Regaining Control Through Fermentation

To ferment your own food is to lodge a small but eloquent protest – on behalf of the senses and the microbes – against the homogenization of flavors and food experiences now rolling like a great, undifferentiated lawn across the globe. It is also a declaration of independence from an economy that would much prefer we remain passive consumers of its standardized commodities, rather than creators of idiosyncratic products expressive of ourselves and of the places where we live, because your pale ale or sourdough bread or kimchi is going to taste nothing like mine or anyone else’s.”
~ Michael Pollan, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

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I ran a small group workshop today, happy to have kids joining us!

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Here is what I promised to those attending and those who couldn’t make it:

Fermentation 101: The Benefits

  • It is super EASY and FUN! (Involve your children, grandma, grandpa, neighbours, friends, colleagues!)
  • Does not require specialized or expensive equipment or ingredients: see equipment and supplies for creative options
  • Is a great way to take advantage of abundant seasonal/local food during harvest time
  • Almost anything can be fermented! (Veggies, fruits, nuts, legumes, grains, dairy, meats, fish, beverages…)
  • Provides good bacteria (“pro-biotics”) to your guts and restores its balance of what is known as the “micro-biome”
  • Fermented food makes certain foods more digestible, even for people with allergies such as lacto-intolerance, gluten-intolerance and the like
  • Food last longer than sitting on the counter or the fridge
  • Fermented food can be eaten alone, as a side dish or added to sauces, soups and salads
  • It makes good use of reusable containers
  • It brings different flavours and smells that were long forgotten

 

Fermentation 101: The Basics

Fermentation has been used by almost any culture in the past and it is still part of many cultures typical foods. Many foods we eat have been fermented in different ways before we can eat them: cocoa and coffee beans have to be fermented before they can be converted into chocolate and toasted coffee; many grains and legumes (pulses) need to be lightly fermented before being cooked or used into food preparation such as sour dough bread; dairy has long been fermented to extend its life in form of cheeses, yogurts, kefir, etc.; alcoholic and carbonate beverages are made of fermented fruits, grains or vegetables, same as vinegars of all types; even when we sprout seeds we are fermenting!

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Some things to take into account:

  • Food safety: as in any food preparation, make sure all surfaces are clean of dirt and clutter. No need to sanitize and do not use chemicals or detergents to clean surfaces: just wipe with water and vinegar. As fermented foods may cross contaminate with other foods, make sure you don’t leave your sauerkraut close to your kombucha, yogurt or cheese.
  • Water: wash all your vegetables and fruits with tap water, no need to add anything else. Some vegetables (such as the cabbage for sauerkraut) may only need to be stripped off the cover leaves.
  • Water: if using water to add brine or for vinegars, leave the water over the counter or boil it and cool it down, to get rid of chlorine
  • Salt: use non iodized salts such as Kosher, Sea salt or pickling salt (make sure it doesn’t contain anti-caking agents either)
  • Whey: if you have made cheese or yogurt, you can use the left over whey to start a new fermentation project; you can also take whey from commercial plain yogurt by draining it overnight. Whey lasts 2-4 days in the fridge and weeks if put in the freezer

Fermentation 101: Equipment and Supplies

For most projects, you’ll need:

  • A bowl (preferable glass, ceramic or wood)
  • A wide-mouth container such as glass jar or ceramic crock
  • A smaller container such as a smaller glass jar (to weight the food under the brine)
  • A cutting board (better if wood)
  • A good knife
  • Tea towels (can be made of up-cycled old clothes) to cover your projects

At home, I collect jars of all sizes and even the mesh where some fruits come as it works as a cover for sprouting big seeds.

If you want fancy equipment, see the resources section below, you can buy online or go to the store (more fun and supports local businesses while making new friends!)

Fermentation 101: Troubleshooting

First, trust your senses: before the age of the fridge and supermarkets, we were all equipped with the best sensors: our noses, our eyes, our hands and our tongue/palate. Believe me; you’ll know when food has gone bad: your senses will tell you. Never eat anything that doesn’t look, smell, feel or taste healthy!

