Several weeks ago I attended a workshop about creativity. As part of the workshop, all the attendees did some free-writing, meaning we had to write for 5 minutes without stopping to the prompts: I see beauty in and I see ugliness in. Afterwards, we looked at our writing and tried to pull out one idea that spoke to us. Mine jumped right off the page. I see beauty in kefir.
So what’s kefir? Short answer is that it is a sour-tasting, slightly effervescent fermented milk beverage that originated somewhere in the Caucasus Mountains between Europe and Asia. I would describe it as like a very sour and tangy plain drinkable yogurt. The accepted pronunciation is keh-FEER (listen here), but right now I still call it KEY-fur (rhymes with reefer), which is how I have heard the local Mennonite and Amish talk about it. Traditional, homemade kefir is grown or cultured from something called kefir grains, a gelatinous mass of bacteria and yeast. There is so much more to learn about kefir. If you are intrigued, this site provides a great overview.
My journey to kefir culturing is probably similar to the story of other kefir devotees. First, I fell head over heels for raw milk. Then I no longer wanted to eat conventional yogurt, so I bought this yogurt-maker and started making my own out of raw milk. I wanted to keep my yogurt routine as simple as possible so I never home-pasteurized my milk, never added gelatin, and never strained my finished yogurt, which are all steps that can make homemade yogurt less runny. Instead, the whole family grew accustomed to eating runny yogurt. Eventually, I learned that kefir has many benefits over yogurt, not only in the beneficial bacteria and yeast that imbue it with its probiotic properties, but also because it is easier and cheaper to produce. Instead of needing a heat source to keep the milk at a certain temperature, kefir cultures best at room temperature. And instead of needing to periodically start with a fresh yogurt culture, either one bought in powder form from a company that sells cultures, or a bit of store-bought yogurt, kefir grains last indefinitely. So I asked my Mennonite friend for some kefir grains and thus began a new era of my life.
To say that kefir changed my life would be an overstatement, especially because to an outsider my life before kefir and my life after kefir look pretty much the same. But what began as my lazy way to make runny yogurt has blossomed into my touchstone for understanding the life I’m building as an aspiring radical homemaker. It represents a glaring example of how easy it is to opt out of the normal consumer marketplace of buying pre-made, ready-to-eat foods at the grocery store. It represents the joy and fruitfulness of learning and sharing with members of your community. It represents another example of how a long-standing, traditional method for preserving food and making it more digestible and palatable for human consumption is so widely unknown. My short years of being a mother have led me to experiences where I have felt more at home than ever before, namely childbirth, breastfeeding, spending time with my children, and preparing nourishing foods for my family. To me, kefir is beautiful because it represents a common-sense connection and relationship to the world, community, and nature that is shared with the other “natural” experiences that have moved and transformed me in recent years.
Sharing my obsession with kefir feels weirdly vulnerable, but at least I know that there are many others out there who have fallen a little in love with kefir, or buttermilk, or sourdough, or some other culture. Just google i love kefir and you’ll see what I mean.
If you made it through my indulgent musings on life and kefir, I’d like to share with you how we eat and drink this super food. Every member of the family, including the almost 3-year-old and 1-year-old enjoy kefir:
- In small quantities, straight up in a cup
- In smoothies, mixed with fruit, vegetables, greens, and/or coconut oil
- Served with granola
- As a substitute for milk or yogurt in pancakes
- As a substitute for milk in baked oatmeal
- As a substitute in any recipe that calls for milk
- As a substitute in any recipe that calls for yogurt
- As a substitute in any recipe that calls for buttermilk
- As a base for creamy salad dressings or sauces
Think you might want to try making kefir for yourself? You may be able to find some store-bought kefir to sample before you commit, although it is not nearly as healthful as traditionally prepared kefir. This website has lots of great information about the process of making kefir and also provides a way to “adopt” your own grains. Or, if you live in central PA and want to give kefir-making a shot, leave a comment and I would love to get you started for free with a portion of my ever-growing kefir grains.