fermented and cultured foods

A very cultured evening- review of workshop by Lucy Weir

A very cultured evening in Bray

Lucy Weir, PhD

Zygonomy is the science behind the art of employing a culture. A culture, in this

sense, is a specific mix of fungal and bacterial strains, often 20 or more species that

exist in symbiosis. The yeasts produce alcohol, and the bacteria consume them,

which means the yeasts can survive, which means the bacteria continue to have a

source of nutrition. These cultures have been a part of our diet since the beginning of

human history, being used to bake bread, preserve food, create drinks, brew beer or

ferment wine. And therefore, of course, they have been essential in the development

of our culture, the way we eat and drink being central to how we relate and


I was provoked into learning more about the process of fermentation after last

Thursday’s wonderful workshop given by Courtney Tyler in Common Ground’s

ground-floor room. The building itself is beautifully atmospheric, an old storehouse,

down a winding lane. There is a sense of hope about the whole place, combined with

a feeling of “make do and mend”, a determination to preserve aspects of Irish

culture, but a welcoming openness to useful elements from other traditions. It

resonates with both old-world charm and a thirst for learning. All in all, it’s a great

place to attend a workshop.

We sat round a scrubbed wooden table and watched as Courtney took us, first,

through the art of sauerkraut making. She had already chopped, into a large

stainless steel bowl (“some people say you shouldn’t use metal- I think stainless steel is

fine, along with glass or ceramic”) a huge red cabbage (she held her hands before

her like a fisherwoman to depict its original size), beetroot, turnip (which surprised

me), raisins she’d made herself from grapes (she told us how she’d come across an

abandoned polytunnel heaving with grapes – about as unlikely a tale as you’re going

to hear, but evidently true!), and salt. How much salt? A lot. She took a large pinch of

salt from a jamjar, large crystals of sea salt with what looked like seaweed flecks

attached, and said, “I think I’ve put about four of these in already”. She added

another two. She peeled a couple of garlic cloves and there was a discussion about

whether or not garlic ferments (it has anti-fungal properties, so tends not to pickle as

readily as cabbage, but she maintains that a little can add good flavour) and turmeric

(“if I’ve brought it”). But no water. sauerkraut, she told us, is “cooked” in its own juice.

She added some ginger, rubbing it against the grater without peeling or cleaning it:

the process itself will kill off harmful bacteria: in fact the skin contains the lactobacilli

the ‘good’ bacteria – this is the beauty of preserving through fermentation.

You could, of course, just stick with cabbage, but half the fun is in experimentation

with flavours, and adding such variety keeps things interesting, just as weaving

anecdotes through the recipes kept us listening. You can also add juniper berries.

This is the essence of culture: to take what’s fresh and, using tradition, extend by

trying something different. Courtney encourages us to play around and taste


It takes just two or three days for the vegetables to begin to “sour”, but they’re better

after up to six weeks. You can keep them for a year or more: this is a preservation

technique, after all, but Courtney warns that they lose their crunchiness and she, for

one, finds this less interesting. By massaging the mixture, the brine is released. Use

a wooden masher if you have one to crush the juices out of the vegetables – it’s

astonishing how much liquid they hold – and when that’s done, put everything into a

large preserving jar. It needs to not be airtight – it could explode – but muslin’s useful

as a barrier to keep the culture you want in the jar, and what you don’t want out of it.

Parchment paper also works. Waste nothing. Use the outer leaves of the cabbage to

press the chopped vegetables down and use a weight to keep them from floating to

the surface, above the liquid, where they’ll be exposed to moulds you didn’t invite.

Use the juice from a previous batch to start the next one, and so on. The microbial

content will alter with time, and that will in turn alter the flavour.

Kefir is the most powerful source of probiotics (bacteria and yeast that support the

digestive process) in terms of quantity of flora per weight. The process of keffiring

breaks down the lactose and caisein, particularly in cow’s milk, making it much more

likely that those who are lactose intolerant – one of the attendees fell into this

category- would be able to drink kefir than pasteurized cow’s milk.

Courtney shared her own experience that her allergies disappeared after regularly

drinking kefir, which can be made from either cow’s or goat’s milk. Courtney has two

goats herself and she enthused on their affectionate natures (“they’re just like dogs!