It is better to start with small batches, so if something goes wrong, you don’t waste so much food…and remember that the compost accepts almost anything!

Things you don’t want in your fermented food and may be a sign that something went wrong are:

  • Kahm Yeast (pink or white cover that extends tentacles everywhere)
  • Mold (usually green, blue or black patches of hairy stuff, yikes!)
  • Food looks/feels slimy
  • There are creatures living there!
  • Lack of enough brine: the food has become dry , you may still rescue it adding some brine
  • Too salty: while not bad, may not be edible. Make sure you use a range of 1-3 table spoons of salt per 1 litre jar of (fermented) food
  • Turning pink when original vegetables were not pink/red

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Fermentation 101: Recipes

Sauerkraut

  • Cabbage (green and/or purple): about 1 medium for 1 litre jar
  • 1 to 1.5 table spoon salt (pickling, sea salt, non refined)
  • Any other vegetable you like, such as carrots, radishes, onions, cilantro, garlic, shallots, green onions, peppers…etc
  • Any spices as you like: peppercorns, caraway seeds, etc.
  • Fruits: apples are a good combination for sauerkraut, but be creative and add others if you like

Steps:

  1. Chop cabbage into thin slices (as if you are making coleslaw)
  2. Chop any other vegetables small or shred them
  3. Chop any spices finely
  4. Mix vegetables with salt in a bowl and massage to bring the juices out
  5. Add spices (chopped or shredded) and mix
  6. Stuff all into a 1 liter jar, weighting down with your hands
  7. Weight down to bring brine up, add non chlorinated water if needed
  8. Cover with an uptight lid and leave it to ferment in a warm place
  9. Check for flavour and any trouble every day, make sure all vegetables stay under brine

Variations: try shredding or slicing zucchini instead of cabbage. Add carrots if you like their flavour. Other vegetables for sauerkraut: kohlrabi, radishes, parsnips, turnips…

Basic kimchi

  • Sea salt
  • 1 liter non chlorinated water
  • Chinese cabbage (1 pound)
  • Radish
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • And/or leeks or shallots
  • Garlic
  • Hot chilli peppers in any form
  • Fresh grated gingerroot

Instructions:

Caution!: wear gloves and handle chilli or jalapenos with extra care. If burned, wash with hot water and soap and then cover with vegetable oil. Repeat until you feel relief from burning. DO NOT touch other parts of your bodies when handling hot peppers!

  1. Mix water and salt to create a brine
  2. Chop vegetables coarsely (only cabbage, carrots and radishes)
  3. Add any other raw vegetable you like (also coarsely chopped)
  4. Soak vegetables in the brine for a few hours or overnight
  5. Prepare the rest of spices in a bowl
  6. Drain brine from vegetables, rinse them if too salty
  7. Mix vegetables with the ginger-onion-chilli-garlic paste
  8. Pack all tightly into a quart (1 liter) jar
  9. Weight the vegetables down the brine, add some of the earlier brine if not enough
  10. (You can use the older brine for soup or making pasta or rice)
  11. Cover the jar with a light (not tight)
  12. Ferment in a warm place. Taste everyday until ready, then move to fridge

Fruit Kimchi

  • Pineapple
  • Plums (pitted)
  • Pears (cored)
  • Apples (cored)
  • Grapes (stemmed)
  • Cashews or other nuts
  • Sea salt (2 teaspoons per 1 quart/litre jar)
  • Juice of lemons (1 or 2)
  • Small bunch of cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • Hot red chillies in any form
  • 1 leek or onion finely chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of grated ginger

Steps:

  1. Chop fruit into bite-size pieces but leave grapes whole
  2. Add nuts
  3. Add salt, lemon juice and spices, mix well
  4. Stuff all mixture in a clean 1 litre glass jar
  5. Weight all down until brine rises, add non chlorinated water if not enough
  6. Ferment in warm place, covered
  7. Taste for flavour everyday, then move to fridge
  8. Enjoy! WARNING: (it will develop alcohol)

