Make *KIMCHI* The Video

Formidable Vegetable Sound System's new single, 'KIMCHI' (from their forthcoming kids' permaculture album 'Grow Do It') is out on August 19 and can be downloaded here.

We are pretty excited to post this video clip and interview with Charlie Mgee of Formidable Vegetable Sound System a music group with fun antique-beats and a fantastic message!

FermentWorks:  It sounds like you grew up with an unusual childhood. Did food play a part in defining you? Did you grow up with fermentation? (Until recently that alone would be grounds for middle school social suicide—a fermenting crock on the counter. For me (Kirsten), it was being sent to school with garlicky hummus sandwiches that sent the garlic odor wafting from my desk through the classroom. It was the early eighties in rural Arizona...)

Charlie Mgee: I actually didn't discover fermentation until my mid twenties! The only fermentation I remember as a child was my Dad forgetting about the apple juice and opening it up a month later to find it had turned into cider. (We didn't have refrigeration, so this happened on more than one occasion.) I thought it was gross and actually had a bit of food paranoia growing up. Discovering fermentation certainly changed that!

FK: Formidable Vegetable immediately struck us as sounding like fermented vegetable and for some people a fermented vegetable is a formidable thing indeed—daunting, disturbing, and frightening—though that is changing quickly. We are curious how the name Formidable Vegetable Sound System came about?

CM: Haha! I've often considered changing our name to the "Fermentable Vegetable"! I came up with the band name pretty much on the spot as we were getting on stage for the first time and the MC wanted to know what to call us. It was just a random concoction of words that I blurted out! Seems to have stuck, though.

FK: Why kimchi? How does FVSS see kimchi as a fun solution to our toughest challenges?

CM: I see the production and preservation of our own healthy foods (fermented and otherwise), grown and prepared in our own homes as an incredibly fun and rewarding solution to some of the challenges we face globally. For instance, we'd reduce carbon emissions by making our own kimchi from locally grown produce instead of importing it pre-made from Korea or elsewhere. If people ate more fermented foods, the general health and wellbeing of the population would most likely improve, which could take a lot of pressure off the health system! On a deeper level, (and anyone who has ever fermented anything may have experienced this) there is some kind of profound, intangible meaning you get out of connecting with your food by inoculating it with the local, indigenous strains of bacteria and yeast and then consuming these into your body. I see it as a way to sort of become 'native' to any place where you live by literally 'eating the culture'! Also, it's just yum! There are just so many benefits from this simple food!

FK: It looks like you guys had so much fun with this song and the video. We would love to hear the backstory on how a kimchi how to song came about?

CM: After touring the world in 2013 with our first album, Permaculture: A Rhymer's Manual (link: http://music.formidablevegetable.com.au/album/permaculture-a-rhymers-manual-2 ), I decided to write an album for kids that would encourage them to grow and eat healthy food. You might think it a challenge to get a 4 year old to eat kimchi, but I'm happy to say that it can, and has been done! One of the ways to get kids to eat good food is to make it super fun, and maybe even a bit silly - which is exactly what we did with the Kimchi song! Getting covered from head to toe in radish, chilli and fish-sauce on a stinking hot Australian midsummers day is not the most comfortable experience, but the result was hilarious! Suffer for your art, I say!

FK: On the serious side FVSS has a real mission through “pounding sustainability deep into our consciousness in the funkiest way possible.” It is great to see a positive spin on getting the ideas of sustainability that in FVSS’s case are rooted in permaculture principles. (Christopher is trained in permaculture and we have a food forest on our farm.) Where do you see it all going?

CM: I'm really excited to explore the kids' show idea a bit further, so we're looking to do a heap more in that area. After playing mostly adult festivals for three years and somewhat 'preaching to the converted', I realised that the people who most need to know this stuff are the kids! Permaculture has some incredibly helpful solutions to solving problems of climate change and energy-descent that would no-doubt be of great use to kids growing up in these uncertain times. I really feel like it's our obligation to empower them as much as we can to take care of the planet and other people better than we have!

FK: We invite you to share your fermentation story. Where did it begin? What is your best flavor invention? And because one always has to ask—any epic fermentation fails?

