For some it's flu shots, for others kraut shots...

Briny Lemonade

Briny Lemonade

The brine from pickling shredded vegetables is pure vegetable juice. Remember, this liquid is achieved by shredding your vegetables, often cabbage, and through the further breaking down of the cells with salt and pressing. When these concentrated vegetable juices undergo fermentation they become a rich cloudy elixir containing not only the properties of the vegetable but an increase in vitamins C and B along with the additional beneficial bacteria (probiotics), enzymes, and minerals produced by the process. Kraut juice is also high in electrolytes. Folk remedies in many cultures have found healing in fermented vegetables and the resulting brines.

Brine was a precious commodity when we made small batches of kraut with only a tablespoon or so left over at the bottom of an empty jar, but when our kraut making became commercial, with 10-gallon batches of kraut or kimchi, we were faced with a huge surplus and very little space to store it. It seemed wrong to send it down the drain, so we purchased a couple dozen glass, USA-made shot glasses and took a few bottles of brine to market to see what would happen. Turns out people loved it and it became a mainstay. We happily made a dent in our surplus, 1.5 ounces at a time.

Christopher usually took on the job of bartender and identified four types of shot drinkers.

The Natives

Usually Eastern Europeans who grew up depending upon sauerkraut brine after a late night at the discos.  Given our market was on Saturday, we provided relief to more than a few.

The Drinkers

Often it would be the woman of a couple that ventured to taste the kraut, with the man hanging back just at the edge of the canopy, out of the sun but not close enough to commit to tasting anything.  Our small chalk written sign that read “Brine Shots $1” proved a siren’s song to these men, eventually pulling them in with a crumpled dollar bill in hand.

The Believers

Some folks do their homework and understand gut biota.  For them a shot of brine is an inoculation, a quick infusion of the healthy microbes. They were the  regulars, coming every Saturday and leaving a little lighter.

The Naughty Ones

There are people that want to knock back a shot glass in the middle of the street in the middle of a market. They would often giggle or make a dramatic play of it, convinced they were somehow being mischievous.

This blog is about flavor and the enjoyment of fermented foods, so if your first reaction is still–ick, yuck, no way, really? –or if you simply don’t like brine straight up, try making plain sauerkraut brine into “lemonade”.


1 cup sauerkraut brine
3/4 – 1 cup unrefined sugar or honey
one whole lemon thinly sliced
1 cup warm water
3 – 4 cups cold water
optional variation: grate in a little bit of fresh ginger to taste

Make a simple syrup with 3/4 cup unrefined sugar or honey and 1 cup warm water. Mix until your sweetener is completely dissolved.

Place your syrup into a pitcher and add the sauerkraut brine, cold water and lemon slices. Give the lemon slices a twist to release some of the lemon juice as you are putting them into the pitcher. Add optional ginger at this point.

Let this sit for about a half hour to allow the flavors to mingle.

Serve over ice for a refreshing summer beverage, or serve room temperature for a cozy healing beverage.

Lastly if you are interested in some of the science behind cabbages and their anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties you might want to check these links out.

The Journal of Food Protection in September 2006 published a study that found that the juice from brassica oleracea leaves (members of the cabbage family) was effective in inhibiting the growth of Salmonella Enteritidis, verotoxigenic Escherichia coli O157:H7, E. coli HB producing thermolabile toxin, nontoxigenic E. coli, and Listeria monocytogenes.

Food Chemistry Toxicology published a study in October 2010, wherein researchers found that a “bio-converted product of cabbage” (fermented kraut brine) displayed potential anti-candida effects. It concluded that fermented cabbage juice (kraut brine) has potential therapeutic value of medicinal significance to control Candida species including clinical isolates.

The Year of the Ferment

“Last year, we canned. This year, we ferment." Bonnie Wolf told NPR listeners this morning as part of her commentary on what to expect on your plate in 2013. Kimchi and fermented vegetables are trending up.

We thought it would be fun to share some recipes that will put you ahead of the trend.  Whether you are going to a New Year's Eve cocktail party or you're simply staying at home playing games and munching on snacks while trying to stay up until midnight, these snacks and perhaps a "crocktail" will add fun to your evening.

 Pickle in a Blanket

Pickle in a Blanket

  • 3–4 whole fermented dill pickles, your own or a brand such as Bubbies
  • 2–3 oz chevre or cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3–4 slices of a naturally cured pastrami

Lay out the slices of pastrami (the blankets) on a cutting board. Spread a thin layer of chevre across one half of the pastrami.  Lay a pickle on the edge of each “blanket” and roll the pickle in it.  Slice into rounds.

