T’is that season again! You know it well, when the gardens are so full of abundance, and you are completely over whelmed with such a downpour of produce that you don’t have a clue what to do with it all. Maybe you live in the city and find such great buys at the Farmer Markets or local stores, still what do you do with it all. At our organic farm, we try to be as sustainable as possible. The key here is deferring some of this seasonal abundance to later in the year. There are several ways to preserve foods into those frosty days of winter. You can dry, can, freeze, smoke, pickle and/or brine them. Our favorite way is to lacto-ferment.
Natural Lacto-Fermented foods are quite easy to do, with great health benefits. There is no special equipment or ingredients you need for fermenting. You can simply use a mason jar, or a 1-gallon ‘mayonnaise’ jar; but a good crock-pot works the best. You might also need a little time and patience.
The idea with lacto-fermentation is that the action of the microorganism will preserve the food. In other words when these friendly organisms are in large enough numbers, other more nasty organisms cannot survive. This is basically an ecological solution, with bacterial balance of harmony. We start off with a brine solution (salt and water) that most microorganisms can’t survive in accept the beneficial lactic acid forming bacteria. These beneficial organisms literally eat the sugars in your vegetables, converting it into lactic acid. This gives a distinctive yummy sour or pickle taste to the vegetable. Think fermented sauerkraut. The lactic acid also makes the food and liquid more acidic, further creating a solution more inhospitable to nasty microorganisms that rot vegetable. By the way, these acidic foods are actually alkaline forming in your body, another distinct plus.
If you have ever visited a Jewish Deli in a big city like Montreal, Toronto or New York City, you have probably tried fermented pickles instead of simple vinegar soaked pickle. Even though the Deli and the vinegar taste similar, I find the fermented ones taste so much better, also delivering all kinds of healthy pro-biotic bacteria. The vinegar pickles have a much longer shelf life than the fermented ones, but we can keep the fermented ones for a good year or so. The next biggest thing is the vinegar pickles are good to eat after 3 month, while I am eating the fermented ones after 3 days, with full flavor being delivered by about 1 week. The ones I have included as pictures are only four days old and all I can say is;
‘OMG they taste great!’ Can you taste their tanginess and smell the aroma from the photos?
The nice thing about lacto-fermented vegetables is that you can ferment almost any vegetable the way our ancestors did. The basic process works with other vegetables and other spices. If you use more salt, it will just be very salty, but last the longest. If you use less salt, it may not last as long. I like to add umaboshi vinegar to get the best of both worlds. For more information, recipes, and ideas, I highly recommend the following books: Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz; Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon; or Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin.
The three items I fermented this week are cucumber pickles, beets and zucchinis and I would love to share these recipes with you. You can vary the taste by changing the spices and herbs added.
Pickled cucumbers (Dill Pickles)
4 Kilo small cucumbers
1/2 cup sea, Celtic, Himalayan salt (8 tablespoons)
6 – 9 dill heads and leaves
4 – 9 heads of garlic (I like garlic, you can leave it out or even add more)
2 Horseradish leaves (can use grape, cherry, oak leave for tannic acid to keep pickles crunchy; optional)
3 tablespoons Pickling spices (I use mustard, dill, pepper, caraway seeds with some bay leaves; vary to your desire)
250 ml sauerkraut juice or whey
60 ml umeboshi ‘vinegar’ (optional)
6 liters choline free water
- Rinse and clean cucumbers, leaving them in quite cold water (you can even add ice if it is a hot day). This firms up the cucumber and makes them start fermentation a bit slower.
- Dissolve salt, into the water. I use less salt because I add the umeboshi ‘vinegar’. This is really not a true vinegar, as it is really the brine that come off making umeboshi plum paste. I find this creates a very delicious taste and lets me get away with less salt. If you do not have umaboshi, then increase salt by about 50% (3/4 cup) for long preservation. Make sure the salt is quite dissolved, by stirring it. Then add in the pickling spice, sauerkraut juice.
- In a clean bottle or crock, place ½ horseradish leaves on the bottom, with ½ dill. Place the cucumbers into the container and about 50% of the way full, add more horse radish and dill, then rest of cucumbers. Sprinkle garlic throughout the mixture.
- Add the brine and spice solution, covering the cucumbers.
- Place a clean plate (with water bag) or stone on top of the cucumber, brine mixture. You need to keep the cucumbers under the brine level or they will mold.
- Cover the container and store in moderately temperature place (18 – 23oC) for 2 – 4 day. After 4 days, move it into a much cooler place like the basement or garage. The cooler the place, the slower the fermentation and the less problem with spoilage.
- Check every day. If any surface mold is present, don’t worry just skim it off. If it creates a lot of stringing molds that goes down into brine, it is a problem. You should feed it to your compost heap and chalk it up to experience.
- As soon as it is tasty enough (1 – 4 weeks), move it into a refrigerator or cold cellar situation.
- You can keep in the refrigerator for up to 10 months. You can ‘lightly can’ it. This means heating canning jars up enough to be hot, but not enough to kill bacteria. This canning is slightly hotter than baby bottle temperature but enough to seal the lid and preserving at least 75% of the friendly bacteria. You can be stored for several months outside of refrigerator. I have had some friends that have kept them for 2 years in a cold cellar, but it is basically refrigerator temperature. For long-term storage outside of refrigeration, you should boil in a canner sealer for 10 min. This will kill at least 50 – 75% of friendly bacteria, but you can still enjoy it 6 – 18 month later.
Makes 3 litres
2 liters Beets
1 horse radish leaves
two handfuls of dill
3- 4 heads of garlic
8 tablespoons of sauerkraut juice
3 Tbsp. salt
1 liter chlorine-free water
30 ml umebosho vinegar
dill, caraway seeds, mustard seeds
1. Cook, peel and slice the beets
2. Place horseradish leaves on bottom of crock
3. Place beets in crock
4. Mix in other ingredient, cover and ferment for 3 – 7 days
5. Follow other instructions for cucumber pickles
3 liters of chopped (into bite-sized pieces) Zucchini
2 – 3 sliced onion rings
2 Tbsp. mustard, 2 Tbsp celery leaves
Same ratio of brine water as above
4 – 8 Tbsp. sauerkraut juice, or whey
30 ml umaboshi ‘vinegar’ (optional)
2 – 4 heads of garlic
Two handfuls of tarragon (optional)
Several garlic flowers (scapes)
- Put spices, and garlic cloves in the bottom of your jar or crock.
- Mix in onions and zucchinis
- Pour dissolved brine over mixture
- Weigh down with stone or plate
- Taste every day and follow above procedure