While I was writing my book, an unexpectedly enjoyable thing happened; I discovered that finding out what I completely and totally hated (fruit in kraut? Pretty much never for me, thanks) was actually fun! I tested many hundreds of recipes to get to the final recipes that are in Ferment Your Vegetables and most of them didn’t make it into the book.
There are a lot of reasons certain recipes didn’t make the cut. Some were too similar to others that were better. Some I knew I needed to test and tweak more and there simply wasn’t time. A very few, falling into a distinguished category, were just truly gross. All of those, I retested several times before giving up, because I thought something must have actually gone wrong in fermentation. As it turned out, nope. They were just epic recipe fails.
Whether or not the final product of fermentation is tasty can be subjective. So maybe you’ve tried something similar to one of the below and loved it (you’ll even find some hedging in what I wrote about these bad guys!). If so, that’s awesome. We probably can’t be friends and I’d like to not eat dinner at your house one day, but still, to each her own. For the rest of you, I thought you might enjoy sharing in the strange pleasure that can only come from a truly spectacular recipe failure.
Here are 5 recipes that never made it to the tasters or recipe testers:
Kale-chi – (Notes on the recipe: “What’s new bitterness, woah-oh-oh-oh-oh?”) I’ve fermented kale before and it’s fine when it ferments with friends, but on its own, it can get crazy bitter. I thought maybe, just maybe, kimchi fixins would temper the bitterness. Then I thought if I found the right number of days to ferment, the bitterness might not be an issue at all. Turns out, nope. The only thing that tasted kinda good was the unfermented version, and Phickle doesn’t not ferment fermentable things. (Come on now).
Garlic Scape Pickles – (Notes on the recipe: Jake-“Never serve these to anyone.” Me-“Flavor amazing. Texture, string-like and terrifying.”) I wanted so badly for this to work. Mostly because I had what I thought was a stunning idea for the photo. Yes, yes, mock if you will, but I was really excited about how beautiful these would look wrapped in the jar when a pro photog got her hands on it.
Since the photo was so important to me, I only tested this recipe with whole scapes, which I just learned was at least partially responsible for their horrible texture. Carly and Dave over at Food & Ferments just released a limited edition garlic scape pickle that is off the charts awesome. Their method—smaller pieces, longer fermentation—makes for a killer pickle. So when the next scape season rolls around, make sure to chop first and go long on fermentation and you’ll be a happy, stinky camper. Just goes to show that a little flexibility can go a long way in fermentation.
Guaca-kraut – (Notes on the recipe: “When the avocado amount is small enough to avoid the rancid smell/flavor, you can no longer really name this anything related to guac.”) Guacamole is my fat of choice. I could honestly, easily eat a bowl of it or a salted avocado every day and still crave more.
I’ve had mixed results incorporating fats into kraut in the past. They tend to go rancid quickly and make for some pretty off smells. I was determined, though, to get the ratio right so that it would work as a thing that could sit in my fridge for a good long while and serve as a tasty, protbiotic guac substitute when I didn’t have the time to whip up a batch. My determination did not pay off. Anything other than the negligible addition of avocado led to gross texture, unpleasant colors and rancid flavors.
Mustard Seed Carrot Kvass – (Notes on the recipe: “Farts. Just farts. Why is this farts?”) If you checked out the table of contents on my book launch day post, you may have noticed that there’s a whole chapter on vegetable kvass. I spent a lot of bandwidth testing kvass recipes. I developed some herb kvasses that I really loved, and I thought, hey, why not a spice kvass? I tried a couple that were okay but needed more tweaking, but I thought a mustard seed kvass (mustard seeds are great additions to krauts and pickles!) with a little carrot would work out wonderfully. I was wrong. It wasn’t wonderful. It was traumatic.
Sometimes when the smell is off in a veg ferment, it may just need a couple more days of fermentation, or maybe a little time in the fridge before it’s ready. Sometimes the smell isn’t great (I’m looking at you, pickled Brussels sprouts), but the taste is. In this case, the smell and the taste were both horrifically farty. I regret all four sips I took before this went down the drain.
Piña Colada Kraut – (Notes on the recipe: “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!) I saved the worst for last. In the sauerkraut chapter of my book, there are several recipes that I affectionately, and privately refer to as my “weirdo krauts.” If you’ve got the book, these include favorites like Sauerkraut Satay (page 90) and Mediterranean Kraut (page 87). The weirdo krauts in general are some of my very favorite recipes in the book, and tasters and testers have strongly agreed with me, so it’s not like I regret the experiments. Some of these attempts, however, were nearly as successful as a Trump combover.
The worst of the lot was the Piña Colada Kraut. Every bite—every thing—was wrong with this kraut. I tried with a lot of different kinds of coconut (fresh, dried, shredded, sweetened, unsweetened, milk, water, etc) and the results either tasted not at all like coconut, had a really not good (slimy) texture or had a super oxidized, unpleasant flavor. The pineapple experiments were worse: dried, candied, fresh; it didn’t matter. All efforts produced a sulfuric, nose-destroying funk that brought tears to my eyes. This was definitely the worst fermentation experiment I’ve ever done, and that’s coming from the person who has grown some pretty impressive moldscapes in recent times.
I promise, I’m not telling you not to try this at home. Although these were some of the worst things I’ve ever tasted, I don’t regret my efforts for a minute. The spirit of fermentation (and the spirit of my book) is about finding what works for you, and quite literally, playing with your food. Sometimes spectacular failure is the most fun you can have in the kitchen.
So, what’s the worst thing you’ve ever made? Share your pain in the comments.