Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wild Fermentation

Nonie has posted several items about fermented foods. This, and this. Also Meredith touched upon fermentation as a means of preserving foods here. This post is a book review for a book that was given to me for Christmas, which is about fermentation -- "Wild Fermentation", by Sandor Ellix Katz. (Thanks for this gift, Reesors!)

There are many things to say about this book, but I'll start here by saying the author is fabulous, instructive, kind, and knowledgeable. I have come to feel a great deal of love for him reading his words. He possesses a great amount of charity, for humanity and all living things, which is something the world is in need of more and more.

I could go on and on about my impressions of him as a person... But really, perhaps I should next say that fermented foods are not all alcoholic as I once assumed. This book takes it's readers into the science and history behind fermented foods.

Ferments are foods or drinks that have been chemically changed by microbes that live in the surrounding environment. Cultures worldwide have formed friendships with their local microorganisms to enhance digestibility and nutrients in their foods, and also as a way of food preservation. Dare I say that I have yet to read of any culture who has not had some form of fermentation? Cheeses, breads, yoghurts, kefir, soured cream, soy sauce, beers, wines, and various kinds of krauts... this list could go on and on, ad infinitum.

This book discusses how we as humans require microorganisms in our lives. We would not survive without them. Really, without them in our very bodies. This is a real news flash at a time when mankind seems bent on eradicating organisms we cannot see. We have heard over and over again about acidophilus, and probiotics. Fermented foods are the probiotic force from a time when food was medicine. I am so grateful these traditions are being resurrected in kitchens across America. (I single out America because many nations still have a rich in home fermentation culture.)

Katz kindly breaks down fermenting so that it seems much easier than we might first think. He makes it seems so easy, in fact, I went a little crazy and started fermenting everything after receiving this book; carrots and their greens, kimchi, salsa, beets and their greens... bell peppers.

In the past I have also made non-alcoholic fermented drinks such as beet kvass, a traditional slavic drink (I L.O.V.E this drink!!), and ginger ale. Both are very good, and aid in digestion. Beet kvass is particularly good for cleansing and strengthening the liver.

I'll share those recipes soon. In the mean time, I highly recommend trying this easy recipe from Nourishing Traditions, p. 103.

Fermented Salsa:
4 medium tomatoes, (The original recipe says to peel, seed, and dice. I am lazy, and so I only seed my tomatoes sometimes, and I never ever peel them...)
2 small onions finely chopped (Sometimes for fun I use a bunch of green onions in place of two onions diced.)
3/4 cup chopped chile pepper, hot or mild (I usually use bell peppers here since my babes eat this with me and can't handle the heat.)
6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped (Optional -- I don't since I like kissing my husband, and he would never if I had that much garlic on board...)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
juice of two lemons
1 tbsp sea salt
4 tbsp whey (If you don't have this, or prefer not to use it add another tbsp of salt.)
1/4 cup filtered water (I have never needed to add water to the mix when I'm making it... even when I do seed the tomatoes I have always had enough juice from the veggies to cover the mixture.)

Mix all ingredients and place in quart sized jar(s). Wide mouth jars are easiest. Press mixture down with fist or meat hammer until juices from the veggies cover the top of the mixture. If you need to add more water to ensure the juices cover the top of the veggies, you may. Allow one inch between the top of the veggies, and the lid -- veggies grow and swell a little when they are fermenting. Also, because fermenting is facilitating chemical changes in the food being fermented, there are often gas byproducts. This gas needs space! Cover tightly, (fermentation is an anaerobic process), and leave in a warm place in your house for two days before putting in your fridge.

Note: In my experience veggies that are fermented without whey need an extra day or two, or more, to ferment properly. Experiment! It is OK to open and sample your ferments to decide of they are done, or need more time.

Note: Sometimes a white film will form on the top of fermented veggies. Skim it off and eat what is beneath. Also, sometimes a thin layer of mold will cover the top of a ferment, skim and enjoy.

Note: Last one, promise :) As mentioned above about the accumulating of gaseous byproducts, I have had jar lids fly off the jar upon loosening -- not in a dangerous, "Run for your life!" sort of way, but in an, "Ah! The sounds of life!" sort of way. Invite the kids to watch it. They pop, and fizz just a little -- they'll love it!


  1. Oh yeah. I can attest to the deliciousness of that salsa recipe. And to the awesomeness of Wild Fermentation. I am glad you love it so much. I need to do more with mine!

    Question. Last time I made sauerkraut, I did not to cover tightly, as one recipe suggested. Instead, I put a small jar (filled with water for weight) in my quart jar to keep the kraut under the juices, and it turned out really really good. Didn't use whey in that one (it was a little salty at first, but that flavor mellowed out over a couple weeks). Doesn't Katz do most of his fermenting like that: in a gallon bucket, with a plate fitted inside and something heavy weighing it down? Is covering tightly synonymous with keeping the solids beneath the liquids? Why do some screw on a lid as in NT (I've tried that too) and others do not. Does it depend on the food? Thoughts?

  2. It is the same idea. With a tight jar it is the lid that is arresting the rate of gas exchange, with the crock and wood that holds the veggies under the vegetable liquid/water, it is the liquid itself that is . In the absence of a jar large enough for fermenting the beet kvass, I have started using a large vase, then I put water around the mouth of the vase and cover it with plastic, which creates an "airtight" seal. I know of several websites out there that tell people their ferments will never work if they don't buy these special air locked crocks, but that just isn't true. I use canning jar for the most part.

    That's what I love so much about this book! He just makes it so accessible for anyone!!

    I've made kimchi using Katz's method, without whey, and it took some extra days for it to develop the flavor I was searching for. It is delicious now though!!

    1. That was a little disjointed, sorry! I don't think it matters what method you use, as long as the food being fermented is not exposed to open air. That has been my experience.

    2. Thanks, Melissa!

      When I did the sauerkraut, I didn't even have to skim anything off the top ever (as some suggest). We ended up eating all the juice as well. Seemed perfectly fine.

    3. We, George and I, drink the juices too! I read somewhere in Nourishing Traditions that juice from fermented cabbage is incredibly healing. Wish I remembered what it said exactly...

  3. You wild fermenters! I'm going to start. Looks like this book would be a good place to do so!

  4. How long does the fermented salsa keep, with whey and without whey? What if it were in a vacuum-sealed jar?

  5. Not sure about the vacuum sealed jars. I looked in the book, and it actually doesn't say how long the salsa should last. Any thoughts, Nonie? I always eat mine fairly quickly. I know the fruit preserves last about two months in the fridge....

  6. I've been interested in learning how to ferment lately. Thanks for the info!