They’ve got such unique personalities!”. She grazes them with a couple of horses in

a field behind her house, and the uses two shipping containers, one for housing

them, one for milking and storage (the effort of milking is borne out in the taut

muscles of her forearms which are as muscular as a sailor’s. She also squats while

milking which, she assures us, is excellent for her glutes!).

Between talking, grating, mashing and gesticulating, Courtney passed round bottles

of kefir, kombucha, ginger, and fruit soda. We poured a small amount to taste of

each in turn into our emptied cups (we’d been given little cups of Chai to begin, with

the sort of elegance usually reserved for a Japanese Zen tea ceremony). We

discussed the difference between intolerance and allergy, and the importance of

starting slowly. During our discussion, a clearer picture of Courtney’s lifestyle

emerged: her house is evidently a veritable fermentation factory, armies of bottles

marshalled on every available surface not already occupied by the rows of jars

squatting or stacked on shelves, eliciting a single, eloquent, “Seriously, Courtney?”

from her partner.

We discussed the need to develop the hoarder’s habit when it comes to suitable

containers. Grolsch bottles with the rubber gasket are good: you’ll hear a buzzing,

hissing sound as the the gasket lets excess gas escape. Sugar, lots of sugar, is an

essential ingredient to feed the culture. Images of slave ships struggling to feed the

ravenous but increasingly refined tastes of northern Europe and the Americas spring

to mind. Fair trade is best!

As Courtney tackled opening a particularly lively grape soda, the discussion moved

to safety tactics for dealing with potentially explosive bottles (exploding bottles are an

occupational hazard for the inexperienced fermenter). Put the suspect bottle in a

large jug or bowl, and open it under the umbrella of another jug (you need fierce

dexterity for this), preferably not glass. And no, the fizz doesn’t fill you up with wind:

there’s even evidence that kefir reduces flatulence in those who are lactose


While we tasted the various concoctions, all good, fresh, interesting (alternately

sharp, sour, sparkly, sweet and fruity on the tongue), Courtney began to describe

making the next concoction, “ginger bug”. Start small, with non-chlorinated water,

one teaspoon of sugar, one of ginger, and stirring the mix as often as possible for the

next couple of days. Watch. After three or four days, carbonation builds up, you’ll see

little bubbles appearing at the edges. When it’s “lively”, it’s ready to use as a starter

for your homemade sodas: just add it to a sweetened juice or syrup. Cover with a

muslin cloth (or, if you’re really strapped, a clean pillowcase, cut up). Beneficial

yeasts from the air can then get through.

When making kombucha, you need tea and sugar and a starter. All the while,

Courtney pounded with her “sauerkraut stamper”, the only object (rejecting her

alternative inheritance of an enormous collection of dolls) from her grand-aunt in

Michigan who had herself inherited the stamper from the first immigrant ancestor of

the family who had brought it from Germany in the eighteenth century. It was dark

wood, stained purple with all the pounding of cabbage, but only marginally rounded

at the edges.

Pickles were discussed. Cider apple vinegar. The air sharpened with memories.

Water kefir. Something similar was made, one of the participants remarked, by her

grandparents. She took some to her parents to taste and her father closed his eyes

and said, “You know, you’ve brought me back fifty years!” In barrels in the corners of

kitchens all over Scotland, the north of England and the northern half of the island of

Ireland, people tended their “ale plant”. Some fed it molasses. It tasted of ginger, and

sparkled slightly.

As she pounded, Courtney talked briefly about other things that could or could not

successfully be incorporated into sauerkraut. Broccoli and kale can give off a

pungent, unpleasant odour, unless used sparingly. Nettles do. Cucumbers need lots

of salt. Caraway seeds work in white cabbage sauerkraut. Eastern European and

French traditions were discussed. including different uses for fennel, and fennel

seeds, and how every society has traditional remedies to increase the production of


The conversation flowed as Courtney moved the discussion back and forth between

cultures, coming back to the sauerkraut, pouring it into a huge jar, tamping it down

and covering it with a cabbage leaf, at least two inches of liquid covering the

vegetables. She talked a little more about developing the “ginger bug”, tending each

topic like the cultures themselves – a moment of attention here, a tweak there.

Culture, like conversation, needs nurturing until it gets active.

