Tag Archives: food preservation

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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Harvesting & Curing Winter Squash & Pumpkins

How do you tell they’re ripe?

If you’ve never done it before determining if winter squash is ripe can be a bit more difficult than picking tomatoes or green beans. It’s also very important that it is ripe if you want it to store well through the winter.

The biggest indicator that winter squash and pumpkins are ready to be harvested is their stems. The stems should be hard and dry. Often you can tell that the plant is beginning to die. The fruits should also be their mature color and sound hollow when patted with an open hand.

Harvest

When they’re ready it’s time to harvest! Simply cut the fruit from the plant, leaving about 1 inch of stem with a knife or garden shears. Lightly wipe off large clumps of dirt with your hand.

Never carry your squash or pumpkin by their stem as breaking them off often drastically reduces their storage ability. Also try to avoid handling them roughly to reduce bruising and nicks.

If a hard frost is imminent you should go ahead and harvest any squash left on the vine even if it’s not perfectly ready. Hard frosts can damage squash and make them rot. Just keep in mind that squash harvested early may not keep quite as long so it should be used first. Leaving a longer stem can help them finish maturing properly.

Curing

Before you can store your winter squash it needs to be cured for about 7-10 days depending upon the variety. The best way to cure squash is to lay it out on a dry surface with enough space for air to move around it. Every day or so your squash should be moved or turned over to a new position.

A picnic table in your yard will work if the weather’s still warm enough, a pallet in your hoop house, your kitchen table, or even sunny windowsill.

The curing process allows the skin to toughen up so that your squash will be ready for storage.

Storage

Winter squash is one of the lovely foods that takes little effort to store at home. Ideally you should find a dry place to store your squash where the temperature stays between 50°F and 68°F degrees.

You might find a place in a spare bedroom, office, under a bed, or in a coat closet. You should store your squash in a single layer and not touching. That way if one begins to rot it won’t effect the others.

While your squash is in storage you should be careful to check it at least once a week for soft spots or mold. Use any squash that are starting to go bad immediately.

How to Make the Most of Fresh Garden Produce

If you’re anything like me it’s absolutely devastating to see any of your garden produce go to waste. When we grow our own food we’re tied to it from the moment the first seed is plunged into the soil. Unlike produce off the grocery stores shelves that seems to magically reappear, no work involved, we cannot ignore the hard work that went into our backyard produce. We become much more aware of the all the work, the sowing, weeding, watering, harvesting, that goes into each individual carrot.

On a side note perhaps if the world had more growers, more people who still had a connection to the land, we’d be less likely to waste any morsel of food no matter who grew it.

Even with all the best intentions it can be hard to use up the harvest from even a modest size garden. Chances even if you cook from scratch a lot your family has a collection of recipes that you rotate through fairly often and not all of them are going to be great for using seasonal produce. Really using the products of a garden can take a lot work. Hopefully these tips make it a bit easier.

Succession Planting

One of the best ways to avoid the produce overwhelm is to plant in successions. Check out our succession planting post to avoid getting slammed with all your vegetables at once.

Invest in a Good Cookbook

More specially, find a cookbook that actually focuses on seasonal, local eating. Typical cookbooks have a jumble ingredients from all over the world and all different seasons all smashed into a single meal. If you want to make the most of your harvest finding a cookbook that focuses on making local produce the star of the meal is the way to go.

Southern Exposure offers several books with seasonal recipes like, Winter Foods by Brett Grohsgal and Julia Shanks or Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine by David S. Shields. There are many others out there as well. Chefs like Alice Waters and José Andrés are advocating for local eating and many have cookbooks to help people put local foods back on the table.

Create a Collection of Recipes

Don’t scramble last minute. While there’s still little produce coming out of the ground collect recipes you think your family will enjoy that use seasonal produce. I like to write mine on notecards but this could be as simple as saving recipes to a file on your computer. Growing a lot of green beans? Look up some green bean recipes. When you’ve got buckets full of beans in your kitchen all you need to do is flip through your recipes for some easy meals.

Seasonal recipes can be found on the SESE blog throughout the year.

Learn to Be Flexible/Use Flexible Recipes

In our house we have several meals that make it easy to use whatever in season. Year round we eat homemade pizza almost once a week. In the spring it’s topped with fresh baby greens, green onions, and maybe even some morels if we’re lucky. A little later we’ll be topping it with broccoli, then peppers and tomatoes and fresh garlic as the season goes on. In the dead of winter we’ll use dried tomatoes, frozen greens, stored onions and garlic, and sometimes peppers we put up during the summer. Other examples of these flexible recipes include:

  • Pot Pie – Take any pot pie recipe and swap in some seasonal veggies, peas in the spring, broccoli, then green beans later in the year.
  • Stir fry – Whatever veggies you have on hand lightly fried with a protein source, some seasonings, and soy sauce served over a bed of rice.
  • Shepard’s Pie – A layer of protein (we often use lentils), a layer of veggies (carrots, onions, peas, green beans, sweet corn, etc.) followed by a layer of gravy then a layer of potatoes.
  • Minestrone – Dry beans, season vegetables, stock, and seasoning.

Having simple go to recipes that you can add a variety of vegetables is a great way to avoid cooking burn out. Always trying new recipes can be a handful but a few basic ones can save you on those hectic evenings. Shepard’s Pie, Pot Pie, Minestrone can also be made ahead of time and frozen for later use.

Try to Plan Your Meals at Least a Week in Advance

This one can be tough especially if you’re a new gardener but gardens are more predictable than you think. When I harvest our first few cherry tomatoes I know that by next week we’ll probably be flooded with them and I can select recipes ahead of time and make sure I have other ingredients that go with them on hand. This also helps save money because we’re not constantly running into the grocery store for easy last minute meals which lets be honest usually means processed unhealthy meals as well.

Preserving the Extra

No matter how much you eat fresh there will probably be extra. While some prefer to give any extra away it’s a great idea to put some up for winter. Here’s some tips to help much sure you’ll use what you put up.

  • When preserving food put it up in the size containers you’ll actually use up at one time. If you live alone and cook small meals don’t pressure can your green beans in quart jars opt for pints instead to avoid waste.
  • Don’t put up tons of food you’re not sure you’ll like. Want to try pickled beets? Awesome can a few pints to try and then freeze or store the rest in your root cellar. If you find you and you’re family will gladly eat a ton of them you can do more next year.
  • Keep a list of all the food you have in storage. Reviewing this list before planning meals for the week is an excellent way to make sure you include them in your meals.

There’s so many benefits to growing your own food. You’ll save money, eat better, and reduce your environmental impact but you won’t reap any of these benefits if you don’t actually eat what you grow. Unless you just have a few container plants planning on eating fresh salads isn’t good enough. A single tomato plant can yell 30 pounds of tomatoes! Succession plant, find seasonal recipes, meal plan, and put up extra to make the most of your garden this year.

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