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January 18, 2010 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Back before refrigeration, humanity turned to fermentation for much of our food preservation. With the help of some friendly bacteria and/or yeasts, home cooks can transmute tea into kombucha, and milk into yogurt, creme fraiche and buttermilk.

If you like to make bread, sourdough starters are an excellent alternative to comercial yeast. Catch some wild yeasts from your area/flour, or get some from a friend, order some, or ask Carl's Friends for a free piece of theirs. While starter maintenance may sound daunting, they are surprisingly robust.

Fermentation is also a great way to pickle things. Make deli-style dill pickles and sauerkraut. And then can it!

There's always homebrew, as well.
posted by mccarty.tim (66 comments total) 74 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks, I'm a big kombucha fan and have been thinking about making my own.
posted by ob at 8:21 AM on January 18, 2010


Creme fraiche doesn't require the warming, Just add buttermilk to heavy cream and wait. And yes it's crazy good, perhaps better than anything that easy/cheap should be. Screw you gum thickened commercial sour cream, I'm with creme fraiche now.

Sauerkraut is also a huge payoff for very little effort. Unless you are the only one in the house that likes it, then you are going to be eating alot of cabbage over a couple week period. One can only eat so many ruebens.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:21 AM on January 18, 2010


Don't forget kimchi, miso and lots of other delicious things!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:22 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not that I am advocating anybody doing anything felonious, but fermenting your own fruits and grains (ala the homebrew link) can also be used for the distillation of spirits.
posted by kaseijin at 8:24 AM on January 18, 2010


Can it, Keith.
posted by applemeat at 8:24 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been thinking of doing a post like this for quite a while...excellent job! I was first turned on to Wild Fermentation by this post and can't recommend the book highly enough. (And if you do buy the book, try to do so directly from the author himself, who is also great about responding to email questions.)
posted by slogger at 8:24 AM on January 18, 2010


Kombucha is the single most disgusting thing I've ever put in my mounth....
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:28 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Confess, Fletch, you've obviously never eaten (non-fermented) silkworm pupa.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:30 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Kombucha is the single most disgusting thing I've ever put in my mounth...." --Confess, Fletch

I would say mine has to be Pokemon sausage, but kombucha definitely comes in a very close second.
posted by kaseijin at 8:33 AM on January 18, 2010


Mrs. Deadmessenger has been into this for a while now. She makes kefir, yogurt, and buttermilk, and recently has started with pickles, sauerkraut, and Moroccan preserved lemons. Her kefir-making operation, in particular, is threatening to take over our kitchen.

Kombucha, on the other hand, we've started referring to as Nas-Tea.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:34 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


cat Pie, I haven't, but i'm going to China on friday...opportunity knocks...
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:34 AM on January 18, 2010


One can only eat so many ruebens.

In my experience, this is not the case.
posted by [citation needed] at 8:34 AM on January 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I like kombucha, but when making vinegar (IE not what this post is about) pickles, I've been known to take sips of the pickling solution.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:36 AM on January 18, 2010


I know a few otherwise sane people who claim kombucha tea has some great "healing" qualities, but there's little science to back that up. Also, if you're going to ferment yourself up some kombucha, make sure you can tell the difference between plain old mold and the actual kombucha culture.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:37 AM on January 18, 2010


Different strokes for different folks. I can't stand most soda, but kombucha is delicious to me. It's one of the only things I get cravings for. Of course I love lambics and believe that vinegar is the only condiment for french fries/chips.
posted by Telf at 8:39 AM on January 18, 2010


Kombucha is the single most disgusting thing I've ever put in my mouth....

What, did you try to eat the kombucha "mother?" (Because... don't do that.)

Also, have you ever tried eating natto? Because if you find kombucha disgusting...
(I actually like making my own natto at home)
posted by Auden at 8:40 AM on January 18, 2010


deadmessenger, do you have any info on how to make Moroccan preserved lemons? This is something that I've been wanting to try.