Finally, fruit soda, a brew made by boiling up a large pot of water with fruit – Courtney

had redcurrants and grapes (how much? Again, she held her hands as though

holding a small rugby ball to indicate the sort of quantity of fruit required), and sugar

(two cups, but like all Courtney’s advice, this was tempered with the suggestion that

we taste as we go to see what works for us). Mash the fruit, squeeze everything

through a muslin cloth (or the nearest equivalent). Wait for it to cool to body

temperature or about 80 degrees F which is when the starter is happiest, and stir it

all together in a demijohn or preserving vessel. Primary fermentation is when you

add your biotic to the sweet liquid. To add fizz – that’s secondary fermentation – store

it in an airtight bottle and if needed, add another spoonful or two of sugar.

There were sixteen of us there, from France, Eastern Europe, various parts of

Ireland, England, Scotland, and the US. She held us rapt. Play, she said. See what

works. Don’t worry about quantity. Respect tradition and learn as much as you can

but the main thing is experimentation. The art of fermentation is a willingness to fail,

and try again, and fail better. Like the evolution of societies themselves, the very

roots of our cultural history were in symbiosis with bacteria and yeast. Bread and

beer and wine are famously revered. Reviving an interest in their lesser known

cousins – kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, natural soda – marks a welcome and

important revival.

Courtney’s website is www.hipsandhaws.com

Another useful website is the American website www.culturesforhealth.com. It has

endless recipes and instructions for all types of cultured foods. Particularly helpful

are the free ebooks that you can download on signing up to their mailing list.

Hazel tree catkins and female red flowers

Hazel Catkins and ‘Nutkins’ blog re-post by Forager

I met Miles last year in the Blackstairs Mountains at Eco Trails with Mary White at her Wild Food Summer School.  Miles took us on a very interesting foraging walk and he is one of the few I’ve met to make his living exclusively from foraging. He sells his foraged wild goods to restaurants in London. Here’s a blog post he wrote about Hazel Catkins which I found really interesting. His website can be found here.

Catkins and ‘Nutkins’…

Above you’ll find an image I just shot from the hazel trees in the garden clearly showing the male hazel catkins and the tiny beautiful red female flowers that will become the nuts this autumn once pollinated.

I have some photos from the huge hazelnut harvest that we got 2 years ago I’ll post here below.

Organic Irish Hazel nuts Organic Irish Hazel nuts Cobnuts

Was a lot of work husking them all and I recall there was 6 kilos of nuts! Unfortunately I didn’t dry them out properly and they got mouldy which was heartbreaking. I won’t be making that mistake again!

By the way I bought Miles book The Forager Handbook last year at the Wild Food event. It is an amazing resource I definitely recommend checking it out. See what Eatweeds.co.uk has to say about it here.

Wild Garlic Ramsons are in season

Delighted that the ramsons aka wild garlic is starting to pop up! At least they’ve started appearing in Wicklow. It’s always exciting to have the first wild harvest after the long winter and what a delicious one at that. Here’s a few images from last year.

Cajeta recipe goats milk caramel

Since becoming a goat-keeper of dairy goats I’ve had the pleasure of discovering all of the ways to use goat’s milk.

This recipe is the Mexican version of ‘dulce de leche’ it is pure decadence- and traditionally it uses goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk. Cajeta is a caramel made by slowly cooking and caramelizing sweetened milk. It is a common confectionary in South and Central America, especially Mexico.

It’s a bit of an indulgence to say the least as it takes quite a bit of milk, sugar, fuel and time! But I think you’ll find it’s worth it. Perhaps on a rainy Sunday morning when you’ll be near the kitchen for a few hours!


Start off with a quantity of goat’s milk (or cow’s milk if you prefer, or a mix!). Remember that the final product will be approximately 1/5th of what you start with. Add the milk to a heavy bottomed pot (I use an enamelled cast iron pot like Le Creuset) and turn it on to a medium heat. Keep at least 2-3 inches of space at the top of the pot in case the milk boils over. Stir regularly. Add 1 cup of brown sugar (organic and fair trade if possible) to each litre of milk and a half teaspoon of baking soda. Stir as its heating to avoid it burning on the bottom. Keep it at a steady simmer, not an angry boil or it will boil over or burn. I add vanilla extract and cinnamon to taste. Some might add rum.

Keep an eye on the mixture throughout, as it can easily boil over if left unattended. You may need to occasionally remove the pan from the heat to prevent the cajeta mixture from foaming over the sides of the pan.

