Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rotten Tummaydaz

I hate seeing all those pasteurised, vinegar and sodium benzoate and other icky things- filled jars of 'preserves' all lined up row upon row in the grocery store. In fact I find being in the grocery store so upsetting that I really need to find somewhere else to buy food. Or barter; I'd prefer that. Anyway, it occurs to me that most people think that those preserves are fine, if not a bit too heavy on the salt. Without going into a defense of salt, I thought I'd share what I do to preserve veggies that leaves their enzymes and vitamins intact, and nourishes your body better than if they had been eaten raw or cooked.

This is adapted from a letter I sent to a woman who wanted to understand how to begin this process:

I'll briefly explain fermentation so that with this information, you can ferment anything. I'm feeling cheerful because I am right now enjoying the best batch of fermented broccoli I've ever had. We've moved north of 60* in Canada, and my ferments are so much better. I don't know if it's the quality of vegetables or the climate that has made the difference; it's probably both.

The active microbes in the fermentation process are called lactobacilli, which is why it is called lacto-fermentation. Lactobacilli (l-b) cover the surface of all living things, and you can even see them as a thin white film on the stalks of broccoli and on cabbage. This is the reason for only rinsing and not scrubbing foods that you want to ferment; if you scrub them (l-b) off the surface, you'll have to rely on wild yeast to ferment, which is doable, but depending on what you're fermenting, can just make alcohol instead of sour and crunchy veggies.

*Wild yeast will ferment flour for bread-making, which is better than store-bought yeast. This is called 'natural leaven.'*

So, rinse the veggies, do not scrub, or peel for the same reason as above, cut into bite-sized pieces, and pack tightly into a jar. I cut broccoli stems in slices about 1/2 centimetre thick and if I ferment the florets, I cut them in pieces that our dc can just pop into their mouths. For a 1 litre jar, I add two cloves of garlic cut once or twice and about 1.5-2 tablespoons of very coarse unrefined sea salt. I don't know how that would translate to a finer salt; 2 TBSP of fine salt might be too much.

The salt is in for flavour, minerals, and also to keep the food from spoiling while the lactobacilli grow and reproduce in the anaerobic (no oxygen) environment, at which point, the salt isn't needed to preserve, but it's already in there and it tastes very good. If you use too much salt, you can use the fermented veggies as an additive to salads and then use the leftover salt/l-b brine for the next batch; this batch will ferment faster and will not require more salt because the brine will be full of lactobacilli and you'll see that because it will look cloudy-white.

I use two-piece lids and leave them loose or the jars might explode. With the lid just placed on top, the gases can escape while no/very little new oxygen is introduced to the jar. Some say to put the lid on tight, but if the fermentation is happening fast, you might end up with either a broken jar in the morning, or when you open the lid to let out gases (which you would absolutely have to do with a tight lid), it may explode out like champagne (I've had this happen- sauerkraut garlic juice all over- not nice).

Then I wait. I might check the top if there are bubbles in the jar to make sure everything has stayed under water; anything left popping up will spoil. When I see bubbles forming, I jiggle the jars a bit to help the bubbles rise so that the food isn't pushed out the top. After I've been seeing bubbles and they calm down, I start taste-testing the food. When it's as sour as I like, and still crunchy, we eat it. Previously I had to refrigerate it to stop the fermentation from continuing, but here I keep it in a cool room.

Exclusively fruit ferments will need some added whey (from homemade yogurt or cheese- not powdered stuff) because it doesn't have as much lactic acid or lactobacilli as vegetables do, but I haven't had any trouble with tomatoes, so you'll have to experiment. If it were me, I would try a combination of fruit and vegetable, such as carrots and orange marmalade, or beets and apples (with cloves, yummy), just to make sure there's enough lactobacilli.

I have found that the slower the fermentation, the higher quality the end product. In the fridge, the process is likely too slow (unless you have a second fridge that you could keep at about 60-65*), but a cool place works very well. This is how you'll get crunchy, pleasantly sour veggies without much of a fermented taste- it's more like a very mild vinegar or a lemon-like sourness. If it's warmer, they'll ferment faster and be more like squeaky rubber and have a stronger 'fermented' flavour- still tasty though. Too warm, and they'll start to be mushy before they've finished fermenting and will be very strong tasting.

I don't keep recipes but I can estimate what I put in my 1 litre jars. I typically add 2 cloves cut garlic to broccoli, a TBSP black pepper corns to green beans, TBSP fresh cubed ginger and garlic to carrots, one tsp dried rosemary and 1/2 tsp nutmeg to cabbage/coleslaw, 2 cloves garlic and 1 TBSP peppercorns to cauliflower, 1 tsp cloves to pearl onions, nothing but salt to garlic (but I haven't done much of that- we eat so much fresh that there's never enough around to fill a jar), and I also make a tomato salsa: chopped tomatoes, finely chopped green, red and yellow pepper, green onion, garlic, salt. I've also used 1 TBSP mild curry and 1/2 cup raisins in a cauliflower ferment and it was yummy.

The queen of the ferments is sauerkraut. I rinse the outside of the cabbage, then quarter it, slice it very finely, put into a bowl, add some salt, dried and crumbled rosemary leaves, 2 cloves of cut garlic, and mix it all up, then go do something else. I come back after an hour, pound the cabbage until it's all bruised- it turns translucent when bruised-, pack it into my jars and push my pounding dowel into it until the cabbage juice rises to the top. I continue to pack it until there's only an inch left at the top of the jar. Then I let it sit. When it is done, you'll wonder why you've never had sauerkraut before and what that store-bought stuff really is. It usually takes two two-handed cabbages to fill one 1 litre jar. Then I go rest; this is labour intensive, unlike the lazy veggie ferments above. I pound six to eight cabbages at each sauerkraut session.

