Welcome to another installment of Three Gems Tea Breaks, where we have tea with our interesting pals doing interesting things! Today we're sipping tea with Jessica Wang.
How would you describe yourself and the work you do?
I am a second-generation Chinese-American artist and pastry professional turned Chinese food culture preservationist and fermented food workshop host.
What are your three gems for making tasty pickles?
Super fresh and juicy produce, natural salt, and collaborative bacteria!
How should someone new to pickling get started?
Talk to a friend or family member who is experienced in fermenting! Happy to be that friend to you! Get a copy of Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, pick up the freshest vegetables you can find, and start simple with pickling cabbage or non-starchy root vegetables. Use food safe vessels you already have in the kitchen, and make sure you pair suitable weights to match vessels to ensure your ferments are submerged under the brine level. Upgrade to designed fermentation vessels when you’re ready to commit and go big. It helps to have a good vegetable knife.
Who have been some of your pickling mentors?
My first pickling mentor was my grandma, Nai Nai. When I was in my early 20s I spent a lot of time with her and she taught me how to make Chinese cucumber quick pickles, encouraged me to pickle watermelon rind, and gave me a verbal recipe on how to ferment jiuniang, unfiltered sweet rice wine. I saw her take vinegar shots every now and then! She has me convinced my desire for fermented foods and taste for sour is in my genes.
A beloved Southern California food historian and master preserver, the late Ernest Miller, was the person I formally trained under back in 2015. I was lucky to have gained fermentation training through Ernie as a student of Can It! Academy, which was offered through Food Forward.
Sandor Katz has been a consistently inspiring pickling mentor in my experience, which began with an introduction to his books, shared with me by my dear friend Rachel Khong. Attending his fermentation residency at Walnut Ridge in Tennessee last year was intensive and inspiring!
What can pickles teach us about life?
Pickles naturally teach us how to be patient, observant, and caring. Just like keeping live plants at home and animals for pets, they help us learn about maintaining healthy relationships, and how rewarding they can be. They also expand our awareness of what is in our control and at the same time remind us that there are things beyond our control. Not everything will turn out as expected and sometimes a project may result in major disappointment, but we can’t let those experiences prevent us from trying again because when it is good it is out of this world good and you can't help but want to share it!
Any favorite recipes for extra-fermented pickles?
Extra-fermented pickles (and their juices) are great for brothy soups or braising dishes! As far as soups go, kimchi stew is a familiar one, or Sichuan fish and pickled radish soup. Just be sure to adjust salt after first tasting the pickle enhanced dish in progress. One of the easiest things you can do (if you eat eggs) is to marinate boiled eggs in pickle juice overnight. One thing I'd like to add: sipping on straight teacups of brine can brighten your mood and energy in the afternoon and you might have a better balance of "extra-fermented" juice left for cooking with. You'll quickly find that sharing your pickles is part of the recipe for a happy pickling lifestyle!
What tea are you sipping?
I am generously sipping Orchid Fragrance Oolong, the first Three Gems tea I was introduced to. I brewed it in a porcelain mug tea set with a built in matching strainer, gifted by my mom Peggy. I let it brew while I washed a few dishes, about 5 minutes. I like to re-steep it in a shorter teacup up to two more times and every time I am impressed by how much it has to offer.
It is comforting and stimulating, with notes of dried fruit and a pleasantly round floral aroma that reminds me of dried rose petals.
When and why do you take a tea break?
I am not good at taking tea breaks but I have learned that they are necessary through experiencing the negative effects of not taking a tea break! I’ll never forget the time my friend Susan Yoon invited me over for a tea tasting hosted by her brother who just brought a variety of rare teas from China. He brewed round after round of exquisite teas from a tiny clay pot that went through multiples steeps. My senses were delighted and the conversation would weave in and out of the tea. It was wonderful. During the pandemic I am working in a less luxuriously social tea break for just myself a little after lunch time, in the mid afternoon when I need a moment to clear my mind and simultaneously pick me up to help me get through my usually rather ambitious to-do list!