Even beginners can make their own fermented foods! This easy-to-follow comprehensive guide presents more than 120 recipes for fermenting 64 different vegetables and herbs. Learn the basics of making kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles, and then refine your technique as you expand your repertoire to include curried golden beets, pickled green coriander, and carrot kraut. With a variety of creative and healthy recipes, many of which can be made in batches as small as one pint, you’ll enjoy this fun and delicious way to preserve and eat your vegetables.
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About the Author
Kirsten K. Shockey is the coauthor of Miso, Tempeh, Natto & Other Tasty Ferments, Fiery Ferments, and Fermented Vegetables with her husband, Christopher Shockey. The Shockeys got their start in fermenting foods with their farmstead food company, where they created more than 40 varieties of cultured vegetables and krauts. Their current focus is on teaching the art of fermenting vegetables to others through classes and workshops at their farm. They live on a 40-acre hillside homestead in the Applegate Valley of southern Oregon.
Christopher Shockey is the coauthor of Miso, Tempeh, Natto & Other Tasty Ferments, Fiery Ferments, and the best-selling Fermented Vegetables with his wife, Kirsten K. Shockey. The Shockeys got their start in fermenting foods with their farmstead food company, where they created more than 40 varieties of cultured vegetables and krauts. Their current focus is on teaching the art of fermentation to others through classes and workshops held around the world and at their 40-acre hillside homestead in the Applegate Valley of southern Oregon.
Read an Excerpt
Back to the Future
Vegetable Fermentation as Preservation
Fermenting vegetables is a simple, inexpensive process that was used reliably for a few thousand years. Then, in the early 1900s, technical innovations promised things the crock just couldn't deliver. Canned jars of food remain stable on a shelf for years. Blanch your veggies, toss into a bag, and store in the freezer — what could be easier? No heavy crocks to clean, no time spent monitoring and skimming off any impurities; it was all very modern and clean and safe.
Only in more recent years have nutritionists begun to understand what all that sterilizing and freezing did to the vitamins and minerals that make vegetables good for us — not to mention the flavor. Enter fermentation, or, to be accurate, reenter fermentation.
Now fermented foods are considered artisanal, a combination of traditional methods and scientific knowledge used to preserve food for flavor, color, and nutritive value.
When we bring vegetables into the kitchen, we hope to preserve them long enough to enjoy them, so we wash them and keep them at the proper temperature. Despite that, a 2004 study by the University of Arizona found that 40 percent of the food grown in the United States goes to waste, and a large portion of that is what consumers let spoil in their fridge. Every year the average household sends $600 in food to the landfill (for some of us that is actually the compost pile or out to the chickens). So if you couldn't resist that beautiful bunch of turnips at the farm stand but have no idea how to prepare them, think fermentation. Lactic-acid fermentation is an ideal way to preserve the bounty while retaining nutrients and deepening the flavor profile.
Sauerkraut belongs in a barrel, not a can. Our American mania for sterile packaging has removed the flavor from most of our foods. Butter is no longer sold out of a wooden tub, and a whole generation thinks butter tastes like paper. There was never a perfume like an old-time grocery store. Now they smell like drugstores, which don't even smell like drugstores anymore.
— Cary Grant as Dr. Noah Praetorius, in People Will Talk (1951)
Preserving the Harvest
Many batches of fermented vegetables that you make will be consumed within a few days or weeks — you won't be able to help yourself — but fermentation is also a live, nutrition-enhancing, long-term preservation method for the bounty that comes from your vegetable patch, local farmers, and the farmers' market. If you're serious about pickling everything in your garden, consider a ferment refrigerator, which is simply an old refrigerator you set in an out-of-the-way corner and fill with your finished ferments. It will allow you to catch your ferments' flavors just where you like them and effectively keep them there.
Two refrigerators might seem lavish, but it's cheaper than digging a root cellar. And it's all relative: modern Koreans, who traditionally buried their onggi pots in soil or under straw for preservation, consider their kimchi refrigerator a basic household appliance.
At our stand at the farmers' market, customers told us many a story about barrels of kraut in their grandparents' basement. One woman said that when she was a child in Wisconsin, her grandmother would give her a bowl and send her down the stairs, through a dark cellar, to get a portion of sauerkraut. She remembered removing the lid of the sauerkraut barrel and then carefully folding back a thick mat of mold. She'd fill the bowl, pat down the remaining kraut, carefully replace the mold mat, and cover with the lid. This mold mat sounds awful, right?, but it kept the kraut anaerobic — that is, alive without oxygen — and therefore safe to eat (see Going Off the Grid: Non-Refrigerated Storage).
