Posts Tagged ‘ kombucha ’
When I left home Sunday evening for our first ever Renaissance Women workshop, I thought bread making was a mystical art beyond my ability. My few attempts years ago resulted in brick-like loaves and carpal-tunnel-inflamed hands from kneading.
Four hours later I had a sourdough starter named Sabrina in a jar in my fridge: 100g of aromatic beige goop that smells a bit like kombucha (fermenting, oxygenated, yeasty). She smells like good bread. By the time I returned home and put her in the fridge, the glass jar was already steamy with her exhalations. Sabrina’s ancestry can be traced back through Tessa to a baker in France named Vincent, who 20 years prior had been given his starter by another baker. Sabrina is likely older than I am.
“It’s like Facebook.”
- Maeve, on how sourdough starter spreads around the world through sharing.
We learned the basics of three different breads at our February workshop, using a sourdough starter, a gluten-free recipe (the batter-like dough looked like mocha icing), and “poolish,” a yeast-flour-water mixture that ferments overnight.
Our workshop teachers included two Renaissance Women (Tessa and Tanya) and Jenn Dixon of The Bonny Baker. Both Tanya and Jenn have apprenticed with True Grain Bread in Cowichan Bay, our local miller and organic bakery, and the bakery had donated a 20kg bag of “sifted wheat” (aka flour with minimal processing) milled from hard red spring wheat grown by Tom Henry in Metchosin.
Fermented vs. Sanitized
Sourdough starter is a continuation of my new love affair with fermented foods. Just like Holly during my first sauerkraut workshop, Tessa shocked us all by saying that it’s okay to keep your starter in a less-than-clean container. In fact, fermented creatures (e.g. sourdough starters, kombucha SCOBYs) kinda like homes with bacteria in them. The worst thing you can do is expose your starter to residue from bleach or anti-bacterial soap, because it can die.
Our current society is based on pasteurization. We bleach our hospitals, irradiate our food and wash our hands with anti-bacterial soap. The unfortunate side effect of constant, heavy-duty sanitization is that our immune systems become wimpy: we’re not used to fighting off the germs in our world. And now, with superbugs evolving to resist our sanitization efforts, we’re even less able to fend off these monster germs when they attack us.
There is another way of dealing with germs: build up our immune systems. Eat carrots from the garden, even though there’s some soil on them. Use vinegar and baking soda to clean your house instead of bleach. Don’t buy anti-bacterial soap: use a milder soap instead. And to strengthen our internal biological environments, we can eat fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha and sourdough bread.
The whole workshop was a life-changing experience, since I can now MAKE BREAD. But the biggest revelation for me was learning how to knead properly. I’ve worked at a computer since 2004, with years of computer school work before that: my wrists often burn with the foreshadowing of carpal tunnel syndrome. As a result, the few times I’ve attempted to knead dough it’s been an agonizing experience.
Jenn and her co-instructors taught us to knead with the base of the palm, not our fingers or the top of the palm. For some reason I never learned this. Once I knew how to knead properly, I was able to work the dough for much longer than in earlier attempts, with no pain in my wrists.
That said, the first batch of dough I made after the workshop wasn’t kneaded enough (it rose horizontally instead of vertically), so I’ll work it for longer the next time. Apparently it’s not possible to over-knead dough: it will take everything you have to give.
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I was so nervous before our first meeting. There would be speaking in front of a group. This group was comprised of some of the most remarkable women I’ve met in my three years in Duncan. They were all superstars. I didn’t want to be in charge, to tell them what the rules were and the lofty achievements I expected from them as participants. I wanted it to be a collective effort, a shared experience.
They were so gracious and supportive, reclining on the cosy couches of Affinity Guesthouse, sipping their Teafarm tea and praising the bizarre food I’d brought them. Green tea cookies, baked an hour before. Sprouted wheat bread — “manna bread,” as Vanessa called it. Garlic scape jelly that Cindy had made and given me. Cheese made from yogurt, a byproduct of the whey extraction necessary to make the fermented sodas that they bravely drank. The kombucha in a pickle jar. The menu theme was “things I learned to make in 2010.” Not-so-subtle inspiration for our year ahead.
I lurched through the notes I’d made, explaining what I thought the group could be, the commitment I was proposing, the guidelines that I thought would keep us on track. Heather K. nodded encouragingly, Maeve backed me up on the “women only” rule. The two requirements for our group were: 1. commit to learning a new practical skill as a group once a month in 2011, and 2.) commit to sharing your experience through your art, whatever that may be. I’d invited writers/bloggers, two photographers, an audio artist, jewellery makers, print makers, and numerous Jane-of-all-trades, or “dabblers” as Vanessa self-identified.
