Becoming overwhelmed when you first hear of cultured foods is normal. If we’ve lived our whole lives eating foods that have been prepared for us or do not require any time in the kitchen, the idea of culturing foods from scratch is, well, a lot.
Once we get beyond the concept of culturing foods ourselves we are faced with the reality of the sheer volume of foods we can culture to create a better food product than anything we can buy in the store.
There are dozens of beverages, breads, dairy products, vegetables, and condiments that we could be making. Just looking through the list can be overwhelming.
So how do we get started without becoming overwhelmed? And, discussing the biggest danger of all, how do we pace ourselves so as to not become overwhelmed and give up?
GETTING STARTED, THE EASY WAY
So you’re looking through the catalog of possible cultured foods to make and you want to start by making something your family will love. There’s yogurt and sourdough and pickles and sour cream and kombucha. And that’s just the start of the long, long list.
And just like that you’re afraid to get into the kitchen. But fear not, start with a few of these easier cultured foods and you’re sure to get the ball rolling right.
This cultured milk product is thinner than yogurt but can be used in much the same way: with fruit, in smoothies, or over granola. A simple routine will get you started making milk kefir in minutes per day.
If you want an easy cultured beverage, start with water kefir. It's almost as simple as milk kefir, and you’ll be brewing up bottles of this delicious beverage in no time.
These two lacto-fermented vegetables not only are familiar in flavor so as to be easy on the taste buds, but are also fairly easy to make. Making the pickles is as simple as making a salt-water brine and pouring it over cucumbers and seasonings. Cultured salsa is no different than making a fresh salsa, except that additional salt or cultured whey are added to ensure culturing.
What you might want to do to start out with is pick just one cultured food that your family loves and that you know they will eat. Then start with this ferment on its own. Culture it, eat it, and culture it again.
If something goes wrong – it doesn’t taste as good as you would prefer or you find mold – then just start over. Don’t get discouraged because from time to time you will make a mistake or your conditions won’t be ideal and something might go wrong.
Cultured foods are living foods and are, by nature, inconsistent. This is the beauty of cultured foods, but for those of us who have known store-bought consistent-tasting foods our whole life, this may be intimidating and even disappointing.
Learn to love the unpredictability of cultured foods. Most of the time you will have sour cream that tastes the same with every batch, but if you have one stretch of warmer weather you will find that with the normal culturing time your sour cream just tastes a bit different.
Roll with it and tweak things as needed. In those warmer days culture things a little bit less until you have a product you desire.
Or, if you accidentally placed two ferments too close to one another, simply start over. Your cultures may have contaminated each other and produced some “funny” flavors. It happens and no one will be harmed by it.
…AND MOVING ON
Once you get started you may find a rhythm with a few different cultured foods. That is wonderful. But if you move, have a new baby, or experience some other life-altering situation then learn to let go. You can always start again!
If you know you can’t keep up with them during those intense times it is safer to put them away in a dehydrated or dormant state or ask for help from a loved one or neighbor. It is more comforting to not use your cultures at all during this period of time than to lose your them entirely.
As in life, getting started with cultured foods starts with a single step. Learn those steps, master one culture, and move on to the next. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will the cultured kitchen be.