A General Word on Lacto-Fermentation

When I teach Lacto-Fermentation classes, one of the things I almost always make is Ginger Carrots. I refer to them as “Fermented Foods for Beginners.” It is a good name for them because carrots generally retain their texture and people are successful with a ferment. While L-F is a very easy food preservation technique, it still takes some time to get the hang of it and there are failures. There is a lot of conflicting information here on the internet, so it is easy to let things sit out for too long, and therefore, turn mushy, which is pretty objectionable.

How Long to Leave Things Out

People are talking about L-F because the people in the medical community are finally seeing that the consumption of probiotic foods and good gut health has a direct impact on overall health. So you took my class, or you read a bunch of blog posts. In one place you read to leave things out for 2 days. Another said leave it out for 7 days. And yet another said that you aren’t doing yourself any good if you do not leave the ferments out at room temperature for 12 weeks. In my 90° F summertime kitchen, that’s a disaster.

Here’s the deal: Lacto-fermentation, just like anything else, has optimal conditions. When I teach my class, I tell people that everything depends upon the condition in your kitchen. The beauty of lacto-fermentation is that you can taste and test your ferments, and leave them to ferment some more if they are not ready. When you like the results, you move them to cold storage (the refrigerator or a wine cooler), with the understanding that the fermentation process is not stopped by the cold, only slowed, and the colder then environment that the ferment is stored the slower the fermentation process goes.

I have tested my ferments for pH levels – I grabbed the litmus strips out of a kid’s chemistry kit that came our way, and tested my kraut. It isn’t very scientific, because I only did tested on two batches and only recorded the temperatures as high’s and low’s, no hourly variations. One had daily temperatures in the 60’s, and overnight lows in the high 40’s. The other had highs in the 50’s and overnight lows in the low 40’s. I was looking for a pH in the low 4’s or high 3’s. As expected, the first batch reached a pH of 4.0 days faster than the second batch that had the cooler temperatures with which to contend. So, for MY KITCHEN, that is not air-conditioned, and is not well insulated, the counter time for fermenting can vary by 4 or 5 days. When I tested these batches again, after being in the refrigerator for 4 weeks, the acidity had increased, lowering the pH to 3.8. Writing this post makes me want to get more litmus strips and test all of my ferments. I love watching those things change color!

If you test your ferments, remove a little liquid from the container – DO NOT DIP THE STRIP IN YOUR FERMENT!

Now you say, “Natalie, you haven’t answered the question.” I know. I can’t really answer the question because I am not fermenting at your house. Open it, sniff it, and taste it.

Back to those Ginger carrots. You can make these with shredded carrots (my preference), as carrot sticks, or as coins. They taste great in any shape. I like the shreds because they are nice to mix in with greens for salad and make a delicious salad dressing (recipe also follows) that tastes kind of like that orange dressing you get at Japanese restaurants.

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Ginger Carrots

2 C shredded carrots (or cut in other shapes)

1 2 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped or grated

1 C of filtered water

1 T sea salt

Combine the salt and water and stir until the salt is dissolved.

In a bowl, combine the carrots and the ginger and mix thoroughly. Stuff them in a scrupulously clean jar. Cover with the salt water. Be sure the carrots are below the level of the liquid. Secure a lid on the jar. Leave to ferment on a counter, out of direct sunlight. Usually this takes 2-3 days.

 

Ginger Salad Dressing

1 C Ginger Carrots (above)

½ C rice vinegar

½ C salad oil of choice

2 T toasted sesame oil

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and emulsified. Refrigerate for an hour before using.

Living La Vita Locale 7/12: Peaches

Ok, FINE! I’ll give Georgia THEIR peaches, because if you live in Georgia, and can get those gems tree-ripened, they are wonderful.  But in mid-July in New Jersey? It is all about the Jersey peach, especially white peaches that squirt juice all over when you bite them.  We like to pick peaches at the same orchard where we pick our apples, Strawberry Hill.  We bring home about a bushel of peaches and I can some, and lacto-ferment some, and dry some, and make fruit leather out of some.  And yes, we eat the rest of them: peach cobbler, yogurt with peaches, or even just a plain peach as a snack.  While I will buy “bump-and-dent” tomatoes to can into sauce (because sometimes I do not get enough tomatoes from my garden even with what is supplemented by the CSA share), I will not skimp on peaches.   They must be perfect specimens and perfectly ripe.

