The Wildcrafting Brewer: Creating Unique Drinks and Boozy Concoctions from Nature’s Ingredients
review by Sanne Kure-Jensen
If you love home brewing, gardening, eating or drinking, Pascal Baudar’s newest book is for you. “The Wildcrafting Brewer” offers a look at food preservation from an uncommon perspective. Baudar applied common techniques like pickling, canning, dehydrating and fermenting to preserving local wild and cultivated plants. Glorious color photos accompany Baudar’s tales and recipes.
Foodies and craft brew aficionados will be inspired to sample exotic fermented foods and beverages. Experienced and novice brewers, food preservationists and survivalists can try new ingredient combinations. Gardeners will plan their “brewing gardens.” Bauder includes historical background on many ingredients and shares entertaining tales of failures and successes in recipe development. He claims success with over 150 wild ingredients in his “wild beers and other fermented concoctions” including barks, berries, flowers, grains, seeds, leaves, roots and flowers.
One cannot discuss fermentation without mentioning yeast. “The Wildcrafting Brewer” devotes a whole chapter to yeast, a fungus that converts sugars into carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. Yeast and fungal spores are everywhere. 1,500 yeasts have been identified so far. Good sources for natural yeasts are:
- Organic local grapes with a white bloom
- Wild grapes
- Organic gingerroot (Chinese gingerroot does not work; it may have been irradiated)
- Fresh wild juniper berries (select edible varieties)
- Elderberries or elderflowers
- Fresh figs
- Prickly pear cactus fruits
- Tree bark (collect responsibly in late spring: birch, yellow birch or aspen)
- Raw honey (unheated)
Avoid chemically treated or irradiated fruit. Wash fruits before use. Baudar advises novice fermenters or those uncomfortable with gathering wild yeast to begin experimenting with commercial yeasts.
- Beer yeast for regular and wild beer recipes
- Champagne yeast for sodas
- Wine yeast for blueberries, elderberries and other wild berries
If a recipe calls for boiling ingredients, a yeast starter is needed to reintroduce yeast to the cooled liquid or “wort.”
Using commercial yeast instead of wild yeast typically yields beverages with higher alcohol contents. Baudar advises against brewing with bread yeast unless you want a beverage that tastes like bread.
Sweeteners for feeding yeast could be tree sap, honey, molasses, fruit juices, malted grains or even insect honeydew.
Boiling fruit juice or unripe green pinyon pine cones concentrates their sugars into syrup. When boiled further, syrup becomes a thick “molasses.” Baudar describes making his own “wild brown sugar” with molasses made from blueberries, dates, blackberries and elderberries. Adding lemon juice helps preserve homemade molasses.
The Flavor chapter admits to being incomplete as there are too many possibilities and combinations to list from the author’s southern California neighborhood and globally. Baudar’s rule of thumb is: use “bitter flavors… for beers [and] sweet and fruity flavors for sodas.” He admits to making exceptions and that many of his creations have “murky” classifications.
About a millennium ago, herb flavored beers or gruits were flavored with mugwort, yarrow, ground ivy, dandelion, rue and other herbs. In the 15th century, German law declared that “beer” could only contain water, grains and hops. They forgot to mention yeast.
In beer, hops act as a preservative and antiseptic. When mixed with alcohol, hops act as a relaxing sedative. Hops are in the Cannabis family and are related to hemp and marijuana.
Baudar breaks beers into five basic categories based on their ingredients. Meads can be broken into at least 20 categories. Changing the proportions of the same ingredient list can change a soda into a beer or change the category within a beverage type. Baudar’s favorite soda blend is mugwort, pinyon pine and pear.
Growing your own brewing garden is a great way to ensure a steady supply of your favorite ingredients. Baudar describes several herbal drying techniques from simple, inexpensive techniques like hanging herbs in a paper bag to using an electric dehydrator.
Brewing techniques can vary from steeping, cold brewing or hot brewing. Fragile aromatic herb flavors are often damaged by boiling so they are cold brewed or added late in the brewing or fermenting process.
Fermentation vessels and other equipment are thoroughly explained and illustrated. Baudar prefers natural carbonation from yeast rather than adding carbon dioxide gas. Under pressure, carbon dioxide is absorbed back into the liquid. When the pressure is released, lids may pop and bubbles fizz to the surface. Baudar shares tales of exploding jars of green pinyon pine syrup as an important lesson on why to use an airlock or a loose-fitting lid so concoctions do not explode during active fermentation.
As fermenters’ experience grows, Baudar recommends experimenting with a local “terrior” brew using bark, cones and mushrooms (safe varieties) from nearby forests, scrub areas, fields and/or gardens.
“The Wildcrafting Brewer” contains historical backgrounds and recipes for wines, meads and sodas. Baudar also includes ethnic beverages, bread and fruit kvass as well as medicinal brews.
The book’s Resource List includes reference books covering American and regional plants and ingredients.
Baudar advises pregnant women to defer experimenting with alcoholic beverages or teas made with herbs like horehound, wormwood, licorice, mugwort, yarrow until after their child is born. Experimenters should “start with something they actually know is not poisonous or unhealthy…a successful starter should smell good too.”
“The Wildcrafting Brewer” is an excellent follow-up to Baudar’s first book “The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir” released in 2016 by Chelsea Green Publishing.
Read about Pascal Baudar at www.chelseagreen.com/writer/pascal-baudar. Based in greater Los Angeles, California, Baudar continues his work as a wild-food researcher, wild brewer and food preservation instructor. His classes and seminars have introduced thousands of home cooks, chefs and foodies to Nature’s magical flavors. Find a schedule of Baudar’s upcoming programs at http://urbanoutdoorskills.com/schedule.html.