Thursday, 27 October 2011

Preserving the abundance

We have been finding ways of preserving our produce to see us through the winter months and hungry gaps for centuries, but for many of us, this age old practice only turns us to making jams, chutneys and pickles. Although these are all wonderful ways of preserving and have there place in most peoples diets, there are many other exciting ways of preserving produce at this abundant time of year, none more so rewarding than lacto-fermentation!

My kitchen has turned into an edible science lab lately, as I have been experimenting with lots of different methods of lacto-fermentation. These methods have formed traditions in many countries where they have kept touch with using lactic acid to avoid putrification and develop nutritional enzymes to keep them healthy throughout the winter. The simple act of using salt, water and spices to keep beans, root veg and aliums has been somewhat lost in our present culture of pasteurizing everything. I have been making sauerkrauts for a couple of years now, and eat it everyday. I am overjoyed at the fact I am getting lovely big hard cabbages from Norwich FarmShare now, which means lots of kraut making! It is so easy to do, all you need is a bit of arm strength and a good strong rolling pin or mallet to pound your cabbages to get their juices releasing!

You can add any hard vegetables into your kraut: beetroot,carrot, squash, turnip, onions. Try also adding ginger,garlic, juniper berries, fennel seeds, caraway, dill seeds, celery seeds, cumin,chillis… be creative and come up with your own variations. I love to mix redand white cabbage for a ‘pink’ kraut, and add fennel seeds for a mild tangy mix, leaving it for about a week to ferment. The longer you leave your kraut,the stronger it becomes, so taste it every few days to see how you prefer. There are some great books on fermentation, such as Wild Fermentation by Sandor Elliz Katz and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Sally Fallon is a huge proponent of lacto-fermentaion in her book and for good reasons:
The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anti carcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.
Here is my basic recipe for sauerkraut:

1 large white cabbage
(or half each of red and white cabbage)
1-2 tbsp sea salt

Firstly, remove the outer leaves from the cabbage andset aside. I like to grate my cabbage using the food processor, as it releasesmore juices, but you can finely slice it by hand or grate using a hand graterif you like. Put the grated cabbage into a big bowl, and sprinkle with salt,mixing well with your hands. Add any other spices or seeds at this stage.
Using a strong implement, (a rolling pin is ideal) start to bash the cabbage to bruise the skin and release the juices.

You need to keep going until the juices come above the cabbage when you push itdown. Don’t be tempted to rush this part.. it’s crucial to the success of yourkraut!

When you are happy with the amount of juice comingfrom your cabbage, pack it into your sterile container of choice. A large roundpot or jar works well. You need something which you can fit something smallerinside to weigh the kraut down. Pack the cabbage in tight, pushing it down sothat the juices rise up above the cabbage, then place the outer leaves ontop,covering it all and up the edges. Place your weight ontop of the leaves, thecover everything with a clean towel.

Check your kraut every day, making sure that thecabbage is not exposed to air, and the juices are staying above the cabbage.The juice should increase as time goes on. Taste it after 3 days; it shouldtaste mildly tangy. If so, you can eat it then, or carry on fermenting it for aweek or more for a stronger kraut. Once ready, transfer into sterile jars and keep in the fridge tostop the fermenting process.

I am also experimenting with making lacto-fermented fruit chutneys using the whey, which the results are soon to be seen! All of my experimenting will be going to good use as I am co-teaching some 'fermentation masterclasses' this winter with another raw-food chef in Sussex, and I will be teaching some here in Norwich in the future too. I shall be back with results of my latest experiments, until then have fun with lacto-fermentation, dare I say it, it's addictive!

1 comment:

  1. The whole cabbages can be stored in salty water, if one is in possession of oak barrel and space to keep the barrel. Would not recommend plastic as the cabbage will pick up the taste.
    The process takes longer and in Balkans this way stored cabbages are available for use from December onwards.
    The whole “heads “of cabbages (with hard bits in the middle taken out) are covered in salt, submerged into water. The whole contents are pressed with two clean wooden sticks and a heavy clean rock. Barrel is then closed and left somewhere cool but not freezing. It is not possible to keep barrel in home as it will smell once fermentation kicks in.
    Preserved cabbage leaves are usually “stuffed” with mixture of rice and other vegetables or meat.