Lacto-Fermented Berry Ginger Soda Bloodbath

"Human beings have recognized the magic and power of fermentation for as long as we have been human" -Sandor Ellix Katz

A vitamin and mineral rich, highly anti-oxidant seasonal brew made with local berries, madly effervescing with a potent life force that delivers healing and cleansing to the gut and other body systems while also replenishing the body with probiotics and boosting the immune system. Ah, nature's healing deliciousness...

Last month I took a class at Nevada City's fabulous herb shop HAALo that focused on super-hydrating and nourishing herbal drinks, most of them fermented. Since it was late August and we were all dealing with the consequences of this county's less-than-stellar summer air quality (the dirty air from California's central valley pools here in the foothills), plus an unusual heat wave, plus smoke drifting in from nearby wildfires, emphasis was put onto the kinds of plants that help to quench and cool the body during this fiery season.

The lovely & amazing Anna taught the class. She hosted the herbal bone broth making gathering that I posted about a few months ago too.

(Photos from the class are courtesy of Bonny- thank you!)

As with most herbalists, Anna emphasized using wild local herbs that are at their peak potency right now to treat conditions that are also specific to this very place at this very time. Blackberries and manzanita berries are ripe in late August? Use them to cool the heat and ease the inflammation of Northern California's scorching Indian Summer.

Anna often makes jello from her herbal sodas by adding highly nutritious organic gelatin. She then often makes popsicles for her two sons from the jello! Pretty genius, and man she must have the best-nourished kids in town. (Locals- these metal popsicle molds are available at Kitkitdizzi- as are my St. John's Wort oils, I might add).

I must've looked at this picture of these captivated women at least a dozen times before I realized that was me on the left.

Okay, but this is what we're here for- the ginger starter, or ginger "bug". You put a week's worth of effort into getting your culture going using filtered water, fresh ginger root, and sugar (don't worry sugar avoiders- the skin of the ginger digests the sugar, and the byproduct of this process is what creates the fizzing, bubbling nutrients that make lacto-fermented ginger soda what it is).

"Wild fermentation is a way of incorporating the wild into your body, becoming one with the natural world. Wild foods, microbial foods included, possess a great, unmediated life force, which can help us adapt to shifting conditions and lower our susceptibility to disease. These microorganisms are everywhere, and the techniques for fermenting with them are simple and flexible." -Sandor Ellix Katz

I am super grateful to HerbMentor for posting these videos so that I don't have to sit here and type out how to start your ginger bug. This is exactly what I did to make mine...

I really appreciate the part at about 4 minutes in on this second video where they talk about the fact that the starter can last indefinitely as long as you keep feeding it. Anna has fed, dipped into, re-filled, and re-fed her same jar of ginger starter for years.

Here's a peek at mine.

So what they didn't get to in the videos is what comes next. What comes next is you add 1 part ginger starter (straining out the pieces of ginger) to 4 parts any herbal or fruit juice or syrup you like. I used four kinds of local berries bought at the farmer's market- raspberries, strawberries, boysenberries, and blueberries. I blended them up and strained out the gritty parts, then added my ginger brew. I then bottled it all into used kombucha bottles and allowed them to sit out overnight. Usually you let them sit for one to two days. But the next morning when I checked I could tell mine were ready by the pop and fizz the bottles made upon opening, so I took Anna's suggestion and put them into the fridge to settle a bit. She also suggests "burping" your bottles at least once a day- opening the lid a bit so that some CO2 can escape.

Which brings me to what is perhaps the biggest deterrent for people who want to make their own lacto-fermented drinks- the possibility of a major explosion.

Which, as you can see, sure did happen to me. I had left one bottle out overnight and kept the rest in the fridge, just to test if it would be different (fermentation is an ongoing process- once they're bottled, they're still fermenting and changing). Next day I opened a refrigerated soda and it was PERFECT. So effervescent and bubbly and alive! It was exactly what you're going for with something like this. I felt damn proud. When it was time to test out the bottle that had been left out, I took precaution, knowing it would be further along in the fermentation process. I put a large bowl under it, a large bowl over it, and I put it in the sink. I opened it as carefully as possible and BAM! the next thing I knew I heard a loud pop and felt a strong force throw my hands off the bottle. When I opened my eyes I saw this.

