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A Glimpse Into Fermentation – An Ancient Practice

Fermenting Our Garden Harvest

As we continue our series of preserving our harvest we will take a look into fermentation. This practice is coming back to the forefront of preservation making it all the hype through popular products. Two big products we hear a lot of now are Kombucha and Kimchi. So what’s the hype?

What is it?

To our benefit, there are not many things that cannot be fermented. Preservation through fermentation is achieved by using controlled microbial growth to create the perfect environment extending the shelf life of fresh food.

Fermented foods are great for the gut. Packed with probiotics and enzymes, ferments transport these beneficial to your gut which in turn take up residency. Your immune system is strengthened when your gut is packed full of probiotics. They work together to increase the health of your microbiome.

How Does it Work?

Good and healthy bacteria grow in the anaerobic environment created by the submersion in a brine. These bacteria feed off the sugars and carbs in your produce reaching an active ferment. The byproduct of this chemical process is Carbon Dioxide or CO2.

A benefit to fermentation over canning via waterbath or the pressure process is that the integrity of your produce is kept. Fermenting allows carrots to have that same crunch we love and beets to maintain their deep and earthy flavors.

Tools & Ingredients

Fermenting foods doesn’t need to be an expensive endeavor. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few tools that can make it a bit simpler, but overall we can achieve great recipes with the basics.

To get started, just start with a jar that has a two-piece lid. The two-piece lid allows us to burp our ferments without allowing oxygen to seep into the jar. Once you have fallen in love with fermenting, as I have, then you can consider investing in products to streamline the product!

There are tools we can use to make the releasing of CO2, or burping, automatic. There are many products on the market. The way they work is CO2 is able to escape the jar without allowing oxygen to reach the fermenting food avoiding spoilage.

Timeline and Storage

For most recipes, it takes about 72 hours to reach an active ferment. At this time the microbial bacteria reproduce fast enough to break down the sugars and carbs of your recipe. Recipes can suggest fermenting for months to a year at a time. It often depends on the potency of flavor you at hoping to achieve.

The speed at which a ferment process depends heavily on ambient temperature. Breakdown increases in higher temperatures and inversely decreases in cooler temperatures. Therefore, to stop and slow the process, move your jars to a cooler environment for storage. Store your ferments either in the fridge or in a cool dry environment, such as a basement or root cellar.

Observation is Key

The key to a proper ferment is to maintain an anaerobic environment. Anaerobic means, in laymen’s terms, without oxygen. Oxidation during the fermentation process can cause a variety of mold and poor microbial bacterias to develop. When using brine, it is crucial to maintain the submersion of your produce.

If submersion is not maintained spoilage will occur. We can use our observations skills to determine the safety of our finished products.

Visually we will want to look for discoloration outside of the natural dies from the produce used. For example, purple cabbage will dye the brine a purple tint, along with the white cabbage you had in the jar. We also need to look out for molds or slimes forming on the brine. If they do occur, it is safer to compost this jar and try again. Molds have roots that are not always visible, scraping off the top does not ensure we have eradicated the spoilage.

Using our olfactory receptors is another sensory skill to determine the safety of a ferment. As you burp your ferments get familiar with the scent. When spoilage has occurred you will be hit with a very pungent odor. When you When in doubt, throw it out!

So, Where to Start?

When I started fermenting, my first recipe was basic sauerkraut in a mason jar. Two ingredients were used, a head of cabbage and real sea salt. I like to chop my cabbage thin to start. My best practice is to taste as I go while massaging the salt into the cabbage to determine how much is necessary. You are aiming for a saltwater balance. Once I have reached the desired saltiness I pack it tightly into a mason jar removing air pockets to my best ability. I covered the sauerkraut with a large cabbage leaf to maintain submersion and watch as the brine develop!

Give it a go and start small. Choose foods that your family already likes to eat. These skills can be passed down year-to-year developing the legacy in our family of fresh and well-preserved foods!

– Halley from MIgardener

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