Flatbreads from Your Morning Porridge

baking, bread, fermentation, Homegrown Grains

This recipe is a continuation of a ditty about the early days of grains and the gradual “rise” of bread. The first step to this process is making some fermented porridge, which is described in aforementioned ditty. I love the variability of a process where the same porridge can be cooked for your breakfast, and any leftover can become bread for scooping up your lunch and dinner. The more active the ferment obviously the better, so if your porridge has been sitting for a long time, scoop the scum off the top and make some flatbreads!

In modern days like we’re in where just about every aspect of a food and its production are able to be controlled for really specific outcomes, this recipe is a refreshing throwback to times when intuition and experience were more valuable than control, and “perfection” was likely defined in a less homogenous way.

Process

There are no precise measurements that make sense to give. However much fermented porridge you have to use is what you have, and obviously the water to grain ratio will be all over the place. Yet, none of that business should be much of a hurdle here.

Pour your porridge into a bowl. Add a sprinkle of salt. If you are doing this on a scale something like 16 grams of salt per 500 grams of final dough is good. If your breads are undersalted you can always sprinkle some finishing salt over them straight out of the oven. Always be careful to not over salt!

Start adding in flour that has good gluten building qualities. Store bought “Bread” flour is the ticket. Add gradually, mixing it into the porridge slurry until a dough gets formed. You’d want enough flour so it’s not a sticky dough but not so much that it’s super firm either. Intuition and experience right? Getting things right the first time is boring, you learn nothing. A recipe worth making is one that you earn a relationship with, right?

Give the dough a few kneads and let it rest. The goal is to have everything mixed and incorporated but being mindful to not overmix. Giving it a covered over night or long day rest is great. The dough can be stored in a container the fridge and used here and there if not needed right away.

When it’s time to make the bread, on a lightly floured surface cut the dough into whatever size your after, perhaps the size of a doubled golf ball? And then roll them into a ball. Let the balls rest for 20 or so min and in the meantime warm up a skillet on the stovetop to medium high.

After a little rest period, using as much flour as needed, roll out the balls into flat disks. You can press them first with your fingers, and toss them like a pizza or come in with your rolling pin. Play around with the thickness and size (which will also be factors in how hot your skillet should be) until you found what you like.

Cook the flatbread, flipping as needed until both sides are lightly browned and the bread is cooked all the way through. Breads can be dressed up with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of seasonings if that’s your bag. Then fill em up with delights!

Fermented Porrdige & Kvass

fermentation, Homegrown Grains

Sometimes the grandeur of bread makes the grains feel unrecognizable from the labored summer months caring for it, processing it, and cleaning it. Porridge makes me feel closest to my grains. Tortilla retains an intimate connection too. I remember reading a long time ago somewhere that a bread baker was the first specialized profession. It’s easy to understand for anyone who’s tried to consistently integrate the time intensive task into their daily life. Before bread “technology” became widely accessible, porridge was the primary way people consumed their staple grains.

It’s believable to say that porridge is the rough stone that was smoothened into bread by the running waters of time, fermented porridge actually! Before porridge maybe there were handgathered kernels chewed between your teeth. Actually doing this yourself is a jolting time warp worth doing to reset your racing clock. It’s become an annual moment after harvest for us to hand thresh a small bowlful of kernels and eat them as is, just to remember. Next I’d imagine was progressing to crushing kernels between stones, earth’s teeth, and maybe add some earth tears like water, and there you’d have a porridge. Uncooked it would be a chewy mush. With enough time it would ferment and soften more, maybe making it easier to eat and introducing humans to their first versions of a sourdough starter. With a little added flour, cook a fermented porridge into a flatbread and there’s a leavened bread. Add a little more ground grain for an even firmer dough and with more time and a cook, you got yourself a loaf.

Fermented porridge can be made from any grain: wheat, rye, corn, oats, rice, and so-on. It can be cracked, ground, whole, or even just sifted bran. A hand cranked meat grinder works great for cracked grain and often pop up in the tool sections of thrift stores for a couple bucks. It’s possible to crack them too by laying the grains on a hard flat surface, draping a towel over them, and pressing hard on them with bottom of a jar, a rolling pin, or maybe a rock.

