Nourishing Food

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Ferment-Grains-with-Kefir

So today is the day that Traditionally Fermented Foods is available to all. To mark the occasion, I just wanted to share why, when my publisher asked me what I wanted to write about, I chose food fermentation.

Dried-Fruit-Kvass

The thing about fermented foods that I would tell everyone, if I could, is that there isn’t just one thing about fermented foods that makes them miraculous. It is their health-giving properties, making vegetables and dairy full of probiotics and enzymes; grains and legumes easier on our systems. It is the ability to preserve all manner of foods while enhancing vitamins and retaining minerals. It is the ease with which these age-old practices turn a kitchen into a life-giving, sustainable food system. And what brings it all together is the absolute deliciousness that fermentation imbues into every meal of the day.

English-Muffins-Griddle

I really believe the practice of fermentation is a gift to the home cook and most especially the homesteader. Fermentation has been in my life for over a decade now and has taught me the importance of living food, how to use fermentation to preserve food without refrigeration, and how to turn homegrown, local foods into the most delicious part of every single meal and snack throughout the day.

Fermented-Herb-Sauce

Traditionally Fermented Foods is all that I know and love about this age-old practice. It is 85 delicious recipes but it is also a guide to harnessing the biology of this natural process to preserve the nutrients in vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy while making them an absolute delight even to the pickiest eater. My hope is that it would inspire and inform your own pursuit of traditional foods, homegrown health, and sustainable food ways.

And, fifteen months after I began this work, it is now available for your own home kitchen.

Homestead-Chi

Homestead ‘Chi, a simple combination of homegrown ingredients. Recipe found on page 37 of Traditionally Fermented Foods.

I realize that this may be a widely debated topic, both on the internet and in various fermentation books. So I want to preface my take on it by sharing where I am coming from. I see vegetable fermentation as an absolute gift to the homesteader. It creates a food rich in enzymes and probiotics, is a quick and simple means of food preservation, and can be done on any scale with any amount of harvest. Most critically, for those of us interested in sustainability, it requires zero energy inputs from heat or refrigeration.

So while I am absolutely an advocate for eating a wide variety of ferments every single day for health reasons, I also see fermentation as I assume many of our ancestors did – as a practical means of food preservation. I now personally believe that refrigeration is not only not required for keeping fermented vegetables, it might actually be a hindrance in achieving well-preserved, tastier ferments. This has to do with the basic process of fermentation, the operational temperature of the bacteria needed for a full lactic acid fermentation, and the temperature control of the modern refrigerator. I detail all of this in Traditionally Fermented Foods.

Shelling-Beans

Fermented Fresh Shelling Beans. Recipe on page 52 of Traditionally Fermented Foods.

It wasn’t until I was four to five years into vegetable fermentation that I began to hold this position. The first four years or so that I dabbled in vegetable fermentation, I lived on-grid. I made pickles and salsas and krauts, fermented them until they were active and bubbly, and then stored gallons of them in the refrigerator for six months or more.

Then I moved off-grid and while I knew theoretically that our ancestors stored fermented vegetables without refrigeration, I had no practical experience with it. Without a refrigeration setup that allowed for large quantities of fermented vegetables to be stored at or below 40 degrees, I turned to makeshift root cellars and good old counter tops to store these probiotic pickles.

And guess what? They tasted better. I had fewer instances of mold. And I know I’m not alone in this because I have spoken with other homesteaders with similar experiences. There were also some batches that did not keep as well. After a few more tests, I figured out that there are specific conditions necessary for the fermentative bacteria to do their job proliferating and preserving the vegetable. A read through of the biology of the process confirmed my findings.

Pear-and-Zucchini-Mostarda

Pear and Zucchini Mostarda, a fermented, piquant condiment. Recipe found on page 209 of Traditionally Fermented Foods.

How you put together your ferments and the conditions under which you ferment them is absolutely critical to storing ferments long-term without refrigeration. This can be done in crocks or jars; with cabbage or carrots or even shelling beans, but the keys to success seemed to lie not in refrigeration but in careful consideration and brine levels, fermentation temperature, and utilizing simple canning jars to create an ideal environment for lactic acid fermentation to take place.

I write about the details of all of these considerations and key steps in Traditionally Fermented Foods, including how long to ferment, how you really know when a ferment is ready, and giving your lacto-fermented vegetables exactly what they need to succeed.

But for those of you who are looking to sustainably store your garden or farmer’s market vegetables, I wanted to encourage you in knowing that you don’t need fancy equipment, starter cultures (including whey), or even refrigeration to create tasty, healthy, well-preserved ferments. With garden vegetables, salt, and a full understanding of the biological needs of lactic acid fermentation as it pertains to vegetables, you can store up your harvest simply and sustainably.