Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Adventures in Fermentation

(L to R) Pickled Onions, Moroccan Preserved Lemons, Sauerkraut, Sourdough Starter, Kombucha. The second sourdough starter in the back is being adopted by a friend soon.

About five weeks ago, I attempted growing my own kombucha SCOBY from a bottle of commercial kombucha. I didn't realize at the time that the instructions I was following were for the old formulation of kombucha prior to it being temporarily removed from store shelves in 2010. After a couple weeks, I tossed out the weird, transparent jellyfish-like-blob I'd grown and acquired a real SCOBY. My first batch is in its first fermentation now. In a couple days, I'll taste-test it and if it's ready, I'll bottle it up with interesting flavors like carrot juice, hibiscus flowers, or orange juice and send it into the dark for its second fermentation.

About two weeks ago, I began a rye sourdough starter using this method. It took off and grew into a monster ooze that bubbled out of the old spaghetti sauce jar I'd started it in. I split the starter into two jars, one for a friend and one to keep, and fed the cloned monsters succulent grains of organic rye for a couple days before capping the jars and storing them in the fridge.

Rye Sourdough Starter on day 3. So many bubbles and the monster is only hours away from overflowing the jar.

Today I took the starter out and made my first loaf of sourdough using this recipe. It was a test loaf to make sure my starter was good. Well, it was certainly good, and I ended up with a 10-inch in diameter fluffy loaf of sourdough bread with a chewy crust and a pleasant tang.

My lovely first loaf of sourdough bread.

I fed the monster to replace the starter I used and it bubbled out the top of the jar within an hour. I have some happy yeast in that starter! The spaghetti squash jar wasn't going to cut it anymore, so I picked up a 2-quart jar, added to my recently-fed starter, and watched the monster grow to fill 2/3 of the new jar. I sense a large quantity of sourdough recipe experiments in my future.

Not content with just a brewing kombucha and a happy sourdough starter, I felt compelled to find new things to ferment. I went shopping for organic produce - onions, lemons, and cabbage. I had a bag of onions already, but they sprouted in my cupboard and now I'm waiting for the frost to pass so I can plant them outside.

The cupboard dwellers. Their owls have not yet arrived.

In the span of an hour and a half, I made Moroccan Preserved Lemons, Sauerkraut, and Pickled Onions. They have taken up residence on a cookie sheet in the cupboard under my buffet counter, little jars of mundane things waiting to create some magic.

So, here I am after midnight, typing with briny hands and hoping everything works. Fermenting is a curious thing -  an exercise in patience and an obligatory strong stomach ready to ignore the oddness of what you're eating or drinking in favor of appreciating the beneficial microorganisms. I'm trying to figure out what I should make next. Any suggestions?

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