Making a Miso Tradition

fermentation, Homegrown Grains, mold

The winter solstice has for myself become the day for annual miso-making traditions. It’s after most of the hardy holdout plants are finally delt a frosty blow, and grains and beans from the year are (hopefully) dried and threshed and stored away. Miso was introduced to me with an aura of magic- one of the first ferments I interacted with and so carries the same wild mystic held by the woods on a full moon’ed night as when I met it then. It’s retained its magic over the years, and that seems like a feeling worth fostering in anyway possible.

Sticking to annual miso-making means there are countless jars who present like vintages of wine marking out the years. The differences between the young and old ones are tremendous. It’s something that if you make, I highly recommend then hiding it from yourself for a couple of years. Just the other day I unearthed a crock that has been living on my porch for two years. It’s made of our homegrown marfax beans and danko rye. The location was an accident, probably nowhere anyone would recommend. I never really covered it or protected it from weather. The ceramic weights were covered thickly in fly pupal cases. After pulling them out and scraping off the top layer it was gorgeous miso with a fruity alcoholic smell the rest of the way down. It was scooped into a series of peanut butter jars to continue aging in the basement somewhere I already can’t recall.

Here’s how we’ve made miso, generally this same way every time, and may you find a way that works for you and becomes your own:

Preparing the Koji

First you’ll need some koji spores. Most people love GEM Cultures. If you’re really impressive you can go outside and find some growing out there somewhere. Either way add your cultures to a cooked starchy grain, mix, and incubate in mid-80 degree temps until your mold spores have colonized the grain. Since we mostly make our misos from homegrown grains like wheat or rye, it takes some extra cooking soften the grain enough to receive the mold. In other cases like with rice, a kernel that is just-cooked through and holds its shape is best. When your grain is cooked spread it out to let dry some and cool to about a mid-80’s temp and inoculate right away by spreading and mixing your spores in. The finished koji grain can be dried and saved or used immediately.

Preparing the beans

Unlike when making tempeh– who does better with beans cooked juuuust right (not over cooked), miso has no such need. Cook your beans fully after a nice overnight soak by boiling them, but in this cook no salt is needed.

Strain and let the beans cool. Often times I’ll let them sit out until the next day because life is busy.


Next it’s time to combine the beans and koji’d grain. The many styles of miso can vary according to the ratio of each, as well as the salt levels but my usual aim is eyeballing a 60% bean and 40% koji ratio when preparing the ingredients. Whatever I come out with in the end is what I mix together in the biggest bowl I have. Something like a potato masher can be used but I feel like this is a job for your hands to make the beginnings of your paste. The beans will mush but obviously the grain won’t yet. You can still get the general idea of the consistency already though. Add a little water here and there to get a consistency close to paste with the understanding that things will be breaking down more over time.

Then mix in salt. I hold true here to the salt to taste perspective. Salt, mix, taste, salt, mix, taste. You want something salty but pleasantly so. Not overwhelming, but not under salted.

Packing & Aging

Pack the miso in a jar or container pushing down to minimize air pockets. Leave ample head space for the big initial fermentation event on the horizon (the photo below shows too little headspace and the consequential overflowing). Many folks like to put a fresh sprinkling layer of salt over the final miso surface. It’s possible to pop a screw lid on top but the miso will commence fermentation and need some gas release. I like a loose-fitting lid but a cloth with rubber band or similar is good too. When the vigorous fermentation eventually ceases it’s a good idea to throw on some kind of lid. Depending on your conditions the miso could dry out. I’ll let the fermentation boil to a dripple in a bigger vessel, then transfer the miso to mason/ peanut butter jars and lid them to be taken to the basement for long term storage. I like breaking them down into many smaller jars so when one is being actively scooped from, the oxygen exposure is limited to just that jar as with all the microbial activity in there, things will begin to grow.

Consume when you’re ready to- in a few months, a year, or many years.

Borscht & Fermenting Grated Fall Roots


When the locust trees turn golden it seems to mark the main event for the fermentation season. And while as the years go by the tasks of preserving pile on seemingly nonstop, starting with the first shoot of green in late winter, there’s something about a last hurrah of fresh food in combination with cool ambient temperatures that carry the microbial transformation more gracefully that sparks some momentum. It’s exciting that the best way to celebrate this moment is a return to the basics. Those fermentation gateway techniques like kraut-making are a life-long essential practice, rather than something to “graduate” from. It’s kraut and kimchi season.

