Saturday, May 18, 2013

Adding Culture To My Life

New Pond Farm, Redding, Connecticut
Among the many beautiful features of the town where I live is New Pond Farm, a 100-acre working farm (very small scale) and education center. The programs offered are always high quality and wonderfully diverse. And affordable! I mean, how often have you seen an interesting offering somewhere, only to discover that it would cost you $300 to attend a workshop? And maybe it's a perfectly reasonable fee, in terms of what's offered, but it's not perfectly reasonable in terms of what's in my wallet.

Alex Keilty, our Guru of Gastronomy
Recently I attended a class to learn about fermenting. What a wonderful, energy-filled two
hours that was! Our Guru of Gastronomy (the moniker Minister of Culture having already been taken) was Alex Keilty, a dedicated promoter of the benefits of fermented foods.

If you are thinking sauerkraut, think again. There is much more to fermented foods that that. Fermented foods include miso, tempeh, fish sauce, kombucha, pickles, wine, beer, yogurt and plenty more. Click HERE for an interesting list. Caveat emptor: If you want real fermented pickles and sauerkraut, you probably should learn how to do it yourself; the stuff on the supermarket shelves is possibly more about fast flavor than full fermentation.

Stripping the herbs ...
So, why are fermented foods important and why were we all there to learn about them? Fermented foods improve digestion and help to restore the correct balance of bacteria in the gut. Several of my classmates mentioned the importance of fermented foods in relation to leaky gut syndrome, which is an interesting subject on its own. This in turn is related to the immune system; one participant caught my attention when she claimed that much of our immune system is regulated by the health of our guts. Do you spend $50 per month on a really good probiotic? You can spend so much less, with better results, by eating fermented foods. Not to be ignored: good quality fermented foods - sauerkraut, yogurt, blue cheese, sourdough bread - are delicious!

We covered a lot of territory, but I think I'll have to go back for another class because I am so bad at retaining information. We had kefir (a fermented milk product, similar to yogurt in taste but not texture), which is pretty good. I can definitely imagine incorporating it in a smoothie. There was also an opportunity to sip on some buttermilk but I did not partake. It's weird, really ... I have tasted tons of foods that many consider to be exotic yet I have never tried buttermilk. It just sounds creepy to me, although I do like buttermilk pancakes and buttermilk biscuits. Go figure, right?

Ingredients ...
Alex set us to work, creating a ferment - possibly not grammatically correct, but that's how we in the know refer to our finished product. It seems there is no need for a modern style recipe, with measurements and a specific list of ingredients. Rather, we followed a truly traditional style of recipe, the kind that might have been written by my great-grandmother. You know what I mean ... use some of this and a bit of that and let it sit awhile.

As we worked at the big kitchen table, Alex treated us to a concoction of smashed up avocado mixed with his latest batch of ferment and a bag of blue corn chips to scoop it up. It was OMG-worthy. It was delicious and everyone went nuts for it. I know "comparisons are odious" but this stuff is way better than guacamole.

Sourdough bread
We also had some of Alex's sourdough bread which was heavenly. When Doug and I lived in California, we kept sourdough starter and made our own bread. Lately, I've been baking bread again, after a fairly lengthy hiatus. I definitely want to get some sourdough going again.

I think the only rule, regarding types of ingredients is: don't use mushy stuff. No tomatoes, no squash, no artichoke hearts. The crucial rule regarding handling ingredients: don't wash them! The microbes which cling to your vegetables are essential to the process.

We chopped, we diced, we grated ...


If I remember correctly, here are the vegetables we chopped, sliced, shredded and so forth: green cabbage, carrots, red onions, red bell peppers, beets, ginger, and a bit of garlic. If you are so inclined, you can add herbs and spices ... oregano and red pepper flakes, for example.

Ready to start fermenting
Here comes the really hard part: throw it all together in a bowl, add some salt and you're pretty much done.

There are a few details beyond that, but you can read all about it in many places online. Here are links to an interesting website and a few books, recommended by Alex:

Nourishing Days (website)

The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World (Sandor Ellix Katz)

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats (Sally Fallon)

Real Food Fermentation Food for Health: Preserving Whole Fresh Food with Live Cultures in Your Home Kitchen (Alex Lewin)

The Acid - Alkaline Food Guide: A Quick Reference to Foods & Their Effect on ph Levels (Susan E. Brown)