I remember the first time I came across a book on fermenting some 12 years ago. It was like an epiphany, the endless possibilities sparked off some kind of mad fermenting bug and no vegetable was safe. That same weekend I raided a friend’s Crab Apple tree and started to brew my first Apple Cider Vinegar. It was pink and cloudy and smelt tart (almost like real vinegar), but still I didn't quite trust it. How could I be sure it wouldn't kill me?
I left it brewing for close to six months, encouraging many friends to taste my new found hobby. Luckily, none of them died so I must have been doing something right.
From Vinegar to Goats Cheese (and stinking up my kitchen) it was an endless wonder discovering new recipes, creating my own, and learning more about the wonderful world of fermenting, a journey that is still ongoing today.
Fermented foods are all around us; wine, cheese, yogurt, beer, kefir, kimchi and the increasingly popular fizzy drink, kombucha. Fermenting as a method of food preservation has been around long before even the concept of a fridge existed - but how does it work? Lacto-fermentation preserves vegetables and fruits in an acidic environment at a PH of 4.5 which is inhospitable for food borne pathogens. Fermentation not only cultivates a rich source of probiotics, vitamins, and minerals, but also preserves a cultural heritage of traditional cuisines from around the world.
Fermenting isn't hard, all it takes is a willingness to try and perhaps, try again. Earlier this year I offered a free workshop at the Riverview Community Garden for anyone wanting to learn the basics. We had a good turnout with some regular gardeners and other locals who happened to walk by at the right time. By the end of the workshop, many seemed excited and confident to give it a try at home. For everyone that missed out, check out the basic recipe for Sauerkraut below and keep an eye on the Riverview Community Garden Facebook page as I hope to offer more Fermenting workshops in 2017!
Here is a simple starter recipe for Sauerkraut:
1 Cabbage (weigh it)
Sea Salt (do not use iodized salt as it can inhibit fermentation).
Some Spring Water (most tap water contains chlorine which can also inhibit fermentation).
Remove some of the outer leaves of the cabbage and leave to the side, you will be using them later. Cut the cabbage so it is easy to manage and slice into thin strips. Sprinkle the salt at a ratio of 1 teaspoon salt to one pound cabbage.
Mix really well, bruising the cabbage as you go. Leave aside for about an hour for the salt to draw out the liquid from the cells of the cabbage (osmosis).
Prepare your glass jars (mason jars are great). Take the salty cabbage and fill jars, pushing down as you go to remove any pockets of air that might get trapped and to release more water. Ideally you would like to have about an inch of cabbage juice on top, however this doesn't always happen, if not you can top up with spring water.
It is very important all the cabbage lies beneath the water to prevent surface molds from growing. Take one of the cabbage leaves you kept aside and with a knife trace around a jar lid to make a 'cabbage lid' which can be pressed down to keep ingredients submerged. DO NOT make an airtight seal or you will wake up to the sound of your sauerkraut exploding, trust me on this one. The lactobacillus will convert sugars into gasses that will need to be released as they feed throughout the first 7 to 10 days. These days are the gassiest, after that you can pop your freshly made sauerkraut into the fridge to keep for about 5 to 6 months. Feeling confident with this recipe? Mix it up and try adding some grated apple, fresh turmeric, carrot, caraway seeds or juniper berries.
Homemade jars of fermented vegetables make great gifts and are a fabulous way to keep your home grown veggies preserved through the winter. Enjoy!
About Jessica Nygren
A recent edition to Jersey City Heights with a passion for fermenting in all its delectable glory. When I am not busy experimenting in the kitchen, finishing my degree in Psychology or running after my 6 month old son, I work in private practice as a Core Energetics and Brennan Healing Science practitioner.