In case you missed it, I spent a week in April camping with a small group of fermentation-obsessed folks at the Foundation for Fermentation Fervor (aka Sandor Katz’ amazing place). It’s been a little hard to write about this, because like many of my favorite life experiences, it’s hard to do it justice. I don’t know what to equate it to, exactly, because I think it’s pretty much a unique experience. Has Jacques Pepin ever invited a group of passionate young (stranger) cooks into his home to eat his food, cook with him and hang out with his friends and family? Did 90s Michael Jordan (or insert currently relevant world-class athlete (I don’t know sports)) invite a group of NBA hopefuls to shoot some hoops with him, frequent his favorite hotspots and camp out on his couch for a week? Pretty sure the answer to both of those is “nope,” but fermentation’s Pepin/Jordan offers this kind of immersive experience, and it is as fulfilling and surreal as you’d think.
We were a crew of ten participants, with occasional pop-ins from Sandor’s friends. Our group was composed of three owners of current fermentation companies, 2 soon-to-be company owners, a cook and homesteading jack-of-all-trades, a chef, a talented mushroom forager and organic fertilizer-maker and me. We came from California and Oregon, Colorado, Puerto Rico, Nashville, Boston and Philly. We have divergent life experiences, but we all share a fermentation obsession and most of us privately copped to excessive adoration for Sandor, but I personally think we held it together relatively well in his presence. And, fully in keeping with the summer camp vibes, there are people I met here that I hope to keep in touch with forever.
We spent our days cooking and eating way too much excellent food and fermenting in a dream fermenting kitchen. There was an abundance of ingredients, including loads of rare (to me), fermented ingredients like balo balo (a Filipino shrimp ferment) and hammonatto (a soybean ferment with amazing flavor, detailed in The Art of Fermentation). We had access to a beautifully designed space loaded with all the equipment you could ever want for fermentation from loads of jars, crocks and carboys to gigando, cleverly hacked incubators. We even got to play a little bit in Sandor’s incredibly well-stocked cellar. I’m not saying I got choked up down there, but that’s just because that would be embarrassing to say.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll walk you through some of the details of our dream days and the many, many ferments we made, started and ate during our week there. For now, I’ll just share the general breakdown of our days so you can (hopefully) get a feel for how this worked. I believe that these residencies will continue to happen twice a year, some for beginners and some for a more experienced crowd. If you love fermentation, I HIGHLY recommend that you apply. You can find information about the application process on the Wild Fermentation site.
Our days went something like this*:
- 7:30-9 Wake up and get showered/ready. Eat breakfast someone else made or make your own breakfast from a wonderfully stocked pantry and fridge. Local eggs, duck and chicken, grains (often fermented) of all kinds, sourdough pancakes and lots and lots of coffee with raw, local goats’ milk were generally available.
- 9-9:30 Sandor’s housemate, Leopard, is a qigong practitioner and teacher, so for those of us who wanted to participate, we had some amazing 8 Brocades time outside before starting class. (Side note: Despite my nerve-damaged body and general lack of coordination, this made me feel amazing and I’m currently ISO some group qigong in Philly if anyone has a hot tip.)
- 9:30-11:30 Fermentation Class! Sandor had a loosely observed agenda of things to cover. Some days were packed with lots of ferments, other we focused on just one or two ferments for a whole morning. We tasted finished samples, went through the process of making them together and dug deep with questions (with Sandor Katz. In Sandor Katz’ kitchen. Did I mention we hung out with Sandor Katz and fermented stuff in his kitchen?).
- 11:30 – 1 Lunch and lunch clean-up. Lunch and dinner were always made and eaten communally. We were encouraged to pilfer the pantry and make whatever we were inspired to make for most meals. Sometimes there was a theme, sometimes there was just an almost comical variety of dishes to dig into. Not everyone cooked at every meal, but we all sure as hell ate at every meal.
- 1 – 5:00 or 6:30 Afternoon Fermentation Class. Same deal as the morning. We would taste finished versions of the ferments we were making, ask loads (seriously) of questions, make multiple ferments per Sandor’s agenda. Some days we took a break in there, which Bethany and I used to peel sticks (It’s a thing. I’ll tell you later.) These classes were immersive and open. We had time to approach each ferment in an in-depth way, explore questions and even alternative projects. It was, simply put, the way I would like to spend most days.
- 6:30-8 or 9 Dinner and clean-up. Sandor frequently made trips down to his amazing cellar to pull up a few bottles of country wine or mead for us. We started sipping and cooking around 6:30 and cooking maybe around 7. Dinner was the same deal as lunch, a big, communal affair where everyone contributed to the food prep or cleaning. We ate together on the covered porch most nights and sometimes talked about the big things.
- 9 to whenever – Hang out with new, fermenty buddies. Go to bed at “Country Midnight.” My circadian rhythms definitely adjusted to the sunrise and set as they never have before. I have never been seen waking up before 7 without an alarm, but I was one of the first people up every morning, generally well before 7am.
In short, we spent days the way every fermenter wishes she could always spend her days! Specifics coming soon.
*All of these are vague estimations. Every day was different, and we spent a lot of time picking each other’s brains on topics both fermented and unfermented. We shared our stories and experiences. We peeled sticks (it was awesome!). We drank a ridiculous amount of coffee. We also took field trips to a local goat farm and to Sandor’s former intentional community, a short walk from his current home, and were encouraged to forage for additions to the dinner table. It was paradise.