Fermenting: preserving the harvest
Interviewed by Edie Shaw-Ewald, RD
I met Caia at a Transition Bay Workshop in which we were both presenters. She presented on home fermentation. Intrigued by the whole fermentation process and the health benefits of fermented foods – I decided to interview her for this blog. Read on….
Tell us about yourself - and how you got into fermenting!
I'm passionate about what I eat, how it's produced, and where it comes from. I was working on my thesis in architecture, designing an educational kitchen/restaurant to teach about the food cycle, when I realized I cared a lot more about the food than the architecture!
I started fermenting because of my interest in the sustainability and security of our food system. Fermenting is a very easy way to preserve the local harvest! Preservation is important as it lets us get the most out of each season. Fermenting is also fabulous because it increases the available nutrition in the vegetables and adds healthy microbial flora to your diet.
What types of fermented foods have you made at home?
I have made water kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, various kimchi recipes, and lots of single vegetables. Water kefir is one of my favourite things to make because it ferments very quickly, and is such a nice refreshing drink in the summer. The only downside is that, because it is so prolific, it takes a lot of attention.
Are some more challenging than others?
Although the recipe is very simple, sauerkraut can be more challenging than others because it needs to ferment for a long time so there is more opportunity for things to go wrong over time. The same goes for anything you are fermenting with the intention of long-term storage.
Have you ever had a batch that failed? How could you tell?
I have had batches that failed, and it was always because I didn't do my due diligence to ensure everything was submerged properly. If you are careful at the start, you will reduce problems later on.
You'll know if things go wrong: if anything smells horribly unappetizing, changes to unexpected colours, or gets really soft and slimy - throw it out. There is one exception that is a common problem in sauerkraut: white lily pads of yeast bloom on the top of the brine. These can just be skimmed off and the kraut will be fine.
Is there a common problem that beginners in home fermentation experience?
Heaving is a natural side-effect of fermentation – this is when the gasses produced in the jar start to push the veggies and brine upward, and out of the jar!. It's more of an annoyance than a problem - since it is supposed to happen - but sometimes it can be messy. Don't keep your ferments on a surface that can't get wet, and when you open your jars to “burp” them, do it over the sink.
For beginner fermenters - what type of food would you recommend that they try?
It's not really a particular food, but a method that I recommend. Pouring brine over chunks of veggies is easier than making kraut. I suggest that beginners do this a few times to gain confidence. You just fill a jar with veggies, make a brine with non-iodized salt, fill the jar with brine, and wait. It is that easy.
Carrots and other root veggies are the easiest and give fast results. You can enjoy them about five days after you make them.
Easiest Fermentation Method
•veggies - choose from: crucifers (i.e. cauliflower, chincese cabbage, etc), root veggies, pearl onions, green beans, asparagus, green/red peppers de-seeded, parsnip, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichoke, sliced radish, whole green tomato
•non-chlorinated water (bottled water or water that has sat out overnight to let the chlorine evaporate)
•a mason jar
1. Wash and chop or slice the veggies into desired sizes – usually about bite-size. Stuff the veggies into your jar.
2. Make a 2% brine with the salt and water. That means you need 5 grams of salt per cup of water. I make the amount of brine that would fill the jar if it were empty, and then keep the extra in case I need to top it up in a few days.
3. Pour the brine over the veggies in the jar, and fill right to the top. Put the lid on.
While you're waiting for the magic to happen, every day you need to open the jar a tiny bit to let the gas escape. You should do this over the sink, because often the brine wants to escape, too.
What are the essential tools you need to ferment successfully at home?
Not much! Most of what you need, you probably already have at home: knives, cutting board, and a grater or mandolins would be handy. A scale is handy, but not necessary.
For long ferments, it's nice to have a special fermenting jar to keep the air out, but for shorter ferments (like kimchi) any mason jar is just fine. I really like the shape of Classico tomato sauce jars because they have a deeper shoulder which is perfect for keeping the veggies submerged.
The only thing you will probably have to buy if you're just getting into preserving is salt. You can't use regular table salt because iodized salt will make your brine cloudy, so you need pickling salt or another non-iodized salt.
Do you have a favourite recipe to share?
My real favourite is the simple method above, because it is SO easy. In just a few minutes I can ferment just about anything, and I can just try it in small batches and see how it turns out.
Here is another favourite:
My recipe is quite different than a traditional kimchi, but I love beets, and don't like too much spice. It's also more natural because I use sweet apple and onion for a bit of sweetness.
1 napa cabbage
1 beet, peeled and grated
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1/4 cup non-iodized salt + 500ml water
1 - 2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 - 2 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 yellow onion
1/4th cup Korean chilli powder
(optional) 2 tbsp fish sauce
1. Wash and chop cabbage
2. In a large bowl, dissolve salt in water – add cabbage to the bowl.
3. Let cabbage sit for 4 hours
4. Drain and rinse cabbage
5. Puree onion, apple and 1c water in blender
6. Mince garlic and ginger
7. Add enough water to chilli powder to make a paste
7. Grate or shred other veggies
8. Toss everything together
9. Press / mash / pound everything into jars.
10. Put the lid on tightly.
While it’s fermenting - crack the lid open once per day to let the gas out.