Sunday, May 3, 2009

Burn My Stillhouse Down

A little over a year ago, I began this blog with a recipe for "massaged kale", courtesy of Sandor Katz's book The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved. Alas, as I'm in New England now and Caretaker only grows kale as a fall crop, I cannot indulge in such a simple, sumptuous repast. But I have a new Sandor Katz book, Wild Fermentation, which offers recipes for delectable edibles that are season unspecific. Katz celebrates fermentation not only for its value as a form of food preservation, but also for the unique health benefits derived from consuming the living yeasts and bacterias which ferment food. Katz, who is a long time HIV/AIDS survivor, believes that his immune system health is largely a result of his diet, which consists almost exclusively of fresh, organic produce, milk from his goats, and homemade, naturally fermented foods.

I can't yet speak to the curative effects of sauerkraut, but I have noted empirically that beer certainly does make me feel good (except on those occasions when I perhaps partake too liberally...though those thankfully seem to be dwindling as I reach the ripe old age of 25). Anyway, all of this reading about fermentation had been brewing away within my subconscious until Saturday afternoon, when Margaret and I passed by the Berkshire County Homebrew Supply Store on our way back from a CRAFT visit. I decided to pop in just for a preliminary scouting expedition and departed laden with two one gallon brewing jugs and matching airlocks. In my defense, it was National Homebrewer's Day, and thus all merchandise was 10% off (the sale continues all week, for anyone interested in embarking on similar voyages of discovery). It probably didn't hurt that they also gave us free samples of a nice honey brown ale that they had brewed in store.

Now that I have all the necessary tools, I need only a pot of honey to set to work on my first project: Ethiopian t'ej, or honey mead. T'ej seemed a good starting point for a number of reasons. First and most importantly, it will be ready to consumption in 2-4 weeks. Considering that some of Katz's other recipes call for a year or more of aging, this is a major selling point. I'm also rather taken with the idea of making my mead with Caretaker honey. As we don't grow hops or barley or other beer-brewing supplies, beer will have to wait. I'm hopeful that this little experiment will not turn out like my last foray into wild fermentation, the infamous spontaneously (un)leavened sourdough bread. As Don says, however, "if you aren't occasionally failing, you aren't really trying". Stay tuned--pictures and a detailed recipe to follow once I've secured the honey.

For now, check out this (grainy) video of Hawthorne Valley's killer raw ruby red sauerkraut. This stuff was so alive and kicking that it was bubbling immediately after we opened it. While fizzy food might be a bit out of some people's comfort zone, it is merely indicative that the fermentation process is ongoing and that the good fermenting bacteria are still hard at work converting sugars from the cabbage into carbon dioxide. Trust me, it was delicious.

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