Friday, January 21, 2011

How to Pickle, Ferment, and Jar

So, apparently, I've been under a rock for the past ten years that I've lived in New York and I have, accordingly, not discovered a funky and informative little (well, not so little) publication called Edible Brooklyn.  Edible Brooklyn, a free publication, is a veritable road map of the restaurants, bars, co-ops, markets, grocery stores, and bodegas in the Brooklyn area and, unlike most food publications, has a pretty decided outlook on all things edible east of the East River.  It's a tributary of the larger Edible Manhattan, but, appropriate to its readers, it has a bit more of a crunchy granola bohemian hipster feel.  Here's the best thing about said funky little publication: they have fun and funky little events as well.  A few nights ago, my fabulous husband and I happened upon one of these events at the Brooklyn Brewery and stayed to sit in on a series of lectures.  Now, if the word "lecture" makes you think of college, florescent lights, and exams, I would say this was not the night for you.  But, I must say that there was no exam, the room was dimly lit, there was beer, and before the night was over, Victor and I learned "How to Pickle, Ferment, and Jar" and made a few new friends.  Not a bad evening of lectures.

The event was held in a cavernous warehouse-like structure that was apparently part of Brooklyn Brewery.  Contrary to what one might expect, the "tasting room" (if you'd call it that) at the brewery looks more like an unfinished basement than a receiving room for one of the most popular breweries in the area.  But, then, perhaps that's part of the charm.  Victor and I arrived a little late, purchased a few tokens (they can't legally sell you beer, but they can sell you tokens to trade for beer), and snuck into a lecture that was already in process.  A hundred or so chairs had been positioned to face the bar at the end of the room (of course they were) and a full group of folks listened intently as local food artisans stood in front of said bar and talked about their products, tips on home pickling, jarring, etc, and generally joked around and had a grand time.  The left side of the room was lined with local merchants selling their wares: pickles, jams, cheeses, and teas, and after the current lecture finished, we moseyed over to check it out.

Yes, PLEASE!  Samples galore.  I had a Horman's hot and spicy pickle, some grapefruit and smoked salt marmalade on foccacia, and some red ginger kombucha.  All brilliantly tasty (believe it or not, including the kombucha).  The best part, though?  Each was served up by their respective makers.  No second, third, or fourth-hand distribution.  Hand to hand to mouth.  I met and spoke to the creator and jam-master of Anarchy in a Jar (Laena McCarthy) as I munched on her, I must say, innovative jam.  (I had missed her lecture in my tardiness, but I hear it was fabulous).  She was sweet and engaging.  I wanted to buy her products not only because the jam was to die for (and it was), but also because I liked and trusted her and wanted to support her business.  I thought of the year-old Smuckers that was hanging out in my fridge and wondered: who made that?  Would I like to talk to him/her?  Would I trust him/her?  Hmm.  Literally . . . food for thought.

Victor brought over a couple Brooklyn brown ales and we settled back into our seats for a rousing lecture on how to make Kombucha.  For those of you who have been under another rock for the past five years (it's okay, I was under the Edible Brooklyn rock), Kombucha is a fermented tea that is becoming more and more popular for its health benefits that include it as an antimicrobial, cancer-fighting food, and a powerful antioxidant.  Sounds good right?  Except for the fact that you make it by adding sugar to green or black tea, adding a Kombucha culture or SCOBY, letting it ferment for a few weeks until it gets a mushroom-like calamari-textured film over it, and then DRINKING it.  Yeah, I know it's popular, but . . . ew.  Well, anyway, the founder of Kombucha Brooklyn and self-proclaimed "Kombuchaman" Eric Childs told us all about it - alternating pertinent home-kombucha-brewing information (kombucha should be fermented at a pH of 3.4 or less), disgusting details (you don't want to know), hilarious audience participation, and sips of his beer.  Folks shouted out questions, laughed, and had a pretty generally fun time of it.  Note to self: come to more of these kooky lectures - I could learn something.

After finding a friend, Jeremy Morgan, and his adorable partner and grabbing some more Horman's horseradish pickles (the best!), we settled in for a lecture on kimchi.  Yeah . . . not as informative.  Mr. Kimchi-lecturer, as the last of the evening, had sampled too much of the brown ale and was wholly unhelpful in the kimchi-making instruction.  What he lacked in public speaking skills, though, he made up for in charisma.  I didn't know whether we were laughing with him or at him, but he was hilarious!  People were laughing, toasting, and yelling out words that he forgot; things like "table", "parsley", and . . . "kimchi".  After a rambling account of God-knows-what, he sauntered off and we commenced finishing our own beverages.  Folks milled about and chatted about co-ops, gardens, and sustanability.  I realized that I was completely out of my crunchiness depth, but I had a great time with a lot of good people anyway.  And, hey, I learned a LOT.

With every year that distances me from the institutions of learning that I attended, I exponentially appreciate the value of a good old lecture.  Heck, I even turn on the history channel from time to time.  Learning, I would venture to say, has become a little hobby of mine.  If someone's going to invite me to sit in for free while they impart their knowledge (on any subject) to me, I am all the better for it.  And if I meet new friends and they serve beer, jam, and pickles in the meanwhile, bust a move.  Thanks, Edible Brooklyn.  I'll be seeing you again sometime soon.  Who knows.  I might even attempt to make some kombucha someday.  Maybe.

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