For those who are fortunate enough to have cool space where you live can consider storing local fall vegetables root cellar style. But for most of us who lack the cool basement or maybe don’t have a basement at all, cellaring may be too much of a challenge. One of my adaptations for the warm urban living situation over the years has been to grate and ferment most of the roots. I feel like if knives magically went extinct, the grater would finally get its due. (Have you ever made a stiff pasta dough and grated it straight into boiling water for noodles?) I like to grate, salt, and ferment individual types of vegetables to live in a series of colorful jars that surround the stove. All winter long I’ll scoop out piles of the different hues onto anything from stews to sautés and roasts. And all of these serve to complement our 5 gallon buckets of sauerkraut. (Certainly whole roots ferment well in 5 gallon buckets of salt brine too.) In the winter almost everything gets cooked in a bed of kraut. For those curious if your living situation is too warm for such a thing take note: A half used bucket became an emergency weight for the greenhouse in the spring and consequently did a full round of summer completely exposed in the backyard. I opened that up recently and after maybe an inch of mush revealed a spectacular deeply rich kraut. Laziness is a pathway to discovery.

The history of borscht is varied and fascinating and counter to what it has evolved into today, doesn’t begins with beets. Those folks who investigate the past say that borscht long predates the beet altogether, who were believed to be first used for their leaves before their roots became of interest. Who knows? Regardless what’s more interesting is the question then, without beets what is borscht? Like all things, borscht needent be homogenized into a single small idea, but you may find it interesting that certain evidence gives way to the theory that for the longest time borscht was a sour soup, that is, plant material fermented in a salt brine, and then used to make a soup by adding it to a meat broth or other, and simmered with other vegetables. (Not only does modern times like to homogenize ideas but it also loves ripping fermentation from foods and replacing it with vinegar.) In the case of white borscht we’re dealing with rye or wheat flour that is fermented with water, and made into a soup as previously mentioned. Yep, it is another neat use for your leftover sourdough starter, but you can go the extra yard by fermenting your starter with spices in it.

I bring this up, not only because it’s a fantastic time to rekindle the nurturing character of warm soup, but because those aforementioned colorful jars of fermented grated roots are basically pre-borscht set ups waiting in the wing.

Because the marvelous beetroot is so marvelous it does deserve to have its own soup kingdom so for now let’s stick to the popular beet affiliation. For making your own sour beet soup, a large scoop of that shredded fermented purple on the shelf will have it ready for you when you’re ready for it. After a little saute of garlic, onion, meats if you want, add your beet and drown them in your choice of stock, maybe a little white (radish) and some orange (carrots naturally), don’t forget the kraut (yellow? or is yellow rutabagas?), and anything else you have around. Any spare brine is welcome too. But at the very least, at least in my household, don’t dare forget the dill and marjoram.

A Little History of Glass & The Mason Jar


Blue sea glass is a special prize for those beach comers who keep their noses to the sand. The pearls polished by the ocean’s constant churning, whose previous life may have been a jar, emerges from the water laid on to a nest of sand. There are so many accounts across cultures and time of life originating from the great mysterious ocean. It is a wonder to consider the edges that hold those waters, made by the waters themselves, constitute the elements to make one of our great mythical and literal containers, glass.

Sand, the arms that hold earth’s massive liquid temperament, is a loose term primarily describing size. Formed by the long weathering of inland rocks who journeyed down to the waters to be finely broken down, sands made of quartz specifically are the ones when heated to extremely high temperatures (+3000 degrees) melts into a liquid that hardens off into glass. The first known glassmaker in history is nature. A bolt of lightning striking the beach will do the trick. (Fulgurite.)

The earliest glass human made glass is entirely unknown- a detail always worth celebrating. But some of the furthest back dating evidence of glass making employs liquid glass being poured into a breakable mold, and much of these earliest-known glass objects tend to be containers. This early glass-making process was so laborious- plus the additional production of other additives like plant ash and lime- that its luxury came and went through time according to the rise and fall of complex civilizations as it needed a structured civilization to carry it.

Sometime around the mid-first century in maybe somewhere around present day Lebanon a shattering breakthrough in glass-making occurred. It was discovered that glass could be blown into a bubble. Perhaps to some this was exciting enough, to others it meant that glass objects could be made quicker and with more variety which allowed glass to not be only a rare luxury item but something for anyone to own. Eventually in the 19th century a fellow in Toledo, Ohio patented the glass blowing machine which ensured the general mass affordability of glass jars.

