Did you ever wonder how people had food to eat before there was refrigeration and modern food preservation techniques? Once all the leaves are off of the trees and all of the food has been harvested in the garden, there are three or four months there that must have been pretty frightening. Families were pretty big and kids have got to eat.
One method that people have used successfully to prepare for the hungry months of winter has been to store away some of the bounty of summer in jars. Most people my age can remember grandmothers, or maybe mothers too that would spend a couple of weeks in the summer and fall loading up mason jars and pressure canning them or bath canning them. My own experience was that there were a few aunts that did this, and my grandmother. I remember grandma sealing her jars with wax, but modern jars have two part lids, and you reuse the lid rings and the sealing lid is disposable.
There is another way to store vegetables, though, if you have somewhere cool to store them, like a cool basement or root cellar. You can ferment your vegetables. Fermented vegetables use a culture of beneficial bacteria to consume the sugars in the foods that would promote rot and convert them into a weak acid that discourages dangerous pathogens from taking hold in the foods. We have all formed a healthy aversion to leaving food out, because it spoils. Leaving it out on purpose, to ferment, takes a little bit of faith in the experience of our forebears, but it really does work.
The easiest and best thing to start with is cabbage. Cabbage carries on it the very bacteria that you want to inoculate your ferment with. If you get a fresh head of green cabbage all you have to do is cut it to ribbons, massage some kosher salt into it, wait for the liquid to seep out of the cabbage into the salt, then bottle the finished product. If you keep the cabbage below the liquid level, and cover the jar so that no bugs can get into it, in a week you will have a quart of fresh sauerkraut for every head of cabbage.
You might think you don’t like sauerkraut, but I guarantee that if you use fresh cabbage, and follow this recipe to prepare it, you will be a kraut lover like I am. I always liked sauerkraut, but I never knew that you were supposed to drain it and rinse it before you cook it. Makes a big difference. Try cooking your kraut with this recipe. You can thank me later.
Once you get kraut making down, you use exactly the same method to prepare fermented beets. You can’t believe how different beets are when they are fermented than they are when they are canned.
From there you know enough about fermenting that you can be confident as you ferment your peppers, beans, carrots, just about any food you can put in a jar, you can ferment. Just keep your finished products in a cool dark place. If you want to store them long term, you can always go ahead and can them in a hot canner, so that they will keep for years. Be aware, that the heat will kill the bacteria. Some people enjoy knowing that they are adding good guys to their bowels when they eat fermented foods. You might have to cook your ferments if you have a very large amount of vegetables to store, but if you are like me, you won’t have to worry about these foods lasting through even the winter.
Love the blog, Dan! ALL the photos are so pretty. I think one of the things I love about fermented foods is how lovely they all look in their glass jars, all lined up in my root cellar, just waiting for me to open and enjoy – especially on one of those notoriously nasty, cold winter days when we are snowed-in here in Missouri! Sitting by the fire, with a good book and a plate of food stored from my garden, is one of life’s simple and best pleasures. Fermented foods are so great for keeping us healthy – I wish everyone would get back to making and using them!
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