Giveaway: The Art of Fermentation

Last week, I promised an exciting giveaway was in the hopper. And tell me — do I deliver, or what?

I would enter this giveaway, if I could.

The winner, who unfortunately cannot be me (did I say that already?), will receive a beautiful, brand-spanking-new copy of The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Katz.

This is the bible of fermentation, friends. This summer I borrowed a copy from Suzanne, just long enough to read up on my beloved half-sour pickles, but returned it before she could hold it against me in our friendship and also before I could read it cover-to-cover (and yes, I would totally do that, on a Friday night — because that’s how exciting or shockingly anti-social my life is, depending on your age and personal obsession level with fermentation).

If you have any interest in making/understanding fermented foods — everything from cultured veggies to kombucha to yogurt to tempeh — seriously, I think he covers EVERY. THING. — then you want this book.

The only caveat is that, if you win, you have to let me borrow it.

(ok, not really — just if you live in Indianapolis)

No, really, I’m totally lying. You don’t have to ever show it to me, you just have to let me call you with all of my fermenting questions.

Enough, seriously — you really don’t have to do anything. Except fill out the form below (for real this time).

I’m rooting for YOU.
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To enter this giveaway, simply fill out and submit the following form before Friday, September 21, at noon EST. The information goes directly to Chelsea Green Publishing, and you will automatically be added to their e-newsletter list (unsubscribe any time). One entry per person; the winner will be selected at random by the publisher, notified via email, and the book will be shipped directly from Chelsea Green.

[This giveaway is now closed : ( ]

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I am super-grateful to the folks at Chelsea Green Publishing for agreeing to and facilitating this giveaway. I’ve received nothing in exchange for hosting, just the burning jealousy joy I’ll feel for the lucky reader that wins! Also, Kaitlin — you rock!

Ferment Friday no. 3: Kombucha

I have converted my family into a tribe of kombucha-lovers.

Well, all of them except the tallest one. He claims to be wary of the scoby. I can’t imagine why, it’s not creepy at all — I only get warm fuzzies when looking at it.

But, wait. Did I lose you at scoby?

The word, or the photo?

Ok, so let’s just pretend you didn’t see that, and back up a bit.

Kombucha is a cultured tea beverage. A culture, or SCoBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria & Yeast) is used to ferment sweetened black tea (green tea and yerba mate can also be used, but caffeine and sugar are both necessary to feed the yeast). The culture forms a “mat,” or in the words of my kids, “that ewwww! creepy thing that OH MY GOSH YOU’RE TOUCHING IT eeewww!! sits in the tea.”

The drink has been around for thousands of years (via China and Russia), and is known for its detoxing properties and probiotic benefits. It’s slightly fizzy, and has a pleasant sweet-tart flavor (most sugar is converted during culturing, and from what I’ve read the caffeine is also greatly reduced in the finished tea). You can buy commercially-produced kombucha for about $3-$4 per 16-oz bottle — or, you can make it at home for about $1/gallon.

…..aaaaaaannd in case you don’t want to do the quick math on that: that’s about TWENTY-EIGHT DOLLARS versus ONE DOLLAR. My kind of savings.

What do you need to make kombucha at home? You need organic tea, organic sugar, filtered water, a gallon jar, and a scoby.

I bought a scoby online a couple years ago from a very reputable source. I then set out to make my kombucha in the dead of winter. This plan? Bad. Idea. Jeans.

Kombucha likes warmth. In fact, this winter, I might invest in a little electric warming mat for my kombucha jar (thought about trying to rig this thing to do it, it’s cheaper than the official ones). So, lesson #1: if you’re buying a scoby online, I recommend starting it before the cold of winter sets in.

The very best way to get a scoby is to find a friend who’s making kombucha. The scoby’s multiply, or add new layers, as they culture. You can just separate the layers and give them to a friend to start a new batch. The scoby I have now was given to me by a friend in my culture club — and it makes the best kombucha I’ve ever tasted.

If you’re concerned about home-brewing safety, as I am — simply invest in pH strips or a pH meter. Kombucha is safe to drink at a pH of 3-4 (3 is ideal), which is the right acidity to prevent extra bacterial growth but not so acidic to hurt our tummies.

In case I’ve not sung the praises of kombucha enough:  this is, by far, the lowest-maintenance cultured product that I make at home. It only requires making a gallon of sweet tea every 1-2 weeks (depending on how fast your tea is culturing) and bottling the finished tea.

Still unsure? Go by the health food store and buy a few jars of GT’s plain kombucha (only drink about 1/3 of a jar per day). You’ll be hooked in a week, back here, desperate for information on how to make your own.

