I was lucky enough to notice that UBC Farm was hosting some fermentation workshops with Sandor Ellix Katz while he was in town at the end of January, and registered before they all sold out. I went with a friend of mine who is a fellow fermentation enthusiast and we had a great time! Sandor is a wonderful speaker, especially when he’s given free rein to speak with passion and knowledge about fermented foods. He manages to cover the key information, combining it with fun anecdotes and, thanks to his vast experience as a speaker and workshop presenter, answer many people’s questions before they’ve even had a chance to form them. He has a knack for shifting people’s perspective of fermented foods and bringing the concepts right down to earth so they’re tangible and approachable.
The workshop was at the UBC Farm Centre’s kitchen which is such a great, laid-back venue for cooking workshops. I strongly recommend keeping an eye on their upcoming events (I try to add them all to the Urban Huntress calendar) so you too can have the pleasure of taking part in a workshop there.
Sandor spoke for about 45 minutes, revealing the wealth of knowledge that he has gained over the past 20 years of fermentation experiments and which is shared in his new book, ‘The Art of Fermentation’. Our group of about a dozen then got down to chopping and grating a huge variety of veggies provided for a mixed vegetable ferment that we would then each shove into a big jar to take home. Following Sandor’s advice, we applied the “chopper’s choice” principle and chopped/sliced/grated as we each felt appropriate. He went around the room helping and answering questions as we “descended into chaos” and covered the long table, our notebooks and our chairs with flying bits of vegetables.
The mix had red and golden beets, green and red cabbage, onions, leeks, carrots, turnips, celeriac, celery and daikon. A fantastic mix that I never would have come up with on my own! And, thanks to “chopper’s choice”, it was a textural delight with varied sizes of vegetable pieces blended together. Some sea salt (to taste, as per Sandor’s recommendation) was then added to the veggie mix which was split between several large bowls and we all took turns squeezing, mashing, and kneading in order to bruise the vegetables, breaking their cells and releasing their juices. The salt helps pull the liquid out (thanks to osmosis) and assists the desired (and salt-resistant) lactic acid bacteria by preventing the development of unwanted bacteria. This vegetable beating took a while, and we soon discovered that larger pieces means it takes more time and effort to get the juices out, but thanks to the finely chopped and grated veggies that were part of the mix we eventually had juice collecting in the bottom of the bowl.
Urban Huntress Tip: Thanks to opposable thumbs, we also have the option of using a pounding tool instead of our hands, but doing it by hand is fun.
Each of us then grabbed a big canning jar and proceeded to jam vegetables in and pack them down as tightly as we could until there was some juice just covering them (you want it under the liquid during the fermentation). Sandor had said to leave a good sized air-gap at the top. I thought I had done so, but discovered why he said that a couple of days later when the carbon dioxide production went cray-cray in my jar and oozed foam under the lid. The pressure built up so fast (I had released it a few times in the first 24 hours) on day two that I had to open it in the bathtub so the red kraut juice could splutter out at will and I just had to hose everything down with the shower. After that I kept the lid VERY loose. As long as gas is being produced, there’s very little chance of outside air coming into the jar and the exposed surface area is so small that you can just scrape away anything weird that happens on top.
My batch looked great and tasted great. I started eating it after six days and it’s delicious. I can taste the individual vegetables and it’s more sweet than sour. The vegetables are toothsome like they’re lightly steamed and the red from the beets and cabbage has turned the mix a jewel-like colour.
You don’t need fancy or expensive equipment; just some nice veg, sea salt and a jar. As Sandor pointed out, the desirable lactic acid bacteria is already on all vegetables, so a starter is not necessary (even though some people like to add other ferments like whey and kombucha).
Keep it simple silly, and grab one of his books for inspiration and just give it a go.
The basic sauerkraut kits at Homesteader’s Emporium are a jar with an airlock incorporated into a special lid, which definitely removes any worries about over-pressurized jars. If you think you’ll forget to release the gas a couple times a day, and release the Kraut-Kraken all over your kitchen instead, they’re worth the $20 for the peace of mind.
Go down to the Farmer’s Market and find an adorable cabbage guinea pig. I recommend Ice Cap Organics which is on the north leg of the winter market. Their cabbages are wonderful and sweet.