Modern Farmer: When were you first introduced to fermenting?
Nicole Easterday: Well I grew up in a German community, so sauerkraut was everywhere. The tiny little school I went too, it had 100 kids in the whole school, the ladies who ran the cafeteria there were two German ladies who made all the food from scratch — including all kinds of fermented stuff. But my first true introduction was through my grandparents on my dad’s side. They always had sauerkraut fermenting in their walkway, and it was the kind of thing where we made fun of them for it because when you walked into their house it smelled like rotten garbage. I also remember my dad trying to make sauerkraut but I didn’t eat any, I guess I was a grossed out kid at the time. The first time I actually tried to ferment sauerkraut at home — sauerkraut is kind of the gateway drug of fermentation — was when I moved to San Francisco six years ago. That’s when I got hooked.
MF: So sauerkraut is the gateway drug of fermentation?
NE: Yeah! I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people about fermentation and everyone wants to make sauerkraut first, which I find funny. Don’t get me wrong, good sauerkraut is amazing but it’s also one of those things that if it goes off, it can be really off-putting. There are lots of other veggies that are much easier to do right the first time, like carrots. It’s really hard to screw up carrots. I try to encourage people to try sauerkraut later, start with something like carrots first.
MF: Why do you think people will care about this product?
NE: I teach a lot of cheese-making and canning classes and the first thing people ask me is, is it safe? After hearing this question so often I realized that we’ve gotten so dependent on other people preparing our food that we don’t trust ourselves anymore. We don’t trust our senses and we think there’s danger lurking everywhere. If you ferment food in a bucket, the traditional way, you’re going to get mold growing on the top that you’ll have to sweep off. It’s not dangerous and it’s not going to kill you, but we’ve got it in our heads now that it might. This set of lids, with the airlock, allows you to ferment without having to worry about mold or if the product is safe to eat. That’s why people are interested.
MF: You’ve raised more than double your goal through your kickstarter campaign. What does this mean for the future of FARMcurious?
NE: It means I’m going to be spending a lot of late nights packaging up and mailing out fermenting sets. I set the goal lower than I honestly needed; that’s kind of now kickstarter works, it’s all or nothing. I’m really happy with how the campaign went and hope the fermenting set brings more people into the world of fermented foods. As for the future, I’m really excited about releasing my next product, an all-in-one home fruit wine-making kit.
MF: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever fermented?
NE: On purpose? I haven’t really fermented anything that crazy, the most unusual thing would have to be unripe plums. I have a plum tree and I was trimming out some of the unripe fruit and decided to toss them in a jar and let them ferment. Turns out people in Japan ferment unripe plums all the time, they are really delicious. Sometimes people at talks I do toss out some pretty wild suggestions. I was recently asked if I had every tried fermenting bugs, or mushrooms. I guess I should probably try it soon so I have an answer for them!
Photographs courtesy of FARMcurious. This interview has been edited and condensed.