Marjan Waterborg serves cultured drinks in her Overland Park kitchen. Born in a Paris suburb to Dutch parents, Waterborg prepares “cultured” water kefir that isn’t pretentious, but is fermented and alive with good bacteria.
She and husband Jakob (Jaap) — a retired biochemist and native of Venlo, in the southeastern Netherlands — have been married for 42 years and moved to the Kansas City area in 1988.
Waterborg tends her vegetable garden and also delights in baking and breaking bread with others, including her three children and two grandchildren. “Marjan does so much,” Jakob says. “And she makes it look easy.”
Q: How did you begin this epicurean exploration into fermenting your own water kefir?
A: My brother-in-law, Shanti, started me on this path, and I have been making water kefir for two years now. I don’t drink soda and love the taste of this refreshing, fizzy beverage.
Water kefir has probiotics that I believe aid in digestion, and it is a great alternative for people who want the probiotic health benefits but are lactose-intolerant and don’t want to consume milk kefir.
My daughter suffered from tummy troubles but now drinks a large glass of water kefir daily and those symptoms have subsided. Of course, this is what works for my family and me, and I would encourage others to read and talk to their own doctors to discover what will work best for their health.
Q: In America, there is so much food marketing about going grain-free. What exactly are water kefir grains?
A: Water kefir grains consist of bacteria and yeasts, which exist in a symbiotic relationship. Water kefir “grains” only describe the look of the culture — as in granules — and don’t contain any actual grains, such as wheat, spelt or rye.
Some people may shy away from water kefir because of their perception of a relatively large amount of sugar in the recipe. But you don’t actually drink all the sugar; it is added to feed the kefir culture. From what I’ve learned, the citrus starts the fermentation, and the dried fruit is essential to keep the process in balance. The mineral salts are essential for cell growth.
Make sure to invest in equipment that is glass or plastic, because metal is damaging to the kefir grains. I purchased my water kefir grains online, but sometimes the grains thrive and multiply and someone who makes water kefir may share extra grains with you. The best part is that if you continue to feed the grains and take care of them, you can use them over and over, and they will take care of you.
Because the water kefir’s first fermentation is complete every other day, I have bags measured out with the sugar, dried fruit and salt. For the citrus, you can also scrub the outside peel with baking soda if you can’t find organic oranges and grapefruits. I do all the prep work, cut up the fruit, and store segments in the freezer. When one batch moves onto the second fermentation, another batch is ready to be made.
Q: Do you always practice having your French “mise en place” when preparing food?
A: My husband, the biochemist, is much more exacting than I am when it comes to following a recipe. My style of cooking is not too fussy, and I will never throw away food. I am at my best when fixing something with leftovers and will not waste even half of a potato. If I’m not able to combine leftovers to make a new dish, I will deem dinner “Tapas Day” — in honor of the small Spanish savory dishes — and we have little bites of everything.
I bake a loaf of bread every day and have been adding flax and chia seeds to the dough before it became fashionable to do so. The woman who taught me how to bake bread gave instructions by feel.
“How hot must the water be?” I asked her, and she would take my hand and put it into the bowl. “This warm,” she would say.
“How much flour do you add to the dough?” I would question her, and she would respond, “Until the dough feels like this.”
Q: Whether you’re cooking, gardening or decorating, all of your pursuits seem to be a hands-on, creative expression.
A: My father, Arnold Calon, once told me that I have a little bit of a farmer in me, and I think this comes from a desire to make something out of seemingly nothing and the satisfaction in doing so. I enjoy the transformation of a seed into a plant that bears fruit, which we can eat. I also save seeds from the vegetables I grow and use those the next year for my garden plants.
I enjoy creating beauty in a room, whether I’m painting the walls or reupholstering furniture. And, of course, it is wonderful to feed and nurture my family with healthy foods. The Dutch have a saying before we eat, which is, “Smakelijk eten!” which means, “Tasteful eating!” So when we drink water kefir together, we raise our glasses and toast to good health, “Proost!”
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
About 16, 1/4 -cup servings
Be sure to measure all ingredients using glass or plastic utensils; no metal should touch any ingredient.
4 cups purified water with minerals
5 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
2 dried unsulfured figs
8 unsulfured raisins
1/4 organic orange with rind
1/4 organic grapefruit with rind
1/16 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt crystals
1/2 cup activated water kefir grains
Pour water into a 2-quart glass jar and add cane sugar. Stir with a plastic spoon until sugar is dissolved. Stir figs, raisins, orange, grapefruit and salt into sugar solution. Gently add kefir grains to jar and cover top with a plastic lid or coffee filter secured with a rubber band. Do not allow metal to come into contact with any ingredients.
Place filled jar on a countertop where it will be undisturbed and out of direct sunlight for 48 hours. After 2 days, the fruit will rise and bubbles will float to top of liquid.
Using a plastic spoon, skim fruit off top of liquid and place into compost bin. Pour mixture into a glass bowl, using a plastic strainer to catch kefir grains.
The strained liquid can be transferred into a bottle with a plastic or swing top lid. Place bottle back on countertop for 12 hours for the second fermentation. After 12 hours, place bottle in refrigerator and chill for at least 3 hours. Carefully open bottle when ready to consume, because contents can be very carbonated.
Rinse 2-quart glass jar well with filtered water. Start another batch of water kefir by reusing grains and continuing the process of fermentation as directed.
Chef’s note: Water kefir grains can be purchased online at CulturedFoodLife.com, started in Greenwood, Mo., by Donna Schwenk. Unsulfured dried fruit can be purchased in grocery stores with dedicated health food sections.
Per serving: 9 calories (none from fat), trace fat (no saturated fat), trace cholesterol, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 29 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.