This is part 3 in a four part series. I renamed this series Fermented Food for Beginners in the hopes that it will encourage anyone who was intimidated about making their own ferments, as I was.

Before the advent of modern day canning most of our American fore mothers understood the process of lacto-fermentation. They had crocks of real sauerkraut, lacto-fermented cucumber pickles and other treasures such as beets, onions or garlic waiting out the winter in the root cellar.

Those countries with histories deeper than our own also traditionally fermented vegetables with simply salt, water and spices – knowing that the lactic acid produced would prevent the putrefication of these precious nutritional storehouses, keeping them fed through winter. Kimchi from Korea and cortido from Latin America are just two of the flavorful and delicious condiments not native to our own country.

When we lost touch with this food preservation technique we also lost touch with the unparalleled health benefits that came with them. Sally Fallon is a huge proponent of lacto-fermentation in her book Nourishing Traditions, and for good reason:

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.

After being completely overwhelmed by my first read through of Nourishing Traditions I waited months before making sauerkraut. The concept was foreign and intimidated me. Because I have grown up in a culture that thinks you have to pasteurize everything I wondered if I would poison my family.

If you are like I was – intimidated and a bit doubtful – then don’t be. You will know if a batch has gone bad. You will get used to, and even start to enjoy, the flavor of these healthful condiments. You will find that they are not much more difficult to assemble than a simple salad. You will actually want to keep a few jars/crocks on hand for health and flavor reasons.

To be honest I wasn’t wild about sauerkraut at first, nor the pickles that turned to mush. I found that I enjoyed bolder variations of sauerkraut such as kimchi and cortido. I also recently discovered how to make pickles keep their crunch a bit more – grape leaves. I’ve only tried one batch, adding the wild grape leaves from our own backyard, but they are crunchy and delicious instead of mushy and off-putting like my first few batches. It is the tannins in the grape leaves that are said to perform the delicious act.

So I would encourage you, if you were like me, to give lacto-fermentation a try. It is fairly simple, frugal and makes the most of your hard-earned real food. You can use whey as a starter culture in your brine, which Sally Fallon recommends in Nourishing Traditions.

I have not been using whey as of late and have yet to have a bad batch. I will leave you with two of my favorite flavors of lacto-fermented vegetables – cortido and dill pickles. I have come to love these little treasures so much that it makes it easy to eat them at two meals a day. Now all I need is that root cellar I dream of so that I can stock it full of giant crocks full of these tasty treasures.

Cortido

from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Recipe Notes: I sometimes leave out the carrots and halve the amount of onions. A struggle that I have is keeping the vegetables below the liquid level. I have yet to have a bad batch, but this can cause mold. One thing that I am considering purchasing from here is an airlock setup that allows the fermentation gases to escape while keeping air out. You can also purchase ready-made lacto-fermented vegetables here

  • 1 large cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 1 cup carrots, grated
  • 2 medium onions, quartered lengthwise and very finely sliced
  • 1 tablesoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons whey (if not available, use an additional 1 tablespoon salt)
  1. In a large bowl mix cabbage with carrots, onions, oregano, red chile flakes, sea salt and whey.
  2. Pound with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer for abou 10 minutes to release juices.
  3. Place in 2 quart-sized, wide mouth mason jars and press down firmly with a pounder or meat hammer until juices come to the top of the cabbage. The top of the cabbage mixture should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jars.
  4. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage.

Pickled Cucumbers

from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Recipe Notes: For pickle slices simply cut cucumbers into 1/4 inch slice and cut back the fermentation time to 2 days instead of 3. A struggle that I have is keeping the vegetables below the liquid level. I have yet to have a bad batch, but this can cause mold. One thing that I am considering purchasing from here is an airlock setup that allows the fermentation gases to escape while keeping air out.

  • 4-5 pickling cucumbers or 15-20 gherkins
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill, snipped
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons whey (if not available, use an additional 1 tablespoon salt)
  • 1 cup filtered water
  1. Wash cucumbers well and place in a quart-sized wide mouth jar.
  2. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over cucumbers, adding more water if necessary to cover the cucumbers. The top of the liquid should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar.
  3. Cover tightly and keep and keep at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage.

********** I also wanted to pass along a link to a great article Alyss wrote: Of Probiotics & Pickles.

So what about you… have you made any of these lacto-fermented vegetables? Which one is your favorite?

This post is a contribution to the In-Season Recipe Swap.