CH: Kimchi is where it all began for me. After a friend gave me a jar she'd made, but could no longer stomach, due to her being pregnant, I was hooked! I have this wild theory that fermented food also inoculates your brain, leaving you craving more, so I was on a mission to try out as many different styles as possible after that. My favourite invented flavour I think was a berry kombucha I made once using flavoured herbal teabags... It tasted like healthy, probiotic soda! There have been oh-so-many epic kimchi fails! On entering a festival in Canada, we were given a warning that they weren't letting any glass into the campground, so I frantically jumped into the back of the van and stashed all of my nicely-bubbling jars of kimchi into my rolled-up futon mattress to hide them from security. We got them in, but on going to bed that night, I discovered to my dismay that they'd exploded all over the place, leaving me with the pungent odour of kimchi juice to lull me to sleep for the next few weeks on the road!
 

Grow Do It will be out on September 2 here!

Fermented Fennel Cranberry Chutney :: Recipe from Farm to Fermentation Festival

Fermented Fennel Cranberry Chutney

The Farm to Fermentation Festival in Santa Rosa, CA is near and dear to my heart as it is the first fermentation festival I had a chance to go to. In 2011 it was called the Freestone Fermentation Festival, which I wrote about extensively on this blog—the symposium, the feast, and the fest. The event has changed but is at its core still a wonderful way for people to explore the wonderful world of fermented foods and libations. 

It was delightful connecting with old and new friends in the fermentation community, including Kate Payne and Nora Chovanec who will be hosting me at the Austin Fermentation Festival in October. As many of you know I am working on a new book. I met Lisa whose story will be included in the book as she makes a mean fermented Sriracha sauce. It was also delightful to meet Nicole of FARMcurious and Karen who designed the Kraut Source fermenting lid.

The best part—always—is meeting and teaching you, the people, how to ferment vegetables.  I taught a class where we made fermented Fennel Cranberry Chutney. This recipe is in Fermented Vegetables but I made a pint size version for the class that I want to share here. 

This ferment is mild, sweet, and delicious and a friendly flavor for those who are less sure about fermented vegetables in their diet. This is particularly good with poultry—as an addition to a chicken salad or along side grilled chicken.

Fermented Fennel Chutney
Makes 1 pint

This version uses optional pure cranberry juice. The juice adds a little more flavor complexity, pink color and brine. The recipe works either way.

1 bulb fennel, sliced finely, tough parts of core removed
1 small to medium sweet onion, slice finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons raisins
1 teaspoon salt
optional:
2 tablespoons pure cranberry juice (the kind with nothing added)

Remove the fennel stalks (save for adding to soup stock) and any tough parts of the core. Slice the fennel and onions as thinly as possible; mince the garlic and place in bowl. Sprinkle in the salt and massage it in to release the juices. Add the cranberries and raisins. At this point you should have a moist mixture. Press into your favorite fermentation vessel. Follow the instructions that come with that method. Otherwise choose a jar that is just the right size.


Press the vegetables into the jar; there will be only a small amount of brine. Don’t worry if it “disappears” between pressings. As long as the relish is damp, you have enough. At this point you can add the optional cranberry juice—it will give you more brine and a nice pink color.
When you have pressed the chutney into the jar releasing air pockets, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface, again without trapping any air. Screw a lid tightly on the jar.


Put this in a corner of the kitchen to cure. Watch for air pockets forming in the paste. If you see them, open the lid and press the paste back down. If the lid starts to bubble up, simply open the lid for a moment to “burp” the ferment. 


Allow to ferment for 7 days. You will know it is ready when the color of the ferment has become dull and there is a slight pickle-y flavor.


During storage, the less airspace above a ferment the longer it will last, so fill the jars to the rim and transfer the ferment to smaller jars as you use it. Keep a small round of plastic wrap or wax paper directly on top of the paste to prevent evaporation and contamination. Tighten the lids and store in fridge. This ferment will keep refrigerated for 6 months.

Preserving Mint with Fermentation

Fermented Mint and Ferment'n Home Fermentation Kit

The idea of foraged and found ferments has been on my mind a lot lately. I have been experimenting with more and more wild ferments in my own corner of the world while out there my global Internet buddies are doing the same. Colleen Codekas is working with cattails and Annie Levy is also experimenting with foraged ferments. I have also discovered a wonderful little fermenting kit that is perfect for these small wild crafted ferments. Keep reading: this is our blog’s first giveaway.

