The Kefir Project

About a month ago, a friend of mine invited me to a barbecue up at his house. He long ago decided I needed “more Christian friends” (which might be weird since I work for a church and I also go to a Bible study at another church and I still have contact with people at Then Church, but then again, in other ways, it might not be so weird after all), so he has invited me to this annual barbecue before. This time it was the day after “day” camp (a euphemism which is getting awfully close to dishonest) got out for the summer, and I had no other plans, so I packed up Oscar and went.

Given the fact that I occasionally go to events hosted by this group of Christian friends, I actually know a few of them now. In fact, I even know one who went away to Denver shortly after I met him and had returned about a week before this party. I felt so in the know . . . I welcomed him back, which was polite but probably illogical since it wasn’t like we really knew each other even though we’re friends on facebook. Somehow the fact that I had just gotten back from running a camp in Boondocks, New England, came up. “Oh!” he said, “I go out that way sometimes. There’s this couple on the way there that offer prayer for people on Tuesday nights.”

“I know!” I said. “I’ve seen that sign!”

I have seen that sign, too. If I take the Back Roads to camp from my house, instead of the Highway from Now Church, just before I enter the town, I drive right past a big old white house which has, for the last four summers that I’ve run camp, anyway, had a sign posted in the front yard reading, “Need Prayer? Stop here. Tuesday nights.” (I forget the hours.) Every time I pass that sign my heart leaps and my mind goes, “Enh–probably crazies.” I have often considered stopping to find out which one was right, but I’m never driving by there on a Tuesday night, and I never remember. Sometimes I think of posting a similar sign in my own front yard, but so far I haven’t done it. I wonder if I’d be a better pray-er if I did, or if I have to wait to be one before I can.

Anyway, apparently Lately-From-Denver and a buddy of his actually had stopped there one Tuesday night, and I guess now they’ve been out there more than once. Evidently it’s a very nice couple who have this prayer ministry, and they sit you in a chair and lay hands on you and pray for you. I still might try it sometime.

“The wife has also gotten me into kefir,” said Lately-From-Denver. Some of our fellow conversationalists were unaware of the existence of kefir. I was aware of it–I thought it was kind of like drinkable yoghurt–but I didn’t know much beyond that. Once in the 80’s my mom acquired a yoghurt-making ensemble–some little tray you plugged in and these little individual-serving-sized jars with lids, and I never had any idea how she made the yoghurt; all I knew was we had to stir jelly into it to make it taste interesting, and that was kind of a pain. But I have often thought, as an adult, that it would be kind of cool (and hippie) to make one’s own yoghurt. And now here was Lately-from-Denver talking about making his own kefir. Even more hippie, surely.

Apparently you can make milk-based kefir and water-based kefir, and I can’t imagine water-based because I still kind of have that yoghurt idea in my head and besides, now I’ve made some of my own kefir with milk and it’s even harder to imagine. But I have no reason not to believe him. Also, I’m not sure if the name “kefir” applies to the finished liquid product, or to the “grains” which go into the liquid to start it out. Also, Lately-from-Denver pronounces it “KEFF-er,” which to me sounds legit and is therefore how I say it, but everyone else I know who is aware of the product’s existence pronounces it “Keifer,” and all I can think of is the show 24. Which I’ve never seen.

So many questions.

Lately-from-Denver kept talking about putting “grains” in liquid, which made me think of little pieces of wheat, but the rest of his description sounded more like something out of Star Trek, because he also talked about how the grains self-propagate, so that if you have too much to manage, you can eat them, and how they ferment milk and such. He also, however, talked about the probiotic properties of this stuff (according to him, nobody quite knows what it is or where it comes from but it has been around for thousands of years, passed from hand to hand like Amish Friendship Bread), and how good it is for the stomach, and since I occasionally have issues with that part of my anatomy, and I was inclined to like the idea of sour milk that was safe to drink, for some reason anyway, when he offered to send me some “grains,” I enthusiastically agreed that I would like some. (Plus, sometime within the next few days I found out that toenail fungus, some of which I picked up the last time I got a pedicure–grrrr–is helped by probiotics. Yet another good reason to start some of this stuff.)

The grains arrived a few weeks later–the day before Hurricane Irene did, actually, so while I was shopping for other things, I also got myself three jars in which to enact this self-propagating, milk-fermenting, probiotic experiment. I brought the jars home, but didn’t start the process until after the Hurricane Day at The Boyfriend’s. That next day I read my Kefir Friend’s instructions very carefully from my facebook messages. I filled two of the jars 3/4 full of milk. I emptied one vial of kefir grains into one, and one in the other. I lightly set the lids on top. I left the jars on the counter. Then I spent the next 48 hours peering into the jars trying to see if anything was changing. That part wasn’t in the instructions, but it was probably inevitable.

It was pretty hard to tell, but 48 hours later, when I tried to strain the liquid, I could see that something had, indeed, happened. The milk was thickened, of a consistency similar to very fine cottage cheese, and with a rather yeasty smell. TWCN and Smiley-Guy were visiting by the time I got to this point in the process, and they both stared at me with fascination and possibly horror as they watched. TWCN remarked most definitively that she would not like to try this yoghurty-milk that Auntie Jenn was making. I wanted to be surprised, because she loves what she at least used to call “noghurt.” But I guess I wasn’t really.

I cannot tell a lie. (Well, I could, but what would be the point?) It was not love at first taste. But it might have been love at second. Unfortunately I’m still playing around with timings and proportions and so I have not made a batch as good since, but I’m committed now. Definitely hooked. And kind of amused by having a colony of ancient bacteria living in a jar on my counter.

[Author’s note: For more specific and informed instructions on making kefir, check out this site: http://users.chariot.net.au/~dna/Makekefir.html. As for acquiring the actual kefir grains–well, I don’t know how one normally does it without friends to send it along to one, and I don’t currently have enough grains to send any out, but I’m sure one of these days I will . . . )

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