Okay it actually happened twice, which explains the disparities in these photos. Well, lesson learned. It was, after all, an experiment to test this very thing. I wanted to learn as much as I could from this first batch. I get the impression from reading and hearing about other peoples' adventures in culturing that it is a constant learning process. It's always subject to change- depending on ingredients, time of year, length of time, the bottle, etc. No one really knows what they're doing when they start out, and even experts are constantly being surprised by what the microbes reveal to them.

One thing I learned from this is to use bottles with twist off caps from now on instead of the kombucha bottles pictured above so that I can have time to open the bottle more slowly and, even if there is some overspill, prevent any major explosions.

"The science and art of fermentation is, in fact, the basis of human culture: without culturing, there is no culture." -Sally Fallon

Here are some other great resources to get you started:

How To Turn Any Juice Into Lacto-Fermented Soda

Old Fashioned, Healthy, Lacto-Fermented Soft Drinks

Full Moon Feast (my favorite food/cook book, with an awesome section on "alewives" and ale-making)

The Art of Fermentation (Sandor Ellix Katz' new book on the subject- basically the Bible of fermenting)

I should point out here that you will read many different ratios in many different recipes. Fermentation as a process is more of an art than a science (though the health benefits and the knowledge of the organisms are backed up by hard science), and the more experience you build up the better you'll be able to know which exact proportions to use. I am still at the very beginning stages of this, and look forward to becoming a more seasoned fermenter.

Next up for me and my ginger starter is ginger beer, from the recipe on page 139 of Wild Fermentation. And after that is beet kvass fermented with whey from Suuzi's goats in place of the ginger starter. I'll keep you updated on my experiments, and please share any of yours with me!


(Speaking of our good friend Suuzi- her underground music hero husband Spencer Seim and local legend Aaron Ross's new band Solos finally released their album Beast of Both Worlds last week! Read a rad review here and listen to a track here).

Cauldron Song: Herbal Bone Broth & What's Been Brewing In My Kitchen

Two weeks ago I got together with three other mamas and their sweet babes to make some herbal bone broth. I was stoked to be invited, especially because our hostess was a local herbalist who is somewhat new in town and who I very much admire. I first met Anna last fall when I went into the newly opened herb shop HAALO in downtown Nevada City; I was going through a very difficult time and Anna hugged me, listened to me, and sent me home with exactly what I needed.

When my girlfriend Mackenzie and I showed up with Mycelia and her son Preston, we were greeted by Anna and her boys Cypress and Cosimo, our friend Carolyn and her girls Madalyn and Sophia, and a table full of medicinal plants! I had known that this gathering would produce some seriously healing broth, but I had no idea it would be this good.

We each brought our own stock pot and femur bones from Nevada County Free Range Beef, purchased at our local co-op.

Carolyn brought her own stash of dried herbs & roots to share, and set to work weighing out four equal portions of them (a perfect, relaxing job for a nursing mama) (who was, at times, nursing as she performed her task).

Sweet, sweet Sophia.

Mackenzie got to work chopping veggies to add to the stock.

And the bowls got fuller and fuller...

Anna had taken a walk around her yard that morning and collected mineral-rich medicinal weeds.

A true kitchen witch, she already had some dandelion vinegar on hand (you quite simply soak dandelions in vinegar). Adding vinegar is an essential part of the beginning stages of making stock, and now we had some added nutrients in ours! (Here's more on herbal vinegars).

Now for some scenes from around the house...

Anna's oldest son Cypress is a crazy amazing didgeridoo player, and is only 5!

More kitchen witchery... acorn meal that Anna gathered and powdered herself. She uses it in baking (after leeching the toxins, of course).

I have got to get a little kitchen cookbook shelf! My favorite three food books are Full Moon Feast, Keys To Good Cooking, and The Art Of Simple Food. What are yours?

This awesome poster was created by my friend Wendy Van Wagner of local cooking school/community supported kitchen/catering company In The Kitchen.

Some brews and tinctures from Anna's line Spirit Farmer Medicinals.

I love reading to children. I once received the made-up "Book Worm Award" from a Child Development Center I worked at. It's a great way to pass the time and to bring the energy down a bit.

Is it just me, or am I still wearing this dress?

And the bowls get fuller and fuller...

I absolutely loved the addition of turmeric to the broth. While I doubt I will ever get it together enough to make this exact broth again with all of these plants in it, I will never again make it without turmeric.

