Another day in my life as a farmy gardener and probiotic culture keeper.
Dawn In the Farmy Garden
It’s dawn and Blackie is a true early bird. When I respond to her raspy rat-a-tat-tat in sandals and a robe, her three folk mates are not even awake! Groggy-eyed, I let four scoops of fermented chicken feed splat into their dish (aka, a plastic container reused from some humans’ food item). Why in the world do we have chickens anyway?
Blackie picks out a few of her favorite grains and tries to dodge my legs to escape into the yard and forage for her first breakfast. She’ll save this whole grain porridge for second breakfast. Nessie, Ginger, and ZeeBee descend from their roost made from a two-story rabbit hutch and dash out into the yard. Some days, I pick some “weeds” like lambsquarters or amaranth, or kale, chard, or lettuce leaves from the garden behind me which have past their prime, in hopes that this will fill their urge to forage upon awaking.
Other mornings, I’m too tired for that, so I let them roam unsupervised to scratch up bugs, find their own tasty weeds…and poop on my patio while I go back to bed.
Today, I stretch up to see the dawn sky glowing over the fence, silhouetting eucalyptus trees in the distance as four fluffy chicken behinds run off toward one of their favorite bug hunting grounds. I soak in the birdsong studded-stillness and give thanks with my morning prayers.
I pull out the hose to slowly water the garden and shrubby little trees in the back. Five citrus saplings newly planted in pretty blue resin containers look clean and content where the spring nasturtiums have died back. It’s the most orderly part of the yard and makes me smile. Think of all the fruit we’ll be eating in the next few years!
The “girls” gawk and chirp with chickeny curiosity as I water. How I can expand this homeschool project and fit more chickens into our space? Wouldn’t it be nice to have more than a handful of eggs a day anyway?
Early Morning in the Kitchen
Culture #1: Fermented Chicken Feed
Thirty minutes later, the tea kettle is on and I mix up another batch of fermented feed for the chickens. Usually, I leave a half cup or so of already-fermented feed in the bucket as a starter culture, but today I needed to give it all to the hens. I fill the 1 gallon bucket halfway with their whole grain layer feed, then add chlorine-free water from a glass jug I left out yesterday so the chlorine would evaporate, leaving about one inch of space between the waterline and the top of the bucket. Lastly, I stir in a few spoonsful of sourdough starter and mix well, then set the bucket back outside with the lid on loosely.
Culture #2: Kefir
With my tea steeping, I read a psalm, then get breakfast ready. Something simple, like yogurt and granola ought to be fine. I tend to my “kitchen pets”, feeding the sourdough starter with a 1:1 ratio of whole wheat flour and water before returning it to the fridge. I strain the kefir through a nylon sieve, pouring the strained kefir into a cup for myself and the rest into a jar I label “Kefir to drink” with a sharpie. Sharpies are perhaps the unsung heroes of the home fermenter’s kitchen. So many jars, so many cultures and dates to be recorded! The kefir grains go back into the first jar, covered with finished kefir, and then whole milk over that, leaving some headspace in the jar before capping lightly to ferment on the counter.
Culture #3: Scandinavian Filmjölk
I tilt another jar, this one filled with Scandinavian filmjölk yogurt, and see that the milk has coagulated and sticks together, pulling away lightly from the side of the glass jar. I pour most of the jar into my bowl with granola, leaving about a quarter of a cup in the jar to ferment the next batch. No grains here, but like the kefir, I pour milk into the filmjölk jar, leaving headspace and lightly capping. This mesophilic (“medium temperature loving”) yogurt stays on the counter too, but at a social distance from other cultures. I don’t want my cultures sharing their probiotic bacteria and yeasts and thus mixing into something that may or may not behave the way I want them to.
All-in-all, I spend ten or fifteen minutes on feeding these three starter cultures: sourdough, kefir, and filmjölk.
Culture #4: Sourdough
Time to check the dough I started yesterday. It’s been about 24 hours since I mixed sourdough starter, water, salt, and flour and left it to leaven on the counter by the back of the fridge, one of the warmest places in my kitchen, though it’s not too warm, only 70 degrees.
For nutrition’s sake, I usually make a 100% whole wheat bread (usually with hard red wheat), so this bread will be dense with a sour bite that’s as dynamic as it is delicious. I’ve also noticed that my gluten intolerant child does ok when eating sourdough bread that’s gone through a long fermentation like this.
The dough has doubled in size so it’s the perfect time for the next step.
Carefully, I remove the dough from the lightly-oiled bowl, and round it into a loaf, rolling my hands over it as I rotate it, folding some of the dough under, which creates a seam underneath. Shaping for a few minutes then resting the loaf to allow it to rise again helps develop the gluten cloak. I place it on a piece of parchment paper with a damp towel over it and set it in a warm place again for several hours.
When I’m ready to bake later that day, I set my baking stone in the middle of the oven and a rimmed pan on the lowest level, pre-heating the oven to 450 degrees. With a sharp, wet knife I gently slice the top of the bread so that the crust breaks nicely while baking. When the oven is ready, I move the dough–parchment paper and all–to the baking stone and pour a half cup of hot water into the rimmed pan. I quickly shut the oven door to capture the steam inside while the dough bakes.
I set the timer for 25 minutes, but can’t help but peeking through the window now and again to check for “oven spring”, that delightful rise that occurs during baking. When the timer buzzes, I pull out the bread, flipping it onto a clean tea towel and tap the bottom. It doesn’t quite have the hollow sound I’m listening for, so I place it back in. Five minutes later, I hear that nice, hollow sound that reminds me of a drum or door being tapped. Now to be patient enough while it cools before cutting it!
In another post, I will tell you about making kombucha or lacto-fermented veggies, but this “day in the life” covers the ferments that like to be fed daily, though they can be put on vacation in the fridge. Veggie ferments and kombucha have a longer fermentation window and I generally don’t tend every one of my ferments in one day. Besides the above, I also have South African amasi yogurt, a vegan coconut yogurt, and gluten-free buckwheat sourdough that I am currently tending.
Look for more posts about a day in the life of a culture keeper in the future!