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A steel bike and a glass of beer

Don’t miss it, guys. Ferment Change is back again with a month’s worth of events on the east side of the San Francisco Bay, all of them supporting urban agriculture and food justice projects. One of the choice items on the list is the Tour de Ferment, a bike ride around Berkeley and Oakland to visit picklers and homebrewers in their homes. It’s a great chance to see workshops, to taste what people are making, and to pick up tips. I’ll be talking about homebrewing sake, and my pop-up beer dinner crew Eating About Beer will be demonstrating some beer and food pairing tips.

And as a big bonus, none other than fermentation guru Sandor Katz, author of the seminal book Wild Fermentation, will be coming along for the ride. I’m sure he’ll add extra depth to the answers to any questions that come up along the way.

The ride is May 22, so consider this your advance notice. It’s going to be popular. Sign up and find out about the rest of the month’s events at the Ferment Change website.

And speaking of Sandor Katz, I let Thanksgiving go by without mentioning the profile of Katz and the fermentation movement in the New Yorker. It’s a great article that brings together a lot of info about how fermentation helps us digest, why live-fermented and unpasteurized food could be better for us than sterilized food, and the ways that our intestinal cultures may influence our health (the short version of one example: In one study, skinny mice became fat after receiving a transplant of intestinal bacteria from fat mice, and from fat humans,too.) It’s behind the paywall, but it’s worth the $6 to read it if you don’t have a subscription. In the spirit of the Tour de Ferment, I’ll leave you with this excerpt describing Katz’s workshop, which is surely every pickler’s dream kitchen:

We were standing in his test kitchen, in the basement of a farmhouse a few miles down the road from Hickory Knoll. Katz had rented the space two years earlier, when his classes and cooking projects outgrew the commune’s kitchen, and outfitted it with secondhand equipment: a triple sink, a six-burner stove, a freezer, and two refrigerators, one of them retrofitted as a tempeh incubator. Along one wall, a friend had painted a psychedelic mural showing a man conversing with a bacterium. Along another, Katz had pinned a canticle to wild fermentation, written by a Benedictine nun in New York. A haunch of venison hung in the back, curing for prosciutto, surrounded by mismatched jars of sourdough, goat kefir, sweet potato fly, and other ferments, all bubbling and straining at their lids.

And in case you’ve been wondering—Awesome Pickle lives! Some personal stuff has kept it on the shelf for a while, but the ideas have been fermenting away and this site’s mission is fully preserved. Expect more helpings, more often.

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We’ve got loads of lemons right now and I don’t care what they say; you can only make so much lemonade. So I’ve been pickling them every which way. One way is a spicy Indian recipe that I’ve mentioned before. That one’s a time-tested favorite. The other (on the left in the picture) is more of a Mediterranean lemon, although I’ve tweaked it by leaving out the olive oil and adding turmeric. Read on for a step-by-step recipe.

Not only do we have a lemon tree in our yard, our neighbors have one that I see every morning. Whenever I see it I think pickles. Luckily the neighbors like to share.

These are the lemons their tree gives us. They’re small and mild. Not like a Meyer though. More like a cross between a lemon and an orange.

The lemons from our tree, on the other hand, are sour and tend to run large.

For pickling it’s best to use the freshest lemons you can get. In fact, it’s ok if they’re somewhat unripe. It’s the rind we’re really pickling here, in a salty goo of fruit and spices, and we want it firm and bitter. However, we also want the insides to readily loosen and ferment, so if your lemons are hard you can soften them up by rolling them a bit under the palm of your hand.

Chop off the top of the lemon if there’s any stem still attached. Then slice them up into pieces small enough to sit easily on a teaspoon. The little lemons are just about the right size as full and half slices.

The large ones are much bigger, and need to be chopped smaller. Take out any seeds you find.

How many lemons will you need? To fill a half-gallon mason jar you’ll need… more than you think. I don’t have an exact count (especially considering size variation), but after chopping, salting, and squishing you can squeeze a lot of lemons into such a jar. I like to wash two dozen small lemons, then toss them into the jar as I chop them. I press them down as I go. Once I’ve come close to filling the jar I pour them back out into a big mixing bowl.

I put all the chopped lemons into a big bowl and add 1 cup of salt.

Then I add a tablespoon of turmeric.

Mix ’em well to get salt all over everything. And watch out if you use your hands. Grinding them against all that salt can burn.

Start filling the jar and add a few bay leaves and cinnamon sticks as you go along. Three of each is plenty, but add as many as you like. Mash the lemons down to get out air bubbles and make the most of your jar space.

Once the jar is close to packed, add the juice out of two to four lemons.

Then put on a lid and give the jar a good shake. I like to use plastic lids because the metal ones rust when salty pickle gets on them. You can usually plastic ones next to the mason jars at the hardware store.

Leave the lemon out on a counter or in front of a warm, sunny window. Shake the jar every day to mix the lemons around and coat them with the salty brine-mush, limiting the period that any particular lemon spends exposed to the air where molds can grow. It won’t hurt to shake the jar two or three times a day. This is most important at the beginning when you want the good fermenting bacteria to take hold instead of mold, but you should keep doing it every day that the jar sits out. After shaking you can also turn the jar upside down and leave it that way for a day.

After a month or so the lemons will be soft, a little mellower in flavor, and very salty. I use them whole and mashed to flavor soups, sauces, marinades, and dressings. They’re also good under a bit of fresh olive oil as an appetizer along with olives and bread. Yum.

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Homebrew is cheap


I stopped by the corner store on the way home to get a sixpack and it cost me $10.50! Ok, I know beer comes in at more than $10 in some places, but I live in Oakland, and not the fancy part of the city either. And true, I like my microbrew over my PBR—today I got Sierra Nevada’s new Torpedo Extra IPA and I have to say it’s good. Even though it’s up at 70 international bitterness units (or IBUs), which is above and beyond your average IPA’s 40, it has great flavor instead of tasting gratingly bitter. The brewery chalks this up to their use of whole-cone hops over processed pellets or extracts and something called a “hot torpedo,” whatever that is. Look for info on hops here.

But back to the point! Ten dollars is expensive, especially compared to the $30 I spent on ingredients for the 50 bottles of blonde ale now waiting out their final stage of fermentation in my basement. Let me break it down for you: The beer I bought tonight = $1.75 a bottle. My beer = $0.60 a bottle. I can’t wait till it’s ready.

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