Fermented Vegetables

Fermentistas: Beware the Storage Cabbage!

Dry, tough storage cabbage that doesn't easily release a juicy brine

Dry, tough storage cabbage that doesn't easily release a juicy brine

Let’s talk about fermenting storage cabbages. Last week I taught a hands-on class. I’d bought each student a beautiful small head of cabbage. Later, that evening during the demonstration portion of the class, I realized that the students would have to make their first ferment with rebellious cabbage.

Here’s the thing: as I stand in front of the impressionable new fermenters, I am often slicing, salting and then massaging a cabbage while talking. (No, I can’t pat my head and rub my belly at the same time but I can talk and build a jar of sauerkraut at the same time.) So it throws me off when I am massaging and telling the good people about brine and the cabbage refuses to give it up. I continue to talk as I am working harder and harder, smiling, trying to make it look effortless.

In this case, they were about to use the cabbages themselves so I stopped and said, “You guys are going to have fun with this cabbage; it’s a tough storage cabbage, you will want to make sure to take your time and slice it thinly.” (Which was a challenge as the venue had provided everyone with boning knives, but that is beside the point.) “The good news is, this is about as hard as making kraut will ever be, so it’s smooth sailing from here.”

Let me digress a moment to share a story about the first time I’d learned that storage cabbages can be a problem for fermenting. The lack of inherent moisture, the thick waxy leaves, all the qualities that keep these cabbages from rotting in storage are exactly what inhibit the fermentation, because what is fermentation if not controlled rot? In the following tale of a small sauerkraut company and the Storage No. 4 cabbage variety this lesson was learned—the hard way.

This small company I speak of operates with the triple bottom line and is exceedingly committed to supporting the local foodshed by using only local ingredients when in season. So when one of the local farmers came to the company with the idea to provide cabbages for a longer season by growing a keeper that was harvested in the fall and capable of surviving storage through the spring it seemed like a win-win situation. The kraut company would have local cabbage in the late winter and early spring for production. The farm would also extend its income stream. Done. Acres and acres were planted. The cabbages did what cabbages do and grew and grew. They were harvested and stored and eventually processed and set in fermenting barrels as needed to keep supplies fresh and abundant. When the first barrels were opened after three weeks, the cabbage had not yet fermented. At first this was strange but can happen so they closed the barrel and allowed more time. Eventually, after waiting for a few months they had to concede that this kraut wasn’t going to be good.

You are most likely to run into these cabbages in grocery stores in February, March, and into April when the winter cabbages are sold and the spring cabbages have not yet matured. It is hard to tell at first glance, and even upon deeper inspection it can be confusing. I admit, when I am out buying cabbage I look for crisp and fresh, not wilted, but I don’t even think about checking the head for signs of being a storage variety cabbage. And while I want you to know all about these varietals, this post is really about what to do when you find yourself with a tough cabbage—you may discover this when you are slicing through extremely dense interiors with thicker, waxier leaves, or later when you are squishing along and not seeing brine.

Tips for a successful ferment with a dry, coarse cabbage:

·      Slice as thinly as possible (breaking more cell walls)

·      Add salt, mix thoroughly, and allow to sit for a half hour before massaging (will break down the tough leaves and coax out moisture)

·      Make a mixed-veggie kraut instead of a plain, naked cabbage kraut (other veggies will bring their juice to the mix and help create enough brine to allow the microbes to do their job)

thin cabbage shreds for fermenting a dry cabbage
Favorite veggies for a juicier kraut: Onions, shredded carrots, shredded beets, shredded turnips (these will give you a flavor the most consistent with a plain kraut), and other shredded root veggies. Pictured here is Curtido (recipe in   Fermented Vegetables  ) it is delicious and the many onions create a juicy brine.

Favorite veggies for a juicier kraut: Onions, shredded carrots, shredded beets, shredded turnips (these will give you a flavor the most consistent with a plain kraut), and other shredded root veggies. Pictured here is Curtido (recipe in Fermented Vegetables) it is delicious and the many onions create a juicy brine.

Make Fermented Garlic Paste

Garlic Trials at Ferment Works

Fermented garlic is the ultimate in probiotic convenience food. No, really, if you spend a little time fermenting something you want it to be garlic. Full disclosure: fermenting garlic takes a bit of time—there is all the peeling! Please don’t stop reading though a) its so worth it and b) you’ve got this!

