My Kefir Child

I have always been fascinated by food processes that rely on time: canning, pickling, curing, fermenting…

There’s something magical about how (the absence or presence of) microbes and bacteria can preserve or transform food over time- as well as the commitment they require, as they take time to make (and thus planning ahead!).

In my mind I will one day be the type of adult that is a proud parent of a sourdough starter I raised from scratch. I will know how to feed it, keep it alive and thriving, and not only know how to bake with it loaves with beautiful ears, but will also make amazing lil’ things with the discard.

I mean, I’ve got some experience with what I callnon-commitment processes, namely jams (strawberry, grape, hibiscus, tomato, chilli….) and pickles (onion, gherkins….).

But whilst time has an important role to play there, you essentially make them one day and then reap the seeds for a while later. All you need to do once they’re prepared is make sure you eat them before they go green and fuzzy. Hardly a commitment at all.

Then, one day, I got carried away and made the “mistake” of asking for some kefir grains.

“Place the grains in a glass jar, add some milk, let it sit on the counter for a day or two, and you’ve got kefir”, they said.

“It’s plain simple”, they said.

Well, in my experience, it is not!

Maybe it’s because where I live (Mallorca) it can be a combination of hot, cold and incredibly humid all at once.

Or maybe it’s because actually, really, I just don’t really love drinking kefir.

Whatever the reason, after one month of trying and failing to love my kefir grains, I resolved to putting them in a jar submerged in milk, burying the jar in the back of the fridge and abandoning it there, I kid you not, for more than two full months.

Looking back on it – pure child abuse, really.

Then, one day, guilt of how I was (mis)treating the kefir grains took hold. And so, after retrieving the poor abandoned grains from the darkest corner of the fridge, giving them a (very) good rinse and buying some more fresh milk, I decided to trust the process and try my luck at making kefir again.

This time I decided to attempt to make the kefir in the fridge rather that at room temperature (as it’s usually done). By doing this I hoped to achieve two things:

  1. To let the grains do their job (ferment the lactose) before the heat and humidity spoiled and curdled the milk
  2. To let the grains do their job (ferment the lactose) at a slower rate, to buy myself some time to figure out what to do with the finished kefir were I to succeed (as I’d learned drinking it was just not for me!)

And, alas!, four days later (instead of the usual 24h or so), I had a runny yet thick, yoghurt-ey and rather sour product that could only be described as kefir!

So now that I seemed to have a kefir making “machine” (organism) in motion, which would be churning out kefir at a regular and steady rate, the question was – what do you with all this kefir, if drinking it is just not an option?!

Almost simultaneously I got the urge to make soda bread. Recipes usually call for buttermilk, but all you really need is an acidic liquid to mix with the baking soda to produce CO2 to leven the bread – and what is kefir if not an acidic liquid!?

And thus began my symbiotic relationship with my kefir grains.

Every 4-7 days, coincidentally the time it usually takes me to finish eating a loaf of bread, the Grains also finish their food and require feeding.

So now, every weekend the grains give me enough kefir to bake a loaf.

In exchange, I give them a gentle rinse, fresh full-fat milk from local cows, and let them live (happily, I hope), in their own glass jar with a plastic lid (no reactive metal for them, ever!), in prime real estate location in the fridge.

I might not be quite that sourdough-raising adult yet, but I think I might be on the right track.

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