With a simple search on YouTube, you can become skilled in perfectly applying liquid eyeliner or how to fix a plumbing problem. Our groceries — as well as full meals — can be delivered straight to our front doors. And the majority of our questions can be answered with a quick and painless Google search.
It’s safe to say that technology has made our lives simpler, but there are some things that can’t — and shouldn’t — be learned the quick-and-easy way.
Olga’s mother once told her, “Many new things are nothing but well-forgotten old ones.” And this is absolutely the story of Olga’s kombucha journey, as kombucha was one of the first words she learned from her great-grandmother, whom she called “Baba” as a child growing up in Siberia.
Dora Schreiner was born on November 16, 1908 in Siberia, lived through the Russian Revolution, survived two wars and raised four children on her own. Olga says, “My Baba Dora was truly an amazing woman.” Olga fondly remembers her Baba in the kitchen with a glass of homemade kombucha in hand, which she believed to be the answer to any problem, just like a kiss on a boo-boo.
When Olga was born, Baba moved into the family home to help raise her until she was three years old. Baba was there for Olga’s first words and first steps, but most importantly, she taught Olga to love and appreciate food. And, of course, Baba was the one who poured Olga her very first glass of her homemade kombucha. Little did Olga know, years later, this sparkling probiotic beverage would still remain a huge part of her life.
What Olga remembers the most about Baba’s kombucha is the flavor. Baba would make a simple, “plain” kombucha and then flavor it with whatever was in season, using what was growing in her yard. Olga remembers rhubarb being a favorite ingredient, as well as honeysuckle, black currant, lingonberry and sea buckthorn berries, which were native to her town in Russia. And as Baba picked her ingredients, she taught Olga plant and flower names, as well as all of the smells associated with these special ingredients.
Olga grew up enjoying her Baba’s kombucha recipe every day until she moved to the U.S. in 2000. But, it wasn’t until Olga was expecting her first child in 2005 that she started to crave the taste of home in the form of that fizzy elixir. When Olga began making those first batches of booch, it was then when she realized she needed to reconnect with her Old World roots and share the recipe with others. At about the same time, Olga’s child and BABA’s Brew were both born.
Although, Olga didn’t initially intend to be in the kombucha business: While Olga was growing up, she said she’d never can, store and ferment food like her family was doing, but she changed her mind as she got older. “I spent all of my childhood in Russia. In March, we’d start seeds; in the spring we’d plant them outside; in the summer we’d harvest. And then at the end of the season, we’d jelly, pickle, ferment and can. Sometimes we would cut and be surrounded by cabbage all day long. I just wanted to go outside and play and be a kid.”
But, when Olga came to the U.S., she was in a state of total food shock. She went to the grocery store and saw canned, peeled potatoes and wondered why people would buy that. TV dinners completely blew her mind. Olga started eating differently after living in the states and didn’t feel like herself anymore. One day, she stumbled upon a farmers market, found a jar of kimchi and immediately wolfed it down and felt whole again. At that point, she decided that she needed to can, pickle and ferment, just like her family once did.
The most important thing Olga tries to pass along to her own children, just as Baba taught her, is the respect for ingredients and not being wasteful or taking for granted beautiful, flavorful foods. Baba Dora ploughed through her life with a great attitude. She truly was a minimalist and appreciated every little thing she had.
Making kombucha has turned into a family affair for Olga, as her children are heavily involved in the process, and they love the family recipe. “Kombucha was one of the very first things my kids drank after milk. We used to have kombucha on tap, like a free kombucha bar!” she says. “Each of my kids have a favorite flavor that I make for them. One loves honey chamomile, while the other loves blueberry. They always weigh in on new flavor ideas and give honest feedback.”
And, as if making kombucha wasn’t completely in honor of Baba, Olga decided to also include her on the label. When Baba was a young girl, her father affectionately called her “Little Red Squirrel” due to her tiny build and fiery red hair. This nickname stuck with her throughout her life and was the inspiration for the BABA’s Brew logo.
“This kombucha adventure is a dedication to the memory of my beloved Baba Dora – my Little Red Squirrel,” Olga says.
- Feature photo: BABA's Brew
- All other photos: Ed Williams