Is this something I should take to Ask?
posted by slogger at 8:41 AM on January 18, 2010


natto...pah...Smutto!
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:42 AM on January 18, 2010


Also, koumiss, alcoholic milk, should be mentioned. Instructions found in the Alaskan Bootlegger's Bible.
posted by Telf at 8:43 AM on January 18, 2010


OTOH...I do like vegemite on wasabi peas...
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:44 AM on January 18, 2010


One thing I've wondered about kombucha since I first heard of it, is whether obtaining the starter culture from someone is really necessary. All of the descriptions I have read make no mention of making your own. Is it like sourdough, where you can just leave the basic ingredients out uncovered and end up with your own starter? I don't see why it wouldn't be.

also, they didn't forget to include kimchi. It's just sauerkraut with a different name (and spices), after all.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:46 AM on January 18, 2010


If you want to be grossed out by huitochitle and other awful foods, check out Steve Don't Eat It, a feature of The Sneeze.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:48 AM on January 18, 2010


Kombucha makes me feel kind of giddy/tipsy when I drink it, especially on an empty stomach. It's like probiotic champagne!

I like to drink pickle juice, too.
posted by fancyoats at 8:48 AM on January 18, 2010


We do beer and (sometimes) yogurt at home, and I've got a sourdough starter ... starting ... but I've been looking to get into pickles and sauerkraut. Maybe now is the time.

And, yeah, kimchi. Oh god, kimchi.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:49 AM on January 18, 2010


This reminds me of a ligthning talk at 26c3 called 'Free Fermentology Foundation' which you can download here (it's lightning talks day 1). It's a 4 minute speech supporting a public repository of ferments. Google leads to this site.
posted by valdesm at 9:05 AM on January 18, 2010


by here i meant here
posted by valdesm at 9:06 AM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


We make yogurt starting with powdered milk. Works the same, costs a whole hell of a lot less. My kids eat a lot of yogurt. I mean... a LOT of yogurt. Like on the order of four or five quarts a week.

Also, if you take fresh yogurt and hang it up in a cheesecloth for a few hours to drip the whey out, it thickens to a Greek yogurt / sour cream consistency, and can be used in the place of sour cream.
posted by rusty at 9:09 AM on January 18, 2010


We make yogurt starting with powdered milk. Works the same, costs a whole hell of a lot less.

You willing to share your recipe?
posted by leahwrenn at 9:16 AM on January 18, 2010


deadmessenger, do you have any info on how to make Moroccan preserved lemons? This is something that I've been wanting to try.

Easy. Organic unwaxed lemons. Wash. Slice. Only tricky bit and it's not that hard. Through the pole but not all the way through. Then rotate 90 deg and go through the opposite pole. Again not all the way so that you've got a whole lemon with two slices through opposite ends.

Kosher salt packed into the slices. Then into a far with a lid. Another handful or two salt on top. On the counter turning the jar every day. Give it a shake. After a week the jar will be half full of liquid, top with cooled boiled water if you like and refrigerate. Ready to eat after a couple days in the fridge. Quarter then lemons through the equator. Scrape the flesh off the peels (it comes away easily after curing) rinse the peels and chop as desired. Excellent in a greek salad.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:29 AM on January 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


We make our own kraut and other pickled cabbages. My partner had a pickling crock custom-made by a local potter.

A good, sour sauerraut sauteed with good sausages is divine. You do have to look out for the bad molds, though. Blue is not a good color and can be poisonous.

She also makes a mean spicy taiwanese pickled cabbage (bok choi or Napa cabbage) which is amazing with good pork.

She's psyching herself up for kimchee. Having watched Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre Foods Korea episode (and read/extrapolated from other sources), she thinks she may be able to make it happen. Also, she's a big fan of Sandor Ellix Katz's Wild Fermentation book.

