Dear Fermentista :: Will my mobile ferments keep me from love?

My mobile ferments at a campsite

My mobile ferments at a campsite

Dear Kirsten and Christopher,

My name is Ben and I am an addicted fermenter.  

I have an older VW Jetta diesel that has faithfully carried me down some of our country’s most wild and scenic areas.  (I named her Rachel Carson) My problem is her smell.

About a decade ago I gave up fast food and committed to eating real food while traveling.  I began making my own kombucha and fermented veggies on the road. It is so easy! Recently I discovered foraging and wow can I make some wild ferments now. There is nothing like adding a little beach mustard to my kraut…but I am getting side-tracked.

A corner of Rachel’s trunk is my fermentation station which produces tasty ferments and, well, this is my problem: odor. She smells! Especially when I am bumping along a dirt road.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the smell of kimchi and all things fermented. It still surprises me when I open the car door after a long hike in the mountains and am blasted by that steamy scent of fermenting veggies. It makes me smile. 

I am starting to think that it is going to keep me single as I have noticed when I am parked along a street people wrinkle their noses when they walk past my car. My mother is less polite. “Ben,” she says, “you are not going to find yourself a nice girl with that smell.”

I believe the right partner will love the smell. I imagine that we will meet in a busy trailhead parking area as I come hiking out of the woods with a handful of fresh sorrel. We talk and soon sample each other’s creations and spend the rest of our lives together. My friends and my mother say I am dreaming and slightly delusional from eating too many ferments at high altitudes.

Should I give up my mobile ferments for a better chance at romance?

—Ben

Dear Ben,

We often find ourselves traveling with curing ferments—biohazard of the biz, we suppose. The natural gas produced by some of the particularly odoriferous ones seems like they should be able to power our vehicle, doesn’t it?

We can help you a little here with some management strategies. Ferments on the move need to be sealed—go ahead and tighten that lid. Airlocks are wonderful on a counter but in a trunk seem to burp on every bump in the road.  So set aside your water seal vessels and use canning jars. You will need to let the CO2 out of the jar every day—sometimes twice a day. Do this away from car; the parking lot, a grassy spot, some place that won’t be offended by a little brine. This burping can cause a lot of brine to want to bubble out of your jars so be ready with your clean tamper and push the ferment down quickly. You probably know that though. Once your ferments are cured and tasty you should keep them in a ferment cooler. This will be another barrier to the smell.

Meanwhile we think that you should keep on fermenting. Eating ferments could help you with the confidence you need when the right girl comes along. She will love ferments and that pickle smell will be perfume to her—besides your addiction could be a deal breaker if she doesn’t share your passion.

Good luck,

Kirsten and Christopher

 

Fermented Nettle Kimchi

The morning after...nettle leaves soaking in a brine bath overnight—ready to become kimchi.

The morning after...nettle leaves soaking in a brine bath overnight—ready to become kimchi.

Living as we do on land at the edge of wilderness, has infused a much closer relationship to the rhythms of the year and subtleties of each individual season. This year, for example, our landscape donned the growth of spring a full month earlier. An important early harvest is the wild nettles that grow in a patch along the creek that runs through our property. Nettle kraut is a standard favorite and it is easy to stick to what I know we love. This year I knew it was time to do something different. On a bright morning Christopher and I headed to the creek with snips, a basket, each wearing long sleeves and good gloves. 

I find harvesting nettles thrilling (maybe we’ve lived out here too long); on this day there was extra excitement. As we walked through the thicket of young cedars we happened upon two freshly killed wild turkeys; one was half-eaten, the other was still warm. It was the middle of the day and we wondered what predator we might have scared off—likely a coyote. However, we do live in cougar country and when we got to the nettle bed there was a trampled down area that looked as if something of significant size had been bedded down there. There was an unmistakable odor of cat and suddenly the nettle patch seemed much less benign. As I cut nettles, Christopher surveyed the trees towering over us for a large kitty. I doubt there was a cougar anywhere near, but once our minds imagined there might be, the activity became extreme foraging.

I decided to make a pure nettle ferment and a kimchi-style ferment (and a nettle kraut just in case).  We were pleased with the results of both new ferments.


Nettle Kimchi

Yield: About 1 pint

Nettle kimchi is delicious in the magic pungency that is created by the combination of garlic, ginger and chiles, and yet the nettles hold their own. This recipe requires a little advanced thinking as the nettles are soaked overnight. Nettles grow in the early spring. If you are gardener and have a patch of garlic greens add them to the mixture. And remember to use your glove working with the nettles; they still can sting after sitting at room temperature in salt water for 10 hours.


About ½ pound of nettles, the first 2 – 3 rows of leaves still attached to stems

Soaking brine 
½ cup salt
2 quarts unchlorinated water

Kimchi mixture
 4 green onions, sliced crosswise in ½ inch pieces
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, ground or minced
3–4 cloves garlic
1–2 tablespoons chile flakes or gochugaru powder 
    Note: As always, adjust the spiciness to your palate. Also the gochugaru is not as hot at the chile flakes and may require more for desired heat.

In a crock or a large bowl, combine the brine ingredients and stir to dissolve. Rinse the nettles in cold water then immerse in the brine solution. Use a plate as a weight to keep the veggies submerged. Set aside, at room temperature for 6–8 hours. 


Using a colander set over a large bowl, drain the nettles reserving the liquid. Combine the ingredients of the kimchi mixture, blending thoroughly. Set aside. The nettles will clump together. Take this whole clump and roll it up to cut crosswise into 1 – 2 inch pieces and put it in a large bowl. Massage in the kimchi mixture.

Follow the instructions for the type of fermentation vessel you are using. If using the simple jar method select a mason jar with a tight fitting lid that is sized appropriately to the amount of mash. Place the mash inside the jar leaving about an inch of airspace. Add reserved brine as needed to make sure the ferment is juicy and veggies stay submerged. Tighten lid. Set aside, somewhere nearby and out of direct sunlight, in cool spot, for 10 – 14 days. 

