Fermentation fascination

Well, I just went ahead and did it – I made a sponge starter for bread. Then I baked it into a loaf. And then we ate it. Was it good? Yeah, it was. Even though I failed a bit in the actual baking, resulting in a slightly underbaked (though not raw and doughy) loaf, the result had a beautifully chewy texture, and fantastic bubbles. Not my best loaf, but definitely in the top three.

This, along with the invigoration that comes with nice weather, is drawing me back into the yawning maw of experiments in fermentation. With bread, sure, but also with beverages. Apparently, you can mix up quite a few low-alcohol homebrews with little to no risk of blindness or death by botulism. Who knew?

Well, the entire world did. Anywhere that hasn’t been indoctrinated to think all food and beverages must be sterilized and packaged in order to be ‘safe’ has also retained cultural (demi-pun) practises of home-based beer or wine-type fermentation. These brews vary in alcohol content, and are made with whatever’s to hand. In east Asia, that means rice. In Russia, it means rye bread. In India, it means palm sap.

My main interest is making a weekend tipple that can satisfy our desire for alcoholic beverage while being a bit easier on the pocketbook. We can customize a brew to our own tastes and experiment with different grains (combinations of grains?) Plus, the process of fermentation is fascinating to watch – and smell! – so I want to try more of it.

The purchase of a new rolling pin that can double as a kraut-smasher only exemplifies this interest.

So, what to try first? There are a few options that have piqued my interest, like using the power of ginger as a natural agent of fermentation, but no matter what I think the first batch of whatever it is will be barley-based. I’m going to try adapting a rice-based recipe that uses an amylase additive to help break down the starches into fermentable sugars. It involves boiling, then drying out the grains, bunging everything into a big crock, then letting it do its thing until it’s all done.

What could possibly go wrong?