On fermenting the harvest

In my corner of the world, farmer’s markets and fruit markets (yes, we have a lot of the latter:  either they’re the market for a large fruit farm or a collaborative of a few smaller farms) are winding down.  This means I should get bags and boxes ready, and go shopping!

Even *I* cannot resist the pull of these markets on their last weekend, their last day.  I tell myself I can find the need for such slash-priced fruits and veg…why not?  (“Why not” might be because I have plenty of my own stuff already…plus, I didn’t need to pay for my harvest.)  Considering nearly nothing I purchased could be stored for long, I spent Saturday morning  in what only could be called a Ferment-A-Thon.

The last batch of sauerkraut took only 10 days thanks to a few warm fall afternoons so the pickle crock was fortuitously empty.  My routine had been kraut then kimchi then kraut with the pickle crock, so my mind was on putting together the next batch of hot/spicy kimchi.  (Kimchi also only takes about a week, sometimes less time if it’s kept in a warm room.  Sauerkraut can take a week or a month, both depending on how much you have as well as ambient temperature.)  Besides the makings of  kimchi, though, there were those large beets I picked up at the market…time for more pickled beets with roasted, crushed caraway seeds.

There’s no real magic involved with simple veggie ferments.  (If you want great step by step instructions, go see Sandor Ellix Katz’ website.)  It’s a three part process, really.  The chopped veg are salted and left for a time to release their internal water.  The veg are then are fermented in brine, and, after a time, eaten!  (Kimchi has one more middle step in there, where more veg, a spicy pepper mix, and a watery brine is added to cover.)  The only difference I impart to my own ferments from what I read in books and online recipes is that I stir. the. ferment. every. single. day.  I also taste it to see how it’s doing…therefore I rely on my tastebuds and not some recipe to tell me what’s going on in the crock.

Day One contents for the kimchi crock:  leafy cabbages and crisp carrots, radishes and kohlrabi.  Perhaps not completely kosher (i.e., more than just nappa cabbage, no daikon radishes, no fish paste, and who ever heard of kohlrabi in kimchi?) it points to the fact that most anything goes…especially when the garden needs pre-snow tidying.

It is helpful to weigh the chopped contents to best gauge the salt that will be needed.  Rule of thumb is 3 tablespoons salt per 5 pounds produce, in 1/2 gallon of water.  Submerge contents to sit overnight and soften:  you can use a plate, but a bowl is the nearest thing I have that works.  Glass/ceramic is best.  Drain, reserving water, and taste veg for saltiness:  if obnoxious, then you won’t be adding all the salted water back in.

Day Two:  add a mash of hot fresh peppers/garlic/grated gingerroot; add more veggies as you choose (I added green peppers and the last of the fall peas, and a fist-sized bundle of chopped scallion, and a leek for kicks.).  Toss well, then add liquid to cover it just enough when submerged.  Cover crock with a clean cloth, stir and taste daily, adjusting seasoning as required.  Kimchi is ready in 5-8 days.  My five pounds of veg makes about 3 quarts.

Sour beets leaching their water:  Same salt/water rule applies (3 tablespoons salt per five pounds veg, submerged, etc.) but here I added roasted, ground caraway seeds to the freshly shredded beets, and am letting it pickle in between two nested glass bowls.  I added a bit of whey (2T) to speed up the process of lactic fermentation.  Step One is I let the shredded beets osmose for 12 hours before adding the water/whey mixture; Step Two is adding the liquid and letting it do its thing.   Because beets are so sweet, I don’t want this to turn alcoholic on me…so I will only give it up to 4 days before it goes in the fridge.  Sour beets in borscht, yumza!

Next up in the pickle crock will be a green drumhead cabbage sauerkraut with shredded apples and onions added on Day 5.

Read what you can about the fermentation process, and have fun with it all.  And, as ever, trust your instincts.  If it smells/tastes truly horrid, well, something has gone awry.  Kimchi, in my humble opinion, smells fabulous when it’s cooking, though!

13 responses to “On fermenting the harvest

  1. Mmmmm, those sound so good! Last year, I got on a real kick of faux (vegan) Reuben sandwiches made with my homemade sauerkraut. Unfortunately, hubby doesn’t like fermented vegs so I rarely incorporate them into dinner meals.

    I picked up a Korean cookbook a few years ago and have enjoyed making some quick kimchi and pickle recipes, too. They don’t really ferment the same way but still taste really good.

  2. I’ve been lurking for awhile but your post got me thinking. I’ve been experimenting with fermenting this year and have found the website you mention very helpful. I used the sour pickles recipe after our cucumber crop went berserk earlier in the season. I know that canning probably kills all the good microbes in any ferment but was wondering if you’ve experimented with any type of preserving to make your stuff last longer.

    From the bottom of my pickle crock,

    Mike Toering
    Allegan County, MI

  3. Hey, El, do you really (the 3 of you) eat all that pickled, lacto-fermented stuff over the year? I had to toss a couple of quarts of kimchi from last year to have room in the fridge for this year’s. Since we put a pellet stove in the basement I don’t have cold storage…. But I forgot — you’re including it in your CSA’s?
    I’ve only made sauerkraut this year, and it is soooo good! I bought a fermenting crock made by a potter friend, that is beautiful, and I don’t add water, just pound the veggies down with the salt as I go along to release the juices.
    I want to make some of the folded, stuffed Japanese kimchi, have meant to for years, and maybe this is the year.
    Thanks for the nice post, and reminding me that there’s always more than one way to skin a cat.

