Saturday, April 27, 2013

Adventures in Food Preservation Part 1: Fermentation

I am fortunate enough to be taking a class offered through San Diego City College, AGRI 128: Food Preservation Skills and I'm extra fortunate cuz it's taught by a friend of mine.  For the past several years I've been interested in actively cultivating my homesteading skills, especially related to preserving the bounty of the harvest, because these are lost arts, and I believe our survival as a species depends on our remembering the cultural heritage of these arts.  Why?  Well, as my friend and teacher reminds us, to increase our food security: we can increase our local- and self-reliance while we decrease the cost of food and decrease our risk of food poisoning by DIY-ing our food system.

It is also fortunate that homesteading is currently enjoying a renaissance, particularly around the culinary arts. Those of us who didn't learn how to pickle, jam, culture, cure, salt, dry, candy and ferment at our grandmother's knee can now build community and skill-share as we learn to "put up" food together with our like-minded friends (hey, maybe order of case or 2 of produce, saving even more $, and have a preservation party).

The People's Co-op deli recently started making their own raw, organic sauerkraut (yay!), which saves them and us a lot a money.  And like so many other foods before this, I never liked stinky sauerkraut until I had the real stuff, which is quite lovely on my veggie dog on sprouted wheat bun with a little fresh tomato and whole grain mustard.

Fermentation increases the digestibility of that healthy fiber in our beautiful produce and preserves its nutrients (and for cabbage, that's the vitamin C and beta-carotene).  And eating these foods helps build and maintain our healthy gut flora (which, compared to our ancestors, is sorely lacking in biodiversity, leading to all sorts of dis-ease states for us today).  Eating more cabbage, filled with micro-nutrients, can help reduce our risk of the big C.  Cabbage (and all plants in the Brassica genus - broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi...) have naturally occurring lactic acid-producing bacteria (the good-for-our-gut kind), which allows the cabbage to ferment in a good way with a little chopping and salt.  Here's our recipe from class:

2 pounds of fresh, clean, organic, sliced or chopped cabbage (be it red, green, smooth, napa or savoy)
1 tablespoon course sea salt (salt inhibits the growth of bad bacteria; non-iodized cuz iodine will kill off the good bacteria)
1/2 teaspoon whole caraway seeds, optional
1/4 teaspoon whole juniper berries (don't eat these!  pick them out when eating the finished product), optional

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and mash with clean hands until the cabbage begins to give up its liquid and ingredients look shiny.  Stuff mixture into a clean, wide-mouth quart jar.  Press cabbage firmly to completely submerge in the briny liquid.  Put a weight (l used a slightly smaller jar filled with water but there's a very convenient and cheap airlock and weight available at the Co-op) on top of the cabbage to keep it submerged, cover with cloth to keep anything else out (or use an airlock), and keep in a cool, dark, dry place.  And in 3-4 days: probiotic yumminess!  Apparently you should check it everyday to make sure the cabbage is all submerged and no mold forms on top (and if it does, just remove it), but I didn't have any such issues.  When you like the way it tastes, put a lid on it and keep it in the fridge for months.

As the cool-season crops sing their swan song, now is the time to try this out. And after you've eaten your [insert your favorite Brassica here] kraut, save the lactic acidy-water to inoculate other veggies that you'd like to ferment: carrots, cucumbers, beets (more on this later)...

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