By Jessica Goldblatt Barber
In this issue’s “Green Shots” and its organic homemaking tips I want to bring it into the kitchen and talk about the art of lacto-fermentation: The work goes faster than water-bath or pressure canning. The process (and storage) can be done with zero energy usage.
Lacto-fermentation has been used for centuries as a means to preserve food. Lacto-fermented foods are fermented by lactobacillus bacteria, which is a category of beneficial bacteria that feeds on sugar and that produces lactic acid as a byproduct. Just about any vegetables and even fruits can be lacto-fermented and many wonderful spice combinations can be used.
General guidelines for lacto-fermentation
At its basis, most lacto-fermented foods are whole, chopped, sliced or grated vegetables placed in a brine of salt and water for a period of time at room temperature and let to the beneficial bacteria develop. The important thing is that the vegetables should stay submerged to prevent mold from forming. The lactobacillus bacterium is a facultative anaerobic type, and doesn’t need oxygen for energy production. If you decide to chop, slice or grate your vegetables, you should add salt as you place the cut vegetables in your chosen fermentation vessel and pound everything heavily with your fists or a potato masher to break up the vegetables, release their juices and to eliminate any pocket of air that may form. When using whole vegetables, as with sour pickles, you’ll simply place them in your vessel and submerge them with a brine.
For the fermentation vessel. You’ll want to choose a large ceramic crock or glass jar where you can fit a cap or plate on top, keeping weight on the vegetables and keep them under the brine at all times. The salt will keep on extracting water from the vegetables several hours after you put them in the fermentation vessel, but you should verify that the liquid covers your vegetables the following day and add water if that’s not the case. Sometimes mold can form on the surface after some time in the form of a white film, but it’s usually not a problem, and you should remove it as best you can.
The fermentation time will vary on a lot of factors: temperature, starter used, quantity of salt, nature of the vegetable or fruit. The best way to go about it when trying original combinations is to taste it along the process and to go with the taste as the best indicator. When it tastes acidic enough for your liking, it’s ready to be enjoyed. Taste it after three days, then taste it three days later and so on. The finished product will keep for months when stored in the refrigerator.
When trying this at home: please take more time to research the process and recipes on the internet and via some wonderful books on the subject like.
- Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz
- Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon
Jessica Goldblatt Barber is the owner of Interiors Green — the Home and Living Store at 2021 Main Street in Bethlehem, NH.