Check daily to make sure there aren’t CO2 bubbles developing and that the vegetables are submerged; simply press down as needed. If using a plain jar, burp once a day or more often if you see pressure under the lid. Using a utensil, test the kimchi on day 10. You will know it is ready when the flavors have mingled and the pungency is pleasantly fused with acidic tones. The red color will have gotten deeper while the green of the nettle leaf turns a translucent brown khaki green color.

You can let this sit another week in the refrigerator with the lid on to allow the flavors to continue to develop.  This will store in the refrigerator for 8 – 12 months.

Fermenting Vegetables in a Mason Jar :: 2 Basic Techniques

These 3 ferments are each fermenting simply in a jar that is sealed tight and burped daily. From L  to R, brining peppers for hot sauce, nettle kimchi, garlic scape paste.

These 3 ferments are each fermenting simply in a jar that is sealed tight and burped daily. From L  to R, brining peppers for hot sauce, nettle kimchi, garlic scape paste.

“Submerging in Brine—Conquers Evil Every Time!” Wise words from Fermento and Brine, superheroes of the vegetable underworld.

I know I sound like a broken record. Is that still a saying? Eek…Broken iPod stuck on repeat just doesn’t have the same ring. Anyway, point is keeping your ferments anaerobic is the trick to a successful ferment. How you go about that is a personal preference more than anything.  And nearly every day I see a creative new lid or weight or contraption to help you keep the ferment submerged, let the CO2 and any contaminants out. I have already reviewed a few things on this blog, like simple handmade jar weights, and I hope to continue to share interesting ways of solving this problem.

In this post, though, I want to share the two low-tech, simple, no cost methods that I use regularly when fermenting my experimental batches. I use these methods for ferments that are 1-quart or smaller. I have used both of these methods in ferments that are in half-pint jars. These tiny ferments are not juicy cabbage or veggie ferments but instead concentrated herbal or super spicy ferments that tend to be dry.

This nettle ferment has been fermenting for 2 days under a water-filled bag for weight. It is looking good, notice the color of the nettles darkening.

This nettle ferment has been fermenting for 2 days under a water-filled bag for weight. It is looking good, notice the color of the nettles darkening.

One popular way is to use the water bag method.  It works well for very small ferments and very large ferments. I know a few folks who use this same method in 55-gallon drums of kraut, just a much bigger tougher bag.  The important thing with this method is to leave space for the bag in the jar—a good rule of thumb is to fill the jar about ¾ full and leave the top quarter for the bag. You will top the pressed ferment with a quart-sized ziplock bag; the heavier freezer style bag is preferred.  To do this open the bag and place it in the jar on top of the vegetable mixture, pressing it onto the surface and around the edges. Fill the bag with water; you will see it seal the ferment as it adds weight. When the water is at the level of the top of your jar, seal the bag.

Note: Some folks are more comfortable filling the bag with brine so that if the bag leaks the water won’t weaken the ferment. This is not a concern for me. It has only happened once, in the hundreds of times I have done this, and it just isn’t worth the cost of the salt. I do use heavy bags and if I am reusing one I fill the bag over the sink first to test.

As you are fermenting you will watch the ferment for air-pockets; you can often adjust the bag, pushing a little to release the air. Sometimes you will need to remove the bag and press the ferment back down. Then you will rinse the bag with water and replace.

This is a ginger ferment with a bag on top, you can see the air-pockets in the ferment and bubbling out along the side of the plastic bag. There are very few air-pockets and the ferment is actively pushing them out. I would watch and if more develop press out  by removing the bag and pressing with a clean utensil. Rinse outside of bag and replace. There are so few air-pockets you could also by run a chop-stick between the bag and the side of the jar and gently press to allow air to escape

This is a ginger ferment with a bag on top, you can see the air-pockets in the ferment and bubbling out along the side of the plastic bag. There are very few air-pockets and the ferment is actively pushing them out. I would watch and if more develop press out  by removing the bag and pressing with a clean utensil. Rinse outside of bag and replace. There are so few air-pockets you could also by run a chop-stick between the bag and the side of the jar and gently press to allow air to escape

Notice the air spaces on the upper part of this fermenting garlic scape paste, open the lid and press down with clean utensil. Replace lid tightly for the burping jar method

Notice the air spaces on the upper part of this fermenting garlic scape paste, open the lid and press down with clean utensil. Replace lid tightly for the burping jar method

The other method, which I am calling the burping jar method for lack of a better name, I have only started using in the last 9 months. For the very small, very thick ferments I have decided this is great—about as simple as it gets. I have used it successfully with (or in) everything from juicy kimchi and briney pickle ferments to dry herbal rubs. (Sometimes with these dry ferments I like to cartouche the top of the ferment—which is topping it with a piece of plastic sealed tightly against the surface.) What I haven’t done is used this method in anything larger than a 2-quart ferment. This is not to say it doesn’t work, I just haven’t tried. Once I get to the larger ferments I love my water-seal crocks. I have found the trick to this method is leaving very little air space.

Simply fill a jar that is appropriately sized to the ferment mixture you have. Place the ferment in the jar, pressing out all air-pockets. Seal tightly with the lid. Place on counter to ferment. Check your ferment daily and crack the seal just a bit to allow the gases to escape and reseal. Some ferments may be more active and you may need to do this twice a day. You will know this if your lid is bulging or if when you release the gas, brine bubbles out. Be sure to press down this or any other ferment that is forming air-pockets. Generally you don’t have to press down the ferment as often as you have to release gas bubbles. Some ferments will hardly create any gas and need much less burping; don’t let that concern you—the process is still working.

In both methods just watch for the air-pockets and don't feel shy about getting into your ferment and pressing it down with a clean utensil. Easy, right? You got this. Here are some fun recipes to get you started. Carrot Burdock KimchiFermented Celery Mint Salad, or Fermented Sweet Potatoes.

 

Fermented Vegetables :: A Retrospective :: New Year’s Resolutions and E-books

 Once upon a brine...

 Once upon a brine...

