I remember watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" some years back, where he visited Eastern Europe, and did his usual feasting on traditional foods of the area. I don't remember the entire episode, but one thing always stood out in my mind...and that was the fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) that was part of everyday life there. I was surprised to see that the folks in Bourdain's show had their kraut in large-lidded crocks, stored below ground in a cool dark place, where they had been sitting for months, perhaps even a year or more...not refrigerated, not properly "canned"...and the voice in my head thought "Jeez, it's probably spoiled by now...how can they eat it and not get sick?"
Yes, I've made sauerkraut in the past, but always water-bath canned the batch to make sure it was "safe" for eating and storing. Little did I know that I was destroying all of the beneficial microbes in the kraut that I had worked so hard to cultivate while the mix was fermenting for a week or two. These many years later, I am read up, and prepared to get my feet wet in this whole new fermenting experience. I suppose I've had some trepidation, since we are all taught to be paranoid of "spoiled" food---and rightly so--- but fermented foods have been part of our biology and history for thousands of years, and clearly in many cultures, still are a normal part of the diet. Fermenting was an early means by which food could be preserved. And slowly over time, science has come to prove that these foods are rich in nutrients, aid in digestion, and support our immune system. Another interesting tidbit I've discovered while researching is that fermenting actually allows many minerals that are otherwise not readily available, to be absorbed and useful to our bodies once the food has been through a ferment. Plus, there are loads of beneficial bacteria present in fermented foods...no more having to buy those expensive probiotics at the health food store! There are countless testimonials of people who have not only benefited from incorporating fermented foods into their diets, but also have reversed debilitating diseases such as Crohn's and IBS.
My first attempt is a cabbage, carrot, and jalapeno kraut. I've simply sliced the cabbage (red, because that's what I had), shredded 2 carrots, thinly sliced a homegrown jalapeno, salted the batch and "massaged" it thoroughly. Within minutes, everything was glistening as the salt pulled the water out if the veggies. After letting it sit for about 45 minutes to allow for further brine to form, I tightly packed it into 2 separate glass jars, and sealed them with a water filled plastic Ziploc--(this ensures that all the veggies stay below the brine, and lacto fermentation can safely take place.) I'm currently waiting on an order of some fermenting supplies (glass weights, and one-way venting lids) which will hopefully make the whole process easier in the future...but in the meantime, I wanted to get started on something, and this batch should be ready in a week or so.
Also, soon we'll be carrying some fermenting supplies at our store (and online), in case you have an inkling to try this yourself. If you'd like to check out what I've been reading, 2 great books are "Fermented Vegetables" and "Fiery Ferments" both by Kirsten & Christopher Shockey. There are also many online recipes and fun social media groups that are focused solely on all aspects of fermentation.
Some of you may be way ahead of me and perhaps have been fermenting for some time...maybe you have success stories (or flops), words of wisdom, or a favorite recipe that you'd like to share. We would love to hear about it in the comments!
Take Care & Happy Homesteading,