The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

My Croc at Rooting D.C.

February 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment · Posted in Recipes, urban agriculture

My sauerkraut croc makes a star appearance

My sauerkraut croc makes a star appearance

My, how the Rooting D.C. confab has grown. Even in it’s very first year, local gardeners overran the facilities and the conclave was moved to the refurbished Carnegie Library, site of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. Now in its third year, however, even these new digs look to be cramped. From what I saw, there had to be more than the 350 billed as capacity for the event. What’s next? The convention center?

Congratulations to Bea Trickett and Katie Rehwaldt, who’ve done an incredible job turning this event into a high point for urban food gardening in the nation’s capitol. Interest in growing food just keeps, well, growing. And growing. I was there to lead a one-hour discussion on “wild fermentation.”

I can’t think of anything I enjoy doing more than watching my sauerkraut ferment. It gives me a great feeling of self-sufficiency.  Funny how the very best foods are also the simplest. Shred some cabbage, add salt and nature takes over. As I explained to a room full of would-be fermenters, the “wild” part simply refers to the fact that the bacteria needed to ferment things like sauerkraut and kimchi are already everywhere in the environment. You don’t need to purchase any fancy inoculants.

But here are a couple of tips. When buying cabbage for sauerkraut, make sure it is heavy for its size. That means it is fresh and contains enough water to make the brine required for the fermentation process. After you salt the cabbage–using a ratio of three tablespoons salt for every five pounds of cabbage–the cabbage must remain completely submerged in the brine for a period of weeks. You just have to press the cabbage down, then hold it down with some type of weight. (One woman said her grandmother has always used garbage bags filled with water for this purpose.)

As for the salt, I prefer pickling salt. But sea salt also works, Just make sure the salt you use does not contain iodine or chemical additives, as these tend to kill the bacteria.

People want to know all the different vegetables that can be fermented, and to that I say “lots.” But I’m not big on experimenting. I like my sauerkraut plain and simple: I don’t add carrots or Brussels sprouts or anything else. One well-kept secret in the world of wild fermentation is German sauerrueben, or fermented turnips. These are grated and then salted exactly like sauerkraut, but they have a more robust, nutty flavor. They also keep forever. I still have a container in my fridge that I made three years ago. I like to add it to our choucroute.

In fact, you can ferment many different vegetables, including beans, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, celery cucumbers, kohlrabi, leeks, onions, peppers, rutabaga, tomatoes, turnips. One of the best resources is the classic Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz. Katz covers everything from sauerkraut and kimchi to miso, ginger beer and fermented porridge. If you really want to pursue kimchi, there are any number of books on the market devoted to that subject.

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  • Sylvie

    Good reminder about making sure you have a fresh cabbage for good sauerkraut! We love our homemade sauerkraut: as you say so incredibly easy… and so incredibly tasty. I do like it pretty simple too, although I add a few juniper berries to mine.

    Fermented carrots – especially with some ginger and a chili pepper – are wonderful, really zingy! Worth a try if you have not done so yet.