Sunday, July 21, 2013

In pursuit of my inner-fermento..

Some time ago, you may recall, we got a little excited about our foray into the world of kimchi creation and kombucha making. That first batch of kimchi has been happily eaten, and the kombucha continues. Each day we drink a little in the pursuit of superior gut health. 

Ah yes, gut health. It's my new obsession since reading Michael Pollan's latest book, Cooked - A Natural History Of Transformation. Have you read it? Oh my, it is so so good. Yes so we had become quite besotted with Sandor Ellix Katz and his Wild Fermentation and The Art Of Fermentation. And you may recall that Annie had to stop reading Sandor before bed because she would just get too excited about all the fermenting possibilities in the world and sleep would never come... Yeah so Sandor is of course featured in Cooked and the combo of Sandor and Michael proved irresistible for me. My life as a fermento has begun. 

There's more and more research being done that shows a link between gut health and overall health. There's research looking at the link between our gut health and our emotional and intellectual functioning. And there are links between gut microbia and particular illnesses. Really, it's fascinating stuff and for me, makes a lot of sense. I think it fits with my general interest in and approach to eating. I am anti-fad,  I am for real food, especially foods that have been eaten for long stretches of human history. 

My first fermentation projects (after kimchi and kombucha) have been a series of vegetable ferments and a revival of our homemade yoghurt. We've been making our own yoghurt, off and on, for a few years. It's easy to get out of the habit, which is a little odd because it is so easy to make. Now we're back in the home made yoghurt zone because we're aiming to eat as simply and as locally and as well as possible. And we're  being thrifty. We have another house to build, which means a little less of the $9 organic yoghurt and a little more of the homemade stuff made with the superb Tilba milk.  It is a truly divine unhomogenised Jersey cow milk, from just up the road a little. We all get a bit of thrill when in the morning we have to scoop out large chunks of cream from the top, before pouring the milk onto our porridge. You'll be unsurprised to hear it makes a splendid yoghurt. 

Check out that creamy top layer..
I have always eaten plain yoghurt and as far back as I can remember, yoghurt with raw honey has always been a favourite treat. I always knew that natural yoghurt was good for your gut but I don't think I ever made the connection between the health benefits of yoghurt and the myriad bacteria riddled fermented foods the world has to offer. Strange, I guess I wasn't really thinking. And so I thank Sandor and Michael for illuminating me to the powers of this microbial universe. 

Our yoghurt making method has been perfected over a couple of years and I'm happy to share. Basically, you heat milk in a saucepan to 90 degrees celsius then cool to 50 degrees. Place a big tablespoon of natural yoghurt in a jar or 2 or 3 (I generally use Marrook Farm Greek yoghurt as it contains a range of cultures). Once the milk hits 50 degrees, pour it into the jar(s) and give it a quick stir. Then you need to keep the jars warm for 6-8 hours or overnight. You can do this in any number of ways. Our current method is to pour some 50 degree water into a small esky. I then place the warm jars into the warm esky and close tightly. After 6 hours you will have over a litre of delicious creamy natural yoghurt for less than $2.00. It's seriously good. 

My next fermentation joy has been some simple vegetable ferments. It's really very mindblowing to think that you can put some veg in some salty water and leave it for 5 weeks and in that time it is transformed into something utterly delicious and uber-healthful. I don't know whether I wasn't paying attention in high school science or whether we just didn't learn this kind of stuff. Luckily Sandor explains how it works - the bacteria responsible for the fermentation are wild strains of lactic acid bacteria, lactobacillus. They thrive in the anaerobic salty environment of the briney vegetables, and get to work converting the sugars in the vegetables to lactic acid which poisons all the bacterial competitors. All that lactic acid gives the ferment it's tang as well as it's preserving qualities since not much else can survive in such a low pH environment. Amazing. 

I got a little bit excited at our local produce market and came home laden with turnip, radish and carrots.  I also picked some chard from our garden, using the leaves in a stew and chopping up the stalks ready to give them a new fermented life.

I mixed up a brine that was comprised of around 10% salt to water. In retrospect it may have been too much salt. Next time, I'll try for 5%. Heat the water and add the salt and stir until dissolved. Meanwhile, pack your veg into your jars. I also added garlic cloves, bay leaves and some coriander seeds to the carrots and some cumin seeds and chilies to the chard stalks. Pour in the brine. Then remember that oxygen is the enemy. You need to keep the veg weighed down in the brine so use whatever will work. Glasses and jars of water seemed to work ok. But still some bits would find a way to the top and catch a little too much air and would form some mould. No drama. You just scrape the mould off. I know it may sound disgusting, but it's really not. You end up with vegetables that are somehow more. 

Makeshift fermenty zone. Looks dodgy but actually pretty successful.
Then when you are happy with the level of ferment, you just seal them in a jar and store them in the fridge. They will continue to ferment but very slowly once refrigerated. 

Delicious health in a jar
The vegetables are transformed. So crunchy, so flavoursome.  In normal life, I have little interest in radish or turnip but as fermented foods they are pretty special. Eating them as a part of a mixed plate has been my favourite way to go - sourdough bread, cheese, salad and ferments. Oh yeah, so good. 

Next stop, our very own sourdough bread. Yes we eat sourdough now. It's a staple and we buy local. We have no oven so our baking has been almost impossible this past year. But soon we will have finished our wood oven. Yes soon. Before the end of August kind of soon, and that means we can bake.  Our own sourdough bread + pizzas + cake+ crackers+ biscuits and so on and so on. Yes baking days it will be. A whole new level of fun...


  1. Fantastic! so you leave the jars with the weights on top for 6 weeks and then put the lid on and into the fridge? or does the 6 weeks include the fridge time?

  2. Yum! I'm getting into the fermenting goodies in this little tin house too. On the bench I have kefir (the water grain type) and kombucha happening. I'm addicted to the kefir. I can't get enough of it. But let me tell you, if you do have too much is certainly lets you know....and you try not to let others know...IYKWIM. Think gas:) I'm also getting my starter happening again for sourdough. I used to make it all the time in my other life and other coloured house but my starter got neglected when we moved and I just never got back to it. I've been making normal bread but it's just not the same once you've made sourdough. So now I need to do some vegie fermenting too. Oh man my gut is going to be pristine!!!! See you on Sunday xx

  3. Ok, this is the third blog post on fermented veg I've read in a row! I think the universe is trying to tell me to give it a go. We already do yoghurt and sourdough and beer/cider.... This must be next on the list! :)