Fantasy Camp at the Foundation for Fermentation Fervor

Foundation for Fermentation Sign

Accurately named. Impossible not to have your fermentation fervor stoked when you stay here.

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.

The Foundation for Fermentation Fervor

The view of the house from the camping/firepit area

Camping out at the Foundation for Fermentation Fervor

This was one of two camping areas near the house. My tent is the messy one that looks like it might fall down.

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.

Kitty the dog

Kitty the dog. Loves a good ear scratch.

Outhouse at the foundation for fermentation fervor residency

The prettiest little outhouse you ever did see.

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.

Bacteria Stained Glass

Stained glass bacteria slide window in the kitchen. AMAZING!

Bethany of Cauldron Ferments and Caiti of Saueressen mix a nukadoko

Bethany of Cauldron Ferments and Caiti of Saueressen mix a nukadoko

Assorted Ferments made by Sandor Katz residency participants

Folks brought great ferments to share. Meads, hot sauces, vegetables, cheeses, kombuchas and more!

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.

Communal meals were often made with local goods, like these amazing sweet potatoes.

Communal meals were often made with local goods, like these amazing sweet potatoes.

Fermentation Dream Pantry

Do you not want this pantry for your very own? I’m still having dreams about this pantry, you guys.

A kitchen with a couch, fireplace, gorgeous old chimney and a view of an amazing fermentation library.

A kitchen with a couch, fireplace, gorgeous old chimney and a view of it all from an amazing fermentation library.

A spread of fermenting foods in crocks

At the end of the day, there were frequently loads of crocks and bowls full of ferments.

Kombucha Continuous Brew Containers

Best Container for Kombucha from Fillmore Container

I love my boochy-booch vessel.

A few years ago, I switched my kombucha-making operation from a single batch brew to a continuous brew system. Single batch was fine, absolutely nothing wrong with it! But I immediately found that continuous brew worked better with my schedule, provided me with booch on demand, and produced kombucha with a flavor I preferred and more fizz. As an irrelevant and superficial but fun side note, my SCOBYs became flat, white and pristine, rather than browned, lumpy and laden with loads of slimy strands of excess yeast. You can find my process for continuous brew kombucha here.

Fillmore Container Booth at the PA Farm Show with Kombucha container

Here it is, before it was mine, when I coveted it from across the Farm Show booth.

I had wanted to try continuous brew for years before I actually did, but I was always concerned that I would have to lay down a lot of cash. As regular readers will know, in addition to being a wild and lazy fermenter, I’m also a cheap fermenter in a small, city house. I never want to buy equipment until I’m sure I’ll use it and I know I’m getting a good deal. I found a small, cheap container that worked really well, but after a while, I wanted to get a larger batch going.

Enter Fillmore Container. Lisa and Keith the kind and lovely owners of Fillmore, brought me to the Pennsylvania Farm Show earlier this year (it was a blast to hang out with them, btw), and the whole time I was at their booth, I was eyeing this 1 1/2 gallon beverage dispenser they had on display. It had a super wide mouth, which is wonderful for the air exposure that kombucha needs to thrive. It had a spigot at the very bottom (something I love in a continuous brew container, because you are drawing right from the bottom (below even a low-hanging SCOBY), and it makes draining the whole thing for (the infrequent) cleanings easier. The spigot is also plastic, which I like in a continuous brew container. If that freaks you out, you can always replace the spigot with one made of restaurant grade stainless steel.

Healthy Kombucha SCOBYs

SCOBYs from continuous brew tend to have a cleaner look, with fewer ridges and yeast strands. Nothing wrong with the bumps and yeast strands, though!

What to look for in a continuous brew kombucha container

Readers in the Continental US have a chance to win the same vessel that I bought from Fillmore back in January (details below), but here are some things to look for in a Continuous Brew vessel if you aren’t the lucky winner:

  • Large capacity – Minimum 1-gallon, and larger is better and wider is better than taller.
  • Wide opening – Kombucha is an aerobic ferment, you want to make sure an allow as much air exposure as possible for the healthiest possible culture.
  • Low spigot – Allows for easy pour off and draining for quarterly or bi-annual cleanings
  • Glass or acid tolerant ceramic – I prefer glass because I like to see what’s going on in there, but there are some nice ceramic bev dispensers out there, too.
  • Plastic or stainless steel spigot – If you get a plastic spigot, my preference is for one that is not coated, as the coating might be susceptible to chipping by acid. If you get a stainless spigot, look for one that is “acid resistant.” I used this spigot on another vessel and I was happy with it.
  • Large spigot opening – Check the opening of the spigot. If you have multiple options, go for the widest one. little bits of SCOBY and excess yeast will always be present in kombucha and can sometimes get stuck in the spigot and clog it. If this happens, try poking at it with a chopstick to break it up or loosen it. If you have a broader opening on your spigot, this is less likely to ever happen.
Kombuchas made from continuous brew

These are the lovely kombuchas I made from my continuous brew containers for the PA Farm show

Or, you can win the one I use and love, thanks to Fillmore Container!

I bought my kombucha dispenser from Fillmore Container, but they are providing the one for this giveaway for free to the winner. I was not compensated for this post, I just like this dispenser a lot and I think you will too!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Dukkah Kraut

If you aren’t familiar with Dukkah, you’re in for two kinds of treat today. Dukkah is an Egyptian spice blend that I put on just about everything. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with toasted nuts and warm spices, especially toasted cumin. I’m a huge sucker for toasted cumin.

Dukkah Spices in kraut

The smell tempts me, but I try not to eat Dukkah with a spoon.

I’ve tried a lot of dukkah recipes, and a couple store bought brands and they’ve almost all worked really nicely in sauerkraut, so feel free to use a store-bought version instead of making your own. If you do want to make your own (way cheaper), though, these two recipes (one from Bon Appetit and one from The Kitchn (I use almonds in the latter recipe)) have done me well.

This is very likely to be the last kraut recipe you see from me for a while. The farmers’ markets are about to open, and we’ll be seeing asparagus, strawberries and rhubarb in no time at all.  Enjoy!

Finished Pink Dukkah Sauerkraut

I used 1/3 pound red cabbage to give me this mauve shade.

Dukkah Sauerkraut


Sauerruben and Seasonality

Have you noticed all the recipes for rhubarb, peas and other spring things popping up? Yeah, me too. I have to admit that it kind of gets on my nerves. I totally get the pressure to make seasonally relevant recipes, but the truth is, seasonally relevant recipes in early April, in hardiness zone 6b and below are generally overwintered root vegetables!

What seasonal vegetables look like in early April

This is what seasonal vegetables look like in Philadelphia in early April. They came from the farm stand exactly like this.

In a few more weeks, we’ll be seeing the bright, fresh, colorful goodies pop up in the markets. We’ll have greens and lettuces galore. We’ll have rhubarb. Now, though, we have beat beets. And wrinkled cabbages. And turnips. And I am SUPER cool with that, because it means I get to eat sauerruben for a few months more.

Sauerkraut: sauer = sour. kraut = cabbage. Sauerruben: sauer = (still) sour. Ruben = turnip. So yup, we’re making a spicy, tangy packed ferment of turnips today and you’re going to love it. That’s not an order, it’s a prediction.

Sauerruben fermentation recipe

A pint of sauerruben doesn’t last long.

Sauerruben is punchy and pungent and it has the tiniest bit of horseradish bite. I can’t get enough of it, and I do become a bit of a lady hulk when someone eats the last of the jar before the next one is fermented. I like it fermented on the short side, because that horseradish tang is still really strong, but it will keep fermenting like a champ for a month or more.

Fermenting turnips for seasonal sauerruben