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.
One thing you should know about the making of sauerkraut is that it’s important to massage the shredded cabbage. You may pound it with a potato masher or with the end of a French rolling pin. And I always do, to start. But the goal of the exercise is to bruise the brassica bits, and induce them to yield up their water. The goal is to mix cabbage juice with salt, such that the vegetable essentially brines itself. And to accomplish this most effectively, hands are by far the best tool.
As I was making this batch of very purple sauerkraut, there was a moment when Sarah turned to say something to me and found me elbows deep in cabbage. I was moving it around, squeezing handfuls between my fingers, and apparently — says Sarah — singing softly to myself. So struck was she by my display of what she deemed pickling madness that she insisted on taking this photograph of my manual manipulations.
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.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term inspissated is an adjective meaning: brought to a thick consistence; thickened.
I mention it because in the 1777 volume, A Voyage Toward the South Pole, Captain James Cook speaks of having been given several barrels of inspissated wort — syrup of unfermented beer — to carry aboard the H. M. Bark Endeavour as it sailed to the South Pacific and around the world. It was thought, he writes, that the syrup would require to be fermented with yeast, in the usual way of making beer.
But things do not, apparently, always go as planned at sea. So active was this inspissated wort — because of the heat of the weather, and the agitation of the ship — that it reached the highest state of fermentation all on its own, and evaded all our endeavours to stop it.
If this juice could be kept from fermenting, Cook writes, it certainly would be a most valuable article at sea. But alas. It was not to be.
Those same shipboard conditions that proved so beneficial to the aging of Madeira wine made this particular fermentation experiment a spectacular, perhaps explosive, failure.
And the sailors — poor sailors — were left with a sticky, beery mess to clean.
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 —
I have to admit: I have an ulterior motive in making this particular post at this particular moment. Red hot pepper sauce is yet another pickle — one last ferment in what, one month ago, I called a systematic exploration of the nutritionally rich, biologically diverse, sometimes slightly stinky genre of fermented foods.
I said then that the series was part of the run-up to my pickling workshop. And my pickling workshop, dear readers, is this Saturday, September 28.
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.”
In the run-up to my pickling workshop, next month, it seems only appropriate that I should do a series of posts about some particularly tasty examples of that nutritionally rich, biologically diverse, sometimes slightly stinky genre of fermented foods. For the past year or so, I’ve scattered lacto-pickles here and there across the blog, with posts about fermented greens, full sours, krauts, and the like. But there’s nothing in my intermittent exploration that has been anything resembling systematic. And if we few, elite culinary pedagogues know anything at all, it’s that without systematicity — without the sort of enforced rigor that drains the brine of joy and fun out of the enterprise entirely — it can hardly be called an education at all.
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.
Kraut, in the United States, isn’t a very nice word. Dating back to the nineteenth century, the stereotype of the sauerkraut-eating German immigrant was already a thing, and showed up in all the usual places — anecdotes in newspapers, on the minstrel stage, etc. — where one might expect humor at the expense of some racial or ethnic group or another.
During World War I, Kraut became a metonym for German, German became synonymous with wicked, and it became acceptable to use the term as a sneer or a snub, as a way of stirring up enmity and making school-children whose parents derived from Deutchland feel lousy about themselves and about their national heritage.