Monday, October 12, 2009

Spontaneous Fermentation

The October Foodmakers potluck was educational as always. We had a brief discussion and taste test, where several members brought a pickled and/or fermented food and gave a little background on the item.

I always pick up new and fascinating foodmaking processes at the potlucks. This month was no different: one new member, Aaron, brought his own homebrewed beer and talked about the process of beer making and spontaneous fermentation.

Here is the Wikipedia entry on the topic:

Beers of spontaneous fermentation are ales that use wild yeasts, rather than cultivated ones. All beer was once brewed this way, but by the Middle Ages brewers had learned to crop the yeast from one brew and use it in the next. Only in a few isolated regions were wild yeasts still used. The best-known region where spontaneous fermentation is still used is the Senne Valley in Belgium, where lambic is produced.

Aaron described monastaries where shallow pans of beer are set out in the rafters. The beer then ferments from the wild yeasts that have been living up in the rafters, feeding off the beer over the ages.

Of course, you can't control the taste of the end product as much this way, which explains why this isn't a very popular beer making method. But I find the idea of living cultures very fascinating, and I'm glad there are still people continuing this tradition.

Aaron said that Allagash is supposed to be creating a room for spontaneously fermented beer. To inoculate the space with the appropriate yeast, the room is sprayed down with beer. Can't wait to try it, if they do make this beer!

Our second food adventure was the tasting of Japanese Nuka Bran Pickles. Basically, a paste is made from water and bran powder. Vegetables are then left to sit in the bran paste to ferment. As the bran paste gets used over time, microbes from the vegetables begin living in the paste, making it more and more microbially dense, thus creating a stronger pickle.

Unfortunately, I don't think many people were a big fan of the taste. The bran paste was very strong, and the pickles took on a greyish color. Of course, it was still fun to try such a unique food.

The book Wild Fermentation has a recipe if you'd like to find out more about the bran pickles, or fermentation in general. The Amazon link for the book is here. The recipe in the book calls for the addition of beer or sake to the bran paste, along with ginger and seaweed. I'd probably try the bran pickles again with this recipe.

The rest of the pickles were fairly normal.

We had a delicious kimchi made from young daikon radish which was an absolutely gorgeous mix of colors in pure white, bright red, and dark green. They were a delicious mix of spicy, sour, and just a little pungent without being too strong. I think daikon kimchi is even better than the standard cabbage version of kimchi. (Growing daikon radish is also a really good way to naturally aerate compact garden soil.)

I brought pickled watermelon rind (the recipe can be found here.) By now the rind has been sitting in the gingered sweet and sour brine for several weeks and has picked up the perfect flavor. The light pink watermelon flesh and nearly translucent rind is quite aesthetically pleasing as well. Very palate cleansing, and a great party food.

Can't wait for November, when we'll be making cider with a homemade cider press. Stay tuned for details!

1 comment:

Selya in Tomorrow Land said...

Hey Aliza! Thanks for the shout-out and the great post summarizing the potluck! I'll be bringing a variety of spontaneously fermented beers to the next potluck (not homebrewed unfortunately). See you then!

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