Wednesday 9 January 2019

slow down

Here's a thought: replace the vicious cycle with a viscous stir-about. When I started working in The Institute this week 6 years ago, I was mad busy having to prep and deliver courses in a wild array of different areas of science: remedial maths, intermediate statistics, introductory biology, biochemistry, physics, water-chemistry, titration, spectrophotometry, Kjeldahl for protein . . . I could go on and you'd be Zzzzzzzzzzzz. With so much going on it was 'clearly' insane to start bloggin' about the process because that was an unpaid extra which would eat into the small fraction time left between teaching, commuting, eating and sleeping. Not so! The Blob became the glue that cemented my life sufficiently so it didn't fly apart under the pressure; or start oozing through the pressure distended seams.

And always, always through the whole transition there was time to make bread because that stuck to the ribs; and kneading for ten minutes was a daily practice that helped me stay on track. A different person might have decided he was too busy for blogging and baking and spent an equivalent amount of time shopping for dinner on the way home from work. When I started this end-of-working-life job I was making regular [flour, water, salt, yeast] bread but have since adopted a sourdough starter which slows down the process and requires a little bit more care and attention. Actually, it's more like owning a puppy: if you don't feed and exercise it regularly its nose dries out and it starts to smell a bit sulphurous. It's the downside of living alone for about half the week while The Beloved is minding her aged father Pat the Salt: the starter must be refreshed so the bread must be made so the bread must be eaten. Bread with every meal means rice and potatoes come but rarely, and pasta hardly at all. [note to self: make a smaller loaf, idiot].  In any case, I believe <halleluia!> that by fermenting at least overnight, the microbial community which is sourdough works harder on the flour to make something that is tastier and more nutritious.

Nice soundbyte on the virtues of food fermentation in an article in No Tech Mag. " . . . canning you kill all of the microbes and seal it hermetically. With fermentation you invite the microbes you want and don’t let in the ones you don’t. Fermentation is diplomacy and canning is a massacre." I like that because it concords with my sense that you don't want to be toooo clean while kneading bread - or making sauerkraut. The resident flora of the skin: coagulase-negative staphylococcus, propionibacterium, dermobacterium, and micrococcus are the doctor's primum non nocere - doing no harm to the food and probably adding a certain je ne sais quoi to the ferment.  You do have to take a certain amount of care with the transient flora, which are disproportionately high with fecal coliform. Then again, if it's your fecal coliform you're probably immune to its flushing effects. Just be careful not to let Uncle Joe from Philadelphia taste the sourdough before it is cooked.

One of the interesting hints in the No Tech article is about recovery when things go furry. If you are at your ferments at least once a day, you'll catch the signs of white fungal mycelia before they push the top off the crock-pot. The advice is to skim the obvious signs off the top and vigorously stir the top into the anaerobic centre of the mash. What grows on the top almost certainly requires air to flourish and this deep-sixing puts a stop to its gallop. Last week, when one of Dau.II's garden of Christmas cheeses, which had perhaps foolishly gotten wrapped in plastic, started to bloom blue and white fur, I didn't throw it away - I just prioritised it to the Eat First bin.  Here's another really useful [via MeFi where there is an interesting often funny commentariat] rule of thumb: a 2% solution of salt in water will keep off all the bad bacteria like Clostridium botulinum and give a free field of fire for desirable microbes mainly Lactobacillus spp.

The time element in fermentation is often just elapsed time rather than working time. Once you're set up, the steady state allows for almost instant gratification. Crunchy, tarty sauerkraut, a scoop with every meal. Yum!

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