The prep work is easy, just covering your prepared grain with a generous amount of water or milk or nut/ seed “milk” to keep it submerged for a prolonged soak- a couple hours or a couple days or weeks at room temp depending how funky you’re feeling. The fermentation will help breakdown grain characteristics that inhibit digestion. In the morning, heat it in a pot until boiling, then lowering it to a short simmer, keep an eye on it all the while in case some extra liquid needs added along the way. The final consistency is up to you. Depending on where you’re trying to take your day, add a splash or nob of fat (buddder/ oil/ maybe bacon), pinch o salt, and any seasonings and delights (like those summer time berries you dehydrated or a potato) before cooking. For a quicker fermentation turn around you can backslop today’s porridge into a new one just like splashing in a starter. What an easy vehicle for any adventure.

Remember the rye bread recipe for traditional style pumpernickel from a few months ago? This one? The recipe used “scalding” which was heating a porridge situation until it was at least 160 degrees at which point the flour released its starches and gelatinized. In pumpernickel, this is what gave the gluten-lacking rye bread some bonding to help it hold its shape. This is the same process that occurs when cooking the porridge, transforming it into a lovely cohesive mush rather than water and grain that sit separately in a bowl like oil and water. It’s also the same process used for making injera which is a mixing of “fermented porridge” and scalded porridge to help the thin batter hold together.



Kvass

The same grains- whether cracked, ground, whole, or bran, but this time also adding old baked bread to the list, when covered with water and left to ferment is the beverage associated with Eastern European origin called kvass. There are a million variations to this beverage (including versions without grain), with many adding some kind of additional sugar whether it be cane, fruit, berries, vegetables, juice, honey, sorghum, or maple in order to get a spritely effervescent and maybe alcoholic beverage. Where’s the line between fermented porridge and kvass? Doesn’t seem like there is much of one, just don’t boil your kvass or you’ll lose the fire in that firewater. What’s the difference between beer and kvass? Beer gets most of its sugar out of its grains by sprouting them first (aka malting) and steeping them at a specific temperature (mashing), kvass is a little lazier and ferments things as they are with no special processes (although malt still may be used). It almost feels like kvass is a brew made of collected leftovers.

Winter is a good time to perch a brew of kvass on your radiators as if it were your hearth. To make it add cracked grains, old bread, and as much sweetener of choice as suits you. Dress it up with any other flavors and seasonings that inspire you. Don’t forget a little splash of sourdough starter to help get everything rolling (not required). Let the wild yeast ferment it at room temperature till it’s actively bubbling. Remember it’s winter so be patient. Then strain out the contents and enjoy.

(I suppose you can also not strain out the contents and warm it up into a nice porridge! Boom.)

Growing & Fermenting Horseradish

farm, Vegetable Fermentation

Growing Horseradish

Horseradish easy to grow. It’s a vigorous plant that can thrive in many conditions. Deep lose soil is best for straight taproots that otherwise would be fine but a little gangly. (You’ll see the piece used in the pictures here must have hit a rock and took at hard left.)

Plant pieces in full sun a couple inches deep and for fuller roots cut away new green shoots as they sprout above ground leaving only around 2-4. If planting multiple plants spacing of 30 inches recommended. Mulching is also a good idea. Feed with a high phosphorous, low nitrogen fertilizer to promote root growth. Harvest after the leaves wilt from frost making sure to leave some behind for the plant to continue growing. Aim for new growth as the root will become woody after enough time.

Fermenting

Wash and peel your horseradish root.

Cutting up the root is a tricky endeavour because the heat of the horseradish will fill the air. I like using a fine grater over a food processor because in my experience the food processor created a spicy plume that overwhelmed the room. Either way hand and mouth protection isn’t the worst idea if you have it.

Once the root is grated you can add a pinch of salt and any water if it seems too dry. You could also add a splash of vinegar with or instead of water- the vinegar neutralizes the enzymic reaction that makes the horseradish spicy, so adding some asap will lessen the spiciness of your condiment.

Lastly, pack your horseradish into jars to ferment at room temp. Use it as needed throughout winter to wake up your potatoes, sausages, and other comforting meals. If you want purple horseradish like seen in some stores, just mix in a little bit of grated beet before packing it into jars.

Don’t forget to save some nubs if you need to plant more out in the spring. Roots will maintain in the fridge or cellar in a plastic bag for many months. You could also try your hand “forcing” the leaves for fresh horseradish greens in winter.

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.

Process

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.

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 French Fries (& Potato Chips)

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

In a makeshift urban root cellar such as we have, the turning of the weather is felt in more places than the breaking of tree buds. While a fermented french fry recipe featured above seems lighthearted and fun, it serves a practical purpose as the tail-end of our stored potatoes also experience an early Spring “bud-breaking” (or spud-breaking?). It works two-fold as what needs eaten needs done with a little more pep, while those potatoes put aside for seed are getting a little pre-sprouting before going in the ground soon enough. The light fermentation adds a more dynamic lacto-pickley flavor to your fries that goes great with traditional condiments, making them worth a try.

