Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Story of a Fermented Oat Flummery



Yesterday was the 100th birth anniversary of my maternal grandfather Ernst Johannes, known to his family and friends as Orika Ärni. A proud father of five, grandfather of 11. He died in 1981, when I was still just 6 years old, so I don't have many memories of him. I remember he was a big, quiet and stoic man, and know that he had worked hard in his farm all his life, mainly breeding pigs and milk cattle, as well as growing various grain crops (he had been lucky and wasn't deported to Siberia by the Soviets, but he did lose his large farm to the collectivisation, of course, leaving our family with just a fraction of the original farm). Although we spent at least a month every summer at our grandparents farm, and visited frequently, I cannot remember much of him. I have this image of him, sitting silently on the steps to one of the side-buildings of the house, just observing quietly what we, the kids, were doing. He wasn't the type of grandfather who'd play and chat with his grandchildren - I had my 'urban' grandfather for that :D - but I do remember forageing for wild mushrooms with him, even encountering a big brown bear on one occasion that we watched silently.

But there is one vivid food memory related to my grandfather that I wanted to share. During our annual month at the farm, my grandmother would regularly take a big saucepan, fill it with oatmeal and warm water, and leave it to ferment in a warm spot for a day or two. She'd then cook it on the huge stove in the corner of the old farm kitchen, stirring with a large wooden spoon, until it turned into a grey, gluey flummery ('kaerakile' or 'kaerakiisla' in Estonian). It was my grandfather's favourite dish, and there were always several bowls of cold flummery on the shelves in the large walk-in larder. It didn't look appetising - being a bland grey colour - and we avoided it at all cost, volunteering to pick berries from the orchard and eating these instead. But my granddad liked it, so my grandmother cooked it.

I spoke to my grandmother Senta (who celebrated her 88th birthday last week) yesterday, and she told me that she didn't like flummery to start with - actually found it pretty discusting, but gradually she grew fond of it:

Eks ta alguses oli üsna vastiku maitsega, aga pärast hakkas istuma :D

Well, I made the flummery yesterday to honour my grandfather Ärni. It definitely wasn't the most delicious dessert I've had, so I need to persist and learn to like this, just like my grandmother did. But it felt really good to eat my granddad's favourite dish on the day he would have turned 100.

Fermented Oat Flummery
(Kaerakile)

250 g old-fashioned oats or oatmeal
1 l lukewarm water
salt
sugar
butter

Mix oats and water in a large bowl, cover with cling film or a kitchen towel and leave to ferment in a warm spot for 24-30 hours. It needs to smell slightly sour, but pleasant at the end.
Pour the mixture through a fine sieve. Cook the resulting whitish liquid on a moderate heat, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon to avoid sticking, until it's thickened considerably and become gluey.
Season with salt and sugar.
Serve warm with a dollop of butter or cold with a spoonful of jam. Drink cold fresh milk alongside.

19 comments:

Noema said...

I've been following you silently until today, when I read your story: what a beatiful thing to keep someone's memory alive by remembering his favourite dish!

TadMack said...

Wow. Flummery, huh? What a fascinating dish. It doesn't sound like a dessert, quite, but I'll bet you will learn to find its good points.

Or, if not, you can add some flour and baking powder and make really light crisp waffles out of it... that's what my mother does with oatmeal and warm water that have sat out for a day and slightly fermented...

Mariajaan said...

Hello! And what else do you add to it? Maybe some sugar or cinnamon? Does the picture show hapukoor as well? Greetings from faraway!

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful way to honor your grandfather. I wish I knew what my grandfather liked as much. I know he loved and expected a dessert every day and his wife obliged.

Lota

Evelin said...

oi, sul on kaerakilemälestused!:)

ma olen alati tahtnud seda proovida, aga pole julgenud teha. Sest äkki ei maitse ja siis on kogu see eesti toidu fiiling rikutud. tundub kuidagi tähtsa, kuid kahtlasena...

Minu vanaisa armastas külma mannaputru:) Aga, tead, seda ei sööks ma vist mingi hinna eest...

maybelles parents said...

very nice post. It is wonderful that you are keeping yoru family alive.

Anonymous said...

what a touching post, pille dear. my grandfather is soon 85, alive n kicking, n he always used to cook us porridge when we were kids. inspired by u i will ask him what is his absolute favorite dish. guro.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I do the same kind of thing to remember those special people. It just seems right. Lovely post Pille.

Elina said...

minu kaerakile mälestused kahjuks pole nii ilusad. meie naaber nimelt suht regulaarselt varustab meid selle "maiusroaga". minu ema sööb seda mõistagi rõõmuga, aga mulle ei meeldi kohe üldse. võibolla kui olen kord 80 aastane vanaema, siis on lood teised...

Dagmar - A Cat in the Kitchen said...

What a gorgeous post, Pille. What a beautiful way to honor your grandfather!

lobstersquad said...

that´s a sweet post. I don´t think I´ll be trying the dessert, but hey, I never have my own grandfather´s favourite philadelphia cheese with sugar, so I think it´s ok.

Ibán said...

Pile, this is a most wonderful story Both the remembrance and the dish create a unique thing...honestly, this is more than just a post...one can tell that there's a bit (or a lot) of you inside. Beautiful.
You can bet that I'll honour your grandfather in Spain too (I guess I'll have to aquire this taste too!).

Beautiful.

*Technical question: would Scottish rolled oatmeal match your "Old fashioned oat"?? Or do you mean a special kind of oat??

Jeanne said...

What a lovely post PIlle - and how lucky you are to have the memories you do have of your grandfather. I never knew my paternal grandfather and only met my maternal grandfather once or twice. I can't say I'm entirely convinced of the wisdom or deliciousness of this dish... but I love the idea of honouring somebody by making their favourite dish.

Cassandra said...

Hello,

I've been reading your blog for ages but have been silent up till now. But this post really touched me! I'm very close to my grandparents- thankfully they're both still alive & well- and I know that an important part of our closeness is the foods we've eaten together. Taste is so closely related to memory, I feel... my paternal grandmother died years ago & I still distinctly remember her chocolate cake & her meatballs in tomato sauce. Thanks for a lovely & moving post,
C.

Anonymous said...

Oh, what a surprise - it was also my granfather's favourite dish. I remember it took the whole day to cook (after fermenting was finished). As a child I was convinced my granddad wanted it because he liked the thought of his loving wife diligently preparing food for hours, just for him.

Beware, it is NOT edible. ;) But as it belongs to wicked category "sheep eyes for special guests", it is something to offer to Anthony Bourdain, should he visit.
Terv, Kadri

Anonymous said...

It was lovely reading. I think, however, that MAKING the meal already serves the purpose of bringing up memories. I would rather skip the EATING part.

The post also associated with my favourite author Alexander McCall Smith: he speaks of a lone young man wearing a sweater the colour of distressed oatmeal. It seems that the kaerakile was exactly what he had in mind!
Hille

ScienceMel said...

What a touching story. I'm glad you found some comfort in family traditions.

Anonymous said...

Mmmh, I love oats in all forms and shapes, but my "significant one" thinks it stinks already badly enough when I make porridge for breakfast...
I wonder what he is going to say if I try the fermented versione ;-)

Unknown said...

Flummery is soluble fiber and Pectin. After you have fermented it, you use a cheese cloth to strain out all the oats. Then use it to Jelly fruits that don't have a lot of Pectin. Like Strawberries. Just use flummery in place of pectin and process it the same way you normally do.