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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

culturing yogurt

For years I’ve cultured yogurt, trying a variety of recipes and methods, in pursuit of rich, thick, Greek style yogurt. I’ve cultured yogurt in a machine, by the light of an oven, near a radiator, by a wood stove. I’ve tried endless combinations of starters. I’m ecstatic to finally have a method that achieved the thickest, the best, the most gorgeous yogurt.

I took out a pot of yogurt and a couple of pints of raw whole milk to come to room temperature on the counter, and then heated the milk slowly to 110 F. This is very quick, don’t go anywhere. While it was heating I filled a large jar with very hot water, and let it stand, closed. Three or four tablespoons of yogurt went into a cup, and a bit of warm milk ladled in and mixed. Then I poured out the hot water, poured in the milk, stirred in the cup of thinned, warmed yogurt, shut the jar, wrapped it in a towel, and put it somewhere warm. I reckoned that if the sourdough sponge liked the airing cupboard, the yogurt might like it too, so that’s where it spent the night. In the morning it was thick enough to wobble pleasantly. But not thick enough.


I happen to have a bit of cheesecloth sewn into a bag, so I used it, but you could use layers of cheesecloth in a colander just as well. I hung it up for a couple of hours to allow some of the whey to drain off into a jar.


When there was roughly half of the amount of liquid drained off the in the form of lovely chartreuse whey, I put the yogurt into its own jar. From two pints of milk and a few tablespoons of yogurt, I got just over a pint of whey and just under a pint of yogurt.


Gorgeous, thickest, best yogurt. It received the children’s highest rating (something involving many fingers and lots of waving) and disappeared immediately. The whey will be used in place of water in our next sourdough, or to soak oats overnight for porridge. I think we’d better get some milk to start it again. Oh yes, and next time save a ladleful to start the next batch.


Every day I care for a sourdough culture that I started a couple of weeks ago. I feed it half a cup of rye flour and water, sometimes pouring off some to make room. First it sat near the wood stove and I fed it twice a day, then it moved into the kitchen, to a cosy spot where I won’t forget it. Beside the kettle. It makes a resounding pop when I open the seal, the bubbles are tremendous, and it grows significantly each day. Seeing that it was more mature and hearty than a previous attempt, I thought I’d give it a crack at raising a few loaves.

I love that sourdough culture forms from wild yeasts, it is much easier on our digestion. We’re also sensitive to wheat, so this bread is made from spelt. I’ve been reading the Bread handbook by Daniel Stevens, which is an intense pleasure all by itself and very distracting. Flatbreads! Croissants!… oh yes, and Spelt Sourdough, hurrah. Before bed, as I was told to, I mixed up the sponge and put it near the stove for the night.

dough ingredients.jpg

In the morning it looked like bubbly soup, but when I measured in the flour and mixed that in, I was amazed to find it became a dough. Following some good advice, I left it to rest for 10 minutes before adding the salt, which I did. Scientific reasons, you see.


Flour, salt, a glug of olive oil, mixed about;


Turned out and kneaded. A lot, (or perhaps not) as spelt has lower gluten. I am so glad that I learned to knead at River Cottage! The Bread handbook has great illustrations of this technique. Mine are provided by my small child;


And by my tall child, made far taller by a handy stool. What a pleasure it is to knead the dough, I’m in love.


I formed the dough into a tight round and put it near the wood stove to proof for an hour, repeated this a few times; it got lighter and lighter; then finally made it into three boules, dusted with flour and put into linens. I later discovered that the bowls I had them in made them too humid; suddenly proofing baskets sound very good. From here I left them to double, which they sort of did.


Baking the sourdough was quite dramatic. I have tried a no-knead bread recipe, which has a wonderful technique of cooking in a good pot, but I just had to try this way, using a hot pan with a water bath below it. Only I had no roasting tin for the boiling water and used a ceramic piece, which promptly cracked in two. Oh dear! I had reserved two of the boules to rise a bit longer, and tried my muffin tin in its stead on those two; much better. We did try hard to wait for that first loaf to cool, before eating all of it. Gorgeous.