Food security become a real, tangible threat back in Spring, as the world faced a brave new world overnight. As supply chains, consumer habits and spaces of consumption were disrupted, it highlighted an instability of our globalised system and the detached relationship between us and our food. Perhaps the pandemic will create a more resilient and resourceful consumer, as we have had to practice rationing goods, eating well for cheap and making our stocks last. I think slow food will become our saviour again. Fermenting and preserving fresh produce and food scraps is easy, cheap and the most logical way to reduce food waste and stock up for the hard winter months. A good ferment is also full of wild bacteria and yeast (probiotics) that feed our gut. There are so many ingredients to play around with and get creative. July is a good little time to forage for a harvest.
What is fermentation?
A process in which organisms multiply to create something different. It’s sciencey and I don’t fully understand it yet but there are few basic points to grasp, which I’ve made super simple.
Lacto ferment – When yeasts and bacteria turn stuff into lactic acid.
Alcohol/Ethanol ferment – When yeasts and bacteria turn stuff into booze.
Acetic acid ferment – When yeasts and bacteria turn stuff into vinegar.
It might be a good idea to check out other blogs and websites, there’s so much stuff out there that can explain in detail the various stages and processes of fermentation. I will update this post once I learn more about it myself!
Fermentation for health
When left under the right conditions, lots of our food and drink can be transformed into an elixir of micro-organisms ie. good bacteria that will feed our gut and strengthen our immune systems. I like to think of our gut flora as one big natural anti-biotic that protects us from infections and disease. When food and drink is monopolised by this bacteria then ingested, that little micro-colony stays in our system and grows, shifts and transforms into something new again. It is fascinating stuff.
Fermentation as philosophy post-covid.
The art of fermentation requires patience. It takes a certain amount of time before the sugar/ starch /salt is converted into something different and an active culture is born, although the air is being constantly colonised. Patience is a good principle for sustainable food I think, especially after lockdown. There does seem to be a shift in consumer behaviour and a greater sense of savouring. We will hopefully carry this through to generations. The patience required in fermentation helps us remember the journey behind our plates and that there are many stages before the final, ‘living’ form. Slow food is sustainable food and it’s good for our gut health too. Check out Slow food in NewZeland for lifestyle inspiration.
Fermentation also requires observation – something that I have found incredibly important, especially in lockdown. Having access to a small piece of community land, to plant and grow food, kept me sane. This kind of space should have been on offer to everyone who enjoys a graft but a simple, still life. Observing and interacting with physical changes in seedlings, young plants, soil, and wildlife has been rewarding and and taking a step back to observe our global systems is going to be needed.
There are so many possibilities with live cultures and it can really bring out your creativity. Summer is an exciting time, as many fruit shrubs and trees are starting to ripen. If you enjoy collecting wild food, the possibilities are pretty endless – fruit vinegars with mother, active tonics, lacto ferments, pickles, fruit wines and beers. If you don’t have ‘access’ to wild food or if you live in a city, keep an eye out for fruit trees, you will be surprised (cherry, fig, apple, elderflower, blackberry, yew). You can also create ferments out of everyday items, food scraps or any left over produce from your weekly shop (ie. apple scraps for cider vinegar, cucumbers for lacto-fermented pickle). There are no obstacles.
Fruit vinegars – Use scraps, harvest your own or buy especially to make with.
Apple cider vinegar is the most notable. I am not sure if the enzymes in apple are superior than other types of fruit (does anyone know?) but I think you can create ‘mothers’ (the good bacteria) using pretty much all fruit – plum, grape, pear, peach, elderberry. Eventually a film or layer of culture will form and can be used as a starter to speed up your next batch. It’s worth a try!
Kombucha – a fermented tea. You will need a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) kind of like the mother in vinegar and the starter in sourdough. Ask around, buy online or create your own from a shop bought bottled-kombucha (its possible but might take a while). You can make ‘tea’ and infusions from so many things – mint, rose, chamomile etc. Why not apply this to your kombucha.
Sauerkraut and Kimchi – Mainly used with cabbage but anything with a good crunch can work. When the wild garlic was in its prime, I gave it a go. I found the leaves to be sloppy so instead used the stems, which have a nice strong crunch.
Pickles and Preserves – Anything that is on the turn can be salvaged and preserved in salt.
You can use these as a standard sole dish or mix around and get creative with various combinations. Infused apple cider vinegar (i.e elderflower) then use the infusion to create a pickle, giving more depth and complexity to a standard dish.
I will post some recipes in the coming weeks with ingredients and measurements of what I’ve been making (I am still experimenting with bits myself)