Today we welcome this guest post from Christopher Robbins, our resident foraging expert and marmalade maker, who sat in on our recent fermentation course hosted by Lucie Cousins. Here's his recap of this wonderful and inspiring day of tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha. Lucie's next fermentation course will be on 25th February 2017.
As if there isn’t enough trouble with perfectly good food that we buy starting to ferment by the time it gets home, I couldn’t resist this course of how to deliberately ferment foods.
I was soon aware of my error but also of the already fermenting foods that were taken for granted (and that is I am totally fond of: good ale, wine, Vacherin cheese, and of course my live yoghurts). I began to concentrate of the tutor.
Lucie Cousins has a good history and another job in soft, white-moulded cheese making. That started her curiosity into tempeh, the fermented whole soybean that develops a similar white, furry, fungal coating over and between the soybeans. She has already been marketing her tempeh in Bath. For today, she was introducing us to both some anaerobic (without any need for oxygen for the air) lactic acid bacteria fermentation, and some aerobic ferments. All were easy to make and care for, Lucie promised.
Tempeh had been made in Lucie’s kitchen. For those who can’t be bothered with the likes of tofu and Quorn, tempeh is as close to manna as you can get short of a night hike across the Sinai desert. Two packs of whole, cooked soybeans were presented looking as though they were beautiful ripe cheeses. The beans were visible all covered in a tight coating of soft, white mould. Like knobbly Camemberts. These were marinated for later frying, or smoked in cherry wood shavings for a different edge. Both delicious and so unlike tofu. To make the Tempeh, the beans are cooked and dehulled and a bought inoculum is added before setting aside to ferment at 30C in aerobic conditions in as little as 2-3 days.
The two anaerobic fermentation products, Sauerkraut and Kimchi were both different methods of turning cabbage into something a happy remove from the wet dog smell of school days past. Both so simple and also quick.
The Sauerkraut was simple finely shredded cabbage (red or white) that was wrung and squeezed in our hands to bread the skin and put the resident bacteria and yeasts on the surface in contact with the juices inside. Salt was added to make the desirable organisms happy and to deter some undesirables. Just enough salt, not too much or too little. To this basic vegetable we could add any of several other vegetables to colour or flavour. I added a grated Ribston pippin apple, ½ a raw beetroot a small piece of celeriac and the juice from about 6 cms or a fat ginger root (detailed quantities will be released if the Sauerkraut is better than a bought jar!). Bu the time it was wrung and squeezed there was already cabbage juice in the bowl. The mixture was packed into a Hamilton seal jar, a disc of cabbage leaf placed on top and a cabbage crown on that, so when the lid was lowered all the grated veggies were beneath the liquid and under the sealed lid: happily anaerobic. The fermentation takes 1-6 weeks at about 28-30C. That can be happy in my kitchen then.
The Kimchi used the leaves and thick ribs of a Chinese cabbage. This time, the cabbage was cut into bite-sized chunks, sprinkled with salt and left to ‘brine’ overnight. A flavour paste was made with onion, garlic, ginger and a dried mushroom broth. This was added to the washed and spun brined cabbage and packed into an airtight sealable jar. This Kimchi ferments in 1-3 weeks and at a cooler temp of 14-18C.
These ferments are relatively easy to keep working with only a healthy mix of bacteria and mounds working away…I do adore Kimchi so I can produce edible product as easily as that I can toss the Branston pickle!!
We then moved onto two aerobics that the hippies were all on back…back when there were hippies. That’s Kefir and Kombucha. These are similar to each other, and require aerobic conditions. Both use a special collection of bacteria and yeasts to ferment. These inoculums ‘grow’ in the fermentation vessel and have to be looked after rather like my own Sourdough starter. The Kefir originated in the Caucuses where it ferments milk, but other liquids can be used from sweetened tea or fruit juices. The Kefir ‘grains’ are soft, granular grey masses that sit happily on the bottom when working. The fermentation takes only a few days and the liquid can be decanted and the whole lot restarted.
The Kombucha has a fermentation inoculum known as a SCOBY ( Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast), which apart from looking like the growth you get in the coffee pot if left unwashed while you go on a months holiday, sounds like a small pet dog breed. The devotees of the SCOBY seem to treat them like pet dogs, talking to them, sharing off-spring with friends, and I’m sure take them for walks in the park. It’s a ferment supporter’s thing.
The good thing about Kefir and Kombucha is that you can produce a litre of so of pleasant tasting drink from each fermentation jar twice a week or so, and it is said to be both rich in vitamins (from the organisms) and it works like a probiotic (again the organisms are considered good organisms displacing bad organisms in the gut rather like live yoghurt is meant to do).
There are health concerns about both Kombucha and Kefir. These seem concerned with the fact that both are aerobic and exposed to the atmosphere. It is easy to see how other organisms can contaminate the ‘soup’ and these may be harmful. I could find no good evidence for harmful results, but there seems an unresolved issue here. I don’t see why this cannot be minimised by strict adherence to sterilising fermentation vessels, washing the ‘grains’ of SCOBY after each batch, and discarding any odd colouring or off flavour/aroma batches. Both have been around in originating countries for centuries, which is encouraging, but the modern production methods may be breaking the safety rules the ancient methods had built in.
Fermentation is interesting and can be fun. But it can also he harmful to the ill-informed. All those supermarket ‘Sell by’ dates are usually protecting us from fermenting or ‘going off’ foods becoming harmful if eaten.
I enjoyed the class, learned loads, and was pleased to see how Lucie emphasised the ease as well as the safety of procedures to give us fermented pleasures for the table.
If you'd like to learn the art of fermentation, Lucie will be back on Saturday 25 February 2017 for another full day fermentation course. We hope to see you there!
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