Coming out World Series Game 6


Dear Fermentista,

I've got two questions for you, one technical and one more of a social kind of thing. First the easy one. Lucille and I have been together for a long time now and she has gotten me through a lot—lost jobs, car accident recovery and two wives. Lucille is a kegerator that I built during my college days from an old refrigerator left out on the curb. She has been with me through thick and thin. The past few years there's been a lot more of the thick. So, it was like February, when my girlfriend made me try real kraut. Man was it good! I just dove in. Now I have a couple of crocks going all the time, and I bring jars of the stuff to my buddies on the site. I love trying new things, especially anything hot or with smoked salts. Anyways, I make so much of the stuff that I need a place to keep it so I moved my keg out and started using Lucille. That was about the time the season started. What I need to know is what temperature should I keep Lucille at? Are krauts more like a Stout or a Pale Ale?

Second question: Do you have any advice for how I am going to talk about this to the guys when they come over for game 6 at my place? Most of them don't rib me anymore about eating because now that they are hooked on the stuff too but they don't know about Lucille's makeover.  I know the first time somebody tries to pull one and gets nothing and then opens that door they are going to give me some s***.

Go Mets!
Michael

______________________

Dear Michael,

As you know, a big part of pouring that perfect glass is managing the temperature of the beer because of the relationship between temperature and CO2. I suspect that is why you asked if it’s more like a pale ale than a stout because different beers absorb and hold CO2 at different temps. For your krauts and pickles you should think of them as at least a Lager but best as a Brown Ale, ie. 45° F to 40° F. Stouts at 50° F is getting too close to a temperature that allows the bacteria to wake up and start working, which means your ferments will continue to get sour and build up CO2 in your jars. 

Your second question is easy—there will be no game 6. Sorry. I should explain I was born in KC, George Brett was my hero growing up. I wore that stupid plastic batting helmet through those muggy hot summer days until my brother shattered it one day with a bat while it was still on my head. I firmly believe you will not have this problem as the Royals will take the next two games. Sorry.

Hopefully Kirsten won't see this post as she grew up in New York State and always roots for the underdog...

~Christopher

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 Fennel Cranberry Chutney :: Recipe from Farm to Fermentation Festival

Fermented Fennel Cranberry Chutney

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

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

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

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

Fermented Fennel Chutney
Makes 1 pint

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

Preserving Mint with Fermentation

Fermented Mint and Ferment'n Home Fermentation Kit

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

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

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

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

Fermented Wild Mint
Makes about a half pint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.