The final product. Carolyn and Anna are herbal goddesses for creating these medicine-rich bowls.

After soaking the bones in vinegar and cold water for an hour, we turned up the heat.

Mackenzie and I pour our medicine bowls into the hot, waiting water! The veggies went in too.

Aaand done! Well, for now.

Here is the recipe from Rosemary Gladstar's The Family Herbal which we loosely based our broth on. You can see the changes we made.

And then it was time for everyone to head on home and put their pots on their own stoves. I poured out half a gallon into a jar first, and ended up moving this pot to the back seat floorboard and having Mycelia keep her feet firmly on top of the lid. Luckily we live close by! And I drove verrry slowly...

Now I'm going to move onto some other kitchen activities and various tangents before showing how the broth turned out and what I've been doing with it.

So the morning after the broth party I received a phone call from Suuzi's sister Sasha (all the way from the Arctic Circle!) telling me that the baby had been born via emergency C-section due to a brow presentation. So I decided that I would strain the broth that day instead of waiting another day or two and bring some to her. The following photos were all taken that very busy day as I fretted about Suuzi, watched Mycelia do the raddest/funniest thing yet, and puttered around the kitchen for hours on end... (And let me say here that Suuzi and little Axel T are doing great!)

So for the last month or so Mycelia has been OBSESSED with listening to the Star Wars Theme Song. She asked me to play it over and over, and would just sit there and listen (she has been shown the movies elsewhere and apparently loves them). So on this day she was, yet again, listening to it when she suddenly popped up and ran into her room, yelling "Mom, where's my flute!?" I hadn't seen it since the move, and she didn't find it. Then later that afternoon our friend Poppy came over and somehow found the flute right away. Mycie walked out into the living room, put the flute to her lips, and busted out the Star Wars Theme Song! My jaw dropped. She had learned to play it just by listening.

So after serenading Poppy and I a few times she runs back into her room and I scurry back into the kitchen. Ten minutes later I go to check on the girls and find Mycie outside at the edge of our yard, now changed into her bikini, playing her flute and with A TIN BOX IN FRONT OF HER FOR DONATIONS.

Girl knows how to work it.

This quickly segued into her and Poppy (whose mother Nikiya is a partner at the just-opened, fabulous new shop Kitkitdizzi [featuring some of my vintage pieces! If you visit Nevada City you must go there!]) deciding to have "sale" in the front yard. Turns out these girls love modeling their mamas and playing Shop Keeper.

Poppy gathered flowers to sell, Mycie finger knit little bracelets, and they set this entire scene up themselves, including the little notebook in which to keep track of sales.

Except for the SALE sign, which I helped with.

Back to the kitchen stuff... I was sure to supply the girls with plenty of cooling herbal popsicles, as it was nearly 100 degrees outside that day. That morning I had made a simple peppermint tea, added a bit of honey once it had cooled to warm, and popped them in the freezer. Cooling, calming herbal popsicles with minimal sweetener are a summertime mama's best friend. "Why sure honey, you can have a 5th popsicle!".

Speaking of honey... So the girls were pretty aggressive out there hustlin' to make a buck (they said "We both have money, but we both want more money!"). They called out to every car and person who passed by. At one point a car pulled up across the street and they asked if he wanted to buy anything. He said no thanks, and Mycie said "You can have something for free since you're so close" (little local's discount, I suppose), and he kindly replied "I don't think you're going to make much money that way". Then I watched through our screen door as he walked through their back gate and donned a beekeeper's outfit. Hm. I went outside and the girls were upset that he had told them they wouldn't make money. I assured them that he meant that they wouldn't make money by giving things away for free. Then we had a little talk about how people aren't always going to want to buy your wares, with me supplying stories from my own life and whatnot. A few minutes later the beekeeper emerged and walked across the street with a honeycomb just dripping with sweetness to give to the girls. They were floored, and we talked afterward about how working hard and being friendly to people, while not necessarily guaranteed to translate into sales, can have other positive outcomes.

The kale I photographed in order to brag about my new method of chopping up veggies as soon as I get them home from the store in order to have them readily available when cooking time comes! I can't believe I hadn't done it before...

Duck eggs. Try them. So much better than chicken eggs. Bigger. And oranger. And richer. And yummier.

Top of the toaster oven.

Top of the fridge secret chocolate stash.

