Ramaa Mosley’s tale of growing up on an ashram and accidentally falling in love with fermentation, plus her killer recipe for homemade sauerkraut.
I was born on an ashram. If you saw the documentary Wild, Wild Country, about the cult in Oregon in the early 1980s, you’ll have a pretty good vision of my childhood. After my mom escaped with me she went to a number of other communes. The communities were always vegetarian; they grew and cooked their own food together. The meals were an important part of their spiritual life. A staple of breakfast, lunch and dinner was fermented foods. Often they would take their foods and sell them at farmers’ markets. My mom was always inventive and came up with interesting products to sell that the collective could make together. Long after we left the ashram she continued to develop her own recipes.
One classic was a dessert called the ‘no-Bake fruit cake’ which was made with smashed graham crackers and concentrated orange juice and raisins – she prayed over the ingredients to give it ‘love’ and then she mixed them together and pressed it into moulds. She would carefully make each one, wrap them in Saran Wrap and tie them with a ribbon. Then she would pack my brothers and I in her car and drive to farmers’ markets and crafts fairs to sell them for $1 each. Another recipe was kombucha which was a scary creature that would brew for weeks in a large glass bowl in our living room shelf next to books about yoga. To say that I detested both fruitcakes and kombucha as a child would be an understatement. I understood they were a commodity that allowed my mom to pay the bills but otherwise I found them supremely gross.
Which is why I grew up cooking for myself… because I wanted ‘normal’ food. There were always jars of strange concoctions in the fridge and it was the late ‘80s and I wanted packaged foods or foods that looked recognisable. I learned to roast, sauté, broil, bake and at nine years old would comb over cook books I bought for 50 cents at Bart’s book store in Ojai, collecting recipes for dishes that I couldn’t afford the ingredients to make.
I started directing as a teenager but if I wasn’t a director I would be a chef. Come to my house for dinner and I will make you rack of lamb, crusted with hazelnut and rosemary, with roasted red potatoes and a roasted romesco cauliflower with capers, salad fresh from the garden with a truffle dressing and dessert of gluten free apple crumble.
As a young adult, I achieved much of the normalcy that I wanted as a child: money to afford to cook what I wanted and the ability to make foods that my children could recognise. I could cook for eight or 80 people. And yet, last year, I found myself becoming increasingly obsessed with the strange and wonderful world of fermentation. I experimented in the kitchen till late at night. For months I came home from shoots and would cut and dice organic vegetables and let them sit to ferment.
And I now have mason jars in my cupboards and fridge filled with items that my own kids can not recognise. I fantasise about putting labels on my fermented wonders (Idyllic Farms is the name) and sending them to farmers’ markets and Erewhon to be sold. It’s that good. Really. I can’t explain how this has happened but it’s clear that the forces that hold the universe together have a very big sense of humour because I’m essentially now my mom.
So, I decided I will share the simplest, yet most enjoyable recipe I have with you – my recipe for making sauerkraut. It couldn’t be simpler but the ingredients are key, the temperature of the room you make it in is key and the care, time and attention you give the process is crucial.
Read the recipe HERE.
Watch Ramaa’s work HERE.