Smokey Dates

This hors d’oeuvre speaks for itself.  Sweet, smoky, tangy!

  •  6 medjool dates
  •  Smokey kraut (plain kraut works nicely as well)
  •  Optional: 12 small thin slices of a flavorful aged hard cheese

Slice the dates lengthwise. Remove pit, if needed. If using cheese slice to fit inside the date. Stuff dates with cheese and top with kraut, first squeezing out any excess brine; otherwise omit the cheese and tuck a bit of kraut in each date.

Kimchi Mary

This is quite delicious, especially when made with a brine from a hot and spicy kimchi.

  • Kimchi brine
  • Fresh lemon
  • Vodka
  • Salt
  • Pickled  veggie skewer

Mix kimchi brine, juice of one lemon, vodka.

Rub lemon round rim of glass, then dip rim of glass in salt.  Pour in kimchi vodka mix.  Garnish with skewered fermented veggies.



A Cranberry a Day...

Relish this chevre log

Cranberry relish might just be more American than Apple pie. (Gasp!) Let me tell you why I think so. Cranberries, Vaccinium macrocarpon and Vaccinium oxycoccus L., are one of the three commercial fruit crops that are indigenous to the North American continent. Wild cranberries are found from Maine to Wisconsin, along the Appalachians to North Carolina. Cranberries are now an introduced crop in the Northwest–Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The Native Americans used the cranberry extensively. This tart berry that is found growing in bogs and marshes was a significant food source and a strong medicine.  The native peoples ate them raw, they used the berries as an ingredient in pemmican, and they made a poultice for blood poisoning. They also prepared them in a way we might recognize today–sweetened with maple syrup.  It is widely agreed upon that cranberries were on the first Thanksgiving table, as the colonists had begun to incorporate cranberries into their diet.

We should also be including cranberries in our diet on a regular basis. Cranberries have a long list of health benefits; they are full of antioxidants, they are anti-inflammatory, they are thought to protect against food poisoning and various cancers. By fermenting them you will get all these benefits unadulterated by the sugar and other juice additives.

With fermentation you also have the advantage of buying them now, while they are fresh, in season, and regularly on sale because of their prominent spot on our holiday tables.  Once fermented they are preserved and you can continue to enjoy this tasty condiment throughout the year. 

I had fun creating these recipes, which debuted this year on our Thanksgiving table. The positive reception and the empty bowl at the end of the meal assures they will be back.

The first recipe is a  simple conversion of the traditional cooked cranberries with oranges to a raw fresh fermented recipe. I did not want to ferment with sugar and  found that adding juice-sweetened dried cranberries balanced out the tartness of the fresh ones. If this is not sweet enough, simply splash a bit of maple syrup or honey into the relish before serving.

For a festive holiday cheese log ladle the relish over log of plain chevre.

Cranberry Orange Relish

Makes a little more than a quart

2–8 oz. packages fresh cranberries

1 cup fruit-sweetened dried cranberries

2 oranges–zest of one orange, and sliced sections of both

½ teaspoon salt

Wash the cranberries. Place in food processor and pulse a few times until they are slightly chopped. Put these in a bowl and mix in the rest of the ingredients.

Press this into a small crock or jar, making sure all of the air pockets are pressed out. The brine will be a little thick from the oranges; this is okay. Follow it with plastic wrap and the weights from your crock, or water-filled jar that fits in your jar.  Allow to sit at room temperature for 5–7 days. Refrigerate when done.


Another variation of this recipe is to add: 1 tablespoon chopped candied ginger.

Chopped cranberries ready for fermentation

The second relish is a surprise if you are used to the spiced citrus cranberries. It is bold; the cranberries and horseradish work together to make a relish fit for pulled pork or prime rib.

In the first attempt at this recipe I thought I would sweetened it with apple slices. I thought the apple would soften and the sweetness would balance the tart of the cranberry. The apples stayed crispy, which was nice, but they soaked up all the tartness of the cranberry, which was a little overwhelming.  I salvaged that batch for consumption by drizzling a few tablespoons of honey into it, but I won’t be repeating it. I made a second batch with fruit juice-sweetened cranberries. It was perfect.

Cranberry Horseradish Relish

Makes a little more than a quart


2–8 oz. packages fresh cranberries

1 cup fruit-sweetened dried cranberries

2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh horseradish root

(note: if you have never worked with horseradish root, work quickly, as the volatile compounds released can make you cry)

½ teaspoon salt


Follow the same procedure as above.

