I'm always really surprised when someone at one of my workshops doesn't know who Sandor Katz is. Hm. The guru. My fermentation guru. James Beard award winner. Fermentation Revivalist. Gorgeous human. Faerie. He wrote a little quote on the back of my book.
You have to go all the way to Tennessee for this special week of "Fermentation Fervour". I left my girls with their new Step-dad Roger - first my business partner, then my bestie and lover - and we'd only really just moved in together. Leaving all of the kids and the whole business to him for 2 weeks was quite an ask. A huge task. My parents paid for my flight - my besties sent me a box full of camp stuff. My 'wasbund' met me and Lulu in LA and took her back with him to Florida. It was a big dealio, and all my people came together to give me my first week off in a long time.
All for me so I could dive into the heady, musty depths of fermentation fervour. I knew a few of the group from instagram and social media stalking. Tara Whitsitt of Fermentation on Wheels fame. Lez Veg - tempeh maker at The Brinery. Joseph Shrudiner from LA 's Institute of Domestic Technology. Lindsay Miesl who has a keen eye and gorgeous note-taking skills, a little blog - and I'm in awe of her because she was once a student of Michael Pollen. (see her recipe for Miso Oats here. ) Meals were communal, plates piled with ferments we'd brought or made ourselves - or even what was made by another group before us or from Sandys kitchen stash. We shared Meads, home brews, country wines and a wide variety of beautiful drinks people had brought to show and share. I was an equal - not a mother providing for 3 daughters and 2 step kids. I quietly stuck to the dishes and let others do the cooking. It'd been a while since I felt that kind of release.
We went to a farm to meet Jeff Poppen the Barefoot Farmer and picked a shit tonne of turnips to take home and clean and chop for a Saueruben - admittedly my least favourite day because it resembled my every day 'factory' existence and I wanted a break from that. We made all of the vegie ferments. We made Koji and tempeh. And Idli and dhosa. We made a batch of miso with our fresh koji. We made sour dough bread. Milk kefir. Mead. Yoghurt. Sandy (as his friends call him...sniff - I rather prefer the very handsome Hungarian pronounciation of shhAndOr) doesn't like the fizzy drinks much so Kombucha and Water kefir weren't high on the agenda. Did we make natto? Can't remember. We visited a Moonshine distillery. We made friends out of each other, and I made myself quite sick from too many liquid ferments one of the nights.
More than fermentation - I learnt about communities, the intentional kind, the community that Sandor had left NYC for, from where he began fermenting to preserve a harvest. The place I'd read about, imagined, described to friends but never thought I'd visit. It had been in my mind now and then since I read about it on the back of 'Wild Fermentation'. I had imagined it to be a kind of temporary existence - living in the type of shack that I would (struggle to) build if I were to turn up there or anywhere else live off grid. But no. No no, these buildings turned out to be mostly quite exquisite. Large, and established. Creations not just dwellings. There was a piano, and a huge garden, and various smaller and sometimes rather grand additions, legacies of people who had been before, stayed a while and built a dwelling, or a stage, or a massage room or an outdoor shower . This is where Sandor had written his first couple of books. OH. I felt it all the way through my body to my feet - this community allows time to live, heal, retreat, work quietly, find privacy, garden, cook, survive. Time is what our ferments need. Time is what I feel I lack the most as a kind of single mum working full time, writing a book.
I met a stunning woman when we were picking turnips - she was wearing this all in one suit and we were all a bit taken with her. She was there to glean food - potatoes and other veggies that are left after a harvest - what is left by the machines and that otherwise end up rotting back into the soil. She wrapped them up carefully in many different scarves in the style of 'furoshiki' - Japanese style. She was in transition after a sex change and was living in the cocoon of another intentional community nearby. The "poor community" she said. Neo- peasants. It was safe to be there and just live. Living for a living.
As a young traveller I would have been too conservative to park there had I happened upon this community. But I am quite ready now. I may have stayed there if I didn't have my family or my business; girls with braces on their teeth and dreams of becoming opera singers and architects. Things that are real in my life, part of a system but all of a sudden felt superfluous. Truth is they'd have much more time to exercise their skills there in that community because they'd have more time. Agh, nevertheless. Back home for me. No living with Radical Faeries. Back to making ferments and building gut microbiomes around Australia as diverse as the most ancient soils. Aiming for that.
Just before I arrived - anything one could ever need for camping was sent to direct to Walnut Ridge, Sandors house, in a box from Lynn and Steve - my long time bff's and the new CEO of LLBean. Had LLBean sponsored me to learn more about fermentation? Perhaps they should. I was a bit self conscious about all of this luxury and all of the boxes and wrapping I had to pull out in Sandor's dining room. Like a weird (lonely) Christmas morning. This cosy tent and soft downy feathery duna like sleeping bag offered privacy and made me very happy every night.
When I left I decided gift all of it to a new friend 'Bonobo Woodland' who didn't have his own room or gear with him. Steve and Lynn had said that would be a nice gift from them. It was hard handing it all over - particularly the silky soft downy sleeping bag and mat. And to be honest, I kind of still wish I had those things for the memory of it. Now I see on FB that Bonobo is back home in Europe. I wonder who is using them now.
If you go to Sandors for a residency, or if you are over at Short Mountain and they offer you anything bright blue with LLBean on it - you're welcome. x