Health and Well-Being
Science is in the nascent stages of understanding how our physical and mental health is interlocked with the vitality of the population of bacteria that live with us. We know fermented vegetables are a piece of the puzzle not only in keeping probiotics in our diet, and therefore in our gut, but also in the changes that overcome the vegetables that make their nutrients more available for our bodies to absorb.
Many discussions of vegetable fermentation mention that Captain Cook kept scurvy at bay on his ships with mandatory servings of sauerkraut; it worked, as we know now, because fermentation increases the cabbage's vitamin C. Now we also know that fermentation increases other vitamins and minerals as well. For example, in 2005, a study published in Food Microbiology found that when homemade vegetable juices are fermented, their iron is 16 percent more soluble than in the raw juice.
Among many other nutrients critical for the body's well-being are B and folate. Vitamin B is difficult to come by for people on a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, as it's present only in animal-based foods. Fermented vegetables, however, contain B; the bacterium Lactobacillus reuteri produces it during the process. This friendly microorganism also munches away on the vegetable sugars, converting the carbohydrates into acid, which is important for people watching their blood sugar.
There are social benefits attached to this culinary art as well. When you cook with family or friends you create a bond — from the food preparation (which can start as early as choosing seeds to grow) to gathering daily at the table. Food keeps us connected both tangibly and immeasurably.
Consider fermenting vegetables as a group activity. Enlist the kids, your significant other, friends, and guests to chop, slice, or grate; salt; and massage, pound, or press vegetables into a crock. No experience is necessary, so even the youngest member can participate. And for the I-don't-like-kraut set, they're sure to at least taste the ferment they helped make.
The Inner Life of Pickling
The Science behind Vegetable Fermentation
The recipes in this book all use the simple process of lacto-fermentation to acidify vegetables, not culturing. Yes, these pickled veggies develop flavor and a healthy population of probiotic goodness — they have got culture, for sure. However, semantically speaking, "culturing" implies the adding of a culture, a starter dose of a desired strain of bacteria. This is quite important in cheese making, especially if you are looking to make a specific variety. But in pickling, with the simple encouragement of salt, everything you need is right there on the (preferably organic) fresh vegetable.
Within vegetable fermentation there are three slightly different procedures that will give you the same end result — a lacto-fermented pickled vegetable. First there is kraut making (sometimes called dry salting, which can seem like a misnomer because it is anything but dry) and its condiment variations, described in chapters 4 and 5; the second is brine pickling, in chapter 6; and the third procedure is a melding of the two, which you will learn about with kimchi in chapter 7. In this chapter, we'll explain how these processes work, what is really going on in your crock, and why it is safe.
Vegetables + Microbes: A Lacto-Fermentation Starter Kit
Fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally covered in microorganisms, especially those grown using organic methods. That is a good thing. These little guys come from plant surfaces, soil, water, and air. Some of them are pathogens. It's not just bacteria, mind you, that are clinging to our future meals. Molds and yeasts are there too, in fact in larger numbers than the friendly lactic-acid bacteria that we want to encourage in our lacto-fermented vegetables. All are held in check while the plant is living. But as soon as it's harvested, it's a race against time as these microorganisms cling to and grow on any place on the plant that's cut, damaged, or bruised. That's why it's so important that the fruits and vegetables are washed well and kept cold to retard the microorganisms' growth.
When we bring these veggies in from the garden or home from the market, it is our responsibility to preserve the nutrients until we eat them. Lactic-acid fermentation is a noble way to deal with nutrient and flavor preservation. Once vegetables are preserved this way, you can eat them as slowly as you like, and here's why: All those microorganisms we mentioned clinging to the plant, good and bad, are just waiting for their turn to alter the vegetables. When you ferment vegetables, you are choosing sides; you are electing the "good guys." Through a simple process that hasn't changed in thousands of years, we allow the lactic-acid–forming bacteria to take over permanently.
For krauts, kimchis, and condiments, we will shred (or micro-thin slice) these vegetables. We do this to break down the cell structure, which helps the salt do its job more efficiently. Shredding also frees up the plants' sugars, which is what lactic-acid bacteria (the good guys) feed on. For brine pickling, we use the vegetables whole or cut in larger pieces.
How Salt Works
How cool is it that just a little salt can preserve fresh vegetables with vitamins intact for months, even years? But don't let this simple ingredient cause confusion; it is actually not very complicated. The first purpose of salt is to draw juices out of the vegetable's cells, which is how our all-important brine is created. This brine is crucial because the lactic-acid bacteria (LAB) are anaerobic, meaning they don't need oxygen. Because many of their competitors need oxygen, we want to move this whole operation underwater or, in this case, under brine.