Daily embellishments. Oh and let me take this opportunity to say that the key to good broth, after it is strained and stored and now ready to be drunk or added to food, is salt. Copious amounts of salt. It brings out the flavor and makes it infinitely more palatable. Good, mineral rich salt, of course. No NACL table salt, please. In the clear jar there is a combo of nutritional yeast and dulse flakes.

I am getting damn serious about probiotics lately. I have known for years about how important healthy microflora is for the gut and the entire body, but I have listened to a series of podcasts lately that really drove the point home. The sum total of the bacteria in your body weighs 2-5 pounds, and some biologists are now referring to it as an organ unto itself (though found in different areas of the body). Your gut health has everything to do with your immunity AND with your happiness!! Please take a moment to, uh, digest that fact. THERE IS A DIRECT CORRELATION BETWEEN YOUR INTESTINAL HEALTH AND YOUR MENTAL HEALTH. Listen to these Dr. Mercola interviews with Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride to learn more about Gut And Psychology Syndrome (GAPS). Listen to this podcast from Stuff To Blow Your Mind to Meet Your Bacterial Masters. And listen to this amazing Radiolab episode to better understand your Guts. I am enamored of the Human Microbiome Project right now, which is modeled after the Human Genome project and seeks to discover and understand the seemingly endless number of bacterial species with which we coexist. I plan to order Wild Fermentation soon and start making my own sauerkraut and who knows what else come cooler weather.

Now for some random kitchen shots...

My cast iron pans are my sweet beloveds. I "season" them with bacon grease after every use. I've had this mushroom wall hanging for my entire adult life. 70s mushroom decor is all up in this kitchen!

(Mycie commissioned Adam to draw this picture of Brett Shady, his best friend and the author of one of her- and my- favorite songs).

Okay now back to the broth. Here is what it looked like that afternoon when I strained it out after 24 hours of simmering. So deep and dark and delicious. As I said, I had been planning on simmering it for 2 or 3 days, but wanted to bring some broth to Suuzi as soon as possible.

But after seeing how much marrow was still left in these beautiful bones, and smelling that the plant matter was still viable and flavorfull, I decided to re-fill the pot and make a second batch. I was sure this was okay to do, though I had never heard of it, and did confirm that this was common practice later that night while watching this video. If you know nothing about bone broth and the many, many reasons why it's good for you (let me just say right now that it's the most nutrient-dense food you can eat, that every documented indigenous human culture made/makes it, and that it can actually get rid of cellulite), and/or if you just like it when people who you would stereotype right away as being into or not into something based on their appearance totally surprise you, watch it:

Brandon mentions Weston A. Price in this video; the article Broth Is Beautiful, found at the WAPFoundation website, is full of good information and recipes.

So two days later I strained out the second batch and placed them side by side. Apparently some people use the first batch for certain cooking projects, and the second, lighter batch for others. Folks also tend to skim the fat off the top and save it for cooking. I just combined all of it though- first batch, second batch, and fat (you do know that good fat is good for you, right?), and froze it for later use.

Here is the almost 3 gallons of broth I got, sitting in front of the 5 gallons of St. John's Wort Oil that was just strained out yesterday and will be available very soon! And yes, I will keep my promise to post a blog about that whole process too :-)

The vegetable matter after 3 days of cooking, still looking vibrant and smelling delicious.

As I said, I froze the broth, and I have been pulling about a half gallon at a time out to defrost. I'm trying to have some broth every day (as well as sharing it with friends who are recovering from illness or surgery!). This simple soup has been on the table a lot lately- broth, this miso, chopped kale (see above!), and avocado. IT'S SO GOOD. And easy. Avocado on soup is amazing. Thanks for teaching me that one, Mom.

Last night I made Adam's favorite- Sausage Risotto. Mycelia loved it too. I used this recipe, along with some risotto making tips gleaned from the Alice Waters book linked to above. Risotto making is reason enough to learn how to make bone broth; it adds such a creamy richness to the dish. I once tried to make risotto with a store-bought broth. No good.

While it's been an extremely busy summer, it's been so nice settling into our home with Adam. For the first time in a year, I'm rooted. And when a person is rooted, a person can blossom. Exploring new foods, information, and techniques in the kitchen has been one of the most fulfilling parts of my new life here. I look forward to continued exploration and to trying my darndest to find the time to share it with you all ;-)