Wild Fermentation

I finally got my hands on the library’s copy of Wild Fermentation.  In addition to recipes on how to make common ferments, like sourdough and sauerkraut, the book is packed with information about the health benefits* of fermented foods, as well as more exotic recipes, including one for the Ethiopian sponge-bread injera.  (A previous attempt to make injera yielded disappointing results, so we’re looking forward to trying this version, with uses a sourdough starter as the base.)

We were ready to start another batch of sauerkraut anyway, but we adapted our technique from last time based on the book’s instructions for making a somewhat lower-salt kraut.  When we were at Local Harvest Grocery last weekend, I spotted a pint of live-fermented organic purple cabbage sauerkraut (basically exactly what we made last batch), selling for $10 a PINT!  Our current batch of kraut (above, middle) should yield about 2 gallons, i.e., 16 pints, or $160 worth of sauerkraut — now that’s wild!

The quart jar on the right in the above picture contains my attempt at sourdough starter.  I made my starter with 100% whole wheat flour.  After a few days, I saw some good bubbling activity, but that died down, and I’m beginning to think that I’ll have to toss this and start over.

Some places suggest starting with whole wheat flour, but then switching to white flour for feeding.  A white sourdough starter wouldn’t be the end of the world, since sourdough bread recipes consist of some starter and a large amount of flour — we can just use whole wheat flour in the bread recipe for an almost 100% whole wheat bread.

After reading all the details on starting a sourdough starter here, I’m thinking getting an established starter from someone may be the way to go.

*Health Benefits of Fermented Foods¹:

  • Promote digestive health by supporting “good” bacteria in the GI tract
  • Makes many nutrients in foods more digestible
  • Neutralizes  toxic chemicals in foods (e.g., phytic acid in whole grains) that may otherwise impede absorption of nutrients
  • Rids body of heavy metals and radioactive materials — this benefit is specific to live-cultured  miso (a soybean ferment — think miso soup)

1. Wild Fermentation.  Sandor Ellix Katz.  2003, Chelsea Green Pub.

Good sauerkraut — make your own

Yesterday, I wrote about my hunt for good sauerkraut and how, while I found a great store-bought product, we ultimately decided to make our own.

Fortunately, making sauerkraut is quite simple.  For this batch, we started with the following ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 heads purple cabbage
  • ~3 T. pickling salt

  1. Shred the cabbage — we took a shortcut with the food processor.
  2. Put a layer of shredded cabbage in a clean crock, sprinkle with salt, and repeat until you use all of the cabbage.
  3. Place a clean dish towel over the top layer of cabbage; top with a plate that’s about the diameter of the crock (and fits inside the crock).
  4. Place some kind of weight on top of the plate — we used two quart canning jars filled with water as our weights.
  5. After a couple of hours, the salt should pull enough water fro the cabbage so that the liquid completely covers all of the cabbage.  This is very important — if there is not enough liquid, boil 3-4 cups of water, add 1 t. salt (making a brine), let cool, and add to crock.  Repeat if necessary until all of the cabbage is completely submerged.
  6. Now you wait — every couple of days, remove the weights and clean the plate and towel.  Check the liquid level after reassembling — you may lose some liquid with the towel.  If this happens, simply make more of the brine and add as necessary.
  7. You can start tasting the cabbage after 1 week, but it will take 3-6 weeks (depending on the temperature) to really ferment and become sauerkraut.

I intended to include our fabulous veggie reuben recipe in this post, but figuring out how to make the photo collages took a bit longer than expected, so I’ll keep you in suspense on the reubens for now (the bottom left picture in the collage provides a sneak peak).

For a bit more info on the sauerkraut making process, try here or here.

The hunt for good sauerkraut

Though I’m not sure if I like the term, you could definitely classify Matthew and I as “food snobs.”  For reasons including taste, health, and the environment, we tend to be pretty selective about what we put in our bodies, but, until I met Matthew, I never thought about sauerkraut as a food that could be better or worse.

Sauerkraut was something that came in a metal can and was purchased mostly for the purpose of making reuben sandwiches with the corned beef left over from St. Patrick’s Day dinner (and maybe on brats, but I didn’t really eat those much).  Despite my limited sauerkraut consumption, I always enjoyed the salty, tangy cabbage, but I was perplexed when Matthew started talking about “good” sauerkraut, and needing to look for it in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

For a long time, the closest I came was a glass jar of sauerkraut, still unrefrigerated, but perhaps a slight upgrade from the metal can version.  Then, while browsing the refrigerator case that holds tofu and tempeh at Whole Foods a few weeks ago, I spotted Bubbies Sauerkraut — the last one on the shelf.  Live cultures and must be kept refrigerated?  Maybe I’d finally found it!  Compared to the metal can stuff, this was a bit pricey, but I was curious.

The verdict?  If we weren’t trying to save it for reubens, we might have polished off the entire jar the first time we opened it for a taste.  Salty, tangy, crunchy, and cut in the most beautiful, long, almost noodle-like, shreds.

Finally convinced that there was such a thing as superior sauerkraut, and with our naturopath’s recommendation that we eat more fermented foods, but not excited about buying more of our semi-expensive new find, we set out to make our own kraut (something Matthew was somewhat familiar with from his childhood).

Here’s a sneak peek at the beginning of our little experiment — full post, along with our vegetarian reuben recipe, coming soon!