"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, March 6, 2016

What's Growing in my Kitchen (the Fermentation Files)?

There's a new bookstore in town, and when I went in to check it out, I found this irresistible book:

Much more than a recipe book - in fact, I don't think there any actual "recipes" in it at all - this book is a wonderful compendium of stories, anecdotes, instructions, and musings on all types of fermentation. Parts of it are scholarly and full of references to the newest scientific research on gut biota, and parts of it are full of poetic or mystical ramblings. I am thoroughly enjoying it, and it has inspired me to start a whole bunch of new projects. 

I have been dabbling in fermentation for ages, of course. Longtime readers of this blog will remember some of my experiments with pickles, kim chee, hard cider, and sourdough. Even cheesemaking is one of the fermentation arts, although I had never thought of it that way before. 

I miss baking. We get so much free bread from the Gleaner's Pantry that there has been no actual need for me to bake. My wonderful sourdough starter died over the year we lived in Oaxaca. I parted it out to friends, but none of them kept it going. I have been without sourdough since. 

Inspired by the book, I put out a call over Facebook for sourdough and Kefir grains. Within hours, a couple of local farmer ladies had answered me. This sourdough was brought to my friend G. by her aunt in Alaska. The aunt claims that it is from a strain that has been kept alive since the 1890's. It seems that most people who have family starters all claim that they have been nurtured since pioneer days; who knows? It's possible. 

This particular sourdough did not seem very lively. It took me a week to nudge it back to life. For a little while I thought it was completely dead. I had fed it with wheat flour, warm water, and dribbles of honey without much result. A slow bubble here and there. Then I remembered that when you first start a sourdough you are supposed to use rye flour - so I ransacked the cupboard to see if I had any. I did! Three years old, but apparently still potent because after I added a half cup of it to the mason jar, it perked right up and started bubbling vigorously. Today I baked my first loaf of bread, and it is delicious! 

Kefir is a weird thing. Most people who buy it in liquid form at the store probably think it is some sort of yogurt, but it is not. You cannot use kefir to make more kefir, as you can with yogurt; you need
a Kefir SCOBY (symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast), and you need to keep the SCOBY alive by providing it with fresh milk every day or two. That milk will become kefir as the SCOBY digests it.

There are lots of SCOBYs, by the way - a vinegar "mother" is a SCOBY, as is kombucha. the Kefir SCOBY looks sort of like cauliflower. The photo above shows the one given to me by M., another nearby farmer lady. She tells me it came from a woman on Lummi Island, who says she brought it with her 30 years ago when she moved here from the east coast. And one of the really cool things about this Kefir SCOBY is that is adapted to goat's milk, having been grown only in goats milk for at least the last several years.

Although I like knowing the age and history of my ferments, it feels like a bit of added pressure to keep them alive. What if I kill the 1890 Skilly Dough? What if this ancient and unique kefir SCOBY dies an ignominious death in the back of my crowded refrigerator? Well, presumably there are lots of other kitchen witches like me keeping their own little SCOBYs alive. Long may they prosper!


Maven said...

Hey! Just getting up to date here! I have a sourdough starter a friend had bestowed to me, of which I have fed several times an assortment of flours; first rye; now whole wheat. And I have hybridized this with kombucha, so I have a nice scoby forming/growing on top of the sourdough starter.

I could send you some, if you'd like.

Maven said...

PS: My sourdough starter--I cannot remember if I made mention that I hybridized it with kombucha--I just had a brain fart. SO if you want me to send you some starter with a scoby, I'd be glad to do so.

Email: itsmemaven AT aim DOT com

Aimee said...

What do you do with a hybrid sourdough/kombucha starter? They seem like very different animals.

Maven said...

I use it for sourdough bread. The kombucha scoby adds more to it than just the sourdough starter on its own.