MVCSA – Fermentation
This month we’re joined by Emily Makrez, a wild foods specialist and fellow farmer, who helped us come up with some great recipes using fermentation, an ancient method of food preparation.
Fermentation is one of the simplest forms of food preservation, responsible for some of our most basic staples, including chocolate, bread, coffee, cheese, beer, wine and even traditional ketchup. It is a process in which bacteria, yeasts and molds break down complex molecules into acids (such as lactic or acetic), alcohols and other by-products, including vitamins and minerals. It may be the only food preparation process that can increase the vitamin and mineral benefits of a food.
Additionally, the process creates new and complex flavors, produces probiotics, reduces waste, and, perhaps most importantly, unleashes new potentials for culinary creativity. It is also the best way we know of to preserve farmers market treasures at the peak of freshness or nearing the end of their storage life.
The fermentation of fruits and vegetables is generally safe with a little knowledge, but you need to clean your produce, work surface, cutting boards and tools, and to disinfect all storage vessels and lids. Be sure to use glass jars or food-grade plastic, and keep the ferment away from direct light or excessive heat. Below is a summary of some basic methods of fermentation.
There are two primary ways to lacto-ferment foods. One is to soak the ferment in a brine (a salt water solution), and the other is to add salt directly to the food as a percentage of weight. The process is anaerobic (happening without oxygen, so you need to keep what you are fermenting immersed in liquid. The “good” bacteria, lactobacillus, which are not the same as lactose and thus fine for those with dairy sensitivities, thrive in a salty environment — typically 2% to 5% by weight of what is being fermented.
Alcoholic Fermentation and Acetic Acid Fermentation
Alcoholic fermentation is a process in which yeasts convert sugars into alcohol and other by-products. This produces beverages such as beer, wine and cider. Acetic acid fermentation sometimes piggybacks on alcoholic fermentation and converts those alcohols and carbohydrates into acetic acid and other sour, fizzy and flavorful compounds: think kombucha, vinegar and kefir.
There are various ideal temperatures for different ferments, but for our purposes, room temp works just fine. To halt the fermentation process, put your storage vessels in the fridge.
APPLE SCRAP VINEGAR
This is a wonderful way to use up every bit of your apples as you make your holiday desserts. Use it in salad dressings, or in place of lemon juice.
Start to finish: 20 minutes to prepare, and 2-4 weeks to ferment
About 2 pounds of apple peels and cores (roughly 7-8 apples)
6 cups filtered water
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons organic apple cider vinegar, including the “mother”
Peel and core the apples, reserving the flesh for some other use. Put the skins and cores in a large glass jar.
Mix the sugar into the water until dissolved. Add this sugar water to the jar with the apple scraps. Cover the jar with cheesecloth or a very thin towel (so air can get in) and secure with a rubber band.
Stir daily for 10-12 days, then strain out and compost the scraps.
Put the strained liquid back in the glass jar and cover again with cheesecloth or a towel (again, oxygen is the name of the game here).
Set the jar aside in a cool, dark corner, stirring every few days. It will be ready in about 2-4 weeks — it’s necessary to smell and taste it often until you achieve the desired results. In the first 3-10 days it will smell like cider as it produces alcohol. This alcohol will turn into vinegar. Cooler temperatures will slow the process.
Note: If you see a translucent or yellow film developing, or see sediment at the bottom of the vessel, don’t worry. The film is called the “mother,” and the sediment is a natural fermentation by-product.
Check back in the coming weeks for more great fermentation recipes from Emily and the Horne Brothers.