When fermentation turns sweet: A mother’s day request for something sour

by Sally on May 6, 2011


that's me at 11 months old with the most inspiring and loving person i know

Mother’s day is coming up and as you all know I have the best mother out there. Sure your moms are great too, but for me, for my life, my mom is the best. Not only does she offer unconditional support, encouragement, love, and hugs, she also NEVER wants anything for Mother’s day.

Of course, when I was younger I joined my classmates in making useless crafts to hide under my bed with excitement until Sunday when I got to run into her bedroom and wake her up with my presents (no sleeping in for my mom!) Like the great mom she is, she kept shelves of clay handprints, pipe cleaner hearts with beads, and paper wind chimes (which by the way get tangled and rip, and don’t make any sound—like I said, useless crafts). But she kept them all, until years later, when I came home from college I convinced her it was time to toss the pen wrapped in clay and replace it with my diploma. (Okay, confession: we still have the pen wrapped in clay– that was a cool one).

Anyways, as we got older mom did start to make one Mother’s Day request. And how could we deny it? How could we deny the superhero who somehow booked major media tours and made book deals while simultaneously attending our schools plays? So each year my [rockstar] sister and I await the email that comes in, reminding us that next week is mom’s vacation week at the Golden Door Spa. Depart date: Mother’s Day Sunday (head’s up clients–you probably got the email too).

Every other week she works her ass off. She deserves it! So we say, sure thing mom, sayonara! Ciao! Bye!

Except this year she requested a goodbye dinner, too. To be prepared by me, last night, and to include the tremendous abundance of leftovers that had accumulated in the fridge over the last two weeks from a variety of media trainings. Nothing should go to waste while she is out of town, another maternal lesson I can’t really argue with.

I was happy to tackle the challenge head-on since last week’s office guest was heart surgeon, martial arts guru, and chef, Dr. Mike Fenster. Fenster demoed a number of recipes and left behind a ton of cabbage that didn’t end up being used. Naturally my mother, being the challenging inspiring and motivational woman she is,  requested I give homemade kimchee a shot. Sure thing mom, I can become an expert in the Korean staple kimchee and the process of fermentation in just one (business) day. Hey, what can I say? Mothers like to think their kids are capable of a lot.

I called upon client, friend, and Boston based food writer Jacqueline Church to help steer me in the right direction. Corinne even sent me this video to watch the process. By the end of the day I had uncovered The Kimchee Cookbook (Periplus, circa 1999) in our library and I was ready to ferment some cabbage. I was nervous, excited, and trying to convince mom I wasn’t going to kill her with my lack of fermentation experience. Sure she expects a lot, but moms are big time worriers too!

Here is a photographic account of what I did:

Sliced carrots and daikon radish


after the salted cabbage soaked for a few hours it got rinsed a BUNCH of times

then i made rice porridge using rice four and water, the fish sauce was added after it cooled completely

Korean hot peppers and fish sauce got mixed into the porridge

all the veggies got sauced, along with garlic and fresh ginger

i tossed the cabbage separately to make sure the spicy coating got evenly distributed

now everything gets sauced

the smell reassures me i am on the right track



sh*t i really did it!

Turns out, after a little encouragement and push from mom, I was left feeling accomplished and proud in only a way mom can help you achieve. Thanks Mom, Happy Mother’s day!




Sally May 9, 2011 at 9:26 am

Sally, what a lovely tribute to your mom–she is lucky to have such an appreciative daughter!

Aunt I May 9, 2011 at 9:36 am

Great blog Sally! You really have a gift for writing and I look forward to seeing what you come up with next. Love you!

Alex May 9, 2011 at 1:20 pm


This is awesome! I might visit a place where they make kimchee when I visit Korea this summer.

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