How to keep your larder full of healthy foods...
Over recent years I have made several batches of fermented vegetables for both home use and Whitstable Larder at Whitstable Farmers Market. I began this journey due to my love of strong flavours and sour tasting foods, pickles and chutneys. ‘Kentish Cabbage’ Kimchi was my first experiment and was so delicious I immediately tried to make more and play with the recipe as is my want. However, in this case, I found I was running before I could walk. A couple of these early batches went array as I did not fully understand the principles of fermentation and how to prevent moulds or drying out.
I then read a variety of books including Sandor Katz, the fermentation guru which helped me to understand the process and rectify my mistakes as well as giving ideas for recipes. I was soon happily playing about with a working formula that I followed of a ratio of salt to vegetables and which seemed to work consistently.
Nationally, the Korean Kimchi craze turned into an interest in fermented vegetables in general which ran parallel with an increasing awareness of the health benefits of consuming live fermented food and drink. People such as Doctor Michael Mosely have helped to increase our knowledge of the health benefits of these foods in his books and TV programs. There is now a fair amount of evidence that fermented foods work wonders for our gut health, more on this later.
I became an evangelist for fermented foods and subsequently got invited to run a fermenting workshop in Canterbury at Lily’s Bistro. I ran a number of beginner’s hands-on workshops during 2018 in both Canterbury and Whitstable on how to ferment vegetables at home. My aim was to demystify the process and show how easy it is to ferment at home and in the process have an abundance of super healthy, tasty and affordable food in your fridge available to use any time.
As well as fermented vegetables, most of our favourite foods are fermented including coffee, chocolate, beer, wine, bread and cheese. Not all of these are healthy when consumed in quantity or if they have too many additives. However, they can, of course, be healthy staples in our diet and have been throughout the ages if consumed in moderation. Before fridges and in warmer cultures, fermenting as a process of preservation has been necessary as a method of survival.
With regards to health, every one of us is host to trillions of different communities of bacteria in our gut. Bacteria are crucial to our ability to digest and assimilate the different nutrients from our food. If we have a broad range of bacteria in our gut, the better our gut health is. To achieve this, we need to eat a diverse range of food including lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and fibre to have a healthy gut flora and microbiome. This, in turn, helps to improve our overall immune system and even our emotional and mental health according to Dr Michael Mosely. Some of the sugars and starches in foods are broken down during fermentation which makes some vitamins and minerals in the food easier for our bodies to absorb, e.g. B vitamins. Fermenting vegetables can, therefore, aid digestion by making food more digestible as well as more nutritious.
Although the best time to make a ferment using cabbages is in the autumn at harvest time in preparation for winter, there is still time now to make them in March before the weather gets warmer and we have young fresh harvests to turn our heads. For my most recent batch from a couple of weeks ago, I used red and white cabbage and caraway seeds.
Whitstable Larder can run fermentation small group workshops, just let us know if you are interested. Our e-book will also be available soon. In the meantime here is the method for sauerkraut, so do have a go.
1 kilo cabbage – red or white or mix of the two
20g sea salt
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
Slice the cabbage then mix the salt into the cabbage.
Start to squeeze and squelch the cabbage
Continue doing this until a fair amount of moisture has been released from the cabbage, helped by both the salt and your squeezing.
Pack into a jar or crock, squeezing down as you go – do not fill further than the shoulders of the jar in order to leave room for the mix to bubble up
Weigh down the cabbages to ensure they remain under the liquid - You can do this in a variety of different ways including with a small plate or glass tumbler.
Cover the crock or close the lid of the Kilner jar
Leave to stand in a shallow tray or dish to catch any overflow of liquid that may occur
Leave at room temp for 1 to 2 weeks – taste occasionally and if you are happy with it as it is just pop it in the fridge and use as needed
Release any gas build up in the jar if sealed daily by lifting the lid.