Once upon a brine a husband had the idea to write a vegetable fermentation book. The wife told him that she already had a project but he should go right ahead. In a short time he lured her into his project. Over the next two years they spent time together playing with their food and writing words. Oh, the romance. Meanwhile the book that grew and grew and grew had no home. They had submitted it to one publisher who talked to them and another who sent a form letter rejection. (the indignity) They were not deterred and the book neared completion. This husband and wife were consummate DIYers and they thought—why don’t we become a small indie press while we are at it? (bad idea)

In January 2013 the husband’s New Year’s resolution (he does that) was to create an e-book to release in February. This was after the wife had spent a few months talking to freelance editors, designers, and printers. That was when they realized an indie press might be a harder way to make a living than a small family farm, and they already had one of those. They finished the e-book but never released it. A friend, who believed in the project, encouraged them to submit it a few more times first.

Fast forward to January 2015. Happy New Year! (Christopher might have a few New Year resolutions, among which might be a “hot” new book project. We can’t say more.) 2014 was amazing! Storey Publishing released the book Fermented Vegetables in October which hit a Pacific Northwest best seller list in December. While we appreciate all that we taught ourselves, we are thankful for all that we have learned from the team that made this happen.

If your New Year’s resolution is to try fermenting vegetables because you want to and just haven’t taken a plunge into the brine, this is your chance and it will only cost you $2.99. Storey Publishing and Workman's Blue Plate Special are offering the e-book version of Fermented Vegetables for the entire month of January. Or, you can get it from any of your favorite e-book retailers.

Snapshot of a draft cover of Fermented Vegetables before it was the beautiful book we know and love. The husband and wife do find it apropos that this special price is happening on the anniversary of their short e-book publishing career

Snapshot of a draft cover of Fermented Vegetables before it was the beautiful book we know and love. The husband and wife do find it apropos that this special price is happening on the anniversary of their short e-book publishing career


What came first, the ferment or the pot?

Traditional style fermentation crock made by Jeremy Ogusky. The lid on this design functions as a follower and must be weighted with a water filled jar and topped with a cloth. If you shop talk to Jeremy about the lid style that best fits your needs. 

A few lucky folks are given a fermentation crock as a gift and they think, hmmm, maybe I should try this thing called vegetable fermentation. They often end up at our classes (or learning with our book at their side). However for most of us, when the fermentation bug hits, the first thing we do is find a vessel—a jar or a crock. This often means a visit to the local kitchen store or online shopping. For Jeremy Ogusky, a Boston potter, this wasn’t an issue. He simply made himself a crock. (Who doesn’t wish they could do that.) He then made a few more for friends and family. After awhile a tiny housewares company, Williams-Sonoma, contacted him and offered to contract with him for hand-thrown clay crocks. You can watch him here.  He said yes and realized this is fermentation’s moment to shine. Instead of just sitting in the studio turning out hundreds of crocks, Jeremy leapt into the brine—championing fermentation as well. 

When I spoke to Jeremy what struck me most was his intense interest and skill in collaboration and connections. Fermentation pulls people together. Jeremy found the paths of folks with very different interests intersecting with fermentation.  When he explained this I imagined roads—the thought paths of science, health, food lovers, food makers, artists, farmers, preservationists, urban homesteaders, DIY—converging from all directions at a giant handmade clay crock of fermented vegetables. (A bit like all the roads that led to Rome.)

For the past five years Jeremy has cultivated his role as a thought leader in the fermentation renaissance by collaborating with many folks around Boston to bring this delicious food to the forefront. He is responsible for the group known as Boston Ferments which started out as a loose band of fermentation enthusiasts and has grown to a group that hosts the Boston Fermentation Festival, fermentation workshops, fermentation themed dinners in restaurants, and Kraut Mobs. (Yes, “mobsters” show up at farmer’s markets or food festivals with 50 pounds of cabbage, cutting boards, knives, bowls, salt and jars and invite people to make sauerkraut.) 

For Jeremy, who's first career path was public health, the clay work blends well with his interest in nourishing food. He is interested in the intersections of his own work with clay and fermentation. Clay working is one of our oldest crafts—born solely for function, vessels in which to cook, serve and store (or preserve) foodstuffs. You can see where this is going. If fermentation is one of the oldest methods of preservation, one has to ask what came first? Did we ferment once we had pots or did we create vessels to help our fermentations?

Handmade stoneware began as utility but now it is often sold as art. As many of my readers know I appreciate functional art. I find that these fun and beautiful tools with a story inspire the food I create. 
 
On our counter, Jeremy’s faded denim-colored crock boldly proclaims, “ferment.” This is more than just a label of the contents within—this word also reminds us to slow down and take time. Find the comfort in allowing your ideas and projects, (or vegetables) to sit quietly before breaking out in a bubbling frenzy of creativity (or taste).

 

There once was a Foreword that didn't fit

Fermented Vegetables is a big book of fermenting so big in fact that there was no room for a foreword. Cheesemaker and author Gianaclis Caldwell had graciously written one and it seemed on fair that we shared it here.

With out further ado we present the foreword by Gianaclis Caldwell 
Cheesemaker, Pholia Farm Creamery, Rogue River, Oregon 
Author: Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking, The Farmstead Creamery Advisor, The Small-Scale Dairy: The Complete Guide to Milk Production for the Home and Market, The Small-Scale Cheese Business: The Complete Guide to Running a Successful Farmstead Creamery

One of my childhood memories is of two enormous ceramic crocks sitting on the shelves of our big walk-in pantry. The first was filled with fermenting cabbage, the other with something a bit more mysterious and off limits “home-brew”, better known as beer. The pantry, which we called “the fruit room” as it held boxes of apples and pears from our orchard and neatly organized rows of mason jars filled with canned peaches, tomatoes, and the rest of the bounty from our huge organic garden, was a long, narrow room whose thick walls were insulated with sawdust meaning it would stay cool throughout the long, hot summer–the perfect place for fermenting foods. In those days I was not a fan of tangy, salty, or yeasty foods, so the big crocks, which now that I am grown do not seem quite so gigantic, held no appeal to me. But I can remember my mother and sister both enjoying the kraut straight from the crock and my sister sneaking dipperfuls of beer out of the amber depths of the homebrew crock—before my parents had the chance to get it into more easily inventoried bottles. 