Finding small nourishment from wild plants is seasonal eating at its finest. It is interesting to watch the plants (and animals) and see how they react with the subtle changes in seasonal conditions. A good friend of mine spent a lot of time rehabilitating the creek on her property (translated this means a few years of tenacious blackberry removal.) I watched as the native plants came back to the land—trillium, California spikenard, hedge nettle, cleavers, and many others. One summer we were inundated with thick smoke from forest fires for over a month.  It was then that she noticed that the coltsfoot completely disappeared. She then observed a lone squirrel inside a thicket of willow stems tearing off small strips of the coltsfoot leaves and eating one after the other. Herbal medicine recognizes coltsfoot as a lung herb.

Our days have been unseasonably hot this summer and hovering around 15° F above normal—today it will be 108° F. (We live in Oregon not the Sonoran Desert.) Luckily our mountain mornings are still cool if we get up early enough. We do our chores and any gardening before breakfast. Recently, I was back inside bracing for another scorching day when Christopher came into the house like a cool minty breeze—literally. He had been out foraging for the goats* and had tramped through a patch of wild mint. That smell reminded me of the cooling nature of mint. Mint is refreshing and finds its way into many cuisines where the climate dishes out heat.

As soon as breakfast was consumed I went out to the small spring fed riparian area below our house and picked a basket of mint. It has been fermenting for two weeks and is now finding its way into all sorts of cool no-cook meals—most recently a chilled cucumber yogurt soup. Without further ado I present you with a recipe for fermented mint leaves.

Fermented Wild Mint
Makes about a half pint

Find wild mint along water ways; if you don’t have access to that, garden mint works just as well. The most important thing is that the mint has not begun to flower. Be sure to use the larger leafed mint (link) and not the small leafed wild pennyroyal (link), which can be toxic. The other thing about the wild mint that I have been using is that it is drier and the leaves did not release enough water to even dissolve the salt properly—hence the brine. 

8 ounces mint leaves, stems removed
½ teaspoon salt dissolved in 1/8 cup of unchlorinated water

Roughly chop the mint leaves and add salt-water solution. Massage this brine into the leaves (your hands will smell great) and allow to sit in a bowl, covered for about a half hour to work out more brine. 

Press into a jar. Top with a ziplock bag, or pack tightly into a small jar for the burp method, or use your favorite fermenting system. 

This will need to ferment about 2 weeks. You will know it is ready when the mint has turned color from the bright dark green freshness to a dull dark green, as in the photo above. It will taste lightly acidic. Refrigerate when ready to store. It will keep for at least one year. 

Enter below to win Ferment’n, pictured here fermenting the mint. (This could be your new favorite system.) I have used Ferment'n's kit for 3 very different types of ferment now and have been pleased with the results every time. Recommended! It is a ceramic stone weight that fits into any size wide mouth jar. The unique lid that locks under your jar’s ring is a exceptional water lock that is less touchy that the usual air-locks that are drilled into a lid. To enter follow send a post to your followers on Twitter (and you could follow us while your there) or comment below and share your favorite wild ferment—real or imagined. 

*I know that sounds a little crazy but when we are on top of things we stack functions, in other words we feed our goats the blackberry canes that are always threating to hide our fences and choke our waterways. It is better food for the goats than baled hay and helps us keep up with the blackberries an armload at a time. It’s also important to note we are not homestead overachievers we are generally not that organized.



Micro-fermenting :: Small Batch Vegetable Fermentation

Small batch vegetable fermenting  followers . Note the veggies are submerged! Photo by Josh Ratza.

Small batch vegetable fermenting followers. Note the veggies are submerged! Photo by Josh Ratza.

Our collective stereotype for sauerkraut production comes from a different time and place—giant wood barrels or huge heavy crocks lining the edge of root cellars, that sour-krauty, pickled fragrance permeating the cool dark air. This mental image of what it means to make sauerkraut, while romantic in its self-sufficient, simpler time, homsestead-y way, is not how most home ferments are made. Most people do not want a committed relationship with five gallons of “sauering” cabbage.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Whatever the reason—a small kitchen, a small refrigerator, single or the single fermentation fan in the family, or simply the fun of experimentation and the desire to have a rotating variety of fermented salads in the refrigerator—small is beautiful.

And small requires certain considerations. Let’s start with the large crock of vegetables tucked away to ferment for three weeks—there is mass. This mass of the cabbage bulk helps keeps the weighted ferment under the brine. 

