Food Preservation I: Fermentation
If you’re using your greenhouse primarily for your household, then you might find that you’re simply producing too much to eat everything fresh. This month we’ll look at how we can utilize all that excess vegetable matter. Fermentation is a process we humans have been using for thousands of years and is an easy, delicious and healthy solution that doesn’t require any specialized equipment.
Brine is just a simple solution of water and salt, which draws moisture out of your vegetables as well as protects against rot, funguses, microorganisms, etc., and also promotes the growth of healthy bacteria. The proportion of water to salt varies, but the more salt you use the slower the process. 1-3 Tablespoons of sea salt per quart of water is a good general range.
The simplest method of brining is to place the vegetables in a large, wide mouth crock or large jar (1 – 3 gallons), add your brine solution– just enough to cover them, place a plate or similar flat, food safe item that fits into the crock, and finally place a heavy object like a jug to press the vegetables and give it time. Just make sure all your equipment and vegetables are nice and clean.
Adapted from Wild Fermentation (Takes 1-4+ weeks depending on temperature and coarseness of vegetables, and personal preference):
- Ceramic crock or food grade plastic bucket with 1 gallon or greater capacity
- A plate that fits snugly within crock / bucket
- Clean gallon jug or large jar filled with water
- Cloth cover (pillowcase or towel works well)
- 5 Pounds cabbage (red or green, chopped/grated however you like)
- Other veggies (optional)
- 2- 4 Tablespoons sea salt
- After chopping or grating cabbage, place in large bowl and sprinkle the salt over it– the salt will draw out moisture.
- You may choose to add other vegetables as well: carrots, onion, garlic, greens, beets, turnips, and Brussel’s Sprout all work well. Spices, apples, herbs, etc. also can give unique characteristics, so feel free to experiment.
- Pack the salted vegetables into your fermenting container, tamping it down as tightly to the bottom as possible.
- Cover the kraut with your plate and put your clean weight (jug of water) on top, this will force the liquid from the vegetables and eventually submerge them (over the next day or two).
- Cover the container with a clean cloth to prevent bugs and dust from getting in.
- Periodically check the kraut and press down on the weight– if your vegetables are old, they may not contain enough water to submerge themselves, if this is the case you can add a cup or two of brine.
- Continue checking every couple of days. A ‘scum’ may develop on the top, which can be skimmed off and is perfectly safe. You can determine when the kraut is done when it’s at the ideal tanginess– just taste it every day or couple of days. When it’s ready, put the kraut in clean jars and refrigerate.
If you want to really get into fermentation, from sourdough to miso, to beer and wine, pickles and ki1mchi, cheeses and much more, check out these books by Sandor Ellix Katz: Wild Fermentation, and The Art of Fermentation.
Coming soon: Other preservation techniques ( canning, drying and cold storage ).