Local farmers’ fermented foods at weekly markets

Asian greens, touted in Joy magazine’s March Season to Taste column, are among the first items of produce at local farmers markets.

Fresh vegetables are scarce, of course, because local farmers are relying on crops hardy enough to either overwinter in the fields or keep in cold storage. At least one farm, however, has less to sell after fermenting almost all of its cabbage for kraut and kimchi.

Whistling Duck’s Mary Alionis got turned onto fermentation from fellow Applegater Kirsten Shockey of Mellonia Farm, which was stocking Alionis’ farm stand with fermented foods for about a year. Alionis took a class and started experimenting to keep fermented foods at the fore when Shockey decided to scale back her production. Now Whistling Duck has jars of probiotic-rich, lacto-fermented veggies for $5 per half-pint, $8 per pint.

“I’m excited to have something new on the table,” says Alionis of her stall at Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Markets and the new farmers market in Grants Pass.

“A lot more people know what it is now.”

In fact, fermentation is returning to the mainstream with advocates no less influential than first lady Michelle Obama, who released a recipe for the first White House kimchi. Restaurant trend magazine “Plate,” based in Chicago, recently devoted a whole issue to fermentation, acknowledging that chefs are looking to fermentation to preserve seasonally purchased foods and to produce uniquely flavored menu items.

The new, best-selling “The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes From Around the World,” by Sandor Katz notes that fermented foods — which include beer, olives, cheese, pickles, miso, yogurt, cured meats and sourdough bread — are nothing new or radical. In fact, they represent some of the highest achievements and oldest food traditions of their respective cultures.

Fairly new, however, is the notion that these foods are supposed to be made in a factory rather than our own homes. And, of course, many novices fear fermentation in the home kitchen because it doesn’t fit into widespread food-safety paradigms, such as never storing foods rich in microflora and fauna between 40 and 140 degrees. But as Katz notes, most fermented foods were developed precisely to stay safe at those temperatures.

“It was only 100 years ago that people even began to have the ability to keep food under 40 degrees,” he told the Chicago Tribune.

I’ve previously posted a recipe for traditional kimchi, but Katz’s is a looser approach to fermenting cabbage and other vegetables with whatever seasoning the cook desires, hence the hint of irreverence in its name.

MCT photo

Kraut-Chi

Per quart:

2 pounds green and/or red cabbage (and/or other vegetables; process is very versatile)

Salt, as needed

Garlic, ginger, chili pepper, caraway, juniper berries and/or other seasonings (optional)

Chop the vegetables finely or coarsely, however you like it. Place in a large bowl. Lightly sprinkle with the salt as you go. Squeeze mixture with your hands until it releases its liquid. Taste and add more salt as necessary. If you are unable to squeeze vegetables or cannot get enough juice out of them, add a little dechlorinated water.

Stuff mixture a bit at a time into a large, wide-mouth jar, packing it down hard as you go. Make sure vegetables are submerged under liquid and leave space at top of jar for expansion. Close lid on jar.

Leave jar on counter or somewhere you will see it every day. Fermentation may take two days to four weeks. Pressure from carbon dioxide will build in jar, so unscrew top each day (for first several days) to release pressure; press down on layer that floats to top, in order to submerge it.

Taste kraut every day or every few days. Remove any surface growth that forms at top where vegetables might be exposed to air.

Depending on ambient temperature in your home, kraut will start to become tangy after a few days. Ferment until it tastes how you like. You can then store all of it in fridge in sealed jars or just scoop out a portion for refrigeration and let remaining continue to ferment.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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