Archives for posts with tag: Wild Fermentation


Through all these years fermenting vegetables, I have often wondered why there is so little a tradition of this kind of food preservation in Britain.  Did the prevalence of beer easily make malt vinegar available for vinegar pickling? Perhaps the relatively mild winters meant less of a hunger gap than in colder climes eastward? Maybe the early entrance of rural workers into a wage economy cause an earlier loss of indigenous food traditions? Might there be foodways left to be discovered? I’d like to believe this last, but I don’t have an answer.

I scour old cookbooks and find not much– perhaps an occasional mention of making fizzy drinks with “yeast” (which of course could so easily be wild rather than derived from baking and wine making)  — elderflower champagne, for example, or bottled drinks of burdock and dandelion, or nettle.  But these are sugar ferments, and different from preserving in brine with bioactive bacteria– i.e. sauerkraut, kimchi, cucumber pickles. Somewhere in Hannah Glasse I once read a reference to wedges of cabbage in salt brine– but that didn’t feel like a common cultural practice.

It was a thrill when I learned about Beetroot Stout, a delicious, nourishing, medicinal vegetable-based cocktail.  When I queried Glyn Hughes of the incredible site The Foods of England Project, he responded  that the only thing  that came to mind for him was  Potato Cheese (to England– only hypothetically– via Germany):

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Enter a caption Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Thursday 19 July 1855

The immediate association was with Kishk, a Middle Eastern cultured milk and bulgur wheat ferment, Read the rest of this entry »

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Not the prettiest pictures; actually they are so unappealing to look at, I take a certain contrarian pleasure posting them on a food blog where there’s the expectation that food needs to be beautiful.  (The reality is ferments often lose a lot of their initial vivid colour.)

Even if visually not so lovely, fermented Snippled Beans are an easy and delicious side dish. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fortunate am I to receive occasional parcels of unsold bread from a friend who runs a really top quality bakery here in mid-Wales, Andy’s Bread. A few months back he gave me several loaves of pumpernickel, a dark, dense and sweet rye bread.  His version includes whole rye grain, rye chops, rye, sourdough, molasses,  and old pumpernickel. The loaf is coated in rye chops (and baked in a hot oven which is then turned off overnight); a “lid” is placed on top of the tins to “steam” the loaves and prevent their drying out.  Andy’s pumpernickel is something special– and not so dissimilar from his Borodinski breads which contain coriander seeds and powder, malt extract and molasses.  These are true artisan breads in that they come from long and varied traditions and are expertly crafted in particular, local conditions.

Andy’s pumpernickel makes great croutons for leek and potato, and split pea soup; I will be using some from another batch tomorrow for chocolate Christmas bark as per Claire Ptak’s wonderful recipe here.


Being gifted with food that is “surplus” or “waste” anyway is really freeing, and allowed me to feel I could experiment.  I’d long been curious to try Bread Kvass, so in the absence of any planned trips to Russia or Russian communities elsewhere, I knew I’d have to try to make it. I also wanted to reproduce an effort from a while earlier in which I made a sourdough cake from recycled bread.  And I sadly found out that the friend who taught me her resourceful and roughshod approach to bread had died– so I was of a rare mind to bake bread. Read the rest of this entry »

Here’s a beautiful short film in which Sandor Katz talks about processes of fermentation. He is funny and compelling– and I will always be grateful to him for Wild Fermentation which has been such an influential, important book in my life.  Using Wild Fermentation I taught myself basic skills that now serve me constantly in the kitchen, but the book also presents a wonderful vision in which personal, political and microbial transformation serve as metaphors for each other.  Wild Fermentation is a guide to practical alchemy (and for this reason, if you have to make a choice, buy it before the also wonderful The Art of Fermentation).

This film captures some of the magic. Read the rest of this entry »


Lately I’ve been having fun with simple, quick, refreshing and naturally bubbly drinks. These “pops” or “sodas” are inspired by fruit and vegetable versions of  Kvass as a kind of fermented infusion, traditional to Eastern Europe and Russia, which uses rye bread as its most basic component. But the name has come to be inclusive of many delicious home-made soft-drinks. Read the rest of this entry »



Idly browsing Food52, I alit upon this recipe for Punjabi Buttermilk Stew with Spinach Dumplings and was drawn in.  The dish sounded so utterly delicious. (Which it was, and is why I wish to share it.)  Preparing it became a kind of odyssey of ingredients, questions and realisations, about which I’ve written what I hope is not too laborious a blog post.  Please disregard if it is! These are the issues that came to the fore for me as I prepared the dish:

  • Culturing Buttermilk
  • How to substitute local winter kale for frozen spinach
  • Sour substitutions for citrus in your cooking
  • Peasemeal as a UK substitute for Gram Flour.
  • Cooking oil conundrums. British Rapeseed Oil as a solution?

