Sunday, January 9, 2011

Food Preservation: Adventures in Fermentation

Starting lacto-fermented Ginger Carrots*
This year I "put up" more food than ever before, canning or freezing 40 lbs of sour cherries, 40 lbs of blueberries, 60 lbs of peaches, and another 60 lbs of apples. That doesn't include cold storage of things like garlic, onions, and squash that I got in late Summer to use in the Winter. Nor does it include the tomatoes or other summer veggies that were blanched and frozen. I'm not organized enough to plan out my usage of these things, or maybe I'm not disciplined enough to follow the plan, so I'm curious to see where I stand in July with the mason jar collection.    

 So why do all this? Certainly there are any number of people who get all they can from the farmer's market during the season and then return to the local grocery store in the Winter. Nothing wrong with that. But, I like a good challenge. So when I decided to consume as much locally as I could, I took that to the extent of questioning myself regularly: could I do this more locally? do I really need to buy this at the store? Occasionally I say, yes, damn it, I want those shitaki mushrooms, but more often, I find a solution using what I can find grown within easy driving distance. And the great thing about challenges like this is the more you practice, the easier it gets. So besides canned tomatoes - we simply can not freeze enough, it seems - and the occasional mushroom, I really turn to our pantry, freezer, or oil room (cold storage wanna-be) for every meal. In truth, a large part of living this way is the challenge and the satisfaction of self-sufficiency. I'm definitely a born diy-r. Even when that means do-it-harder.

Of course, the winter CSA has made this all much easier again. When you have fresh lettuce coming in the door, you needn't be concerned about texture or flavor loss with other preservation methods. The onions we are getting from the CSA are significant enough to have kept me from buying them in the store since October, so that too is good. And, we're slowly but surely pulling out our preserved and frozen food and making our way through it. Frozen spinach and chard made a mean spanikopita last week, and our yogurt is sweetened daily with one of several fruit preserves. I am carefully walking the dance of using the CSA goods while it is still fresh and making a dent into the stored produce at the same time. This is a non-trivial exercise, I've found.

The CSA has proven for me to be just about the right size, but I do have an awful lot of carrots. We've gotten a good pound or so of carrots, maybe two, each pick up. So at one point, even though we were eating carrots fresh and in meals, we had about four pounds of carrots sitting around. Of course, they last a really long time properly wrapped in the fridge. But, what the heck, I figured, let's see if we can preserve them. Of course, one way is in things like carrot cake. :)

I decided to try my hand at lacto-fermentation. Honestly, I wasn't really sure what that was. But, I'd seen a recipe for fermented ginger carrots in the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. I love this book because it is full of fascinating information and lots of weird stuff. Ginger carrots sounded cool. It was certainly a type of food preservation that I'd never done, nor knew anyone who did. I guess except pickles, we had tried to make lacto-fermented pickles (not with vinegar) a few years ago. That failed miserably. I was sure this would work better. If not, I had plenty of carrots left.

Lacto-fermentation is a traditional way of preserving food by encouraging the proliferation of lactic acid producing bacteria. Lactic acid itself is a natural preservative, and food that has been preserved this way can be put in cold storage (or the fridge) for very extensive periods of time. The two big examples are sauerkraut and kimchi, both made with cabbage, and both, according to my Internet research, needing six months to really mature. In essence, with these recipes, you put your veggies in a crock and cover them with a ton of salt and liquid, preferably whey. Left at room temperature they will ferment in some number of days and then you move them to cold storage to continue maturing.

Ginger carrots are made by shredding a bunch of carrots and ginger, packing them into a small mason jar, punching them with a hammer or such to get juices to flow, adding salt and whey to cover the carrots completely, screwing on the lid and leaving them alone until they bubble. I used whey from my cheese, but you could also drain it off of plain yogurt - you really only need a little, and apparently you can just use salt for veggies. The mix started with 1 Tablespoon of salt! I tasted the initial mix and the salt was overwhelming. I had the darnedest time getting the carrots to stay under the liquid, which is supposedly important. I'd push and push, then let go and up they'd float. In then end, I used a lot more whey than originally called for, but I found no other way to keep the carrots below the liquid. I searched online and found a great blog with lots of comments about this particular recipe. I wasn't the only one who had this problem and others recommended nested mason jars, but I couldn't do that in my case. So, I crossed my fingers, put on the lid and let it sit.

My house is a bit on the cold side, so the carrots looked the same three days later. But, after four days they were bubbling. I took off the lid and it "popped". I tasted them. Salty, really salty, and sour-ish. A bit disappointed, I put them in the fridge and figured I'd feed them to someone else. :) My mother, visiting for the holidays, was my first victim only a day later. Still salty. We put them back in the fridge. A week or so later, she tried them again on a sandwich and remarked how the salt taste had diminished. By the time a friend visited right before New Year's Eve, they were quite fermenty - not a word, but an image - and not very salty. We decided we weren't sure what we thought about them. i put them back in the fridge. On the 4th, we had friends over, and we tried them again. This time, I thought they were absolutely fabulous. The salt was all gone and the fermenty-ness was more mature. Now they're gone and I need to make more.

I'm really proud to have learned to preserve things in a new way. I'm even happier that they finally turned out well. You can ferment and preserve a lot of things this way, including lemons, ginger, and, of course, cabbage. Different cultures ferment all kinds of different things, taking advantage of the naturally occurring bacteria that is found everywhere. From what I've read, it really is an art, though, as you are learning to control this process. I've got a lot of carrots still, so I'm going to try those again and then we'll see where we go from there.

Here's the recipe to try yourself.She says, ginger carrots go well with rich foods and spicy meats. They, like most lacto-fermented foods, are meant as condiments.

Ginger Carrots by Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions.

4 cups grated carrots, tightly packed
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 Tbsp sea salt
4 Tbsp whey (or use 1 additional Tbsp salt)

In a bowl, mix all ingredients and pound with a wooden pounder or meat hammer to release juices. Place in a quart size, wide mouth mason jar and press down firmly. Continue pressing/hammering, until the juices completely cover the carrots. The top of the carrots should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. cover tightly and leave at room temperature for 3 days. then transfer to cold storage. (they will be bubbling)

To hear what others beside I found when they tried this recipe, check out the thread on the Nourishing Cook blog, here.

* I don't have a carrot image right now, and I ate all the ginger carrots! So, I've borrowed this carrot photo temporarily from the blog The Gluten-Free Spouse, which does look cool itself for those who can't tolerate gluten.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like I will have to let mine sit for awhile like you did. Did you have them sitting in the fridge that whole time?