As Nora Chovanec remembers it, she was the only college student brewing kombucha in her dorm room at Tufts University in the early 2000s.
She’d grown up in Oregon, where she had worked at a natural foods store in high school. That’s how she first learned about this probiotic-packed, fermented tea made with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, or SCOBY.
When she moved to the Boston area to study photography and women's studies, she wanted to continue to drink kombucha, but she couldn’t find anywhere to buy it, so she found a SCOBY and started making it herself.
“Kombucha hadn’t taken hold yet, at least not with 18-year-olds at the time,” she says. “I am one of those people where I was into fermentation before I realized I was into fermentation. I was just the weirdo who had a mushroom growing in my dorm.”
Now, she’s a “deep-dive fermenter,” making sauerkraut, pickles, hot sauces and sourdough bread. That’s why, in 2014, she attended the first Austin Fermentation Festival, an annual gathering of fellow fermentation lovers hosted by the Texas Farmers' Market.
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After attending the festival the first year, she ended up getting a job with the Texas Farmers' Market, and now she is in charge of the annual celebration of fermentation, the process where microorganisms transform everyday ingredients into foods loved around the world, from coffee and chocolate to bread, beer and wine.
This is her fifth year in charge of the fermentation festival, which will be hosted from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 20 at the Browning Hangar in the Mueller development.
For the first year, the festival will happen alongside Texas Farmers' Market's Sunday farmers market and will feature workshops and dozens of additional vendors who specialize in fermented foods, such as Meridian Hive Meadery, Texas Black Gold Garlic, the Sourdough Project, the Vinegar Joint, SRSLY Chocolate, Acajú Cashew Yogurt, Casper Fermentables and Kimchi Jon’s.
There are about a dozen fermentation festivals around the country, from Boston and New York City to Portland, San Diego and Santa Rosa, California.
“Most people don’t even realize the number of foods that are fermented,” she says, particularly beyond the obvious ones, like kimchi, pickles or wine. “There are so many ways that fermentation is incorporated with our daily lives.”
With so many different kinds of food that require fermentation, Chovanec says that the goal of the event is to help people who want to learn how to make those foods at home, but also to introduce new foods to people who might never brew beer or make their own cheese, yogurt or kefir.
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Chovanec says the festival has moved to different venues over the past few years because it grew out of each of the spaces, including the historic Barr Mansion and downtown’s Seaholm development. With more than 1,000 people in attendance, festival organizers have designed the event so that people can take workshops or listen to speakers while others browse the market.
On a regular Sunday, the farmers market at Mueller will have between 80 and 100 vendors, but this weekend, they’ll have nearly 150 businesses, including dozens of local fermentation companies.
“A cool thing about the festival is the people who attend run the gamut, from people who are newly exposed to it to people who have been invested in it for a while and who want to take it to the next level.”
A lot of people are surprised that some of the ferments are so simple, such as mixing cabbage with salt to turn it into sauerkraut. Sauerkraut and pickles are often the earliest fermentation projects that people take on at home, but then others take it further to make salami, sourdough breads, ginger beer, miso or koji, the Japanese grain used to make sake.
One of the keynote speakers on Sunday is Karen Diggs, who runs Kraut Source, which makes the small tops that you can use to turn a jar into an airtight fermentation vessel.
Also on the schedule are Alfred Francese of Emmer & Rye and Fiore Tedesco of L’Oca d’Oro, chefs from Austin restaurants that both have extensive in-house fermentation programs who will teach classes on miso, koji and preserved meats.
Even though the festival is free, they are accepting donations at the door and online and will host a silent auction to support Texas Farmers' Market's ag support fund, which helps local farmers in times of crisis, from natural disasters to rattlesnake bites. “Whatever they need to keep them farming,” Chovanec says. Because of the success of the fermentation festival, Texas Farmers' Market has been able to expand the number of grants they’ve awarded in the past few years.
If you want to learn more about the festival or make a donation ahead of the event, go to texasfarmersmarket.org.
If you want to start learning about different types of fermentation (and what to do with some of those ferments), we've gathered a handful of recipes to get you started. Every fermentation project is a little different, and some require specialized equipment that you can get online or at stores including Austin Homebrew Supply, which recently moved to a new location at 15112 North Interstate 35. One key to fermentation success is starting with clean utensils, pots, pans and bottles, and the second is having patience. Many of these projects take some time to ferment properly, and it might take a few attempts to find the right place in your home to place the jars, bottles or crocks. Most fermentation projects prefer dark spaces without large temperature swings.
To learn more about fermentation outside of this weekend's festival, here are a few other options.
Austin Homebrew Supply hosts a number of fermentation classes each month, and upcoming classes will cover beer, wine and cheese. You can find those classes at austinhomebrew.com.
