Fun with Fermentation

To many of my friends, it’s no secret that I am fascinated with lacto-fermentation and fermented foods. It’s one of the coolest ways to preserve food, and requires no special equipment beyond a fermentation vessel (I’m using mason jars right now).  Fermented foods are nutritional powerhouses (high in vitamin C especially, not to mention probiotics for good gut health) , and taste delicious.

A few years ago, I took a lacto-fermentation workshop in Sunnyside, led by Andrew Faust and sponsored by Tri State Food Not Lawns (love that name).  It was my first hands-on experience with fermentation (not that I was unfamiliar with fermented foods – I’d eaten yogurt for years), and I remember being surprised at how simple it was.

I also remember getting lost while on the way, but did arrive in time, so it was all good.  I met some nice people there, some of whom I’m still connected with, which I’m really happy about.  And my fascination with fermentation has stuck.

This is one of my favorite images from that fermentation event in Sunnyside – all those gorgeous carrots and everyone working together to prepare the vegetables. It was so fun.

Everyone Grating

I’m going to be giving a talk on lacto-fermentation myself in a couple of weeks, for the Traditional Community Kitchen meetup group.  If you live in NYC and want to connect with other people who love real, traditional food, this is a great group to join.  I’ve been to a couple of meetups and they’ve been a lot of fun – friendly people and interesting subject matter for meetups.

Anyway, back to the lacto-fermentation talk.  I want to have some examples for people to try, so I’m doing some preparatory work now.  I’ve actually got some lacto-fermented salsa left over from the summer, and it’s amazing – still good and really tasty.  It tastes pretty much like it did back in August, except for being slightly fizzier now, thanks to the fermentation.  I’m so impressed.

I started a sourdough starter last week.  My first attempt was with whole wheat flour, and unfortunately it bombed… like a stink bomb.  Wow, did it have a foul odor – it smelled like overripe epoisses. I apparently captured some belligerent yeasts in there.

It’s too bad, because it had spectacular bubbles the second day and had almost doubled in size.  I was so excited to see it… until I smelled it.  My understanding is that whole grain flours are trickier to work with when creating a starter, and my nasty smelling starter confirmed that for me.  I dumped it after the second day of its existence.

So, I tried it again with regular white flour (Bob’s Red Mill unbleached flour).  What a difference – it’s behaving very much like what I’m used to seeing with sourdough starter, with bubbles increasing each day and a healthy sour odor. I’ve also got a nice warm spot for it, just above and to the left of the kitchen heater.  I’ll feed it every day for the next week, and hope that by this coming weekend I’ll be able to make a loaf of bread with it.

Eventually, I’d like to take some of this white flour starter and convert it over to a whole wheat starter.  I mean, the point of all this is to sour/ferment the wheat to disrupt the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors, and to make it more digestable as well.  White flour has been stripped of pretty much everything, including the parts of the wheat that contains the phytic acid, so it’s unnecessary to soak or sour white flour from a nutritional standpoint. My guess is that mixing this starter with whole wheat (or spelt) flour and proofing it for at least 8 hours will assist in breaking up the phytic acid in that whole grain flour, though.  So, it’s certainly not a pointless task.

I’ve aso put together a couple pints of red cabbage-apple kraut, which is currently weighed down to extract a brine from the cabbage. By tomorrow evening, a brine should develop; if it doesn’t, I’ll create one and add it to the kraut (my cabbage may be a bit dry).  And with compression, this two pints may turn into one.  I love how it smells right now, and I am sure with the tanginess that will develop it will smell – and taste – fabulous.

It’s going to be gorgeous, taking on a rosy color from the cabbage, and should taste salty, tangy, and sweet all at the same time. Perfect for pork.

I’m really psyched about getting back into making fermented foods.  I’ve been tweeting about my fermentation projects – please feel free to follow me at @harmoniousbelly.  I’m using the hashtag #fermentation as well, so you can find me there.

Stay tuned!

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8 Replies to “Fun with Fermentation”

  1. The red cabbage and apples sounds soooo good. I would like to try this, but I have a few questions. I was told to pound the cabbage to extract liquid as part of the brine. Why did you decide to not do this? Was it to keep the colors of the cabbage and apple more true?

    1. I’ve used a couple of techniques in the past – sprinkling salt as I layer in the vegetables, and pounding the cabbage with the salt. I chose to simply mix the cabbage and salt together as a third technique, in part because I was curious to see how effective it is, and also because that’s what the recipe indicated. 🙂

      I’ve watched Sandor Katz prepare kraut and indeed he pounded it, yet the recipe I used last night came from his book, too, and did not specify any pounding. I read the recipe like 5 times to make sure I understood him right – he indicates that it might take up to 24 hours to create a brine (pounding creates a brine almost immediately), and if it is slow going that might be dependent on the particular cabbage one uses – cabbages have different moisture levels, and mine was an older one, so that would explain the dryer consistency.

      I love the experimental element of fermentation, and it’s always interesting to see how salt interacts with the ingredients I’m using. I’ll put a brine over it tonight and let it ferment with that for a couple of days. Can’t wait to try it!

      And also about the sea salt – I like to use an unrefined sea salt in fermentation because I’m interested in the higher mineral content in the salt, as opposed to kosher salt, which is refined. I also think it’s a gentler flavor than a lot of salt out there.

  2. I keep thinking of questions. Did you use sea salt on the cabbage and apples to make the brine? Does the cabbage and apples have a more intense flavor this way?

  3. Hi there!

    Loved reading your fermentation journey. I have a few regulars in my kitchen (saurkraut, beet kvass), but I have always wanted to become the sourdough queen. 🙂 Hasn’t happened yet. I tried it with Rye once, and it worked, but it was very very dense. Thanks for sharing your journey!

    Molly

    1. Thanks so much, Molly. Good for you for having some regular ferments – I’ve never made beet kvass, but love beets so I wonder if I’d like that.

      I’ve tried sourdough on various occasions and always ran into trouble when it came to rising times. I suspect sourdough can take longer to rise than yeasted doughs, and maybe I just never had the patience. My sourdough starter is looking and smelling good, and is full of bubbles. I’m going to attempt sourdough biscuits this weekend, and perhaps a small loaf of bread. I’ll definitely report back here! Thanks for reading…

  4. Rye flour makes a great starter; it contains more microorganisms than other types of flour. You can then sub-culture it with wheat flour to end up with a wheat starter.

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