I’m Writing a Fermentation Cookbook!
If you missed last week’s episode of FermUp you may have missed my big announcement. Feel free to head over there to listen, and make sure to scroll the list of past episodes for plenty of things you will want to check out. I’ll wait…Oh, hi! You’re back! So now you know the story! I’m writing a book! I’m pretty excited about it. For those of you who didn’t bounce over to listen just yet, the book will be out next year and it is all about vegetable fermentation! Since this is a particular area of interest for me in my very broad array of fermented pursuits, and since it gets to be a pretty unabashedly health-oriented book, I could not be more eager or excited to wrap up and get these goodies to you! The project is relatively new, so while I did want to let you all know what I’ll be working on for the next several months, I’m going to save the bulk of the details for later!
Net Cost Market is Badass
One of the most exciting parts about writing the book has been the incentive to explore for inspiration. And if you are trolling for inspiration pickles where do you go? Well, if you’re in a major American city, you hit up the ethnic markets. I live in a part of Philly where the native cuisines of Mexico, Italy and Vietnam are all very well represented. Within 5 blocks of my home, there are too many country- or region-specific food markets to count. But the pickle palaces of my Eastern European heritage are all found in the northeastern part of the city. So yesterday, my husband and I took a trip to the pickle paradise, also known as the Russian/Eastern European chain grocery store, Net Cost Market. Such an unassuming, and may I say, shitty name for such an awesome spot. If you are of Polish or Ukrainian descent (like me!) you will immediately feel at home there whether or not you speak a word of the mother tongues. It doesn’t matter that the only words from your grandmother’s native language that you know are are kapusta or pierogi or gumpke. You’ll get it. You’ll get the enormous pickle bar, with approximately 798 kinds of cucumber pickle, many fermented, and everything from fish heads to lettuce heads soaking in brine. You’ll cotton to the blintzes, stuffed with fresh, sweet farmer’s cheese and cherries. You’ll happily belly up to the 40 foot long counter just for smoked fish. You may well understand the need for 17 kinds of feta cheese (actually not an exaggeration) and 11 brands of kefir. You will not see the pickle aisle, towering with every imaginable variety of pickled vegetable, as redundant just because the aforementioned pickle bar stands a mere 3 feet away from it.
I Love my Grandmas and my Grandmas’ Grandmas
I had a little bit of a revelation while I was standing amongst those pickles. I didn’t learn the fermenting tradition from my mother and she didn’t learn it from hers. But I have no doubt that both of my grandmothers learned it from their mothers and that for many generations before that, it was a tradition passed down from mother to daughter. For whatever reason, my grandmothers were the end of the line. Maybe it was that their daughters had benefitted from the cultural revolution and had education and employment opportunities that the older women had never had. Maybe bacteriaphobia was sweeping the nation when their girls were young, and their daughters thought their krauts and half-sours were outmoded, gross and possibly dangerous. Maybe there’s a darker reason: maybe these methods were associated with the Old World, with a racism that said these practices (and these people) were dirty and they were looked upon unfavorably by their new, American neighbors. Unfortunately both of my grandmothers have passed, so I won’t have the chance to ask them those questions. But I had this intense feeling yesterday, standing amongst those pickles. I had the feeling that I was closing a loop by way of my fermentation practice. That although this thing had skipped a generation, here I was picking the reins back up, fighting the naysayers and bringing these foods back to their humble yet unforgettable place on the table of a woman of my descent.
Fermentation Connects Me to my Pickled Roots
Maybe these foods are so delicious to me because it’s in my genetic make-up to crave them. I’ve never had to ferment out of necessity. My family will make it through the winter just fine if they don’t have sauerkraut or pickled beets to eat in January and February. I choose this path because I choose to eat local vegetables all year round and I want to consume them in their safest and most nutrient-rich form. I ferment because I enjoy gardening and eating extremely flavorful foods. I ferment because I think it makes a personal statement against massively damaging, enormously-scaled industrial agricultural practices that are destroying our planet and our bodies. Whatever reasons I had for starting this practice, and for making it a part of my life, I felt so happy in that grocery aisle yesterday, thinking how, although it may have skipped a generation, these traditions were not lost. In a way, the work I put into this craft, the exploration of the practice, those are ways to pay homage to my grandmas and their grandmas; they are beautifully delicious ways to connect to my own heritage.
PS- These were by no means the only Ukrainian delights we picked up at Net Cost, lest anyone be offended by our limited choices.