Think about those big jars of minced garlic that are steeped in citric acid that have a flat fresh flavor, not so with fermented garlic paste. This stuff is just as easy in that you can use garlic to your hearts desire at a moments notice. However, there is no comparison on flavor and the added bonus is its live and probiotic. I know, sounding a bit like a used car salesman, but I want you to try lacto fermenting garlic. We are totally addicted to the stuff. One more small advantage to fermented garlic is that somehow the way it is broken down takes away some of the part of garlic that lingers in your mouth and on your breath. You can get away with eating raw garlic without turning everyone away! (Garlic lovers—how cool is that?)

This post is to encourage you and to share a recipe for fermented garlic paste, but it is more fun than that. Last fall my farmer friend (and instigator) Mary, brought over 9 types of garlic. She grows seed garlic at Whistling Duck Farm. We did some trials to see how garlic changed with the different varieties. You can see some detailed results on a post I did for Mother Earth News . We used a pound of each variety to ferment in brine as whole clove pickle. And used another pound for fermented garlic paste. We did it all in one day to keep all the factors as even as possible, and for those of you doing the math—that was 18 pounds of garlic peeling!

One of the most fascinating parts of the experiment was seeing the distinguishing characteristics of a fresh variety of garlic might come out totally different when fermented. Fermenting brings out entirely new flavors—even within the same variety the whole clove ferment vs. the fermented paste can be very diverse. The first variance was that the jars all fermented at their own rate. A week in we had an array of colors among the pastes from unchanged to light pink and yellow yet after the fermentation period they all settled on a coppery orange color.  Some of the spiciest varieties mellowed out and some of the sweetest varieties took on some heat. The take away, though, is ferment your garlic—all varieties are good! (And for those of you reading this and sad that it is springtime and all the fresh cloves are past you can also ferment the scapes (the flower stem of garlic that is clipped in order to send more energy to the bulb.)

Garlic Paste

Yield: about 1 pint

6–8 heads garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and minced in a food processor

2 teaspoons salt

Process the garlic and the salt to a paste consistency in a food processor. This paste has a sticky, thick gooey consistency. You won’t see a release of brine, in fact you won’t really see a change. Don’t worry—it will work.

Top the ferment with a quart-sized ziplock bag. Press the plastic down onto the top of the ferment, and then fill it with water and seal. This will act as both follower and weight. Set aside out of direct sunlight in a cool spot (55 to 75°F), for 14 to 21 days.

While you monitor this ferment watch for air pockets. While there isn’t much lift action by the CO2 there is some, you will want to press down as needed. We have found that sometimes you can get a bitter, or even chemical flavor which seems to be a result of the trapped CO2 pockets. If you find this has happened stir the paste, press down, and allow it to ferment a few more days. It will right itself. If it still tastes bitter. Again stir the paste, this time place in fridge for a week and the undesirable flavor will dissipate.

Test the ferment on day 14. It's ready when the garlic is milder than when it’s raw, and has a mild acidity.

Tighten the lid and store in the fridge. This ferment will keep refrigerated for a year, though you will use it up much sooner than that.

 

 

 

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!

Two New Fermentation Books :: A review

Two new fermentation books reviewed at Fermentista's Kitchen

Who doesn’t like new fermentation books, right? I can’t think of anyone…except maybe our teenage daughter, who to her credit likes whole food smoothie books. The ‘love good food gene’ is in there…

Two recently released books have caught my attention and excited me, so much so that they now grace our bookshelves—Ferment Your Vegetables by Amanda Feifer and Preserving the Japanese Way by Nancy Singleton Hachisu. (Opinions are my own I have not received anything for these reviews. We also do not receive any affiliate funds for these books.)

In this wonderful renaissance of fermented foods and fermented vegetables in particular, author Amanda Feifer is truly in the camp of fermentistas. Based in Philadelphia she is creator of the blog Phickle.com where she pushes the art in fun and flavorful ways. Her book Ferment Your Vegetables is no exception—while we have been on the road and I haven’t had a chance to try any of the recipes, I have read this book and have a number of recipes bookmarked.  Quite a few of these bits of ripped pieces of paper are holding space in the Kvass chapter. I admit I have not thought outside the beet kvass jar at all—beets with other flavors yes, a vegetable other than beets, no.  Cucumber Fennel Kvass, Lettuce Kvass—intriguing. Given the time of year I plan to start a batch of the Winter Herb Kvass this week, which has the potential of becoming a Woodsy Gin and Tonic—mmmm—I’m thinking tasty.