Read the rest of this entry »


Making Kimchi Latkes from a great new book — a review and lots of inspiration.

When my review copy of Fermented Vegetables arrived from the publishers, I felt upon first leaf-through an energising surge of creativity. From my own larder and imagination, I dressed a salad of grated swede and carrots in a Plum Kimchi vinaigrette.


threw some RubyKraut in some lentil soup with assorted leftovers


and made a quick potato salad mixing plain old sauerkraut with potatoes in olive oil with spring onions and chives.


All were yummy, standard Kitchen-Counter-Culture type food preparations, but I needed to get past them to let in the light of the whole new universe that Fermented Vegetables opens up.  It’s a beautiful book with exciting and original recipes and has regenerated in me a can-do sense about all the ways to continue fermenting and use my fermentations as ingredients.

Read the rest of this entry »


I cried yesterday. I cried reading about the death of Samar Al-Hallaq and her two little boys, and how she was pregnant. Through this siege of Gaza I’ve seen pictures of people fleeing and children in hospital and lots of gruesome horrendous imagery. This death touches me extra somehow. A mother. Two little boys. Pregnant. Working with embroidery. The details made this woman particular for me; I felt her death as a personal loss.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mrs S Minwel Tibbott and Making Yeast the Old Welsh Way

I have borrowed this photo of S. Minwel Tibbot from the website of Amgueddfa Cymru / National Museum Wales and hope the attribution suffices. She is an historical figure I very much admire,  and I intend, when I get my head around how, to begin a Wikipedia entry on her, because she deserves one as an important historian of Welsh domestic culture. She began to work for St. Fagans, the fantastic museum of Welsh culture, near Cardiff, in 1969, learning and writing.  At that point it was called the Welsh Folk Museum and was curated by Trefor M. Owen who writes in the introduction to her Welsh Fare: A Selection of Traditional Recipes (1976):

“The main task of the Welsh Folk Museum since it opened in 1948 has been to collect and record, to study and reflect the folk life of Wales in all its various forms.  The advent of the tape recorder made it possible to record the voice of the informants and also facilitated the building of a comprehensive account of the traditional life of our country…. It is the responsibility of the WFM, having collected this oral evidence from the oldest inhabitants with their generous cooperation, not only to preserve this historical information for the benefit of future scholars [Can I count as one of these? 🙂 ] , but to present it…to contemporary readers as part of their inheritance….  This volume was prepared by Mrs. S Minwel Tibbott, an Assistant Keeper [in the Department of Oral Traditions and Dialects]  …”

“She realised very early on that information [on traditional Welsh foods] would not be found in books,” the website linked above tells us. “Travelling the length and breadth of Wales, she interviewed, recorded and filmed the older generation of women, the majority of them in their eighties. Their memories harked back to the end of the nineteenth century.” She worked in a moment of history when so much was changing- the way people lived, the domestic technologies with which they cooked, the availability of old foodstuffs before the prevalence of new supermarketed foodstuffs….. Even looking at the photos in her book you can see this. Times were changing, and Tibbot’s  contribution is critical.

As a culinary anthropologist / historian, her books are compelling and wonderful. Welsh Fare is my favourite of all the old-timey collections of Welsh recipes. (First Catch a Peacock, by Bobby Freeman in 1980, is also great and one of the best.) I am in the middle of an experiment with a traditional Christmas tart, which I’ll soon be blogging, and this is why she’s come up for me now.

But I remembered reading Welsh Fare a few years ago, in the height of my sourdough bread-making, and being really inspired to recognise alternatives to store-bought yeast as well as the method I’d developed from reading the book Wild Fermentation. The sourdough culture/ starter I’ve had now for five years was formed by simply mixing small amounts of flour and water and a few raisins, and waiting, and then adding more flour, a little bit a day, until a living starter, a collection of wild and sundry yeasts, was formed, a “culture” that could be fed and nurtured and used as leavening in breads and doughs.

It’s such an easy method that it’s startling to read what Tibbott documents in Welsh Fare, but in the interest of Yeast and Bread Studies, and considering the book is out-of-print, I share it here.  If you’ve ever started a sourdough culture, you can understand how easy it would be to play with and vary the ingredients– you could certainly experiment with excluding the wheat flour in order to be gluten-free:

Burum Cartref–Home Made Yeast

four ounces hops
six potatoes (unpeeled)
one and a half gallons water
one cupful sugar
one cupful flour
quarter pint yeast reserved from previous lot

Boil the potatioes and hops in the water until the potatoes have disintegrated.Strain the infusion into an earthenware bowl and allow it to cool in blood heat. Mix the sugar and flour with a small quantity of this liquid, pour it back on to the remaineder in the bowl and then add the old yeast. Cover the bol and allow to stand in a warm place for two days. Now strain the liquid yeast into bottles or earthward jars, cork tightly and store in a cool place.
Pennant, Montgomeryshire

