Skagit Valley is almost synonymous with bounty. After all, Skagit and Snohomish counties grow 95% of the U.S. supply of beet seed and 75% of the U.S. supply of spinach seed. Every spring, hundreds of people come to see and sniff our tulips. “Fresh” as a concept will never grow old– but where is the funk?
Enter Kirsti McGuire with Junebug Ferments. The name may not be familiar to you (yet), but this one-woman operation is an up-and-coming force in fermented food with focus. Currently, her wares are available in limited places: Check at farmers markets in Seattle and Skagit as well as Christianson’s Nursery, Well Fed Farm Stand, Tweet’s Cafe, and Pioneer Markets in La Conner and Sedro Woolley for an unforgettable jar of fermented joy.
McGuire’s goofy smile, joie de vivre, and silly manner betray a lifetime of adventure. A Skagit native herself, she and her mom opened Tweet’s Cafe. She’s traveled the world as the head chef of a yacht. The government has contracted her to cook for scientists in both the arctic and the Antarctic. When she finally tried to settle down, disaster struck.
After buying a house in Skagit Valley, Kirsti started to develop harsh symptoms of an autoimmune disease. Modern medicine, as innovative as it can be, failed her with every pill and prod. Going back to what she knew best, she sold her house and set sail internationally again.
During her travels, McGuire was emboldened by every country she encountered with fermented food. She finally realized that this could be part of her answer: the magic of lactobacillus interacting with the gut-brain axis. After a mistaken boat trip put her on an unfamiliar Greek island, she poured herself into the works of Sandor Katz, a food writer known for his writings on DIY fermentation. Perfecting her craft, McGuire returned to Western Washington to spread the word about their benefits.
Scientific studies of fermented foods are limited, but so far the evidence is very promising. As McGuire puts it, “Creating good gut health is like creating healthy fertile soil for all of your other systems to grow strong.” Fermented foods are a great source of both nutrients and probiotics– and, of course, they’re undeniably tasty. Personally, I felt over the moon the day after sampling McGuire’s wares.
When it comes to Junebug’s product lineup, there is much to taste, from traditional krauts to novelties like fermented plum ketchup. McGuire’s excitement not only for the tastes but the benefits of her fermented foods is also infectious. Presented with five sauerkrauts, a fermented mustard, and a beet kvass drink, I dug in.
Winter sauerkraut flavors include lemon nettle, classic, winter leek, apple turmeric, caraway kimchi, and Salvadoran curtido. Every single one was bright and beautiful, with the international ones steeped in travel and respectful to their inspirations. The Salvadoran flavor was inspired by curtido, a common topping for pupusas. Personally, I’m a sucker for nettle in any culinary endeavor and wasn’t disappointed here.
McGuire deftly intertwines her international travel experience with a love for her home county. Most of the ingredients come from a small list of local farms; these include Ralph’s Greenhouse, Viva Farms, Well Fed Farm, and Frog Song. Ingredients not found on farms are often foraged by McGuire herself. These ingredients include burdock root, spruce, fir tips, and sea asparagus (a vegetable I am surprised and intrigued by).
Ever since I experienced Junebug Ferments, I’ve traded my nighttime olive snacks for a fork full of funk. If you’d also like to find out what the fuss is about, check online for a list of retailers and to see which market you’ll find McGuire at next. Bow, junebugferments.com