Amiralsgatans Speceributik is slotted into a row of gothic buildings behind a crossing of humming arterial roads in Malmö, Sweden—just over the Öresund strait from Copenhagen. The grocery store’s bold lettering arches over whatever produce is in the window that day—a harvest of organically-grown wildflowers spilling out of a bright Hinza shopping basket (a design native to Southern Sweden’s Skåne region), plump Italian peaches and broad beans plucked yesterday by a local farmer, Hampus who runs OlliÅke Farms.
In a fridge inside, next to an countertop array of chunky cheeses from Berlin’s Alte Milch, and thronged by high, laden shelves, are jars of Saltat ferments. Consider the names: Sea Kraut, Pretty in Pink, Sol in Sinne. Not oceanic Krautrock, not John Hughes, not Byredo, but culture of another kind.
They are made by Polish-American Kathe Kaczmarzyk, a fermentation educator, expert, and enthusiast who uses locally-farmed produce to lead a delicious array of flavors. The aforementioned Sea Kraut is made of seaweed, golden beets, white cabbage, ginger and burdock root. There’s also a summer special: green tomato kimchi, which is laced with piment d’espelette and tastes like a punchier version of a green tomato pickle that made cheese and rye sandwiches a welcome staple growing up.
Kathe moved to Malmö after itinerant years hosting fermentation workshops for the public and the food industry. Alongside, she worked with urban farmers and bakeries in Baltimore; churned cultured butter in Oxford; worked at a farmers' market in London; a cheesemongers in Berlin, and won a residency with fermentation luminary, Sandor Katz, in Tennessee. Both smaller and more affordable than London, Malmö was conveniently home to a steady urban farming culture, and seemed to offer a greater chance of getting involved. You can now find the ferments here in Speceributik, the grocery store Kathe started up in 2020 with her Swedish partner and chef, Jesper, when sluggish pandemic property sales meant she could cobble together enough for a production kitchen, with an adjunct space, initially intended to host workshops.
For all her love of ferments, Kathe isn’t evangelising. In fact, she would rather take them down a notch. “People either put fermentation on a pedestal or find it really scary, which is why I wanted to run workshops to demystify the process,” she says. “I would always start a workshop off by bringing four or five different flavours, so everyone could try and see that it’s just a little bit of salt and adding different vegetables and spices,” Kathe explains. “You don't have to be a chef, you don't have to work at a restaurant, you don't have to grow koji! Sauerkraut can be something really special and unique.”
Beyond all her practical training and personal research, Kathe’s knowledge has deep roots. She grew up in a Polish-immigrant family, in a mixed immigrant neighbourhood of Queens, New York. In her household, ferments including sauerkraut, kefir and sourdough were a daily staple. “I didn't learn that ferments were popular until I was in college [at Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art] where people were like, ‘It's this health thing, it's really good for you’!”
It was amidst the deep grief of losing her mother while at college that Kathe began to explore fermentation herself. Making ferments and giving them to people became a way of staying busy, and she found a community in the local urban farming movement. “When I was getting into food for myself, my mom passed away. I started making ferments because it's actually something we didn't do so much at home. We used to buy our sauerkraut and sourdough from the Polish store as it was so readily available.” She also wanted to make something special from leftover produce. “It naturally came together”, she says.
Kathe’s work is driven by connection: between culture and agriculture; the simple magic of a conversation and the knowledge passed on; and the act of sharing food itself. Passionate about both food and the environment, Kathe and Jesper founded Speceributik to make small-scale, sustainably farmed produce more readily available to locals. The stock is their pride and joy—and it’s steadily growing as they seek to fill requests from customers: “We know everyone because we contact them directly or we're friends with them. We feel like that's the way that food shopping should be,” says Kathe. They hope for it to be a place that welcomes locals and Jesper stresses that their goods are there for the everyday and pricing is transparent.
“What we want with our shop is for someone to come in, feel comfortable asking us questions about the produce, where it comes from and what we suggest making with it,” says Kathe. “We want to make people extremely comfortable with food in general and rebuild that relationship with what is grown by local farmers, closest to home.” A conversation about what to have for dinner, in front of an absolute bounty of produce, seems like a good place to start. I went home with heavy bags and with Jesper’s recommendation to pair peaches, tomatoes, anchovies, and oregano flowers. It was one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten—the tomatoes syrupy, superlative and Swedish, the peaches perfumed and unparalleled, the oregano both floral and savoury—and a tacit reminder to seek out better produce. It speaks for itself.