I didn’t really ponder or begin to appreciate the process of fermentation until fairly recently. Even my career as a cheesemaker, basically a professional milk fermentista, had not lifted the veil on the wide world of fermented foods. About five years ago, however, a previously little known product called kombucha started appearing on our local grocery store shelves. Fermented tea, kombucha seemed a very grown-up drink–not too sweet, refreshing, and to top it all off, actually good for you. About the same time, I picked up a copy of Sandor Katz’s popular book Wild Fermentation in which he not only told how to make this delicious (and rather high priced) brew, but he included an illustration of a kombucha “mother”. Also known as a “mushroom” or SCOBY, this bizarre looking, jelly-like, slightly disgusting thing is responsible for turning an otherwise sweet and rather boring beverage into the intriguing, complex drink. I had to have one. 


Our part of Oregon is teeming with homestead and small farmers. The bounty of their acreage fills not only their own bellies, but also the farmers’ market and roadside stands. In one particular valley I had a couple of farming friends, one producing pasture raised pork and poultry and the other was building an on farm fermentation kitchen. If anyone would have a kombucha mother to spare, I figured it had to be the Shockeys. A visit to their farm not only yielded the sought after, gelatinous SCOBY, but also a revolutionary lunch at the family’s distinctive hardwood table. A pot of delicious soup and a bowl of fresh salad greens were accompanied by several jars of brightly colored and interesting smelling fermented vegetables. What is this, I thought. I watched as each tall, curly- haired member of the family topped their soup and salad with forkfuls of krauts and long green beans from the jars. I followed their lead and tentatively tasted. These fermented concoctions were not too salty or sour, like the kraut of my childhood, and they were filled with flavor! In response to my compliments, Kirsten espoused the health benefits and joy of fermenting vegetables. 


I have had the great pleasure of seeing Kirsten and Christopher’s obvious knowledge and passion for fermentation transformed into this magnificent book on the subject. From sitting in a local café together while I worked on my own manuscripts, to finally having the privilege to write this foreword, it has been a joy to be a part of their process—especially since it has resulted in such scrumptious results! Indeed, I had difficulty writing a foreword that didn’t come across as a paid for advertisement… 


There are several fermentation books, some, such as Sandor Katz’s original as well as his most recent, The Art of Fermentation, will be irreplaceable inspiration and reference books. But Fermented Vegetables will not only make you want to become a fermentista, it will virtually guarantee success. Thanks to the Shockey’s clear instructions, inspiring photography, pertinent science, and options for successfully performing each task–you will no doubt find yourself an accomplished fermentista before you can spell Lactobacillus. 


Writing both as a couple and sharing their individual perspectives in engaging sidebars, Kirsten and Christopher use humor and tales of their own and other fermentista’s mishaps and revelations to encourage and inspire the reader’s development and intuition. Beginning with a simple, foundational recipe, the book leaves no excuses for procrastination. As you proceed through the book, the recipes range from basic to intricate, practical to sophisticated, and staples to indulgences. I have no doubt that my favorite recipe chapter is likely to be the fun and provocative (I mean really, healthy cocktails?) “Happy Hour” section. Their presentation of recipes by category of vegetable will solve many of the dilemmas facing those eating seasonally—either from the abundance of their own garden or from that of the local farmers market. 


The kombucha mother that Kirsten handed to me that day several years ago continues to thrive–though now through daughters hundreds of generations removed from the original–and produce delicious, and nutritious, kombucha in a crock on our kitchen counter. Krauts and kimchis from local producers who barter for our cheeses occupy their own space in our refrigerator and their spicy and colorful contents are a part of many meals. My own vegetable fermentation has not yet extended beyond sour pickles, and I really felt little inspiration to do more, that is until now. While I will likely never use the big, five-gallon crocks that my mother did (she still has one) I do have two smaller versions that arrived under the Christmas tree last winter sitting empty. Hmm, maybe...
 

 

When your cabbage is dry? Sauerkraut brining flowchart

We believe the best sauerkraut (cabbage or other vegetables) comes from dry brining. What does that mean? Fair question since the whole point is to make brine in which to submerge the fermenting vegetables. Dry brining simply means creating the brine in fermentation by only adding salt and allowing the vegetables natural juices to create the important liquid. No water is added. This usually works. Once in awhile you are faced with dry cabbages (maybe they were in cold-storage too long) and it doesn't work. Oh, what to do? We have created this handy flow chart to help you when you are feeling there is just not enough brine to properly ferment your creation.

Handy flowchart to help you make a delicious brine for your sauerkraut (and other fermented vegetables).

Handy flowchart to help you make a delicious brine for your sauerkraut (and other fermented vegetables).


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.

Lacto-fermented Pickled Grape Leaves

Rolled grape leaves ready to ferment in brine

Here we are on the brink of the big harvest season. Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, Oh my. But before you get overwhelmed fermenting garden veggies there is one thing you might want to pickle—grape leaves. In Southern Oregon the grape leaves are perfect for pickling right now. The leaves are large—good for stuffing yet still tender and fresh.

Why ferment grape leaves? I see two good reasons. One is to have a supply for winter dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), the other is to have some grape leaves available for pickling late in the season when the leaves have changed or in early spring. For example grape leaves are great to add to lacto-fermented asparagus.

Here’s why. When you use grape leaves to top crocks of krauts and pickles, they not only help keep everything under the brine: They also release tannins, which help keep the veggies crisp. If you pickle the leaves in early summer, you have them on hand to use for pickles during winter fermentation.

Make sure the grape leaves you pick are organically grown. As with all vegetables, the leaves are full of beneficial bacteria, and you don’t want to be consuming chemical pesticides. The variety of grape doesn’t matter. Whatever you can get your hands on:  leaves from table grapes, Concord grapes, wine grapes.

Lacto-fermented Preserved Grape Leaves

2–3 dozen grape leaves

2–3 cups Basic Brine (½ cup salt to 1 gallon water)

Rinse freshly picked leaves in cool water. Put in a bowl, cover with the brine, and let soak for 1 hour.

To roll into bundles, stack anywhere from 8 leaves to all of them. In other words, one huge roll, is okay just keep stacking. Tightly roll each stack from stem end to the tip. (Think cigars and see photo.)

