A biologist next to me on a plane once told me that there are more bacteria in the human body than human cells. Why don’t we just look like big blobs of bacteria then? Well, he explained, rather condescendingly I might add, that human cells are larger than bacteria, duh! How comforting!
In light of these scientific facts I embrace the idea of being the container for a very populated micro universe. And as the custodian of this universe I strive to feed and nurture it well. My only regret is not having discovered the culinary skills and joys of rotten food sooner.
Since choice of food has long been recognized as an important element on the road to sustainability, it makes sense that sooner or later fermentation is considered. Of course those of you who eat bread, cheese and spirits have already made that leap, but probably don’t know you have.
As I’ve integrated fermentation into my kitchen and altered my palette, my diet has changed. Flat bread made with sprouted, fermented legumes is now my dietary staple. BC (before cultured foods) it was brown rice and a bowl of beans. How I ever digested those things is beyond me. The more I go back to the roots of eating food as it was traditionally eaten the better I feel. For millennia food has evolved away from being healthy and fresh and toward being convenient and easy to store, and deliver. Real food supports a strong immune system and creates little mucus. TMI I know but an important fact. So now I keep a big bowl of the sprouted and fermented batter in the fridge and cook it up on a flat grill as needed. In case you think real food is tasteless listen to this: savory garbanzo curry bread, lentil rosemary, onion cilantro, basil olive and sweet cinnamon raisin. My other specialty is buckwheat waffles I make with sprouted and fermented buckwheat, coconut milk and very little else.
Recently, I went to the Farm to Fermentation Festival in Santa Rosa, CA after some deliberation since the ticket seemed inflated. But the price seemed appropriate for a fermentation festival so I finally decided to go. It turned out to be a good decision since I picked up a few more tricks and a whole lot more courage to experiment. I met some of the leaders in the fermentation movement like Jane Campbell, Todd Champagne, Nicole Easterday, and Hyunjoo Albrecht. Todd is apparently the standup comedian of pickling and was worth the price alone. He is owner of Happy Girl Kitchen in the San Francisco Bay Area which ferments, cans and educates the public on the finer elements of slow eating. When asked about crud growing on top off the pickle crock, Todd quoted my favorite and first fermentation inspiration Sandor Kraut “Do not be intimidated by the surface phenomena”. This seems to me to be both excellent culinary and spiritual advice. I look forward to someday having a t-shirt with that blazened across the front.
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Some other things I learned at the festival:
- Kim chi apparently means something salsa or chutney in Korean. There are hundreds of different kinds.
- Zucchini makes great pickles.
- Ginger-ale is EXTREMELY easy to make and there is no reason to go to the trouble of bottling it if you drink it before you get a chance. You can just keep it on the counter like sourdough starter and have a glass when the mood strikes you.
- You can pickle just about anything.
- You are more likely to get sick off canned food than fermented. (A relief to those of us who have had food poisoning more than once.)
- *Zymurgy (the art or practice of fermentation. Zymology (adjective zymologist), is the word for the chemistry dealing with the fermentation action of yeasts, especially products that are intended for human consumption. The Greek root is zume, meaning a leaven, typically a yeast, that’s added to make a substance ferment. It’s also the origin of enzyme. It is considered literally “the last word” as in: from aardvark to zymurgy. Although most dictionaries have other words beyond this one. (The Bloomsbury English Dictionary for example has included zzz as its last word, the sound a cartoon character makes when he snores. Just thought you might like to know.)
On my way to the festival I spilled fish sauce on myself and my charming and ever supportive pal Kirstin told me not to worry and offered this reality check: “You think anyone in a convention full of kim chi is going to notice your stink?” And she was right. No one batted an eyelash.
So now I’m a full blown Zymurgist. It’s official. My tiny house kitchen counter is lined with jars of odd science experiments. Apparently, I’m even a geek when I cook.
My favorites are spicy carrots and daikon pickles. And of course the Ginger bug is fabulous. I just wish I had known how easy this all is years ago. It is so much fun to have bubbly natural soda that provides probiotics! I always wondered how anyone came up with the idea to make a bubbly drink and now I know.