Recipe for Kohlrabi, Turnip, & Radish Kraut with Miso and Ginger
Through her work in fermentation, Kathe has learned that sauerkraut recipes don’t have to primarily be made with cabbage, and that they can be adapted to enjoy the bounty of produce during the growing season. For this Time to Make, Kathe demonstrates this by mixing radishes, kohlrabi, ginger and miso for one of her favourite takes on sauerkraut.
Hakurei turnips: 450g
Kohlrabi (skin removed): 630g (save a few tops and bottoms from the kohlrabi to use as your “vegetable weights" and wash off any dirt that may be on them)
Red Radish: 227g
Habanada pepper powder (or any mild chili powder): 12g
Sea salt (coarse grey) : 30g (and extra incase you need it)
Miso (one that is light and sweet, I use Ama Mugi Miso from Mimi Ferments): 9g
Fresh ginger: 5.5g
1 large bowl
Mandoline and/or a box grater
2 Litre glass jar with lid (or a ceramic fermentation crock). No plastic!
- Blend the miso, ginger, and garlic. Set aside.
- Using a mandoline or a box grater, slice or grate all your vegetables. You can play around with different cuts and the thickness of your cut. I enjoy having this ferment with the vegetables sliced thin on the mandoline, but another nice option is to grate half the vegetables.
- Place all the vegetables in a large bowl, add your pepper powder, paste of miso, ginger, and garlic, and mix everything to spread the paste and powder amongst the cut vegetables (it does not need to be perfectly distributed here, just so the paste is not in one large clump).
- Add salt to your bowl. Do not massage the vegetables too hard! A good method is to toss the vegetables together as if you’re tossing a salad. Within a minute or two of tossing the salt should start to naturally pull the liquid from the vegetables and your paste should be nicely distributed. Taste the vegetables, you want it to taste slightly above your salt palate (almost salty like the sea). If you need more salt, you can always add it in. Stop tossing once you have a small pool of liquid that has formed at the bottom of your bowl.
- Start packing your vegetables into your jar. Start with a small amount at the bottom and really pack them in to make sure there are no air pockets. Continue to do this until you fill your jar 3/4ths of the way (place a small amount of vegetables in, press it down, and repeat).
- Once you’ve made it 3/4ths of the way to your jar, you should have been able to fit in most of the vegetables and the liquid (you can also fill the ferment in multiple smaller jars, just fill each jar 3/4th of the way).
- Place the kohlrabi tops and bottoms on top and press them down to act as a weight for your ferment. The most important thing to remember at this stage is keeping all of your sliced vegetables under the brine that you have created! (The brine is the liquid that has naturally formed). As your ferment undergoes fermentation, the liquid becomes brine that houses most of the good bacteria and protects your vegetables from any pathogenic bacteria.
- Close the lid. This type of fermentation is an anaerobic ferment (meaning it does not require oxygen).
- Take your jar and place it in a cool dark place (a great place is always a cupboard, most importantly just keep the jar(s) away from direct sunlight). You can also place the jar(s) on top of a plate in case some brine runs out to save you from any future mess.
- Ferment for at least a week. If this is something new for you, play around! Make the ferment a few times and ferment for different lengths of time. If you would like something more acidic, ferment for two to three weeks. Remember, things ferment faster in hot weather and slower in cold weather so depending on where the ferment is undergoing fermentation, this will have a major effect on the outcome. Try to avoid opening and closing the ferment during fermentation since letting oxygen in can cause mold and yeast to form. If mold and yeast does form, it should form on your “vegetable weights” first (so you can discard those) and if any of your sliced vegetables are sticking above the brine and have some yeast and/or mold on them, discard those as well. Anything that is below the brine is always fine!
- Once you are done fermenting, stick the ferment in your fridge and enjoy! The ferment never stops fermenting in the fridge, it just slows it down. So if you keep your ferment in the fridge for a longer period of time, the taste and texture can change and will become more acidic and a bit softer.
Remember, wild fermentation is alive! The best way to become comfortable with it is to just try again and again and play around. You can swap out vegetables in this recipe, add more of something or less, the world is truly your oyster when it comes to fermentation.
Watch Kathe demonstrate this recipe on our IGTV channel.
Interview by Ruby Goss.
Photographs by Nana Hagel.
Image above recipe courtesy of Kathe Kaczmarzyk.