Pack into a sterile jar, wedging them under the shoulder of the jar or with 4 inches of headspace in a crock. Pour in the brine to cover the grape leaves completely. Reserve any leftover brine in the fridge (It will keep for 1 week; discard thereafter and make a new batch, if needed.)

Loosely cover the jar with the lid.

Set aside the jar or crock on a baking sheet, somewhere nearby and out of direct sunlight, in a cool area.  Ferment for 3 to 4 days.

They're ready when the leaves go from a verdant green to a dark, dull green and the brine is cloudy. The changes are inconsistent.  If you were to look into the fermenting bundles, you’d see that the centers are slower to change. These grape leaves will keep, refrigerated, for 12 months.

Store in the fridge in the same jar, lid tight.


The cool and wild side of fermenting :: Mint

There is a natural spring on our property. It is the center and heart of the property both metaphorical and physically. Christopher shares the day we were introduced to the magic of this spring through the wild peppermint. 

The day we found our farm, I had already given up. We had traveled south on Interstate 5 with our three small children and Kirsten pregnant with our fourth to be greeted by temperatures over 100 degrees and a landscape burnt crisp from the heat and lack of rainfall. Every house or property we had seen that day was either moldy, depressingly run-down, overrun with poison oak or a combination of all three. I wanted to retreat to the Willamette Valley, but Kirsten wanted to look at one more. After driving up Thompson Creek for nearly seven miles we arrived at what would become Mellonia Farm and our home. 

While I hiked the hills with the owner, Ron, to learn the borders of this hillside farm, Kirsten and the kids found refuge at the stream in the shade of a beautifully old and gnarled willow tree. There, the boys stripped to their skivvies and splashed in a stream lined with wild peppermint. Driving home that evening the peppermint from the sleeping children’s legs filled the car, and we knew we had found our new home.

Fast forward fifteen years as summer approaches and Southern Oregon is in a state of drought. The soil has been too dry to dig with a pick ax for at least a month, but the mint along the spring is vibrant, refreshing, and smells of water and relief.  It is time to harvest—some will be dried for tea and some I will preserve through fermentation. Fermented mint? Yup and it is really tasty.

Mint, like its family-member basil, has played a significant role in traditional herbal pharmacopeia throughout history. Its wonderful scent and flavor have also made it a leading player in the kitchen, adding a cool refreshing taste to dishes, as well as ferments. Of the many varieties of mint, spearmint, curly mint, and peppermint (the strongest flavor of the three) are the most common culinary types, but there are also fruity varieties, such as apple, pineapple, or orange mint. The flavor of the various mints holds up well in fermentation. If you are creating your own recipe, use similar quantities to those you would use in a fresh salad or veggie dish. Choose the type of mint that you have available or like best, and add it to the ferment when you combine the rest of your vegetables, just before salting. Chopping the leaves will release a little more flavor in the ferment. 

Fermented condiments tray with Celery-Mint Salad


Celery-Mint Salad

Cool, bright, and lively, this ferment will be a wonderful addition to a summer spread.

1 1⁄2 pounds celery, thinly sliced crosswise (including leaves)

1 bunch scallions, greens included, finely chopped

6 sprigs mint, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon unrefined sea salt


Prepare the vegetables and place in a bowl. Sprinkle in the salt, a little at a time, tasting as you go until it’s slightly salty, but not overwhelming. Massage the mixture and let sit, covered, for 30 minutes.

Pack the mixture, a few handfuls at a time into a 1-quart jar, pressing as you go to remove air pockets and release brine; because of the texture, it will take some effort to get it tightly packed. This pressure will release more brine. When the jar is packed, leave 2 to 3 inches of headspace. With store bought celery there will likely be a noticeable layer of brine, while homegrown may just barely cover the vegetables. Follow with a grape leaf or piece of plastic wrap to keep the veggies submerged under the brine. Because of the low brine content, make sure this is weighted well with either a sealed water-filled jar or a water-filled ziplock bag to act as a combination follower and weight. Set aside to ferment, somewhere nearby and out of direct sunlight, in a cool spot for 5 to 10 days.

Check daily that the celery is submerged, pressing down as needed to bring the brine
back to the surface. When it’s ready, this ferment will be crunchy, will taste of fresh and minty, and will have a mild, light sour flavor, very different from the sour boldness of most krauts.

If it’s sour enough for your palate, tamp down the ferment under the brine, screw on the lid, and store in the refrigerator. Because of its high natural nitrate content, celery keeps well if it remains submerged, and will last over 1 year—but you will want to eat it well before then.



Mustard Greens, Fermented Kimchi, Chicken, and Sesame Seeds :: YUM!

Kimchi Sesame Mustard Green Salad w/ Chicken

Markets are loaded with many varieties of mustard greens—longer days and cooler weather make these brassicas delicious. Sometimes raw mustard greens will mimic that sinus-clearing horseradish (or wasabi) heat which I happen to love but others do not appreciate. This peppery flavor transforms with cooking into bitter bite.

In this quick-to-prepare recipe the peppery-heat of the greens is mellowed as the kimchi sesame dressing wilts the fresh leaves. The flavor is lively with the mingling of the fermented vegetables and the fresh greens.

Mustard Sesame Salad With Kimchi and Chicken

Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a side salad

1 -2 chicken breasts

granulated garlic powder

a bit of oil for coating the roasting pan


1 bunch curly mustard greens

½ - 1 cup drained kimchi


2 teaspoons naturally fermented soy sauce

1 teaspoon black sesame seeds

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil


Place the oven on the broil setting. Coat the roasting pan with oil.

Cut each chicken breast into about 3 equal-sized pieces for quick and thorough roasting. Place these on greased pan. Sprinkle on the granulated garlic powder. Place on a middle rack in the oven and broil for about 10 – 15 minutes, or until completely cooked.

Meanwhile prepare the dressing and the salad. Rinse off the mustard leaves and crosscut for a bite-sized piece. Set aside. Measure and drain the kimchi. (Remember always keep or drink your brine!) Rough chop the kimchi until it has a finer consistency.

Place the dressing ingredients in the salad bowl. Add the chopped kimchi. When the chicken is ready remove it from the oven and slice into bite sized pieces. Place these in the bowl with the dressing to soak up the flavors. Add the chopped mustard greens, toss and serve.


