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Fermenting Vegetables

It has been a rush of harvesting and preserving on the farm lately! The turn from high summer growth to early autumn collection has come quickly and completely.

The first root veggies ready for winter storage were carrots and beets. We put a few rows away in our cellar for cold storage. Beets and carrots both store fairly easily. Unwashed, they can be put in sealed five gallon buckets with some slightly damp sawdust and will keep for several months. If they're stored without any moisture they can dry out and become rubbery, and with too much moisture they'll rot, so you have to be careful that the sawdust is only moist and not wet.

In addition to some cold storage of veggies for winter enjoyment, I also put a few jars away for fermentation. For preserving vegetables in the kitchen you generally have to choices: ferment or pickle.

Most simply put, pickles are foods preserved in a brine of salty water or an acid such as vinegar. Fermented foods are preserved in good bacteria, which is usually created by the transformation of the sugars in the foods being preserved. Creating fermented foods usually involves storing them in a brine just like pickles, but while pickles use vinegar fermented foods can go directly into salt water and generally just need to be left alone for a few weeks to do their thing.

Because we have a small, temporary kitchen, the full pickling process can be tough. Fermenting vegetables is a great way for us to save some summer flavors. Beets and carrots can be fermented simply by cleaning them and chopping them up, and then canning them in a brine made of 1 cup of water to 1 tablespoon of salt. I burp the containers every few days to make sure that nothing is building up and they will continue to develop flavor the longer they are left.

Once your fermenting vegetables are ready they can be moved to cold storage or the fridge - until then, they're kept at room temperature. You can tell they are ready to be transferred because the fermentation process will create bubbles in the liquid and a sour aroma. You can be sure they're ready by doing a taste test - once they have a tangy flavor and the texture you'd prefer, they're ready for your fridge.

Another fermentation experiment we took on was sauerkraut. A head of cabbage can be cut up into small chunks and placed into a large bowl. Sprinkle a tablespoon of salt over the cabbage and leave it to sit for about ten minutes. Once they've sat for a few minutes, you can take out some aggression by heartily beating down the cabbage bits for about 15-20 minutes. I preferred using a sturdy wooden spoon for this task, but some folks use their hands.

The cabbage mixture is then transferred to your canning jars and mashed down so no air is in the jar. The brine from smashing the cabbage should cover the cabbage bits, but if it does not you can make extra brine by mixing water and salt at a one cup water to one tablespoon salt ratio. Fill the jars so the liquid covers the cabbage, and leaves about an inch of air at the top of the jar.

Sauerkraut is usually ready for cold storage after about a week.

For sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, you should play with the amount of salt in the brine according to your tastebuds - do some taste testing, and adjust to your preferences. The best salt for fermenting is sea salt. Kosher salt, pickling salt, and table salt will generally make your fermentations taste more salty, and can give them a somewhat chemical flavor.

Hopefully we'll be enjoying the flavors of summer well into the winter months, whether it be with fermented or stored vegetables on our dinner plates.


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