We are also looking into curing and smoking things, which generally does not involve bacteria, but is equally daunting, I think, to get into. Maybe later this spring I'll acquire a Big Green Egg and get down with some nice smoked gravlax. And maybe some duck prosciutto or even lop chung. Who knows?

Unfortunately, we cannot do milk in general, though I do want to say that a good cultured salted butter is a butter that our weak American non-cultured dairy butters cannot hold a candle to. And you can make it out of spoiled cream! Even if you don't have a Kitchenaid or other mixer with a whisk attachment, making butter out of cream is really worthwhile, especially if you've got a little culture.

Also also? The liquid left over from making butter is the original buttermilk and has almost nothing to do with modern commercial "cultured buttermilk". If you do make butter, give that real buttermilk a try. It's a rich and interesting drink.

Also also also? Sour yak butter really does taste good in tea (per Tibet), but it is also an acquired taste. I like it, but then I'm an offal-eating half-Chinese guy with a penchant for weird foods.
posted by kalessin at 9:30 AM on January 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'll join the "Kombucha is Disgusting" parade. But then, if there is an open container of the kind of vinegar that some folks put on fish and chips within a few feet, I want to leave.
posted by Foosnark at 9:41 AM on January 18, 2010


I've been brewing my own Kombucha for a while now. It's extremely easy - and if you know what you're doing you can make it pretty delicious (i.e. not just 'original' flavored).

While there is not science to back up the claims of its health benefits, there also hasn't been a lot of research done on the subject. Perhaps its *mere* placebo, but I feel great when I drink it.

I also love the romantic idea of it. It's an ancient concoction, and one that, traditionally, no one was supposed to pay for. You make a batch, which produces a second mother, and you pass it along, giving your friends a magical elixir.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:44 AM on January 18, 2010


We make yogurt starting with powdered milk.

Another vote/request/demand for the recipe, plz.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:45 AM on January 18, 2010


I keep hoping I will find some good recipes for tsukemono, since I live nowhere near an asian grocery store, but ume plums and nukazuke just seem a little hard to get in the Rocky Mountains.
posted by ikahime at 9:49 AM on January 18, 2010


Not only does home fermentation of foods actually increases the nutritional value of many things. In Asia and in Europe, fermented cabbage is a staple. Just about any leafy or woody vegetable can be peeled, shredded, canned, fermented and enjoyed.

This is a true mutualism and one of the things I like about being a member of our species.
posted by clarknova at 10:08 AM on January 18, 2010


One thing I've wondered about kombucha since I first heard of it, is whether obtaining the starter culture from someone is really necessary.

Seems like you can grow a kombucha scoby just by combining sweet tea with some (living) kombucha, and leaving it in a warm place. But I wouldn't advise starting completely from scratch, as I believe the process entails letting a layer of stuff (including mold) grow on top of sweet tea, then turning it over and letting more stuff grow, etc. This is likely to end in failure.

Yogurt is so easy: scald milk, let it cool to 110°F / 43°C, add in a few tablespoons of plain yogurt (look for the yogurt that itself used only milk and culture), and incubate it at about that temperature for 6-10 hours. (This is where "yogurt makers" come in handy.)

Kefir is even easier: get some kefir grains, put them in a cup of milk, and leave at room temperature for a day. As the grains grow, periodically remove grains and give away or throw away. (See Dom's kefir-cube site for more about kefir than you ever wanted to know, including kefir cheeses and something called water kefir.)

Sourdough can also be easy. Start with some starter, add equal parts water and flour (rye, wheat, spelt, whatever), keep in a lightly covered jar/crock at room temperature for a day or so until bubbles form on top. Either use some and repeat, or close and put in the fridge for up to a few weeks - just stir the hooch back in to use. Freeze a backup in an ice cube tray in case the starter goes bad (as distinct from sour). Using a sourdough starter is nothing more than adding some to your dough or batter instead of yeast. Don't worry much about the source of the starter, as your local yeasts will quickly take over.
posted by parudox at 10:13 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


We just served our homemade sauerkraut at a party last night. I was proud, but it didn't disappear as quickly or completely as I would have liked.