After hours you can see how much the mixture has reduced and the more it reduces the more the simmer will increase even if you maintain it in the same level of heat, so you have to moderate and reduce the heat.

You know the Cajeta is ready when: It achieves a caramel brown color; it is thick as liquid caramel or syrup; it envelops the back of the spoon; when you gently stir across the pot with your wooden spoon, a slightly delayed trail behind the spoon appears, revealing the bottom of the pot if only for a few seconds; as you slowly lift up the wooden spoon or spatula, Cajeta takes it’s time to drop and lastly, the sides of the pot show how the Cajeta has cooked down and if you run your spoon across that side, you get a fudgy (and delicious) residue.

When the mixture coats the back of a spoon, its ready. Bottle it up immediately hot into warm sterilised jam jars (I use small ones as its so rich) turn it upside down to create a vacuum seal.

Let it cool, and take note that it will thicken as it cools.

Cajeta is not only decadent and luxurious, it is also ideal for using with… everything! crepes, pancakes, ice cream, yogurt, to dip fruit in, (try with strawberries) or even just smeared on a slice of toast. I’ve even added a spoonful to a coffee to be used like sweetened condensed milk or like a caramel latte. You can make tiny banoffee pies by covering a graham cracker or digestive biscuit in caramel and topping with freshly cut banana rounds. I top it off with some thickly strained goats greek yogurt. Amazing! The best way of all: just dip a big teaspoon and lick straight from the spoon!

Forage Feast Ferment

Forage Feast Ferment

Saturday 23rd April 2016    10.00-16.00

Takes place in a native forest in Glenealy, Wicklow about 40 minutes south of Dublin, 10 minutes from Wicklow Town.

Run by Angie Kinsella and Courtney Tyler this event will take place in a beautiful natural forest woodland setting. The morning will start off with coffees and tea and a quick introduction followed by a walk in the woods identifying some wild and medicinal plants, trees or herbs that can also be used as a food.

A very special meal will have been prepared in advance by Angie and Courtney that will feature some local, seasonal, healthy foods and fermented drinks.

Followed by a fermentation workshop where we will teach you how to brew your own homebrews such as a naturally fermented ginger ale and go on to cover other ferments as time allows. There will be samples to taste.

Please bring some comfortable walking shoes and wellies if needed. Warm and dry clothes to cater for Irish weather. Bring a notebook if you’d like to take notes. The event will take place rain or shine!

If you have any food requirements allergies or intolerances, please let us know? We will do our best to cater to your needs.

Payment in full of €85 per person by the 1st April by PayPal or bank transfer.

We offer a deal price of €150 per couple.

Early bird price of €75 each if paid in full before 1st April. Children under 12 are free.

Book online here to pay in full (early bird price!) https://www.hipsandhaws.com/product/forage-feast-ferment-23-april-2016-booking/

or pay the deposit to hold your place herehttps://www.hipsandhaws.com/product/deposit-for-forage-feast-ferment

or payment by PayPal to email address: hello@mayfly.ie

Or by bank transfer to:

Courtney Tyler/ Bank of Ireland / IBAN IE32 BOFI 9014 9070 2732 07       BIC BOFIIE2D

Please send this form with your details (copy and paste into your email) either by email to hello@mayfly.ie (easiest)

or by post to: Courtney Tyler, Chapel Lane, Glenealy, Co Wicklow A67X348 Ireland

Any questions, contact

Angie at: 086-358-1231

Or Courtney at: 086-376-4189


More exact details will follow closer to the date.
Here is the google maps link to show you where this will take place:

Thanks! Looking forward to seeing you there!


Courtney and Angie

Fermentation workshop with Courtney Tyler in Common Ground 25 February

The next level fermentation workshop will take place on the last Thursday of this month in Common Ground in Bray. Again it will run from 8-10pm. 25th February 2016. Don’t forget to add it to your calendar!

Come learn how simple it is to make your own fermented delicacies. Learn too about the healing qualities and nutritional importance of live-culture ferments.

In this workshop we will cover different ferments than we did at the last event. We will learn how to make a gorgeous greek goats milk yogurt, how to make co-yo (coconut yogurt) 2 different ways, kefir cheese, fermented mung bean pancakes and also go over the basics of facto-fermenting vegetables and pickles.

I will bring some samples of these delicious products for you to taste on the night.

I will also have some mother cultures for purchase on the night for only €5 if you’d like- such as kombucha and kefir.

