Preserving the Harvest - Fermentation

Fall is such a bittersweet time of year for me. I hate saying good-bye to the summer heat and the long, light-filled days. However, I adore Fall. The changing colours of the leaves, the crisp feeling to the air that invites a cozy sweater and the abundance at the farmer's markets is incredible.
To celebrate this abundance, I'm writing a series of posts on 'Preserving the Harvest'. We'll explore the best ways to store foods over the winter for both flavour and nutrition. First up, fermentation with a tasty recipe for an anti-inflammatory and digestion-boosting Golden Kraut. Don't worry if you've never fermented before, this recipe is simple and the kraut has a wonderful mild flavour.  

The Benefits of Fermenting Foods

Fermentation is an amazing way to preserve the harvest. One major benefit of fermented foods is that you retain most of the nutrients. In fact, fermentation often creates new nutrients (such as probiotics and B vitamins) and it increases nutrient assimilation because the bacteria involved in fermenting break down foods making them easier to absorb. This makes fermented foods easier to digest. Another digestive benefit is that fermented foods are often acidic which can help prime the digestive system to work better (in the same way that a shot of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice before a meal helps digestion). The probiotics created in fermentation also help to boost immune function and some studies show mental health benefits as well. A recent study found that young adults who ate fermented foods had decreased symptoms of social anxiety.

As a means to preserve foods, fermentation is easy, cheap and doesn't require expensive equipment. Fermented foods have a long shelf-life (many can last for years when properly stored). 

The main downside to fermenting vegetables is that they do require cold storage. If you have a cold cellar that's amazing, but for most of us this means using fridge space. I tend to use wide-mouthed glass jars to hold my ferments and this allows me to stack jars on top of one another in the fridge to maximize space. Ferments will also last longer if you transfer them to smaller containers as you eat them. This reduces air space at the top of the jar and also means you continue to create more fridge space. 

Other potential downsides are that there is some wait time as they ferment and it may be a new process to learn and one that involves scum and moulds. Most ferments don't take much longer than a week, so the wait is not a big deal. As for scum and moulds, once you understand the basics of fermentation, these are not a big deal at all. Really. If you're nervous at all about this, consider a taking a fermentation workshop with someone in your area or check out this book or for a detailed dive into fermenting vegetables this book

Golden Kraut

1 head green cabbage, sliced (reserve 1 leaf for your follower)
4 carrots, peeled and grated (roughly 3 cups)
1 and 1/2 Tbsp grated ginger root
1 Tbsp grated turmeric root
2 Tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup organic raisins
2-3 tsp high quality sea salt (celtic or himalayan work well)

1 L wide-mouthed glass jar
250 ml glass jar with lid

Place sliced cabbage and grated carrot into a large bowl and sprinkle with sea salt. 
Using your hands, massage until the cabbage begins to turn translucent and you have a puddle of juice in the bowl. You should have about 1/3 cup of juice. If you don't, let the cabbage sit for 30 minutes and then come back and massage again.
Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. At this point you may want to put on a pair of gloves, the turmeric will stain your hands!
Transfer the kraut and the juices into 1 L wide-mouthed mason jar and use your hand to press it down removing any air pockets and releasing more liquid. Pack kraut in until it's 2 inches below the rim of the jar, then place your reserved cabbage leaf on top. This is acting as a 'follower', keeping small pieces from floating to the top. 
Fill your smaller glass jar with water and seal tightly. This jar is your 'weight', place it on top of your follower to keep kraut submerged throughout the fermentation time.
Place your kraut jar into a shallow bowl or baking sheet to catch any overflow (as it ferments, carbon dioxide is released and the salt continues to pull liquid out of the cabbage which may overflow). Cover the kraut with a clean dish towel. 
Check your kraut daily, pressing down on the weight to release more liquid as needed to keep it submerged. 
Kraut will be ready in 4-7 days. You can begin tasting it on day 4, removing the weight and lifting up the follower and trying a bite. The kraut should taste a little tangy and pleasingly sour, like a pickle. This is the lactic acid produced during fermentation. If it's not ready, rinse off your weight and allow it to keep fermenting. Once you like the flavour, remove the weight and follower and seal tightly. Kraut will store in the fridge for up to 12 months. 

Happy Autumn and thanks so much for reading. If you have any questions, please comment below. 
For those in the Toronto area, we're so pleased to be hosting fermentation guru Sandor Katz this October. If you'd like to learn more about the cultural history and nutritional benefits of fermentation, check it out!