Well, I’m still getting over the shock that it’s September already, but shock aside, we’re still in full produce swing around here and I am happy to write about it!
With the following items still making their way through farmers’ markets, grocery stores and kitchens:
It’s hard not to also get anxious and excited for the return of the cooler weather crops, like:
Many of us by now are inexplicably growing weary of cooking with tomatoes, squash, eggplant, etc. Why can’t we carry all of this amazing fresh produce with us into February? But wait, we can. Recently I taught a Fermentation & Food Preservation class in which I showed my determined students how to preserve any fruit or vegetable without freezing or canning. The idea for the class came after about a year’s worth of experimentation with my husband to find just the right method that carries with it the following necessary requirements:
The preservation technique must be easy, quick, and require little-to-no refrigeration. We settled on fermentation and drying as our two preferred methods, and in using them over the last year, have managed to preserve everything that we so desire. We tend to ferment vegetables and dry fruits (since this leaves each type of produce in its most natural flavor state). I won’t go into a ton of detail here because I’ll be teaching another class soon, so sign up or give me a suggestion of a time/date that you’d like to take class and I’d be happy to teach to a group of as little as five of your friends! Think wine and fermentation: a winning combo for a friends’ night out. Classes are $25/person. What I will say is that eating fermented foods (they have a miniscule amount of alcohol: less than 1%) is one of the best things you can do for your body. It’s like eating yogurt times 10! With so much healthy bacteria, fermented veggies help our digestive systems regulate. Eastern cultures never stopped practicing the art of fermentation, it’s just that there’s been a renewed interest in this country lately, and for good reason.
What I WILL do today is give a brief run down of lacto-fermented vegetables, as well as link to a few books that I think are excellent for beginners and pros alike. I’ll address drying another time.
Using any vegetables you like (whole cucumbers are a great starter) and a large sanitized glass jar with a lid, (1 gallon is good, but 4 quart-sized jars also work. Any smaller and you’ll have trouble reaching in to evenly distribute veggies.) closely pack whole, cleaned vegetables until you can hardly fit anything else in. Add some whole garlic cloves and maybe even a pinch or two of red pepper flakes if desired. Dissolve 2 tablespoons pink Himalayan sea salt in 2 cups water by heating on the stove until boiling. Transfer to a larger container and add enough cool water to equal 2 quarts. Pour cooled salt brine mixture over vegetables until they are submerged. If any float to the top, fill a small clean plastic Ziploc bag with a small amount of water, pressing out any remaining air as you close the top. Place this bag on top of your vegetables and lightly screw on lid so that it can’t fall off if moved, but not too tight that air can’t easily pass through. (Fermentation creates gas that can eventually cause a vessel to explode unless the gas has a way to escape.)
Now, the even easier part: Let your jarred vegetables sit on the counter for a week, making sure to “burp” the lid (untwist to release gas, then lightly reseal) once a day. By day three you will probably see the brine getting a little cloudy, and your jar might be beginning to overflow a bit. In that case, place a towel under your jar to avoid spilling all over the counter. If at any time it looks like your vegetables are not completely covered in water, simply place jar carefully in the sink and refill to the top, if nothing floats, then you no longer need your Ziploc bag. After 1 week or when you notice that the overflow has stopped, your veggies are ready to be sealed and stored in a cool, dark place (basements are good). Kept like this, fermented vegetables can go unrefrigerated for a year. Once the jar is opened, they should go in the fridge. What I suggest is designating 1 large jar as your fermentation vessel, and repacking your vegetables into smaller jars once fermented so that storing them in the fridge will take up a lot less room when you’re ready to crack open a jar.
Make sure to use a clean utensil to remove veggies, and be aware that there is a type of white yeast that can form on top. It is a little thick and stringy, but is harmless (it’s actually great for you) so don’t discard veggies that present in this way!
Here are some of my favorite books:
Happy Fermenting! And remember, feel free to comment and ask questions.0