Fermenting fomenter

A bonus for me as an intern last year was a copy of Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz and over the summer it was my little bible for fermenting just about anything I could get my hands on. Katz delves into the historic significance of fermentation, something that is practised by most cultures around the globe, as well as briefly examining the science of live cultures. He also looks at the health benefits of live cultured foods and why ferments have gone out of fashion as our food system increasingly relies on mass production and standardization.

All the fermented foods we find commonly are listed, with recipes for sauerkraut, sourdough, beer and wine featured, but there’s also a host of lesser known cultures such as amazaké (sweet Japanese rice drink), injera (spongy Ethiopian flat bread) and kombucha (sweetened tea fermented with a SCOBY – symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast) covered as well. A basic list of resources is included for obtaining cultures that won’t just happen to be hanging around like the koji mould, Aspergillus oryzae, needed to make miso. Experimentation is strongly encouraged and fermenting can be a pretty exciting process; flavours develop over time, you can taste as you go and if you’re like me and don’t really follow recipes that strictly, every jar tastes different.

Over the course of the season I mostly used lacto-fermentation, one of the simplest fermentation methods (vegetables + brine + time) that can be ready in less than two weeks, for a few batches of kimchi and innumerable jars of mixed vegetables. Just before I left Quebec we put a batch of elderberry wine on using elderberries found on an urban forage – thanks to the Gatineau council for planting elderberry in public spaces we were able to harvest just enough for the recipe – but there are many recipes I plan to try in the future.

I found fermenting to be an easy process with tasty results and I’d encourage anyone whose ever thought about it to give it a try; it can be as simple as filling a jar and letting nature go!

Wild grape leaves

Recently I was excited to discover a grape vine hanging along the northern fence line of the farm only to realise that wild grapes are common in North America and there are at least a dozen such plants in various spots around the Hendrick Farm development site.

I’m still stoked to have discovered another wild harvest and although the grapes are months away, late spring and early summer is apparently the time to pick and preserve grape leaves so they can be stuffed and turned into delicious dolmades. A little internet research turned up a myriad of ways to prepare them:

After picking about 200 leaves I tossed some into the freezer raw and canned a mason jar full with plans to harvest again and set a couple of jars fermenting in the coming weeks. Bring on the dolmas!

Illustration from Vintage Printable at Swivelchair Media

It’s all about the weeds

More commonly known as Lamb’s Quarters, Chenopodium Album, is yet another common weed found at the farm and now that the dandelions are no longer flowering and the nettle is past its most tender stage, I’ve noticed it coming up in abundance.

It can be used as a salad green or in place of spinach if you want it cooked. Young plants are the best to use and it keeps pretty well in the fridge in a plastic bag. I’ve been making bread on a weekly basis so it was logical to create a spread; the recipe below was adapted from Mariquita Farm who based that on a recipe from The Wild Vegan Cookbook and is similar to a pesto.
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Lamb’s Quarter Spread

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups lamb’s-quarters leaves
1 small ripe avocado
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
2 tbsp tahini
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
1 tsp maple syrup
Dash olive oil

Directions
Blend all ingredients in a food processor until well mixed. Eat any way you please – on sandwiches, as a dip, topping for sautéed portobello mushrooms; use your imagination.

Nettle in the kettle

Stinging nettle is another weed that grows at the farm and patches of it can be found in shady spots here and there. I’ve been drinking it in tea, once the leaves have wilted in the hot water they no longer sting, but haven’t actually cooked with this magnificent plant before. I know that nettle soup is a well-known use or it but there are also recipes for pesto, lasagne and many more to be found.

We have a surplus of solanum tuberosum since we culled the seed potatoes prior to planting and nettle can be used as a spinach substitute  so after checking out this article on everything gnocchi I made a nettle version using the simplest  recipe I could find. Gnocchi also freeze very well – just roll each uncooked piece in a little flour before popping into the freezer. When you feel like a quick meal just throw them into boiling water, cook until they float and voilà, Bob’s your uncle.

Dandelion loaf

Don’t be fooled – dandelions are food!

Dandelions are the most abundant weed at Chelsea Gardens and I’ve recently been munching on the bright yellow flower heads while at work. A friend recently cooked up a tasty dandelion loaf – see recipe below – and although I’d never thought about cooking with it there are plenty of recipes online from dandelion jelly to fritters or frittata so I’ll be doing plenty of experimentation over the next few weeks.

 

Jodie’s Vegan Dandelion Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 cups plain (all purpose) flour
  • 1 cup wholemeal (whole wheat) flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups dandelion flowers (just the yellow part)
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tbsp psyllium husk mixed with 6 tbsp water (mix and let sit a couple minutes)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

Directions

Preheat oven to 205’C (400’F)
Grease a loaf pan.
Mix flour, sugar, flowers, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together.
Add water, vegetable oil, psyllium/water mix and vanilla essence and mix until combined; mix should be fairly thick.
Pour into loaf tin and bake for about 30 mins or until cooked through.