Field Notes / A lesson on fermentation
Fermented foods have become rather notorious in the health food scene of late; though unlike obscure foods and ingredients from places that are worlds away these preparations are rooted in ancient culture and tradition. Before the advent of modern techniques it gave people a means of preservation and also made some foods more nutritious and palatable. Fermentation works by creates an environment for desirable organisms to flourish which benefit the flora of a healthy digestive system. As someone who understands very little of the process or indeed the best techniques for a successful ferment I enlisted the advice of Aysha Monticone from Kinfolk & Co. With a range of bespoke fermentation crock pots she has spent quite a number of years garnering wisdom from experts as to the best methods, tools and ingredients.
There are so many wonderful benefits to eating fermented foods. Which why I love to eat them and make them for my family. When fermenting foods, a chemical process takes place and this causes the creation of good bacteria called lactobacilli. This bacteria, also known as probiotics have an amazing effect on the body by making foods easier to digest and by promoting healthy flora throughout the intestine.
One of the most commonly known fermented foods is sauerkraut. Traditionally sauerkraut was the principle fermented food in Europe and was prized not only for its taste but for its medicinal qualities. Studies have shown that sauerkraut lowers the risk of several illnesses including, digestive disorders, auto immune disorders, mental illness, food allergies, depression and even cancer.
The latest studies have also shown that by eating a diet rich in fermented foods your body's immunity to viruses & parasites improves, as well improving the body's brain function and ability to control inflammation.
There are are few mistakes that you can make while fermenting but generally making basic sauerkraut is very easy especially when you use a fermentation crock pot. One of the biggest factors when fermenting is to not allow any oxygen into the jar or pot as this is what inhibits the good bacteria from flourishing. Luckily, fermentation crock pots have a water tight seal around the rim which stops oxygen from entering yet also allows natural gasses to exit as the fermentation progresses.
Another mistake is not allowing the cabbage to release all its juices before packing it into the pot. It is really important when you add the salt to your sliced cabbage to massage and stomp the cabbage using a tamper to allow all the juices to come out. I then like to leave my cabbage with the salt in it for around half an hour to let the natural process to occur before massaging and stomping it again for a second time. It always amazes me how much moisture is released from the cabbage when I do it like this! Once you have packed your cabbage into the pot, these beautiful juices are poured over the top of the cabbage and then the weights are placed on them to keep the cabbage submerged.
The last common mistake is forgetting to keep your water moat topped up. It's important to make sure there is always water in the moat of your fermentation pot, otherwise the oxygen can enter and the kraut can spoil. As the water can evaporate over a day or so it's good to check each morning that water is still in there. I like to keep a filled water pitcher next to my pot so that it's easy to top up whenever I notice that the water is getting low.
Recipe / Immune Boosting Sauerkraut
Makes approx. 1.5 litres in the 2 litre Kinfolk & Co Fermentation Pot.
1 large sized purple cabbage finely shredded
1 x large grated beetroot
2 x large grated carrots
1 x tablespoon grated ginger
1 x tablespoon grated tumeric
2 x large cloves grated garlic
2 tablespoons Himalayan pink salt
To begin make sure all equipment is serialised using boiling water then allowed to drip dry. In a large mixing bowl turn salt through the cabbage by hand, take your time massaging the cabbage and allowing the cabbage to soften and become juicy; this takes around 5 minutes. Add in the beetroot, carrot, ginger, garlic and turmeric and mix until well combined. Leave the mixture to stand for 30 minutes so that the vegetables soften further.
Give the vegetables one last massage and squeeze ensuring all the juices are released and then pack the vegetables tightly into the crock pot. Using a wooden tamper press the vegetables firmly down into the vessel; make sure you pour any remaining juices into the pot. Once packed, place the weights on top making sure that the vegetables are completely covered with their juices.
Cover the pot with its lid and pour water around the moat edge to create a water seal which allow the gas to escape, but nothing to enter. Ensure that the water level is above the holes in the lid at all times. Water will evaporate so continue to top it up over the waiting period. Leave the vegetables to ferment at around 20 degrees. After one week taste the sauerkraut using a sterile fork then replace the lid immediately. You will know if your sauerkraut is ready when it has a sour salty taste and tangy flavour.
Note: For this recipe I fermented for 10 days; finding the flavour to be perfect, however this is dependent on the ambient temperate. The warmer the weather the faster your vegetables will ferment and likewise the cooler it is the slower they will. Trial and error might be necessary in the beginning to help you find the perfect time frame in your climate. Once ready transfer the sauerkraut into glass jars and place it in the refrigerator. It will keep for 2-3 months longer and will slowly continue to ferment and deepen in flavour.