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Before even speaking with Elizabeth Vecchiarelli, owner of a cute little shop called Preserved in Oakland, California that adorably bills itself as "a hardware store for developing your pantry," I wanted to know about her sauerkraut class. If you poke around their website for long enough, you'll find yourself in the same pickle (sorry): It's clear that Preserved is more of a school than just a store, a place to learn about lost cooking arts like fermenting and preserving rather than just a place to stop and shop.
And as it turns out, that spirit of teaching—and specifically, of teaching her friends how to make fermented foods—was Elizabeth's inspiration behind opening this tiny shop in the first place.
Born and raised in urban New Jersey, Elizabeth didn't always spend her spare time fermenting vegetables. But her first jobs were in fine dining, and she eventually traveled abroad to work on organic farms through the program WWOOF—so perhaps the hobby was inevitable.
About a decade ago, she was living in Philadelphia and working at a restaurant called Tria Café. "That's where I learned about wine, cheese and beer specifically," she explains. "So I'd say it got me excited about the history of fermented foods and their common denominator: fermentation." Education was at the heart of the eatery's mission—"[they were] trying to take away that stigma, the air around wine and cheese, to make it approachable for everyone"—and Elizabeth worked their for three years, all while entrenching herself in the local fermenting community.
It was about this time that she also came across a copy of the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, which was out of print at the time and therefore likely all the more alluring. Katz, an AIDS survivor and food activist, wrote about using creative preserving, beyond just jamming and canning, to turn food into medicine.
"It just kind of caught fire," Elizabeth recalls of how obsessed she became after reading the book, going so far as to pick up and move to Portland, Oregon in 2008, which was at the time the definitive epicenter of the fermentation movement. There, she found a workshop about fermenting vegetables, and a like-minded community. Eventually, she was hosting "fermenting parties," hybrid workshops and social events, and getting recruited by friends to teach informal classes.
But it wasn't enough. "I wanted to take more nutrition classes, holistic nutrition, so I could understand these foods on a physiological level," she remembers, so in 2012 she enrolled in a Holistic Nutrition Consuntant Certification program at Bauman College and moved to the San Francisco Bay area. The classes were inspiring, but she was having a hard time sourcing all the necessary supplies (ones so readily available in Portland) to keep fermenting.
Classes, community, supplies—a business plan for Preserved, long just a far-off dream, started taking shape in Elizabeth's mind.
"Not just a café, or a bar—I wanted workshops," she remembers, "and a place to come and get your supplies. A sort of hardware store for fermenters." To get retail experience, she shadowed the owners of the home goods store Neighbor (they even let her host workshops in their backyard), until she was able to find a storefront. And when she did, Preserved was born.
And that sauerkraut class that hooked me was the first iteration of many workshops—Preserved is now hosting them twice a week, every week. "[Sauerkraut is] the easiest, it’s what I recommend people start with!" she says. Her recipe, below.
Update: A previous version of this article stated that Elizabeth was a regular at Tria Café and had a masters degree from Bauman College; it has been corrected to reflect that she worked at Tria for three years and got a Holistic Nutrition Consultant Certification from Bauman.
TRISCUIT supports makers and food business owners who take cues from simple ingredients. That's why they teamed up with Indiegogo to create the Triscuit Maker Fund, a special event supporting 55 inspiring, growing food projects, big to small, in need of funding. See all of the projects here.