Salt also acts to enhance the texture of your preserved vegetables because it hardens the pectin in the cells of the vegetables; this helps retain crispness.
Another purpose of salt is to increase salinity, which gives the bacteria we want the upper hand, as the correct saline environment does not inhibit the LAB we are encouraging but does inhibit the forces that decay (or possibly make us sick) — that is, undesirable bacteria and yeasts. This bacterial process, which begins with salting, is what produces enough lactic acid to preserve and enhance our vegetables.
Remember that sugars are breaking down, or decomposing as some like to point out, to create lactic acid. Proteins, carbohydrates, and bacteria are being created. Without salt this list of variables has a higher likelihood of causing putrefaction. Salt also inhibits yeasts, which break down the sugars into alcohol instead of lactic acid. A mere 0.8 percent salt to vegetable weight will prevent the type of decomposition you don't want. Ideally this percentage is kept a little higher; otherwise you will risk a softer texture. Our standard is around 1.5 percent, which for a hundred pounds of shredded cabbage (a mountain heaped way above the rim of an 80-quart bowl) means a little more than 2 cups of salt. For comparison, the salinity of seawater is 3.5 percent.
It is also important to understand that too low a sodium content doesn't provide the advantage for the friendly microorganisms, and you can end up with a rotting crock; conversely, too much salt will stop lactic-acid bacteria in their tiny tracks, inhibiting fermentation. With salting, moderation is the key, and your taste buds are your best guide (see Salt: Shaking Out the Differences).
Salt in Brine Pickling
Vegetables for brine pickling are either whole or cut into larger pieces. These are then immersed in a prepared salt brine. Unlike shredded or thinly sliced veggies, these whole vegetables cannot create their own brine. The vegetables suspended in the salt water interact with the brine in the process of osmosis, which dehydrates the vegetables' own cells, such that the water is replaced by salt water; this begins the lactic-acid fermentation process.
For brine pickling, brine strength needs to be more exact and salt content a bit higher than for krauts. For example, cucumbers in too weak a salt brine solution will probably have a soft instead of crunchy texture due to the cucumbers' own enzymes or yeasts and molds getting too much of a foothold. They also will not last as long under cold storage. Too high a salt percentage (say, over 10 percent) can also prevent proper fermentation. These cucumbers not only are very salty but will take much longer to ferment, develop a harder texture, tend to bloat, and become hollow inside. The sweet spot for a crunchy, tasty, sour cucumber pickle that will stand the test of time is salinity around 3 percent — that is, / of cup salt per gallon of pickles.
We've come across a lot of salt-averse folks in our time as fermentistas, and to them and to you we say: combining good vegetables with good salt keeps the process simple and safe. We need salt to survive. This is as good a place as any to get it. Let's not forget the simple fact that salt is a flavor enhancer; fermented vegetables taste so much better with a little salt. Besides, there are so many other processed, corporately produced, salt-laden foods that are less worth eating if you're trying to reduce salt intake.
Thinking Outside the Crock: Your Fermenting Environment
The environment for your active ferment (prior to storage) includes temperature, light, oxygen, pH, and time. Temperature and light are the external conditions that affect all the magic going on inside the crock. Within the crock, we will explore the significance of oxygen, pH, and that ever-slippery fish: time. These elements are not only a part of the fermentation process, they are the steps in the recipes you'll follow later in the book.
Temperature and Light
Most recommendations for temperature are to ferment between 55 and 75°F; this range is especially conducive to L. plantarum and L. brevis, some of the rock stars of the lactobacillus community. Keeping the temperature relatively consistent is important to encourage fermentation. The higher the temperature, the quicker the acid develops, resulting in a shorter fermentation time. When the temperature is too high, everything speeds up and the organisms don't have time to develop properly, which is evident in underdeveloped acidity and off-flavors. Conversely, when the ferment is too cold in the early stages, the LAB are sluggish and can't reproduce fast enough to develop the acidity that keeps the rotting organisms out of the crock.
Ideally it is best to keep your ferment in a dark place and certainly out of direct sunlight, which could cause light damage and temperature fluctuations in your crock and thus disrupt the bacteria's work. Dark doesn't have to be pitch black and in a cave (though cave fermenting is nice); the ferment can be in the corner of a counter, out of direct sunlight. Despite the imperfections of a counter for fermenting, we still recommend having the crock or jar nearby so you can easily keep an eye on it, especially when you're first learning. They say a watched pot doesn't boil, but an unwatched crock will bubble over.
