Summer is filled with the goodness of fresh food but if you live in a climate where growing food year round is impossible you will want to store some of your summer bounty.
I use several methods to extend the life of my summer bounty. I dehydrate, freeze and can a few things. This year I am adding one more method of preserving food in my kitchen.
Having been recently diagnosed with Hypothyroidism I needed to make a change in my diet. I knew for years that cruciferous vegetables can have a negative effect on the thyroid but I felt the nutritional content of these foods was worth the risk. Not wanting to do further damage to my thyroid I needed to find a way to make these foods healthier.
Fermenting is the solution for those who have thyroid problems. Once fermented the goitrogens in cruciferous vegetables may not pose a problem. There is some debate so check with your doctor if you have questions, mine gave me the go-ahead.
At the same time fermented foods are one way to heal gut health and increase the healthy bacteria, along with a host of other health issues. Fermented foods also have a higher vitamin value than their raw or cooked counterparts.
Growing up my grandparents fermented and pickled foods using large crocks. When I considered added fermented foods to my diet I knew I would not be able to lift those crocks myself, plus they are pricey if you want to have several ferments going at the same time.
You don’t need to purchase crocks or any other specialty products to ferment. I use canning jars to lacto-ferment and it’s super easy. Lacto-fermentation is defined as a microbial process using beneficial bacteria including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium spp. and other lactic acid bacteria (LAB) (commonly known as probiotics), which thrive in an anaerobic fermenting environment. The “lacto” in “lacto-fermentation”, comes from “lactobacillus”.
Let me show you a few tricks I’ve come by.
You want to remove the outer leaves and cut out the core. Set those aside because you will be able to use them later.
Shred your cabbage thinly. I used a knife but if you have a mandolin or food processor you can try those instead.
Once your cabbage has been cut put it in a non-reactive bowl. This simply means don’t use metal. Some people use plastic but I don’t like to use plastic. This is the insert from my slow cooker which easily holds one small head of cabbage. Add two to three tablespoons of sea salt or other real salt. You want salt to be the only ingredient on the label.
Now stick your hands in and knead the salt into the cabbage. You want to break down the fibrous walls of the vegetable so really work it. You can use a pickle packer/sauerkraut pounder. This is the only item I bought specifically for making fermented foods.
My grandson enjoyed this process. You can see how far the cabbage shrunk in the bowl after working it about ten minutes. Set aside for up to half and hour, I drape a clean cloth over mine, and let the salt do it’s job. The salt will draw the liquid out of the cabbage making a brine (liquid).
When ready pack your cabbage into a clean mason jar, it isn’t necessary to sterilize your jars, and pour the brine over the cabbage. If you don’t have enough liquid to cover your cabbage you can make your own brine with filtered water and salt. Do Not use tap water. Tap water contains chlorine which is to prevent bacterial growth, we want bacterial growth in our ferments. Again use non-reactive spoons to stir and dissolve the salt into the water.
To make sure your cabbage stays below the liquid and doesn’t float to the surface you want to weigh it down. They sell many different weights but I use the cabbage leaves which are free. Find one that fits into your jar and fit it in tightly. I take extra precautions by topping this with a piece of the core. By having the core on top when you put your lid on the core will keep everything submerged securely. Screw your lid on tightly.
That’s it. If you are using a standard mason jar lid you will want to burp you jars daily. This involves slight, very slightly, unscrewing of the metal band until you hear gases escape, then retighten your band.
Leave your jar of ferment sit out at room temperature for three to five days, or until you like the flavor, then move to cold storage -root cellar or fridge – after removing the weight you used while fermenting.
There are many more vegetables you can ferment other than cabbage. Here are a few I did this week.
Cabbage, carrot and zucchini.
The following vegetables will be dry packed into your jar and then brine (water and salt) will be added to fill the gaps in the jar. You don’t soak these in salt as you did with cabbage.
As a weight for the cauliflower I used cabbage leaves and cut a piece of the remaining cauliflower stem to secure the leaves in place.
You want to wash but not peel carrots. Chop them into bite-sized pieces or sticks and pack down well. To make packing my ferments easier I always use wide mouth jars.
You can add herbs and seasonings to suit your taste. In the carrots I used fresh garlic and Italian seasonings, such as rosemary and oregano.
To weigh down the carrots I used purple cabbage leaves and a piece of the core.
I also did a ba
tch of cucumbers, adding fresh dill.
I had two heads of green cabbage, one head of purple cabbage, small bag of carrots, two cucumbers, one zucchini and one head of cauliflower. A small head of cabbage will make one quart, whereas a head of cauliflower will make up to three quarts.
It is smart to place your jar in a bowl or other container in case liquids should expand and leak out. You should leave a half inch of head space in each jar but sometimes that’s not enough to prevent expansion and a mess. I don’t have nice bowls so an old cookie sheet works for me.
Once you try fermentation don’t stop with just sauerkraut. You can make fermented salsa, tomatoes and so much more.
Once in a cool storage place the fermentation process will stop. You can store your ferments safely four to nine months. For more on safety issues when fermenting click here.