Brined Pickles Day Five/Fermentation Fest
What a difference five days makes. The stewing pickles have been transformed: an acidic broth has formed and infused the cucumbers’ once-firm flesh with a lactic tang that teams with life. Their color has change from vivid green to gray. Though delicious and aromatic with the essenses of garlic and dill, the brine has the off-putting look and clarity of dishwater.
At least all hope isn’t lost. I thought some of the top pickles were turning and going soft, so I lugged the full five-gallon jug down to the basement, which promises temperatures more consistent with the 75 degree threshold for problem fermentation to take place. But now they are safe and sound. My paranoia melted away as I sampled one, two, no five or six pickles this evening (bet you can’t each just one!). The whole basement smells like slightly-stinky pickles.
But it’s just a faint aroma compared to the scents wafting from the Ecotrust Building out towards the Thursday farmers market in Portland yesterday. We went up to check out the city’s inaugural fermentation fest, organized by Liz Crain, a fellow food writer there who is finishing up a Food Lovers’ Guide to Portland and specializes in wild-crafting and fermenting her own pickles, cider and dandelion wine. The main attraction: an appearance by the generous and gregarious Sandor Ellix Katz, or “Sandorkraut,” the guru of raw fermented foods and author of popular books on the topic.
The pungent smell of kimchi, krauts, kefirs and kombuchas perfumed the humid air in the Ecotrust gathering space. Most of it was delicious, though the tiny samples left you wanted for me. Hey, this was a free festival. But I had the rare experience of actually discovering a food I don’t like: natto. These gooey fermented Japanese-style soy beans stew in their own viscose sauce that has a (there’s no other way to put it) disenchanting semen-like consistency. I’ll just stick to my tempeh and tofu. But really anything to help me narrow my food choices down is a relief. Apparently, even in Japan, one-quarter of the population doesn’t care for the native food, so I’ve got good company. Sounds like another polarizing Asian delicacy: the spikey-on-the-outside, mushy-within, offensive-smelling durian fruit.
The drinks were what really stayed with me. Really delicate kombuchas, such as the one with spicy cardamom and aged pu-erh Chinese tea. Kefir, which normally describes fermented milk/yogurt drinks, as water-based drinks, such as the super-refreshing coconut water one at right. Hard ciders, which ran out before I got there. And unique professional-grade home brews fermented with special local ingredients, such as Douglas Fir tree needles and blackberries. The brewer gal is coming to OSU apparently in the acclaimed fermentation science program here. On our trip home, we schemed of having our own fermentation festival right here in Corvallis.