The Amherst Farmers’ Market welcomes back Kirk’s Creations. First joining the market in 2017, David Kirk introduced his family’s recipes for lacto-fermented deliciousness. The list of lactic acid fermented foods is long. kimchi, sauerkraut, and dill pickles; several styles of hot sauces and chile pastes; cultured dairy products like yogurt, crème fraîche, and cheese; kombucha, salami, and, yes, even sourdough bread. To quote Sandor Katz, in The Art of Fermentation, “I have searched—without success—for examples of cultures that do not incorporate any form of [lactic acid] fermentation. Indeed, ferments are central features of many, perhaps even most, cuisines.”
Lacto-fermentation experienced a resurgence during the height of COVID - hello to everyone who tried a sourdough starter - it’s far from a new trend. It’s been around for over 10,000 years and there isn't a culinary culture on the planet that doesn't present evidence of lacto-fermentation. Civilizations have been controlling fermentation for thousands of years, with some of the earliest examples being fermented beverages. A fermentation of fruit, honey, and rice discovered in Neolithic China dates back to 7000 BC. In the Caucus, wine-making dates to around 6000 BC. People were fermenting beverages in Babylon around 3000 BC.
Even thousands of years before fermented alcoholic beverages were developed, fermentation was occurring with a food known for notoriously poor holding qualities – dairy. The milk of camels, goats, sheep, and cattle was naturally fermented as far back as 10,000 BCE. It’s likely the fermentation spontaneously occurred, due to naturally microflora present in the milk. The climate where this dairy fermentation took place played a large role in its occurrence, as lactic acid fermentation favors the heat of this climate. The first yogurts were produced in goat bags draped over the backs of camels in the heat of North Africa, where temperatures around 110°F made ideal conditions for fermentation to occur.
It wasn’t until the mid 1800s, though, that people understood what was happening to make their food ferment. In 1856, Louis Pasteur connected yeast to the process of fermentation, making him the first zymologist – studying the applied science of fermentation. He defined fermentation as, “respiration without air”. Fermentation was still being used solely to increase the holding and storing properties of food. It wasn’t until 1910 that fermented foods were first considered as beneficial to health. Leo F. Rettger of Yale concluded in 1935 that certain strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus could survive the environment of the human gut and were necessary for optimal digestion.
In the last 50 years, extensive research has been conducted examining the health benefits of consuming friendly bacteria. There appear to be linkages between consuming foods containing these bacteria and improved digestion, among other areas. The popularity of “probiotic” products reflect this knowledge. Probiotics are a food/beverage that contains friendly bacteria. Products labeled with this word are all over stores – everything from yogurts to dietary supplements. Fermented foods, as Pasteur determined, are naturally high in these friendly bacteria.
Let’s return to 1900 for a moment, though, and forget about the possible health benefits derived from eating fermented foods. In 1900, fermentation was a method of food preservation. Fermenting foods provided a way to store them without the need for refrigeration. While farm wives in 1900 may not have been making kimchi or kombucha, they were certainly feeding their families fermented foods such as cheese, bread, beer, and vinegar. Without giving you a full-on microbiology lesson, the basic principles of food preservation by fermentation depend on the transformative action of microbes and the manipulation of environments to encourage the action of certain desired microbes and discourage the presence or action of less desirable microbes. Fermentation is an anaerobic process, which means it occurs in an airless environment. The desirable bacteria thrive in this oxygen-free environment digesting sugars, starches, and carbohydrates and releasing alcohols, carbon dioxide, and organic acids (which are what preserve the food). The undesirable bacteria that cause spoilage, rotting, and decay of food can’t survive in this anaerobic environment
Hello, I’m David Drugan, owner / operator of the Buzz-Off Bee Company. I am a ‘sideline’ beekeeper who manages approximately 55 hives on local farms in multiple locations in Westfield, Agawam, West Springfield, and Southampton.
I began keeping bees approximately eight years ago after working with a now retired beekeeper who is a family friend. This now retired beekeeper had learned that I successfully removed an enormous wasp nest (of all things) from my home, and invited me to come along and assist him remove a feral honey bee colony which had taken-up residence within a barn in Belchertown. After successfully rehousing the feral colony, he gifted me the bees and equipment (my first hive), and I was hooked! Stung a few times as well during the removal, but that comes with the territory.
Later that year, the one rehoused barn honey bee colony morphed into three hives and my backyard was alive with activity. Those three hives grew to six hives in year two, and six hives grew to twelve hives in year three… and with a local demand for smaller-scale pollination (and a wife who was questioning just how many bees in the backyard was enough - that's the nice version), my backyard hobby has developed into a fantastic opportunity to work with local farmers by providing pollination support to their fields / crops, while learning about their farms. And as you may have guessed, the hive count still continues to grow each year.
The byproduct of an expanding hive count, and now working with multiple local farms and farmers, are all the products of the honey bee hive, including hundreds of pounds of raw honey, raw honey comb, wax, and pollen. Although you can see all of the products of the honey bee hive on my vendor table, the real star of the display has to be the single-frame observation hive which is alive with activity.
The observation hive allows for people of all ages a quick glimpse into the inner-workings of a honey bee colony, while asking questions about what is going on ‘under the glass’. Finding the queen is usually on the mind of most visitors, but it’s great to be able to offer some educational opportunities about honey bees, listen to bee-related stories, and offer insight to local raw honey and products.
Becoming a vendor at the Amherst Farmers' Market this year has been absolutely terrific. The ability to provide a local raw honey product to our community is truly only one of the great parts of participating in the Amherst Farmers Market. The fantastic questions and answer opportunities which I engage in with passersby is the real highlight of the day - meaningful questions about honey bees, including: why is the honey different colors, how much wax is produced from a colony, and countless others offers a bit of bee related information even if it's just a quick glance from afar.
Be sure to stop over at the table, ask a question or two, and perhaps share a bee related story. Trust me, if there’s one thing I can, and like to do (like every beekeeper) - it’s talk bees!
Bringing you organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, locally-sourced blog posts on a semi-weekly basis from the Amherst Farmers' Market.