Grit Blogs > Musings From a Small Grower in Georgia

A Powerful New and Very Old Way of Preserving Vegetables

I have always been amazed at how people knew what they needed to know way before the internet, scientific studies ... even the written word.

Indigenous people of the Amazon plant a tree that is easy to climb next to one that is thorny, nearly impossible to climb, but bears sweet fruit.  They know not only when to return to harvest the fruit but how to find the tree again. 

The quest for nutritious food is timeless, but the rules-of-the-game change.  Today, for most people, it is about finding the most-reliable information.

There is no quick fix or shortcut to health, however, an impressive body of evidence suggests that a digestive system rich in the right type of bacteria creates the proper foundation.  Fermented foods can maintain and even improve this foundation.  The most compelling part of this subject is that it has both history and modern science on its side.  People throughout the world have been eating and drinking them for thousands of years.   Dairy products such as buttermilk and yogurt are common but soybeans, rice, certain cereals and various raw vegetables are also used.  This post focuses solely on the latter.  

Fermented foods fit great with the rural lifestyle.  We value home-grown or locally-grown food.  We preserve food.  We are self-reliant and proactive.  If we need an outbuilding, we build it.  If we need food, we grow it.  When it comes to preventative healthcare, why not take the same approach?

Here is how I understand the fermentation works.  The starches and sugars in the veggies create a lactic-acid bacteria which also yields digestive enzymes.  In its new form, the nutrients in the food are not only greater but more readily absorbed -- or used -- by the body.

And this is extremely easy.  Simply chop or grind the vegetables.  Squeeze the liquid out but do not remove it.  The mixture should be covered with water so add more (hopefully filtered and non-chlorinated) if you do not have enough.  Some experts recommend adding whey as a starter, but you don't need it if you use cabbage as a base.  It is somehow conducive to the growth of good bacteria.  This explains, partially, why sauerkraut and kimchi are so effective and popular.  If not using whey, add salt (hopefully air-dried sea salt), as it also encourages the good bacteria and kills the bad.  The recommended ratio is 1 1/2 teaspoons for every two pounds of vegetables. 

Store the batch in a dark, dry place at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit for the first three days.  This is the minimal time before for any significant fermentation will occur.  Specialized crops are available but an ordinary glass jar works fine for me.  Do not tighten the lid as this could lead to excessive build up of carbon dioxide.  For amounts lasting four to six weeks, store at temperatures in the 58- to 64-degree range. Taste it.  If tangy, it is fermenting.  Horseradish, garlic, dill and bay leaf are all effective additions to improving flavor.  To me, the flavor is not objectionable given the benefits.  I typically add a couple of heaping teaspoons daily to a tossed salad with a flavorful dressing or mix in with mayonnaise-based coleslaw.

Personally, late fall is optimum time to start fermenting vegetables given the abundance of cabbage, radishes and greens which are all in the vitamin-packed cruciferous category.  As a farmers-market vendor, whatever is left over at the end of Saturday market day is mine.  As I unpack my coolers, it makes sense to prepare a new batch right then.  

But anytime you commit to taking charge of your health, acquire new skills or knowledge base is the right time. Strive for a  consistently-healthy lifestyle that meets your specific needs.  Fermented foods might just be a valuable building block.