In San Marcos, Abby Wetzel hosts fermentation classes a few times a month at Thigh High Gardens, and you can find those classes through Eventbrite.
Uroko, the sushi bar at 1023 Springdale Road in East Austin, is hosting a class on koji at 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $120, and you can find them at urokoaustin.com.
A "bug" is a culture of beneficial bacteria, made from fresh ginger root and sugar. It is similar to a sourdough starter for bread or a SCOBY for making kombucha. Though not overly tasty by itself, the "starter bug" acts as the base for homemade tonics such as root beer, ginger beer and fruit sodas. To make an authentic fermented soda, you need a bug. The turmeric in this recipe imparts its flavor and, as it naturally ferments, creates a mixture of beneficial bacteria. Rinse but don’t peel the turmeric — the peel is rich in bacteria and yeast — and organic is best. You could also use this technique to start a ginger bug to make ginger soda. This recipe makes about 7 ounces, which you'll then use to make the soda in the following recipe. It will be ready in 3 to 5 days.
— Tanita de Ruijt
1 (7-ounce) piece of fresh turmeric root, unpeeled
3 to 5 tablespoons raw cane sugar
Chop the unpeeled turmeric root up finely or mash in a pestle and mortar. Transfer to a container with the lid left slightly ajar and keep on your kitchen counter.
Take 1 tablespoon of the turmeric paste and add to a glass jar with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and 3 tablespoons of filtered water. Mix well, cover, and place in a warm spot; around 72 degrees is ideal.
Every day, add 1 tablespoon of turmeric paste, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 3 tablespoons of filtered water to the mixture, mix well, and leave to stand again. Repeat until the turmeric bug is nice and bubbly. It can take between 3 to 5 days. Now you are ready to make turmeric cream soda.
— From "Tonic: Delicious & Natural Remedies to Boost Your Health" by Tanita de Ruijt (Hardie Grant Books, $19.99)
Turmeric Cream Soda
This lightly sparkling, naturally fermented tonic is a treat. The vanilla and lime give it an irresistible flavor, and it’s loaded with homemade probiotics, too. Our bodies struggle to absorb the benefits of raw turmeric. Fermenting the root to make soda is just another way to make it more bioavailable, and harvest valuable bacteria while you’re at it. I make it the traditional way — no carbonators — just yeast, bacteria and sugar. Once you have at least 5 1/2 ounces more of bubbling turmeric bug starter, then you can start to make your soda tonic, which will take about five days.
— Tanita de Ruijt
26 ounces filtered water, plus about 28 to 32 ounces to top up
1/2 vanilla pod
1-inch piece of fresh turmeric root, sliced
1 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
5 1/2 ounces turmeric starter bug
5 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
1/4 cup raw cane sugar
First, make turmeric tea. Fill a small saucepan with the 26 ounces filtered water; add the vanilla, turmeric and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer for 10 minutes. This process extracts as much flavor from the ingredients as possible.
Allow the tea to cool completely and pour it (without straining) into a large sterilized Mason jar. The boiled ingredients will continue to infuse. Stir in the turmeric starter bug, lime juice and sugar. Then top up the rest of the Mason jar with filtered water, leaving about 2 inches of head room at the top.
Cover with a cloth and rubber band and leave in a shady spot away from direct sunlight. Allow it to ferment for around 3 days. It should taste sweet and sour when ready.
Now strain and pour into sterilized swing-top bottles. Leave the filled bottles in a shady spot and let the natural yeasts get to work. Yeast releases CO2 gasses that will make your soda fizzy. An overly hot room will accelerate the fermentation process, so it’s worth putting your bottles into a cardboard box to contain potential explosions.
Check bottles daily for buildup of fizz. Once they are fizzy (this should take 2 days, but maybe less in warm temperatures), place them in the fridge, as they’re ready to drink. Makes 2 liters or 70 ounces.
— From "Tonic: Delicious & Natural Remedies to Boost Your Health" by Tanita de Ruijt (Hardie Grant Books, $19.99)
Basic Pepper Mash or Hot Sauce
This basic pepper mash is as simple as it gets — salt and fresh peppers pureed into a spicy mash — but the resulting flavor is quite complex and anything but basic. It’s truly amazing that two ingredients can be transformed into such a flavorful condiment with nothing more than salt and the transformative power of lactic acid bacteria. Within this recipe framework of 97 percent peppers to 3 percent salt, you can substitute other pepper varieties as well as other additions such as herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables to make your own unique pepper mashes and hot sauces. While it’s fun and novel to play with making flavored pepper mashes, we keep coming back to this basic recipe as our go-to for making pepper mashes, substituting whatever pepper variety is inspiring us or looking particularly enticing throughout the season. You'll need a kitchen scale, gloves, a food processor or blender, wide-mouth glass jars, a fermentation lid, parchment paper or cheesecloth and smaller bottles for storage. A funnel is helpful. If temperatures are above 68 degrees, the hot sauce will take less than a month to ferment, but at less than 60 degrees, that time can increase to several months.