Leaving the skin on, cut up the potatoes into your preferred fry shape.

Normally fries get an overnight soak in cold salt water to wash off excess starches. In this case we’ll do the soak as usual, but at room temperature and for a couple more days.

In your fermentation vessel cover the fries with water and add enough salt that the brine has a pleasant lightly salted taste. There’s no wrong answer with salt, except the potatoes will be taking on salt during the ferment, so too much can result in over-salty fries. A light brine enables you to still add salt after frying without overdoing it.

Ferment the fries for a couple days depending on ambient temperature and your preference. We do 4 days in 70 degrees. The potatoes get a nice pungent odor. The final taste is much more restrained than the smell describes so if you’re a lover of the funk, you could keep going. Strain and rinse before you’re ready to fry.

Heat your favorite frying oil- whether that be canola or tallow or other, to 250 degrees and par-fry the potatoes for 7:30 minutes. Work in batches if space in your frying vessel is limited.

Par-fried fries can be held in the fridge to finish for a week or so. When you’re ready for french fries, heat your oil once again but this time heating it to 375 degrees. Cook your fries to your preference, likely somewhere between 2-3 minutes. Strain excess oil and toss with a pinch of salt.

For potato chips follow the same process with these changes/ tips:

Cut whole potatoes on a mandolin- our cabbage mandolin for sauerkraut does the job here. Whether they are thin or thick is up to you.

Ferment the same as with the fries above.

There is no par-frying needed with potato chips. Fry them once in oil at 375 degrees for ~5min or so. The color should be your indicator here. Make sure to move the chips around periodically because they rise to the top and can get some uneven frying. Under-fried parts will be chewy rather than crispy.

Strain and toss in salt, or maybe your favorite spice blend.

Fermenting Homegrown Flax into Linen

farm, fermentation

It’s said that the first automated spinning machine helped kick start the industrial revolution. The practice of spinning fibers itself came from a rudimentary toolset such as a stick and a small weighty rock that was invented independently all over the world as separate cultures birthed their own thread spinning traditions. And this simple act of spinning, spinning, and spinning fibers, over and over made clothes, bags, and sails for ships to launch out to sea, which using a non-automated spinning wheel would take around 4 and a half years to spin. Flax is believed to be one of the absolute earliest cultivated plants and one used for its fiber. But in order for the world to hop on the back of flax to fully spin out of control it needed fermentation to carry it from plant to fiber, from flax to linen.

Growing

In growing habit flax is a cooler weather loving plant so is often sown in the spring in Western Pennsylvania. It has thin strong stalks that reach maybe around 3’ or so. They can be broadcast but doesn’t compete well with weeds. Flax grown for fibers are sown close together to discourage the plant from branching. Conversely if it’s the oil-rich seeds that are desired, give em a little more space. After around 100 days the plant begins to yellow (round mid-July) and the plants are pulled, by hand, with root and all to maximize the fiber length.

Processing

The stalks are laid out to dry for a few weeks (after which threshing can occur to save or obtain the little flax seeds by carefully whacking the stalks). And now things start getting good and rotten.


Next comes the stage of retting. Linen is a bast fiber meaning that the fibers are collected at the phloem, or inner bark, part of the stem. Incidentally the xylem (outer woody part) and phloem are bundled together by pectin which need broken down to separate out the desired fibers.

The word retting is thought to originate from rot, our dear friend to fermentation. A prolonged saturation of the plant causes the cells around the phloem to burst which in turn invites microbes to come and work on the carbohydrate-based pectin, and this action frees the cellulose fibers from its woody stalk.

Attention must be taken at this stage as under-retting won’t cause proper separation, and over-retting can disintegrate the fibers. Verifying success comes through testing to see if when you break the stalk you see the fibers separated.

Retting

There are several methods to ret. The first is dew retting where the flax is simply laid in thin layers on the grass to rot with the accumulated morning dew, dry out during the day, and repeat. This can take a while, upwards of a few months and produces a darker gray color.

Another way is to submerge the dried flax plants in a pond or stream weighed down possibly by rocks. On a large enough scale this method has been trouble for fish and has led to various bans of it overtime. It’s much quicker, taking maybe a week and a half or so and produces a more blonde color.

