It’s all about the timing. The garlic has to be fresh dug. Cloved but not cured. The skins are thick and need to be cut away with a paring knife to get to the tender kernel. From late May through early June we dedicate a lot of time at The Shop to Garlic. The young tender cloves will be buried in our favorite two-year barley miso and left to age, in the jar they will be sold in, for one year in the cave. People often ask me what my favorite product is that we make. I always dismiss this question with the usual, “What? Please! You are asking me to choose amongst my children.” But this—June garlic fermented one year in barley miso—this is it. My favorite child.
Over the year the garlic ferments through. Umami rich, they are salty and sweet and pure garlic without the heat and volatiles. I can pop them like candy. They age beautifully. We have vintages going back to 2009 and the depth of flavor seems endless. But the miso itself is the reward for the patient. Garlic has permeated; so much so that you’d be hard pressed to cook this flavor into miso. Delicious.
It’s been a haul. In the beginning, we set up shop in our small ground floor apartment. There were years of nights spent up so late. So many nights when the baby wouldn’t go down, or stay down, and at two or three or more in the morning under the harsh light of florescence we’d be in our kitchen, with the babe in the backpack snoozing—or more likely not—and there would still be so much more clean up ahead and I would have to leave in a couple of hours to shelve catalog items for retail consumption at a Smith & Hawken garden store. I agree that normally we aren’t able to recall painful moments in too clear of detail as to save us from the trauma of having to relive the episode. Though I have to say, I remember the kitchen so well. The cupboards were this plaid of gray, red, and orange blocks with thin yellow stripes. The linoleum tiles of the kitchen floor were Etch-A-Sketch gray from centuries of traffic buildup. The kitchen was about 90 square feet. It housed the cabinets mentioned above, that only extended far enough along one wall to offer a single basin stainless sink. A sink which, it should be said, was placed into a countertop of yellow and brown leopard print Formica. It also contained a mustard-colored stove with a matching hood, of course. The refrigerator was white and modern, but lacked a water and crushed ice dispenser. We had a small white table from Scandinavian Designs with a hinged leaf, should we be expecting company, and four wooden chairs with rattan seats. It was also partial home to a huge industrial-grade stainless steel reach-in refrigerator, the rest of which extended into the entryway and blocked the front door from opening entirely. A 4′ x 2′ stainless steel Metro shelving unit sat in front of the kitchen’s only window and supported, above the ground (in accordance with health codes floating in a sea of violations), five-gallon stoneware crocks filled with Brassicas in full ferment. There was another Metro shelf perched on the wall between the big fridge and a doorway. The doorway encompassed a step up to the living room which was floored with parquet and had a very, very low ceiling. The living room housed refrigerator number three. This one no longer functioned and was not plugged in. It was white and had a hole in its side where apparently a bullet had entered never to return. Under the bullet hole there were streaks of rust, looking like blood, running through the letters W S B which were rendered in fat blue marker ink in the style which everyone recognizes as the Gang Font. West Side Berkeley is an appropriately named outfit that contains some of the most ambitious taggers of all the local social clubs. Their initials are scribbled liberally across the town’s nooks and crannies. Inside the fridge I had rigged up an incubator switch to a light bulb which kept the compartment within the perfect 30-degree variance of 74 to 104 degrees. We used it to incubate white sushi rice which had been inoculated with the mold spores of Aspergillus oryzae, for koji, which we then set free in a vat of salted soybean mash to make miso. We used it to inoculate soybeans themselves with Bacillus subtilis natto or Rhizopus oligosporus for natto and tempeh respectively. Next to the gangsta fridge was a wooden warehouse pallet which was average in size and on the ground supporting vessels full of fermentation. On the other side was the koji table, where the koji was processed once incubation was complete. There was so much controlled rot occurring that, with the nearly palpable energy of transformation, there seemed to always be a buzz, felt above the hum of the fridges and the drone of the florescent bulbs above. Felt even above the buzz of insufficient stereophonic that Bob Edwards’ voice echoed out of, carried on the first broadcast out from D.C., earlier than most truck drivers would catch. We were mostly slumped over ourselves by this time in the evening. That is except, of course, for the sleepless young one. I wonder if the energy of the house, due to the alchemical atmosphere, caused the babe to be mostly awake unless in motion for the first two years of his life. Or perhaps it was us clanging around every night until the witching hour. So we would be there amongst all that in the kitchen and the boy would be on my back in the Tough Traveler pack. I recall feeling stunned, like in the headlights, with all of this around me. There I was sifting around in drifts of shredded cabbage on the linoleum, the light gleaming off the stainless all around, and it’s later then I can feel, and I’m madly wiping at the deposits of crushed Cruciferae in the crevice of the fold down leaf of the white table. And you know what? NPR can be so disconcerting at this time, feeling like this, with Bob Edwards saying, “Good morning—NATO has launched air-strikes in Kosovo—I’m Bob Edwards and this is Morning Edition,” and then the music comes up, and B.J. Leiderman gives us a rise and shine.
