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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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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Learning the Forgotten Ways

Fermenting carrots and ginger, and sourdough starter …

What seems like a long time ago now, when I was a single mother of two, I had mastered a small repertoire of recipes and baking was not included. I was the stovetop queen of East Harlem. So after I moved to California and then got married (and quickly had two more kids,) I was proud of myself when I started baking muffins and other treats. I felt pretty smart when I also started canning the vegetables and fruits that my husband grew in abundance in our little backyard. Even so, when we moved here to Greenville almost nine years ago, I was still a virgin bread baker. I had never used yeast for anything. But I was no virgin to eating bread, and have always preferred it fresh.

I started off with a bread machine that I have since gotten rid of after I realized that most good bread rises twice, and you have to flirt with it for a few minutes in between rises to get the best out of it. For a little while I thought I had arrived after turning out some beautifully braided challah loaves, Belgian waffles and seasonal cinnamon rolls. I also admired the rows of pickled peppers, cucumbers, and cabbage on my pantry shelves. But after awhile I wasn’t satisfied. It was all foreplay, the yeast in my baking goods, the vinegar in my canned goods, the carbonation in my soda.

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