The Book of Miso, and the Book of Tofu by the same authors, is awesome.
posted by OmieWise at 10:16 AM on January 18, 2010


Also, if you take fresh yogurt and hang it up in a cheesecloth for a few hours to drip the whey out, it thickens to a Greek yogurt / sour cream consistency, and can be used in the place of sour cream.

mine always leaks out through the cheesecloth!!!!! i end up with messy cheesecloth and . . . unfiltered yogurt.
posted by liketitanic at 10:25 AM on January 18, 2010


Icelanders discovered centuries ago that you can preserve food without refrigeration a number of ways. In order of edibility, they are: dry it, soak it in whey, or putrify it.

Drying fillets of cod, haddock, ocean catfish and other species makes harðfiskur, which I highly recommend as a camping/hitch-hiking food. It keeps pretty much forever, as chock full of protein, and keeps you going. Try it with butter smeared on it, it's really good.

Soaking things in whey brings us to surmatur, or "sour food". Here we're in a culinary grey area. The pungent taste of whey isn't for everyone, but it can alright if it's not too too strong (if the whey was mixed with water). No, what turns most people off from surmatur is what Icelanders have traditionally chosen to soak in whey; namely, ram's testicles, fatty meat wrapped tightly in a net, a sort of Jell-O thing made of meat from the face of a sheep (including the eyeballs) and so on.

This brings us to putrification, used in the "curing" of shark and skate. I can attest that these are probably the second most disgusting things* I have ever tasted. Reports on the exact process of making putrified shark vary - some say you bury it a meter down in gravel by the shore, others say it's enough to seal it in a plastic cask - but the result is the same: soft, gelatinous, room temperature meat that packs an ammonia punch so strong you'll see stars.

Despite the advent of refrigerators, many Icelanders still enjoy food soaked in whey and putrified food as well. In fairness, though, the sour food is mostly during the Festival of Þórri (from late January to late February), putrified skate is usually eaten one day of the year - December 23rd - and shark is just something we give tourists for a laugh.

*The most disgusting thing being a type of leg of lamb from the Faeroe Islands which is hung from a barn rafter until cured by the sea wind. The taste is, to my imagination, probably what excrement tastes like. It's phenomenally bad.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:29 AM on January 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


I accidentally drank kombucha while hanging out with some dirt-worshiping friends last summer. At first it was gross. Then it grew on me - kind of reminded me of pulque in a way and that instantly caused me to like it. People say it "just makes me feel good" and to this I respond, "It has booze in it." Admittedly, not much, but even the tiniest bit of alcohol - to someone who is accustomed to imbibing it on occasion - triggers the body's "I'm a happy booze-belly" response. Kombucha, that fermented lemonade you get at the hippy-store, pulque, all these things have low alcohol content but it's sufficient to get a response out of the body.
Same goes for "I dunno, I just like smoking a hookah pipe for some reason." and the always classic "I just like the smell of pot."
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:46 AM on January 18, 2010


Sourdough's a great way to make bread unless you happen to live someplace that has something godawful and putrifying floating around that makes everything go bad in about 3 hours. Grumble grumble.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 10:50 AM on January 18, 2010


I liked Alton's recipe for cottage cheese, available on FoodNetwork's site. Just made it last weekend. So easy, and yet so good!
posted by 6:1 at 11:18 AM on January 18, 2010


Keith Talent: Organic unwaxed lemons. Wash. Slice ... Kosher salt packed into the slices.

Note: Do not under any circumstances nick your finger during this process.
posted by darksasami at 11:18 AM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't mind kombucha (mostly the flavored kinds), but the worst thing is getting a super-excited bottle which sprays sticky vinegary liquid all over when opened. That smell is AWFUL and seems to linger forever.