This isn’t how it is for small and tiny batches. They will need more baby-sitting. However, with a few management strategies your pint-sized ferment will work, it will be fairly easy and it will turnout delicious.

Keeping track of your brine

Because your ferment is small, it stands to reason you have less brine—remember this salty liquid is your kraut’s anaerobic armor. And keeping this brine in the ferment where it belongs will require a bit more attention while your ferment is curing. Often you will find yourself needing to press gently on your weight everyday. This will release the carbon dioxide bubbles that build up and bring the brine back into the ferment.

Submerging in brine: Conquers Evil Every time! This simple chant is all you need to remember to keep your vegetable ferments safe to eat. The rules for sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles apply to pastes, relishes, and other fermented condiments. To avoid a “krautastrophe” keep those veggies under the brine. Some of these condiments, like herbal ferments, have much less brine, but there is still enough. Other condiments like salsas or pepper pastes have so much brine that it is hard to keep the veggies from floating to the surface. In either case it is just a matter of managing the brine. 

The other challenge is simply weighing down the ferment. Small ferments require small vessels and usually this means the time honored mason jar. (We won’t talk about how many of these jars we own.) So you have salted and pressed your veggies tightly in the jar and you have left about 2 inches of headspace for the brine to expand (but not pour out) as fermentation happens. Now it is time to make sure they stay that way.  There are many strategies and many creative folks that have made air-lock lids for jars. 

The water-filled ziplock bag is a common method (explained in this previous recipe post) but about a year ago I discovered an alternative to plastic. Stoneware followers made for jars—whole (pictured for wide mouth jars) or split “stones" (for regular mouth jars). Josh Ratza has brought function and art together with the followers he designed for mason jars. Another potter with a unique weighting system is Mikael Kirkman.

Downsizing your recipes

We have found that to keep enough space for the follower, weight and brine it is best not to fill the jar to the shoulder. These weights are a guide to downsizing your ferment recipes and will keep your ferment in a good place. (Josh also includes a few small-size recipes if you buy his followers.) The salt quantities are 1.5 % of veggie weight, some people like a little more. A good rule of thumb is to taste it. You should be able to taste the salt. It should be pleasant and salty, but not briny like the ocean.

For a pint jar :: Use 3/4  pound of vegetables and 5 grams (or ½ teaspoon) salt.

For a quart jar :: Use 1  1/2pounds of vegetables and 10 grams (or 1 teaspoon) salt.

 

 

Hybrid Salsa :: Fermented and Canned

Home canned salsa has been a staple in our home for over twenty years. We usually make at least four dozen jars to last the year. We have used the same salsa recipe for as long as I can remember. Even though it is part of the fabric of our summer canning routine, our only copy is still a hastily handwritten recipe on the back of a scrap piece of paper. The paper is ragged and dotted with spills that span the seasons.

We have made several attempts at a fully fermented salsa, but those sweet sugary tomatoes just don't hold up for very long. To me, this fresh salsa ends up tasting like Pico de Gallo that got too old. We have continued to can salsa. (Interestingly, fermented tomatillo salsa preserves well and the flavors hold for over a year, but that is another blog post.)

We love this canned salsa recipe but have always wished it were thicker. Because of the lemon juice required for the low-acid vegetables, it has always been a bit watery. Last summer, as I made the first batch, I began to think about the lemon juice. Lemon juice provides the acidity to preserve the onions, peppers, and garlic, and insures that the tomatoes are acidic enough. I began to wonder—if I fermented the low-acid ingredients first, could I avoid the extra lemon juice? The two cups are a significant amount. I decided that next time I would try that. I checked the pH level of the “approved” recipe and put that aside. In a few weeks it was time to make another batch of salsa, so Christopher and I prepared everything but the tomatoes. We put this in a crock and fermented it for a week. When this pepper-onion mixture was ready, we prepared the salsa as usual. We tasted it and the flavors were balanced; the lemon flavor was not noticeably missing. Before jarring it, I checked the pH level and it came out the same as the original recipe, but the salsa was not the same. It was nice and thick.

This recipe makes 18 - 20 pints of canned salsa. These are processed in a water bath canner.  We are assuming, if you are interested in this recipe, that you have some experience in home canning techniques. If not check here. See the ferment and pickle pages at you can also download a PDF of the USDAs Complete Guide to Home Canning.

This recipe takes place in two sessions about a week apart. You will not need the tomatoes until after the rest of the ingredients have fermented.

