Some thoughts on when a good thing goes bad…
I’ve been working on a few projects lately. The art of cooking is a lot like the art of living. Sometimes it is a labor of love; mostly it is a love of labor, as Gary Danko told the SF Examiner recently.
And sometimes, no matter how much love and labor you invest, things don’t turn out the way you intended. So it was with the Lacto-fermented Peach Chutney I attempted to make.
It had great beginnings—beautiful fruit from Andy Mariani’s orchard, local whey from Straus dairy, fragrant spices. And there was the promise of more—the health benefits which fermented foods confer— “good bacteria” as found in kimchi, sauerkraut and yogurt. I adapted a recipe from Jessica Prentice’s book “Full Moon Feast”, a book I recommend if you are interested in the “cultural” history of favorites like rootbeer, pickles, poi and kombucha.
The process of lacto-fermentation is as Sally Fallon describes here from her book “Nourishing Traditions”:
“Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. Starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria. These lactobacilli are ubiquitous, present on the surface of all living things and especially numerous on leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground”.
Put simply, the raw ingredient is flooded with a brine solution, and then kept, submerged, in a crock or covered container for a period of days or weeks at room temperature. The lactic bacteria fights “bad bacteria” that would typically grow in unrefrigerated conditions.
• Does not require sterilizing jars and equipment, only requires that equipment meets basic cleanliness standards.
• Does not require refrigeration
• Requires only basic daily maintenance (cleaning off the “scum” that gathers on the top—good times!)
I followed the instructions in the recipe. I covered the fenugreek seeds in boiling water and kept them overnight in the fridge. I strained the yogurt overnight to cull the whey.
I cut up the peaches, adding rehydrated fenugreek, lemon juice, toasted mustard, fennel and cardamom, grated ginger, turmeric, demerara sugar, salt, yogurt whey and cayenne. Then I transferred everything to a 2-quart jar and weighed the solids down using a smaller jar filled with water. I put the lid on the jar, but not very tightly.
I was concerned that escaping gas from the mixture would be trapped in a tightly sealed jar and there would be consequences. Dear readers, was that my first mistake? Or was it the addition of cardamom, a spice that can make food taste “soapy” if used in large quantities?
So for two days I watched my jar and cleaned “scum” off the top of the mixture. But there was something awry. A strange and unpleasant odor filled the kitchen, and even I, an adventurous eater, could not deny my “gut feeling”. I suspect that either the combination itself was just not compatible, or I did not effectively seal the jar, thus safeguarding the interaction while allowing some “flow” within? Was this a closed-system, or an open-system gone bad? I don’t know. And in the end, I did not eat or give away the chutney save to the compost.
But I will say this in remembering those perfect peaches: as Kris Kristofferson wrote and Al Green sang,
“Life goes on, and this old world will keep on turning.
Let’s just be glad we had some time to spend together”.