Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Preserving the Seasons: January, Week 3

Most forms of food preservation, as we've already discovered, have the unfortunate tendency of reducing the nutritional content of the foods. Canning and drying can lower the vitamin and mineral levels of produce significantly, while freezing causes a lesser loss of nutrition.

But there's one form of food preservation that can give us a little nutritional boost, simply by virtue of making those nutrients more easily digested: fermentation.

I admit that I really didn't know much at all about fermentation before this past year, and I still don't claim to be very confident on the subject. So I rely heavily on Sandor Ellix Katz's excellent and entertaining book Wild Fermentation. (I have yet to read either Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions or the book Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning.)

Katz points out the multiple benefits of fermentation: it preserves food, makes it more digestible, adds new nutrients (through the microbial culture), and removes toxins from food. On that basis alone, I knew I had to try it!

(I'll just add here that if you're a little nervous about allowing and even encouraging microbes to "rot" food in the name of preservation -- as I once did -- fret not. After all, we find fermentation in things like bread, yogurt, and even compost, so why not on other foods?)


I had tried kim chi back in the summer, and when I finished up the last of it earlier this week, it was still crisp. Not just firm, but crisp and refreshing! And since I liked the kim chi so much, I decided to attempt to get over my old dislike of sauerkraut.

On New Year's Day, a traditional time for enjoying sauerkraut, I pulled out a head of local cabbage and shredded not quite half of it. I only had a small container for fermenting the kraut, so I didn't want to go overboard.


Katz's basic kraut recipe simply calls for tossing the cabbage with salt, so I pulled out my dill salt and mixed some in.


I packed the cabbage into a wide-mouth quart jar, pressing each spoonful deeper into the jar. Once I had added all the cabbage, I pressed down on it with a water-filled glass bottle that fit just inside the mouth of the jar, covering the whole structure with a napkin.

Over the past two weeks, every time I walked by the jar I would press down firmly, packing the cabbage into the brine it produced for itself.


Today, feeling somewhat under the weather, I thought I'd test the healing properties of fermented food and checked on the kraut.


I spooned a little into a dish, impressed that it, like the kim chi, was still crisp. Though over the past two weeks it has smelled something like cole slaw, it definitely has more of a tang to it now.

The verdict? Well, I'm still not a fan of sauerkraut, though I admit this is somewhat better than what I've had before. The flavor is piquant, somewhat sharp, but with a clean finish.

On the whole, I think I'll stick with kim chi as far as fermenting cabbage goes. But I do look forward to trying some of the other fermentation recipes in the book, including his sourdough bread, a couple of the beers (and the fermented cider), and so on. I definitely want to explore it some more.

It's easy and it's even fun -- so why don't you try it, too?

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