Rachel De Thample is a magician. An ingredient maverick who continually and passionately explores the boundaries of process, flavours and taste. On a frosty morning this week, when RCHQ had slipped below tåhe valley mist, I joined her and the team in our 18th-century barn for a run through of her forthcoming Seasonal Fermentation day.
Over freshly brewed coffee and a pile of buckwheat and kefir blinis, Rachel introduced us to the basic elements of fermenting starting with her honey fermented clementine marmalade. This echoed the Ancient Greek and Roman tradition of covering quince in honey, a very early type of preserve. To tweak it seasonally clementine can be replaced with rhubarb, cherries, cranberries or even rosehips, a delicious example of which Rachel made in the autumn and brought for us to try.
Fermentation is about time, temperature and your own taste buds. ‘It’s about using ratios and percentages rather than specific recipes, leaving you free to go into your garden, pick what you fancy and experiment,’ Rachel said, encouraging us to have less reliance on recipes. How liberating! We made up our own batches of ‘krautchi’, combining the thinly sliced, salt massaged cabbage of sauerkraut with the garlic and chilli spices of kimchi. In another jar we layered apple rings with fresh ginger and thyme and covered them in a salty brine. In a week or so they will be ready to accompany a Sunday treat of roast pork or perk up a cheeseboard.
There were more incredible tasters throughout the day including sourdough cardamom buns with cranberries and rose petals (we fought over them), elderberry and earl grey kombucha (Rachel introduced us to a SCOBY and vinegar Mother) and an entire board of lacto-fermented pickled vegetables and fruit including apples, limes, carrots and chilli. The combination of parsnip and quince was an unusual but popular hit.
Rachel was incredibly generous with her expertise, inspiration and mind-blowing selection of samples from her laboratory style kitchen. I skipped home, clutching several jars of my ferments and the beginnings of a ginger beer (or ginger ‘bug’ as they are known) with simple steps to follow over the next few days. It reminds me of the time I was trusted with a goldfish but that’s a story for another time …