School bus-turned-fermentation station rolls through Austin
Tara Whitsitt is crossing the country in a school bus that the former Houstonian has transformed into a traveling culture cultivation station.
The founder of Fermentation on Wheels rolled into Austin for about a week late last month as part of a cross-country journey to connect with farmers and fermentation fanatics and collect whatever cultures and knowledge she can find. She started in Oregon in August and will continue until at least this fall in order to teach as many people as she can about cultivating live cultures and using them in food.
“Everything I make, I harvest myself,” she says as she twists off the lid to a kimchi she’d made a few weeks earlier, including the apples for hard cider stored beneath a cutting board, in a hole cut out in a piece of wood specifically designed so the jars and carboys don’t roll all over the bus when she’s on the road.
She stores her completed ferments in the space underneath her living and working quarters, and she says she tries to hold on to a jar of everything she makes.
Before heading off to Elgin and then Houston, Whitsitt got a few samples of live-cultured vinegars from Kate Payne of the Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, who is hosting a lacto-fermentation workshop ($65, hipgirlshome.com) from noon to 4 p.m. on Feb. 15 at Green Gate Farms, 8310 Canoga Ave.
Payne’s class will cover master recipes for dishes including kimchi or sauerruben (a sauerkraut-like dish made with root vegetables), cultured seasonal vegetables in a fermented brine and live-culture vinegars from fruit juices or scraps. The price includes seasonal vegetables from Green Gate that attendees can ferment at home.
If you’re already prepared to ferment vegetables at home, here is a recipe from Whitsitt for chipotle carrots fermented in a salt brine.
Fermented Chipotle Carrots
Whitsitt taught this recipe at Skinny Lane Farm in Elgin when she was in Central Texas in January and posted it on her Tumblr page (fermentationonwheels.tumblr.com), which is where she shares many of her recipes and stories. This recipe makes about a quart of fermented carrots, and Whitsitt says she usually makes a quadruple batch for a gallon container.
1 lb. carrots
1 tsp. black peppercorn
1 tsp. white peppercorn
1 tsp. coriander seed
2 tsp. cumin seed
2 tsp. caraway seed
2 cloves garlic, halved
1/2 chipotle pepper (more or less, depending on your heat tolerance), cut into inch-long pieces (don’t throw away the seeds)
3 Tbsp. unrefined sea salt
Prep your carrots by cutting them in halves and/or quarters, depending on the size you would like for your final fermented treats. (I measure each of my cuts at 3-4 bites per pickle)
Slightly crush the peppercorns, coriander, cumin, caraway and garlic with a mortar and pestle to intensify the flavor. Put the spices and chipotle in your fermentation vessel, such as a quart glass jar. Pack carrots in your container.
To make the brine, dissolve salt in one quart of the purest water available to you. Pour the brine over the carrots and seal tightly with lid. Gently turn the jar to distribute the spices and then remove the lid.
Now you have an open container of pickles, and it’s time for one of the most important parts of keeping your ferment happy: a weight that will keep your carrots underneath the brine. It’s easy to fill a small jar with water and sit it on top of the carrots, but you might have other ideas for weights or even something like a plastic yogurt lid that fits under the neck of the jar that still allow your ferment to get exposure to air but keep the contents below the top of the brine. There are a lot of good methods, and many come straight from our creative common sense. Cover your vessel with a cloth and rubber band, to keep random bugs and dust particles out.
Wait a week and try a carrot. It’s probably going to need another week, but it’s good practice to try your ferments along their journey. Ferments will work at different speeds depending on their environment. Temperature is a huge factor. Most ferments thrive best at 68 to 76 degrees, just like us.
When your ferment is to your liking, cover it with a lid and place in the fridge or other cold storage. Keeping your new pickles cool stalls the fermentation process, so you can enjoy the fermented flavor from when you sealed the jar.
— Tara Whitsitt, Fermentation on Wheels
Tax changes could mean a high tab at the bar
A law affecting how restaurants and bars can sell liquor has gone into effect quietly since it was passed last year, even though it means customers may now have to hand over an additional 8.25 percent on their checks at places selling liquor on top of beer and wine, a sales tax at these dining spots that didn’t exist before.
HB 3572, which became effective on Jan. 1 this year, seeks to provide “a greater transparency and equity between restaurants and bars that sell only beer and wine and those that also sell mixed beverages,” said Richie Jackson, CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association, a group that supported the bill.
Previously, restaurants and bars that serve mixed drinks had a “mixed beverage gross receipts tax” of 14 percent – money that goes to the state – on each cocktail, glass of wine or pint of beer they sold. It was a hidden tax customers paid as part of the cost of the drink. That was in contrast to restaurants and bars that offer only and beer and wine. While they don’t have to worry about that tax, they do charge customers a sales tax on all purchased beverages.
Jackson explained it this way: “If I have a $10 drink at a mixed beverages establishment, there’s a $1.40 embedded in the drink price that I have to provide to the state. Whereas if I have $10 glass of wine in an establishment that doesn’t sell mixed drinks, the restaurant receives the full $10 while the drinker also pays a sales tax that goes to the state.”
Now, however, restaurants selling liquor have to fork over only 6.7 percent of their drinks profits to the state through the mixed beverage gross receipts tax, and they have an 8.25 percent mixed beverage sales tax they can have the customer pay.
What does that mean for us? These restaurants and bars, Jackson said, have three options.
• They can leave prices the same, but add the 8.25 percent sales tax to the bill.
• They can lower their prices since they now have to give over less to the state.
• They can build the sales tax into the price in the same way the mixed beverage gross receipts tax is (so customers won’t even realize they’re paying a tax).
Dining establishments making mixed drinks thus save money, and might even earn more of a profit, but they may pass an extra cost onto the customer. Even so, Jackson said he isn’t sure that customers will notice much of a change on their bills. —Arianna Auber
Ganache-filled chocolates for Valentine’s Day
As we roll from one chocolate season to the next, it’s time to start thinking about what sweets you’re going to give out this month. For a really decadent treat, check out Austinite Rick Bristow’s impeccably crafted ganache-filled chocolates that are so glossy, a co-worker of mine said they looked like a new car. The rich filling reminded a handful of other colleagues of the best brownie batter you ever tasted.
They aren’t cheap — an eight-piece box of Chocolat Plus chocolates costs $29, and 15 pieces will run you $49 —but the ganache is one of the smoothest, richest you’ll taste. You can buy them online at chocolatplus.com.