I am very excited about a pickle jar full of suspicious looking scum that a friend sent home from gym class with my son.

It sat on the counter,  since I was away at school,  until Jeff (understandably) threw it in the trash, but Connor dug it out for me last night when I learned of its existence.

The suspicious looking lump inside is a SCOBY — the acronym for “Symbiotic Colony of Bacterias and Yeasts”.  It looks like a floaty thin white crepe, suspended in a puddle of stuff that smells like cider vinegar and wine.

It’s this SCOBY that is making me so happy.  It’s the source of the sour, fizzy, fermented Kombucha tea that is supposed to be so good for health and digestion.

I quickly gave it a home: a big glass gallon jug of green tea, with enough white sugar for the SCOBY to eat and convert to bubbles and useful enzymes.

I will leave it on the counter for ten days, and then pour off the tea, bottle it to fizz up for drinking, then and give the SCOBY some new tea to colonize.  The SCOBY will make more SCOBY babies for me to share.

It joins a lot of other little civilizations in my kitchen. The sourdough crock has a community of yeasts that bubble away, making me starter for bread, pancakes and other goodies.  I am a benevolent kitchen-deity, and keep pouring off and renewing their ecosystem before they use up all their resources and pollute their planet to an unlivable Ph.

The wine yeasts in the airlocked jugs of elderberry and currant juice were left to kill themselves off with their own waste product (alcohol) once they used up all the available sugar.  But other colonies — like my yogurt — are saved from one generation to the next, a leftover cup used to “seed” the next batch of warm milk.

I am hoping to track down some live kefir grains, the little cluster of living yeasts and bacteria that will turn a bottle of warm milk into that fizzy, tart, fruity, drinkable stuff my kids like so much. 

This latest obsession is a spin-off of my pottery. I have been making some flasks and crock-like pots with little water “moats” under the rim, to allow a fermenting substance (like sourdough, or sauerkraut) to “burp” gasses without being contaminated by airborne yeasts, dust  or fruit flies.

So I have been looking at historic pots, reading medieval recipes, reading about the big salt glazed crocks my grandma used to make horseradish pickles and other fermented goodies.  And I found a discussion forum at mothering.com for traditional foods. My reading has reminded me that the earliest ways of preserving foods — by fermentation — produced a lot of live colonies that worked well in the human innards, helping us digest. I make sauerkraut and pickles but then can them, effectively sterilizing the contents for long shelf life.  Canning preserves food by killing all the bad cooties that would shorten shelf life, but it kills all the good cooties, too.

So I am thinking I should go back to making the big crock of pickles in the corner of the kitchen, from which we help ourselves.  There are no more general stores with pickle barrels. Too bad it’s the wrong season, now, to get pickling cukes.  I’ll plant my own next year or hit the farmers market in mid summer.

I have found images of delightful old ginger beer bottles — the hot, sweet kind, not the insipid pop sold in cans.  Jeff and I made some in the days before kids, despite the recipe that said, “Do not make this! It will explode! You’ve been warned!” We made it in recycled two liter bottles, so that when they puffed up like footballs we could (sssssssstt) relieve the pressure. 

Maybe we should make some for Christmas… count backward form the explosion date.  I also have a library book about fermenting vinegars. Too bad pottery isn’t as lovely or practical as glass for liquids like that… though I am making myself a lovely yogurt fermenting crock with a safe liner glaze.

Jeff made beer, one year, and that was fun too.

Meanwhile I have yogurt, kefir, wine, sourdough, each with its little civilization of single celled life forms making me more. 

I remember one day pondering an orange with a furry green population of mold, wondering if that’s what humans are to the planet… a complex life form hastening its decay.

Hopefully we are a more renewable starter, like sourdough.   Maybe before this planet is used up,  a couple rocket ships full of “starter” can be added to some fresh new place, to multiply and grow and start the whole thing over.  In optomistic moments I hope the great Kitchen Master has a plan and a purpose for humanity.  I’d rather be part of a cosmic smoothie than some forgotten slimy lump in the bottom of the cosmic produce drawer! lol