Google maps for finding your way to Common Ground can be found below.

The address: Beverly Studios, Church Terrace, Bray, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

Booking is essential- book here to pay in full. The cost is €18 for the evening or the discount of €15 for current Common Ground members.

Contact Courtney at: courtney@fiercequirky.com or call 086-376-4189.

Click here to pay the deposit to book your place. Hope to see you there!


Austrian Pear Bread- Kletzenbrot

I was given a small loaf of this very special and delicious bread at Christmas from a lovely Austrian friend Bettina. I hounded her for the recipe. I still haven’t made it yet myself, but I did dry some pears in my dehydrator to have them ready for when I do.
Austrian Fruit Bread – Kletzenbrot  Kindly shared by Bettina Winkler

300 g Dried pears (Kletzen)

250 g Prunes

250 g Dried figs

100 g Raisins

150 g Nuts (e.g. Walnuts, Hazelnuts)

1 tsp. Allspice

1 tsp. Pimento

1 tsp. Ground cloves

1/2 cup Rum

5 tsp. Sugar

1 tsp. Cinnamon

1 tbsp Vanilla sugar

500 g Rye flour

200 g Wheat flour

1 sachet Dried yeast or 100 g

1 tsp Salt

This is a recipe from my beloved Grandmother. I initially intended to keep this recipe in the family, but I feel good things need to be shared in order for them to survive and live on. I treasure this recipe and carry it on, as it gives me great memories of my childhood. And not only mine, but also my father’s, mother’s and brother’s memories from our lives as a family. I bake it every year around Christmas time as this was usually the time when my grandparents would make it. Whenever I have the first bite, the same image comes back to my mind: Me being a little girl, sitting on the lap of my grandfather, eating Kletzenbrot with unsalted butter on top. I hope you enjoy this bread as much as I did and still do up until this day. Please refrain from using it in a commercial sense in order to value this recipe for what it is, a family treasure.

Thank you & enjoy!

Prepare the fruit mix

Cook the dried pears in water until soft. Cut them into chunks, as well as the figs and prunes. Put all of them into a big bowl, together with the raisins and nuts. Add the rum and leave it to rest for a few hours (over night works well, too). Add the sugar, vanilla sugar, cinnamon, all spice, pimento and ground cloves and leave to rest for another two hours.

Prepare the bread dough

Mix the flours, salt and yeast or sourdough, stir the dry mix with a fork before adding some liquid to cover. Leave the whole mix to rest until it raises (~ 45 – 60 mins). Best is a warm place with a wet table cloth over it. Add the fruit mix and about 3⁄4 cup of lukewarm water, let it rest again (~ 45 – 60 mins). Form into small to mid-sized loafs and bake at 160°C – 170°C for about 1- 1 1⁄2 hours (until dark brown on the outside).

Stored in a cool and dry place it is said this bread should last for months. It will be rock hard, but cut off a slice, add butter- enjoy with a warm cup of tea!


Danke Bettina!

fermentation workshop

Fermentation Workshop at Commonground

I held another fermentation event in Common Ground on the 4th February. It was a full room once again and we demonstrated making a large batch of sauerkraut in class and talked through:

The importance of live culture ferments, as a food, to increase the bio availability of vitamins and minerals, and to preserve food.

Kombucha, primary and secondary ferment

Milk Kefir

and Ginger bug to create your own easy healthy traditionally fermented probiotic sodas such as ginger ale.

The next one will take place in the same venue on the 25th February. See the attached poster for all that we will cover.

Booking essential to secure your place.


I can preserve your wedding or special occasion flowers

My friend got married last year and had ordered the most stunning collection of flowers for the big day.

As a surprise for her, I robbed a few bunches of them (with the groom’s permission of course..) and took them home to dehydrate and preserve for her to have forever.

I can do this with your flowers too- whether these are from your garden, from a wedding or another special event or place.

Click here to order this option from this website.

I can arrange to have the flowers collected from your venue, throughout the ROI, and delivered to me by next day courier GLS. You simply need to have them boxed and ready to be collected.

I will dehydrate them and send them back to you by courier in a beautiful box.

Please pay in advance- I will dry a shoe-box sized amount of dried flowers for you.

To preserve your flowers in the best quality possible collection from your venue on a Friday is not recommended as I wouldn’t get them until the following Monday.

Collection is only available mid-week during business hours.

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