Monday, November 11, 2013

Fermenting Ideas

It's that quiet time between soccer and basketball seasons, a time when dinners do not need to be rushed, homework can be put off a little later and the weekend schedules are what we make of them.  I'm sure I'll figure out something to do in all the extra time.  I have eleven books out of the library that have food themes, mostly recipe books.  I'm on a 1540 calorie diet.  I may be setting myself up...

I finished Michael Pollan's Cooked a couple of weeks ago and now the books that intrigued me from his bibliography are arriving through inter-library loan.  The section of Cooked that grabbed me was one that I had played with off and on, but had forgotten about between moving, gardening, parenting, job hunting and the bugs (which I will come back to).  Pollan refers to the section as Earth, he uses the ancient elements to structure his book, so for him "earth" is the process of fermentation. 

A few years back in the deep-dark-mid-life-grad-school days, I filled some of my time growing Chinese cabbages and daikon radishes in Florida (among many other things).  They grew wonderfully in the mild fall and winters, so well that I had to figure out what to do with them, which wasn't hard, because at that point in life I was battling a kimchi addiction.  At five bucks a quart, the kimchi habit bit into the teensy grocery budget.  Soon I was searching on-line for a reasonable recipe that someone who was not Korean could consume without reaching their capacin limits within the first mouthful.  A helpful clerk in the Asian grocery made sure I had all the right ingredients, while trying to get his mind around an American making kimchi.  A few minutes later the cashier looked into my basket and said, "You're making kimchi???" I replied, "Of course!"  The Korean people who I have spoken to about kimchi give it the status of both a mark of pride for the Koreans and as a cure-all of sorts, a means to maintain health. A proud look appeared in her eyes, but then she looked at me and I saw uncertainty.  After a few moment of chatting, she made sure that next time I planted radishes I would plant the Korean "mu" with its green shoulders, not the pure white Chinese daikon.

I hauled my ingredients home and proceeded to rub salt into the cabbage and daikon, and within a mere five days I had a plastic tub of kimchi stowed in a cooler in bottom the small, dark coat closet.  It was wonderful.  A few weeks later when the next growth of cabbage was ready I made another batch.  That evening my husband walked two steps into the house, pulled himself up short and said, "You made kimchi again, didn't you?" It was a little fragrant, maybe a bit pungent and somewhat stinky.  Perfect.

After fermenting several vats of kimchi, my addiction was cured. I haven't made it since (going on about six years now), then I read Michael Pollan, I might have to do it again.  I had been toying with the idea this past spring, but the bugs, slugs  and caterpillars conspired against my kimchi dreams.  The cabbage was unusable.  It looked like someone had fired a shotgun loaded with bird shot at it.  Next year, I will do the floating row covers that my husband had recommended (and I  blew off his suggestion, oops).  I did see some bai tsai (Chinese white cabbage) in the grocery store last week though, hmmmm...

The other thing that reading Pollan's book set me back onto was sourdough bread.  I had a starter a two years ago, and was having pretty good success with it.  Things got crazy when we bought the house and moved in six weeks flat and the starter went somewhere in the process, probably into the compost.  I began a new starter, but this time I was trying to do wild yeasts and whole grain and it has been less successful.  It smells right, but I have created two very different "lead" breads from it. I now have plenty of bread crumbs in the freezer, on 1500 calories a day there is no room for food that is sort of okay. 

The rising just isn't happening in the whole grain doughs.  A few tweaks and we'll see what happens.  In the meantime, I'll be reading Sandor Katz's The Art of Fermentation, quickly, because it has no renewals!  Who knows where this will take me!

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