Side step: In France during the Neopoleanic Wars a challenge was set for someone to find a method to preserve food for the soldiers aboard ships on long voyages. A candy-maker eventually figured out a method for creating a vacuum by using a hot water bath- the beginning of canning. The early days of canning worked its way to a certain point of maturation with the help of a whole variety of wars to keep figuring out how to feed more and more soldiers and eventually World War 1 that brought us the first whole meals in a (tin) can! Home canning with glass was mostly done by the rural homestead. The way to seal jars then was with wax as Appert had figured out way back when.

Then John Mason randomally swept in and changed all of food preservation forever. Using glass bottles that originally were blue due to impurities in the sand, he designed the very first screw top as an improvement to the wax finish. Secondly on the metal lid he added a rubber ring to create a better seal. Many-a company jumped aboard Mason’s innovations and some stayed true to his standards and design, including Ball who continues to make them today (and who at some point cleverly geared their marketing to appeal to the emerging hipster thing and won over fancy cocktail bars everywhere). Additionally, if you ever saw a Kerr jar you can attribute/ blame them with coming up with the two-peice lid thing we all have fumbling around in our kitchens.

But hipsters aside, the popularity of the Mason jar seems forever bound to society’s back-to-the-land urges as it ebbs and then peaks again with world ending events like WW2, the 60’s, and the Covid pandemic. As opposed to metal and plastic who can potentially leach, glass is a fantastic small scale fermentation device, as Mason jars have gracefully filled the role for so many of us. There have been plenty of times that I’ve pursued the romance of ceramic only to remember, amidst that one fatal lapse in refilling the water reservoir, my affection for Mason’s wonderful screw cap.

Dearly holding on to the speculative story of the first salt-based fermentations originating from sea water enabled by the dramatic alteration brought about by the container that rose its edges around it to hold its contents. That small dose of ocean was spliced to go with those humans anywhere they went. And today while we make our own salt water far away from an ocean, we carry a piece of it, made from the sands that contain it to plunge our vegetables in.

Fermented Okra Chips

Vegetable Fermentation

Okra chips is a neat snack to add more of your garden to the cupboard. When re-embarking on putting up our okra this year I recalled an event Ferment Pittsburgh was invited to themed as a slime presentation for kids. A jar of lacto-fermented okra was perfectly oozy for the job. But when venturing to jot this process out for the “net” here I questioned my memory and searched for other fermented okra recipes and astoundingly saw no mention of how the brine transforms very quickly into a thick slime. Weird. Nonetheless, while simply fermented okra is a wonderful slime-encased treat, following up with drying them into chips is a slime-less way to enjoy some deliciously preserved okra.


Lacto-ferment the okra for a few days. Pack your okra whole into a jar with water, add a tablespoon of salt per a quart, and ferment at room temperature either with a lid or a cloth covering, doesn’t matter which but I prefer a lid. It’s August now so I usually go for about 3 days but in cooler weather maybe 5 or so would works to get a nice fermenty flavor.

Strain the fermented okra and perhaps give them a quick rinse if they are difficult to handle from their slime. Then dehydrate either whole or cut into rings. If you’re doing whole a little pierce with a knife will help them dry inside and out.

Then dehydrate according to your preferred method, oven or machine, or hot car window. About 135-ish degrees for around 24 hours, or however long it takes.

The finished okra can be tossed with salt and other seasonings and stored away in a jar.

Homemade Salsa Negra


Aside from loving the wonderful condiment salsa negra, a recipe like this is extra special for putting a lot of the pieces of preserving throughout the year together. Homegrown garlic, transformed into black garlic– a post-growing season fall tradition of ours, a collection of dried peppers and smoked peppers saved from the garden, and homemade vinegar from your local fruit- all come together to make the best sauce that goes with everything from roasted chicken to ramen broth.

From a home-preserver perspective it feels disingenuous to recommend quantities of anything (You can read meander thoughts on that here if you want). It really should be based part on your taste preference and part on what amounts you have around to use. But the process is as follows:

In a skillet warm a couple glugs of oil. Add a handful of black garlic and a couple handfuls of your various dried peppers- as many hot ones as you want your salsa to be hot. If you want to include some tomato paste to add some sweetness, by all means. Some folks here will simply add a pinch of sugar, or nothing at all. Carefully warm until everything is soft and fragrant.

