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The Art of Fermentation in Crocks

Sauerkraut-1

With Fall around the corner,  it is time to join the growing trend and start fermenting garden produce for the winter ahead.  IF you are reluctant to try fermentation, just know there are no documented case of dangerous botulism ever occurring in fermented foods.  Sally Fallon Morrel, author of Nourishing Traditions and founder of the Weston A Price foundation,   remarks, “Let your nose be your guide.”  and I have found this is trustworthy counsel.

Fermentation is the transformative action of microorganisms that are all around us.  Lacto-Fermentation (a more accurate term) is the time-tested process our ancestors used to produce lactic acid, a natural preservative that inhibits the bacteria which want to putrefy foods so lacto acid produced during the fermentation process naturally extends the useful, edible life of foods.  We will also discuss the nutritional benefits below.

veggies2Vegetables that can be fermented include cabbage, zucchini, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, beets, turnips, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower and much more just for a start!

By learning to encourage the proliferation of beneficial lactic-acid producing bacteria you are on the road to preserving food inexpensively, healthfully, and for extended periods of time.  There will be no need for water bath or pressure canning with this method.

There are many nutritional benefits to fermenting vegetables

  • Fermented foods are powerful aids to digestion.
  • The microbes begin to break down the food before it enters our digestive tracts.
  • Fermentation breaks down compound nutrients that are known to be hard to digest such as lactose, and gluten.
  • Beneficial for gut troubles.
  • Fermentation produces additional nutrients and enhances the ones already in the foods.
  • Helps to build up higher levels of B vitamins during digestion.
  • Lactobacilli create Omega-3 fatty acids essential for cell membrane and immune system functions.
  • The naturally occuring microbes are often better than high quality commercial digestive enzymes.
  • Fermentation will increase cancer fighting compounds found in cabbage and other brassicas

To ferment foods you can use Ball type canning jars with rings and lids which are ideal for small batches, or  Crocks for larger batches.  A fermentation crock is a stoneware pot designed to hold cabbage and/or other vegetables as they ferment.

Open Crocks and Water-Sealed Crocks.

The two primary types of ceramic crocks for fermentation available are Open Crocks and Water-Sealed Crocks.  Both have advantages and disadvantages to consider.  Generally speaking fermenting crocks have thicker stoneware walls which creates a more stable fermentation temperature, resulting in sauerkraut and fermented veggies with a greater depth of flavor.

opencrocksAdvantages of an Open Crock

  • Generally, less expensive than a water-sealed crock and readily available.
  • Open top and straight walls make it easy to clean.
  • Easy to fit whole or large vegetables into.

 

 

Disadvantages of an Open Crock

  • Ferment prone to developing surface mold and/or Kahm yeast (a harmless yeast that appears when a ferment is exposed to air).  This surface mold can be removed and discarded.
  • Older crocks may contain glazes unsafe for food use, especially crocks from Mexico.
  • Weights and lids often need to be purchased separately and can dramatically raise the cost of the crock.
  • If a cloth is used to cover your ferment, it’s prone to wicking brine onto the floor.

    Water-Sealed Crock

Watersealedcrocks

Water-sealed crocks are a bit more difficult to find.  After a water-sealed crock is packed, two half-circle weights are placed into the crock to keep your ferment submerged. Then, the lid is placed into an open moat which is then filled with water. No outside air is able to enter the crock and carbon dioxide gases produced during fermentation can easily escape or bubble-out.

Advantages of a Water-Sealed Crock

  • Makes for a very easy, almost care-free fermentation experience (You have to keep the moat filled with water.).
  • Neither flies nor fruit flies can get into the crock and lay eggs.
  • Very little chance of mold or surface yeasts growing on your ferment.
  • Takes the guesswork out of making sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables.

Disadvantages of a Water-Sealed Crock

  • The water in the moat must be monitored and filled as necessary. If not, the seal will be broken and air will be allowed to flow into the crock.
  • Narrower opening makes it more difficult to pack your ferment.
  • Shape at the top of the crock, where the lid is, can make it difficult to clean.
  • Sealed environment makes it hard to monitor what is going on inside.
  • Generally, more expensive than an open crock.

In general, the use of metal and plastic containers is discouraged for obvious reasons.

More Information and reliable recipes about fermentation. 

Maria Hodkins, is a local Certified Nutritional Therapist and Fermentation Expert.  She will be teaching an upcoming class on Fermenting Vegetables.  To receive information about Maria’s upcoming classes, please email her at realbutterandlove@gmail.com.

Idiot#2The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermentation By Wardeh Harmon

Maria says this book is loaded with easy recipes many of which are her favorites.

 

 

 

_artoffermentationThe Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellis Katz Foreward by Michael Pollan

His book is widely considered the Bible of Fermentation.  For the serious fermenter, this last book is an in depth exploration of essential concepts and processes from around the world with practical information on fermenting vegetables, fruits, grains, milk, beans, meats, and much more.  Or you may watch a short Youtube video to familiarize yourself.