Ferment Your Vegetables--Review at Fermentista's Kitchen

Ferment Your Vegetables has clear instruction and approaches some of the methods differently.  The recipe sections contain inspired krauts, kimchis, pickles, and alternative ferments. One of the beautiful things of vegetable fermentation is that unlike canning, the rules are simple and flexible. Keep everything anaerobic so that it acidifies is the overarching goal—the methods and ingredients to get there can vary. 

Preserving the Japanese Way is more than just a collection of recipes – it is a beautiful journey into life on a sustainable farm in Japan. Nancy Singleton Hachisu sets the stage of her life in the introduction and we are brought along through the rest of the book with recipe headnotes and vignettes. The poignant afterword also reminds us of the fragility of the farming life.  I once again have to admit I have had the time to read this work but not actually make any of the recipes so, again, torn bits of scrap paper poke up from the pages inviting me to ferment miso, koji and many other traditional Japanese ferments.  The Salted Cherry Blossom recipe inspires me to experiment with other edible flowers (after all Spring Cherry blossoms seam a long way off. So I wonder about borage, calendula, and one of my favorites: nasturtium blooms, which I happen to still have in the front yard.

Preserving the Japanese Way--Review at Fermentista's Kitchen

The recipe section is complete with recipes for meals employing your new Japanese style fermentation project. There is something for everyone —some of the ferments are very simple in ingredients and time—like the lactic acid fruits and vegetables while others (perfect for the DYI, fermentation overachievers) require procuring special ingredients or cultures and months of waiting. (There is a complete resources list.)

Writing this post I’ve encouraged myself to quit waiting for some mythical perfect time to dive in to these recipes. I am headed out on this bright fall day to pick some nasturtium flowers to salt, and rosemary, sage, and thyme to kvass. Meanwhile, I would love to hear what you are fermenting these days. 

 

Fermenting Scorzonera

scorzonera ready for fermentation .JPG

Looking to ferment something new? Try Scorzonera hispanica, also called black salsify, is a member of the sunflower family, has quite a few folk names; two of the more colorful are viper’s grass and goat’s beard. Having sons, we saw viper’s grass as an opportunity to entice them with a fermented creation. Snaky words usually appeal to the boy-child set: hence, our Viper Kraut.

Although native to southern Europe, black salsify is eaten predominantly in Germany and the Netherlands. Scorzonera is a perennial, and as long ago as the 1600’s it became more popular than white salsify, an annual. (White salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius, is also known as oyster plant, because of its flavor and texture.) Unlike white salsify, black salsify stays firm when you handle or cook it. Raw, it’s crunchy, with a texture almost like that of coconut with a flavor slightly reminiscent of asparagus. That same crunch and texture makes it an excellent candidate for fermentation.

Okay, here is where we admit it is rare—as in hard to find at the market. So much so that this delicious little carrot shaped root was cut from our book. That said, it is none-the-less out there. We often see it at farmers’ markets—look for the farmer that has the unique and unusual veggies—there is always one that is pushing outside the heirloom tomato box. Of course, you can grow your own.

The roots of scorzonera, or black salsify, are black, sticky, usually dirty, and a bit gnarled, so as a food, in a word, ugly. As a bonus (for the kids, maybe not for the cook), as you clean and peel, your hands will turn sticky and icky colored (orange or brownish black) as well, though that comes off easily when you wash.

Have fun with this ugly duckling: it turns into a swan in the crock.

As soon as you peel the roots, drop them in cool water with lemon juice; this will keep them from turning gray.

You can make a tasty, pure scorzonera ferment, but because of the size of the roots (not big), it’s a lot of work for a small return. Instead, shred the root or make ribbon-like strips with a peeler to dress up a plain sauerkraut. These universal kraut instructions are for just that.

Use the roots peeled and whole in brine pickles as part of a vegetable medley or solo with your favorite pickling spices.

Here is a refresher on how to set up a jar to ferment your veggies.

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