See previous post for:

Pickled Whole Cranberries

Pumkins in the Pantry

Lacto-fermentation Pumpkin Trials

It is the day after Halloween and the valley around me is waking up. The sun is just peeping over the ridge. It is reflecting off the gold and orange that is briefly dominating our landscape. Because we are in predominately conifer forest, this time of year the deciduous trees have just a few weeks to sing out their presence. As I look across the valley it appears as if there are many small bonfires scattered through the forest where the individual maples or oaks flame in their autumn color. The winding creek that rushes through the center of the valley is a ribbon of saffron yellow, and the female madrone trees are heavy with their small orange fruit. We string these like beads, they drape the windows were they will dry and decorate the view in the coming grey days.

Orange is considered a color that embodies the warmth of the sun and that is how is exactly how it feels to me. I have the sense that we are soaking up all that warmth to last us through the winter. This is especially happening in the pantry; the sweet meat winter squash and cinderella pumpkins are tucked on the slatted shelves and waiting to feed us slowly in the coming months. In the crocks there are squash krauts and pumpkin chutneys curing; they will add spice and comfort when served with hearty soups.

The photo I have chosen is from the squash and pumpkin trials I conducted a few years ago. From left to right: The chipotle squash kraut was amazing. The holiday kraut with pickled cranberries was also delicious. The squash chutney--definitely nice. The beautiful pumpkin pickles with cranberries--a disaster. The flavor was fine, the squishy chunks--well not so much.

I thought I would share our Holiday Kraut on this entry. It is a fun change to add to the Thanksgiving table.  Any winter squash will work though I prefer the sweet meat types of  squash. The first time I made it I began with whole cranberries that I had previously pickled. Now I make both ferments at the same time, and mix them together after they have both cured.

Pickled Cranberries

makes about a quart (assuming two 8-oz packages of cranberries

1 - 2 packages fresh cranberries (one is enough, two will give you extra)
a few slices fresh ginger, or candied ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon whole cloves
brine: 1/4 cup salt to 1/2 gallon spring water
Place all of the ingredients into a crock or jar. Cover with the prepared brine. Be sure to use a weight that will keep all of the cranberries submerged. They really want to float, which makes sense since they are harvested by water that fills the bogs where they grow.
Ferment for 1 - 2 weeks.

Squash Kraut

makes approximately 2 quarts

1 - 2 medium heads cabbage
1 medium sized winter squash
3 - 4 tablespoons salt

Peel and grate the squash. Remove the outer leaves and core of the cabbage. Thinly slice or shred the cabbage.  The goal is to have roughly equal amounts of each.

In a large bowl mix together. Sprinkle in half of the salt and massage until the vegetables start to sweat. Taste. This is to make sure that you do not over salt the kraut. If you cannot taste salt slowly add more.  The goal is to taste the salt in a pleasant salty way, but never to be overwhelmed by the salt. If is good raw, it will be excellent fermented.

Massage the kraut mixture by kneading it with your hands until it is juicy.  Press into a crock or jar.  Make sure all of the vegetable is submerged under the resultant brine. Add weight and cover. On a counter this will ferment in about a week. It will be ready when it is still crunchy and pleasingly acidic.

To serve, mix cranberries into the kraut in a 1:4 ratio -- or whatever pleases you.

Lacto-fermented Cilantro

Pickled Green Coriander Seed

On the risk of upsetting those out there in cyberspace that hate cilantro, I have to say I love cilantro. There is some talk that there is a genetic component to the taste of cilantro that insights hatred. If this is you, you will not be interested in this entry. Instead you might want check out the website out there for cilantro haters.

Since I love cilantro, I am always disappointed when my cilantro plants begin to bolt. The leaves get thin as the plant reaches up to flower and go to seed. When this happens I can no longer snip the leaves adding to recipes at will.  This happens even when I grow an abundant amount,which means I have extra leaves that I could preserve. I have to face that the sensitive aromatic oils that give cilantro its flavor, disappear when dried. There is no sense in saving the extra.

My latest culinary experiments with lactic acid fermentation include pot herbs and aromatics, not in sauerkraut but by themselves. I have a collection of concentrated herb and spice pastes in my refrigerator that add instant fresh flavor to many meals.
In the last few weeks I discovered two things: a way to preserve the leaf and the aromatic flavor of green coriander seed.

