As every kombucha brewer knows, behind every great brew there’s a potent old mother.
But wait… isn’t it rather insulting to talk about your old mum in that way? Don’t we show respect to our elders? Well indeed we do. So much so that we name them.
We are talking about our mother cultures, of course – the very essence of a great kombucha.
Most people brewing kombucha at home will hold back some of their previous batch and use this to to inoculate their next brew. Many small commercial brewers also do the same. However, this can lead to all sorts of longer term flavour and potency problems.
At the Real Kombucha Brewhouse, in order to create the greatest flavour and consistency in our brews, we maintain and grow a number of old mother cultures that we look after with enormous care and attention. To create the perfect brew we need to ensure that each of our cultures has exactly the right balance of yeasts and bacterias, that each is strong and potent, and that there are no stray natural microbes that can cause off-flavours in the final brew.
This is pretty similar to the brewing of craft beer and wine, only with kombucha you are dealing with multiple bacterias and multiple strains of yeast, all working in unison, leading to much greater complexity in the final brew.
We test our old mothers constantly to ensure that they will produce the great flavours we love. We feed them with a carefully developed liquor and any time they get out of balance we tend and care for them to coax them back to perfect health.
So it’s not a surprise that we also name them. As they are strong old girls that all produce potent progeny, we have named them (with a little artistic licence) after strong mythical or literary mothers that have all produced similarly influential daughters.
Our old mothers are Gaia, Leda, Natalia, Molly and Jane. We’d show you photos but we’re guessing you’d prefer to hold down your lunch. They may be beloved, our old mothers, but they ain’t pretty.
You will all know Gaia as Mother Earth in Greek mythology, or the ancestral mother of all life.
According to Hesiod’s theogony:
“She lay with Heaven (Uranus) and bore deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronos the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire.”
Gaia is believed by some sources to be the original deity behind the Oracle at Delphi. Depending on the source, Gaia passed her powers on to Poseidon, Apollo, or Themis. Apollo is the best-known as the oracle power behind Delphi.
As old mothers go, Gaia is pretty much the boss.
According to Greek mythology, Leda was an Aetolian princess who became a Spartan queen. Leda was the mother of Helen of Troy, Clytemnestra (the wife of Agamemnon and queen of Mycenae), and the boys Castor and Pollux.
As the story goes, Leda was seduced by Zeus in the guise of a Swan on the same night as Leda had slept with her husband Tyndareus. The result was the birth of four children from two eggs, Castor and Clytemnestra from one egg, and Helen and Polydeuces (Pollux) from the other. Therefore, Castor and Clytemnestra were fathered by Tyndareus, whereas Helen and Polydeuces were fathered by Zeus.
Another potent and powerful woman, from which to draw inspiration.
Our 3rd Old Mother is based upon the Countess Natalia Rostova.
(Spoiler alert!) Throughout the ups and downs of Tolstoy’s saga of War and Peace, the family Rostov has to deal with a series of trials and tragedies, all against a background of constant money troubles due to the disorganisation of the loveable but hapless Count Rostov. The Franco-Russian war tears the family apart and leads to the loss of their home and their beloved Moscow. Love causes endless upset among the four Rostov children and the ultimate price of war is paid with the death of the youngest, Petya Rostov.
But throughout these terrible tragedies it is the matriarch, Countess Natalia Rostova, that holds the family together. She is a background character, but ultimately provides the strength and fortitude to protect and maintain the family.
I think we all know Molly Weasley, mother of Ron and de facto mother of Harry Potter and Hermione. A pure-blood witch, she was born into the Prewett family and was sister to Fabian and Gideon Prewett, members of the original Order of the Phoenix.
Not only did Molly attend Hogwarts in the early 1960s and graduate with flying colours, but she produced seven children, something that as a father of only two gives me great respect. She was also was a member of the revived Order of the Phoenix following the return of Lord Voldemort, and participated in the final battle of the Second Wizarding War, her actions leading to the death of Bellatrix Lestrange.
A formidable woman indeed, and one that produced a strong and influential brood.
Jane Austen did not produce children of her own, but the strong heroines she conjured up in her six novels are some of the toughest and most resilient young women in literature.
Perhaps the most familiar to us all is Elizabeth Bennett, of Pride & Prejudice fame. Lizzie is intelligent, independent, a great observer and commentator, level-headed and resilient when others around her are losing their cool. She is staunch when the family (and not least her own mother) is flapping due to family strife and turmoil. She demands little but, in time and with patience, she achieves the most.
Strength of character, individuality and independence of thought are a common trait in all of Jane Austen’s characters, eschewing female dependence upon men, traditional within her circles at the time. Whether the eponymous heroine Emma Woodhouse, who is fiercely independent, Anne Elliot, intelligent and accomplished, Fanny Price, sensitive and shy but thoroughly resilient, or the modest and sometimes naive (but highly imaginative) Catherine Morland, each displays distinct characters that mature as they develop – individuals to the last.
All of which reminds me of our Real Kombucha brews.
We haven’t reached the stage of actually talking to our old mothers, but it has been suggested. It is enough for now to look in on them every day, to feed them when they need it and to give them the right care and attention. Hopefully this will keep them going for many more years, producing many, many more children… or perfect batches of kombucha.
In time, more of our kombucha babes will grow into old mothers. Let us know your thoughts on other great mother-figures that can become namesakes for our future brews.