The Essential Urban Farmer is filled with excellent information about all things urban/small-space farming and I'm sure I will gush more about it's usefulness when I finally get around to writing about our little community garden space. But the other book - wild fermentation, well, it's been causing a stir here in our kitchen.
The only real fermentation I've been doing has been yogurt, which you can read about here, and because we don't buy raw milk at the moment there isn't much that's truly wild about that process. Thanks to Sandor, though, we're branching out!
Fermentation #1: Sourdough
The basic way to make a sourdough starter is to mix equal parts flour and water, stir a few times per day and wait for wild yeast to show up and feast upon the meal you made for them. We caught our little critters within 48 hours!
Once you catch them, you need to keep feeding and watering them, but you're also free to bake with their natural leavening power! This is mostly where the success/failure comes in - we made the "Alaskan Hotcakes" recipe in the book and they were generally a success although I still need to figure out how to cook them properly.
They were quite edible, noticeably sour and improved greatly with maple syrup and apple butter.
Next I tried bread. Bread brings with it a long list of failures for me (see this post for an example). When I first started, things were OK but I was using all white flour and commercial yeast and that's just not what I'm after for regular consumption anymore. After exploding glass in a hot oven on two occasions and attempting many "foolproof" and "scientific" methods, I still am mostly disappointed. But it's bread for goodness sake! Haven't people been making bread for almost forever? How could it be so hard and complicated? So, based on Sandor's kitchen ethic of never measuring, I mixed up some sourdough bread (I did this also because I really couldn't find a plain sourdough recipe that uses whole wheat flour, only sourdough starter, and makes 1 loaf). Serious failure.
I've read many times that the main problem with novice-made bread is that they add too much flour while kneading, so you're supposed to wet your hands to keep the dough from sticking. Let me tell you - I kneaded this dough with wet hands, dry hands, floured hands and everywhere in between for probably 45 minutes and never achieved the smooth, elastic dough that all bread makers aspire to. I also got embarrassingly angry and frustrated with my dough. Eventually, I got it in a semi-manageable state, let it rise again and dumped it in the oven. The resulting bread was edible but seriously dense and had a pathetic crust. I'm giving up on bread making for the foreseeable future. Grady says he may try his hand now and that's just fine with me!
On to successes...
Fermentation #2: Cabbage aka Sauerkraut
Pretty straightforward: chop cabbage, add salt, pound it to release water to cover and let it sit and do it's thing.
I have actually failed at this before too and I'm not totally sure why except I think I didn't get the water level high enough (I added salt water to the crock above because the amount pictured is definitely not enough). Our kraut is coming along nicely now and we may begin eating it tonight (it was started about a week ago).
Fermentation #3: Honey Wine
This one is also very simple. Mix honey and water and let it sit out, stirring a few times per day. In the same way as with sourdough, the sweet mixture attracts yeast and starts the fermentation process. Once you've got some bubbles going (ours fizzed like soda when stirred), transfer to a carboy with an airlock to finish.
This is also a more immediate gratification concoction than other alcoholic ferments in that it can be ready 2 weeks after starting, although you can let it go for about 4 and bottle and age it, if you want to. We haven't tasted it yet but all seems to be going according to plan, so hopefully we'll be enjoying it soon!