RIP, Tiny Friends

SCOBYsaurus Rex and the new offspring that fell from the surface when I moved this to take the pic. At least I know fermentation is happening!

When I worked a corporate job with a long commute, I often dreamed of having fabulous riches that would allow me to use my enormous plot of Center City land to farm like a MacGregor.  No borage, of course, it attracts rats!  But most other things would go.  I would have beekeeper friends tend the hives, chicken-lovers tend the chickens and generally live out my urban-hippie dream teaching kids how to grow amazing things in the ground, to milk the friendly goats and to reap the rewards of gorgeous, fresh produce and tangy cheeses.

There was one problem with this fantasy, however.  Okay, there were many problems with this fantasy, however.  The one that really bugged my fantasy brain was a conflicting fantasy.  You know the one, right?  You pack a bag on a whim, sling it over your shoulder and hop a plane for Patagonia, Paris or Papua New Guinea.  As an avid rooftop and patio container gardner, I know that even a week-long trip in the growing season requires friends to give generously of their time and even then there is very often tragic plant death.  Well, as it turns out, as a farmer of yeasts, bacterias and molds, I face the same challenges.  Finding caretakers for all the ferments that need love within a five week period was a bit of a challenge and normally I like to check in frequently on those that don’t need regular help.

I left my beloved Philly on November 25th and returned the night before last.  I bribed friends to care for my cultures (“That SCOBY will offer you her firstborn!”) and crossed my fingers on a few others.

Here’s how I left things:

Kimchi:  Left some completed batches in the fridge at my parents’ house before we left for Peru.

Result:  Fine, obviously.  We could not have been more grateful for the dose of good bacteria after our trip.


Kefir Grains: Asked a former recipient if I could have their babies upon arrival home.  Left a spare set with my sister.

Result:  Crossing fingers for the babies from the friend.  Let’s say a prayer for those left with my sister that their death in a thickened, cheese-like mass wasn’t too painful.


Kombucha: Made a fresh batch and left it to ferment.  Left a great SCOBY with a friend.

Result:  SCOBY at home is ENORMOUS!  New batch is made, so we’ll see how fermenting goes.  Friend Abby reports that the SCOBY she has is alive and well, so looks all good on this front.


Ginger Beer Starter:  Left out without feeding because I forgot.

Result: Dead as a doornail.  I’m racked with guilt!  However, this is easy to start and I use it for everything, not just ginger beer so she’ll be up again in no time.


Sauerkraut:  Left several batches to ferment, figuring that 5 weeks would be just about right.

Result:  Some serious top mold that needed skimming.  They taste great.  Don’t worry friends.  I don’t share my molded ferments, because I think it (wrongly) freaks people out and I’m not a fan of pushing my values on people who aren’t interested.


Honey Gin and  Maple Rum Vinegars:  Left ’em.

Result:  YUM!


Cider Vinegar:  Left it to ferment.

Result:  Some seriously awesome looking and smelling vinegar.  Mothers in every batch!


Desem Sourdough Starter (aka Hercule):  Left him in the fridge and crossed my fingers.

Result:  A not insubstantial amount of fuzzy mold on top.  Also, he was inactive for five weeks.  Prepared myself for the worst, but after some serious surgery, I was able to salvage a bit of untainted starter and I what I have fermenting now looks and smells great!  More power to Hercule!


I finished everything else before we left and didn’t start batches, which was a really good move.  Although I had wanted to have a batch of miso going so that the wait time would seemingly be reduced, but that’s getting started today instead, due to lack of time before we left.  It was three years since our last vacation (trips to parents’ houses don’t count!), and my desire to move my ass around the world a bit is definitely rekindled.  This makes me very grateful that my ferments survived their solitude so well.  Some Peru ferments are soon to come.  Thanks for being patient in my absence!  I’ll be back to posting how-tos this week!