GUEST POST BY SHARON FLYNN OF THE FERMENTARY
An excerpt from Sharon’s forthcoming book – released by Hardie Grant in March 2017.
I love to think about how foods were discovered and different recipe’s developed, particularly the wild fermentation kind.
It was probably the wonder of the unknown, the quite invisible, but microscopic world I loved first, though. Bringing that alchemy into my kitchen as part of my everyday routine opened my mind to so many other possibilities. It brought science, art, life and wonder into my kitchen.
Fermenting to me is also a form of gardening; a long term project using techniques with ancient ties, the rewards of which sit somewhere in the future depending on what you’ve made.
The act of fermenting is also a tangible reminder that I don’t control everything (this is not an exact science) and there is unseen magic in my everyday. This kind of earthy food preparation also provides a sense of connection to ancestors and to other traditions around the world.
A Centuries-old Tradition
People have been carrying their ferments with them for centuries. In fact the recipes, kitchen cultures, fungi and SCOBYs exist now purely because people all over the world and throughout time have nurtured and saved them.
They have been passed down over many lifetimes, through drought, famine, war and migration, changed environments and ideals. Or, more happily, exchanged and gifted through marriage, extended families and exciting journeys but, usually, I imagine, in the most basic of conditions.
A note specifically on ‘Wild Fermentation’
For me, fermenting is only magical and satisfying when the process is as ‘from scratch’ as possible – spontaneous, wild and witchy. Wild fermentation is the ancient way of providing the right environment and the right ingredients and letting time take over.
Wild fermentation is when you create that alchemy without using any special tablets of yeast or packets of starter cultures, nothing made in a laboratory.
There are a lot of people who’d prefer to use powders, aiming for a higher probiotic content, or a guaranteed successful ferment, which I find a bit annoying. Those bacteria are grown industrially. You’ll only be getting a few kinds of bacteria from a packet and so many VARIOUS kinds when you wild ferment. And diversity is the absolute key to a healthy gut and body.
Wild fermenting is easy once you relax into the fact that it has been done in the most rudimentary conditions for thousands of years
Connecting with our food system
On top of the amazing flavours and textures you can get, (that can change slightly per batch), there’s the wait; the connection to our food system; and the seasons you can save for later eating.
Eating wild for gut health
There aren’t many wild things in our diet these days – imagine the strength in something that chooses to grow of its own will – the strength of a weed pushing up through concrete. Isn’t that the kind of strength you want in your food, in your gut?
Fermented food, like no other prepared food, brings not only life to your gut, but beautiful lingering flavours, aromas and textures.
A note on bacteria
In fermentation any pathogenic bacteria that would otherwise rot the food will die a natural death due to the changes you bring about in it’s environment; perhaps they don’t like the amount of salt you’ve added, or maybe they are air-loving bacteria and you’ve denied them oxygen.
This leaves the remaining population who thrive in that specific environment to go ahead and preserve the food. They are often the species of bacteria that love to eat the available natural sugars and convert those into a range of acetic or lactic acids, alcohol and carbon dioxides.
It becomes its own eco-system and then ideally will soon enter yours, where something different but very similar will happen again – this time helping you to easily digest other foods as well.
Listen to your gut, forgive your failures and share your favourites.
Slow down and listen as your gut microbiome begins to guide your palate to crave sour and complex over simple and sweet.
Nurture your skill and show it to others so they can also revive this ancient and important part of the human experience of food.
My aim is to give as many people as possible the confidence (and hopefully passion) to learn which fermented foods and drinks their palate, gut and curiosity crave most. And, how to get their own little living, bench-top farm, from their kitchens, into the bodies of the people they love. Or, even just their own. Go for it. Sharon xx
Sauerkraut is an obvious best place to start; it’s hard to ruin this, I promise.
Traditional sauerkraut recipe (with caraway)
- 2 cabbages
- 50 g fine ground salt (aim for approximately 2.5 % - you may need more or less depending on the cabbages)
- 15 g caraway seeds (optional)
- Shred the cabbage. Weigh what you’ve shredded (as cabbages vary in size and weight, this is to ensure the salt to cabbage ratio is correct). The amount of salt you use should come to about 1.5–2%, but no more than 3%, of the cabbage weight. (So 2 kg of cabbage needs 20 g of salt, which turns out to a large heaped tablespoon – if 1 tablespoon of salt averages at 17.2 g)
- In the large bowl, mix and massage the salt through the cabbage thoroughly, making sure to distribute the salt evenly.
- Let it sit to sweat a bit – maybe 10 minutes. This is simply to make the next step easier. This is a good time to get your vessel cleaned.
- Grab a pounder, if you have one, and pound quite energetically for about 5 minutes until the cabbage is dripping with its own salty water when you pick up a handful. This part is important as you need this liquid – it’s your brine.
- You can also use the dough hook of a mixer to do the pounding part, which can speed things up somewhat. Don’t let it run for too
longthough, only a few minutes. Using a mixer is easy and great for people who are doing this a lot and in large batches, but be aware! It takes quite a bit of the emotional release and fun out of it.
- Mix in your seeds or spices now – caraway in this instance. Add as much as you think will taste good but less than the quantity of salt you’ve added, keep it subtle. (Add about 15 g for 2 kg cabbage.)
- Put this into your jar, packing it down tightly as you go, using your pounder. Push down well, particularly at the end to coax out any more brine. You need the brine to cover the cabbage.
- Don’t pack the cabbage all the way to the top; leave some headroom at the top of the jar to allow for a bit of growth and movement and, of course, for your weights. You don’t want the liquid touching the top of the lid, as it will end up spewing out of your
air lockor up out of your lid.
- Cover with a cabbage leaf (the follower), the weights and then your lid and chosen system.
- Depending on your ferment, you can start trying it as soon as you’d like, but the less you fiddle with it in the first 2 weeks, the better. It is ready when you think it is delicious. With the right system and temperature, you can leave it to ferment for months before refrigeration.
- If using a crock, you’ll need to decant to smaller jars before you refrigerate, unless you have a walk-in cool
room,or large cellar. (Lucky you.) It’ll keep in the fridge for 12 months or more. Use your senses.