— Kathryn Lukas and Shane Peterson
970 grams coarsely chopped green or red jalapeños, including seeds
30 grams coarse unrefined sea salt
Put the peppers in the food processor or blender, add the salt and process for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mash is smooth. (The larger pepper pieces will often float to the top of the mash in the food processor, so alternate running the motor and pulsing to be sure they’re incorporated.) Open the processor, being careful not to inhale the pepper fumes, and scrape down the sides of the processor bowl with a spatula. Process for 1 to 2 minutes more, until the mash is quite liquid.
Transfer the pepper mash to the jar along with any liquid (a canning funnel is useful here and helps to minimize spillage), pushing it down with a spatula or wooden spoon to remove any air pockets and leaving 1 inch of head room. Place the parchment paper or cheesecloth in the jar over the mash (the mash should be completely covered).
Seal the jar with the fermentation lid. Place the sealed jar on a plate or in a bowl to catch any liquid displaced through the air lock during fermentation.
Ferment the pepper mash in a cool place away from direct sunlight for 1 to 3 months, depending on the fermentation temperature (2 months at 64 degrees is ideal). Keep an eye on the mash through the first 2 weeks — if it loses enough liquid during the first phase of fermentation that the top layer is exposed, top it off with brine. Also, keep an eye on the air lock to make sure it never runs dry, cleaning it and refilling with fresh water as needed. Taste the pepper mash after 1 month to determine if the flavor is to your liking. If it’s not, reseal the jar and leave to ferment for another month, then taste again. (We’ve found that 2 months is usually sufficient, but, to a certain degree, pepper mash just keeps getting better with age. The best pepper mash we ever made was fermented for over a year!)
When the pepper mash is to your liking, replace the fermentation lid with a regular lid, seal and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 year, though it will likely last much longer. Makes 1 quart.
If you would like to turn the mash into hot sauce, transfer it to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Strain the puree through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing down on the solids with a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. (Reserve the spent solids to make a dried pepper seasoning, if you like, or discard.) Transfer the liquid hot sauce into bottles or jars, seal and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 year.
Note: To turn spent mash into a delicious probiotic pepper seasoning, simply spread the mash over dehydrator sheets in a thin layer and dehydrate at 110 degrees for 4 to 6 hours (or spread it over a baking sheet and dry it in the sun, until the liquid has evaporated). Transfer the dried pepper mash to a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle and grind it into a powder. Transfer the ground pepper into small jars and store in a cool, dark place with your other spices for up to 1 year.
— From "The Farmhouse Culture Guide to Fermenting: Crafting Live-Cultured Foods and Drinks With 100 Recipes from Kimchi to Kombucha" by Kathryn Lukas and Shane Peterson (Ten Speed Press, $35)
Falafel-Spiced Grilled Mushrooms With Miso-Tahini Dressing
This dish is total food perfection! Mushrooms tossed in a miso-amped tahini sauce are packed with umami. If using wooden skewers to grill your mushrooms, soak them in water for 20 minutes to prevent them from lighting on fire. You’ll use about half of the miso-tahini dressing — the rest keeps in the fridge for up to 1 week. Serve it as a salad dressing, drizzled over roasted vegetables or atop a grain bowl. The mushrooms "grill" beautifully in a grill pan, too.
— Raquel Pelzel
For the mushrooms:
Vegetable oil, for greasing the grill grates
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon plus
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 pounds cremini mushrooms, stemmed and halved (quartered if large)
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons miso paste (preferably white miso)
2 tablespoons tahini paste
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus extra as needed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra as needed
1/4 cup ice water
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Heat a charcoal or gas grill to medium according to the manufacturer’s instructions (you can also use a grill pan over high heat). Brush the hot grill grates with a grill brush. Fold a paper towel into quarters and dip it into the vegetable oil, then use long barbecue tongs to grease the grill grates with the oil-saturated towel.
Make the mushrooms: Whisk together the olive oil, garlic, cumin, coriander and salt in a small bowl. Add the mushrooms and use your fingers to rub the paste all over each one, then thread them onto 10 to 12 skewers (it’s fine if the mushrooms touch).
Grill the mushrooms, turning them once, until they’re browned and grill-marked on both sides and tender (they will shrink up a bit), 8 to 12 minutes total. Remove the mushrooms from the grill and slide them from the skewers and into a large bowl. (If using a grill pan, simply cook the mushrooms in the pan, turning them often, until they are grill-marked and tender, 8 to 10 minutes.)