It’s not mold, it’s yeast, commonly called Kahm, which is a sort of catch-all term for a variety of yeasts that can form a film, or pellicle, on top of ferments.1 It’s harmless. No one is going to get hurt here. It’s alright, no need to panic. It’s incredibly common. It can, however, negatively affect taste. Our lid system prevents the yeast from coming in contact with the ferment. You can just scrape it off. Covering your ferment with cheesecloth makes it easier to remove.
1- In an early version of this post, I inadvertently named the yeast as Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Thanks to those who pointed it out and to Ben Wolfe for clarifying.
Change the form. Vary the use. Expand your notions.
Put it in a Shaker – Sprinkle on Soups – Stir into Stews – Dry Rub Meat – Top your Popcorn – Lime Pickle Hollandaise
Spice up your Marinade – Sauerkraut Leather – Rim a Cocktail – Add it to a Dressing – Toast on a Bun – Season your Fries
Make a Simple Syrup – Replace Salt – Add to Pasta Dough – Dust Chocolate – Flavor Sauces – Lick off Fingers
Season your Burger – Make a Dip – Add Complexity to Chili – Keep by the Grill – Instant Broth
Spice up Mayonnaise – Whisk into Batter – Coat your Crackers & Chips – Add to Pickling Spices – Sprinkle on Deviled Eggs
Whip into Butter – Toss into Salads – Sprinkle on your Pizza – Add to Guacamole – Add to Batters – Season Nuts
Every year in early June, after the last of the spring rains have fallen and the fruit of Prunus mume have begun to blush, we head over to the North side of town where a long time customer has a tree. Ume, the fruit of the Prunus mume tree, is commonly referred to as a plum. However once you hold the fruit in your hand and feel the soft fuzz and take in the strong sweet fragrance you might sense that this is much more closely related to an apricot, which it is.
The tree is small and sturdy. It is planted up against a backyard tool shed and with one of us on the shed roof and one on the ground we strip the tree of fruit, in one short hour filling two 5 gallon buckets.
Back at the Shop the fruit is divided into those that are blushing and those that are solid green. The blushing fruit is salted and used for Umeboshi.
The green are steeped in Mugi Shochu, a distilled alcohol made from barley, and mixed with sugar to create Umeshu. This alcohol maceration process will take the better part of a year.
The salted Ume are then packed into the stoneware crocks that we used to ferment our sauerkraut in, years and years ago. They are impractical for the volume we do now but we have kept a few around for small projects. We press the Ume by placing a plate over the top and weigh it down with a bag full of pebbles. We allow it to sit for several weeks to create a brine.
After a few weeks of pressing the Ume has released some liquid and formed a brine.We then drain the brine, setting it aside for later, and lay the Ume out onto racks to dry for about two weeks.
