by Josh Evans
At the end of the year in 2014, a month or so after moving into our new space, we had a Julefrokost to celebrate the year. I made a simple experiment with a few of my favourite items in the lab at the time: Jason’s fermented giant puffball, quince balsamic/elder vinegar ‘lees’, and fireweed tea.
In some way it was quite old-school, banal even: a blade of raw endive with accoutrements. The endive provided fresh bitter snap for what made it, for me, other than an entirely predictable hors d’oeuvre.
I was inspired by Jason’s fermented giant puffball mushrooms—nondescript yet potent gems of unsuspecting umami. Shaved thinly, it provided the savoury horsepower.
In the winter of 2013, we were making a new batch of quince wine to top up our balsamic vinegar barrels just around the time we were also bottling the ‘older elder’ vinegar begun in the summer and fermented through the fall. We had a bit of extra quince wine, to which we added the extremely vigourous mother from the most successful batch of older elder vinegar. Left for six months in a warm cupboard on the boat, the mixture fermented and reduced into a thick, dark, exceptionally sour thing. We don’t know quite what to call it (a not infrequent problem) but it is tasty. Informally I have been calling it ‘quince vinegar lees’—not accurate but perhaps better than nothing. A little of it goes a long way.
At a first tasting it clearly needed some fat, and Roberto suggested using a nut oil, like walnut or hazelnut. I settled on a blend of both, incorporating the former’s structure and the latter’s aroma, and making a vinaigrette of sorts with the quince vinegar lees to brush into the endive before adding some wisps of fermented puffball.
It was still quite ‘classic’. I thickened the vinaigrette and flipped the endive over.
I had powdered some of the fireweed tea as a final garnish, for a tannic, lightly lactic note up front.
An informal synthesis of compelling things at hand.
There was a lot of tasty food that night, a great end to a full year.