Ain’t she purdy? Makes a lovely black pesto!
As just about any fan of fermentation will know, Sandor Katz is the man that brought fermentation back to the masses. It is not overstatement to say that his book, Wild Fermentation, is the seminal work for the current generation of fermenters. It is a fantastic book and I highly recommend buying it if you don’t already own it. I have often thought of pulling a Julie/Julia on Sandor, but in the end, that kind of goes against the spirit of the book and the spirit of fermentation that Mr. Katz admires so much. His approach is all about giving it a try, seeing what works and experimenting as much as possible. His philosophy has definitely influenced my approach to fermentation.
Yesterday, Katz came to Philly to speak at a free event at the Free Library to promote his new book The Art of Fermentation. Since then, I’ve been diving into this tome with every spare moment I have and I can honestly say it is AMAZING! It has a completely different vibe than Wild Fermention. It’s anything but wild, actually. It’s a comprehensive, beautiful, extraordinary guide to fermentation in all of its ugly beauty. It is full of information that really brings home what an essential part fermentation plays in global cuisine. Exciting stuff, to say the least.
Katz’ talk was everything a fan girl desired. Smart but not snobby, informative but not preachy and so very inspiring. Those who have read Wild Fermentation will know his story, but that didn’t make his thoughts on food and community, the history of fermentation or the health benefits of eating ferments any less fascinating. I wanted to cry 1,000 tears when I realized I didn’t have time to grab my copy of Wild Fermentation from home for signing. I’m alright with it now. The event wasn’t about his celebrity. He made it about community, global food culture and the joy of getting back to our culinary roots.
The Free Library is the shit, and they’ve linked to a podcast of the event here. If you are on the fence about starting your own ferments, check it out. If you are an old (or new) hand at fermenting, check it out. There’s a lovely long Q&A and a great view into Katz’ fermentation mentality.
- Use the most gigantically deep containers you can find. Trash cans? Great! (Preferably new or sanitized with a healthy dose of vinegar followed by some boiling water.
- Companion Planting! Do it! Basil and Marigolds with your tomatoes are a great way to keep your tomatoes naturally pest-free. Also, PRETTY!
- Water deeply and regularly. Stick your fingers in the soil, if it feels wetter than a squeezed out sponge, you watered too much. Some varieties of tomato are more prone to cracking than others. If your non-cracking varieties are cracking and have mushy flesh, that’s another sign of overwatering, so be particularly careful when fruit is ripening
- Plant a couple of beefsteaks among your beautiful heirlooms. Beefies have been bred for disease resistance, among other things, and they can help keep your garden healthy.
- Make sure and pinch the suckers out of the crotches (teehee!) they are not going to do you a whole lot of good, but they will sap energy that could be better used making you great, gorgeous pieces of fruit!
- Tomatoes love a ton of hot sun. They will not complain about being on a burning, reflective roof. Don’t try it in the shade. You’ll just end up sad and light on fruit at the end of an arduous growing season.
- Tomatoes really hate wet leaves. Direct water at the soil. Mulch them well and prune lower branches to avoid angering your tomato friend and making it more susceptible to disease.
- Tomatoes are resource heavy. They need lots of water, lots of sun and lots of nutrients. Make sure that you are fertilizing regularly. I use a combination of kelp meal and tomato tone to keep my guys happy.
- Avoid tomato blight by watering them with whey or spoiled milk. I dilute my whey to 50% and make a milk mixture of 1 part milk, 5 parts water.
- Stroke your tomato leaves and tell your plant you love it. Supposedly this encourages the tomato to be stronger and stockier. If you smoke, be sure to wash your hands before you touch your plants because tomatoes have sided with the surgeon general, and they may passive aggressively die to prove their point to you about smoking (actually they can catch tobacco mosaic virus from your cigarettey hands).
There’s the easy way to flavor milk kefir, and then there’s the really easy way. The easy way consists of secondary fermentation. You basically strain your grains out as usual, then chop up whatever berries, fruits, spices or other flavorings you want to use, and put them into the strained kefir. Let it sit for another round (up to 24 hours), strain out the fruit (or not) and enjoy your flavored kefir! You may want to add a bit of sweetener to taste if that’s your bag.
The second way to flavor kefir is just to throw fruit or ginger juice or cinnamon or whatever sounds delicious to you into your strained kefir and blend it all together (I usually go hand blender when using this method). This is preferable for anything highly acidic, such as citrus fruit or juice, which will make your kefir too acidified in secondary fermentation. Again, if you want sweetener, just add your favorite kind before blending!
For me, the whole point of making my own kefir is customization. I can make rosemary ginger kefir with whole, organic milk from a local farm and happy cows. This destroys the idea of some filler, hormone and chemical-laden grocery store product that I can only get in strawberry, mango or pomegranate açai flavor!