Finding a Rhythm with Cultured Foods
Once you’ve gotten started with one cultured food you might find that there is a snowball effect. Then one day you wake up and you’ve got half a dozen ferments happening in your kitchen at one time.
Keeping track of them all can be downright stressful. Or worse, you could neglect them and kill the cultures all together.
Neither of these scenarios is good, nor is it sustainable. If you can’t keep cultures going without stress or neglect then you may become discouraged and give up on the idea of culturing food at home all together.
But there is a way to keep several cultures going in your kitchen at one time without stress or imminent culture death. You just have to look at your cultures’ needs and determine how and when you are going to meet them.
Cultures Requiring Daily Attention
Certain cultures are most practical to make in small batches on a daily basis. Or, like in the case of sourdough, they just need a quick feeding to keep them ready for the morning pancakes or twice-weekly baking session.
You may want to consider having a designated time of day for these daily cultures. For example, anchoring them to breakfast or bed time is helpful for some. In that scenario every day, after breakfast or right before bed, you would feed or rotate these cultures.
Milk Kefir. It is most practical to keep milk kefir going daily for a regular supply. And because the process only takes a couple of minutes it can be done.
Water Kefir. Because of the culture time of water kefir making it every day or every other day makes sense. It only takes a few minutes each day.
Sourdough. This may just require a daily feeding, which takes only a couple of minutes.
Some cultures, if left dormant can be cared for only once a week. (By dormant we mean they can stay in the refrigerator between feedings.) Others take longer to culture or can be made less frequently and in larger quantities and therefore only require weekly production.
If you don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen, then setting apart a few hours of one day per week to work on your cultures is best. If, however, you are in the kitchen for a fair amount of time every day then you may want to assign each culture to a day of the week.
The following are good candidates:
Dormant Milk Kefir. Make a large batch once a week, strain off the grains, cover in milk, and store in the refrigerator until the next feeding. Keep in mind that taking your Milk Kefir Grains in and out of a dormant state isn't good for their long term health, but this can work as a short term strategy. We generally recommend simply making smaller daily batches to keep your grains at an optimal level of health.
Dormant Sourdough. Feed once a week, bake with it, and then return the culture to the refrigerator until the next feeding.
Cultured Vegetables. Choose a cultured vegetable based on what is coming from your garden or local market. Spend just 15 minutes chopping and preparing and then allow it to culture for a few days or up to a week.
Kombucha. This may only need to be re-booted once per month if you are in a very cold climate. In warmer climates once per week or biweekly is more likely. Just brew up some tea, add sugar, cool, add your SCOBY and culture until desired acidity is reached.
Yogurt. Because yogurt starters are usually kept in the refrigerator, yogurt can be made less frequently than kefir. Just make up a large batch once per week and keep your culture in the refrigerator in between.
All of these require only short periods of hands-on time. Most of the time required to make cultured foods is hands off when the culture goes to work on the food.
Cultures Requiring Monthly Care
What if you could make large batches of ferments once per month and forget about it for 30 days? Some ferments can work on this schedule because cultured foods are preserved foods. A quart of yogurt will last for weeks in the refrigerator whereas a quart of milk would sour or spoil.
Because of this fact there are a few foods you can make in large batches and enjoy throughout the month, such as:
Kombucha. In cooler climates it is possible to go a month between brewing times. In this case you are going to want to continue to grow SCOBYs so that you have enough to make the amount of kombucha you will consume in a month.
Yogurt. The wonderful thing about yogurt is that it will keep in your refrigerator for weeks. So, assuming you don’t consume loads of it, you could make it once a month and store a gallon or two of it in your refrigerator for the month to come. Keep in mind that yogurt cannot generally be recultured after 7 days but if you are using a direct-set style starter culture, this is a great time saving strategy.
Cultured Vegetables. Culturing vegetables often ends up being a seasonal thing, anyway, so why not pick a day in your month to put up a bunch of jars of cultured in-season vegetables. Because a lot of the work of culturing vegetables is actually in the chopping, you can get it all out of the way at once, allow your jars to culture, store them in the refrigerator or root cellar, and feast on them all month long.
A Real Life Culture Rhythm Example
You may be wondering what this looks like in real life. When I had a handful of cultures going at once it felt overwhelming at first. But then I found the rhythm of what needs tending to when and was able to flow from one to the next. My routine looked something like this:
Milk Kefir. Every morning I strained the grains from my milk kefir, placed the finished kefir into the refrigerator, and started a new batch. One quart per day was about all our small family needed at the time.
Sourdough. Every evening I fed my sourdough starter.
Every Other Day
Water Kefir. Because of the culturing time of water kefir I found that making a new batch every other day worked well. When one batch was finished I would bottle it with grape juice for a second fermentation. I then started a new batch of water kefir, which kept us in a constant supply.
Sourdough Baking. Even though I fed my sourdough starter daily I only baked with it once a week. I would mix the dough up at night, allow it to rise while we slept, and bake it first thing in the morning. So simple!
Yogurt. A gallon or two of yogurt per week can be made in the kitchen in a short period of time. I would start the milk heating as soon as I got up. That would finish at the same time breakfast was done and I would allow it to sit to cool for around 45 minutes. Then the culture is added and you allow it to sit for 12 to 24 hours to culture.
Crème Fraiche. This was made simply with buttermilk and fresh cream. Making it on the same day as the yogurt helped keep the rhythm smooth.
Kombucha. Because we lived in a cooler climate, kombucha was made once per month. We made around 6 gallons at a time, so it took about an hour to coordinate it all, but the rest of the time was completely hands-off.
Cultured Vegetables. I usually made these as a surplus of produce came in, so it was fairly unpredictable. But I found that doing it in large batches - gallons at a time - was much more time efficient than smaller batches.
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