A day in quarantine: fermentation

Want to massively prolong the shelf life of your precious greens, as well as making their nutrients more bioavailable? Want to massively boost your immune system by flooding your gut microbiome with helpful bacteria? Want to seize the means of production from Big Food?

by Pablo Navarro MacLochlainn, Senior Picture and Footage Researcher Bridgeman London




Wild fermentation is my quarantine therapy, and I'm not allowed pets, so my ferments are also my companions on my isolation journey, until I eat them. My top 3 things to ferment during a crisis*:


1. Sauerkraut

Infinitely variable, lasts forever, suspiciously easy. You will need:

- Vegetables, traditionally cabbage but go wild
- Salt
- A glass or ceramic jar (food-grade tupperware in a pinch, but all these ferments become highly acidic and tend to digest plastic or metal)

Directions: chop the vegetables, rub a load of salt on them, maybe some caraway seeds, get your hands in there, leave until they produce their own brine. Bashing them around with a potato masher may help. Jar it and fill up with water if there's space at the top; you want to minimise oxygen in the fermentation environment. The tasty lactobacilli are anaerobic, which is why they get crazy as soon as you cover them in brine, but naughty oxygen-breathing mould spores are always watching, waiting to colonise the surface.

It will probably get super fizzy and overflow within the first few days; rubber-sealed kilner jars are best imo because they release the pressure gradually, with no need to open and let the spores in. A normal jar is also fine but will require 'burping'. If mould forms on top, do not freak out: scrape off as much as you can and the greedy kraut will disappear the rest.


In the street large amounts of cabbages and barrels are cleaned by women. Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 1917 / Spaarnestad Photo / Bridgeman Images


2. Kefir

Kefir is like kombucha on steroids. Like kombucha, it is produced by a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY), but kefir is far more biodiverse. You will probably have to buy the 'grains' from an awful hippie website, but if you treat them with respect they will live forever; traditionally in milk, but I house mine in tea. My kefir jar has also developed a mysterious bonus SCOBY that grows around the inside like a brown sleeve. No idea what it is but I eat it sometimes as a challenging snack.


Kefir / Photo © Viard M./HorizonFeatures / Bridgeman Images


3. Mead

Don't know if this one is actually good for you but it's my favourite. You will need:

- Honey
- Water
- Jar

Did you know that wild yeast is all around us, all the time. It is in your home, in the room with you right now. It is on the back of your neck, probably. And when you mix about 1 part honey to 4 parts water, you create a five star yeast hotel.

Leave the mixture in a warmish place and stir vigorously several times a day. Eventually it will become frothy and fizzy, as the yeast party starts to bang, turning the sugar into alcohol. Then you need to airlock it - I do this by bottling and putting a balloon over the bottle neck, which lets the carbon dioxide escape slowly. If you leave it exposed to the air, buzzkill acetobacter will arrive and turn it to vinegar like BAM.

If the party just isn't kicking off, you can introduce more wild yeast from, eg: a grape (that whitish stuff on its skin), a flower from your window box (COVERED in yeasts), or just sell out and introduce a commercial monoculture like champagne yeast.

Once the bubbles have visibly subsided, put the bottle cap on. Leave it as long as you can bear - the more you age it, the drier and stronger it becomes, as more of the sugars are processed. Chill before consuming and also beware exploding bottles.


Yeast culture in petri dish, view from above / Dorling Kindersley/UIG / Bridgeman Images


Other things you can ferment using just the raw ingredient/s and the filth from around your house: sourdough (having a huge cultural moment right now), kimchi, ginger ale, cider, cider vinegar (even if you were aiming for cider), sunflower seed cheese (not for the faint of heart), basically any grain or pulse. I dare you.


L-R: celeriac & spirulina kraut; red cabbage & caraway kraut; kefir & bonus scoby


In need of some images? Check out some of our favourite fermentation images here


Kvas Seller, 1862 (oil on canvas) / Bridgeman Images


What is your favourite pastime in these challenging times? Get in touch and let us know


*Please bear in mind that these are just suggestions, follow these tips sensibly and at your own discretion. Bridgeman are not liable for any damage that may arise from them.

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