Oh, and a little garlic goes a very long way. If your ferment turns out too strong for you, just refrigerate it for a few months, and then try it again. It may have mellowed out and have become very tasty. Sauerkraut is supposedly better after 6 months of mellowing, but ours is eaten so quickly that I haven't been able to test this.

I think the key to figuring out what works best in your climate is to just start trying it. Start with the most simple recipe- maybe the broccoli stalks you may have thrown out before- slice thinly, pack them in tightly, add salt and water. Then watch them, and taste them every day (or more often if it's hot) so that you gain a sense of what is happening at each stage of fermentation.

I would not use refined salt of any sort- especially not table or pickling salt. If I absolutely had to use a 'grocery store' salt, I would find one that doesn't have any additives (I have heard that iodized salt spoils the fermentation process, but I have no personal experience with that), like a plain sea salt. It should stick together like a rock; if it flows, it's not just salt. Can you find a source of naturally harvested sea salt with all of its minerals? Ours has large and small crystals, all square-ish with one side of the crystal sinking inward. It's grey-ish and always wet.

It seems like so many instructions, but once you're doing it, it literally takes less effort than making a salad. I read and read too, and then when I started doing it, I kept thinking, "Is this it? I must be forgetting something." But it is it. It's very simple.

Fermented foods are very, very high in vitamins, especially B, and will recolonise an injured gut with microflora necessary for absorption and digestion of foods. Many cultures serve a fermented food at every meal for this reason. In Korea, they serve Kimchi, in Japan, pickled veggies; this is why a pastrami on rye is served with a pickle- it's supposed to make digesting the meat and bread easy and comfortable. The vinegar grocery store ones don't do that- they cause acid reflux, which is worse for eating ameat sandwich without adequate microflora, and many people are popping antacids for the rest of the day regretting the sandwich well into the night. A naturally lacto-fermented, UNpasteurised food with that sandwich will fix that problem.

Happy eating!


justsomename said...

They've discovered that alcohol shrinks the brain.

suneal said...

Then why don't you cut back, obviously your tolerance is lower than most.

Christopher said...



Umm, non sequitur...

Sarah said...

Craig, I am guessing that you are referring to this:

"if you scrub them (l-b) off the surface, you'll have to rely on wild yeast to ferment, which is doable, but depending on what you're fermenting, can just make alcohol instead of sour and crunchy veggies."

This is a point against using wild yeast from the surrounding air to ferment your food rather than making a lactobacilli-friendly environment so that alcohol isn't an issue.

Also, naturally fermented alcoholic drinks don't shrink the brain; contrarily, they nourish it- so well that it is possible to live off of some of them alone, and healthfully. You've heard that Guiness is a meal; well, where it isn't pasteurised, it is a *meal*, or is at least a very healthy beneficial food, like kombucha. These drinks contain so many vitamins and minerals that they can be considered superfoods, actually. Their alcohol content is not concerning because of the benefits of the food; alcohol is not 'bad' for us in it's proper state.

Commercially prepared alcoholic drinks (and Guiness shipped out of Ireland) are pasteurised, and usually packed into bottles that have been sterilised with methyl-alcohol, a known brain toxin. In fact, it has been shown in some studies that the effects of the wood alcohol used to sterilise are identical to what we assume are from consuming the drink; some people think that the stumbling and slurring are actually the result of methyl-alcohol poisoning.

I can personally testify to the completely different feeling and effect of naturally fermented alcohol in contrast to commercial swill. There is no 'rot-gut' with naturally fermented drinks, and it doesn't produce a cloudy-headed feeling either; it is purely relaxing, mild and soothing to the stomach.

And just so you know, having babies shrinks the brain too, apparently. On the other hand, it also reduces the amount of disease, mental disorder, and general unhappiness experienced by those who don't have them. So, I will drink my ferments, have my babies, and a shrunken brain, but at least I'll be healthy and happy, too! :)

justsomename said...

Excuse me for disturbing your carefully themed environment!
I don't know. I saw a news story about a recent study. I thought it fit well with the recent discussion about things that are temporarily convenient but damaging in the long term. I linked to two versions of the news story here:

justsomename said...

Do you think that Christianity is metaphorically more akin to choosing to abstain from vaccinations or receiving a vaccination?

Can we say that Christ bypasses humanities natural and failed immunization systems. Death is overcome through Christ's death. "death has lost it's sting". The Holy Spirit is injected promoting a restoration of the body.

On the other hand, it's like choosing not to have a vaccination because at least in a sense of suffering, it's a choice of suffering in the current with a hope for future glory.

Genie said...

I'm so glad to have found this. I've been trying to find out how to ferment broccoli and your guide for it is the first "recipe" I've found. Thank you! I hope to get some in a jar this very week!

I've been enjoying my first homemade sauerkraut, kimchee-style sauerkraut, and cordito (Mexican sauerkraut) this week. Now I want to ferment other vegetables!

Deborah said...

Do you think it would be fine if I fermented pumpkin with cabbage, brocolli and some tomatoes? Your advice would be much appreciated. I recently made my first saurkraut...All processed with my champion juicer. I used 1 cabbage about 3 or 4 medium carrots and 2 medium beetroots and a few potatoes....It worked really well..and I also used quite alot of wakame as well......

Chris Hugh said...

Great article. I am going to try to ferment some broccoli sprouts with whey.