This week, I sat down to learn how to make two of my grandmother’s recipes; something I wish I’d had the time and inclination to have been doing all along. Seasoned more in proportion with each other in a web of relationships than any standardized measure, and woefully precise in freeflow adjustments. It really is “the spoon we have in the cupboard” as the standard to which it all comes together. I learned how to make two things: Makgeoli and Kimchi. These are relatively simple recipes, mostly consisting of gathering ingredients together, mixing them together, and waiting for the fermentation to do the rest of the work.
And it made me think about fermented foods as a bridge between the past, the present, and the future.
To sit down and ferment food is to think about, to prepare for, the future. That no matter what happens, there will be a future where you crack open the jar of ripened kimchi.
To sit down and eat fermented food is to recognize the efforts of the past. All cooking is like this to a certain extent, but preserved foods represent this the most.
For me to learn my grandmother’s recipes is to set up a modest, ramshackle bridge to all that came before me. A way for me to glimpse back into the history of my own family, one that has always been, and will likely remain as murky and as unclear as the mud from which we came. It tells me almost nothing, but prepares me in every way I need for the future to come.
As I was thinking about this, I remembered a memoir-styled story about someone learning to cook Korean stews, and being unable to quite get it right. Until she accidentally left one out to sit for a while. And it got me thinking that a lot of Korean food is like that.
You can have all the right ingredients
in all the right measures
put together in all the right orders
but without the necessary time
the substance just isn’t there.
Almost more than anything else, the key ingredient to Korean cooking is time.
The burdens of the past, the concerns of today, and the hope for a brighter future, all of these come together to form a deeper and more complex flavor, one that hits your memories first, and your tastebuds second.
Eternal gratitude to my very patient patrons who support the writing I do, named below:
David K, TribalTon, Sean D, SecretlyPaul, Claire W, Crobisaur