Apple Cider Vinegar and Pineapple Vinegar

  • Cores and peels from pineapples or apples (you can also do this with other fruits but results may vary)
  • About 1 cup sugar or honey
  • Enough water to cover and add 2/3 on the top of the fruit left overs

Steps:

  1. Put fruit leftovers into a crock or big glass jar
  2. Add the sugar or the honey
  3. Add water (remember, non chlorinated!)
  4. Cover with a cheese cloth and sit in a warm and dark place for 1-3 weeks, undisturbed
  5. Once it is bubbling and all the fruit floating, discard the fruit (add to compost!) and drain the liquid
  6. Leave the liquid to ferment for another 3-4 weeks until it forms a clean rubbery layer on the top (the “mother”).
  7. This is your ready to use vinegar. Use it in vinaigrettes and salads, raw. DO NOT use this for pickling or canning as acidity varies!

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Fermented Apple Butter

  • Apples, cored and peeled (about 4 if you want two 500ml jars). They can be a bit “old” (actually this is an excellent way to use those old apples that nobody wants anymore)
  • Honey (I use raw honey, organic), about a cup
  • Apple cider vinegar (1/4 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (from a lemon!)
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon ground
  • Whey (from the cheese above, about 1-2 tablespoons)
  • Some thyme (optional)

Steps:

  1. Cut the apples into chunks and put them in the tray, cover them with half of the honey
  2. Bake the apples for a few minutes (until they are tender, don’t overcook, about 30-40 minutes at 350F)
  3. Take them from the over and puree them with a fork or masher, let them cool down
  4. Add the rest of the honey, the lemon and cinnamon, the vinegar and the whey and mix until it becomes a paste
  5. Leave this to rest for about an hour, covered with a cheese cloth
  6. Pour the puree into the glass jars, bury some thyme into each and put the lid on
  7. Allow if to ferment overnight at room temperature
  8. Put inside the fridge the next morning and allow it to “age” for a few days…if you can resist the temptation!
  9. Enjoy! (It should last about a month if refrigerated, same as the cheese, it doesn’t last more than a week in my house!)

Resources:

Books:

  • Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz
  • The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz
  • Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

 

Websites:

 

Cultures for health: lots of recipes and products and free downloadable books: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/

The Survival mom: http://thesurvivalmom.com/march-skill-of-the-month-make-your-own-vinegar/

Mastering Fermentation (book is amazing!): http://masteringfermentation.com/

 

Where to buy cultures, equipment and take workshops on self-reliance (I teach there!):

 Homestead Junction: http://www.homesteadjunction.ca/

Address: 649 E Hastings St., Vancouver, BC V6A 1R2 Canada

My profiles:

Homestead Junction: http://www.homesteadjunction.ca/pages/meet-our-teachers

Gaia College: http://www.gaiacollege.ca/silvia-di-blasio.html

UBC-Farm upcoming workshops: http://lfs-ubcfarm-epayment.sites.olt.ubc.ca/upcoming-workshops/aug-20-introduction-to-small-space-gardening-balconies-containers-patios/

Questions? Send me a line through “contact me” in this page!

9 thoughts on “Regaining Control Through Fermentation

  1. I still have the stoneware pot and lid my mother used when she made sauerkraut. For her this was just part of life. It was a skill you learned if you wanted to eat well, especially during the winter months.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good question, I’m not sure how fluoride affects fermentation, I particularly have had no problems with mine as I use little water (except for when I make vinegar) and always use boiled tap water. But filters may help and also a distillation unit, check first, as not all filters get rid of fluoride

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You are very welcome. Fermenting is easy and once you start you’ll never stop (it is addictive if you like living things and are in awe by Nature’s processes…there are many posts on fermenting and I’m now in the process of organizing them so people can find them easily…

      Liked by 1 person

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