Fermentation season

Fermentation season

Anna Hedworth, AKA The Grazer, has gone a little bit mad scientist this month – and the results taste fantastic

Gut health isn’t exactly a glamorous subject, but it’s one that has interested me since reading Cooked by Michel Pollen, and more recently seeing Prof Tim Spector speak at the School of Artisan Food. It was a fascinating talk about understanding the microbes in our guts; looking after them and in turn improving our health, weight and mental wellbeing.

The gut is the largest organ in our body and keeping the microbes it contains alive and flourishing affects so much. They help us to digest food, control the calories absorbed, provide vitamins and keep our immune system strong. Modern diets full of processed ready-meals, factory-farmed meat full of antibiotics, and fatty fast foods are bad for our guts.

Your gut needs a diverse range of home-cooked and live foods – like wine and cheese, live yoghurt, fermented foods such as kimchi, pickled fruit and vegetables, olives, miso soup, aged cheeses, live beer, sauerkraut, keffir and kombucha.

These things used to be much more prevalent when fridges were non-existent and people had to preserve fruit, veg and milk as a regular part of life. All this led to my interest in keffir – a fermented milky yoghurt drink – and kombucha – a fermented sweet tea which tastes a bit like apple juice. I would highly recommend giving either a go. We’re making both at the minute, and have added a big vat of kimchi to our fermented house pals. Small bottles of keffir or kombucha are pretty expensive in the shops, but you can produce litres at home for pence.

Kombucha is such a tasty, refreshing, beneficial drink and I’ve also been looking at using it in our menus. At Brunswick House in London I had a salad of kombucha plums, beetroot and goat’s curd. It was totally delicious. By adding fruit to your kombucha for a week, you can flavour it and get tangy, delicious fruit for salads or puddings too.

I ordered my ‘scoby’ (the live element) online and it’s a bit weird! It was in a pouch with a little bit of kombucha liquid, already fermented, which gets your batch going. You simply brew a big batch – a couple of litres – of strong sugary tea (I’ve been using breakfast tea). Once the tea is cold, you add the scoby and leave it to ferment. It’s ready when it no longer tastes of tea (the fermentation process feeds on the sugar so it is no longer sweet). My first batch took a month, but it has since sped up to a couple of weeks as the scoby has settled in. It’s a strange, yet fascinating process!

I love it, and I’m drinking as much as possible of it and of keffir while everyone around me has flu. I’m determined not to succumb, so I’m armed with fermented fluids and a big bag of clementines!

Read more from The Grazer at the-grazerblogspot.com and enjoy her food at The Cookhouse, Ouse Street, Newcastle NE1 2PF www.cookhouse.org

  1. Brew a big pan of tea using 2 litres of water, 7 tea bags and 170g sugar.
  2. Allow the tea to sit for 30 mins then remove the tea bags.
  3. Set aside to cool.
  4. Kombucha doesn’t like metal, so in a big glass jar or similar combine the scoby, a cup of kombucha from your last batch and the new tea.
  5. Stir with a plastic spoon.
  6. Leave to sit for anything between 7 and 30 days, keep tasting until the taste of tea has disappeared - this will vary depending on climate, time of year, weather and the size and health of your scoby.
  7. Drain off the kombucha into glass bottles when it is ready, leaving behind the scoby and a cup of the kombucha.
  8. Then the cycle starts again... time to brew some fresh tea.
  9. At this point you can drink your kombucha straight away or you can add fruit, apples, plums, oranges, ginger, herbs etc and let it sit for a week to flavour it, then drain again and use the fruit in salads and puddings. Easy!

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