I wish I could take credit for that lovely title, but the credit goes to Sandor Ellix Katz. Sandor wrote a wonderful book holding the title “Wild Fermentation” containing a slew of valuable information. In it he describes his love of fermented foods and how he believes they have assisted in his battle with AIDS. Check out his site and his book.
Let’s talk a little about fermentation….
Our bodies are small ecosystems. We function most efficiently and effectively when populated by a more diverse range of microorganisms. These microscopic organisms surround us. When we utilize them properly we can then increase our susceptibility to disease. By fermenting foods yourself you are then using those microorganisms present in your environment to build a healthier being. Becoming more connected to your environment and thus better able to fight off infection and disease.
Furthermore, fermented foods contain probiotics, a term you are probably familiar with. Probiotics are beneficial to the digestive system. A healthy digestive system is vital to a healthy body. When the digestive system is unhealthy things like diarrhea and gastrointestinal ailments can occur, but so can things like weight gain, allergies, fibromyalgia, poor immune response, depression, eczema, asthma, even ADD/ADHD. You can read more about poor digestion and healing the gut here.
Did you know… Bread, Cheese, Wine, Beer, Mead, Cider, Chocolate, Coffee, Tea, Pickles, Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Miso, Tempeh, Soy Sauce, Vinegar, Yogurt, Kefir and Kombucha are all fermented foods?
Now let’s talk about fermenting YOUR OWN foods….
Fermenting is an ancient process. It is simple and requires little equipment.
You can do it yourself!
The basic concept of fermentation is so easy you will wonder why you have not been doing it all along. And once you taste how alive your food is when you have fermented it yourself you will be hooked.
Vegetables. Salt. That is pretty much it.
The basic recipe for sauerkraut is cabbage and salt. Nothing else. You do not need starter culture or special tools. Now, you can create your own recipe. You can add any vegetable you like. Well, eggplant doesn’t seem to work so well, but the majority of vegetables AND fruits work quite well. And you can add seasonings like garlic, rosemary and my favorite, celery seed.
Here is how it works…
You layer shredded vegetables with salt in a large bowl, massage it in, put it in a crock or some kind of glass or ceramic container with something to hold everything under the developing liquid and allow it to do its thing for about 2 weeks.
Now, to many this sounds like rotting food, but IT’S NOT. The salt acts as a preservative. As long as you have the vegetables fully submerged you will not develop any mold. And if you do, you really can just scrape it off and everything else will be just fine. But do it right and you shouldn’t have to worry about that.
Here is my recipe for sauerkraut –
1 medium green cabbage
1 medium onion
2T finely ground sea salt
1t celery seed
2 large cloves garlic
*I find that when making this in the fall/winter the cabbage gives off less liquid, allowing for mold growth on top because there just isn’t enough to keep it fully submerged. I remedy this by using 1 cup of water and 1 teaspoon of sea salt to add extra brine.
Slice the cabbage and onion in about 1/8 inch slices
Place a layer in the bowl with 1/4 of the minced garlic
Cover it with a large sprinkle of salt and celery seed
Massage well for about 1 minute
Repeat the process 3 more times using the remainder of the ingredients
Now layer into a glass or ceramic container
Being sure to press each layer down tightly
Now use something to help hold everything down
A plate, lid to a canning jar, whatever fits your container
You really want something glass or ceramic
Plastic can leach toxins and metal will probably corrode
Then put a weight on top – I used a glass filled with brine here
At this point you can add brine if you choose
(I say yes, especially on your first try)
You want at least 1/4-1/2 inch of liquid above the vegetables
Although, this can take a day or two to develop
Now cover with something that will allow air flow but keep anything else from getting in
Cheesecloth, coffee filter, that sort of thing
You can make this by closing the container completely
Then opening every day to allow for gases to be released
But I prefer to allow all those microbes the ability to get in there
Plus this way it’s pretty worry free
Now you wait
Typical fermentation takes 10-21 days
Start tasting yours after about a week and see what you prefer
You will find that the flavor changes almost daily
Some of what I have learned about fermenting….
My first experiment with sauerkraut was a disaster. Well, only because I got scared and threw it away! I made it with purple cabbage, put it in the pantry and forgot about it…. until one day about 2 weeks later my husband opened the pantry and said “WHAT is that smell?”
I had tried this pretty method that used a full cabbage leaf folded just right to fit on top. Not realizing that I would still need a weight to hold it down. The result, a moldy, smelly leaf. Now, everything underneath was really just fine but because the leaf did not have any salt to preserve it and was above the brine it started to smell funky. I confess, I am a bit squeamish when it comes to food and mold. I wasn’t taking any chances and surely could never have brought myself to actually try any of it.
DO NOT FORGET THE WEIGHT. Period.
I have found that I really like a young ferment, but absolutely love it aged as well. When you find it is at the point you want, put it in the refrigerator to stop the fermenting process. It will stay for a VERY long time. Although it will probably still develop its flavor.
I start a new batch about every two weeks, maybe a bit less. By the time the first batch is gone, another is ready! But I have another confession… The first batch rarely makes it to the refrigerator. I just can’t stop eating it! My mouth waters every time I enter the kitchen.
Just scoop out a serving and be certain to press everything back down.
Be sure to try other vegetables!
Everything takes on a different taste. And when you mix them you can create a heavenly array of flavors.
A few more things about fermenting….
Serve cold or at room temperature. Heating can kill the healthy bacteria.
The amount of salt you use can vary. Some ferment salt free (this results in a very soft vegetable). Use more salt in warmer climates/seasons and less when it’s cooler. Experiment with salt levels and find what works for you.
Did you know TRUE pickling does NOT include vinegar? Fermenting food is actually pickling. The use of vinegar is a short cut.
Fermenting increases vitamin levels
Fermented foods contain numerous helpful enzymes, lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide and small amounts of benzoic acid
Fermented foods have antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances
Fermenting prolongs the life of food
In the 1770’s Captain James Cook saved his crew from scurvy and death when 60 barrels of kraut lasted them 27 months and provided them with ample nutrients
What’s not to love? Start fermenting your own foods today!
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