Scoby Do–My latest post on Beacon Reader is an interview with a local kombucha brewer who fell into a spot of bother with the local council.
The use of a type of pesticide called neonicotinoids is on the increase, much to the dismay of beekeepers, who view ‘neonics’ as contributing to a decline in bee numbers. A worldwide reduction in bee populations poses a serious risk to the global food supply. ‘Bees are required in the pollination and reproductive process of food crops to make them viable. If we didn’t have those bees we could take a third of the food off our plate,’ said Melbourne beekeeper Carey Priest.
Neonicotinoids are applied to the seed or to the soil where the plant is to be grown. The plant takes up the poison into its tissue. ‘The whole plant becomes toxic,’ Priest said. The amount of chemicals that find their way into the pollen and nectar that bees feed on isn’t enough to kill them outright but peer reviewed studies have linked neonicotinoids to bee mortality. Priests thinks that one of the things that makes neonicotinoids worse that the pesticides that preceded them is that the effects aren’t immediately obvious, ‘If a bee goes and forages where RoundUp has just been sprayed they will cark it,’ whereas the effects of neonicotinoids are more ‘insidious.’ He is concerned about the sub lethal, cumulative effect of neonicotinoids. Priest said, ‘We haven’t dedicated the time to understanding the cumulative or cross multiplying effects.’
The European Union has partially banned the use of neonicotinoids until further studies have been carried out. While only a partial ban, Priest thinks the Australian government should impose similar restrictions here, or better yet, take its cues from French beekeepers, who forced a top down response from their government. Priest said ,‘They were up in arms and got active enough and vocal enough to lobby the politicians to put a partial ban in place.’
Life would have been simpler before HBO started making such great television dramas. I get distracted in these times. But pickling, like gardening, is a way to slow down and check out what is really going on. You can’t rush a daikon.
Pickle Club is a grassroots group with roughly 20 members that meets four times a year. Ah there is nothing better than taking an afternoon to share good food with good people. Officially known as ‘The Northern Preservation Society’, PC was founded in 2013 by local shoemaker Jo Lawson upon her return from making sausages and pasata on a farm in Italy.
Pickle Club has grown fast. Something is going on- more and more people are interested in reviving old food traditions. Yesterday a friend said to me ‘I’ve been making kefir’ and then pulled a homemade proscuito out of the fridge and asked me if I wanted some.
This photo series was captured at a recent meeting of Pickle Club by photographer Graham Parsons. Graham didn’t bring any food to pickle club but he did stuff his face.
I recently joined The Northern Preservation Society. Co-founder Jo Lawson posted an invite “…been chatting about starting a chutney club (working title The Northern Preservation Society) for bloody ages and this year I want to make it happen because it would be awesome…You are the people I know whom I suspect might have made jam at some stage in your adult lives…I think the only rule needs to be everyone’s got to bring something; no partners, no free rides…”
I like the rules: Don’t be a bastard. Make something good. The first meeting is set for Sunday April 7th. Two of my housemates are also members. All three of us are agitating for a name change from Northern Preservation Society to Pickle Club and keep cracking jokes. First Rule of Pickle Club, don’t talk about Pickle Club.
Soon after being invited to join my procrastination set in. This poem is dedicated to that time.
All The Reasons I Shan’t Be Pickling
All The Reasons I Shan’t Be Pickling
I haven’t read all of The Art of Fermentation including the footnotes
I harbour lofty ideals
I want to make the greatest kimchi of my generation
Kraut that makes people that eat it fall in love with me.
I want to show off my knowledge of Japanese knife play so I will need a folded steel knife from eBay.
I don’t own a ceramic handmade sauerkraut crock pot.
I lack unradioactive kombu.
My housemates Jasmine and Step are in the Secret Pickle Club too.
Step made the greatest plum chutney of all time without much fuss in between decanting some peach wine and cranking out a few more demijohns. A week later after finishing the shit olives in the good shaped jar Jasmine whipped up some delicious tomato relish. It was on the stove top with a post it note reading ‘Secret Pickle Club business’. I stood in the kitchen with my Sandor Bible talking about how I needed a pot made in Korea. Then I got on ebay and started looking at Japanese blogs about tsukemono. Then I needed daikons. Step works at the organic market and offered to bring some home but that just seemed too easy. I attended the EcoCity lightning talks with Jo, one of the Preservation Society’s founding mothers who told me that she thought that I was one of those people that would express enthusiasm about the club but never actually show up. I returned home wounded and looked in a Middle Eastern cookbook and wondered if two weeks was enough time to pickle sheep’s brains. Then I went to Pete’s house to procrastinate in a new environment.