    • Oh goodness no Sharon! We eat about a quart a week, maybe less, of fermented veg…but I have a lot of friends in the CSA who’re of Eastern European descent so they loves some stinky krauty food in jars. I just tasted those beets and was pleasantly tickled by how good they’re getting. Really, doing all this fermenting now is my hedge against Jan/Feb when we’re “only” eating salads out of the greenhouses for fresh veg, and are tiring of the unending sweet/reg potatoes/squash that’s the remainder of the cold storage. I’m growing a ton of cabbage out in the greenhouses, and have saved a bunch of hot peppers, for the winter crock. I am jealous of your local crock though! Maybe I can get my friend to make one…or do it myself in my class…hmm.

  4. I made all of our sauerkraut using both cabbage and kohlrabi this year but never thought to use any in our kimchi. Although, I have been a lot more creative with it this year. Remember those wonderful Italian chicory seeds you sent a couple years ago, well, I now have a whole row of them and find that they are an excellent addition to our kimchi. I also added amaranth leaves (for color) and a bit of kale to this last batch.

    I actually got my Dad to eat some kimchi the other day, he is the first taker we have ever had with the stuff. He remembers the Vietnamese fermenting these big vats of it while he was over in Vietnam during the war and wanted to try it. He liked it…so I gave him a jar full.:) I will have to add kohlrabi to ours next year, I’m out of cabbage…we use savoy as I can not for the life of me get a napa cabbage to grow around here.

    Oh, and those sour beets sure sound interesting…never heard of that before.

    • Sour beets are RIGHT up your alley, Mike. Shred and salt, then cover. I like the caraway seeds but you can skip that. They turn out a lot less beet-y and more like a pickle. But yeah, I have had good luck some years, bad others, with the various types of nappa (Chinese) cabbage that I have grown. Usually we get hit with a wet spell and they sog out and die…and of course every single outer leaf is shotgun-blasted with flea beetle holes. The cabbage butterflies, which are legion, leave them alone, though. I guess this all points to the fact that I should only grow them in the greenhouses, and so I will, next summer for fall eating. Thanks for the tip of adding the chickory to the kimchi: I have a perennial patch that I raid nightly for salads so maybe it can be kimchi next time.

  5. what does a fermenting crock look like?

    Very informative site.
    Thanks for all the good info

  6. Stirring? Adding things on day 2? I never do any of that stuff. Low maintenance is my motto. Making more kimchi today. Hey, do you pickle nasturtium seeds? I just made a huge jar. They’re great with charcuterie.

    I’ve been thinking about making a crock, but right now I’m fixated on making a new sink for the bathroom.

    • Huh, I just talked with my teacher about making a crock (coil, but spun on wheel) with a bit of a deep lip for a lidded water/airlock similar to those of the spendy and undeniably ugly Harsch crocks. I have been making a lot of vessels (open-bottomed and not) for cheese molds. Yeah, I pickled nasturtium pods 2 years ago: they’re wonderful. My fave is to chop them and toss them with steamed, buttered cauliflower; nice spicy faux caper accent.

      Find yourself a lacrosse ball: their diameter makes for a wonderful sink depression, able to take any/all drain plumbing. Oh these useless factoids rattling around in my brain. Maybe you’ll find that useful.

  7. oooo, what a fun post. I didn’t get around to making saurkraut this year, so maybe I should try fermenting something else.

    I have two ordinary, smallish crocks that I use, but my dream is to someday use the heirloom one from my great-grandfather’s (or maybe it’s great-great? I forget) store. I don’t know how many gallons it holds, but it’s waist-high and gorgeous.

  8. I just drove through that area a couple of weeks ago and saw all the fruit market signs, I figured they were probably done for the season, silly me. I did get some MI sugar while I was in the state though, ha ha.

  9. Hiya Chile! Wow, a Korean cookbook. As a vegan I am quite sure you’d find a lot to eat in that…at least of the pickled category. I will have you know my husband likewise dislikes most of my pickle crock goodies…but that doesn’t stop me. He actually likes the kimchi, terribly surprising, but he said it was the garlic and the ginger (plus the fire of the chilis) that got him. Baby steps!

    Welcome, Mike! I find it’s really enabling? encouraging? something! when one finds someone locally who is doing crazy things like this, don’t you? Makes one feel not so alone in the world. And as to your question, I have done all kinds of kooky experiments over the years of putting the harvest by in anything but the pressure canner, and sadly I tend to fall back to the pressure canner! Dehydrated stuff tends to get moldy in our damp environment, salted stuff just isn’t tasty, and oil is fairly precious, so…short-lived pickles work pretty well. “Just feast” is the answer to your cucumber dilemma. Feast, or can them up and have some microbially active backup to eat with them.

    Sharon, I am working on making my own crock in my pottery class! SO exciting but then again I have a lot at stake!

    Mike, I am going to try a carrot/beet pickle next similar to the beets in this post. YOU sure have a lot of both to try. Do let me know how they do for you. OH: and that pic above with the one huge cabbage, that’s the one I mentioned to you in your own cabbage post. LOTS of frilly outer useless leaves. But the bunnies were happy.

    Hello, Antoinette! A fermenting or pickle crock is just a large earthenware crock, some are fancier than others. Google “pickling crock” and watch the results come in.

    Peter, the gods of blue mold then must not be terribly active in your kitchen. Must be because it’s new. Me, and my 95 year old kitchen that’s never been renovated? Legion, I tell you. But the levain is happy. Do tell about your sink.

    Karen! wow. A waist-high crock. I see stomping grapes in your future! And: it is not too late for sauerkraut-making. Just think about all those cold nights ahead, you’re going to need some with a nice pork roast.

    Sara, seriously, the next time you deign to drive through my state let me know, okay? We’re not far off 94. But indeed, lots of fruit craziness here.

  10. I can’t trust my nose. My nose is trained to Be Suspicious. I trust my salivary glands, they’re 100% reliable. If my nose says “HUH?” and my salivary glands start watering, I know my taste buds will soon be very, very happy.

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