Sourdough and Fermented Food Workshop

by Farmer Liz
I have been waiting to do this course for SO long!  Elisabeth Fekonia is a practising permaculturist who grows and produces much of her own food on her property at Cooroy, Sunshine Coast, QLD.  Among other things, she runs workshops on cheese (which we went to last year) and sourdough and fermented food.  Since I did the cheese workshop and learnt so much about fermented food from Elisabeth, I really wanted to do this course as well.  I was hoping that she would de-mistify sourdough for me, and she didn't disappoint! Elisabeth has a very practical approach, her methods use common household equipment, are as quick and cheap and "no-fuss" as possible, and are definitely not overcomplicated.  This is what I learnt about sourdough and fermented foods.....

We only had one day for the workshop and sourdough takes longer than a day to make as it needs to ferment for 12-24 hours, so we kind of started in the middle and worked around to the start of the process. I'll document the workshop in the order we did things and try to explain as I go along.

The sourdough "sponge" had been made the night before, by adding flour etc to the starter, so for us to make bread we just had to add more flour to the sponge until it had the consistency of dough.

adding flour to the sponge

We then put the dough in loaf tins and allowed it to rise in a warm place (the boot of someone's car!).

the dough in the loaf tins before rising

after rising

After a couple of hours, when the dough had risen enough, we put the loaves in the oven at 200degC for about an hour.

the finished loaves

While the bread was rising we made sourdough pikelets using another sponge that had been made the night before.  This time we added only 2 eggs and milk until the consistency was right for pikelets.  And then some bicarbonate of soda to help the pikelets to rise.


pikelet mixture (note bubbles from the bicarb!)

cooking the pikelets in ghee
We then learnt how to make the sponge by adding a small amount of either another sponge or leftover dough to water, and then adding other ingredients.  For this bread we added wholemeal flour, a little salt, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, linseeds, caraway seeds, kelp, molasses and carob.  We mixed it and added water until the mixture was fluid enough.

the previous sponge mixed with water

adding flour and salt....

and lots of seeds....

and more seeds!

The finished sponge

Finally we learnt how to make a starter from scratch.  At the end of the workshop we were given a blob of dough to take home as a starter, and it will keep in the fridge for several weeks, but if we ever need to make a new starter, this is the way that Elisabeth suggested: mix flour, raw milk and keffir, leave in a warm place for a few days until it bubbles.  Elisabeth did not recommend "feeding" the starter, as so many others do, she reckons it fine to just make it up and leave it to get started.  If you don't have milk or kefir, you can use water and yoghurt, respectively, as substitutes.  After you make the first loaf, keep some of the dough in the fridge as the starter for the next loaf.
the sourdough starter

We finely chopped a couple of cabbages and then the cabbage was squeezed and squeezed until the juice started to come out.  Elisabeth added a little salt and caraway seeds, and then the cabbage was packed into jars.  The cabbage was held under the liquid by scrunching up some of the outer cabbage leaves under the lid.  I have to say that the squeezing method was more effective and less messy than my attempts with a meat hammer, and I like using the scrunched up cabbage leaf instead of the plastic insert that I made.  I added whey to my sauerkraut, and there is some debate on the net about whether this is necessary.  Clearly sauerkraut can be made without whey, but as it worked for me, I think I'll continue adding whey.  Next time I will be chopping my cabbage finer and squeezing it by hand.

This was similar to the sauerkraut except we used a wombok cabbage, chopped quite large and only bruised with the end of a rolling pin, rather than squeezed.  Elisabeth added chilli powder and paprika, and this time a little whey, and packed the mixture into a small bucket, with a saucer inside and weighted down with one of the jars of sauerkraut!  I tried kimchi for the first time at the workshop lunch and really enjoyed the taste, so I will try making this.  I just need to plant some womboks!

Fruit wine
Elisabeth explained in detail how to make fruit wine.  While I don't tend to have an excess of fruit, when I eventually get some fruit trees planted, I think this is a good way to use up an excess.

Elisabeth recommended using very ripe fruit for maximum sugar content.  Crush the fruit in the bottom of a fermenter and top up with sugar and water.  Sugar content will determine alcohol content, so this needs to be worked out quite carefully.  Elisabeth added wine yeast, but some people at the workshop had made it without wine yeast (just using the natural yeast on the skin of the fruit), so this may not be necessary, however the wine will keep better with a nice high alcohol content, which can be achieved more consistently if yeast is added.  She also discussed various additives which seemed to defeat the purpose of making it yourself, so I'd probably do a little more research before I have a go.  I do still enjoy making fermented drinks using whey (eg citrus and ginger drinks), but for very sugary fruit this isn't possible.  I would also be interested in trying to make vinegar from the wine as I can't find a good source of balsamic vinegar and I go through an awful lot of apple cider vinegar too!

fruit in the fermenter

the fermenter

The workshop was really interesting, I particularly enjoyed learning about sourdough and I feel now that its not as complicated as I initially feared!  Its also given me some tips to improve my sauerkraut and I will try kimchi too.  If you're interested in doing one of Elisabeth's courses, she does travel around SE QLD if you can gather a group of around 16 people who are interested, so get in touch with her if you want to organise a workshop (Elisabeth's website).  If you know of similar workshops in your area, leave a comment so that other people can find out more.

Do you make any fermented foods?

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