Tag Archives: fermentation

The Power of Fermented Foods: Making Sauerkraut

You may have heard  people talk about how good yogurt is for you because it contains probiotics. However there’s actually a variety of foods that are naturally fermented and contain these helpful organisms. When made at home, products like kimchi, certain pickles, kombucha, and even natural sodas are all chock full of probiotics. One of the easiest foods to ferment yourself is Sauerkraut.

Benefits of Sauerkraut

  • It’s great for gut health.
    The probiotics in sauerkraut helps keep your digestive system healthy.
  • Kraut is highly nutritious.
    The fermentation process makes the vitamins and minerals in cabbage more accessible to your body.
  • It’s good for your immune system.
    Many studies show having a healthy digestive system is important to having a healthy immune system.
  • It’s a  great way to preserve and use extra cabbage.
    It can last for months in the fridge or cold storage.
  • It may help improve your mood.
    Some recent studies have led scientists to believe that there’s a connection between gut flora and a person’s mood. Eating fermented foods like sauerkraut may help you feel better physically and emotionally.
  • It’s simple to make.
    Sauerkraut requires just 3 basic ingredients and there’s no fancy equipment needed!

Want to make your sauerkraut? Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • Cabbage
  • Kosher, pickling, or sea salt (non-iodized)
  • Knife and cutting board
  • Mixing bowl
  • Clean jar or jars with lids

To begin rinse your cabbage and then set a few nice, whole cabbage leaves to the side (you’ll need one per jar). Then finely slice your cabbage. If you’re doing a lot of kraut you may want to use a mandolin vegetable slicer however I usually just use a knife.

A lot of recipes call for a specific amount of cabbage but you can use as much as you’d like to make and adjust your salt to the amount of cabbage you’re using. You should use approximately 1 1/2 tsp of salt for every quart of kraut you’re making.

Once you’ve sliced your cabbage, place it in a mixing bowl. Slowly add the salt while squishing the salt and cabbage together with your hands. The cabbage will begin to look slippery and shiny. Eventually there should be a good bit of juice (called brine) in the bowl. You should be able to see it run out of a handful of cabbage when you squeeze it. If you taste your cabbage, it should be pretty salty but not disgustingly so.

Then you can pack your cabbage into a clean jar. Start with a spoonful or handful at a time carefully packing each one into the jar to avoid any air pockets. You can use a clean spoon, your hand, a tamper, or a pestle. Leave at least an  1 1/2 inches of head space in your jar.

Use the cabbage leaf you set aside at the begin to cover the top of your kraut. You want all of your cabbage to be fully submerged. You can way your kraut down with a sterilized stone like I did for these pickles or if you have enough room you can use a little dish of water. You can also use a ziplock bag of water or a crock weight if you have one.

Place your jar or jars of kraut out of direct sunlight but somewhere you will remember to keep an eye on them. You kraut will need to ferment between 4-14 days. It will ferment faster in warmer temperatures. You should open your jar at least once per day to let out any gases that have built up. You don’t want your jar to explode. You may also need to pack the cabbage down if you notice any above the brine or any air pockets. If you notice a film on top of the brine you can just scrape it off. It won’t hurt you.

You’ll know your kraut is finished when it is more yellow than green and translucent. It’s flavor will get more intense the longer it ferments so how long you leave it is up to you. Once it’s finished you can store it in the fridge or a cool root cellar to stop fermentation.

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Easy Fermented Cucumber Pickles

Fermenting food is actually one of the oldest and safest methods of food preservation. Despite this fermenting food as a means of food preservation has largely been replaced by canning and freezing. While fermented foods may require a little extra care and attention they are still pretty easy to make and are beneficial to eat. Eating a diet that includes fermented foods promotes healthy gut flora and good digestion.

Fermented cucumber pickles are an easy way to get started with fermented foods and they’re just as tasty as home canned ones! They’re also easy to make in small batches, perfect for people with smaller gardens.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • fresh cucumbers
  • filtered water
  • salt 
  • onions
  • spices (dill, pepper, garlic, etc.)
  • jar or crock
  • crock weight
  • *optional – grape leaves 

Directions

Rinse your cucumbers and remove any that are bruised or damaged. If you’re making a large crock and can fit them in whole they’re ready to go. If not slice your cucumbers however you desire. Spears and slice both work fine.

