Rabu, 14 Mei 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

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

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.