Harvest these seeds while they are undeveloped and verdant. They are still soft, unlike coriander and the flavor lingers somewhere between the coriander it is becoming and the green fresh flavor of the cilantro it was.The seeds are only in this magical state for a few days, as they keep marching towards the mature coriander seed.

This is a new favorite. Unfortunately you need access to a nice bed of cilantro that is going to seed. You will want as many green coriander seeds as you can pick.  I was able to pick about a 1/2 a cup. You can also pick and save the green seeds in the refrigerator for a day or two while more mature.

Lacto-fermented Cilantro Paste

As much as you can pick, or 2 - 3 bunches of cilantro leaf. Finely chop the leaves. Put into a bowl and sprinkle with about a 1/2 teaspoon good salt, such as Redmond Real Salt. Mix in the salt and the leaves will immediately start to sweat. Press this into a small jar, until this brine is over the top of the leaves. Place a small piece of plastic wrap on this to keep this from evaporating. Use a brine-filled zip style bag to weight it down. Ferment on the counter for 3 days.

Pickled Green Coriander Seed

Pluck just the little green seeds off of the seed heads. Simply place whatever amount you can in a jar. Submerge this is small amount of a simple pickle brine. I have some made up and ready this time of year, as I am pickling almost daily. I use 3/4 cup salt to a gallon of water.

No Tears Shed

slicing onions

I felt overwhelmed planning for last week’s Fermented Condiments class, mostly because there were so many directions I could take. Dressings, relishes, chutneys, salsas, and my new favorite concentrated seasonings, any of these could take up the whole time. I didn’t know how many of the students where completely new to fermentation, so I wanted the hands-on project to be one with a guaranteed success rate.  I chose one of my favorites.  Fermented Onion Relish which is as simple as it is delicious.

When my eldest son, who worked in the commercial kitchen producing this in 200 pound batches, heard my plan he immediately said, “Are you kidding? Your going to have a room full of people chop onions?” I remembered the swimming goggles that fogged our vision and did not keep the crying sting from our eyes.  “Oh that is bad.” I said. I thought about it a lot. I decided there would be a few other vegetables to slice so that nobody would have to slice onions. We would make fennel chutney as well.  And, I justified to myself, we were talking about 10 onions over a class of 8.

Fast forward to Thursday evening. We have talked about fermentation, we have tasted a colorful array of fermented condiments; from salsa’s to spice pastes. The participants are happy, one woman tells me, “It is my goal to have in my refrigerator all of these varieties of condiments.”

It is now time for the hands-on portion of the class. We start with the onions. After a few minutes I am standing in front of my students who are dutifully slicing these onions.  The room started to fill with that familiar smell, I look around the room and we are only half way through.  I start to fret, maybe my son was right.

We endured, there was a huge hood fan in the kitchen and we took the onion ends to sit outside of the room. As the salt was added and the onions began to weep themselves the intensity cleared and we made it through.  Soon we where packing jars, talking about the fermentation time, and everyone went home smiling.  Whew.

Simple Onion Relish
4 -5 Onions
1 tsp. mustard seed
1 tsp cumin
1 – 2 tsps salt
1 TBLS Sauerkraut brine (or raw whey)

In this relish the fermenting process is the same as in basic sauerkraut, shred, salt, submerge.

Note: Onions lack inherent Lactic acid bacteria (LAB), when combined in the sauerkraut crock, kimchi pot, or pickle jar this is not a problem, just a little bit of the other vegetables have plenty of LABs to jump start the process.  In onion only relishes and chutneys adding a little bit of sauerkraut brine is enough to inoculate the ferment and it will acidify as well as anything else.

Salvaging Limp Pickles

Limpy Dills

One of the last things we did when setting up at the farmer's market was to "sprinkle" our business cards about the table.  Imagine 1" by 2 1/2" rectangles of brightly colored confetti. These cards had witty and sometimes slightly irreverent phrases across the front, with the standard contact information on the back.  One of our customer's favorites was "Canning makes your pickle limp", which was Christopher's attempt at engaging conversation with the canning folks, he enjoyed extolling the virtues of fermentation over vinegar pickles which are canned in a hot water bath. Mostly the phrase made little old ladies giggle and blush, as they took a card.

This morning I opened a ten gallon crock of lacto-fermented dill pickles that I was commissioned to create for the grand opening of a new artisan butcher shop.  They were incredibly tasty, as I expected they would be...but.  But it was the first time that I had used small slicing cucumbers mixed in with a pickling type.  I bought them via an on-line post for pickling cucumbers, and that is what I got when I picked them up.  They were freshly picked, firm and crunchy and sweet. 

