Curious food enthusiasts explored the art of fermenting and food preservation this weekend at Travaasa Austin’s Jam & Jive event, a day of workshops followed by dinner at the resort. “We wanted to help bring back some of the preservation techniques used by cultures all over the world, but that we have lost,” said Travaasa Executive Chef Ben Baker.
Chef Baker taught participants about the fine art of making sourdough bread sharing samples baked using his own 172-year-old starter. He cautioned the bakers to sterilize everything they use in the breadmaking process to prevent contaminating the starter with other bacteria and to pay attention to the weather, as heat, cold and humidity all affect the results. Chef Baker also encouraged patience, as rushing the process rarely ends with a good product.
Award-winning jam maker Stephanie McClenny of Confituras led a workshop in making a decadent chocolate strawberry jam. McClenny shared tips to make home canning easier and encouraged participants to taste every batch as fruit can vary greatly in sweetness.
“We wanted to help bring back some of the preservation techniques used by cultures all over the world, but that we have lost." — Travaasa Executive Chef Ben Baker.
During the early days of her business, a customer told McClenny that a jar of pear jam had been much sweeter than one he had bought previously. When she asked the grower about the fruit, she learned that pears hold on to their sugar as they age, causing them to be much sweeter as the season progresses. McClenny urged home jam makers to rely on their taste buds — not the recipe — to ensure that the flavor is right.
Workshop attendees also explored the ancient art of making Korean kimchi with Abigail Lunde, founder of Oh Kimchi Austin. As participants halved cabbages and cut vegetables, Lunde shared a family recipe for making a mild version of the dish. “Kimchi doesn’t have to be about heat, and eating a little every day is good for the digestion,” she said.
Kate Payne, author of Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, showed how to use the rind, pith, juice and seeds of citrus fruit for different kitchen concoctions. “When I have beautiful fruit, I don’t want to waste any of it,” she said.
Outfitted with zesters, peelers and grapefruit, participants learned how to make a shrub syrup for sodas and cocktails, citrus salt, bitters and even vinegar for a homemade counter-cleaning solution. Payne, whose second book comes out in May, even demonstrated how to soak grapefruit seeds to make pectin, a natural thickening agent used in jams and jellies.
After the workshops, guests enjoyed passed appetizers and a three-course dinner from Baker’s kitchen and the Travaasa farm. “I interlaced the concepts from the sessions into each dish,” said Baker. Highlights included a rye sourdough crostini with venison pastrami and tangy sauerkraut, a lettuce wrap filled with earthy sautéed mushrooms, pickled daikon radish and carrots and a winter salad with deviled eggs, smoked trout and pickled cauliflower.
The evening concluded with music by local band La Strada, culminating in a lesson on doing the hand jive, a popular dance from the 1950s. Edible Austin helped curate the day's activities, and all proceeds from the event benefited the Sustainable Food Center, a local nonprofit that cultivates a healthy community by improving access to nutritious, affordable food.