Only the reek of human sweat overpowered the aromas of kimchi and sauerkraut at Portland’s third annual Fermentation Festival, held for two hours on October 20 at Ecotrust’s Billy Frank, Jr., Conference Center. Organizers estimated that five hundred people attended the event last year, and this year I’d guess that more than a thousand filed up the sidewalk, around the first-floor lobby, up the stairs and across the second- floor lobby to pay their five bucks and slog through the crowded conference room, where they fought to grab samples from thirty commercial and wannabe commercial producers of various fermented food products, including cider, miso, sourdough bread, brined salmon, kombucha, Rejuvelac*, brewed ginger ale, and pickled cucumbers, cabbage, and garlic.
There were disappointments: A drink labeled kombucha (Japanese for “kelp tea,” this term has somehow come to mean, in North America, fermented sweetened black or green tea) looked and tasted like a batch of kefir gone moldy; wine, beer, and cheese were totally absent; the only bread was over-soured; and the salmon briners ran out before I reached their table. Still, I greatly enjoyed Jorinji’s miso soup, Pickled Planet’s sauerkraut with seaweed, and somebody’s capsicum-free kimchi (a relief after I’d tasted at least a half-dozen hot versions).
I hope the organizers will find a bigger room for next year’s Fermentation Festival. Demonstrations would be nice, too, since nearly all the products are easy to make at home. Check for information about the fourth annual Fermentation Festival at www.portlandfermentationfestival.com.
1. Rejuvelac is a kind of kvass, a slightly alcoholic Eastern European drink fermented from bread or grain. The name is the creation of Ann Wigmore, a Lithuanian immigrant to the United States who in the latter half of the twentieth century founded centers in Boston, New Mexico, and Puerto Rico to promote a vegan raw-foods diet. A leading promoter of sprouts and wheat grass, Wigmore made Rejuvelac from whole grains, usually wheat (you can see an old film clip of her in the act at chidiet.com/blog/ann-wigmore/dr-ann-wigmore-shows-how-to-make-rejuvelac.htm). Rejuvelac is a very sour, cloudy beverage that’s supposed to be good for the digestion (I guess I should have drunk more at the festival, because my belly hurt all night afterward).