A rewarding pastime of mine that I started exploring over the last several years has been learning about fermentation. The journey and exploration has resulted in many delicious pickles, vinegars and other preserves. It is the continual learning and lessons in patience that keeps me engaged.
The basic idea of of fermentation is that there is some transformation of food by various bacteria, fungi, and the enzymes they produce. It can enhance the availability of nutrients in foods, making them more digestible.
Last week I had the pleasure of introducing a small group to some ideas behind lacto-fermentation and an acetic acid fermentation. In other words using the same process as making pickles or sauerkraut and making vinegar. In each case there are natural bacterias that help achieve the desired result.
To make the lacto-fermented vegetables we simply took some cabbage, shredded it and sprinkled some salt on it. As we packed it into our jars we pounded the vegetables a bit to release the water in the cabbage, thus creating a brine solution for it to ferment in. The salt will help control the rate of fermentation. When it’s warmer outside I typically use more salt than I would in the cooler months. Salt also helps the longer term preservation potential. We then put a bag of water in it to keep the vegetables submerged, closed the lid and that’s it.
As the fermentation starts C02 will build up. It is a good practice to let it breathe by loosening the lid of the jar for a moment. The fun or hard part, depending on your perspective, is waiting for the magic to happen. After a couple weeks have passed I usually test it to see if it has developed the flavour profile I am looking for. At that point I simply store it in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process and enjoy it whenever I feel like it.
The act of making apple vinegar relies on the fermentation of naturally occurring yeasts with the natural sugars of the apple. I do this in a wide mouthed vessel. As this fermentation is happening naturally occurring acetobacter bacteria in the air will turn it into vinegar.
To do this I first I peel my apples, slice them and let them oxidize as long as I can without attracting fruit flies. Also, if you have not made vinegar before you can buy an unfiltered, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar with the mother. The mother is the beneficial bacteria that will kickstart the fermentation process. I then add them to the vessel of choice with some water, cover with a cloth or cheesecloth and let sit in a warm, dark place for several weeks. Every so often I give it a stir to help the process along. After a couple weeks I start to taste it daily to see if it has reached my desired level of acidity. I will then strain it and seal it in a jar and that’s it. To make another batch I use the bacteria culture that will have formed at the top of the previous batch and repeat the same process.
The most important thing is to have fun and experiment; deliciousness and healthy food will be the result. If you are curious to know more on the subject of fermentation, there is a lot of reading on the subject. I highly recommend reading: The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz.