Our publisher approached us to write a cookbook that would bring together the ancient techniques of different bean and grain fermentations so that it all felt doable, more familiar, and exciting to explore. Neither of us had made miso, tempeh, natto, or koji from scratch, so it was a really deep dive for us. The fermentation community is an embracing group and many folks with professional experience spent hours mentoring us from afar. We are forever thankful for their generosity. From the initial reactions to the book from our friend Sandor Katz of The Art of Fermentation
and colleague David Zilber of The Noma Guide to Fermentation
, we think we did it well.
We are probably a little unique when it comes to our processes in that we are a husband-and-wife writing team that works from our farmstead equipped with a commercial kitchen and his and hers fermenting caves. We are both visual and experiential learners so that means lots of brightly colored sticky notes pasted to walls in the beginning as we are getting a feel for what the book wants to become. Later there are lots of recipes fermenting in the test kitchen, in various stages of completion. We often test each other’s recipes, which usually leads to lots of feedback. We’ve been married for over 30 years, so by now we know how to be honest without hurting feelings, mostly.
Food is a binding force in our lives.
Kirsten has the gift of both taste and a deep understanding of flavors and how they are built and layered. She approaches recipe development through inspiration and exploration. She is more of an intuitive cook, where Christopher’s passion lies in eating. He is more of a combiner when it comes to recipe development. Christopher likes to have a recipe to go from, even the ones he has created! He makes a great tester for Kirsten’s prodigious experiments. So, between the two of us we feel we have most people’s styles in the kitchen covered.
Food is a binding force in our lives. We moved from the Willamette Valley to this small mountain farm in southern Oregon over two decades ago because we wanted our young children to have a deep appreciation for nature and the food that nourished them. Our kids have grown and mostly moved away, but there is a new generation on the farm and we have to say they are amazingly enthusiastic recipe testers. We both feel food has the unique power to bind and heal people, and in the case of some foods, actually heal the planet in a small way. That’s why we write about food and spend so much time teaching these fermentation techniques around the world.
One last thing about food traditions and memories. For many of us, our first food memories are in the kitchen of a family member and the smells, colors, and sounds seem as alive today as they did many years ago. We both have memories like this, but they are very different given that we grew up mostly in the same country but in very different parts and with very different food traditions. What is the same for both of us is that neither of us have memories of our relatives making fermented foods. Though it was there, it seemed to have faded out of our families’ food traditions. That changed when Kirsten’s mom gave us a crock already fermenting with sauerkraut, and we have done our bit to make fermentation a family food tradition now. Our adult children make their favorite ferments in their homes and now our grandchildren will surely have many fermentation memories to draw from when they are older.
Our point is that it’s up to each of us to embrace food traditions if we have them, or not. If your parents worked two jobs to make ends meet and cooking was picking up fast food on the way home, that doesn’t have to be your tradition or that of your children. If, like Christopher, you were raised with a fear of the exotic, it doesn’t mean you have to pass that on. It is an amazing time to explore different foods and their continuous fusions. Find something new that you love and make it your own, something that in decades to come someone remembers you for. That’s a beautiful thing.
Apricot Tasty Paste
Yield: about 1/2 pint
Aging: 2 weeks or more
Once we started experimenting with dried fruit tasty pastes, we couldn’t stop trying different variations. Incredibly easy and incredibly delicious, these are good as soon as you mix the fruit and the miso and can be used immediately; however, we encourage you not to. Instead, put the mixture in a jar, tighten the lid, and put it on top of your fridge for a few weeks. When you “rediscover it” you will be amazed at how the flavors have a blossomed.
These tasty pastes age similarly to the miso that is used as the base. If making with a light, young miso, as in the recipe, it will be sweet and salty and is best stored in the fridge to keep those qualities intact.
The apricot with sweet miso is an amazing pairing. The flavor of the apricot is amplified in a delicious way with that hint of salt, just enough to surprise your taste buds.
Use this in salad dressing, as a spread on a grilled cheese sandwich, or on a cheese and charcuterie plate. Who needs jam when they can have Apricot Tasty Paste?
½ cup (125 grams) Light Miso, Sweet White Miso, or Sweet Miso Formula
½ cup (125 grams) dried, unsulphured apricot paste
- Place the apricots in a food processor and process to a paste.
- Add the miso and pulse until well mixed. Scoop into a pint jar, taking care to press as you go to avoid creating air pockets. Use a butter knife to work out air pockets as needed. Press and smooth that top.
- Tighten lid on the jar and place on the counter at room temperature (around 70°F/21°C).
- Burp the jar after 5-6 days by quickly loosening and tightening the lid.
- After 2 weeks it is ready. It will keep changing as the enzymes work on the sugar. Continue to age, or store in fridge to slow down fermentation.
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Kirsten K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey
are the coauthors of Fermented Vegetables
, Fiery Ferments
, and the new Miso, Tempeh, Natto, and Other Tasty Ferments
, books that came from their desires to help people eat in new ways, both for their health and that of the planet, and to push these culinary arts to new flavors. They got their start in fermenting foods 20 years ago on a 40-acre hillside smallholding that grew into their organic food company. When Kirsten and Christopher realized their passion was for the process, they chose instead to focus on teaching fermentation arts to others. They travel worldwide helping people to make, enjoy, and connect with their food. You can find stories of a life fueled by fermented foods on Instagram @ferment.works or on the web at www.ferment.works.