Much interest in Fermented Foods
(Original post dated 9-21-09)
From what you’ve heard, and I perceive, there seems to be interest in “fermented foods. ” Everybody talks about how it can help to rebuild your inner eco-system; restore the gut flora, help assimilate the food you eat better; clear up a bunch of problems and make the whole gut area “feel better”; reduce your craving for sweets in general. As for me, after having had problems with understanding my immune system and eternally trying to find ways to work with it and improve it – – bells went off when I learned about the process to ferment foods.
I know that I have raved on about my experiences with it now and then. I have not however actually told you how to do this. Felt that this was all covered when I explained how I learned about the fermentation process and its benefits from Wholesome Goodness who used to be in my blogroll before she shut her site down, and also from B.E.D.’s Donna Gates who often speaks on this subject and has shared her recipes with the world – often and is shown in the Body Ecology Diet book. I remember speaking about Dom whom I found in Australia (his Kefir-Kraut)
Alyson’s tutorial (Wholesome Goodness) on “how-to Ferment Foods” was superb. It was explicit and complete. I can not attempt to do over again as I am not equipt with cameras So this is why I have not given you a detailed account of how I do it or what I do.
While it is true that I tried to ‘teach my grand-daughters during those early, growing up years’ how to function in a kitchen, I did it mostly by osmosis. Expected it to transfer into their eager little brains through their own desire to learn and copy what they saw. Both learned how to sharpen knives, mince garlic, dice an onion, toss a salad and we always sat around a table and talked when we raised our forks to enjoy the blessings thereof. Good years. Even so, don’t see myself as a teacher – not these days. When I want to make something special like Biscotti or fermented foods, I amass all the recipes I value and find I take something from here and something from there and most often, don’t wind up with the same thing twice and seem to run a very loose ship as they say. The last time I made the veggies, I forgot about the hot peppers (recently bought and lying fallow in the frig) and I really miss them when I don’t include them.
Let’s Get Started
So, I am going to ramble just a little here on what I actually do to make a big batch. It is a good practice to assemble all that you will need – bowls, tools, like knives and cutting boards, etc., get the food processor out and place all the fresh, stuff out on the counter: e.g. cabbages, carrots, onion, garlic, hot peppers and any other fresh, green leafy favorite on hand. Sometimes I get out fresh ginger (to grate), and/or perhaps a bunch of cilentro (tossing out the stems). One needs a number of glass jars – pick your own amount and numbers. Alyson speaks of one-quart jars with those special lids. But the jars I use are a strange assortment of bigger glass containers with a rubber ring and attached lid with a funny clasp on it. Range in size from 1 1/2 qt to bigger ones – have about 8 of them. (Note: Larger quantity will take a little more time. One might start off with just a quart or two of course – just scale down amounts)
I distill my own water and also, make my own colloidal silver which requires having purified water, but with no carbon filters of any kind so I use, plenty of these big jars. Seems I’m always into something ‘cooking’ in my kitchen. Be sure you have un-polluted water on hand – not a good idea to use municipal water due to the chemical content – seriously! . .those chemicals can interfere with nature’s fermenting process. Another consideration, up front, is to decide whether or not you want to make it the old fashioned way (letting nature do whatever it does) or you want to use a starter which both Wholesome Goodness and B.E.D. recommend. As it happens, I’m about half and half on this point. Frankly, I can’t see any difference, they both taste about the same to me. The first time I made it, I couldn’t wait for the starter to come, so I had read a bit on it and found that the ancients did not rely on starters. This is a chemical reaction which happens via nature’s innate wisdom – that works for me! Most of the time I use BED’s Culture Starter as this assures the satisfaction of knowing that you ARE getting the very best cultures into your fermented food That is a comforting thought.
Not Quite a Recipe
I start with 2 or 3 heads of regular or red cabbage; 4 or 5 carrots, scrubbed; at least one red onion or large white; much garlic (6 – 8 cloves or a whole head) which is fine either crushed or finely minced; 4 or 5 Jalapeno peppers and maybe 4 – 5 of the smaller, hotter ones – the peppers must be opened to remove most of the seeds or else the fire would be too intense (for my taste) Its really cool to add whatever other green leafy veggie you might have on hand like kale, bok choy and so on. Or not, just cabbage is fine. One’s preference should dictate the choices. Adding a large crisp apple into the mix is wonderful. Adds a hint of sweetness, but the sugar part is mostly eaten up by the bacteria which develops in the fermentation period.
I like pretty and beautiful, so I quite naturally add as much as I can scrounge up for color and variety and try to plan for this personal pleasure. Your food stuff should be as fresh as possible and organic if you can (to assure that you are not getting all those darned chemicals we don’t really want) Speaking of things we don’t want in the mix, it is wise to be aware that Donna Gates and others recommend that we NOT USE SALT of any kind to season this mix. And this would be for the same reason – it slows the bacterial action and fermentation process down measurably. Not a good thing. If when eating your fermented foods, you feel it needs seasoning for your personal taste, by all means, use a little sea salt – go for it.
First We Assemble
Best to assemble all that you will need, I have huge bowls which I questioned myself on when I bought them as they are really large and cumbersome and a nuisance to house. But oh my, I wonder how others manage to do all this if you don’t have these big bowls. Get out your best butcher knife (sharpened) in order to cut the fresh produce into pieces which will fit into your food processor. It is good to use the slicing blade on cabbage, tho I personally like it grated (large) a bit better. Also, grate the carrots and onions and whatever else. Slice or grate – your choice for both size and appearance.