Mark. My. Words.

(This, from the woman who still hasn’t gotten her unbelievably stubborn husband to drink it. My next plan includes resorting to incessant mockery, for his “fear” of “icky things.”)

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No way. Whey.

You may have noticed that there’s a lot of mention here, in these parts, about whey.

No, it’s not the protein powder. It’s the stuff of Little Miss Muffet.

You remember her — she sat on her tuffet (questionable action), eating her curds and whey.

Now, I’ll stop here, and admit that the first time I made mozzarella cheese (no eye-rolling — it’s remarkably easy, I’ll tell you all about it sometime), and realized that I was actually stirring a pot of of two ingredients that completely flummoxed me during my formative Mother Goose years, I was delighted. But that delight quickly fell way to further confusion, because the whole point of cheese-making is that you remove the curds from the whey — you don’t eat a bowl of them together.

Now that I’m thinking about this again, I’ll probably lose sleep tonight.

Anywhey.

See? There’s no end to this.

So what is this mysterious liquid of Miss Muffet and her curious arachnid? Whey is the liquid that separates from milk solids when making yogurt or cheese or other cultured dairy products. When making cheese, this separation occurs in dramatic fashion when acid is added to the milk. With yogurt, it requires a little more time, and often requires straining (though sometimes yogurt separates on its own in the container — that liquid in your yogurt cup? yep — it’s whey). It’s full of enzymes, beneficial bacteria, and lactic acid — and is good for digestion and nutrient absorption.

Whey is used in all sorts of lacto-fermentation. Many folks put it in their cultured vegetables — I use mine in bread-making, overnight-soaking of grains and legumes, fermentation of fruits and homemade mayonnaise, and lately in making beet kvass (a fermented beet beverage, my new favorite). I always have whey in my refrigerator — which is pretty easy to do, since it lasts in a jar for about 6 weeks.

One of the greatest things about whey-making day is the byproduct of this method: yogurt cheese. It’s the consistency of cream cheese, though more tart — and with a little honey, vanilla, and cinnamon added, it makes a fantastic probiotic dip for fruits and crackers. I have at least two children who gobble this stuff up — and the third gets mocked by the whole family when she doesn’t. It’s fun times.

Oh, and greek yogurt? It’s nothing more than strained yogurt — just like what we do here in this process (you’d just stop after the first straining step, when the yogurt is very thick but still creamy).

So get off your tuffet and give this a try. Helpful hints: my favorite cheesecloth is this brand — and I’ve been using and washing the same cut-off 18″ square now for about 6 months, so it’s worth the tiny extra investment. Also, if you’re not into sweet dips, then by all means just use some chopped garlic, fresh herbs, and sea salt for a lovely savory dip. I’m sure Miss Muffet and her voyeuristic spider would approve.

 

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Ferment Friday, no. 2: Dill Half-Sours

Ok, I promise. The next post I do will not be fermented in any way, shape, or form.

Cross my heart and hope to die.

But you guys. I made these pickles last week, and they rocked my world. The thing that’s significant about that? I’ve never been a big pickle-eater — and maybe my rocky history with pickles has to do with the fact that I only ever had vinegar pickles from a jar that began its life on a grocery store shelf, rather than from a deli on the lower east side of New York City. Because that’s apparently what these taste like.

It’s no secret that I love dill — I’ve put it in just about everything short of ice cream (wheels currently turning subconsciously). So I use it in its two strongest forms — dried seed and fresh seed head — in these pickles. They’re called half-sours because of the lower-strength brine compared to a full-sour pickle. I want sour, but not the kind of sour that makes your entire face pucker up.

{Just after packing into the jar}

 

And the rest of the stuff added to my jar? It’s mostly to ensure a crunchy pickle — and all at the suggestions found under pickle-making in that ultimate tome of home-fermenting, Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation. The tea leaves add tannins, which help the pickle hold its crunch (the same effect can be achieved by using oak or grape leaves) — but they don’t flavor the brine at all. A few carrot slices are also there to support crunch, and the garlic is purely for flavor.

{Pickles are done}

 

Many pickle recipes have you cut off the blossom ends of the pickles, as residue left behind can thwart fermentation. But Katz recommends simply scraping off any residue, and that’s what I did with success — I just prefer the look of a whole pickle. The soaking step at the beginning is also said to encourage crunch (can you tell I have a crunch fetish?) — I admittedly haven’t compared soaking to non-soaking, but feel free to omit that step if you’re feeling rebellious (and let me know how it goes).

