Rot at home
Anna journeys home to Sarawak and Chloe has a recipe for fermenting with kitchen scraps... And we have a lot of photos to look through.
This newsletter is written in the heady sunshine of summer in London, basking in this moment of glory - will it last the whole season? This edition of our newsletter looks at the everyday-ness of rot. Where and how we can use fermentation to help with food waste, with Chloe’s run down of our latest event at e5 Bakehouse. Anna’s essay is a creative piece of writing exploring where she sees rot when back home in Sarawak - the idea of rot is so evocative and visceral, and this is a reflection of that.
We decided to share this paid issue with everyone, in case it takes your fancy, if you’re not already subscribed. This is how we pay our contributors, as we believe knowledge should be freely accessible, but the labour of gathering and sharing knowledge should be compensated.
THANK YOU for all you who are subscribing, we value you so much and really hope you enjoy ours newsletters - do let us know if there things you’d like us to cover here.
Where Rot Lives
Anna Sulan Masing
The tropics is a place where rot resides and exists side by side, neigh - is intertwined with flourish, growth and abundance.
Everything disintegrates in the heat. The weight of the jungle feels ready to take over, even in the heart of the city. Encompassing. Ants devour the minute residue of toothpaste on my toothbrush, creating trails up the bathroom wall.
Pork is cooked in my family’s kitchen, cooked and cooked to dry. So it will withstand rot for some time, will last longer. Belachan sits at the side of many dishes, or, wrapped through. The heart of banana flowers, soft boiled, a little like an artichoke heart, lightly covered in salty, sharp, spiced and delicious rotting shrimp.
The forest floor is coated in the dead leaves of trees. The big architectural shapes of tropical plants, deep, deep green, become discarded brown on the ground. Soggy in shape as they disintegrate into the soil. The damp soil, soaked with the heavy rain drops of the night before. Mushrooms of detailed, intricate design sprout from the broth of earth. Nestled in under a shadow of the canopy. A rotten log, a branch from a tree, crosses the path - to be clambered over - and another family of mushrooms grow, sated by the rot.
In the depth of the rotting layers of forest debris, a nest of eggs. The parent stands astride this dug in den. Waiting for us to pass, protecting. The warmth of the decaying forest floor creates the perfect incubator. The heat of rot. Microbial breakdown of jungle waste. The act of rot, composing new life.
I visit my father on Gawai - harvest festival for us Dayak. He’s covered in concrete, soon to be marble. No rot here. Just disintegration. And the fight against nature as we memorialise him in building things that cannot or are slow to rot; Borneo Iron Wood will line the place, a space for us to come to speak to him. Ritualising space. We pour tuak - fermented rice, made into a drink - out for him, take a sip ourselves. Cry, salty tears at the cruelty of absence. And of the abundance of life we feel; I tell him about the things I will be doing - the vigour in which I am going forth.
Grief is ferment. It sits, it bubbles, it has a known process but doesn't always follow the rules. It is, ingredients in a jar: salt; maybe some sugar. Spice. Preserving. Disintegration of fibres. A transformation.
Sipping on tiga masam: calamansi limes, lemon and sour plum - a fruit dried and preserved with sugar and salt, that comes to life in this drink. Eeking out its flavour with the water. The acidity of the limes and lemons cuts through the heat, a touch of salt in the drink is reviving. Refreshed from preservation. The citrus cures me.
Sun and sweat. The awareness of a body in space, heavy. Wading through. Mulch of the humid air.
Where rot lives, life thrives.
Scrappy Fermenting at Home
Last week we had our first Rot Season event at e5 Bakehouse where e5’s own Mariana Cascavel spoke to a group sitting around a table in the bakery’s pastry arch to tell us about her lifelong relationship to fermentation.
In Moldova, where Mariana is from, fermentation is a huge part of the cuisine and upon moving away she found herself looking to recreate the flavours of home. Some she found she was easily able to recreate, others, like pickled tomatoes were harder. The pickled tomatoes Mariana grew up with were harvested from her mother’s garden, bursting with flavour from ample sunshine, the drier and more tart tomatoes grown in the UK yielded bitter pickles.
Around the table we had people of varied fermentation experience, some just interested in getting started and others looking to expand their repertoire. One of the things I felt was really interesting about the conversation was how Mariana kept reinforcing that what she pickles is driven by abundance rather than a desire for a specific flavour. In the UK where good tomatoes can be very pricey the enjoyment is in eating them fresh. But when confronted with an abundance of say carrots or beetroot in an OddBox, fermentation is a great way to prevent these foods from going off.
After tasting a variety of Mariana’s pickles, she shared how to make a super easy fermented drink called water kefir. Like kombucha, water kefir relies on a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts (SCOBY) to ferment. While a kombucha SCOBY is usually a singular mass that gains its nutrients from sugary tea, water kefir has small SCOBY grains that feed on just sugar and water. The resulting ferment is a slightly tangy fizzy drink that can be infused with a variety of different flavours including spices, flowers/leaves and fruits. It is the perfect vessel for throwing in berries that might be overripe for your liking, a lemon peel ( I tried lime but it makes the drink a little too bitter), or even the ends of things like rhubarb stalks or carrots. My favourite flavour to infuse so far has been dried hibiscus.
Over time these kefir grains start to multiply and it is time to start giving them to family and friends. I’ve also heard you can blitz them into a smoothie for a probiotic kick, but I quite like the idea of little microbial communities building human communities. Mine has already nearly doubled and though Anna has first dibs on the first split, if you are based in London and want grains of your own feel free to get in touch.
Water Kefir recipe
c/o Mariana Cascavel
1L filtered water (or tap water left out overnight)
2 tbs water kefir grains (roughly 40-60g)
2-3 tbs (50g) sugar
One slice lemon
Dried fruit (i.e 3-4 raisins/currants or 1 apricot/fig)
1st stage of fermentation
Dissolve sugar into water by stirring
Add water kefir grains
Add dried fruit slice of lemon
Let ferment at least 24 hours or until you can see visible bubbles. The mixture should taste slightly tangy and have a light effervescence to it
2nd stage of fermentation
Strain water kefir into bottles and discard (or eat) dried fruits and lemon
Feed grains as above for a new batch, or freeze for a later use (feed 2-3 times before using the liquid from frozen grains)
Place flavours you would like to infuse into bottles of strained liquid and leave to ferment 6-24 hours at room temp (you can go longer if you want it to get fizzier)
Keep in fridge up to 3 months
Interview: Kimberlie Le - Listen to Chloe speak to the co-founder of Prime Roots, a business developing meat-free deli slices using koji fermentation.
Hongos Forever: Modern Vegan-Mexican Cuisine Chefs ‘Reawaken the Ancestral Memory’ with Mushrooms, Andrea Aliseda - a look at how mushrooms are key to decolonising Mexican cuisine and how young chefs are reconnecting to their roots
Paradise Rot: a novel, by Jenny Hval - this is on my (Anna) reading list! I am so interested in the use of rot and decay in literature and how we relate to the idea in a cultural sense, as rot is a big part of food - how do we stop rot, how do we harness rot… but we don’t talk about it in our everyday.
Jo is in a strange new country for university and having a more peculiar time than most. In a house with no walls, shared with a woman who has no boundaries, she finds her strange home coming to life in unimaginable ways. Jo's sensitivity and all her senses become increasingly heightened and fraught, as the lines between bodies and plants, dreaming and wakefulness, blur and mesh.
This debut novel from critically acclaimed artist and musician Jenny Hval presents a heady and hyper-sensual portrayal of sexual awakening and queer desire.