CABBAGE: Generally, plain ole cabbage is what most people use – me too. Tho I have also made a great batch with 1 red cabbage and 1 white one and a batch of beets (scrubbed and stemmed). It was gorgeous due to the red contents and I really liked the flavors. Rinse off your cabbage and remove and SAVE the courser outer leaves – these will (at the end) be folded, and stuffed into the tops of your jars to secure your “batch” submerged under the brine – very important. So this must be done BEFORE you start chopping stuff up. Then, you can quarter your cabbages, and with the large butcher knife, stand each quarter in a way that you can sever the inner hard core which is probably only good for one thing – to munch on.
Next, the Brine we want to use. Ideally, it can be a cup or so of the veggies you have already chopped up placed into a blender to puree a little bit along with a couple of cups of that good, pure water (might want to buy some spring water), and then maybe a cucumber or two and/or a stalk of celery or two. Sorry to be so vague, but I have no idea how much you will be making. We want a pretty good slurpy mess to pour over the chopped veggies as they sit in the jars. Want enough to cover completely and come up to within an inch or two of the lid. Leaving room for the folded outer cabbage leaf which you have wadded up before putting the lid on.
I’ll tell you one of my own special little secrets. This happened several months ago that I guess I also had no idea how far to go in my planning or gauging the amounts of anything – this was new to me. I didn’t have enough of those outer leaves saved and now I was at the end and panic was mounting – what to do? I had just spent hours in chopping and fixin and stuff, be damned if I was going to lose any of this over some miscalculation. At the back of the silverware drawer is a collection of the pretty corks I liked and had saved (pack-rat that I am) from varying wine bottles over time. So I used 2 -3 corks at the top of my jars to keep the veggies submerged. Worked great, I kid you not. This is a resource I continue to use. It pleases me, and I don’t have to “save” as many cabbage leaves.
The Starter Culture
If you do in fact want to use a starter, it must be done up front in the beginning as it needs a little time to waken, eat some thing and digest a little before it sets to work. (Isn’t that just a glorious concept?) Empty one of the packets of Culture Starter from the box into about 1 1/2 cup warm water to which you have added either one teaspoon of sugar or honey, etc. This must sit for about 20 minutes or longer while the L. Plantarum and other bacteria waken and starts digesting the sugar. This is then added to the brine which is poured over the veggies before finishing.
Putting it all Together
Shred up your veggies and gather them into large bowls, tubs or what-have-you. Because I use rather hot peppers in my choice, I must also don disposable gloves. The one time I didn’t do that, I was in serious distress with my hands for the rest of the day. So lift and blend your mixture til its all pretty and the way that appeals to you. Then start filling your jars by measured quantities. Add to the jar, tamp it down tightly either with your fist, an old-fashioned potato masher or other tool; add more, tamp down again till nearing the top. Want to leave about 2 inches free at the top. I don’t understand why, I just do it as that is what they all say. Now is the time to fold the cabbage leaves you have saved and insert into the tops. Push down. (I put corks on top of that and push down again.) Pour over the brine into each jar and clamp or screw down your lids. fairly tightly. (It doesn’t take as much brine as one might imagine since all has been tamped down so tightly. It is important to completely cover entirely with brine)
Okay, Here is my Final Secret:
This probably doesn’t happen to anyone else, I have no way of knowing. I have a lovely pantry off my kitchen. Its very convenient and practical. The first time I made the fermented veggies, I had maybe 4 or 5 of those big jars and since they are rather large and take up some space, I put them high on a shelf where they would be undisturbed and under no threat whatsoever. They leaked all over the place. So since my very first time, I have learned to bring up the Coleman Cooler (used for cooling foods for a picnic) and place all the jars in that and just leave it on the floor in its quiet, safe environment where it is free to generate as much juicy overflow as it wants. Since I wash it and clean it out after use, I’m sure one could use this juice. But I’m a Virgo type who finds it difficult to share a bite of anything with anyone. Ugh! I’m quite certain, its very healthy stuff, I just can’t drink it myself, tho I am sure it would heal something.
As an aside, its perfectly fine to save the brine from one batch to another – it is brimming with bacterial heavenly bodies
I generally leave my fermenting foods to percolate for 8 to 12 days. Now that it is cooler, especially. Really warm weather will complete the process in a matter of days. You can let your own taste buds be the judge. Once you have determined it to be ‘cooked’, just put them in a frig which slows the process down. They keep under refrigeration for many months they say. I have never had any last that long.
About that Taste!
You have no doubt heard that Fermented Foods or Kim-chi is an acquired taste? It’s true. For many people, it takes a little getting used to. I remember how stunned I was after all that work and waiting to finally taste it and be so dumb-struck with the taste! I emailed Alyson right away and she, God bless her, got back to me just as fast, to hang in there, that I could get some corn chips or something to scoop up some quantity to get some of it into my body. It was a good idea. But by the time her message reached me, I had already got “used to it” and in fact, learned to really like it. I try to take some of it with two out of three meals daily. There are so many benefits its hard to enumerate. One big plus is that I no longer worry about taking B-vitamins any more as my fermented veggies are making more and better Vit B than anything I could buy in a jar of pills.
Keep your eyes and ears open to find new and different recipes. Be courageous – try new things, it really is fun. Please drop me a line if you wouldn’t mind sharing how you are doing. Jan
(I am re-issuing this post as one of my favorite acquired friends from South Africa has been unable to access this post from the archives. I had no idea that this was a problem, and I regard this information to be important. Jan 4-2-12)