To ferment your own food is to lodge an eloquent protest—of the senses—against the
homogenization of flavors and food experiences now rolling like a great, undifferentiated lawn
across the globe.
At Kalu Yala, we are experimenting with many ferments, starting off with a batch of sauerkraut and cranberry hibiscus. The results are sure to be tasty and will be included on the next blog post. I’ve provided some insight into this ‘sour’ subject.
In the 21st century, rather than asking ‘whats for dinner?’ we should be asking ourselves, ‘whats fermenting?’. The art of fermenting, cultivating beneficial bacteria and microorganisms in our food by culturing, has been a popular subject in food culture. It’s become a hot trending topic, strangely, even though fermentation has been around since the 1850’s. Louis Pasteur was the first to put it to practical use, beginning with one of the world’s most popular ferments, beer. Wild culturing is just beginning to poke its head up into recent food culture,and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Fermentation could be our answer to the great ‘superbug’ panic, and the widespread over-prescribing of antibiotics. With proper technique, fermenting provides us with an abundance of good bacteria, and makes nutrients in our food more bio-available. Just take sauerkraut, for instance, which is simply shredded cabbage and salt left out for a period of time. The brilliancy of this simple condiment is by adding salt, the cabbage is able to break down in a way that it becomes more digestible. Cabbage is loaded
with vitamin C, which is easily digested by our bodies with the help of a little fermentation.
One can write endlessly of the health benefits associated with fermenting, but the flavor is something out of this over-processed,
convenience laden, food world. Fermentation titillates the palate with a unique tangy flavor, unlike any bland store-bought pickle, kraut or ketchup. Just think of the best home-cured corned beef brisket you’ve ever had. Paired with a nicely fermented kraut and rustic grainy mustard, we’re talking about foodie heaven here. Queue the salivation. Rejoice! We’re back in flavor country, folks. The question one might be asking next is, ‘how do I get started?’ Not only are fermented foods delicious and beneficial, they are ridiculously easy with a little practice, and relatively cheap to make. Let’s take another look at sauerkraut. The method is very simple chop 2 heads of cabbage into a large bowl. The cut is just personal preference, depending on if you like it coarser or very fine like a reuben ‘kraut. Sprinkle about a tablespoon on top and massage into the cabbage. Queue Barry White music. Next, pack cabbage into a large bucket, or into mason jars, whichever you prefer. If using bucket method, be sure to weigh down cabbage with a heavy, clean plate. Seal Mason jars and cover bucket with a cloth to keep out bugs. Leave in a dark, cool area (basements are nice) for 1-4 weeks, depending on how sour you want the ‘kraut to be. Taste your product every week or so, to monitor flavor. Easy, right? Just a note on salt amounts. You will want to add a touch more salt in the summer and less in the winter. The salt protects from the cabbage rotting in the summer months. By adding less salt in the winter, this helps the sauerkraut to ferment faster in the cooler months.
If you’re feeling a little frisky try this recipe for basic sour pickles by master-fermenter, Sandor Katz. His food, ‘Wild fermentation’, is a great resource on all things cultured. Happy fermenting!
Timeframe: 1-4 weeks
• Ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket
• Plate that fits inside crock or bucket
• 1-gallon/4-liter jug filled with water, or other weight
• Cloth cover
Ingredients (for 1 gallon/4 liters):
• 3 to 4 pounds/1.5 to 2 kilograms unwaxed
• cucumbers (small to medium size)
• 3⁄8 cup (6 tablespoons)/90 milliliters sea salt
• 3 to 4 heads fresh flowering dill, or 3 to 4
• tablespoons/45 to 60 milliliters of any form of
• dill (fresh or dried leaf or seeds)
• 2 to 3 heads garlic, peeled
• 1 handful fresh grape, cherry, oak, and/or
• horseradish leaves (if available)
• 1 pinch black peppercorns
1. Rinse cucumbers, taking care to not bruise them, and making sure their blossoms are removed. Scrape off any remains at the blossom end. If you’re using cucumbers that aren’t fresh off the vine that day, soak them for a couple of hours in very cold water to
2. Dissolve sea salt in ½gallon (2 liters) of water to create brine solution. Stir until salt is thoroughly dissolved.
3. Clean the crock, then place at the bottom of it dill, garlic, fresh grape leaves, and a pinch of black peppercorns.
4. Place cucumbers in the crock.
5. Pour brine over the cucumbers,place the (clean) plate over them, then weigh it down with a jug filled with water or a boiled rock. If the brine doesn’t cover the weighed-down plate,
add more brine mixed at the same ratio of just under 1 tablespoon of salt to each cup of water.
6. Cover the crock with a cloth to keep out dust and flies and store it in a cool place.
7. Check the crock every day. Skim any mold from the surface, but don’t worry if you can’t get it all. If there’s mold, be sure to rinse the plate and weight. Taste the pickles after a few days.
8. Enjoy the pickles as they continue to ferment. Continue to check the crock every day.
9. Eventually, after one to four weeks (depending on the temperature), the pickles will be fully sour. Continue to enjoy them, moving them to the fridge to slow down fermentation.