We add Red Shiso (Perilla frutescens) to the Ume brine. This is what gives the Ume its color.
After drying, we pack the Ume back into a crock and add the Shiso infused Brine. They will stay in this crock under pressure for several months.
Usually we allow our Ume to ferment under weight for about six months. After that time, we take them out and age them in jars. We have vintages going back to 2008.
So here’s the question. Why are we not doing this with other stone fruit? On our list to try in up and coming years: Apricots, Peaches, Nectarines, Pluots, Plums, and Cherries
Kasu. Sake kasu. Sake Lees. Dregs.
Tapping into waste streams and re-purposing for deliciousness.
After a tank of sake has run the course of its fermentation—anywhere from 18 to 32 days—what remains is a white mixture of sake, rice solids, and yeast. This mixture, known as the moromi, is pressed to separate the sake from the suspended solids. There are several methods of pressing the sake out, leaving compressed rice solids, or lees, behind. This is Kasu.
Larger sake producers extract the sake from the lees by machine and the kasu comes out in thin dry sheets called itakasu. Smaller producers may press their sake by hand using a wooden box called a fune, which has a lid that gets cranked down on the sake mash, or moromi, which has been placed in small canvas bags. This method will yield a kasu that is moist and chunky called teshibon or namakasu.
Kasuzuke or vegetables pickled in kasu, are said to have originated in the Kansai region of Japan as early as twelve hundred years ago. The first vegetables known to be fermented in kasu were white melon and were named shiru-kasu-zuke or Nara-zuke. Later, the technique would used with cucumbers, eggplants, and uri or bitter melon. It was produced primarily by Buddhist monks and used by Samurai for sustenance in wartime and winter. During the Edo period of the 17th century, sake producers promoted the use of kasu widely. Not long after, kasuzuke would become a mainstay in the ever expanding repertoire of Japanese tsukemono.
We are fortunate to be located just blocks from Takara Sake one of the largest producers of sake in the United States. We have a long standing relationship with Takara, and after each pressing of their Certified Organic Ginjo Grade Junmai Nama Sake, they put aside about 150 lbs of kasu for us. The kasu has been pressed mostly dry at the factory and has a slightly sticky putty-like texture. Kasu is stored in the refrigerator and the cold makes it stiff and a little unyielding. We allow it warm in a bowl on the counter for the day and as it warms it becomes much more pliable and easy to work with. We knead salt and sugar into it until the dry sheets form a thick sticky paste. We then bury vegetables that have been salt pressed for two days into the paste . The vegetables ferment from three months up to a year or more. The result is a delightful and unique pickle with a distinct sake taste, quite unlike anything found in Western pickling traditions.
Typically we intend to ferment our kasuzuke for 12 months. With this in mind we have found that a ratio of 10:3:1 kasu:sugar:salt, works well for us. Those ratios will be adjusted down for shorter term ferments of vegetables that are more tender. One of our favorite kasu pickles is burdock.
Burdock. Arctium lappa. Gobo in Japan. It is the long tap root of a thistle. Dark and woody, it is deep in earthy overtones and slightly sweet. We wash the burdock well and press it at 6% salt for two days. The burdock is spiraled into a vessel and layered between the kasu-sugar-salt mixture. In the initial weeks of fermentation there will be a fair amount of carbon dioxide released and pockets will appear. To combat this, and insure optimal kasu to burdock contact, we weigh the ferment down.
Our burdock ferments for 12-18 months. One of our longer ferments, it needs that duration for the dense, sturdy root to ferment clean through. It is a testament to the hardy strength of burdock that after a full fermentation it retains most of its flavor and texture. Though the sake and koji permeate, it is still astonishingly earthy and woody.
For years we enjoyed this pickle sliced thinly on a bias. Wood chips, I called them. Wonderful, flavorful wood chips. Then I introduced it to the microplane. Burdock kasuzuke loves the microplane. A melt on your tongue snow of sweet earth.