fermented vegetables

Tips for Fermenting Pumpkins and other Winter Squash

Fermenting pumpkins and other winter squash

You can make delicious fermented condiments with winter squash. You might ask why ferment winter squash? It keeps so well. The main reason is it is delicious and sometimes, if you’ve had an abundant harvest, you are sick of eating squash soup.

Way back, fermenting winter squash was one of our first forays moving beyond cabbage and basic kraut. Our neighbors grew beautiful blue Hubbard squash for seed. The organically grown seeds were the crop and the thick wall of rich flesh that surrounded the seed was the waste. We had our small farm-to-kraut company at the time and didn’t want to see all that organic food go to waste. So, we took buckets and buckets of cracked squash home and began to trial methods and flavors to ferment it.

We learned immediately placing cubes in a salt water brine and pickling them was not the way to go, which didn’t keep us from fermenting the whole jack-o-lantern this year. (As an aside here is a fun history of the pumpkin's roll in history and fairy tales. Including a mention of the pilgrims fermenting this squash into a pumpkin libation.)

While it might be too late for you to ferment your own jack-o-lantern this year, it is not too late in the season to ferment some winter squash.

Tips for making your own fermented squash recipe:

  •    For best results, choose winter meaty varieties of squash with the drier sweeter flesh—think Kobucha, Hubbard, Butternut. The lighter yellow, wetter flesh like pie/jack-o-lantern pumpkins and Delicata work but will leave you with a softer, wetter ferment.
  •    You can mix shredded squash with cabbage for a squash kraut.
  •    You can slice squash in thin slices and combine with other thinly sliced veggies.
  •    Dry brine for best results. This means using the salt that you add to the thinly-sliced or grated vegetable to get the brine, not adding brine made with salt and water. We like to use a 1.5%–2% salt ratio by vegetable weight for fermenting squash. This means for 3 – 3 ½ pounds of squash you will use a tablespoon of fine salt. In warmer climates, you may even have to boost up that ratio a little bit more. *Remember salt helps control the ferment, it helps keep the crisp and slows down the fermentation in warm weather.
  •    Use smoky, warm, and earthy spices—chipotle, turmeric, ginger—to compliment your creation.

Here’s a simple chutney to get your creative ideas flowing. If you make something wonderful we love to hear about it. Share on the comments or post on Instagram and tag us @ferment.works.

Squash Chutney

Makes a quart

4 cups shredded winter squash

1–2 tablespoons salt

½ cup raisins

2 cloves garlic, grated

1 tablespoon sweet curry powder

½ cup shredded carrot (optional)

Process in the usual way taking care to make sure the squash is submerged. Allow to ferment for one to three weeks. It is done when you smell that wonderful pickle acidity. You can store refrigerated for 6–8 months—if you don’t eat it first.

 

 

 

Fermenting Carrots 3 Ways

These three easy carrot ferments (no crock, no cabbage) are delicious. The demonstrate how fermented vegetable flavor magic can be changed simply by changing the chop. How you treat your veggies can give you a completely different end result. This video and accompanying blog post shares an example of this action. These recipes use different ingredients but we encourage you to use the Carrot Salad ingredients in the grated krautstyle ferment or the Carrot Kraut ingredients sliced like the salad to see what a difference chop can make.


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.

 

 

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!