Winter brings pinched pockets, resolutions, spring plans, and fermentation. Many students are broke these days, booze is expensive, and food prices are always rising. Buying bulk pasta and oats saves money, but fermented foods and drinks can save dollars while providing an incentive to learn about nature’s bacteria and yeast.
Walking to class I dashed between groups of students carrying 12- and 24-packs down Vernon Street. Mentally doing the math of how much money they had spent on the post-holiday reunion brews was tiring. I felt grateful for the gurgling, fermenting friends at home.
The last time I bought a 24 I spent just over $40, but the other week while at a homebrew shop I picked up a beer kit for under $20, which will produce five gallons of lager. Another flavourful and inexpensive alcoholic beverage is mead. Mead is fermented honey, yeast, water and whatever other spices, herbs and fruit you want to try. The drink is 20,000-40,000 years old and it is thought to have been discovered by African bushman after ideal conditions and the right ingredients synched up to produce the sweet alcoholic nectar.
Investing in materials such as primary fermenters, carboys, siphons, and hydrometers may seem far-fetched for the average student. But if you drink, it may be useful to budget your monthly sum of money spent at the liquor store: revise, and consider home brewing. You could also be thrifty in finding materials. Often there are bits of brewing material and sometimes entire kits on sites like Kijiji. Take a gander on garbage day (just ensure the plastic is food grade and therefore safe to brew), or share with friends.
If you’re not a fan of alcohol there are plenty of other rotting pets for experimentation. If you like baking bread you can try a sourdough starter to create your own yeast, which will stay alive for as long as you want (some bakeries claim to have kept sourdough starters for decades!). You’ll need to feed the creatures twice a day with water and flour of your choice. It should take at least a week, and don’t be discouraged if it fails. All you need is a jar, cheesecloth or gauze, water, flour, time and love.
If you’re a tea enthusiast you might want to make kombucha, a favourite of health nuts and fermentation freaks alike. For kombucha you’ll need a gelatinous life form called a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY). There are online databases where you can order the wondrous by-product of natural processes, or you could just ask around the city and perhaps a scoby stork will fly your way. To ferment the tea you’ll need a large jar, cheesecloth, a scoby culture, tea, and sugar.
The fermentation world is a vast land and there is something for everyone, whether it is beer or tea. It’s surprising how many foods and beverages can be fermented. If you’re seeking projects that will feed your hunger and thirst throughout the winter, you can access a number of recipes online or through resources like Sandor Ellix Katz’s guide to wild fermentation. Happy rotting!