Friday, March 27, 2015

Fermentation by Cathy Jo Clawson

My seed catalogues have arrived and my husband is amazed at the amount of time I can spend turning pages, reading and rereading vegetable descriptions, and comparing vegetable characteristics. In all the daydreaming, I notice this about myself: when I see the word "cucumber", I read the word "pickle". 

Because, while I like a good cucumber on my salads I love pickles! I love the long spears eaten by themselves. The relishes with the burgers and in potato salad. The bread and butter pickles on the side or in a chicken salad sandwich. And I love the taste of other pickled vegetables too. Bonus: science tells us that, because the gut is the largest part of the immune system, introduction of healthy bacteria may improve digestive health and help keep illness away. Hurrah for fermentation!

Fermentation is defined as the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other micro organisms; typically involving effervescence and the giving off of heat. Micro organisms create compounds such as lactic acid or alcohol which help preserve food - this is one of humanity's oldest methods of food preservation. Fermented foods also wind up with "friendly bacteria" or probiotics and helpful enzymes. Sounds complicated and scientific - as a matter of fact, in 2013, Colorado State University began offering a degree in Fermentation Science and Technology. 

Luckily, we don't have to take the course to benefit from the transformative and tasty powers of fermentation - we can purchase the pickles, the olives, the cheeses, the yogurt, the kombucha, the sauerkraut, and the beverages. Be aware, though, that some of the products available at the market have been pasteurized or cooked which may kill the beneficial bacteria. In addition, some may contain high amounts of sodium or sugar. 

If you want to control your intake of these "unfriendliness", consider trying fermentation at home. While you are planning your garden for 2015, search the seed catalogues for vegetable varieties which lend themselves to preservation. I've already mentioned cucumbers. Think cabbage too, of course, for sauerkraut. The rest of the brassicas pickle well - Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli. And beets - I love pickled beets! You can add hard cooked eggs to that brine and - viola! - pickled eggs. (I'm originally from Pennsylvania and summer picnics aren't complete without pickled eggs.). Actually, most root vegetables ferment well - carrots, turnips, parsnips, radishes. There are great recipes for peppers, tomatoes, beans, onions and even eggplant.

A quick Google search will yield a plethora of information and recipes for fermented and/or cultured foods online (, and in cookbooks (The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, The Pickled Pantry by Andrea Chesman). The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning Guide 6: Preparing and Canning Fermented Foods and Pickled Vegetables can be found online. And, of course, you can shop online for the tools necessary to try your hand at fermentation or pickling. You will discover fermentation is fairly easy with some pretty basic precautions. 

So, do some research now, plan your garden accordingly and, next Fall, when you are enjoying all the lovely tastes and smells and health benefits, you'll be saying "hurrah for fermentation" too.