I love kimchee though. And certain spontaneously fermented beverages. Let one of these age a few years and it tastes like vineger, orange soda and horse manure. Delicious. I don't know if there's any way to get it officially, but the madman who runs Miya's Sushi in New Haven, CT let us try some of his personally fermented Firecracker Sake. Words cannot describe.
posted by supernaturelle at 11:19 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sharin' the love: Here's a great sourdough starter recipe.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:30 AM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh man, I LOVE fermented things. I've recently started eating natto with instant oatmeal for breakfast. I'd eat it with rice, but I can't be bothered to wake up early enough to make rice nor clean a rice cooker pot every day.

Chinese fermented tofu (doufuru) is also great with rice or especially congee - I'm not a fan of the one covered in red sauce, but I love the one that Hwang Ryh Shiang makes - plain one in a chili brine. Haven't got the guts to eat it with instant oatmeal yet, but one of these days...
posted by pravit at 11:39 AM on January 18, 2010


Thanks for the post. I'm always interested in culinary chemistry. I brought some kefir from in Istanbul back to Scotland last Winter, and because it was so cold, I never managed to really get it going. I can't wait to move to a warmer climate and start making kefir again.
posted by jpcooper at 12:02 PM on January 18, 2010


Great post! I can't recommend enough that anyone and everyone here try making their own sourdough starter. It can be a pain to maintain, but it really is so rewarding.

Pickling is one of my favorite things to do. At the last izakaya I worked at, we used to make two five gallon buckets of kimchee, twice a week in addition to all of our other pickles. Nothing quite like the flavor of your own kimchee!

I wouldn't advise trying to make your own miso unless you have a great deal of space and time to utilize.

Pretty much every western kitchen I've worked in, we made our own pickles, kraut, preserved lemons, cured meats etc. Curing your own meats is SO MUCH fun, I urge everyone to look into it if you're into salty, meaty goodness.

Also, consider the fact that North African style preserving doesn't have to be confined to lemons. Tangerines, meyer lemons, kumquats, limes and even grapefruit are really delicious cured this way.
posted by kaiseki at 12:28 PM on January 18, 2010


leahwrenn et al: Sorry, yogurt is so simple it didn't occur to me to actually say how you make it. parudox pretty much covered it above -- the only thing I have to add is that using powdered milk, we usually mix it strong. Like 1.5 times as much milk powder as the box calls for. It seems to come out somewhat thicker that way. Otherwise, we treat it the same as regular milk -- heat to 190 degrees F, cool to 120 degrees F, stir in a little plain yogurt saved from the last batch, and keep it above 90 degrees for 8 hours or so. I have a "Yogotherm" which is just a plastic half gallon bucket and a styrofoam insulating sleeve. It's handy, but you could do the same thing with any number of items you already have around the house (like a small cooler and some warm water, for example). I wouldn't spend any money on anything electric for making yogurt. The bacteria are not that fussy about temperature.

liketitanic: About the cheesecloth thing, I have a cheesecloth that came with an actual cheese making kit. It's fairly tight-woven. Are you using the cheesecloth they sell in like grocery stores, that is more like a loose mesh? It has to be tightly woven enough to contain the yogurt at the start. After it's dripped for a couple hours it gets very thick and almost like a really soft cheese. I bet an old (i.e. kind of threadbare) dishtowel would actually work just as well. Or a piece of an old cotton bedsheet? Anything that water can seep through but yogurt won't will be fine. The whey that comes out is very thin.
posted by rusty at 12:59 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


A good cheap alternative to a cheesecloth in my experience is a coffee filter. They're a bit finer, but they work.

You can also get cheap, grocery store cheesecloth and double it up a few times (ie 4 to 8 layers).
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:10 PM on January 18, 2010


mine always leaks out through the cheesecloth!!!!! i end up with messy cheesecloth and . . . unfiltered yogurt.

