I’ve just attended a fermentation workshop at the Brighton Popular Education Collective’s monthly free school. We talked about what a great way to preserve fresh produce fermenting is, as not only is it easy, low-tech and tasty but it also adds a lot of nutritional value. You are making use of the bacteria naturally present on foods and changing the basic chemical compounds in the vegetables. There are a lot of traditionally fermented foods found throughout the world from cider and alcohol in general and sourdough breads, to kimchi in Korea (whoa I love that stuff), tempeh and soy sauce, and that scary stuff hippies drink, Kombucha. Sauerkraut is one of the easiest things to make though and this is what we tried out today.
Fran who was leading the workshop recommended using fresh, local and preferably organic vegetables – you want to avoid using irradiated veg as they won’t have the bacteria you want to get them going! You can ferment most non-starchy vegetables – any kind of cabbages, broccoli, carrots, beetroot… and you can add whole spices such as cumin or coriander seeds, garlic, ginger, chilli. Garlic and chilli both have antibacterial properties that help preserve, and juniper berries if you can get em are a classic sauerkraut spice.
The basic idea is shred/finely cut the veg to create lots of surface area the bacteria can work on, break up the cellulose and soften the veg, drawing out liquid by massaging in salt, then tightly packing the veg into clean/sterilised jars, making sure they are just covered in liquid and leaving them to develop.
1. Sterilise a non-metal wide necked container, preferably also with a glass or ceramic lid, although a coated metal lid will do if that’s all you got. A kilnajar or ceramic crock is ideal. To sterilise, either just clean the jar well and rinse out with boiling water, or even better immerse in boiling water for 10 minutes and drain, or put in a low oven for 10-15 minutes.
2. Wash and finely shred your veg. I used some white cabbage, green cabbage, a bit of garlic and ginger and a tiny bit of fennel. You can be quite traditional and just go with cabbage, or go wild and experiment with any non-starchy veg you got to hand.
3. Start massaging and crushing your veg with clean hands in a large bowl, adding salt as you go. I used a bit less than 1 tablespoon for 2 jars but add it bit by bit to taste and until you are able to draw liquid out of the veg. Get proper in there and squidge it until you can feel it going softer and wetter.
4. Pack the veg into your jar as tightly as you can, continually pressing down on it. Again you should be getting liquid coming up to the top. Leave a gap at the top.
5. Loosely fit the lid on and leave the jar in not too cold place for about a week. Once a day press the veg down again (with clean hands) until the veg is submerged with liquid – this layer will help keep unwanted bacteria in the air out of our sauerkraut! If it’s too dry you can add a bit of water but only if you need to, it will affect the flavour and how long it will keep. After a week – 10 days, screw the lid on tight, and store in a cold place. Or eat it! But don’t if something’s gone wrong and it develops mould though…