When I took them out of the crock, many of these "non-pickling" variety cucumbers where flattened, squishy and limp.  Not in a rotten way, just in an unappetizing way.  I did not want to toss them, but they were not to be seen in public either.  As I sorted out the flat ones I was bothered by the size of the growing pile, I didn't want to waste this good food.  Some idea's began to form.

I started by processing them in a food processor.  They were still delicious when finely chopped and had lost all of their awkward appearance. I divided the batch and came up with a superior hot dog condiment and a sweet pickle relish.

Pickle Kraut

Turn both hot dog stand favorites into one great condiment. Why chose relish or kraut, when  you can have both. Simply add chopped pickles to plain sauerkraut, mix and store in a jar, packing the kraut under the brine. Place in the refrigerator

Lacto-fermented Sweet Dill Relish

4 lbs. lacto-fermented dill pickles, chopped in a food processor

1 cup finely chopped onions

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons raw cane sugar

2 - 3 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar

Mix these ingredients in a large bowl. Taste.  Add more sugar or vinegar if you feel they are not strong enough.  When it is pleasing transfer this mixture into a 2-quart jar.  Make sure that the vegetables are under the brine and allow to sit on the counter for a day, with the lid loosely affixed.  This will give the flavors time to ripen and the onions a chance to ferment.  Store in the refrigerator for a few more days to enhance flavor.

Dill Pickle Relish

Pickle Soup

Polish Pickle Soup

It was a glorious spring day, in the way that only May can deliver in Southern Oregon.  The fields and mountains were green, the apple blossoms sprinkled the ground with petals, and the scent of lilacs wafted through the air.  I was at a gathering of neighbors. Tom and I were talking about, well what else, fermenting vegetables.  Pickles, to be exact.  He shared with me that his ex-wife was Polish and she grated pickles in  soups.  I was intrigued and went home with some concepts, but mostly wanted to grate a pickle.  One of our sons said it is his new favorite.

6 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 medium carrots sliced
3 cups rich chicken bone broth, or vegetarian broth
2 tablespoons butter, or sunflower oil
6-7 green onions sliced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 teaspoon dried dill weed, or a couple of sprigs fresh chopped leaf     

1 teaspoon mustard seed
2 large dill pickles, grated
1 cup pickle brine
salt and pepper to taste
garnish with fresh chives and sliced hard boiled eggs

You will want to choose a soup pot that is made from a non-reactive material, as this soup contains brine.  The acidity can leach from the reactive metals.  See chapter on Crocks, Rocks, and tools of the trade.
In the first pot you will put the potato cubes, carrot slices, and the broth.  Bring this to a boil, simmer until the potatoes are tender.  Remove from heat and set aside.
In a soup pot, heat the butter or oil over medium heat.  Toss in the green onions, garlic, and mustard seeds, stirring often cook until the onions and garlic are soft, but not browned.  At this point transfer the potato carrot mixture to this pot.  Take a potato masher and gently mash the vegetables.   You only want to break them up a bit, allowing the potatoes to loose the chunky shape.  This will thicken your soup.  Add the brine, the grated pickles, and dill weed.  Bring this to a simmer, continue to cook for a few minutes allowing the flavors to meld.  If the soup is too thick you may add a bit more brine or broth. When it is pleasing add salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with the chives and sliced eggs.

Footnote on Rich Chicken Bone Broth:
There are many recipes for making soup stocks, truly the basis, or foundation of the flavor of your soups.  Stocks are easy,  to make and then to freeze for a more instant ingredient. They just require a bit of planning.  I do not claim the final word on broths but will share what I do.  I will  take a whole chicken put in a stock pot with any ‘extras’ that came in it.  Though I am finding most chickens don’t give you the neck or giblets these days.  I cover it with cold water and bring it to a full boil.  Then turn the heat down immediately.  I have read that this helps draw the flavor.  Skim of any foam that develops, carefully as to not remove the fat.
I let this simmer for about an hour, I then remove the whole chicken from the broth and cut off the meat, in which to make a dish such as enchiladas.  Then all the bits, skin, bones, and  cartilage go back into the pot.  At the point I will add some vegetables if I have them; half an onion, celery ends, and carrots.  I also add a tablespoon of vinegar to draw the minerals from the bones. I start the pot to simmer again, this time I will let it cook all day, this can be 6 - 12 hours.
I strain every thing out, and this becomes the base.  I use what I need or freeze portions in mason jars.