I want to tell you about my new-found obsession with fermenting. I have been unsuccessfully trying to tell it here for months now. Where to begin is daunting and the words are always lost before I can find them.
I have played at fermenting things in the past, but it was always an after-thought. No big thrill. But then this summer… wow! The whole microbial action phenomenon business whatnot really captured my imagination and caught fire inside my mind. One day I was minding my own business and the next I was imagining herbal mixes to try, and juggling bottles of this and that in various stages of bubble. Fermenting is an alchemy of sorts and it is this that has tapped into a fascination with weird and wonderful natural processes that seems to be at the root of a lot of my food- and garden-related hobbies/obsessions with a precision that caught me unawares.
I am hooked. And the house reeks of kimchi.
There are many silences here (on this website) where real life collides with what is appropriate to write about on a website that is first and foremost about plants, along with food and travel. Fundamentally these three things co-mingle with, twist into, and smash up against just about every other part of my life, both good and bad. I’ve written extensively about the messiness that is inherent in these acts, yet somehow there is always this block around the less-than-shiny things. The things that feel too big, too mucky, too dangerous are avoided, especially when I am feeling vulnerable. It all comes out sounding like the lyrics from a badly written Joy Division-alike song written by an EMO teen with one of those awful, what in the hell is going on (?) asymmetrical, that side part is WAY too far over to the left hair, and at this age I really do try to be more mature about how I wear my hair as well as maintain some modicum of restraint when it comes to public over-sharing. (Not really)
All joking aside, I have struggled for years with the invisible line that lays between what is and isn’t appropriate to write about on this site. I’ve just begun reading May Sarton’s, “Journal of a Solitude” (it is fantastic so far) and in it she talks a bit about how so much of that particular kind of messiness was left out from “Plant Dreaming Deep“, a highly successful, much-loved book that she wrote about her garden (I am yet to read it).
“I have begun to realize that, without my own intention, that book gives a false view. The anguish of my life here — its rages — is hardly mentioned.”
I don’t want to regret leaving the important elements out or miss telling the whole story because I was too afraid or concerned with consequences (true or imagined) that don’t really matter.
It is this feeling of vulnerability and the desire to do things with my hands that is at the core of why fermenting things has managed to grab onto and maintain a firm hold on me lately. When I am struggling with the destabilization that comes with grief and loss as I have been these past months, making things (especially food) with my hands is grounding. It is something I can trust and that I can trust myself in doing. Of this I am capable. In this I can find easy footing and confidence. It is where I feel most myself without fear or anxiety.
Writing is a disaster right now. It is painful, and it is painful that it is so painful. All I think about is writing and the not writing. I obsess about everything that was lost in one small swoop and how to get it back. I desperately want to write, but since I can’t do that I ferment garden produce like a mother fucker and concoct surprising and delightful fizzy drinks in crocks. This, besides digging in the dirt in the garden and on the proverbial couch, is my other therapy. I need a lot these days.
And so it is to that end that I currently find myself with a gallon of hard cider, a gallon of honey wine (with herbs), a small crock of red cabbage sauerkraut, a jar of apple cider vinegar, and a large, stinky crock of kimchi on the go. This is followed by two bottles of syrupy tepache (a Mexican fermented drink made by fermenting pineapple rinds), herbal sodas, and endless batches of ginger beer.
And I am not done yet. Not even close. There is so much more to ferment. I’d like to try making ginger champagne next, and I’ve been talking to friends about having a tasting once our honey wines and ciders are further along.
If you’re looking for direction in getting started, I highly recommend the book “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” by Sandor Katz. It is a fantastic wealth of information and I can’t believe it took me this long to buy it. What I love most is that unlike most instructional texts he is not overly concerned with “purity” or the proper way to do things, but is much more interested in letting things happen, experimenting with ingredients, giving it a go just for the heck of it, and letting wild yeasts do the work rather than relying on store bought concoctions. There is a certain amount of control that one can employ in these processes, yet the lack of control is where some of the real magic happens through unexpected results. It’s a good metaphor for life. Beyond instruction he writes about food, life, health, death and dying, and relates it all back to fermentation in a way that has connected with me as I struggle with some of these things myself.
Are you fermenting anything right now? What do you want to make next?