I inherited one of these yogurt cheese funnels (not sure if it's the exact same brand, but mine can open and lay flat when not in use), and it's pretty awesome. Now, the link says this one is no longer in production, but I bet you could get the effect by lining a regular funnel with a couple of layers of cheap, grocery store cheesecloth.
posted by carmen at 2:18 PM on January 18, 2010


slogger: deadmessenger, do you have any info on how to make Moroccan preserved lemons? This is something that I've been wanting to try.

We do something pretty close to what Keith Talent describes above, although we make cross-shaped cuts in each "pole", don't do the sterilized water (use more lemon juice instead), no refrigeration (refrigerating something that is intended to ferment is counterproductive), and we let it sit out for a minimum of one month, rather than a few days.

Also, to Kaiseki's suggestion, we have a batch of limes preserved in the same way working now - they'll be ready in about 2 weeks or so. I've also done Meyer lemons in this way, and they were quite good. I'll have to try the grapefruit suggestion, that sounds damn interesting.
posted by deadmessenger at 2:24 PM on January 18, 2010


Oh, and the liquid from the lemon preservation process? Add a shot or two to a Bloody Mary. Ridiculously good.
posted by deadmessenger at 2:26 PM on January 18, 2010


you can also make cultured butter out of creme fraiche; I started out using this recipe from the Atlantic's food subsite, and have graduated to using only cultured cream and finishing it with fleur de sel; I made some on Saturday (self-flickr-link) and it was a well-received birthday gift.
posted by heeeraldo at 2:40 PM on January 18, 2010


liketitanic, I use paper towel (two layers) set in a strainer above a deep pan. Then again, I use it to strain yogurt to make yogurt cheese, which is how I can make ranch dip without sour cream and lie to myself that it's healthy.

The thing, though, about fermented food? Who the hell ate it the first time? Who was desperate/hungry enough to open that jar that previously had regular, familiar food, and was presented with the ripe smell of fermented food? Who really thought that eating the first natto would be a good idea? I mean, look at the stuff! Or chou dofu? The fermented black tofu that smells like your own soul dying (and fermenting in a ziploc baggie on the counter in the summer sunlight)? Apples, that I can understand. The Icelandic "cuisine" MSTPT mentions? Not so much.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:47 PM on January 18, 2010


Who was hungry enough? Everyone. We forget in this age of abundance.
posted by Toekneesan at 2:53 PM on January 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


I look at fermentation as really being more about time than being about cooking per se. I've made at least two loaves of sourdough every week for about the last maybe 15 years. One thing I can attest to is that starters get better over time. If you want to buy yourself a good one I recommend the one King Arthur sells. It's old and tastes damn good. It's also pretty hearty.

Baking sourdough consistently really requires commitment and a propensity for ritual. You have to always be thinking at least a day ahead. In fact, I don't know of many fermentation products that can be consumed the same day they're started. I kind of like that, but I also kind of dig process.

I believe starters take on attributes from the places where they're cultivated. For example, they taste different in houses where the people don't use alcohol, beer specifically. And I'm sure this sounds suspect but I'm pretty sure there's a difference between starters in homes without a woman and homes with one or more. The thing about wild yeast is it is very much a product of its environment. If you think about it too long it'll skeeve you out. Yeah, you want a little dust in it. It doesn't work without it. And the cultures are these little villages where either the population is healthy and happy, or they aren't, at which point they're not so good for you either.

I've adapted the No-Knead Bread recipe that the Sullivan Street Bakery developed (and which the New York Times and Mark Bittman really publicized) for a sourdough sponge, if you're interested. It's pretty much my go-to bread recipe. Here's my recipe with a video showing you how to make it.