Peaches are number two on the list of the “Dirty Dozen” foods as defined by the Environmental Working Group.  Because they are fuzzy, peach skins retain much of the topical fungicides and pesticides that farmers spray on the fruit.  And because they are fuzzy, it is nearly impossible to get all of the chemicals washed off of the fruit.  And it is very difficult to grow a soft fruit that is susceptible to a plethora of pests and fungi without the use of chemicals.  That is why organic peaches are hard to come by. Additionally, with peaches being publicized as part of the “Dirty Dozen” more people are choosing organic over conventional.  This is why organic peaches are so expensive.

Of course I went in search of a local organic orchard!  Did I find one?  Yes.  But they did not grown peaches.  As a matter of fact, I could not find one local organic peach.  Not one.  The organic orchard I found only grew organic apples — the soft fruit orchards were on another property they owned about a mile down the road, and were not organic.  They, like Strawberry Hill, use IPM (Integrated Pest Management) system that minimizes the use of chemicals.  They do not use antibiotics (Yes! There are some pesticides that are antibiotics!), they release lady bugs and parasitic wasps to manage insect pests, but they do have to spray sometimes. Usually fungicide, and usually when it has been very wet.  My advice is to call the orchard and ask questions.  Most farmers and orchardists will be very happy to talk to you — they will be surprised that you are interested.  So while Strawberry Hill is a conventional orchard, I still buy fruit there because I feel that their practices are environmentally sound.

The absolute easiest thing to do with peaches is to lacto-ferment them.  Lacto-fermenting fruit can be a little tricky because the ferment can go “boozy” very quickly.  This is one I check about every 12 hours.  As soon as you feel a little effervescence on your tongue, it is time for this to go into the fridge!

Lacto-Fermented Peaches

2-3 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into chunks catching as much juice as possible

1/2 C fresh berries (blackberries and blueberries are usually coming in around the same time as the peaches)

1/4 C cilantro leaves

1 T salt

In a scrupulously clean quart jar, combine all of the ingredients.  Secure the lid and shake the jar until all of the ingredients are combined and the peaches and berries are broken up.  Leave this on your counter for 1-2 days, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.  This needs to be stored in the refrigerator, below 42° F.

This is delicious as is, or mixed with fresh chopped tomatoes and sweet onions as a salsa, spooned over grilled fish or chicken, or blended with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil for salad dressing.

Not a fan of cilantro? Try some basil instead.  Don’t have blackberries?  Use strawberries.  This is just as wonderful without the berries.  If you want an amazing topping for ice-cream, leave out the herbs!  Have fun experimenting.  If you come up with a new combination, please share it in the Comments!

Living La Vita Locale 7/1: Kirby Cucumbers

What’s new at the market this week? Kirby cucumbers (aka “Picklers”). And when I see little those little gems, I gear up to make pickles, especially a family favorite Kosher Dill.

I’ve already done a post about making garlic pickles that are lacto-fermented and taste like the pickles you get at the deli. In this post, I will talk about pickle-making in general and then give a recipe for a classic Kosher dill, similar in style to what you would get at the grocery store, only better because you made it yourself from ingredients you can pronounce.  It was a Blue Ribbon Winner at the Burlington County Farm Fair a few years back.

Some general hints:

  • Unless you pick the cucumbers yourself, you won’t know how long they have been off the vine. Therefore you should soak the cukes in an ice water bath for at least two hours or overnight in the fridge. This will revive them and lead to a crisper end result.
  • The use of a grape leaf or horseradish leaf is optional. If you are using them, they should be as fresh as possible. The leaves are high in tannins and also work to help improve the crispness of your end result.
  • Smaller cucumbers will result in crisper pickles.
  • Keeping the cucumbers whole will result in a crisper pickle. You can cut them into spears or rounds just before serving. Cutting the cucumbers and then pickling them usually results in a mushy pickle.
  • Do not substitute the long slicing cucumbers for the small picklers. They have less dense flesh and will not hold up to pickling.

