By Genna Cherichello
This semester, I am set to fulfill several food goals that I introduced in a previous article. A reminder:
1. Preserve food in jars in a way that will not cause botulism.
2. Cook with five people I have never cooked with before.
3. Prepare a lobster and eat it with Waleed Shahid ’13.
4. Make a proper loaf of bread.
After reading the “Primal Bread” chapter in Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything, my goal to learn how to make a good loaf of bread seems silly and amateur. Steingarten is committed to preparing a fermented, tangy chef (a bread starter) with wild yeast that sits in a bowl thinking about itself for three or four days before he adds it to bread dough. Essentially, he set out to make the lambic of bread.
The entire process, which involves a rush-delivery of organic flour after his attempts to use wild yeast fail, took him a frustrating year of patience that I’m not sure I have. I am definitely not ready for that task, considering that I’m barely ready for my initial challenge, but over spring break, I did cook with two people that I have never cooked with before, fulfilling two-fifths of my goal to cook with five people with whom I have never cooked before.
And I had a chance to check off that first goal of mine. I traveled from Philadelphia through Atlanta and Macon, Georgia, to land on Davis Farms in Roberta, GA. I found this farm through its listing with World-Wide Opportunities in Organic Farms, more commonly referred to as WWOOF.
I went to the farm expecting to eat delicious vegetables, and surely, I had the best leafy greens of my life – mustards, butter lettuce, sorrel, pea tendrils. The main farm hand is a ridiculously good cook and it was glorious to cook with her, or just watch her cook, after a long day of work. The main thing I learned from her was the depth of flavor mustard seeds can add to everything from soup to daal to refried beans. She even used some old kale seeds in a vegetable broth!
Not only did I expect delicious veggies, I also went expecting lots of delicious beer, because Julia, the farm manager, mentioned in an e-mail that she was a fan of fermented beverages. Little did I know that she makes her own beer, wine and kombucha (fermented tea), all of which were wonderful. I had “goat scrotum” ale (a dark brew), blueberry rosemary wine, honeysuckle wine and kombucha from three different mothers. My initial reaction to kombucha in high school was that whatever was in the bottle I just opened must have gone bad. Then, I fell in love with acidity and after trying kombucha again a few years later, I was hooked. But fueling this habit with GTs Synergy Kombucha at Whole Foods for $4.75 (or so) a bottle is not sustainable in any way, so I rarely get a chance to enjoy it.
Until now! One rainy day on the farm was spent mostly inside, and Julia taught me how to make kombucha. I am definitely a visual learner, and although I had been offered a kombucha mother in the past, the novelty of the process freaked me out too much to accept it. Basically, you make heavily sweetened tea, let it drop in temperature from boiling to about body temperature, and finally add the mother, or the already alive, active, and happy. Then, you let it sit for three weeks or so, covered in a breathable fabric like cotton, and you have kombucha. I started mine on Monday and I already smell its sweet, vinegar-y scent.
She also taught me how to make yogurt, which is about as fermented as kombucha, I guess, but it sits for only twelve hours instead of three weeks. The farm gets two to three gallons of raw cow’s milk a week to bottle-feed one of its baby goats whose mother abandoned it. By the end of the week, a gallon or so is left, and the girls on the farm make yogurt by adding a bit of last week’s yogurt into warm, sweetened milk and keeping it sealed in a warm, steamy place overnight.
The most remarkable part about making yogurt for me was the raw milk aspect of it. Raw milk is complete with all of the good bacteria removed during the pasteurization process and, much to my happiness, the cream that is usually removed from milk sold separately as cream. This leads to yogurt with a “cream top,” or yogurt made of cream. I cannot even begin to describe how good it is.
Since I learned so much on the farm not only about organic agriculture but also about cooking, my focus right now on the road to food fulfillment is to cook with three other people. I am excited to learn as much as I can from these three mystery folk. And, seriously, if you know how to make something weird or normal or basic or complicated that you want to teach me, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.