Another way to start a starter is by getting a bit of it from someone who already has it. I also like that social element of this ritual. Besides getting a fresh bit of the wet starter, you can also reconstitute a dried bit of the stuff. I'd be happy to mail you a bit of mine dried if you memail me an address. I'll even send instructions on how to bring it back to life from its suspended animation state. You're success of course will vary. How good are you with goldfish?
posted by Toekneesan at 3:48 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I believe starters take on attributes from the places where they're cultivated. For example, they taste different in houses where the people don't use alcohol, beer specifically. And I'm sure this sounds suspect but I'm pretty sure there's a difference between starters in homes without a woman and homes with one or more.

Respect to your sourdough skillz, but dude that is some pretty crazy bullshit right there. You're right in that a starter will be soon be replaced by local bacteria from either the air or more likely the specific flour you're using, but beer in the house? Women in the house?? That's the giant reptile overlord of the sourdough world.

All that matter for sourdough is the geography, temperature you keep it at, the hydration, and the grain/s used.

I can't believe no on has mentioned pruno.
posted by smoke at 4:14 PM on January 18, 2010


Can we get a microbiologist up in this thread? In a two woman household, I need to know if my starter is safe! That said, I am intrigued, and also curious as to why similar climates would have different wild yeasts at all.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:20 PM on January 18, 2010


I'm probably letting myself be unduly influenced by lore I've heard from old bakers, and stuff I've read in books on food history, but this is not my idea. And I've also noticed that my bread tasted better when I lived with women. Of course perhaps I was happier when I wasn't alone and that made me better at concentrating and thus a better baker. Not making a scientific claim, about my bread or anyone else's, but I believe lore and oral history needs to be heard. And when you're talking about cooking, seems doing it well is as much about alchemy as it is about science. You don't need to believe it, but you ought to know it's been part of the discussion.

So, yeah, for the record, women are supposed to make sourdough taste better. At least according to my experience and some old bakers I've talked to and read about.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:49 PM on January 18, 2010


Women make everything taste better.
posted by rusty at 5:10 PM on January 18, 2010


I think I have a new favorite urban legend. Paging asavage...
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:24 PM on January 18, 2010


Cat Pie Hurts: I have eaten silkworm pupa. And yes, it's pretty disgusting. But the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten was fermented stingray. Tasted like ammonia. Nothing else. Just ammonia. It was so bad that I would actually eat it again, because the badness was so much worse than anything else I have ever tried.
posted by festivemanb at 8:45 PM on January 18, 2010


I am loving this thread, this is my humble contribution: The cheap-ass incubator.

You can get yogurt makers with a few ounces capacity for about $15 new, if you want anything bigger the cheap-ass incubator can be made for as little as $5 and some household stuff. It works great, I've used it for sourdough, yogurt, mushrooms, vinegar, kombucha and just to raise bread dough.

Get any more or less insulated container that will hold all your jars, I've used Styrofoam coolers, Rubbermaid containers insulated with cardboard, broken mini fridges and plain old cardboard boxes.

Get a cheap adjustable aquarium heater, you need just a few watts of power, there are some in Amazon for about $5 for non submersibles, $12 for submersibles.

Fill a glass jar with clean water and a few drops of peroxide (to prevent contamination), put the heater in the water, adjust the temperature and cover the whole thing with aluminum foil (to prevent too much evaporation). This will be your heat source, place it in the center of the box and place your jars around it. Top of the water after each use.

The original version used a low wattage light bulb, the aquarium heater makes temperature control a lot easier.

If you want to produce navigable quantities of your fermentables, ask me how to turn a whole bathroom into a clean room/incubator.
posted by dirty lies at 1:26 PM on January 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Dirty Lies, that's awesome. I'd been wondering why proofing boxes and incubators are so expensive for something so simple, and your solution is perfect. I'll have to build that next time I need something to round out a $25 purchase on Amazon.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:07 PM on January 19, 2010


For rising bread dough, the more steam the better. Commercial bakery proof boxes are very steamy. Might want to leave the foil off the top of the jar if that's what you're using it for.
posted by rusty at 10:03 AM on January 20, 2010


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