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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.

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.

 

Successful Seed Starting


Starting seeds indoors can be a fun and simple process and a great way to inspire children  to get involved in gardening.  Manage the variables of temperature, water, soil, seeds, and light for optimum success with some tips and helpful products.

Botanical Interests Seeds are in stock now!

Botanical Interests Seeds are in stock now!

SEED BASICS

A seed is the embryo of a plant. It is “naturally” enclosed in a protective coat.

Seeds respond to water, light (or absence of light), and temperature. Making good choices for soil and containers will help you grow a strong plant, which will thrive in your garden (inside or out), stay healthy and be productive.

We at Paonia Farm and Home offer Botanical Interests seeds, seed starting containers, high quality seed starting soils, artificial light sources designed to grow healthy rather than spindly plants, and other accessories to make your gardening efforts successful and satisfying.
Sproutkit

A Mini Seed Starting Greenhouse

A Mini Seed Starting Greenhouse

CONTAINERS

You will find all kinds of sizes and shapes of ready-made seed-starting supplies in our store.

However, many ordinary household containers and disposables  can be re-purposed as a seed-starting container.

Containers should be clean.  Re-purposed containers must be sanitized to remove any possible pathogens. Soaking them in a 1:9 bleach:water solution offers one option.

Good drainage is essential to making the container effective.  The container of choice must have a way for excess water to drain away.

Seeds come in many different sizes and shapes

Also, If you will transplant your seedlings as single plants at a distance from each  other plant, then individual pots or divided trays will be the optimum choice. If you will plant your seedlings in clumps or close groupings, then a broad or wide, shallow container could also be suitable.

Other consideration in container choices will be the  seed size, the length of time from planting to transplanting, and the size of the resulting seedling.  Large seeds like beans or squash plants and quick-growing plants (i.e. tomatoes, lettuce, pumpkin) all denote the need for a larger initial container.

SOIL

FoxFarmLight Warrior Seed Starter

FoxFarm Light Warrior Seed Starter

Use a high quality seed-starting mix such as FoxFarm, Light Warrior Seed Starting soil. Generally “you get what you pay for,” so don’t sacrifice quality. Outdoor soil ofter harbors microorganisms and pathogens that, when taken out of the balance of nature, can harm or kill your seeds.  Another choice would be to use high quality potting soil which promotes a moist, not soggy, environment with the ideal mix of air and water to promote germination.

LIGHT

Light is one of the most important factors to creating a healthy, strong seedling. Some seeds get the signal to germinate from light. Other seeds, usually larger ones, can have their germination inhibited by exposure to light. Your Botanical Interests seed packet will have any special seed sowing instructions you need to consider.

This improvised light fixture is adjustable as plants grow

This improvised light fixture is adjustable as plants grow

Sufficiently intense light of the right duration will make a shorter, stronger seedling rather than a taller more spindly plant. A light set-up can be as simple as four fluorescent tubes, two cool and two warm spectrum, hung no more than three inches from the top of your seedlings. A timer will help you consistently deliver 14 hours or more of light per day.

TEMPERATURE

Generally, normal household temperatures are within the ideal range that encourages germination.  You can increase germination percentage and speed by gently applying heat to your soil by placing trays and pots near a heat vent, radiator, or other heat source or you can purchase a heat mat at the store designed to promote healthy seed germination and growth.

WATER

Since plants primarily consist of water,  water application becomes another essential factor in determining the overall health of your seedlings. Water signals to the seed that it is time to come out of dormancy, germinate, and grow.  Young plants are fragile so consistent moisture is vital. Hence seed starting success depends on you to create and maintain the right amount of moisture by watering gently and thoroughly.

Moisten the soil before sowing, especially for the tinier seeds and  maintain consistent moisture after the first watering, but never to the point of soggy soil. Soggy, saturated soil can create conditions that will rot your seeds before they germinate.  Some gardeners cover seed containers with plastic wrap, removing it after seedlings emerge. Sown seeds allowed to dry out may die.

GET STARTED NOW

The back and inside of the BOTANICAL INTEREST or other brand seed packets contain all the rest of the information you need to you plan your garden and start your seeds. Determine if the seed(s) you’ve chosen should be started indoors, and if so, when. By following the guidelines above and the seed starting chart you will be able to create a schedule for when to start your indoor seeds.  Visit the store for best selection of Botanical Interests seeds and all the information you need to get started today!

Cream of Asparagus Soup

asparagus

Nutrition experts extol the virtues of vegetables and seasonal eating more and more.  Here’s a simple way to incorporate Asparagus and a  literal stash of vitamins and minerals including a source of fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as chromium.  Vitamin B rich foods aid in regulating blood sugar levels. If the soup is made with real bone broth it will make it a beneficial food for bone health, colon health, and a boost to the immune system.

1 pound of Asparagus
6 Cups Chicken Broth (real bone broth is best)
1/2 Cup finely chopped onion
1/2 Cup chopped celery
3 Tablespoons of butter
3 Tablespoons of flour
1/2 Cup of cream
salt, pepper to taste
1 chopped hard boiled egg (optional)

Wash and remove Asparagus Tips from Asparagus.

Simmer the tips, covered until they are tender in a small amount of water, about 3-5 minutes.

Cut the Asparagus stalks into 1-2 inch pieces and place them in a large saucepan with the broth, onion, and celery covered for about 30 minutes.  Strain the veggies and broth through a sieve.

In a medium saucepan or double boiler, slowly melt the butter.  Stir in the flour until blended.  Then slowly stir in 1/2 Cup of cream.  Slowly mix in the Asparagus stock and continue heating the soup.  Add the asparagus tips.  Season with salt, pepper, paprika and garnish with one chopped hard-cooked egg. (optional)Cream_Of_Asparagus

Option #1

Blend the asparagus stalks, onion, and celery and a portion of the Asparagus stock until smooth in a blender and use it as the Asparagus stock in the soup base.  This makes a thicker soup.