Pete, an ex chef, is in the club and like me was feeling the pressure. He stood in the kitchen waving a jar of piccalilli swearing, “I’m doing a fucking Masters and I work fulltime! I don’t have time to make fucking pickles!”, confessing that he intended to take some cucumber pickles he had made earlier. As I left I turned to him, “You are the weak link in Pickle Club.” Sitting in my room I could hear Step talking to the other housemates about how I was ‘prevaricating’. I googled prevaricate and stomped into the kitchen to explain that I was in fact procrastinating but Step was one step ahead of me because Jasmine was making him look up ‘prevaricate’ on his laptop. Sunday I finally decided to make quince paste and rode to Henry Street milk co-op for a recipe and then to Psarakos. Psarakos was closed. Foiled. Monday featured more procrastination where I told Step I was thinking of pickling a whole octopus. Or maybe making plum jam. Or maybe green mango chutney. Tuesday I finally made it to the fruit market and got four quinces. I made quince paste. It tastes like condensed achievement and is named Bridget Mackey Quince Paste in honour of the housemate whose pot I destroyed making it. I have started thinking about the May Pickle Club. Tomorrow I am going to hang four daikon radishes in the sun.
Last night well respected permaculturist educator Adam Grubb gave me some homemade tempeh. Tempeh is fermented soybeans prepared using a fungus. You get your hands on a tempeh starter (Rhizopus oligosporus) and combine it with soybeans and put it somewhere warm. In about 24 hours you have tempeh. Lots of people prefer tempeh to tofu because it proffers the benefits of fermented food such as bioavailability of nutrients and a high whack of good gut bacteria, not to mention an excellent mushroomy/nutty flavour. I spoke to Adam this morning before either of us had had a chance to eat breakfast.
DLT: Good Morning Sunshine. So you recently made some tempeh. Where did you source the fungus from?
AG: On the internet. Some guy in Malaysia. You can get it at a reasonable price through an Australian based internet place now. It took a while to get through customs. I guess it could be confused for anthrax.
DLT: It is encouraging that a white fungus from Malaysia made its way through. I saw a pensioner on a bus get shot for trying to take a jar of honey into Western Australia once.
AG: 100 grams of the stuff makes I think about 50kg of tempeh. Anyway I got 500 grams. So enough to make my body weight of tempeh several times over.
DLT: You should make a tempeh effigy and then stuff it with chipotle and roast it on Guy Fawkes…
AG: I’m more inclined to worship the spore than sacrifice.
DLT: Can you inoculate a second batch with left over bits of the first?
AG: You can sort of inoculate a second batch with the second, but it works better with dry spore rather than chunks of last week’s tempeh. You can in theory culture your own spore, but I haven’t had much luck doing that.
DLT: The tempeh that you gave me yesterday looks very different to the one you gave me back in 2006. Yesterday’s tempeh looks like it came from Minh Phat’s. 2006’s tempeh was thrown out by a concerned housemate who thought it was a biohazard because it was dark brown and furry!
AG: In Indonesia I think all you need to do is wrap some cooked soybeans in a banana leaf; its 30 degrees outside, the spores are there naturally on the leaf, and you just make tempeh. Here it’s not so easy.
It should be furry, that’s the fungal hyphae. If you let it mature for long enough the pure white fungus will produce spores and you’ll get dark patches. That’s normal.
The biggest problem I’ve had is trying to make too much at once. You need to incubate tempeh at around 30 degrees C.
DLT: How do you keep a constant temperature?
AG: I’ve got an eski with a low watt light globe in it. But the metabolism of the tempeh fungi produces it’s own heat. So it can push the temperature over 40 in a small space and your tempeh is ruined. You make something that smells like natto instead.
That only happens if you make too much at once.
DLT: How hard is it to make your own tempeh? On a scale of mead to sauerkraut where does tempeh rate on the fermentation scale of difficulty?
AG: It’s middle tier. In my eski I’ve got a thermostat attached to the light. It would be a hassle keeping the temperature right without it. Also you need to crack the soy or whatever else you are fermenting. I’ve got a hand mill that does it. So it takes a bit of time and you need a couple of things that most people don’t have around the kitchen.
But the pay off is that you can make all kinds of tempeh, that taste way better than the shop bought stuff. My favourite is chickpea and nori tempeh. You also get a science experiment you can eat.
It takes 24-36 hours for the tempeh fungus to grow. For the first 12 hours nothing visible happens. Then you can start to see it spread. It’s exciting to wake up and find out what beastie has grown in your box.
