Fun with Fermentation!
For me, summer is not only about eating as much bounty in all of its freshness, but also about preserving that bounty to enjoy in the midst of our snow-blanketed Vermont winters. While there is no way to quite capture the taste of a cherry tomato, still warm from the afternoon sun, or the sweetness and tenderness of baby kale, there are many preservation options that will help to elongate the life of your season’s goods. I myself prefer to ferment as much possible as nutrients are kept intact, often with additional nutrients created during the fermentation process.
Fermented products taste very much like their vinegar-based pickled cousins, but are considered to be healthier due to the live cultures they contain. Some commonly fermented vegetables include cabbage (known as sauerkraut), beets (known as sour beets), turnips (known as sauerruben), cucumbers (known as sour pickles), and carrots (usually fermented with ginger and called ginger carrots), but nearly all vegetables can be preserved through fermentation. I personally love to experiment with each vegetable I grow, eating some fresh, and fermenting some for winter consumption.
The typical brine solution for most vegetables, ala Sandor Katz of Wild Fermentation fame, is a 3.6% saline solution. This equates to 2 Tablespoons of sea salt per quart of water. For sour pickles you will want a stronger solution of 5.4% salinity which equates to 3 Tablespoons of sea salt per quart of water. Sour pickles need the extra salinity to help inhibit the mold growth that is common to this ferment.
For most ferments I chop my vegetables into different shapes and sizes, whatever feels right at the moment. I stuff them into a jar, packing down as I go, cover the veggies with my brine, cover with grape leaves, and finally insert my weight to keep the veggies submerged.
While there are many recipes out there, I urge everyone to experiment to find what they like. Here are a few of my favorites:
- 5 Lbs Cabbage
- 2-3 Tablespoons Sea Salt (Depending on the method used)
- 1 Quart Water (Optional)
There are two different ways to make sauerkraut: with and without adding additional water. I prefer to brine mine, adding the extra water, rather than pounding the juices out. I will give you instructions for both methods.
To make sauerkraut, chop your cabbage in a rough chop. Add some of the cabbage to the bottom of a large wide-mouthed jar. Sprinkle with a bit of the 3 Tablespoons of salt.
Now you will want to use the end of a French rolling pin or a dowel rod to pound the cabbage so that some of its juices are released. Continue to layer more cabbage, salting, and pounding each layer as you go.
When you have added all of your cabbage and salt to the jar, pound down enough so that the liquid level is nearly covering the cabbage. By the next day the cabbage should be fully submerged due to releasing more juices.
You will need to weigh down the cabbage to keep it submerged. There are many things that you can use as a weight. Some of the things I use are: rocks (boil first to sterilize); smaller glass jars filled with water; beans, marbles, or pebbles; clay weights; glass weights; really it’s up to you, be resourceful! I also use grape leaves to cover the vegetables I am fermenting so that nothing floats, as sometimes your weights may not completely cover all of your veggies.
To make the brined sauerkraut instead, just mix 2 Tablespoons salt into 1 quart of water. Rough chop your cabbage and pack it all into your jar. Pour the brine over the cabbage so it almost covers it, add your weights, and you are good to go.
You can also add seeds to your sauerkraut to add complexity and flavor such as caraway, dill, or juniper berries.
I cover my ferments with a thin cloth and put them in a cupboard or on the back of the counter. I begin tasting them for doneness after about 7 days. You want a slightly pickled taste, somewhat salty, but not overwhelmingly so. The saltiness will subside as the vegetables ferment. Keep checking every few days until it reaches your desired doneness. At this point you can pack the sauerkraut into smaller jars and keep in the fridge, ensuring each jar has enough brine to cover.
Sour Dill Pickles
- 3 – 4 Pounds Pickling Cucumbers
- 6-10 Heads Fresh Dill Flowers
- 6-8 Black Peppercorns
- 5-6 Cloves Garlic or Garlic Scapes
- 6 Tablespoons Sea Salt
- 2 Quarts Water
To make sour pickles place your cucumbers in a wide-mouth gallon jar, layering with your spices and garlic. Mix the 6 Tablespoons of salt into the 2 quarts of water until dissolved and pour your brine over the cucumbers, submerging completely.
Again you will need to weigh down your veggies to keep them submerged. I have found that a large crock is the perfect fermentation vessel for sour pickles because you can easily find a plate that fits inside to weigh down the pickles. Sometimes the plate will be heavy enough, other times you may need to add an additional weight on top of the plate, such as a sterilized rock or jar of water.
Once fermented to your desired taste, repack into clean jars and refrigerate, ensuring each jar has enough brine to cover.
- 1 Head Napa Cabbage
- 3-4 Diakon Radishes
- 2-3 Carrots
- 4-5 Scallions
- 3-4 Cloves Garlic
- 1” Fresh Ginger Root
- 1 Tablespoon Chili Paste or 4-5 Fresh Hot Chilies
- 4 Tablespoons Sea Salt
- 2 Quarts Water
Kimchi is a spicy Asian version of sauerkraut. Kimchi not only contains cabbage, but radishes, carrots, garlic, ginger, and hot chilies as well. In many Asian countries Kimchi is served with each meal as a digestive aid.
To make kimchi, I first make a paste out of the garlic, ginger, and chilies by chopping them all up and putting them in my mortar and pestle with a bit of the salt. The salt helps to break everything down and become a puree a bit easier. Macerate until somewhat smooth and combined. You will again need to make a brine to cover your veggies. Mix the 4 tablespoons of salt with the 2 quarts of water until the salt is dissolved.
Chop your veggies into desired size and shape. Some people like them shredded, others, a rough chop. I prefer to keep mine about bite sized. Mix all of your chopped veggies together in a large bowl with the ginger/garlic/chili paste you just made.
Once well combined, pack your veggies into a jar and cover with the brine.
Again cover and weigh down the veggies so that they are completely submerged.
Begin checking after a week for doneness. Once fermented to your desired taste, repack into clean jars and refrigerate, ensuring each jar has enough brine to cover.
Some High Mowing Varieties Suggested for Fermenting:
- Azur Star Kohlrabi
- Korridor F1 Kohlrabi
- Bilko F1 Cabbage
- Kaboko F1 Cabbage
- Scarlet Nantes Carrots
- YaYa F1 Carrots
- Yellowstone Carrots
- Miyashige Daikon Radish
- Evergreen Hardy Bunching Onion
- Mini Purplette Bunching Onion
- Chesnook Red Garlic
Sour Dill Pickles
- National Pickling Cucumber
- H-19 Little Leaf Cucumber
- Dill Bouquet
- Greensleeves Dill
- Chesnook Red Garlic
Hot Sauce (ferment, then puree)
Nasturtium Seedpod Capers