Technicolor Pickled Eggs

Ruby eggs in a beet kraut nest

The classic Wizard of Oz movie begins with Dorothy in dusty grey Kansas, and the film turns Technicolor brilliant when she and Toto land in Oz. Okay, so by today’s standards that is not a very impressive movie trick, but in 1939 it was pretty spectacular. In 1939 maybe Technicolor was new but zippy kraut flavor was not. In those days the average citizen likely still knew what fresh sauerkraut tasted like. Here and now fermented vegetables are arriving with the same flamboyance as Dorothy did in Oz .

Fresh fermented sauerkraut compared to the mushy tart canned stuff is a similar experience for us post-post modern citizens. This “classic” taste that for many years has been relegated to the hot dog experience is being reborn in dazzling hues with sparkling flavor. Who knows—in 75 years people might look back and think hmmm what is the big deal?  Haven’t fermented veggies always been this diverse and incredible?

So we thought for Spring fun, why not add wonderful flavor and some vivid color (plus a little probiotic goodness) to hardboiled eggs for any brunch menu.

Hard boil some eggs, about 2 to 3 eggs per color.  When the eggs are cool, peel. You will gently nest the whole eggs into about two cups of a vegetable ferment. This is where it gets fun. Choose a colorful kraut. Here are a few Wizard of Oz inspired ideas.

Yellow Brick Road :: For eggs with a golden hue, choose a kraut made with turmeric or golden beets

Ruby Slippers :: For stunning fuchsia eggs, submerge the eggs in a beet kraut, or kraut made with red cabbage. (For a recipe and more about beet kraut see the BREATHE issue of Taproot Magazine.)

The Field of Magical Poppies :: Choose a spicy kimchi for orangey-red eggs

The Emerald City :: Okay, emerald-colored eggs is a stretch. You need a kraut with plenty of chlorophyll, but the green veggies don’t really impart their color into the brine in a way that is needed for coloring. The best we could do was a light green, which we made with an all-leek ferment. And plain cabbage kraut does not impart amazing color but does make for some tasty pickled eggs.

 

Once you have a kraut or two selected to jazz up your eggs gently tucked the eggs in the kraut bed, place in a jar or suitable covered container, making sure that the eggs are all topped with the kraut. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 2–4 days.

We had fun with this—we hope you do too!


First Signs of Spring :: Fermenting Dandelion Buds

dandelion bud on a frosty morning

dandelion bud on a frosty morning

Kirsten writes :: Here in Southern Oregon the first dandelions have begun to bloom. Christopher and I had very different early relationships with spring dandelions. His father saw their appearance as time to tame the lawn while my mother saw them as a bounty to harvest.

Our first house as a young couple was a little saltbox in Boise with a backyard that the previous owners had planned to pave for a big shop. Thankfully they didn’t get that far.

The first spring there we picked and shoveled our way to the soil. The yard responded to the change in stewardship by celebrating with a riot of dandelions, which I proclaimed to be our first crop. When I was young, we lived in married student housing on the Cornell campus. There were vast lawns out the back door polka dotted with yellow dandelions. In the early spring my mother would pick the flower buds and sauté them in plenty of butter and garlic. When the flowers bloomed she made fritters. I don’t remember the flavor. I do remember the magic of eating off the lawn. Naturally I wanted to share this joy with our son.

Christopher writes :: I was skeptical but when I heard this project involved batter and frying I was game. We had just settled into a mound of fried dandelion blossoms out on the back patio when we heard the old wooden gate complaining and in came my father. By then I had downed a few of the golden beauties and I was eager to share my revelation with the man that had spent my childhood spraying, forking and mowing these delicious plants.

“Hey Pop, try these–they’re great!” I said, standing up and holding out my plate to him.

“What are they, morels?” he asked hopefully, reaching for a crispy blossom.

“No they’re dandelions!” I proudly announced.

My father’s hand stopped mid-air as he scanned my plate. I watched as he slowly looked past me. Turning, I saw our son in his cloth diaper sprawled out on the cool concrete of the patio, digging into his portion.

“Are you are feeding the baby weeds?” he asked us, clearly not wanting to believe his eyes.

By the time we thought of foraging dandelions to ferment, our toddler had three younger siblings and had entered college. There were many trials that included everything but the fluff—bud, leaf, and root. While we acknowledge the incredible health benefits of fermenting the greens we just don’t love (or even like) the bitter flavor, which isn’t mitigated at all by fermentation. (The best way to use the leaves is as small part of a batch of cabbage sauerkraut or spicy kimchi.) It is once again the blossom buds that have us eating from the yard.

  Dandelion buds in brine ready to start fermenting

 

Dandelion buds in brine ready to start fermenting

Fermented Dandelion Flower Buds

Make in a pint jar

When selecting flower buds to pickle, be sure to pick buds that are still tightly closed, not flowers that have simply closed for the night, which will have bits of petals sticking out. Use these small pickles as you would capers.

2 cups dandelion buds

1–2 heads garlic, broken apart and peeled

1 onion, sliced in wedges

1 (1–inch) piece fresh ginger, chopped

2 tablespoons red goji berries

1 cup Basic Brine (1/2 tablespoon unrefined sea salt to 1 cup unchlorinated water)

Combine the dandelion buds, garlic, onion wedges, ginger, and goji berries in a bowl. Transfer to a quart jar and pour in the brine to cover the mixture completely. The dandelion buds will want to float; place some of the larger onion wedges on top to keep everything under the brine. Reserve any leftover brine in the fridge to top off while fermenting. (It will keep for 1 week; discard thereafter and make a new batch, if needed.)

Follow with your favorite follower and weight, or use a water-filled ziplock bag. This steep is important to prevent the small ingredients from floating out of the brine. Remember: Submerge in brine, and all will be fine.

