Sunday, January 8, 2012

:: The Art of Lacto-Fermentation ::

Hello all, did I say I wasn't going to go on & on about my new-found passion and our Year of Eating Nutritiously? I won't, I promise, this is still an urban homesteading/ prepping/ save-the-planet type blog... just add a cup or so of traditional & nourising food to the mix. Besides, instead of researching new cameras (and therefore updating you with garden or chook photos), I have been researching kitchen appliances instead (I am thinking my old whisk, grater, mini-food-processor and breadmaker may not keep up with my enthusiasm for more cooking from scratch!). I have also been learning about and practising new 'cooking' skills... one of them, a major one, is lacto-fermention. 

I first became intrigued about this last year when reading Sharon Astyk's Independence Days and the section on lacto-fermentation for preserving the harvest. This led me to read Wild Fermentation, which was so educational and inspiring. I had also read about it on blogs like Towards Sustainability, but I guess back then, I never thought it was something I would be into/ have time for/ need to do. Some of you are wondering where have I been, hiding under a sterilised stack of processed food? (Pretty much!) Others who are reading this will be looking out from their own sterilised stack and thinking, what in the world is this lacto-fermentation business? Yoghurt is an example of a common lacto-fermented food, as well as cheese, sour cream, sourdough bread. Most of you will have heard of sauerkraut too (though like me, may never have actually tasted it!) There are loads of other foods & cultures who are into this method of food preservation & enhancement. It's just one of those replaced and forgotten nourishing habits that happily, you can all start doing too.

Here are some great links if you'd like to do some more reading about lacto-fermentation:

Fermented & Cultured Foods (Nourished Kitchen)
Benefits of Lacto-fermentation (The Nourishing Gourmet)
Fermented Food for Beginners - Lacto-fermented Vegetables (Nourishing Days)
What is Lacto-fermentation? (Pickl-It)
Fermented & Raw (Food Renegade)

Vegetables - kimchi, sauerkraut, cucumber pickles, dilly beans
Condiments - salsa, ketchup, dressings, mayonaise, sweet chilli sauce
Beverages - kefir, water kefir, kombucha
Other - yoghurt, sour cream, sourdough

These are the the foods I am planning on creating and enjoying, and maybe more if I really get into it. Maybe less, if I find there are things I don't like! I've got to tell you, though, it's a tricky thing this lacto-fermenting. You've probably got to knock the years of food safety concerns and expiry-date-mania from your head to start off with. Then there is the Am-I-doing-it-right? virginal jitters. Even if you think you've managed to pull it off and lacto-fermented something, there is still the trepidation in consuming your bubbly, sour, just-sat-on-the-kitchen-bench-(without refrigeration!!!!)-for-several-days food item. I think there should be a hotline number for new lacto-fermenters to call and ask all your dumb questions, and get someone to sniff it for you over the phone! I am thinking some classes or a mentor would definitely help me out. I've had several attempts at lacto-fermenting now and I am feeling like a failure.

1. Sauerkraut that didn't - stirred on by Sandor Ellix Katz's passion in Wild Fermentation, I hastened a ceramic casserole dish, plate and weighted dish together and shredded, pounded and brined (narrowly avoiding using iodised salt) a cabbage. I waited, I pondered, I sniffed, I thought I saw bubbling, I saw white scum, I Googled, I skimmed, I waited, I aired the house, I tasted, I threw it out. How could I make sauerkraut when I've never even tasted it? I had no idea what this cabbage mix was supposed to become. I bought a jar of real lacto-fermented cabbage (with juniper berries), and ahh, hmm... I didn't like it that much!

2. Next up, Kimchi! Sharon Astyk & her family love kimchi, therefore I will love it too. I reasoned that if I added spices & other vege's to cabbage, I will like the taste of it better. And I did. I am pretty sure it lacto-fermented safely and correctly (I had bought a Pickl-It system by then). It tasted spicy, crunchy and because I knew it was good for me, I ate a reasonable amount of it the first night. Maybe about a cups worth, which might have been a cup too much. Without going into any gory details, I had a very upset tummy the next day. This isn't anything too unusual for me, but I became paranoid that the cause of it was my poor lacto-fermenting technique. I threw it out (and my Facebook friends will know the story there!) and felt like a failure... again. It didn't occur to me that eating that much spicy cabbage & vege's might have given me the GI issue! Hmm, I'll never know.

3. After reading recipes like Erica's, I'd been hankering to eat LF salsa, and to try LF cucumber pickles. I felt ready to try again, but didn't have any tomatoes, capsicum, chillies or cucumbers ready yet. I did have beans. Quite a few purple king beans from when we came from our trip... they needed to be used up, so dilly beans seemed like a logical way to try LFing again. I found a recipe, but I was stuck... last time with the kimchi, I used some bottled 'organic' water that had come frozen in our delivered organic vege box. (We have a new water purifier, which removes chlorine but not fluoride). So I used some of the remaining bottled water, but maybe one of them wasn't all organic, but some tapwater in it instead. Can you guess the punchline... the dilly beans didn't dilly. Oh, the dill & garlic smelt great, but they didn't bubble. Must have been the water, or maybe the garlic with all it's antibacterial properties??

4. This brings me to my most recent attempt, which was LF Fruit Chutney. I had a heap of apricots, so why not. I used some whey I had from making kefir cheese (using a bottle of bought kefir drink, mind you, not something I made... that is my next challenge!) and it all went swimmingly... except that I didn't like the taste of the 'raw' spices. It's not a complete failure, I cooked the batch & hot water bottled it as a Spicy Fruit Chutney, which my husband really liked.

What will I lacto-ferment next, I hear you all ask? I am turning my hand to making kefir this week, with both water kefir grains, and milk kefir grains, arriving here in the next couple of days. I loved the taste & texture of the kefir I bought from a health food store, so I feel more confident in it. It is something I can get the kids to consume, I can make into other things, and it is fairly foolproof... maybe! I have the Cultured Food Life book by Donna Schwenk, and she is right into kefir. What can possibly go wrong??!!