While I wait for food to grow in the garden, I’ve been playing around with growing things in the kitchen! Fermenting foods – with fungi and bacteria – makes them more digestible and nutritious. They can seem like an acquired taste, but I’m guessing you’ve already acquired a taste for cheese, beer, and chocolate. These are all fermented. Many sterilized canned products containing vinegar today, like pickles and mustard, used to be live fermented foods. It seems we are just starting to learn about the complexity and importance of our “microflora” – all the things living in our digestive system that help us process food and stay healthy.
To get inspired and feel more confident, I attended a Fermentation Workshop at our local Waldorf School. Jason from FolkFoods was great. In just two hours, he helped the interested but hesitant audience become confident fermenters. We all left eager to go home and make our own lacto-fermented vegetable creations!
To start, we all brought a pint canning jar. Crocks or buckets can be used as well, but canning jars allow for smaller experiments which probably are best for beginners!
Tasting a variety of fermented foods helped us understand how different chopping methods, time, and ingredients affect the flavor of the final product. In the photo above, there are fermented garlic scapes, leeks, beans, fennel, cabbage, cauliflower, and a red cabbage/veggie blend.
Next we chopped. Pretty much any vegetable can be made into a nice pickled product. Beans can make dilly beans, beets turn into pickled beets, and cabbage transforms into sauerkraut. Experimenting with cutting the same veggie into different shapes and sizes can help you learn what you like best.
Once our team had chopped the beautiful array of vegetables laid out by Jason, we packed our jars. After filling each jar with our favorite veggies, we packed them down and fit in even more leaving about an inch of head space. Any spices or herbs were then added along with salt, and water was poured over everything to make a brine. For every quart of veggies, 1 tablespoon of salt is needed. If you add in brine from a previous lacto-fermented pickle batch for whey from strained yogurt, you don’t need to use as much salt.
At home, I loosened my ball jar’s cap to avoid carbonating my contents and placed it in a safe but visible space in the kitchen. Each day I press down the veggies to make sure everything is under the brine. I’ve watched the colors blend more and more. The veggies started out tasting salty. Each day they get a little bit more sour thanks to the activity of my bacteria friends. I expect to find my favorite flavor between seven and ten days, when I will put the jar in the fridge.