Kirsten and Christopher Shockey once pickled 52 varieties of vegetables in one year. From arugula and asparagus to winter squash and zucchini, they pickled it all — and featured their top recipes in a 2014 cookbook that received high praise from chefs, noted fermentation experts and fans of this growing lifestyle of nourishment through live foods.
“We get a lot of [comments like] ‘Eating fermented foods changed my life,’” says Kirsten, who, with her husband, lives on a 40-acre hillside homestead in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley. Since 1998 they have raised four children there; tended an assortment of animals; produced three fermentation cookbooks; and built a circuit of fermentation workshops and festival appearances such as Fun With Fermentation in Eugene and the brand-new Live Culture Coast to help share this ancient art with the world.
Chefs, brewers and home cooks are hooked
More than just a trend, fermenting is becoming a way of life for many who are seeking more funky flavors and innovative ways to preserve fresh produce year-round — not to mention the health benefits of probiotics, which are said to improve the digestive and immune systems. “I truly think these are foods our bodies evolved with, and when people start eating them, we crave them,” says Kirsten, a former school teacher. “Even if you buy ferments, starting to add them to your diet is huge because you get such positive effects on gut health and happiness. The science proves this. If you’re feeling good, you’re going to be more creative.”
To meet demand — or perhaps sparking it — Oregon chefs are pumping up the allure of plant-based options such as the veg-grain-bean bowls at the new Fermenter lunch counter in Portland. Brewers have been serving up inspired kombuchas and tasty platters of housemade pickles, krauts and other fermented fare at places like Yachats Brewing, Crux Fermentation Project in Bend, Ferment Brewing Company in Hood River and the new Belmont Fermentorium by Modern Times Brewing in Portland. Books, workshops and videos by experts like the Shockeys make fermenting accessible to anyone who wants to try it at home or taste what it’s all about. The 10th-annual Portland Fermentation Festival in October and the brand-new Brine, Brew & Barrel – Fermentation Festival in January also celebrate the growing scene with hands-on pickling, tasting, recipes, demonstrations and more.
“Oregon’s definitely the right place to be if you want to know about fermentation,” Kirsten says. “It’s that Portlandia thing. “Fermentation goes along with brewing, and we have a good brewing culture here. The West Coast is health conscious. I think we also have a certain DIY and homesteading ethos that goes right along with that.” As with their first two cookbooks, the Shockeys’ latest guide gives step-by-step instructions to both inspire beginners and teach tips and techniques to others. It focuses on grains and beans, while their 2017 cookbook celebrated fiery condiments such as kimchis and hot sauces from around the world.
Sharing the culture locally and globally
For years, the Shockeys have been sharing their passion for fermentation around the world (recent trips have taken them to teach classes in Chile, Mexico and Spain). When they’re back at home, they love to collaborate with Southern Oregon farmers and chefs — check their event calendar for the latest. Outside of the kitchen, they take time to appreciate the beauty of Southern Oregon and find solace in the outdoors, hiking and backpacking into the hills behind their home, near Grayback Mountain. They also enjoy hiking parts of the Pacific Crest Trail from Mt. Ashland to Crater Lake, and heading into Ashland and Medford to eat. They love watching performances at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Christopher volunteers during concerts at the Britt Music & Arts Festival.
Currently, the fermentation superheroes are working on their next book, all about cider, which is Christopher’s passion. As a hobby cider maker for the past two decades, the former data nerd experimented with their heirloom apple varietals as well as pears, blackberries and other fruit. The new cookbook teaches hobbyists how to make cider at home by adding yeast, as well as from a wild ferment — starting from a bottle of store-bought apple juice and dropping in rose petals or another flower that will spark wild fermentation, leaving nice flavor notes. In the spring, look for their fermentation workshops offered to the public from their farm.