A crunchy, dilly, sour pickle. I can predict a supply that will not keep up with my demand.

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Linked up to the Seasonal Recipe Roundup: Cucumbers at GNOWFGLINS.

Crunchy Dill Half-Sours on Punk Domestics

Ferment Friday, no. 1: beets

These days my life seems to revolve around finding various items at the farmer’s market, sticking them in a brine, and watching to see what happens.

You know, when it’s not revolving around sleeping, or finding highly-educational and physically-beneficial activities for my summered children to do all day, or feeding painfully-nourishing foods to those worn-out children, or eating bon-bons.

Because what could be more fun than fermenting random things? And sharing those things on Fridays?

So a mini-series it will be. Ferment Fridays. Not likely to happen every Friday, but you know, when it happens.

What’s with fermentation, anyway? Well, it was the original method of pickling — vegetables were dry-salted or brined, and therefore preserved for longer storage (through winter, in some cases). Meanwhile, as often happens, that preservation made vitamins and minerals more readily available, and increased the levels of lactic acid bacteria (bugs that are good for your gut). While the process doesn’t leave the veggies with the same intense punch of a vinegar (or “fresh”) pickle, they are still sour, sometimes quite pungent.

It took me a while to transition from a taste for fresh pickles to fermented pickles. But I’m there now, and loving it.

Today’s feature: fermented beets.

This is my second attempt at fermenting beets (not to be confused with pickling beets) — the first involved shredding the roots, making a relish. But these slices are crunchier, with the ultra-clean flavors of orange and ginger (see recipe note). I love these on salads, with eggs, or eating straight from the jar.

Only slightly more labor-intensive than other pickles because you shock them in boiling water first. But totally worth that extra five minutes.

Because, really. What’s five minutes in a world where ferments are happening?

 

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Fermented Beets with Ginger & Orange on Punk Domestics

Apricot chutney

chutney-serving

I had forgotten about chutney.

I’m not sure how it happened. But it just popped back into my head one day, like I walked down into the basement, moved a few boxes around, and saw it laying on the floor, forlorn & discarded, and remembered, CHUTNEY!

(Metaphorically, of course. While there are lots of food items in my basement, there is, to my recollection, not a random jar of chutney lying at the foot of my never-used golf clubs.)

chutney-ingredients

I love this spicy-sweet condiment. It was once my go-to topping for a pork roast, and a frequent side to curries. It’s one of those condiments that provides a huge return on investment — ingredients are easy to keep stocked, can be modified to your liking, and keeps for many days refrigerated.

As a bonus, people are always impressed with chutney — it’s just not something that gets made at home very often. And what are we doing when we invite people for dinner if not simply trying our darndest to impress them?

chutney-inpot

I tend to cook dried fruit chutneys, because that’s the easiest fruit to keep lying around. But by all means, if you have an abundance of fresh fruit, this is a great way to use it (you’ll need to change up the ratios a bit, a quick google search should help with that). I’ve been lacto-fermenting my jar by reducing the vinegar and adding a little whey after it’s cooked — this just adds a probiotic benefit. Read the note with the recipe to see this optional step.

I’ve served this as a vegetarian meal with my red lentil and squash curry — the fresh ginger works well with Indian spices. But this week we’ll have it with a pork roast (I’d forgotten about those, too — makes me wonder if a traumatic incident sometime in 2005 had me repressing my love for this meal?) — it’s just that versatile.

And not to be forgotten again.

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Recipe: Apricot Chutney

Makes 2 1/2 – 3 cups

To lacto-ferment the chutney, reduce apple cider vinegar to 3 Tbsp, and add an additional 2 Tbsp water. After chutney is cooked and cooled, stir in 2 Tbsp whey. Let sit covered at room temperature for 12 hours before refrigerating.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chopped dried apricots (unsulphured if possible)
  • 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • (1) 1″ piece fresh ginger, cut into strips
  • 1/2 tsp dried mustard
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 apple, peeled and finely chopped

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients except apple in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a very low simmer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.
  2. Add the chopped apple, re-cover, and cook an additional 10-15 minutes, or until apple is tender.
  3. Serve at room temperature (remove ginger strips before serving). Keep leftovers in a capped jar in the refrigerator for up to a week (or longer for lacto-fermented option).

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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Make your own: sauerkraut

kraut-jarred

Fermenting vegetables can feel like a mysterious, risky thing.

Or, it did to me, anyway. And the first time I did it? I hated the results.

