Flirting with Fermenting

Kefir starter quietly doing its thing while I’m out and about…

When I shared my raspberry soda recipe last week I was focused on the raspberries that I have been harvesting a handful at a time from my garden. I mentioned that I have used three different methods for making naturally fermented sodas. I forgot about my dalliance with kombucha, so really there were four. In the raspberry soda recipe I really just gave up some hints about how to start with a starter… but I’m not trying to keep my romance a secret. So let me shed a little light on how I’ve been spending some of my time these past few months and how you can get your own relationship going with fermentation.

When I was growing up my mother told me to replace the friendly bugs in my stomach, after taking antibiotics, by eating yoghurt. That’s probably still good advice, but it’s not the only way to get your gut right. And really, if you have a bad feeling in your gut, you should trust what it’s telling you about your intimate relationship with food. I’ve also previously talked about learning the forgotten ways of making bread. Well, commercial yeast is to bread what carbonation is to soda. Before instant rise yeast we had sourdough starter. Before carbonation (and vinegar) we had fermentation. One is like a big box of cheap chocolate and the other a petite package of tasty truffles.

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If Dirt Could Move Itself

A big pile of dirt and an empty bed of a golf cart.
The dirt has to get from the pile to the bed of the garden cart….

It would be nice if I could smile sweetly, or tilt to one hip, or whisper promises to this pile of dirt to get itself in the bed of the garden cart, and then remove itself again onto my strawberry bed… but it ain’t happening. There’s a shovel in the shed with my name on it.

Strawberry Fields Forever

A tangled mass of strawberry plants and mother of thyme after a couple of months of inattention.
A tangled mass of strawberry plants and mother of thyme after a couple of months of inattention.

I grew up hearing hints about the hidden meanings in Beatles songs like Strawberry Fields Forever. But for me the literal imagery of strawberry fields forever is a tantalizing and worthwhile goal. Fields of pickable strawberries for jams, pies, pancakes, juice, maybe even dye, sounds like heaven to me. Adding to that idea is my recollection of a piece of information from somewhere that the island of Manhattan, under the stewardship of its original inhabitants had been described by them in similar terms. Just imagine Central Park as strawberry fields… Essentially, I just don’t think that you can grow too many strawberries!

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Food is Beautiful

The varicolored inside of a carrot from my rainbow carrot crop.
The varicolored inside of a carrot from my rainbow carrot crop.

One of the pleasures of cooking, for me, is that food is simply beautiful. Many times I feel like stopping chopping to take a picture. Most of the time I don’t actually stop, except to appreciate the unmatchable art of Nature. The color combinations and hues, the textures and arrangements are, to me, what tubes of fresh paint must be to a painter, pure pleasure. The benefits of home cooking are numerous, and if we are earnest, we can remind ourselves of them in moments of weakness. Handling exquisite beauty should be one of those things on the list of benefits!

Cinnamon, orange peel and cloves steeping in a red zinfandel.
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Humble Hands

Gardening has its rewards but it’s dirty work. I do use a trowel, but sometimes I just dig with my bare hands, pulling up the roots of pesky weeds. These strawberries have been sending out shoots and need to be thinned out.

On Monday of this week I made a resolution to use gloves when I’m gardening, but on Thursday I was thinning out and transplanting strawberries without gloves on. It seems like a small thing to talk about, but perhaps I have not been giving my humble hardworking hands the respect they deserve. Since my little golf cart is broken (again), and I didn’t feel like walking up the hill to get my gloves when I remembered my resolution, I just went right on working without them.

I love the smell of the lavender bushes when I’m working in the garden. The exercise helps me keep my girlish figure. The sunshine makes me happy in the early morning. But my hands, my dependable hands, busy and productive and indispensable, they get dry and cracked from gardening. Clayish dirt gets stuck under my nails and stains them a brownish color. I can’t cook with dirty hands, but I garden and cook almost every day.

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Refreshing Raspberry Soda

My raspberry crop from the last couple of days measures just over a cup. That’s not nearly enough to make a batch of jam, but good for a batch of muffins or natural raspberry soda.
I’ve been keeping my kefir grains alive for more than a year now.

About a year ago I started making naturally fermented sodas from a non dairy brew of kefir grains. I purchased the dry kefir grains in a package. I keep them fed in a quart bottle of water sweetened with a quarter cup of sugar. I use a fermentation lid inside the screw band, and fill the bottle to the very top, so that there is no air, but the gas can escape. I make a new batch every couple of days. Or if I can’t keep up with all that, I stash the bottle in the fridge until I get around to making a new batch. The quart of strained sugar water, which I pour from the bottle after 24 or 48 hours with the kefir grains, is what I use to make a variety of sodas.

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Farewell Fresh Tomatoes

Washed tomatoes drying on racks.
The first thing I do with most produce is wash it and leave it to dry thoroughly. The tomatoes in front are Early Girls. Those I throw straight into the crockpot, after the Cherokee Purples start coming in. You haven’t tasted a tomato until you’ve tasted one of these heirlooms straight off the vine.

I do have one tomato vine in my garden right now. I always try to have fresh tomatoes for as long as possible. Once I still had a fresh tomato to slice for Thanksgiving, but I don’t think that will happen this year. I have a couple weeks left, maybe, of fresh Cherokee Purple tomatoes off the vine.

A tomato vine growing in a garden box.
This Cherokee Purple tomato vine has taken over my kitchen garden box in late September.