Fermented Veggies in a Jar or a Crock

Fermented VeggiesAs the gardening season winds down, you might want to try fermenting some veggies instead of canning them. It is so much easier and less time consuming than all the steps,  like boiling water baths required for traditional canning.  You can do as little as one jar or as many as you like.

I consider the process of making a jar of fermented veggies as simple as making a salad in a jar.

Basically a “dill crock” is a variation on fermented veggies. If you don’t have dill or a grape leaf you can still make the fermented veggies.  The sea salt is a preserving agent that prevents putrefying bacteria from getting a foothold.

Fermented vegetables taste like pickles but offers the advantage of being loaded with large amounts of beneficial bacteria also known as probiotics, hence they are good for digestion, good for health.

The Weston A Price foundation recommends a tablespoon of a fermented food at every meal to promote health.

This is an easy project, adapted from The Living Farm newsletter several years back  – so be brave and give it a try..

Here are the simple instructions:

  1. Use a quart, half gallon jar or crock.

  2. Make a brine of 2 Tbsp salt, 6 cups water, and ½ cup cider vinegar. The brine is used to cover all the vegetables in the crock.

  3. Grape Leaf – Place a small layer of grape leaves in the bottom of the jar to help keep veggies crisp, if desired. This is not essential.

  4. Dill: Place a layer of dill on top of the grape leaves.  Also optional – other herbs such as garlic or ginger can be used.

  5. The Vegetables: Almost any crisp vegetable can go into a “dill crock” such as carrots, onions, garlic, cauliflower, peppers, green tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, etc. Green Beans need 3 minutes of blanching because otherwise they turn out too tough or hard to chew.

  6. Time: Once you fill the jar or crock with the vegetables, pour in the brine, screw on a cap tightly to the jar or weigh the vegetables down with a plate and rock to hold the vegetables under the brine.

  7. Store the vegetables in a closet or cupboard for 5-6 days up to 2 weeks. If a white foam appears at the top do not panic, this is normal, just remove the foam and the vegetables are ready to eat.

  8. Refrigerate and enjoy!

  9. Let your nose be your guide. This is not an official USDA method, but a time-tested method used for centuries to preserve vegetables.

Simple Steps to Home Canned Fruit

nectarines

Peaches, nectarines and other fruits are loaded on local fruit trees.  Nothing compares to preserving our delicious, tree-ripened, locally grown North Fork fruit that we preserve ourselves.

It’s time to start gathering the canning supplies as you wait for the peaches, nectarines, plums, and even pears to ripen!  (Yes, this year the supply will be a little more challenging to find but you will find fruit, even if you have to pick it yourself!)

If you get all your supplies gathered together that are listed below (all the supplies needed are available at Paonia Farm and Home), re-familiarize yourself to the 12 Simple Steps to Canning you will soon be making your shelves sparkle with colorful, delicious North Fork Fruit.

 How to Make Homemade Canned Peaches, Plums, Pears, Plums, Nectarines and Cherries Detailed Steps Tutorial

(Click here for downloadable pdf)

The 12 Simple Steps for Canning our delicious North Fork Fruit are summarized below.  Click on the above link for detailed pdf instructions.

Gather Supplies – All the supplies listed below are available at Paonia Farm and Home Supply

  • Jar grabber (to pick up the hot jars)canningsupplies
  • Lid lifter (has a magnet to pick the lids out of the boiling water
  • Jar funnel
  • Large spoons (stainless steel is nice) and ladles
  • lids and rings
  • Ball jars – pints, quarts, jelly size
  • Sugar (or fruit juice) and pectin
  • Water Bath Canner

12 Simple Steps

1.   Select sufficient Fruit – Peaches, Nectarines, or Plums from local orchards including Stahls, Orchard Valley Farms, First Fruits, JJ’s, and others).

2.  Prepare the Sugar Solution.  Using light or medium syrup helps avoid floating fruit issues.

Sugar Syrup Chart for Light, Medium, and Heavy Syrups

Sugar Syrup Chart for Light, Medium, and Heavy Syrups

3.  Wash the jars and Lids.

4.  Wash the Fruit

Home Canned Peaches Sparkle

Home Canned Peaches Sparkle

.

5.  Peeling the Peaches or Nectarines by a quick blanching method.

6.  Cut up the fruit to fit the jars in halves or slices.

7.  Take steps to prevent browning of the fruit.  Use fruit fresh or powdered vitamin C according to directions.

8.  Determine Hot pack versus Cold Pack alternative.

9. Fill the Jars with Fruit.  It takes about 5 regular peaches to fill one quart jar.

10. Process the Jars in a water bath for our altitude.

Peaches
11. Remove the Jars from the Canner to cool on top of tea towels to absorb water.

