On Fermentation, Wild Yeasts, and Remembering the Old Ways
Herbal beer in the making... it looks so beautiful and otherworldly and magical that I had to snap a pic. I’ve been diving deep into fermentation lately, inspired by the works of Pascal Baudar and Sandor Katz... This is going to be a ginger beer with turmeric, yarrow & bergamot. So far I’ve made chaga beer and a simple ginger beer — this batch is a combination of odds & ends I have on hand (whole peeled bergamot leftover from a batch of bergamot-cello). I’ve really been appreciating how these simple beers are a really sustainable way of using herbs (meaning very small amounts of plant yield great flavor). This is particularly exciting for folks who grow / harvest their own plants, as well as for plants like chaga that are becoming “at-risk” in the wild and shouldn’t be consumed in excess. It’s also very inexpensive!
Making beer felt inaccessible until I learned about using wild yeast. Wild yeast is everywhere—in the air and on the skins of plants... Scott made a new sourdough starter when we moved to France and threw in a few whole, fresh juniper berries harvested on the mountain to give it a “jump start”. The berries were coated with that white, yeasty bloom as is also found on grapes and blueberries and plums. Raw honey is another great source of wild yeasts, and we’ve been making herbal meads for years! I think they’re a great gateway to home fermentation!
For the beers, I’ve been using a ginger bug for the yeast. Apparently fresh, organic ginger is crazy rich in wild yeasts—who knew? To make a ginger bug, you just add equal parts grated ginger & sugar to 2 parts water. I maintain it like a sourdough starter, dumping off the excess (or using to ferment a batch of beer) and feeding it. I keep it in the fridge until I’m ready to use it for a batch of something.
On our recent trip to Italy, we visited an Egyptian museum. While I had very mixed feelings about the glorification of stealing historical treasures from a different country, I appreciated the chance to glimpse into the life of an ancient civilization. One of my favorite things were all of the varied fermentation vessels, specifically for brewing beer! Humans have been doing this (fermenting foods) since the beginning of our existence. Reconnecting with these traditions feels like a remembering. Also, thinking about how our bodies evolved over the ages with these bacteria and yeasts and molds is fascinating to think about... fermenting and soaking and sprouting and culturing and all of these wise traditions actually increase the bioavailability of nutrients, help digestive function and absorption, and sometimes even create new nutrients! Anyway... just wanted to share some of what’s been inspiring me lately.