kombucha

Before I lived with my sweetheart, I lived with a dear friend from art school, in the oldest neighbourhood in Vancouver. Years of beautiful meals and conversations around the built-in table. It had a pipe running through it, we painted it silver. I went to visit Jen in another gorgeous old flat across the city, and we fell into our familiar habit of talking about art and ideas around a very similar table. Over kombucha!

making kombucha

Sparkly, fermented sweet tea, good for digestion and detoxification and full of nutrients and probiotics. Otherwise known as the immortal elixir. Kombucha originated two thousand years ago somewhere in the Far East, spreading throughout Russia and all over the world, and arriving, belatedly, in my own kitchen. Jen sent me home with a bit of the zoogleat mat, the symbiotic bacteria and yeast, the scoby. Like my homemade vinegar, it has a mother culture.

making kombucha

So I’ve begun. I brewed strong black tea, and let it cool.

making kombucha

Perhaps next time I’ll stir the sugar in while it is hotter, oops.

making kombucha

This part is very real. Pull the mother out of the kombucha and add it to the fresh, cooled tea. Science project!

I’ve been thinking that there’s something steadying in nurturing these kinds of fermentations, sourdough culture, cream cheese, yogurt, such that even if one’s life isn’t particularly full of routine and ritual, order and awareness, it becomes more so by taking this up. Almost as if an older way of being is intrinsic to the slow food, and the slow food influences my life towards a little more peacefulness, rather than requiring a peaceful life before beginning to make the food.

making kombucha

Not that I haven’t forgotten yogurt for a few unintentional hours in the airing cupboard on more than one occasion.

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p>Cover with a clean cloth to allow it to breathe while staying clean, put it in a dark place for about a week, and then taste it. When its ready, begin again, nurturing the new relationship, like the ones you might have feeding the sourdough starter and the yogurt culture. Devoted. I’m so excited. I’ve got the last batch of kombucha in the fridge, to drink, and live forever. If not, Jen’s given me another route to immortality, or at least better digestion, which do seem to be intimately connected.

cream cheese

Being rather fond of cream cheese, I thought I’d learn to make it. I object to the expense of cheese; what’s more I find that we can’t tolerate anything but raw milk cheeses unless made from goat or sheep milk. Those are even more dear. So I set about working up my courage. Fortunately, the most complicated part of making cream cheese is getting the bacterial culture. After this a child could make it by themselves, and mine may, as they’re smitten.

I ordered the mesophilic culture for this type of cheese from a shop in England; there are many great cheese-making supply shops online. Then the children and I followed some simple steps. We mixed a pint (about 560 ml) of raw milk with a small cup of raw cream (let’s say 150 ml) and warmed it very slightly, to 32 C. You could just immerse the bowl in hot water. We measured in 1/8 teaspoon of mesophilic culture, covered the bowl and left it for half an hour. While it was sitting, we mixed two drops of rennet with a tablespoon of filtered water, and added it when the time was up, mixing well in. With the bowl covered, we put the whole thing in the airing cupboard, where yogurt and sourdough sponges have spent many a warm and happy night. You just want it to be comfortably, consistently warm, for twelve to sixteen hours or so.

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In the morning I peeked in the cupboard and found that we had cheese! Nearly. There was a lot of whey sitting at the surface, ready to be drained off through cheesecloth, so I poured it in and left it to drain for a few hours.

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Like the yogurt I drain to thicken, about half the original amount of liquid drained out as whey. (I reserve the whey for ricotta and sourdough) Gloriously creamy cheese was left! I paddled it with some sea salt to taste.

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Gorgeous on crisp bread, or sourdough with some pepper, or honey. I’m astonished how easy it was. Even easier than mozzarella.

sour cream

We’re back from a long ramble on the beautiful hills around our house; the sun came out, the daffodils are shooting up; spring is coming. I’m almost ready to think about my garden, though my mind is occupied with the furniture and so many projects. It is lovely to return to the house and find lots of food, now that we are beginning to get into rituals of baking sourdough and culturing yogurt. I’m drawn to more experiments with the wonderful raw milk from the organic farm down the road. We had some cream that was getting to the end of its life, so I decided to find out how to make sour cream.

homemade sour cream

It’s incredibly simple, if you can get your hands on some buttermilk. The culture in it is what you need. Just stir in a bit of buttermilk, say a couple of tablespoons to a cup of cream, and let it culture overnight on the counter, covered. (Best to make sure your dishes are very clean.) Done. In fact, I didn’t have buttermilk, so I used some yogurt and lemon juice, and it worked very well. I love how easy and how inexpensive it is to make a variety of foods that I have always thought of as mysterious, store-bought things. I’m dreaming of cream cheese now.

wild sourdough culture

Naming your sourdough culture like a pet may a seem a little odd, but I’m hoping that it means we won’t forget to feed it. (I’ve set a reminder on the calendar just in case we neglect it anyway.) The children measured a cup of flour (we used whole spelt but will use rye in future, it works better) and a cup of warm water, into the jar, and stirred it. Take your time stirring in, as lots of air is a very good idea; the wild cultures are in the air around you. Tomorrow, and the next day, and possibly a dozen after that, we’ll feed the culture: we’ll toss out half (better yet, use it in baking, or pancakes!) and add half a cup of flour and the same or a little less in water.

wild sourdough culture

If brown liquid appears it isn’t such a good sign, but you can pour a little off or stir it in if it is dry, and plan to feed the culture more often for a bit. (A professional baker later told me you can feed it twice a day!) You want a scent like a fine beer brewing, rather than something going off, if you see what I mean.

When the culture starts to bubble, and is doubling in size, it is beginning to be ready, but could ideally use a couple of weeks of daily feeding. The best ritual is when you are removing half of it to bake with, and feeding the other half a little when you do, but for the home baker sometimes that isn’t possible. Better to culture and use a sourdough starter imperfectly than not at all, I say. After a couple of weeks, we’ll feed it every day if we are using it often; if not, it goes into the fridge to be fed once a week, and brought out and fed daily to get it back up to an energetic bubble again. Soon we can use it to start our first traditional slow sourdough. If we are really devoted, we can use this culture for our whole lives. The children named the wild sourdough culture Flower.

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p>Read more about sourdough culture over here, as I get more experienced with it!