It was back in the infamous days of starting my half-baked adventures with the Nourishing Traditions cookbook. I made ginger carrots, since that’s what Sally says is the fermented vegetable most palatable to the newbie.

She was wrong. I let that quart of lacto-fermented carrots sit in my refrigerator for almost a year, hoping I’d wake up one day and like them. I finally dumped the quart when we moved.

Eating fermented veggies was always a struggle for me — I just didn’t have a taste for them. But when I started the GAPS diet, I was required to eat them with every meal — the probiotic value of those ferments is a huge help in digestion and balancing gut flora. I whipped up my first batch of sauerkraut just before starting the intro diet, and had my first taste during the second week.

kraut-quarteredcabbage

I loved it. Something had changed.

I’m not sure if it was that I was starving to death that first week (blinding hunger will certainly change how things taste), or if it was the fact that I cultured my kraut with just salt, not whey — but I’ve continued to love it, and even crave other fermented veggies as well — dilly carrot sticks and beet relish are among my daily binges.

kraut-slicedcabbage

So what’s the difference between veggies fermented with salt and those using whey (the liquid that separates from yogurt, or leftover from making cheese — I get mine from straining homemade yogurt)? I checked with the experts, the guys over at Fermenti Artisan, to get an answer.

In short, using whey provides for a much quicker ferment. It’s also more consistent, and offers a larger yield (you usually don’t have to scrape off browned pieces from the top because the cabbage ferments more quickly, less susceptible to oxidation). For those guys, selling ferments to the public in large quantities, these things are all important. But for me, since I prefer the flavor of a salt-only ferment, I choose to lose a little cabbage and skip the whey (in case you’re wondering, all of the bacteria in a salt-only ferment comes from the cabbage itself — which is why buying organic cabbage is important).

kraut-bowl

As a bonus, this kraut can be started at home by just about anyone, even if you don’t have whey on-hand. All you really need is organic cabbage, salt, a wooden spoon, and a canning jar or two. A teaspoon or two of your favorite herb seed (caraway, dill, fennel, etc.) will add flavor.

And, of course, an ounce or two of patience. Your kraut won’t be ready for a week, and the ideal time to consume it is after several weeks. So starting a jar means you’ll be enjoying it in about a month (I start a new jar when I get halfway down my current stash).

kraut-pound

If you’re interested in learning more, and are local to Indy, there will be a class on Thursday, April 19, at 6pm at City Market. The class will be taught by the guys at Fermenti Artisan with additional info from Kate Payne, author of The Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking, who’s coming to town for another visit. If you’d like to learn more and are not local, may I suggest a new book written by my online friend Wardeh Harmon of GNOWFGLINSThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods. It’s hot off the presses!

Or, if a simple brined kraut will do ya, grab a head of cabbage and get those juices flowing — let me know how it goes!

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Recipe: Simple Sauerkraut

Ingredients

  • 1 medium (about 2 pounds) head organic* cabbage
  • 2 tsp sea salt, plus more for brine
  • 1/2 tsp caraway, dill, or fennel seeds
  • sliced onions and/or chopped peeled apple (optional)
  • 1 quart-sized canning jar, plus an additional pint jar if necessary

Instructions

  1. Rinse cabbage and remove any browned outer leaves. Using a large chef’s knife, cut the head into 4 quarters, cutting pole-to-pole (this is a great affordable chef’s knife)
  2. Remove the core by cutting at a diagonal along the stem (see photos above). With each core laying on its side, cut thin strips of cabbage.
  3. Place cabbage in a large bowl, and toss with 2 tsp sea salt. Let sit at room temperature (uncovered ok) for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Using a thick wooden spoon or meat tenderizer (a kraut pounder is on my gift list!), pound the cabbage for about 5 minutes to help release juices.
  5. Layer cabbage with optional onions & apples and seeds in a quart-sized glass canning jar. Really pack the vegetables in the jar.
  6. If more liquid is needed, make additional brine water: dissolve 1 tsp salt in 2 cups room-temperature filtered water. Pour this into the jars until the cabbage is covered.
  7. Place lids on the jars, but loosely. Place on a shelf or counter of your kitchen, and let sit for 7 days (it helps me to mark the date on the lid with a dry-erase marker).
  8. Remove any darkened vegetables from the top layer, and transfer lidded jar to the refrigerator. Kraut will continue to mellow for 3 or 4 weeks, but it’s safe to consume immediately. Will keep for several months in the refrigerator.

* Organic cabbage is important, as conventionally-raised cabbage could be bereft of bacteria needed to encourage fermentation.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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