7 quarts chopped tomatoes

4 cups chopped green chilies

5 cups onions, diced

½ cup jalapeños, diced

10 cloves garlic, grated

2½ tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons ground cumin

3 tablespoons oregano

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Week one: Prepare all of the vegetables and spices except the tomatoes. Salt and place in a jar or crock to ferment for a week.

Week two: Prepare the tomatoes and place them in a large stainless steel stockpot. Bring this to a boil. Simmer the tomatoes for 10 minutes. Add the fermented veggie mixture and bring back to a boil. Simmer for another 20 minutes. Follow USDA instructions for hot-packing salsa and canning in a water bath.

Ladle into hot sterilized jars. Process the jars in a water bath for 20 minutes.

Pickle Babies :: Fermenting the season's end

Baby Pickles - From garden to brine, pre-fermentation

In the Siskiyou Mountains of Southern Oregon, the weather and I are dancing—two-stepping in and around the autumnal edge of the garden—the killing frost. A cloudy day means I can push cleaning out the garden one more night and one more day of ripening fruit. A clear sky in evening after a glorious fall day often means that frost will skitter across the landscape. Some mornings before sunrise I stand with the brittle chilled hose spraying ice-cold water on plants to abate the coming damage. Because of the terrain and waterways it has frosted a few times in the last week but not landed in the garden. Beyond a few cold singed high flung top leaves of the squash plants, the hard frost has not landed as a death blanket across the tender annuals. I still had time.

It is of course double edged like most things in life—oh please frost take out the endless stream of work, picking and preserving—but it is also the end of homegrown warm season bounty. Often, even the years when I don’t think I can possibly pluck another morsel, lift another crock or empty a steaming hot canner, the threat of frost spurs me on. I can’t see food go to waste. I drag flat boxes, buckets and baskets to fill as every last green tomato, pepper and basil leaf gets harvested.

This year the cooler, damper temperatures brought with them a flush of garden activity. Squash and cucumber plants hardly productive in August sprouted new flowers and fruit in one last effort to fulfill their task of birthing seed. These pinky thick zucchini, the quarter-sized patty pans, lemon cucumbers, the dimensions of maybe a walnut, will never reach maturity. But they are abundant, can be eaten at any stage and make wonderful bite sized pickles. 

Fermentation happens - three days in brine, notice CO2 bubbles in dill seed head

Fermentation happens - three days in brine, notice CO2 bubbles in dill seed head


End of the garden medley (where bite-sized veggies shine)

Makes one gallon

a few pounds of mixed (any combination) immature squash and cucumbers, enough to fill a gallon jar to the shoulder,
10 or more whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons pickling spice or:
1½ teaspoons mustard seeds
1½ teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon dill seed, or better a couple of fresh dill seed heads
2 bay leaves
3—4 whole hot dried red pepper such as cayenne


Prepare Brine:

3/4 cup unrefined salt

1 gallon water

optional: grape, oak, or horseradish leaves to top ferment, the tannins will help keep things crunchy



If the squash still have their blossoms, you can pickle them as well. Take care that they are still whole and not wilted. Rinse off any dirt.

You don’t want any part of the blossom if using cucumbers. Scrub them in water; take care to trim the stem and make sure the blossom end is clean as it contains an enzyme that will soften your pickle. Crush the garlic cloves slightly with the back of knife, just enough to break them.

Pack veggies into a few wide mouth jars, or a 1-gallon jar. (If using a crock, you will pack into jars later.) Mixing in garlic and all other ingredients as you go, distributing equally.
Pour the salt brine over the cucumbers. It must cover all of the vegetables.

If you do have a grape leaf or other tannin leaf, this would be the time to add it.


Place a smaller jar filled and sealed with water on top for weight. If your little future pickles are packed and wedged tightly you will not need to place a weight on top. Just cover the jar, but do not tighten lid—it needs to breathe out the CO2. If you are fermenting in a jar you can watch the process. At this point the vegetables will be an incredibly vibrant. It will look as if all the colors are magnified. As they start to ferment you will see the colors turn drab. This change is a result of the acids interacting with the chlorophyll. The brine will get cloudy–this is a normal part of the lactic acid production. If you are fermenting in a crock, no worries all this will be happening as well.

After four days of fermentation time on your counter you will have half-sours in a about six days the flavors will all be stronger and more sour.

Enjoy!