Mix your cucumbers, onion slices, and spices and pack them into your jar or crock leaving an inch or so of head space.

Don’t worry that the recipe isn’t specific. It doesn’t matter! Unlike canning you can mess around with ingredients without making your food unsafe. If you’re not sure what spices you’d like small batches are wonderful for trying different combinations.

In a quart jar mix 1 1/2 TBS salt and water until the salt is dissolved and pour over your cucumbers. Repeat this process as needed until they’re completely covered.

Place some sort of weight over your cucumbers to hold them under the water. You can purchase a crock weight, use a plate, or use a clean rock. In my mini batch pictured above I washed a small rock and used it.

If desired you can also layer clean grape leaves over the top of your cucumbers before weighing them down. The grape leaves help keep the air away from your cucumbers and the tannins in them help the cucumbers stay crisp.

If you’re using a jar you can now lightly put the lid on. Don’t screw it down tight. If gases can’t escape your jar will explode. If using a crock you can lay a clean towel or cloth over it. Let your pickles ferment for 2-3 days on the counter.

Once they’ve fermented they can be moved to cold storage like a refrigerator or root cellar and they’ll last for months!

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Putting Up Produce the Old Ways: Fermenting, Drying, and Cellaring

For the modern gardener keeping a surplus harvest means blanching and freezing or canning. These methods certainly have their virtues but it’s important to remember they’re not your only options. For hundreds of years humans put up their harvests without the aid of modern canning jars or electricity.

For some in areas with frequent power outages or off grid houses freezing produce may not be the best option. Canning, especially pressure canning, can be relatively time and energy intensive. Plus fermenting, drying, and cellaring all have their own benefits.

Fermenting

It sounds a little weird but fermented food may be some of your healthiest preserves. Fermented food has lacto-bacteria that has been shown to improve gut flora. Your gut flora is important to your digestion but new studies have also shown gut flora to be an important facet of your overall health.

Easy fermented foods include pickles, kraut, and kimchi but nearly any vegetable can be fermented. Check out this post for a more in depth look at fermenting vegetables.   

Drying

Drying or dehydrating produce is probably one of the easiest methods of preserving produce and it can be much less energy intensive than canning or freezing but still keep for a very long time. Dried produce can be eaten as snacks or rehydrated for use in soups and stews during the winter months. It’s also great lightweight food for families who enjoy camping or backpacking.

Before electricity was available drying food was mostly used a preservation method in warm, arid climates where food could be quickly dried outside before it rotted. Today you can find many plans online for solar dehydrators which will help those in more humid climates achieve the same effect. Thankfully for those in really humid areas or without a passion for DIY projects there are tons of electric dehydrators available on the market and most are very affordable.

Cellaring

Don’t skip this section just because you don’t have a root cellar! There’s many ways to store produce fresh even if you live in a small apartment. Check out this post, How to Store Crops Without a Root Cellar for our best ideas.

A lot of produce can be kept fresh in storage including onions, carrots, beets, turnips, winter squash, even cabbage and brussels sprouts! Cellaring is a method in which heirlooms will often have the advantage. As many were bred when people put up all or much their own food heirlooms often have some of the best storage abilities. Keep this in mind this winter as you’re choosing varieties.

Succession Planting

For anyone who dreads spending time preserving a great way to avoid a lot of food preservation altogether is to use succession planting. This is when you start plants at different intervals so that they’re ready at different times. Rather than planting all your green beans in one day plant a row or two (depending on your family’s size) one day and then plant again in a few weeks. This will spread your harvest out over a longer period of time ensuring you can enjoy more of it fresh!

For more tips check out, Succession Planting 101.

These methods may be old but they’re still awesome! Fermenting, drying, and cellaring can help you avoid food waste and keep healthy, local food continuously available.

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