 

Kosher Dills

About 10 small pickling cucumbers

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and pierced

Dill fronds, Dill heads (the flowers), or dill seed

Black peppercorns

5 C water

1 C white vinegar

1/3 C salt

 

  1. Boil the water, vinegar and salt for 5 minutes.
  2. Pack clean quarts jars by putting in a grape or horseradish leaf in the bottom along with the garlic clove and dill (you can use a combination if you want. If you are using seeds, about ¼ t per jar). Add the cucumbers, fitting in as many as you can without bruising the cukes on their way in. Pour hot brine over the cucumbers being sure to leave adequate head space. Add a little more dill on top if you are using fronds or heads. Put the lids on and process by hot water bath for 15 minutes.

BE SURE TO FOLLOW MANUFACTURER’S INSTRUCTIONS FOR JARS AND LIDS!

Apples

It is apple-picking time. I love apples. My son will choose an apple over some kinds of candy (not all candy, but some). I love apples and I love biting into an apple that just came off the tree. And I mean, pick, wipe it on my shirt, and bite. We have a local orchard, Strawberry Hill that is fabulous. No frills. They aren’t about putting on a show. No hayrides; no corn maze. Just apples.

I thought about posting recipes for applesauce or apple butter, but they are a dime a dozen. Applesauce for me? Quarter the apples and put them in a pot with some water and let them cook until the turn into mush. Run it through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds. BAM! Applesauce. And then take that, put it in the crock-pot. Mix in cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and a little ginger. Let it cook on low for about 16 hours with the lid askew, stirring every so often. BAM! Apple butter.

Instead, I give you Apple Pie Filling. It cans up really well. The best apples for this are hard, tart apples, like Granny Smiths or Braeburns. My favorites are Arkansas Blacks, however, my neighbor, who is of advanced years, lets us harvest his Bellflower apples and they work exceptionally well for this recipe.

Apple Pie Filling

4 C evaporated cane juice

½ C Arrowroot powder

1 T cinnamon

1 t nutmeg

½ t ground allspice

¼ t ground clove

3 quarts of water

3 T lemon juice

6 -7 pounds of apples

In a large pot, combine the evaporated cane juice, arrowroot, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Mix well. Add the water and whisk everything together. Put on the stove, over a medium low heat and cook until the mixture becomes bubbly and thick. This could take 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Meanwhile, peel, core, and cut the apples into bite-sized pieces and pack them into quart-sized canning jars. I use a peeler/corer for this and it cuts the apples into big spirals. I just cut the spiral into quarters and then pack the prepared jars. Cover with the hot syrup, and then top the jars with prepared lids (always follow manufacturer’s instructions!).

Process in a hot water bath for 25 minutes.

First Frost: Pickled Tomatoes

There is always something exciting about the first frost.  While the leaves have been changing for a while, the oranges and reds have come to dominate the tree-lined avenues.  The air turned from the heavy humidity of summer to the dry crisp of autumn seemingly overnight (well, actually it was the other day – started out about 8,000% humidity in the morning and gave way to a dry, cool breeze by the afternoon).  It is, perhaps, my favorite time of year.  There is a sense of relief when the intense heat of summer finally desists.

For me, the first frost signifies the true beginning of autumn.  The summer plants, tomatoes, peppers, and annual herbs, all “bit it” last night, leaves curling and turning dark.  Unpicked fruits soon to pucker, soon to be chicken food.

It is also the harbinger of quieter times ahead – the end of fall sports, and all of the running around inherent in being the parent of two athletes, involved in two different sports, at two different schools.  I know many of you feel my pain!

So out I went this afternoon, to pick all of the green tomatoes. They are some of our favorite pickles. The small cherry or grape tomatoes I leave whole and the larger ones are cut into halves.

 

Lacto-Fermented Pickled Green Tomatoes

Pack jars with green tomatoes, keeping like varieties together. If you have some cherry tomatoes and some larger tomatoes that you are going to cut, put them in separate jars as whole fruits will last longer than cut fruits.

Per jar, add:

¼ t black pepper corns

¼ t dill seed

1 or 2 cloves of garlic

1 dried chili (optional)

Cover the tomatoes with brine in the proportion of

1 T salt

1 C water

Put lids on the jars and leave on the counter until bubbles start to form, usually 2 or 3 days. Once there are bubbles, move them to cold storage. These are NOT shelf stable because they have not been hot processed.