The way we chose for our trials, and by far the stinkiest is by submerging the fibers into a stagnant pool. This was done in a large tub. And since we used just hose water, we also dumped a cupful of pond water in as a sort of starter culture to ensure some microbial activity. With a lid on top to keep the water from evaporating in the summer sun the smell was horrendous and beautiful. It took about a week and then the stalks were taken out and dried again.

Fibers Emerge

At this point the dried stalks are ready to be broken and shattered which should free the long thin fibers from the woody parts of the plant. It’s quite magical to watch the beautiful blonde fibers released from the bondage of their wooden cell. This is also a step we might save for another time, and instead shove the prepared stalks into the basement to await a winter day when there’s more free time to complete the process.


All the steps to processing hereafter are involved enough themselves and perhaps too much to go into here. We took on flax growing a few years ago and tackle it as a project to gradually develop. A couple years later and finally this winter we got to find out what spinning was all about. For that we took a handmade ceramic fermentation weight that happened to have a hole through the middle and jammed a dowel rod into it, then bent a nail at the one end to act as a hook. The pros recommend a cd and dowel rod to get started. And clumsily off we go to spin, spin, and spin, to cherish the perspective replaced by a now automated process that is mostly taken for granted.

Homemade Tempeh

fermentation

Quick n’ easy Ferment Pittsburgh take on making homemade tempeh- in any shape.

Give your choice of bean or beans a good long soak, ~12 hours or so.

Cook the beans in boiling water, being careful to not overcook them. You’re after a bean that holds its shape. Its okay if it’s a tad undercooked, al dente works great. Mushy beans not so much.

Drain the beans and spread them out to dry and cool off a bit. Spread them out on a clean towel does a nice job. In the end you want the beans to be dry to the touch and about warm-lukewarm temperature. At this point add your tempeh starter at the suggested rate of your starter and mix well in a bowl.

Before you incubate you’ll need to pack the beans up so the fungi can knit them together into a cake. All that is required is covering enough to keep the beans humid and some air holes for ventilation.

You can place your beans in ziplock plastic sandwich bags with holes poked in them every inch or so to accomplish the classic tempeh cake look. A shallow pan like a casserole dish works well too, perhaps with a lid of cling wrap with a few holes poked here and there. Or better yet, why not make it a shaped cake pan? Below is Tempeh Wonder Woman.

This is one here is just a plastic bag filled with inoculated beans and incubated.

Incubate the beans in a humid environment at around 86 degrees for 24- 48 hours. If you’re using a pan or dish, the oven or a dehydrator could work well. This incubator tutorial using a lamp is our preferred method. However in the winter time a radiator is perfect and in-season.

The tempeh is done when the white mycelium has knit together and smells fresh and fungal. If let gone too long darker colors will develop and so will smells and flavors maybe more preferable to hard-core tempeh aficionados.

Lacto-Fermented Snowflake Ornaments

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Imagine replicating the infinite wonder of a snowflake’s crystal structure in a fermented vegetable.

Process

Follow the technique for “Grated Lacto-Fermented Vegetables of Any Kind.”

After week or more of fermenting, drain the excess brine from the grated veg by squeezing it out as best as you can.

Then arrange the vegetables into basic circle and star-like shapes on a tray and dehydrate according to your preferred method. Keep in mind that you’ll be dehydrating a fermented product so there will be a prevalent scent abound.

A good tip is to pack the shreds dense enough so that can knit and your shape will hold together well. Wreath wire was then used to make the loops to complete the ornaments.

This idea was inspired from Kiriboshi daikon, which are strips of shredded daikon preserved through dehydration and are a great addition to winter soups.

Enjoy!

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Grated Lacto-Fermented Vegetables of Any Kind

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Typically root vegetables are the proper candidates for grating into a lacto-ferment. That is because they are firm and contain enough water to complete the process self-contained. I often refer to these ferments as slaws, which may be another good way to picture them. They are a great companion for garnishes and dressing food up from hot dogs to salads and soups, or even as a simple stand alone side with maybe a kiss of olive oil.

Batches can be made with a single variety or a blend like carrots & beets, and then dressed up with herbs, hot peppers, garlic, or other seasoning combinations that move you. Consider any root vegetable to employ: beets, radishes, turnips, carrots, rutabaga, etc.

Process

Clean and trim the veggies.

Grate with a common kitchen grater. Then mix with salt by adding according to your taste preference.

Pack the mixture with any run-off brine into a jar, crock, or other container. Cover with a lid or cloth and ferment at room temperature.

Be sure to keep the veggies submerged in the brine as needed.

I leave my “slaws” out indefinitely, leaving them on the counter until they eventually get all eaten up by dolloping a heap here and there throughout the winter.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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