Transfer all the contents to a food processor or whatever your preferred mashing technique is. Add salt to taste and a dollop of vinegar to liven everything up, and puree. Store in a jar for however long it lasts.

While I wanted to get this recipe out in the monthly newsletter now in September to get folks planning for winter, as I scavenge my cupboards it seems I finished last winter’s salsa negra before I got to take a picture of the final product! But let’s be honest, “blogging” is blah, it’s the sharing of useful meaningful information that keeps our hands busy doing non-internet things that’s important- not ruining the moments of our lives by taking too many pictures! Damn last year’s salsa negra was good!

Saving Tomato Seeds from Your Garden

farm, fermentation

When venturing out to save tomato seeds look for the plants and fruits that are performing best- most beautiful, undamaged fruit, best disease resistance, excellent flavor, etc. A single tomato, depending on variety can yield perhaps enough seeds alone for the following year, making it a crop you can still continue to enjoy while simultaneously saving its seed. I like to pick ripe fruit throughout the year from the best plants while keeping detailed notes for each batch of seeds that gets saved.

Tomatoes for seeds can be cut open or just smashed, then placed in a jar to let ferment for a day or two. The fermentation helps separate the seed from the tomato flesh and any membrane that might be clinging to it. Fermenting too long can possibly have an adverse effect on germination later on.

When you’re ready to strain, shake up the jar and let things settle. This will help get the viable seeds to collect at the bottom. Next I’ll pull out the tomato solids I can grab with my hands then top the jar off with water. Carefully pour off the water and the remaining tomato debris should pour out with it. Keep refilling the jar and pouring out until the water is clear and clean. Then you can strain out the seeds and lay them on a surface for drying.

Dry gradually, which I do by leaving either on my breezy porch or in a room with a ceiling fan on- caution that fruit flies will be looking for them. Mix up the seeds occasionally to ensure even drying as they can tend to clump up. After a lazy week or two pack them up in a jar or bag or elsewhere safely away until you’re ready to use them next season.

Saving Zucchini & Cucumber Seed

fermentation, homesteading, Vegetable Fermentation

Zucchini and cucumber seeds are vegetables that both use a little fermentation to help in saving the seeds. When saving them you’ll want as mature of a fruit as you can get. Even after you harvest them it can help to let them cure for a couple days before cutting them open. It’s still a strange feeling to stop eating the favorite plants of a crop and let them grow out for seed. Maybe the pleasure is in the hope it gives to next year.

For zucchini start by cutting off any “neck” that is only flesh and doesn’t contain any seeds. Then carefully with a good knife cut the first half inch or so or around the perimeter of the vegetable so it can be pulled apart into two halves. The reason for this procedure is to prevent throwing a knife straight through the seed cavity and slicing a handful of them.

Next, scoop out the seeds.

Or thumb out the seeds.

The seeds will have a thin coating around them. To remove that place the seeds and anything stuck to them into a container and cover it with water. Add a cover to keep the flies out and ferment for 1-2 days. Caution not to forget about the ferment for too long as it can eventually begin to deteriorate the seeds germinating potential.

After the light fermentation the seed should be free from their covering. Check to make sure then you can stir up the seeds in the water, the good seeds should sink to the bottom and you can pour the rest off the top. This can be repeated by adding more water, stirring, and pouring until the seeds are generally clean. Then drain, rinse, and dry the seeds in a warm, dry place, and mix them up periodically to keep it going evenly.

A Brief Rundown of Eggplants & Fermentation

fruit, story

Garden egg, Guinea squash, bitter tomato, aubergine, brinjal, gaji, eggplant- whatever you call it- amidst my comprehensive spread of cookbooks and culinary and world history they offer next to no substance save a single customary eggplant recipe or two and move on. Maguelonne Toussaint- Samat’s History of Food, a usual starting point for many-a food research, with an eggplant on the cover of the second edition, offers nothing about eggplant at all, while the other texts say something silly like “Europeans brought it back from India/ Africa. It was bitter.”

The eggplant lineage that we eat at some point split to what we can roughly call eggplants from China or India and eggplants from Africa. They are related, but not the same. Thailand, Japan, etc adopted the China/ India eggplant and then Europe claimed all of them including some of the African ones (making pre-European contact historical research about them quite difficult to do as that’s where a lot of sources like to begin). Researchers believe eggplants were first domesticated in China/ India but those plant’s wild origins came from Africa, where many eggplants still roam wild.