Set aside on a plate to ferment, somewhere nearby and out of direct sunlight, in a cool spot for 5 to 7 days. During the fermentation period, monitor brine level and press buds back into brine or top off with the reserved brine solution, as needed. You may see foam on top; it is harmless. As the vegetables ferment, they begin to lose their vibrant color and the brine will get cloudy; this is when you can start to test your pickles. They’re ready when: The buds are dull green, the goji berries are plump but still bright orange red and the brine is cloudy. The flavor of the buds and the brine are slightly sour, with ginger and garlic notes, 

Store in the fridge in the same jar, lid tight. These will keep for about a year. Enjoy them sprinkled on salads, added to a sandwich spread such as chicken salad, or simple pluck out of the jar for a little pickle-y treat.

Burdock Carrot Kimchi

In the past (before grocery stores and global shipping) February was a hungry month. It was a time when the winter stores were thin and the fresh tender greens were only beginning to poke through the earth. Many cultures relied on their fermented stores to provide them with fresh crunchy tastes and vitamins. 

Our winter eating challenge is a little different now. Our dilemma is knowing what to choose from the cornucopia we have available to us. (Fresh raspberries in winter—how far did they travel?) Seasonal eating in the temperate climate, at the latitude where you live, can leave you looking at a lot of root vegetables in February. One of these roots is the homely burdock, or gobo (its Japanese name), which looks like a dirty stick next to the bright carrots and crimson beets. Go ahead, look twice at this root. It is healthy and makes a delicious ferment. You’ll find it in the vegetable section of natural-foods stores. Look for roots that are still firm, not limp like an old carrot. Select those that are about the thickness of your thumb; any bigger than that and they tend to be woody. 

The reputation of burdock, or, as it’s called by its botanical name, Arctium lappa, bounces between nuisance weed to flower gardeners and essential to herbalists and chefs. 

Burdock has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties. It’s said to aid digestion and alleviate arthritis and some skin disorders. This list goes on, and the reason is that this “weed “belongs to the class of herbs known as adaptogens, which work to balance the system. This group of high nutritive and medicinal broad-spectrum plants includes perilla, spikenard, nettle, and ginseng.

As a biennial in its second year of growth, it can be seven feet tall, its many branches sporting mature seed heads that reach out and command attention by sticking to the passerby—hence the nuisance weed reputation. You can hardly read anything about burdock without the anecdotal tale of its role in the invention of Velcro. 

1948. Switzerland. Walking dog. Burs stick to dog. Mind wonders. Microscope reveals hooks. Violà. George de Mestral invents Velcro. Not to be left out, it has been included here—along with a recipe for Burdock Carrot Kimchi:

Violà. Burdock-Carrot Kimchi

Burdock oxidizes to an unappetizing gray-brown when shredded and exposed to the air. Although in the beginning, the color makes you think the burdock must have been scraped off the forest floor, after some hours in the anaerobic, soon-to-be-acidic environment of the brine, the brighter color of the freshly shredded root returns. 

We find this condiment to be a perfect and tasty way to incorporate burdock into our diet. It’s a satisfying snack in the middle of the afternoon — a dollop of Burdock-Carrot Kimchi and a few slices of raw cheese.

Makes about 2 quarts 

We like our kimchi spicy, but we leave just how hot up to you. 

2 pounds burdock root, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise

2 pounds carrots, thinly sliced crosswise

1 bunch scallions, greens included, cut into 1-inch slices 

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Crushed red pepper flakes, or unsalted gochugaru , to taste (use a pinch for a mild flavor to 1 tablespoon for fiery-hot)

1– 1 1/2 tablespoons unrefined sea salt or  1/2 cup fish sauce

Combine carrots, scallions, garlic, and ginger in a large bowl. Mix well and set aside.

Peel the burdock root and thinly slice crosswise; then quickly squeeze on the juice of the lemon, to help the root retain its color. Add the burdock, lemon zest, and pepper to the bowl, mixing to combine.

Sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of the salt or fish sauce, working it in with your hands; if you are not getting much brine, let sit, covered, for 30 to 45 minutes. Taste for salt. It should have a slightly salty flavor but not an overwhelming saltiness. Add more salt if needed. Then toss and massage again for a few minutes to get everything mixed. At this point you should see brine at the bottom of the bowl. Transfer your vegetables into a jar or crock, a few handfuls at a time, pressing to remove air pockets. More brine will release, and you should see brine above the veggies.

Top the ferment with a 1-quart Ziplock bag. Press the bag down onto the top of the ferment, fill it with water, and seal. Set aside on a baking sheet to ferment, somewhere nearby and out of direct sunlight, in a cool spot for 7-14 days. 

Check daily that the vegetables are submerged, (remember the veggies need to be anaerobic) and scoop out any scumthat develops. Using a utensil, you can start to test the ferment after one week. You’ll know it’s ready when it’s pleasingly sour, the flavors have mingled, and the pungency of the kimchi spices have developed. Tighten the lids and store in the fridge. This ferment will keep, refrigerated, for one year.

First Time Authors

Pickles and the setting sun

“You’re right on track. It takes an average of six years to write your first book,” a friend told me recently. 

“Where do you come up with this stuff? Never mind how I feel about statistics, the way I see it your statistic is in our favor and puts us ahead of the curve,” I said. 

Three years ago this month we broke ground on the idea of a fermented vegetables cookbook by writing our first book proposal.

The thing is, everything about this project has been a first. The first proposal was followed by the first rejection. Because that rejection came after a few enthusiastic calls with the editor it was a bigger disappointment than the form letter we had prepared ourselves for.  However it spurred on attitude: well-we’ll-show-them-and-write-the-New York Times-Best-Seller-of-sauerkraut—and we were prolific. This writing burst was soon followed by the first 10-month hiatus because we were too busy making the ferments and hocking them at local market (and holding down the day job). That was the first year. The second began with another few months of bad attitude (by one of us and we won’t name names) and then a genuine commitment to the project. 

This took us down the path of self-publishing, which brought on meetings (more firsts) with a distributor, a designer, some editors, and four print houses, but we stopped short of the meeting with a loan officer (the price tag to do it right was a daunting obstacle) and decided to create our first e-book. This time last year as we rounded project year two we thought our book was pretty much finished. Colorful glossy pages slid past on the screen with each swipe of a finger—we had a pretty little iBook.