Meanwhile, make the miso-tahini dressing: Whisk the miso, tahini, lemon juice, salt, ice water and parsley together in a medium bowl until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust the salt or lemon juice if needed. Drizzle about half of the tahini sauce over the mushrooms and toss to coat. Serve immediately, with the extra tahini sauce on the side, if desired. Serves 4 and makes 3/4 cup of miso dressing.
— From "Umami Bomb: 75 Vegetarian Recipes That Explode With Flavor" by Raquel Pelzel (Workman, $19.95)
Salt-Brined Mixed Pickles
The classic way to make this mixed pickle is by fermenting the vegetables together in a salt brine, but you can make a similar version using vinegar if time doesn’t allow for fermenting.
— Ara Zada and Kate Leahy
1 pickling cucumber, sliced diagonally into 1-inch pieces
1/4 small head green cabbage, cut into wedges 1-inch thick (about 9 ounces total)
1 carrot, sliced diagonally into 2-inch sticks
1 celery stick, cut diagonally into 2-inch sticks
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 sprigs dill
2 cups water, plus more as needed
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
Have a clean 1 quart wide-mouthed Mason jar ready, with an air lock and a band to secure the air lock in place.
Arrange the vegetables in any order so that they fit in the jar, wedging and pressing them under the shoulder of the jar. (You may have to use your best "Tetris" skills to get the vegetables to fit and a little force to crush the cabbage.) Add the garlic and dill, pressing the ingredients along the sides of the jar.
In a liquid measuring cup, stir the water and salt together until the salt dissolves. Pour the brine over the vegetables to cover completely. (It’s OK if you have extra. If you need more brine, mix 1/2 cup water with 1 teaspoon salt and pour it in.)
Top the vegetables with a few stacked lids or a plastic zip-top bag filled with extra brine to keep them submerged in the brine. Place the air lock on top and secure it to the jar with the band.
Store in a cool area (between 60 and 75 degrees) for 5 to 7 days, or until the vegetables taste slightly sour. By the third day, the brine will have turned cloudy, and sediment may form at the base of the jar; that’s perfectly OK. To store, replace the air lock with a regular lid and refrigerate the jar. The pickles keep, refrigerated, for up to 6 months. Makes 1 quart.
— From "Lavash: The bread that launched 1,000 meals, plus salads, stews, and other recipes from Armenia" by Ara Zada and Kate Leahy (Chronicle Books, $24.95)
Mustard Greens Kimchi
Yeosu, the southern port city in South Korea where I grew up, is well known for its gat-kimchi because the neighboring island, Dolsan, grows very high-quality mustard greens. Their stems are thick, crisp and succulent, the leaves soft and tender. The locals say the soil and the ocean breeze on their island create the perfect growing conditions for the greens, and all across Korea, Dolsan mustard greens kimchi is well known as the best. I have a friend in New York whose mom, who lives in Yeosu, makes this kimchi and sends it all the way to her in New York. By the time it lands in the U.S., it’s well fermented and ready to eat. I have found mustard greens that are similar to the mustard greens from Dolsan in New York’s Chinatown, and sometimes in Korean grocery stores. You can serve the kimchi right after it’s made, but it’s tastier when it’s fermented. Use either green or red mustard greens with long, plump stems.
2 pounds mustard greens, with stems, cut into 2- to 2 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon glutinous rice flour or all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced peeled ginger
1/4 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup Korean hot pepper flakes (gochugaru)
Rinse the mustard greens in cold water, drain, and put them in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the salt and gently mix and rub in with both hands. Let stand for 2 hours, turning every 30 minutes to salt evenly.
Meanwhile, combine the flour and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Stir until the mixture begins to bubble, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and stir for another minute, until the mixture is slightly translucent and has the consistency of a runny porridge. Remove from the heat, scrape into a large bowl, and let cool thoroughly.
To make the kimchi paste, add the garlic, ginger, onion, fish sauce and hot pepper flakes to the flour mixture and mix well with a wooden spoon.
Wash the mustard greens in several changes of cold water. Drain and transfer to the bowl with the kimchi paste. Gently toss and mix together by hand (wear disposable gloves if you like). Transfer to one or more glass jars or airtight containers. Press down on the kimchi so it’s well packed and no air can get inside, then put the lid on the container.
You can serve the kimchi right away or let it ferment. It takes about 2 weeks to ferment in the refrigerator; for faster fermenting, leave it at room temperature for 1 to 2 days, depending on the warmth of your kitchen, until the kimchi tastes and smells sour. Once the kimchi is fermented, store in the refrigerator. The kimchi will continue to ferment in the refrigerator and become more sour. You can enjoy it at every stage. Whenever you remove kimchi from the jar, be sure to press down on the remaining kimchi with a spoon to prevent it from being exposed to air. Makes about 2 pounds.
— From "Maangchi's Big Book of Korean Cooking: From Everyday Meals to Celebration Cuisine" by Maangchi and Martha Rose Shulman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)