In addition to their excellent fiber, minerals and antioxidants, eggplants are great sponges for fats and sauces. It’s commonly known around these parts too that many eggplants need salted and some rest time to remove their natural bitterness. I first heard it from fancy cook Deborah Madison who thinks we’re dabbing with paper towels because we aren’t eating them fresh. That does seem true, but it’s also worth thinking about red eggplants from Africa who are always bitter and moreso the longer they stay on the stem. Picking early is a way to temper the bitterness, however one Ethiopian writer when describing eggplants never mentions any process to de-bitter it, instead he waxes about how prized the bitterest ones are- I guess it’s a matter of perspective. Deborah also classifies skin toughness by color which, as a grower of eggplants seemed bunk at first but I’ll agree in regards only to green skinned, which also have a neat apple-like tartness. Picked on the younger side seems to make for a more tender skin all around. The lesson here boiled down is clearly to get your eggplants in season from the farmer’s market, rather than the grocery store, but also maybe to consider embracing some bitter?

One of the earliest known writings on eggplants by a Persian scholar from around the 900’s made a big list of reasons not to consume it because of its harm to your health. He then went on to rattle off a slew of great health benefits it offers after it is prepared for eating. And in the 2000’s there was up-to-date confirmation by a researcher from Vietnam who found that fermenting raw eggplant in a salt brine for 8 days purged the anti-nutrients it contained such as tannin, phytate, oxalate, and steroidal glycoalkaloid. Great news considering that since eggplant has such a high water content its perishabilibity is fast on the horizon, that coupled with how we need to buy them in season too, fermentation coming in handy again!

Last year we got really into this pickle & marinate technique for our eggplants. It’s very delicious but just be mindful to not over poach your eggos or they’ll turn to mush in the marinade. But apparently there is also an Eastern-European tradition of doing something similar that’s sometimes called Sour Eggplant. Most recipes describe it as eggplants first roasted whole, then cut in half and stuffed with a shredded carrot mixture (garlic, herbs, etc), then either packed in oil or just left at room temperature covered to allow to ferment and get sour. Otherwise preserving eggplant by lacto-fermentation is a breeze, especially because raw they are quite firm and hold shape and texture no problem. There are also recipes around for things like fermented baba ganoush. While I have made it before I can’t honestly say it was on purpose (though the popular technique is to ferment the eggplant and use that instead of roasted eggplant rather than just forgetting baba on the counter).

Fermented Method of Homemade Tomato Paste


The first tomato paste I ever tried to make was a romantic pursuit involving crushing the tomatoes and laying them out in the late summer sun to gently dry. While it didn’t turn out as I hoped, the flies loved it. With the second attempt I tried cooking the tomatoes down on the stove top then roasting them in the oven on low heat for what seemed like an eternity. For the perfect combo of quick and romance of fermentation there is this wonderful method.

Start by cutting up the tomatoes and placing them into a container to ferment in. Nothing else needs added, just leave at room temperature with a secure covering- cloth or otherwise, for 3-7 days.

The fermentation will separate the water from the solids to the point that you can hand scoop out the tomato peices leaving behind a big pool of tomato water. Run the tomato bits through a food mill to get the seeds and skins out.

Then strain the solids to the consistency of paste you desire. When it’s done you can mix in some salt or coat the surface with oil after its packed in a jar to help a little with preserving- or leave it as is. Keep in mind that it’s an alive and active ferment so if you pop on a lid it will produce some gas.

Making Old Fashioned Corn Syrup


Not all plants have a use for the ones that for whatever reason don’t produce fruit. In the case of field corn, any stalk without an ear is prime for turning into corn syrup.

As field corn begins to develop ears it’s likely that you’ll notice a few that don’t. When that happens it’s time to make syrup.

Cut down the earless stalks at the base and give the wound a lick. Hopefully you taste a pleasant sweetness. That is the sugars destined for the ear that had nowhere else to go. Trim off the tassels and tear off the leaves.

Now there are two ways to go from here. The first is the low tech way- snip you corn stalks into smaller peices, throw them crush them well to access the juices. Then put in a pot and add water to cover and boil to extract the sugar. Boil the water down until it’s sweet then strain out the solids. Finish boiling into a syrup.

The more high tech way is to use a sugar cane press where you simply run the stalks through the press and the resulting liquid can be boiled down into syrup.

In both cases the sugar to water ratio is similar to making maple syrup. (What is that like 60:1 if I remember correctly.) Therefore you’ll need quite a few stalks to make a decent amount of syrup.