The more people that we showed the book to, the more encouragement we got to submit this labor of love to a few more publishers. We began the third year with our first meeting with an agent. We experienced our first accepted proposal, our first contract, and our first advance checks.(This is our preferred bank visit). Then it was on to our first deadline, followed by more deadlines, and as the third project year neared, our first professional photo shoot on location here at the farm.

We had no idea what to expect. We did have a call sheet/shoot list (our first)—eight pages describing the photos. We made about 60 different ferments. Some of these were made in intervals to illustrate the visual changes that take place as the vegetables are curing. Of course there was also the cleaning—tidying the house, mopping the floors, and washing the windows in the commercial kitchen.


Our editor, the photographer, and her assistant, arrived in the morning. They got out of the car to the sun peaking over the ridge and a river of fog flowing along the creek below our house. We all acknowledged the beauty of the scene. We introduced ourselves since we were all meeting for the first time. But there was no time to leisurely take in any of the pleasures of the moment as the two days to get through the shoot list was a super ambitious schedule. (Not that we knew that—we do now. The shoot was finished after dark on the second night.)

“Come on in. I’ll show you the space.” I told the photographer. “This is the production kitchen.” I said as we walked into our “kraut” kitchen where we assumed the work would take place.  “I’ll show you the rest of the house and you can see the spaces we have in case you want to do some of the work in a different scene.” I added.

Transformed office to studio

She surveyed the spaces and asked if we could use the office—a bright south facing space with east and west light. “Of course” we said. While the photographer and her assistant brought in tall lighting stands, black bags full of equipment and props we moved the Pilates reformer and some other furniture—swirling dust bunnies disturbed—the only room we hadn’t put much time into cleaning. The pace never waned and we felt so studio-urban in our provincial setting. The gold warm-hued wood of the room’s walls, floor, and furniture was transformed with lighting; wide black and white screens to filter and redirect light, multiple mac books, and the cannon camera perched on its tripod turning the scenes into images.

The rest is almost a blur of activity and action punctuated by stories. Our visitors shared stories of location photo shoots from around the world, which captivated our imagination. We learned that: There is truth in food photography now; no more Elmer’s Glue as the stunt double for milk or mashed potatoes standing in for ice cream. That said ice cream when it melts just right can be thought to look “too sexy.” We found out that an old weathered barn door that had escaped the most recent burn pile would rent for $500 dollars a week from a prop provider. Some sets can include more than twenty people—production assistants, food stylists, lighting people and prop people. The five of us did it all. We watched well-placed lights and screens transform dusky evening light into bright morning sunshine on the page.

The photos appearing on the screen gave tangible life and proof to this project that has been lodged in the creative imaginations of all who have worked on it. It finally feels as if it really is happening in the beautiful artistic way we’d hoped. Meanwhile we have another deadline…

Kimchi Season

In Korea late October or early November is the fall pickling season.  Kimchi is an important aspect of Korean cuisine—it is served with just about every meal. There are fermented flavors for different occasions and a taste for every palate—sophisticated, fruity, crunchy, pungent, sour, mild, refreshing. Varieties may include everything but cabbage—how about buckwheat sprout kimchi or squid kimchi?
In light of the season we thought we’d share some things you may not know about venerable kimchi.

Top Ten Random Kimchi “facts” (and facts is loosely defined)

10. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
During gimjang, or kimjang, (kimchi season) many employers give their employees bonuses to facilitate a good time shopping for piles of kimchi ingredients.

9. Imagine Mountains of Napa Cabbage (and Peppers and Garlic—Oh My!)
All this shopping for cabbage, garlic, ginger, peppers, and radishes takes place at farmer’s markets that spring up all over the country this time of year.

8. Celebrate
In Gwangju, South Korea there is an annual Kimchi Festival—which you missed this year. It was at the beginning of October. Maybe your travel plans will land you at the 21st annual next year. I have seen parade pictures that include mascots dressed as Napa cabbage.

7. Field Trip
There is of course the Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul whose mission is to educate the world about kimchi. One of the sections includes dioramas for each step of the kimchi making process. Or, if you are the literary type the library boasts over 2000 books on the subject.

6. Disease Fighting
During the 2005 outbreak of bird-flu scientists at Seoul National University lead a study that fed infected chickens kimchi to test its effects on their health. A week later, 11 birds had begun recovering. "We found that the chickens recovered from bird flu, Newcastle disease and bronchitis. The birds' death rate fell, they were livelier and their stools became normal," said Professor Kang Sa-ouk.

5. Care Packages Korean Style
Mothers of Korean soldiers being deployed to Vietnam in the 1960s weren’t sent off with cookies—but with onggi pots filled with kimchi.  In 1967 a diplomat visiting Washingon was said to have missed kimchi more than his wife. 

4.  Kimchi is Out of this World
When Korea sent its first astronaut to the space station they felt he must go with kimchi. It turns out kimchi posed a bit of an issue to turn into spacefood. There was concern about bringing the bacteria into space—partly due to contamination and partly do to fear of explosions with the pressure changes. One team developed inert kimchi cans, another in plastic packaging.

3. How Much Kimchi Do You Eat?
Per capita, South Koreans eat 77 pounds of kimchi per year.

2. Kimchi-fed Eggs
If you have backyard chickens and want to try something it is said that you can feed them kimchi—there are specialty egg producers feeding kimchi, or at least the resultant lacto-bacillus to their hens. I have read online claims of healthier hens with healthier eggs. Some even claim the eggs contain lactobacillus. I must admit this seams farfetched that the lactobacillus lands in the eggs but I can’t account for the science either way. I can tell you when I go through the effort and expense of making kimchi the last thing I would do is feed it to chickens. That said…

The pig who didn't like spicy kimchi

1. Pigs Don’t Like Spicy Kimchi
When we first made kimchi commercially we had a gallon or so of peppery-brine left at the bottom of the crock after packing countless jars. (Now I know the stuff is an elixir of the Gods—but at the time it seemed like excess.) We decided to take it to our pig who enjoyed all manner of scraps and gobbled up our cheese making whey. He dug his snout into his trough and drank the brine, when he came up his mouth was open and he ran to his water bucket. We dumped what was left in the trough and brought him apples as an apology.

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!