Friday, May 01, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

It is a pretty straight forward strategy, nothing particularly radical or unique to me. I am what some might call a cultivator of qualities. That is, my senses are dialed in for the internal grumblings of wants unmet. Once targeted, simply- the hunger becomes the hunted. Just like I remember the contents of what is in my refrigerator, what is not, and consequently the big or small hurdle needed to create the latest culinary creation; my internal tracking system knows how to keep myself in balance, in check, and on the map. If I’m cruising to the right too long, it is a good idea to bank to the left once in awhile to keep from spinning round in circles.

My most recent contiguous uni-directional aversion occurred in the latter part of winter, mind and heart numb from the cold. There was such yearning for something fresh and green, a want for vibrancy and growth. I knee-jerk dabbled with mung beans sprouts to fill the no-grow zone of January only to find the over and done-too-soon process was too overly overt for the season. I needed something slower, a little quieter, and perhaps even something a smidge turned under.

Lacto fermentation is an ingenious food preservation process that no doubt evolved from one of our forefather’s errors when misplaced foodstuff went funky not foul. An ancient protracted, potentially risky version of the Five Second Rule; observation, a hospitable environment, and a bit of luck mixed together to create something worth repeating and improving upon. For those with adventurous palates, there is an international smorgasbord of surstr√∂mming, skyr, injera, natto, and poi waiting, sans chafing dish, to name a few. Admittedly a bit more timid and hardly wanting to sully my hands or home with exploding cans or stinky meats, I set my sights instead on a humble head of cabbage gussied up with plain old beets, ginger, and garlic. Though many a times I’ve acknowledge being crazy about kraut, it still didn’t prepare me for how captivated I would be, thoroughly inoculated with fermenting fervor.

In the snowy depths of winter my internal logic only reasoned that I needed some leafy green to nibble upon. The thought of espresso colored soil and tidy rows of charming fruits and veggies filled me with a canned contented sigh. What I yearned for truly was something a bit more elusive and eternal, an elixir of life. Pickled home craft might be just that. This “invisible” transformative process is a bit mysterious with mutually beneficial exchanges occurring at the micro level. Lactobacilli ever present on leaves and roots digest sugars and other carbohydrates in jarred captivity before giving off lactic acid which staves off the growth of bacteria capable of spoilage. Fermented foods are therefore more easily digested as well as being safely preserved. The bonanza of healthy bacteria or probiotics produces enzymes, increases vitamins, and strengthens the flora of one’s intestines all the while infusing the pickle with saliva inducing lip smacking flavor which continues to refine and deepen as it ages. These zingy comestibles are an artisanal food, lovingly nurtured, and unique each time it is made. Intimately connected to variables in the home environment such as the temperature of the room, the types of bacteria present, and the salinity and moisture content of the brine and food; they are antidote to a world full of standardized sameness. Thinking about it further, fermented products promote biodiversity at the individual level. They are a window into the cooperation and strength of a thriving ecosystem. Participating in the process, one begins to appreciate the myriad interconnected relationships that sustain life, and that is simultaneously wild and a quiet kind of knowledge too. So while I’ve been having fun with fermentation and my kitchen counters are crowded with kefir, kvass, kraut, and ketchup; I have also been nourishing the body ecology and dreaming up a healthier world- one pickle at a time.

"I therefore advise you to lay in a Store of Spices, ... neither ought you to be without ... Kitchup, or Mushroom Juice." The Housekeeper's Pocket-Book and Compleat Family Cook

Lacto-fermented Ketchup: Adapted from Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions. This is a great first project because it is so simple and there is no fear of anything going off. This makes quite a thick ketchup which can be thinned out later with water. Fish sauce and maple syrup? Move over high fructose corn syrup!

1 1/2 cups organic tomato paste
2 Tbsp. whey (strain good quality yogurt by placing it into a cheese cloth covered sieve set upon a bowl)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp. fermented fish sauce
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cloves

Directions: Mix everything together in a non reactive bowl. Place the mixture into a wide mouth mason jar and cover tightly with the lid. Let it ferment for 2-3 days at room temperature. Refrigerate and enjoy.


Lucy said...

Fascinating to harvest something wild and free, mid-winter. Standing on the doorstep to our colder months, be-booted and snuggly wrapped, waiting patiently for my garden to bloom (our winters are far milder than yours!) I cannot help but hanker for growth within the confines of the kitchen itself.

Slower and Quieter are qualities much more deeply satisfying - that's what both maple syrup and fish sauce are, though the latter is hardly quiet on the tongue!

On another note entirely, is the Fallon book wonderful?

Gattina said...

Calli, I always see your culinary experience very adventurous... yet displays a beauty of simplicity. Hope your other Ks' turn out superb as well.
I would luuuuvvve to try this ketchup, but tmaple syrup costs a bomb here (last time I bought one in NJ, but forgot about the safety regulation and placed it in my carry-on bag; it was confiscated :( :(

Callipygia said...

Lucy- Be-booted? Almost makes me wish for winter again. I confess I only mildly perused the book just to look at their fermentation and bone broth chapter. I thought I'd be more excited by it, lots of info didn't pull me in. You can check out the Weston Price Foundation- same food philosophy, no cost. Yeah to harnessing the wild!

Gattina- haha, my K's did turn out o(k) unfortunate situation with my coconut water kefir-very sad. Do try the ketchup. I love it with abandon and this stuff is lively. As for the maple syrup, just sub in brown/white/date/sucanat/sugar. I think honey might prevent the fermentation process.

judyyb said...

Hey, you snuck one by even me? :-)
That's what I get for cleaning out my files and not going on line.
I can just see the beautiful little bio-experiments on your counter, like your own little culinary dioramas, you magician you! Now I am thinking your ketchup is made just in time for a Memorial Day burger!! Rock on, ye conductor of them microscopic chefs.

Callipygia said...

judyb- perhaps you can make it a thai inspired burger, that ketchup has a nice fishy halo to it! At first I wanted to dilute the sauce a little, but now I like its vivid assertion.

Vivian said...

Hmmmm....I'm going to try this without the fish sauce. Wonderful post!

Gattina said...

C,thanks for your suggestion! I eventually got maple syrup though... let me try if I can get it okay... will update you later :)

Devany said...

Oh MY! The fermentation sounds like a fun project, especially from the land of Poi. I am going to try the Ketchup idea. I love FISH Sauce! This sounds like Unami to me.

Hilo, HI

Erndog said...

I'm all set up to try this recipe out...wondered if I might sub agave nectar for the maple syrup? Read your reply to a comment mentioning other sweeteners as subs, but didn't know if agave would be in the same boat as honey. Thanks!