We brainstormed the skills we’d always wanted to learn: how to milk a cow, how to make bread from a sourdough starter, how to shoot a gun. How to back up a trailer. We used up all the poster-sized sheets of paper I’d brought, taping them to the large windows along the North wall. Who knew there were this many skills to learn? Most of us are in our 30s: what have we been doing with our lives?
Then we voted with markers, “x”ing or checking or smiley-facing 10 skills each. I felt powerful, selecting what I would do over the next year. Literally choosing, with every smiley face.
By this point we had become a group. I didn’t want to interrupt the conversations that had started. Many of these women had heard of one another. Some knew each other, but mostly superficially. In our introductions we’d shared our names, what kind of art we did, and any practical skills we had. It was an inventory of superpowers, and we were a powerful bunch.
Eventually I read out the skills that had received the most votes. These were our top 10 skills, and would be our priorities for the months ahead:
- make, distill and use essential oils
- make fermented sodas and other fermented drinks (kombucha)
- make yogurt
- milk a cow/goat/water buffalo
- cheese making & wine appreciation
- sew from a pattern
- identify wild, edible plants and mushrooms
- use sourdough starter to make bread
- make ice cream, without an ice cream maker
- make soap
We also had four “runner up” skills that would be our back-ups, in case we couldn’t find a cheesemaker teacher or get together enough sewing machines:
- build a cob oven
- make paper
- kill a chicken & process it
With five vegetarians in the group and only four votes being cast in favour of learning the skill, the chicken workshop was relegated to the bottom of the list.
Some of us then volunteered to organize a workshop: our February meeting now depends on who confirms a workshop first.
At some point in the discussion the name “Renaissance Women” was suggested, which was generally adopted despite my inability to spell it without help. I promised to set up a group emailing list to facilitate private group communication and a Facebook Page to share our experiences with our friends.
And so: whew. I made it through our first meeting thanks to two cups of herbal tea, a cookie that Katie had brought, and a piece of Heather K.’s amazing olive oil, rosemary and chocolate cake to calm my anxiety. Now that the ship had launched, I could relax on deck and get to know my fellow passengers. And I would have to start writing again.Continue Reading »
I have a SCOBY named Abigail floating in a gallon jar in my kitchen.
Abigail looks like a pancake.
In fact, she’s a “symbiotic collection of bacteria and yeast that feeds on sugar and tea to produce not only vitamins, amino acids, antibiotic substances and lactic acid, but also small amounts of glucuronic acid.” Well, that clarifies things.
What I think this means is that, like yeast in bread, Abigail is a living thing. I was told to put her into my gallon jar of kombucha (sweet tea concentrate + water). Her job is to convert the sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol through fermentation. According to my instructor, this fermentation enhances the nutrients in the kombucha, and makes them more available.
While I’ve made other fermented foods this summer (e.g. sauerkraut, fermented vegetables with salt water), I’ve never actually been able to see, touch, and name the “culturing agent.” She’s really quite large: bigger than my hand. And she’s whitey-beige, and has spots that make me think of eyes, and feels smooth like baby skin. So: Abigail.
Over the next 7-10 days, Abigail will produce a “baby” SCOBY, which will float above her on the surface of my fermenting kombucha. On day 7 I’ll taste the kombucha, and if it taste right (not too sweet, not too vinegary) then I’ll decant the kombucha into glass jars for storing in the fridge and drinking. I’ll move Abigail into a glass jar with some of the kombucha, and keep her in the fridge as my “back-up” SCOBY for future kombucha batches.
Her baby (let’s call her Beatrice) will be placed into a fresh batch of kombucha, so that she can ferment it over the next 7-10 days, and produce her own baby (Cleo). Beatrice will then replace Abigail in the fridge as my back-up, while Cleo continues the next generation.
And Abigail? She’ll be given an honourable burial in my compost.
I suppose this isn’t a typical article on kombucha or fermented sodas. I should be telling you how to make them. Or listing the benefits of drinking fermented beverages. Or railing against mainstream sodas.
But this is the first time in my fermentation / food-preservation education that I’ve been truly aware that these foods LIVE. They are living creatures. It’s much easier to understand this when you’re dealing with something the size of a pancake, rather than a spoonful of yeast. And I just wanted to share that with you.
SCOBY definition and kombucha-making knowledge courtesy of Naturally Nourishing.Continue Reading »