The kitchen is alive at the moment. Better than alive; it is thriving. Under the sinks, in a space just high enough for the airlocks, there are two demijohns of bubbling honey-water; on the warm shelf on top of the pass are jars of carrots, asparagus and turnips, each brined with its particular citrus and spice, and murkier pots of peel and trim, ageing into edibility. A bowl of plain water and strong flour teems with fungus and bacteria. Today it smells good and sour, reminiscent of rye and pickle and milk – tomorrow it will smell of yeast, of warmth and buns and baking. In the hot dark, squid entrails slowly change.
We chop and pound dead matter, sow it with salt and starve it of oxygen – and life springs up from these airlocked graves. It’s like bloody Dracula. Maybe the whole coffin-full-of-native-earth thing was to keep him stocked up on the bacteria and fungi which supported his particular microbiome; perhaps a vampire is merely a highly advanced form of pickle. There is certainly something (as they say) of the night about the whole process – if you want to look at it that way. I prefer to see it as a creation myth. Various cultures have given us worlds birthed from the brains of giants, the testicles of elder gods, raven shit and living clay; we create a squawling life from compost and salt – our breath moving over the cabbagey waters.
Chop stalks of kale, broccoli, or kohlrabi; mix in 100g of salt and 50 of sugar to every kilo of vegetable. Squeeze and crush it in, and leave overnight.
Tomorrow, make a paste of green chillies, garlic, spring onion, mint, and fish sauce or seaweed; mix and pound that in, too. Pack into jars, seal tight, and leave for a week. It lives!