder if it’s just me and my inclination, or if I’m also influenced by the unruly tangle of the woods that surround us. I’ve carved out garden spots wherever some sun hits. It works for me. 

How about you? Manicured garden plots, or wild beds?

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Thinking of Gardens

Five years ago, I used National Poetry Month as a personal challenge to write a poem a day. My theme was “Garden.”

I wrote about things growing (or not), about wildness, successes and pitfalls, about the wonder of seeds and the delight of putting food I’d grown onto my plate. When the opportunity came to study again with Gail Harker in a class focused on creating books, I began formulating the idea of an illustrated version of this collection of poems.

Our family and the world both have undergone many changes since I began that project, but here are some key points I’ve come to in the process of continuing to work toward a finished collection.

  • The themes I’ve found myself digging into are much bigger than simply what I grow and my thoughts about my garden. There’s definitely more to share about that. 
  • I garden organically and have worked to limit plastics in our lives as I’m able. I made a commitment to myself to use plastic free media as much as possible in creating the art for this project. This has led to some interesting rabbit holes and different approaches to certain pieces.
  • While I designed the project as one book/collection originally, exploring an array of layouts, media and styles has led me to envision a collection in a variety of formats, with ideas for both hand-bound and traditional print/digital works. 
  • Gardens are important: for building and feeding communities, for teaching children, for the health of soil biomes, for discovering and nurturing a richness and diversity of foods and foodways, and for honoring food sovereignty.

Let me know your thoughts on gardens. Have you grown a garden? If so, what successes or struggles have you discovered along the way?

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Fresh from the Press

Did you  know I’m a small publisher? Here’s our latest newsletter to introduce you. Enjoy!

Fresh from the Press, Fall 2018

Greetings from Homeostasis Press! We’re feeling the change in seasons. Are you?

What’s new:

We are very pleased to share our latest publication with you. In Thee and Me, Timothy Merrill’s poetry explores the relationships that connect us all. An earlier collection of Timothy’s poems, A Quiet Calling, was published by the press in 2009. Thee and Me is available now at http://www.homeostasispress.com/theeandme.php .

GIVEAWAY: The first ten orders of Thee and Me will receive a free copy of A Quiet Calling. Simply order your copy of the new book, and we’ll ship both to your door.

What we’ve been up to, and where we’ll be:

A few weeks ago I was honored and delighted to participate in a virtual chat with 140 9th grade students in Nebraska to kick off their creative writing unit. We talked about publishing, why we tell stories, favorite books, and whether pineapple belongs on pizza.

With colleagues from Soundview School, I helped create a presentation about the Collaborative Historical Novel for the Northwest Association of Independent Schools Educator Conference. We use the collaborative novel to teach local history in middle school. I’ll be making the link to their talk available on our http://gather-here-history.squarespace.com/ website when it’s available.

I’ll be giving my Worldbuilding in Historical Fiction talk at the Freeland branch of Sno-Isle Libraries on November 19, as part of their FREE Write Now series. Join me on Whidbey Island for an informative afternoon.

What’s coming up:

Next month we’ll launch two more historical stories as part of our Gather Here children’s imprint. “Timber Town” is about logging and the spotted owl. “Under the Quilt” deals with wartime criticism of Germans. It also addresses how facts can become rumors that are then recorded in history books. We hope you’ll enjoy these new additions to our collection. Please share with the teachers in your life.

We’re feeling the love, and we want to give it away:

Stay tuned for a special giveaway of multiple copies of The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love, and Dying especially for book clubs, coming in November.

December marks the first birthday of Rough Cut: Lessons from Endangered Species. With each purchase, we’re giving away very special original artwork created by New Zealand artist ZR Southcombe to celebrate the animals depicted in the book.

As always, thanks for allowing us to be part of the stories of your lives. Happy reading!


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