Do you like tasty food?
Have you ever eaten something so delicious that the thought, “can I make this?” entered your brain?
You, my friend, have heard the call to adventure! More often than not, that thing or one of its ingredients is the product of fermentation or other related methods of preservation. This website is a log of my personal quest to rediscover and demystify fermentation and provide you with tools and tips to employ it successfully in your own home.
Who the hell are you?
I am not a food professional, chef, or expert in biochemistry. Franky, I don’t believe I nor anyone else needs to be in order to practice and enjoy preservation and fermentation as a hobby.
I’m Cory Hughart (pronounced hue-gurt), and I am a professional web and app developer at Blackbird Digital near Cleveland, Ohio. I fell into this career after graduating Art School because at heart I am a tinkerer, which applies not only to computer-related technology, but also to my food!
I’ve been keeping a written fermentation logbook since 2018 and had been messing around with fermentation and preservation for several years prior—figuring out how to keep vegetables from my backyard garden well into the winter, learning about the beer-making process (because who doesn’t love good beer?), and developing/maintaining a sourdough starter.
I’m coming from a position of privilege where I have access to fresh meat and produce year-round, and yet the enigmatic and sometimes mystical process of fermenting food has always intrigued me. I am on a journey to discover and unlock everything I can about the transformative secrets of fermentation. I hope with this site that I can share my successes and my failures alike for all who are as intrigued as I am.
Where else can you find the depth of flavor that things like shoyu or a really good kosher dill pickle have? Why do we all stock our pantries with endless arrays of bottles of various fermented liquids that, just by adding a splash, can transform a simple dish into something good? Fresh food is awesome and making up a majority of your diet with it is healthy, but it can certainly get a little, well, boring.
After the widespread adoption of the refrigerator and factory canning, home preservation techniques seem to have fallen away in favor of these conveniences. This was a net positive, at least for those of us that can afford it, and I’m not here to promote some kind of “primitive” lifestyle. But I’m afraid that we’re starting to lose something as each successive generation can simply expect the food they like to eat to be available whenever they want it.
Yes, specialization has provided the means for our species to become what it is today, but I believe we are trading wisdom for rote standardization. It seems that, these days, only culinary students are taught to play with their food (and even then there are Ways of Doing Things™️), and the rest of us follow in their wake and grasp at scraps of paper with exacting instructions and call that “cooking”. How much food waste is generated when a recipe calls for x amount of an ingredient that only comes in packages of y?
Fermentation is a practice that has existed as long as civilization, for the simple reason that it was necessary to survive. Most throughout our history could not propel themselves at ludicrous speeds to arrive within minutes at an actual warehouse of any and every fresh ingredient imaginable from around the globe, only to then offer bits of paper in trade or sometimes just wave of plastic and a friendly nod. People had to make every scrap, sliver, and stub truly last or face starvation. Because of its necessity, certain local preserved foods and beverages would eventually come to define veritable pillars of regional cuisines around the globe.
In the modern day, we have codified, mechanized, and commercialized certain cross-sections of the wide world of fermentation—commodities that we purchase at the grocery store, packaged and pasteurized, that we take for granted. The methods and techniques for producing them have become obfuscated behind a label featuring the market-tested words “aged”, “probiotic”, and “cultured”, but what do they really mean? I am on a quest to find out and share these secrets with you.
Plus, as a hobby, it’s generally not terribly demanding. In many cases, all you really need is a Crock… and Time!
But I will warn you now: you will find that, once you’ve crossed this threshold, there is no return to your former naïveté. Your way of thinking about food and food waste will be forever changed.
Is it magic?
The resurgence of home fermentation in places where it has previously fallen out of fashion lets us view these practices with a critical and scientifically-informed lens. Many traditions and superstitions have developed around fermentation, and I have the luxury of experimentation to find out what is necessary and what isn’t. One of my goals is to find the most efficient, hands-off processes for making simple and delicious fermented food and drink.
Is it healthy?
I’d say it’s not only healthy, but has contributed greatly to our survival as a species.
For some people, the concentrations of salt in many preservation methods may not be compatible with doctors orders. As with all things in life, moderation is key. You should generally be eating a healthy diet composed of a variety of foods, both fresh and fermented and everything in between. That being said, I am not a dietician or nutritionist, so if you have concerns please do your research and/or ask your doctor.
Is it safe?
Humans have been figuring out ways of preserving and transforming their food for millennia using much cruder methods than what we get into on this website. In the past (and, in many cases, still today), fermentation has been essential to survival, but that doesn’t mean you should be careless. These methods and microbial cultures have been developed and improved over myriad generations, and as long as you are clean and careful in preparation and “at rest”, you’ll be safe. Even still, let your sense of sight, smell, and taste inform your judgement; you’ll get a feel for what is good and what is bad after a few failures!
That being said, don’t fear failure. There is no shortcut, no silver bullet, in fermentation or in life. Embrace the learning process! Enjoy the journey—good food awaits you.
Below is a list of blogs and other resources that inspired me to create Crock of Time.
- Larder Delicatessen & Bakery
I’ve linked directly to the blog, but if you’re in the Cleveland area you should absolutely sign up for one (or several) of Jeremy Umansky’s classes, with topics ranging from pickling to koji to charcuterie.
- Wild Fermentation Blog
While not updated frequently, Sandor Katz is practically the father of the new fermentation movement sweeping across the world.
- Nordic Food Lab
Sadly no longer, as it was merged into the University of Copenhagen Department of Food Science. The link above is courtesy of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.
- Food Geek
Excellent sourdough bread resource. Check out the YouTube channel as well, he does some fabulous experiment videos where only one variable is changed to find out the best and simplest methods for making bread.
I would also recommend following the #KojiBuildsCommunity hashtag on any of the various social media sites.