Exhaling: CO2, Oxygen, and Your Ferment
As we discussed in the salt section earlier, we need to keep our veggies submerged in brine in order to create an oxygen-free environment where the lactobacilli can thrive and the undesirable bacteria and yeast cannot. Pickles are periodically topped up with fresh brine, and krauts are sometimes repeatedly pressed down to keep them submerged. Additionally, if the brine surface is not tightly covered, yeasts, molds, and aerobic (air-requiring) bacteria will form. Most of the time any mold and bacteria (in the form of scum) can be skimmed off, leaving a safe and fresh ferment underneath. But here is the balancing act during this process: we don't want to disturb the ferment too much, as this can also invite yeast spores and oxygen. At a certain point, the aerobic bacteria will lower the brine acidity by eating the lactic acid, and the result will be a spoiled jar or crock.
During fermentation, the most important task is to show the CO out the door, usually by pressing on the weight (see Followers and Weights). When the air bubbles are pushed out, brine replaces that space, keeping oxygen from moving in.
A Ticking Crock: Time and Your Ferment
Fermenting takes time, and time is the cooking in terms of fermentation. It is with time that the chemistry silently changes, melding flavors, breaking down starches, and enhancing the food's digestibility. Think about the bread-making process as an instructive analogy to the curing times of your fermentations. In a bread recipe there is the fairly concrete baking time — 45 minutes at 350°F — but then there is the rise time, when the dough must rise in a warm, draft-free place until it has doubled in size. If you bake bread you know this amount of time depends on the temperature, quality of yeast, quality of water, and other factors. In both cases you are waiting for a live biological process to work diligently at what it does best — process sugar. So, instead of until doubled, you will have until sour as your guide. For example, smaller vessels at warmer temperatures will mean shorter fermentation cycles; larger crocks and cooler temperatures will take longer.
Excerpted from "Fermented Vegetables"
Copyright © 2014 Kirsten K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsWhy We Ferment
PART 1 Dipping into the Brine: Fermentation Fundamentals
CHAPTER 1 Back to the Future: Vegetable Fermentation as Preservation
CHAPTER 2 The Inner Life of Pickling: The Science behind Vegetable Fermentation
CHAPTER 3 Crocks and Rocks: The Tools of the Trade PART 2 Mastering the Basics: Kraut, Condiments, Pickles, and Kimchi
CHAPTER 4 Mastering Sauerkraut
CHAPTER 5 Mastering Condiments: Variations on Kraut
CHAPTER 6 Mastering Brine Pickling
CHAPTER 7 Mastering Kimchi Basics
CHAPTER 8 Practical Matters: Storage and Troubleshooting
PART 3 In the Crock: Fermenting Vegetables A to Z
Garden Vegetables and Herbs
Cabbage, Green and Savoy
Cabbage, Napa or Chinese
Okahijiki Greens (Saltwort)
Pak Choi (Bok Choy)
Rapini (Broccoli Rabe)
Scallions (Green Onions)
Zucchini and Other Summer Squash
Dandelion Flowers, Leaves, and Roots
Apples Citrus Fruits
PART 4 On the Plate
CHAPTER 9 Breakfast: Culture for the Gutsy
CHAPTER 10 Snacks: A Pickle a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
CHAPTER 11 Lunch: Ferments on the Go
CHAPTER 12 Happy Hour: Crocktails
CHAPTER 13 Dinner: Brine and Dine
CHAPTER 14 Dessert: Really?
Appendix: Scum - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
What People are Saying About This
"How to do it and what to do with it! This book covers all the aspects of fermentation — all you need to know lies in this book. Le Pigeon now has a new "how to" to grace our book shelves. "
"An impressive addition to the growing literature of fermentation, with a thorough review of basic concepts and a great recipe section."
“Kirsten Shockey and Christopher Shockey take the art of lacto-fermentation to a whole new level in Fermented Vegetables. The authors provide precise instruction for beginners and then inspire the reader with wonderfully creative ways to use sauerkraut and all its cousins in everything from quiche to enchiladas. This beautifully illustrated book belongs on the shelves of both amateur and professional chefs.”
"Such good information and so much of it!"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is great for beginners and the old pro alike.
This is a wonderful book . I have made several receipes and we have enjoyed them all. Well written and easy to follow instructions and recipes. This book is a must have for both the experienced and the begining fermenter