12. Cool jars for 24 hours, check lids for any sealing failures.  Store in a dark, cool place

How to Make Homemade Canned Peaches, Plums, Pears, Plums, Nectarines and Cherries Detailed Steps Tutorial

(Click here for downloadable pdf)

Your Done!

Edible Lavender

lavender1

Do you have some dried lavender sitting around from the summer you would like to use in a culinary recipe?  Or possibly you are planning to harvest the  lavender you planted in your garden.  The following information is adapted from the Botanical Interests Blog

Although I think of  lavender being used only  in lotion, oils or candles with its relaxing aroma, apparently you can easily substitute lavender for other herbs, especially rosemary, when flavoring sweet or savory dishes.

The following recipes use  common kitchen staples—sugar, butter, and syrup—that shows how versatile lavender is in the kitchen.  For example: lavender sugar is delicious in  shortbread cookies for a floral surprise.

Lavender butter could be used with roasted chicken for a pleasant, earthy flavor.

Lastly, lavender syrup can be used in lemonade during hot summer days or possibly even cocktails for a flowery taste of summer.

What delicious lavender recipes have you adapted to culinary uses?

Lavender Sugar

1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon of dried lavender or 2 tablespoons fresh lavender

Mix the two ingredients together and seal in an airtight container for two days before using to ensure the flavors meld. Recipe can be doubled or tripled, depending on how much sugar you need.

Lavender and Herb Butter

¼ pound of butter (1 stick), softened
1 tablespoon of dried lavender
1 tablespoon of dried parsley
1 tablespoon of dried oregano

Mix all ingredients and chill in the fridge for a few hours. If you prefer, you can use almost any other dried herb, such as basil or chives.

Lavender Syrup

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon dried lavender or 2 tablespoons fresh lavender

Mix ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool for a few hours, strain, and pour into an airtight container. Syrup can be stored in the fridge for several weeks.

 

Heirloom or Hybrid Seeds – Which is best?

seedsHeirloom seeds versus hybrid seeds – which is better?

Heirloom or Hybrid, which is better?  A review of the pros and cons of each seed type should help you determine which seed type meets your goals for a mouth-watering, flavorful and successful vegetable, flower, and herb harvest this season.

Hybrid seeds grow plants that are predictable and uniform. They have been bred for specific characteristics, such as flavor, color, number of days to harvest, resistance to disease, etc. F1 hybrids

Big Beef Hybrid Tomato

Big Beef Hybrid Tomato

also possess “hybrid vigor.” Typically this means more plants survive the seedling stage and mature plants are large and healthy.

Big Boy, Big Beef and Better Boy tomatoes are popular, well-known examples of hybridized tomatoes that are more “perfect” in size and shape while sacrificing some of the rich flavor of better known heirloom tomato varieties such as Cherokee Purple.

Although hybridized seeds may be strong in one or more particular characteristics, they will not produce reliable seeds for saving. Even if the variety is not sterile and does produce seed, the seed will be unstable—it won’t necessarily produce plants with the same traits as the parent in subsequent years.  So if you enjoy a particular variety, you will need to purchase new seeds every year if you want to keep growing that variety.

Of particular concern to home gardeners is the risk that hybrids are or will become trademarked or patented by the breeder.  Hence costs associated with producing patented or trademarked seeds are passed onto the consumer

Heirloom vegetable, flower and herb seed varieties are preferred by Organic gardeners for their superior flavor and for the capacity that enables you, the home gardener, to save your own seeds from year to year, saving the costs associated with repurchasing garden seeds each year.  In addition heirlooms are the varieties that have been passed down generation to generation over the years often originating in Europe.

cucumber-lemon1

Lemon Cucumbers are over 100 year old Heirloom Variety

Of particular interest to organic gardeners and all consumers is the assurance that heirloom seeds  are not genetically engineered. To be considered an heirloom, most authorities agree the seed variety is at least 50 years old, and it has been preserved and kept true .

Lemon Cucumbers are over 100 year old heirloom variety that effortlessly produces loads of fruit just the size and shape of pale colored lemons. They have a mild sweet flavor, crisp texture and thin skins, and dual purpose: perfect for eating fresh or pickling

Many heirloom seed varieties are actually common seed varieties  you may have already tried and come to love.  Examples of heirlooms you might already be familiarized with include:

Heirloom tomato assortments have wide variations in color, shape, and size.

Heirloom tomato assortments have wide variations in color, shape, and size.

  • Detroit Dark Red Beets
  • Nantes Carrots
  • Romaine lettuce  (and most lettuce varieties)
  • Chantenay Carrots (the fatter carrot)
  • Copenhagen Cabbage

At Paonia Farm and Home, we offer a wide selection of vegetable, flower and herb varieties in both Organic Heirloom seeds, and conventional seeds from well-known producers including Lake Valley, Botanical Interests, and Renee’s Garden.