Category Archives: Technique

Culturing Food: History, Health & Fermentation

Culturing Food: History, Health & Fermentation - Science on Tap

Before we start, here is what you need to know about me. Though this is indeed Science on Tap, and though I was indeed invited here by the College of Physicians, I am neither a scientist nor an M.D. I am a food blogger, a folklorist, a historian, and — if anything — a fermentation enthusiast. This means that what I am interested in is people — how people use fermentation, how they have used it in the past, and how it works as a technology that improves quality of life, and the flavor and longevity of whatever it is folks are eating.

Fermentation is a bit of a popular topic right now. Alternet, the online indy reporting outfit and sometime light-news rag, called it their number one top food trend of 2013. In December of last year, they wrote:

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Spring Workshop: Pickling Without Pasteur, Part II

Spring Workshop: Pickling Without Pasteur, Part II

People! Philadelphia People, especially! Pay attention!

I am pleased to announce that, because it was such a hoot in the fall, I will be rerunning my pickling workshop — Pickling Without Pasteur — this spring. Thanks to the Mount Airy Learning Tree, on Saturday May 3rd from 10am to noon, we will be gathering in the Unitarian Society of Germantown’s kitchen to talk about the biology and methodology of lacto-pickling, and then to make copious quantities of delicious pickles which participants will get to take home in jars.

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Baked Eggs, for this or any century

Baked Eggs, for this or any century

Dear readers, I will be candid: I would really prefer to live some hundred years ago. I would settle for 80, even. Or 120. For all its benefits, including refrigeration, antibacterial agents, and your esteemed selves, the modern age lacks a certain cozy charm to be found now only between the yellowing pages of novels: scenes of tea and toast before the fire, embroidered slippers, long hours of novel-reading, acrostics, baked apples, baked eggs, floral wallpapers, lemon-scented barley-water, candied violets, kippered herring, crumpets, puddings in the nursery…. It is not perhaps surprising that my interest centers on foods, fabrics, and the fireside. I confess that I have tried to recreate that coziness in my modern life. I bake apples. I cook kippers. I light fires at the slightest chill. I rest my feet on an embroidered footstool, and the quantity of novels lying about suggests more leisure time than I actually possess.

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Coming Soon to Philadelphia’s Science on Tap

Science on Tap - Culturing Food

I am pleased to announce that — thanks to the generous patronage of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and Mütter Museum, and thanks to my thoughtful friend Anna — I will be the featured speaker on April 14 at Philadelphia’s Science on Tap.

If you don’t know, Science on Tap is a monthly gathering at Philly’s National Mechanics bar and restaurant in which folks wander in to drink good beer, eat good food, and listen to an informal presentation by a scientist or other expert followed by lively conversation. The goal, say the Science on Tap folks, is to promote enthusiasm for science in a fun, spirited, and accessible way, in the sort of venue where people are at their most relaxed.

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Blue Hubbard Squash Purée

Blue Hubbard Squash Purée

Pumpkin pie, dear readers, is one of my favorite autumn treats. But suspect squash purée, excavated from a sealed tin can labelled with a happy turkey, or a beaming grandmotherly face, or some other graphic designed to distract from the disturbing vagueness and small print of the tin’s actual ingredient list is a thing I find somewhat less agreeable. I’ve mentioned here before that dairy — like sweetened condensed milk — that is designed to be stored at room temperature disturbs me. And pumpkin glop is another one of those things that fits into the same general category in my mind.

Luckily, there is a way to produce squash purée that does not involve a can opener. And while it admittedly takes more time, it is hardly an arduous task.

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The Twice Cooked Lacto-Pickling Index

Twice Cooked Lacto-Pickling Index

I had thought when my lactofermentation workshop was over that I would be done with the pickling posts for a while. I had thought that I might take a break, work on some other recipes, and give those of you out there who are neither attached to soured foods nor fascinated by edible bacterial processes a turn with some entrees, or desserts, or even some fresh, unfermented vegetable snacks.

But then I got to doing some pickling last weekend. You know — just for me. And I happened to have my camera on hand. You know — like you do. And I happened to take what turned out to be some very pretty pictures of cabbages, and turnips, and attractive jars filled with delicious, fermenting things. And then –

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Mak Kimchi

Mak Kimchi

Kimchi is extraordinary and complicated and vast, and it would be no less than hubris to imagine that I could do justice to so rich a tradition in one post, or in a whole blog’s worth of posts. When I started thinking about kimchi — quite a while ago, now — I assumed that it would be a little like making sauerkraut — possibly based on something that Sandor Katz had written in The Art of Fermentation (a book I highly recommend!):

“Kraut-chi is a word I made up, a hybrid of sauerkraut and kimchi, the German and Korean words for fermented vegetables that we have adopted into the English language. The English language does not have its own word for fermented vegetables. It would not be inaccurate to describe fermented vegetables as “pickled,” but pickling covers much ground beyond fermentation.”

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Fall Workshop: Pickling Without Pasteur

Fall Workshop: Pickling Without Pasteur

People in Philadelphia! People who might have occasion to visit Philadelphia! You should all come out to this:

Saturday, September 28th, from 10 am to noon, I’ll be teaching a workshop on lacto-pickling and lacto-fermented vegetables, through the Mount Airy Learning Tree, at the Unitarian Society of Germantown on Lincoln Drive in Philadelphia. Participants will get a short presentation on the microbiology of fermentation. And then we’ll get our hands into the brine, and the shredded vegetables, and all the tasty spices, such that you’ll come away (dear readers!) not just with new knowledge and rich experience, but with one to two quarts of tasty living souvenir.

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Foraging the Edible, Collectible World

New York's Central Park

The urge to collect attractive natural things has always been part of my psyche. Pine cones, interesting seeds and leaves, and unusual rocks often make their way into my pockets. Even though I live in Manhattan, I am constantly finding things to collect — especially edible things.

I have had great luck in the city with mushrooms and berries. Greens (mustard, mint, herbs, etc.) tend to grow in places where dogs pee, and there is always a question of what pesticides may have been sprayed. Roots (burdock, carrot) are often not large enough to be worth digging and can be contaminated with pesticides or other soil pollution, too. Digging also can draw attention to an activity that is technically illegal in New York City.

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Foraging for Beginners

Foraging greens on patio

The satisfaction of growing one’s own food can almost – not quite, but almost – be matched by the satisfaction of finding one’s own food.

For me, it began with the raspberries. Indeed, raspberries are perhaps my rampion: like Rapunzel’s mother, I crave them above all other foods. The first thing we did when we bought a house, before we painted a single wall or moved a single stick of furniture, was to build a raised bed and plant three raspberry canes. They all died by summer’s end, apparently of ennui.

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