Inspiration: The Art of Fermentation

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I first learned about home fermentation projects like kombucha, kefir and lacto-fermented vegetables while studying at the small, environmentally-focused Sterling College in the fall of 2007. There, Sandor Katz’s first book was spreading around our tiny campus like wildfire. I read “Wild Fermentation” cover to cover and was surprised by how absorbed I was by the concepts Katz was exploring; it was empowering to think that you could make unique, healthful products (like kombucha) at home.

Fast forward five years. It was 2012 and I was browsing a local bookshop in my hometown, when I saw Katz’s new book “The Art of Fermentation,” displayed prominently on the shelf. I was immediately excited. This book was so much thicker and meatier than “Wild Fermentation,” and it reminded me, fondly, of my kombucha experiments in Craftsbury; I immediately knew that I had to read it. At the time, however, money was tight (the book is not inexpensive at $40), and several years had passed by in which farming, food and fermentation were forgotten passions, lingering in the background as I slogged through the remainder of my degree at the University of Vermont, pursuing English rather than Sustainable Agriculture this time.

Now, eight years after I first read Katz’s “Wild Fermentation,” I am reading his new-to-me big orange book and have relapsed into the world of home fermented foods once again. I’m now the proud owner of both a Jun and a Kombucha culture, as well as a colony of kefir grains.

I can’t tell you anything about the rhythm and process of brewing kombucha or making kefir that you can’t find on numerous other blogs, but I’d like to think that fermented foods are still foreign enough to the majority of Americans that my perspective, and some of the things I’ve found challenging, might be helpful to someone, somewhere, so I intend to write some follow up posts about my experiences with both of these fascinating cultures. If nothing else, the internet will have my two cents to add to the vast expanse of information out there. I’m okay with that. 🙂

Blueberry Pie & Dorset Buttons

Today my mom and I made a blueberry pie from the berries we picked down at Adam’s Berry Farm in the Intervale. I, of course, was so eager to get a piece that I cut into it without remembering to get a picture first, or that pies generally need some time to set and cool before you eat them. Hence, you’re seeing the butchered pie, rather than the pretty little masterpiece that it was before.

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I picked some flowers from our garden that got blown over in a thunderstorm/hail storm last night… black-eyed susans, white and pink yarrow, and some comfrey flowers.

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Lastly, I made some dorset buttons to sew onto a sweater I recently finished… Dorset buttons were popular in the 18th century and were originally made from the horns of Dorset sheep. They were often made and sold by families as a kind of cottage industry until a button-making machine largely made them obsolete.

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Today you make them with what craft stores call “plastic bone rings” (think curtain rings) or metal ring from the hardware store. You can use embroidery floss, pearl cotton or yarn – anything you want, really! If you’d like to make your own this is the tutorial that I used. They’re simpler than they look I promise! The outside ring is covered in blanket stitches, than the thread is wrapped to create the spokes, and lastly you use a simple “weaving stitch” that anyone who has made a God’s Eye before will find familiar. This picture is rather blurry, but I promise to add some better ones once I sew them onto my cardigan (it’s being blocked as we speak).

Have you finished any projects recently? How have you been enjoying all of the lovely summer fruit?

Adirondack Pack Baskets

Yesterday I drove up to Craftsbury to learn how to make an Adirondack-style pack basket from Jody Stoddard, one of the very talented teachers at the college where I used to study sustainable agriculture, called Sterling College. She is the fiber and farmstead arts teacher there and has done a lot of workshops on pack basket making over the years. I contacted her a week or two ago to see if she had any upcoming workshops – she didn’t, but instead she offered to give me an individual lesson at her house. So kind of her!

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Adirondack pack baskets were originally made of black ash and used for hunting, hiking, trapping and anything else you can think of! They’re quite sturdy. I plan to use mine as a sort of all-purpose backpack and maybe for some wildcrafting (morels, anyone?) It’s made from a reed called rattan (a type of palm) that comes from the Philippines – rattan is both more flexible and cheaper than black ash, because it’s a super common plant that grows in abundance in tropical places.

It was such fun to make – I’ve never made a basket before and I didn’t know anything, but I found the actual weaving quite intuitive and meditative. I really hope to make more, and who knows, maybe I’ll end up selling a few myself or teaching others how to make them.