Liquid Yeast prepared a home in this way was known as burum total or burum direst (temperance yeast) in Cardiganshire. Its strength was not equal to that of the dried yeast and this accounted for the custom of preparing the dough in the eve night s and leaving it to rise in a warm place overnight.
Rhydlewis, Cardiganshire

Home made liquid yeast was prepared in large quantities to augment the family income. Known as berman direst or berman total, it was sold to the neighbours for approximately a penny per pint. It was also possible to buy liquid yeast (berman tafarn) from the local inn; this brewers’ test proved to be stronger than the home made variety. –Pen-prysg, Glamorgan


I look forward to making this someday– perhaps not in the huge quantity, though one could also experiment with thickening then dehydrating the liquid to attempt a dried yeast.  Whenever I buy ready-to-use yeast in a shop, in a can or a packet, I’m reminded that it’s a kind of industrial-laboratory product, something so different from the force-of-nature that wild yeast cultures feel like.  Store-bought yeast of course performs predictably in modern recipes.  But as always, it’s fun, informative, and maybe important to understand how to get ever closer to the basics of our food.

Feral Gardening

Early last summer from the middle of Wales I took a car to a train to the ferry to a city-bus to a train to a coach to the west coast of Ireland, where a very close friend from the US was having a celebration of marriage to the Irish man-of-her-dreams. Jenny was also having a party in the States, but for reasons a little of money but more of a commitment to minimal flying, I managed to organise with my husband this trip to Ireland on my own. The kids were in school, he was able to work from home, and off I went on an adventure.

It did feel like “Slow Travel,” and rare time in which days expand and contract, go by in a eye-blink but are full of thought, stimulation, sensation, a sense of freedom. I love being by myself, and I love being with my close friends.

Lots of walks on winding roads overlooking the sea, and one day we nosied our way into a garden that looked… messy and lovely and full of clothes lines and flowers and perpetual salad greens and snakes of yellow hose and artist’s mosaics. We popped ourselves in, and were promptly properly invited in, to a sharing of stories and wine and crisps and photographs and memories and paintings and an incredible kind of generosity.

Just inside her front door was this: a crumbling wall and loosening tiles and an escaped kale plant growing in an opportunity of a crack. It must have been born of seed blown in on a frisky wind, and here it was struggling to make its way to sunshine and warmth.

Kale in its hardiness and its healthfulness is almost a cliché of local-food people, because it grows in the cold and it does not fear the elements. It is prolific and possible where other plants fail. Kale is the deepest green. Kale itself is feared by children. Kale can be delicious and it can be wretched, chewy, stringy, bland. Some of the kale seeds I planted in the spring and never managed to transplant are still hanging on so many months later, and I’m putting them, in their almost bonsai state, into the new beds to see what happens. And actually, the kale I did plant barely survived all that caterpillar of the white butterfly that thrived in this summer’s heat.

I love the idea of an escaped seed, and especially one that seeks to go inside. I used to frequently explore the idea of the domestic and “the wild” in my artwork, when I made it. I think I used to feel so bounded by domestic life, by the worlds I create indoors and in solitary wonderment, that fantasies of unboundedness, un-restraint, un-human, felt liberating. But I like when the whole opposition between these ideas is shattered, or at least I guess when the wild permeates the domestic, as in this bit of accidental gardening, or in wild-fermenting foods, or even– inviting the strangers in for tea.

I know there’s a sense among many people I know that there’s not “hope” for humans working it out, getting it right anymore. The climate is reaching tipping points for feedback much quicker than worst scenarios predicted. We’re in a time of petty-minded, pro-corporate, anti-small politics that can feel like a new form of fascism and mass-blindness and consent. Yet among thinkers and dreamers there has been for a while in the zeitgeist a renewed offering of the concept of Wild– there’s Jay Griffiths’ Wild, a beautiful etymological, ethnological and personal exploration, and her new book Kith looking at giving the experience of  wilderness back to children. There’s George Monbiot’s Feral that takes the economics and politics of farming and imagines re-wilding as a way humans could attempt to un-do some ugly damage, and a book that follows on successful projects around the world to restore ecosystems. There is of course the now classic Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Katz, all about re-inviting beneficial micro-organisms into our food and bodies. Wild Economics is all about gifting and community and freeing ourselves from injustices and degradations of the money system. Foraging for wild food. Harvesting wild energy, through the wind and sun and water. And other ways the invitation to wildness can enter our lives? Please comment!

Wild Women. Wild Men. Wild Children. Wild Food. And Wild Kale, there, growing in the Victorian tiles beneath that decrepit wall, still standing.

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