Have you ever noticed how old crocks, brown glass gallon jugs and half gallon canning jars get pounced on at garage sales and flea markets? These are relics of food preserving done by fermenting, rather than by chemical additives and sugars. Many of these old ways have fallen in favor of the easy food so readily available today. There is, though, a core group of people who still cling to the “old ways” of putting food on the table, albeit with a new twist or two. Aimee White, along with her partner, Matt Fortune provide old-style food through their business, Omgrown Family Farm.
When White found herself to be a property owner in rural Douglas County, her goal was to make a living for herself and her infant son, River, on that property. It was a primitive place, but with an abundance of grit and determination, she has made it happen. A life-long believer in living naturally and simply, she worked the soil for her first garden, fashioned a chicken house from straw bales and spent hours hiking the steep hillsides acquainting herself with herbs, grasses, moss and leaves that could be used to make tinctures and teas. A voracious reader, she is almost entirely self-taught in the realm of wildcrafting and foraging, then turning her harvest into healing and beneficial products. She began marketing her wares at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market. Not only was it a way to sell her product, it was a way to meet people and establish herself in the community.
One of the first products that she introduced was Kombucha, a fermented tea with live cultures. Decades ago, Kombucha was known as mushroom tea because the starter, or scoby, was thought to be a fungus. But there is no fungus in kombucha. The kombucha has a tangy fizziness that makes it very refreshing and a great alternative to soda. I only knew kombucha as a tasty drink, but Aimee recently treated me to a bucha smoothie, and I am not only impressed, I might be hooked. How can anything that tastes that good be so good for you?
Herewith, a brief education on kombucha, a la White. It begins with tea, usually green tea, then sugar is added and it is allowed to cool before the culture is added. Since it is a living thing care must be taken that the temperature doesn’t get high enough to kill the bacteria in the scoby, losing all the benefits of probiotics and live cultures. The tea is then poured into a 5 gallon food grade bucket and loosely covered with cloth so it can breathe, yet remains clean. Depending on the ambient temperature, in 7 to 12 days the ferment will be ready for the flavor that is added, usually in the form of fruit juices. After a couple more days at room temperature, the kombucha goes in the refrigerator, awaiting bottling. Finished kombucha needs to be stored in a container that can be made airtight. Plastic containers with loose lids can lead to excitement in the refrigerator. Originally, White sold her brew by the bottle, but washing and sterilizing several hundred bottles per week and then transporting all the way to the farmers market became more than she could manage, so she went to kegs. Now she fills growlers and canning jars from her refrigerated kegs, leaving the responsibility of the container with the customer. Typically, she has three flavors on tap. Blueberry ginger is a steady favorite, with mango ginger, Hummingbird, pomegranate limeade and Grape Ape rounding out the line up. Cola and hops flavors are available occasionally. Aimee uses the licensed kitchen at Cascadian Coffee for her kombucha bottling. If you’ve tasted commercially made kombucha and decided that it wasn’t for you, give Omgrown Kombucha a try. Any product made in small batches and only on the shelf for a month or less is bound to be tastier than that mass produced product.
As the kombucha business was growing, White introduced other fermented products. Two of the best known traditionally fermented products are sauerkraut and kimchee. The simplicity of fermenting, plus the fact that you’re getting lots of “good bugs” for your gut, has brought about a resurgence in this ancient method of preserving food. Sauerkraut is made with chopped or shredded cabbage, salt and time. Easy recipe. You can make it in a food grade five gallon bucket, an old time crock, a stainless steel bowl or a gallon jar. You can add caraway seeds and call it Bavarian kraut. Because it is usually hot and spicy, I can’t tell you much about Kimchee, but I can tell you that the traditional kraut that Aimee let me sample was crunchy, tart and tangy and highly elevated from anything you’ve ever bought in a can.
One of the most popular products from Omgrown is the fermented hot sauce. It comes in three flavors and three different heat levels. Get it while you can because it sells out fast. Maidens Peak, Three Fingered Jack, Wizard Island and an occasional Carribean blend round out the hot sauce selection, but wait, there’s more. Fire Cider is made from Omgrown apple vinegar, then horseradish root, turmeric root, ginger, garlic, onion, citrus and assorted herbs. Fire Cider is meant to be more of a tonic, but is enjoyed as a salad dressing too.
White is currently experimenting with a product similar to Balsamic vinegar. To give you an indication of how she feels about the long term life of the business she’s constantly developing, the balsamic-type vinegar will have been in the wooden barrel for seven years before she will bottle it for sale. Plum vinegar is also in the works.
Due to the enormous amount of hot peppers that she needs for all the hot stuff, White and Fortune are going to be starting their own seedlings this year, and also starting a limited variety of seedlings to sell at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market. To get your garden off to an early start, they will have broccoli, kale, assorted lettuces, Asian greens and artichokes, and later into the planting season, you’ll find an interesting selection of tomatoes and peppers. “Interesting,” in this case, means quite a few varieties you’ve never heard of before.
Find Aimee and Matt at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Harvard Avenue in Roseburg. They will be selling soup to go and salads also.