Garfield Park Reservation’s visitor center is transitioning into an Urban Agriculture Center that promotes homegrown foods and backyard sustainability skills. We have the opportunity to try all sorts of new public programs, and we’re having a lot of fun along the way.
Aren't Beth's natural dyes beautiful?
As Beth worked on her project, I began to prepare for a fermentation workshop. Fermentation is a kind of deliberate, controlled rotting of food. It sounds gross, but if you like yogurt, cheese, bread, beer, wine, chocolate, tea, and coffee, then guess what: you like fermented foods! All of these treats are made possible by the hard work of bacteria and yeasts, whose metabolic processes go to work, transforming ordinary, raw ingredients into highly nutritious and easily digestible foods.
We’ll be sampling and creating a variety of fermented foods in our workshop, and that means I need to get to work ahead of time; fermented foods need time to sit and, well, rot for days, weeks, even months or years before they develop their correct flavor.
I started today on a batch of kimchi that will be ready to eat in a week and a half or so. The ingredients are simple, and are mostly things you could grow at home: cabbage, daikon radish, onions, garlic, chili pepper, and ginger. The secret ingredient is anchovies, whose salty, fishy flavor gives this traditional Asian pickle its signature umami funk.
As I prepped the dish, I asked my co-workers to sample some of the ingredients with me. The raw cabbage was mostly bland, but we all agreed it tasted like it was healthy for us. The daikon was mild and crunchy and peppery. A bite of raw ginger sent a rush of heat through our entire bodies. But the real dare of the day were the cured anchovies. They glistened defiantly at us from their oily tin can; who would be brave enough to try one?
Part of the fun of cooking is being adventurous and trying new things!
I happen to like anchovies, but am more than willing to admit they are an acquired taste. Some of us enjoyed them, unperturbed by the strong flavor, while others were sent running from the room, red-faced and teary-eyed. Love them or hate them, we all tried them, and we all enjoyed each other’s company, gathered together in the kitchen. For me, this is what food and cooking is all about: sharing experiences, recipes, and fun times with those close to me.
My kimchi is all assembled now. It looks pretty in its glass jar, the ingredients suspended in a salty red brine colored red from the added chilies. Here, safely submerged, the vegetables will be acted upon by only “good” bacteria, who will ultimately transform these humble ingredients into a delicious, nutritious condiment that’s good for topping everything from scrambled eggs to macaroni and cheese.
I’m looking forward to my fermentation workshop, and to the exciting spring ahead here at Garfield Park Center. There will be plenty to grow, learn, and share, and I hope you will stop by to experience some of the fun with us!