Across the globe, local communities are forming fermentation communities – groups that meet to teach each other techniques and build a sense of community over delicious microbial foods. Over the past five years, a local potter in Boston, Massachusetts, has helped organize and educate a rapidly growing fermentation community. In this guest post, Maria Ordovas, explores how a fermentation culture is being formed in Boston.
Jeremy Ogusky is a studio potter and self-described “fermenting evangelist” living in Boston, Massachusetts. He has been working in ceramics for over 20 years but it was not until more recently that his passion for fermentation was realized. Jeremy grew up in a family with Eastern European roots where eating fermented foods from his grandmother was a normal part of life. His passions for pottery and fermentation merged when he recognized that he could craft fermentation vessels to produce his own sauerkraut, kimchi, and other vegetable ferments.
In addition to creating and selling vessels for fermentation, Jeremy has been actively involved in organizing the local fermentation scene in the greater Boston area. He leads fermentation 101 workshops and helped establish the Boston Fermentation Festival, a wildly popular convergence of microbial food producers, educators, and enthusiasts from throughout New England. The third annual Boston Fermentation Festival will happen this October.
I recently attended one of Jeremy’s workshops to get a sense for how he has managed to get so many people excited about fermentation in Boston and to learn more about how he teaches the basics of vegetable fermentation. The goals of these workshops are to create a dialogue about fermentation among seasoned enthusiasts and curious novices, as well as to build community. Jeremy strives to bring people together so they can learn things from each other and perhaps change their way of thinking about fermentation. More directly, he wanted to inspire people to appreciate food and a healthy lifestyle and demonstrate how fermented foods are a great way to do this right in your own kitchen: “You don’t have to go buy pills or go on a juice cleanse, these are products that people have eaten for over one thousand years.”
Jeremy thinks that a lot of people are interested in fermented foods these days for wellness reasons. He notes that other groups include the ‘foodies’ interested in new flavors and the do-it-yourself crowd that lives in urban areas but are interested in traditional homesteading. Aside from health reasons, another popular reason to ferment is for preservation. While this is not as vital as it might have been in the centuries before refrigeration, preservation can be important for eating local and seasonal ‘live food’ through the winter rather than buying canned foods or produce from other countries.
Some of Jeremy’s strategies for encouraging people to eat fermented foods include to “meet people where they are” and to “find a language that people want to hear.” He stages “kraut mobs” at farmers’ markets and food festivals since this is the demographic that may be curious to try fermentation and will get excited by the flavors. He also highlights collaborations with chefs, who aid him with the culinary side of fermentation and suggests targeting the health-inclined population with nutritionists – that way they will better speak to people’s specific interests.
At my workshop in March, Jeremy included accessible descriptions of the biochemistry behind fermentation. He defines it as a microbial conversion where carbohydrates are turned into organic acids and carbon dioxide. Given my interest in microbiology, I asked him how important it is to talk about the microbial aspect of fermentation. Jeremy thinks that this is very important and he recommends starting with analogies: a healthy natural environment exhibits biodiversity and similarly, a healthy human gut microbiome should also be diverse. He seeks to solicit information from participants, for example, some people may know more about probiotics and gut bacteria and others may offer details of microbes used in wine production.
One novel aspect of the workshop for me was thinking about the physical construction of the vessels. Jeremy has several considerations in his designs: safety, utility, and beauty. First, he uses all non-toxic and non-reactive materials for fermentation crocks since the environment can become quite acidic. Clay is a great traditional material that is universal and is useful for keeping a constant, cool temperature. Second, Jeremy makes the clay vessels thick to better control the temperature and they have a wide opening so they are easy to open and use. He also crafts a lid that can fit inside and help to submerge the ingredients beneath the brine to keep conditions anaerobic. Finally, he highlights the aesthetic aspect: “you make your own ferments so why not have them be beautiful and at the same time support a local potter with artisanal products for artisanal ferments?”
Looking to the future, Jeremy sees fermentation as becoming more mainstream and hopes to see more people eating and making live fermented foods. Also, he hopes to reach new populations in the area: “Boston is so diverse and all those communities have fermented traditions so I would love to collaborate with different communities to learn those traditions and share them – like culture sharing.” Perhaps the diversity and cultures of Boston are not unlike the microscopic communities currently sitting in my experimental jar of sauerkraut.
Article by Maria Ordovas