Learning Patience via Fermentation 

So, I’ve been fermenting for a while really.  Like many things in life it started with wine, well leftover wine. I know, ironic, eh? Leftover wine for those who are unclear on the concept is wine that is not consumed and remains either in the glass or in the bottle. I don’t know how it happened but it did. Maybe I was feeling unwell. Anyway skip to the next day and I’ve got say half a bottle’s worth of dregs. I don’t have any slow braises happening in the near future and I don’t know what to do with the wine. I should point out here that I’m frugal as they come; I abhor waste.

So I decide to make some vinegar. I already intellectually know the process and and have found vinegar mothers in my purchased vinegars. So I grab a bottle of commercial vinegar with some mother (those swirly cloudy bits in the bottom that you may have wondered about) and dump that plus the leftover wine into a ceramic mixing bowl which I proceed to cover with a shower cap to keep prying cats, flies or other curious undesirables away. Said bowl goes on shelf in the pantry, shoved towards the back to forget about for a while. Every now and then, at no particular schedule, I lift the cover and stir and check on my creature. This is not the patience bit mentioned in the title because to be frank, I know this process is going to take months, so I’m resigned to it.

Fast forward a couple of years and we are in a whole other place. I’ve now got three vinegars on the go – a malt vinegar from one of our home brews (a simple Belgian ale), a red wine vinegar and a white vinegar. I have a red and white in use as well as the three fermenting themselves away in the back of the cupboard. For the last 9 months or so, I’ve also been the proud parent of sourdough starters. A bit like children, although infinitely easier at bedtime, they require some care. They need to be fed regularly and benefit from nourishing conditions. I’m most proud of my rye starter – the middle child ironically.  She’s no problem, very compliant and responds well to the smallest amount of attention. I’ve foregone the wholewheat starter as it went a bit grey for my liking and started to smell too acidic. The organic unbleached white one is still doing well though I do tend to favour the rye.  I use the rye starter and a make a rye leaven regardless of the composition of the flour in the final loaf. I get the best rising from this and naturally a great flavour and crust crunch.

This is the starter recipe I followed
This is the bread recipe I followed
I also recommend you google You Tube videos. This helped me with my dough technique – how to handle it and how it should appear when the gluten is developed. Anything related to Tartine bakery is a good option. We had the good fortune to visit Tartine when we were in America in 2016 and I’m glad we did. Also, get out and buy sourdough bread in your town and figure out what you like in bread. Some places have a real dark crust, others have a chewy caramel crust and the internal varies a lot also. Experiment with different flours and not just different types of flour but different brands and sources of flour. I like to buy small amounts from my local organic shop which they portion out so I know the turnover is good. It’s a busy place and that’s a good sign. Nothing sits on the shelf long enough to get dusty and old.

Making sourdough bread doesn’t take a long time but it does require you be around to knead for a bit before resting. I’m learning, through my failures as much as my successes, how far I can push it regarding time and temperature. It all gets eaten in the end, whether as toast, bread and butter pudding or breadcrumbs. Remember, I abhor waste.

So that’s vinegar and bread covered. We also home brew. Steve and I take turns being head brewer – it doesn’t work otherwise and I’d like to stay living with him currently. We’ve produced rye IPAs, many different stouts, Belgian ales, English ales and so on. It’s fun. Steve, unsurprisingly likes the equipment side of things though we did start out with just some large stock pots and a borrowed fermenter. I like producing from basic kitchen supplies. Steve likes toys, oops sorry, tools. When he’s busy trying to sterilise everything, I like to remind him that humans have been producing beer without stericlean for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. As Sandor Katz, says ‘sterility is a myth’ – but we’ll come back to him shortly. There’s a plethora of information about home brewing on the internet and just as many contradictions as there are agreements. I found our local brewing supplies shop a very useful resource. The guy that works there on the weekend is friendly, happy to help out the beginner and a great resource.

Brewcraft – 143 Church St, Richmond VIC 3121
And fortuitously, Moon Dog Brewing is just around the corner for a quick one whilst you contemplate the upcoming brew.

Okay so that’s vinegar, bread and beer accounted for.

I’ve recently converted to kombucha. I know it’s really hip and trendy right now but it just my digestive system so much better. It relieves reflux in my upper abdominal area and means I feel more balanced overall. I’m not going to into too much detail about my health but just know that I feel better with it in my life. So, how did I get going on my own? More internet research here and here. The first link helped me use my vinegar mother to kickstart a kombucha scoby (another link, somebody is responsible for teaching me hyperlinks – blame them).  So now I have two kombucha as different stages of fermentation. I now question whether the plural of kombucha is kombuchas – I don’t know.

And finally we get to mead. I love honey, everything about it. Its smell, range of flavour and its sweet stickyness. I love the meads I’ve tasted but the frugal side of me hates paying that much for something I’m sure I can make myself. So, more research and ta-da, I’ve now got two meads from two different honeys on the go. This is where the patience comes in (apart from your patience, dear reader to get to this bit that relates to the title – thanks.) Mead has two stages of fermentation. It can be drunk at 10-14 days as what is known as ‘green’ mead – think young for green rather than mould. Alternatively, it can left for months to ferment all the sugars, giving a drier flavour and long lasting  bottling capabilities. Not one to do things simply, I’m doing both. So depending on which green mead I prefer I’ll retain a cup of that to add to the 5 litres I’m going to long stage ferment. Raw honey, not heat treated is imperative to this process. Also, boiling and cooling the water before mixing the honey is important.  More info here

I want my mead to be ready now but I can’t make it happen any quicker. I can check on it daily and burp it to avoid any explosions. I’m already planning my ginger beer but again that requires patience. Fermentation has its own timetable and the best I can do is be witness to this natural wonder. Maybe that’s the takeaway lesson from this, not the skills of making the product but learning patience to let things run at their own pace, not mine.

The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz I got his book from the library and made recipe cards. I told you I’m frugal.
People’s Republic of Fermentation videos to watch while you wait.

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