Earlier this summer, I had this fantasy of becoming a fermentation/probiotic diva. Images of neatly lined up jars of kimchi and saurkraut and steaming loaves of homemade sourdough bread swirled in my head. This was THE summer. All the recipes I looked at, including the one in fermentation expert Sandor Katz’s comprehensive Art of Fermentation, seemed so nonchalant about it all. Throw some things together, add a pinch of this, teaspoon of that, wait ten days and then WHAMO- delicious effervescent things.
I really did try. And well, the summer is not over, so I’m still going at it. First, my boyfriend and I attempted kimchi, traditional fermented Korean cabbage that’s spicy and amazing. We ended up with something tasty, but nothing that came close to the powerhouse that is traditional kimchi. We were a bit lazy and didn’t go to great lengths to find gochugaro (korean red pepper) and we didn’t have any fish sauce on hand….lesson learned. I would rate that fermentation experiment as a C+: edible, but nothing near what it could be.
(note: NOT OUR KIMCHI OURS DID NOT LOOK THIS TASTY)
My next experiment, sadly, did not pass the class. I had read up on sourdough bread and thought if the people of the internet could do it, so could I. I diligently mixed together my flour and water in equal measure and let it sit to collect all those yummy wild yeast. At first, the scene looked normal. After two days (and a pretty drastic change in humidity), my sourdough starter looked simultaneously sad and scary. Oh man. It smelled like stinky cheese. And it was then that I realized that stinky cheese smell is only incredible when it’s coming from cheese itself. I could have kept a little longer to see if it mellowed, but the faces my housemates were making every time they went into the kitchen compelled me to say sayonera. Fermentation grade: F
You’d think I’d give up after that. You would hope. After dumping my last, failed experiment away, I really did feel discouraged. I knew fermentation bliss was an elusive, elusive thing, but I didn’t expect it to be THAT elusive. And then I remembered something. I remembered the time I was 12 and dreamed of playing harp, and then after a month of no improvement begged my mom to quit. I remembered the time I excitedly purchased a dress pattern and yards of cotton, got home, cut out my dress template, and then lost all drive when I realized the sewing machine was kinda hard to use.
Okay, fine: I expect instant gratification. I guess I always sorta knew that but was just kinda hoping I’d learn to become diligent and patient when it came to learning new skills. Nope. Nope nope. You know, I might have not produced any super viable fermented products. I might not be a fermentation diva. But at least I learned that maybe, just maybe, you gotta kinda stick with it.
Yesterday, I started a new fermentation project (saurkraut!!!) with my friend Fredrieke. I feel very relaxed about it. Maybe in ten days we’ll have delicious, caraway flavored goodness or maybe we’ll have a stinky mess. I think I’m finally seeing the beauty of fermentation- it’s unexpected, it takes time, and the finished product is always a little uncertain.
(AGAIN, NOT OURS!)