DLT: Could you inoculate the soybeans in such a way that the Virgin Mary or E.T. could appear like some kind of prophetic vision? You could make tempeh with Holmgren on it!
AG: I think it would be better to leave such possibilities to providence.
DLT: Thankyou for answering my questions so early on a Sunday. What other fermented things do you have on the go? And what is it with you eco types and ferments? What is the attraction to fermenting your own food?
AG: That’s all right now, but I think I’ll ferment up some grated beetroot.
It is the tastiest thing ever, sour beets. Ferments are just the best foods: tea, coffee, chocolate, cheese, yogurt, beer, wine.
DLT: Could you make me some Guinness flavoured tempeh in time for March 17?
AG: I can see how that might be possible. I suppose that would be a world first.
There are microbes everywhere and we like to pretend they’re not there. By by cell count these bodies we carry around are 10 times more bacteria than human cells. By DNA levels we are 100 times more bacteria than human. We like to pretend they’re not there, that we control our environment. Did you know there is a positive correlation between fear of living contaminants and socially conservative views?
DLT: I think I saw Julie Biship scolling a bottle of Dettol in traffic once yes…
AG: That would be right. But you can’t beat them, because if we wiped them out of our immediate environment, we would die with them.
DLT: I also think there is a positive correlation between smelling like stale sweat and being an annoying anarcho syndicalist conspiracy theorist! I wont put that in the interview I’m just ranting…Now you will think I am a neo con.
AG: Anyway getting at one with the fungi and bacteria is good for your health and maybe just maybe you will learn to embrace all your fellow human beings too. And the world shall live together as one.
DLT: As if!
AG: Did you try the tempeh yet?
DLT: I’m about to eat it for breakfast. I’m just waiting for my housemate to get out of the kitchen. I fear her bacteria and worldview.
AG: When the revolution comes you OCD types will be the first to go.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink that originated somewhere near the Black Sea. Marco Polo drank it moments before stealing spaghetti from the Chinese. It is prepared by inoculating milk with kefir grains. If you don’t have a goat hide bag and the intestinal flora of a sheep handy you can make your own using a jar.
The other day I came home from Lucy’s place carrying a jar of kefir that originated with Lucy’s sister Jodie. I named it Wallace after David Foster Wallace. Since then I have been a fretting new parent- unsure of what to feed Wallace, how often, and how much. So I thought I would ask Jodie Lawson. This morning I interviewed Jodie and am a better parent for it…
DLT: Where did you get your kefir grains from?
JL: My grandmother used to make it in the 70s/80s so it came from her via an aunt and then my mother.
DLT: Does that mean that your kefir grains are older than you?
JL: Yes. Also, apparently my aunt forgot about hers for 2 years at the back of her fridge, re-hydrated them, and they were as good as new. They are very hardy.
DLT: Like the 4000 year old lentil (see wikipedia: oldest viable seed) . So why do you drink kefir?
JL: It’s reputed to be good for digestion, partly because of the good bacteria in it, and also because the lactose content is greatly reduced by the fermentation.It’s much cheaper than organic yoghurt.I like the taste, it”s sort of sour and creamy and goes really well with sweet fruit and cereal.
DLT: How does it work? Do you have to feed it every day or can you be a bit like Eninem’s mother in 8 Mile and kind of feed it every now and then…
JL: You can be border-line abusive. If you don’t feel like making a batch you can leave it in your fridge in water or milk for weeks, totally ignore it.
Making kefir is easy: you have a tablespoon or 2 of grains, which look like little cauliflowers, cover them in a couple of cups of full-cream milk, and leave them for 24 hours to ferment somewhere dark and not too hot. It helps to give them a little shake. Then just strain them, drink the liquid, use the grains to make another batch.
Some hippies online use soy milk and almond milk although I don’t advocate such practises.
DLT: What would happen if I fed mine a chocolate big m? Would it be a problem child?
JL: A big M might create a monster.
DLT: Your sister made me an excellent smoothie with just kefir and strawberries. What do you use your kefir for? Do you ever cook with it?
JL: Mostly I have it on cereal or porridge in the mornings. Sometimes I use it as a substitute for buttermilk in cooking. It’s good in muffins and pancakes.
DLT: My final question is. Next month you are going to Europe. Who are you going to get to babysit your kefir or are you going to smuggle it back to whence it came?
JL: That worries me. Also, it grows quite fast if you use it fairly constantly, and I have twice as much than I actually need. I can’t bring myself to throw any away, it’s like a little pet. I might just leave it at the back of my fridge like my aunt, hope for the best.
DLT: Godspeed you ferment empress godspeed
JL: Cheerio! x
 I made this up