It is a pretty straight forward strategy, nothing particularly radical or unique to me. I am what some might call a cultivator of qualities. That is, my senses are dialed in for the internal grumblings of wants unmet. Once targeted, simply- the hunger becomes the hunted. Just like I remember the contents of what is in my refrigerator, what is not, and consequently the big or small hurdle needed to create the latest culinary creation; my internal tracking system knows how to keep myself in balance, in check, and on the map. If I’m cruising to the right too long, it is a good idea to bank to the left once in awhile to keep from spinning round in circles.
My most recent contiguous uni-directional aversion occurred in the latter part of winter, mind and heart numb from the cold. There was such yearning for something fresh and green, a want for vibrancy and growth. I knee-jerk dabbled with mung beans sprouts to fill the no-grow zone of January only to find the over and done-too-soon process was too overly overt for the season. I needed something slower, a little quieter, and perhaps even something a smidge turned under.
Lacto fermentation is an ingenious food preservation process that no doubt evolved from one of our forefather’s errors when misplaced foodstuff went funky not foul. An ancient protracted, potentially risky version of the Five Second Rule; observation, a hospitable environment, and a bit of luck mixed together to create something worth repeating and improving upon. For those with adventurous palates, there is an international smorgasbord of surströmming, skyr, injera, natto, and poi waiting, sans chafing dish, to name a few. Admittedly a bit more timid and hardly wanting to sully my hands or home with exploding cans or stinky meats, I set my sights instead on a humble head of cabbage gussied up with plain old beets, ginger, and garlic. Though many a times I’ve acknowledge being crazy about kraut, it still didn’t prepare me for how captivated I would be, thoroughly inoculated with fermenting fervor.
In the snowy depths of winter my internal logic only reasoned that I needed some leafy green to nibble upon. The thought of espresso colored soil and tidy rows of charming fruits and veggies filled me with a canned contented sigh. What I yearned for truly was something a bit more elusive and eternal, an elixir of life. Pickled home craft might be just that. This “invisible” transformative process is a bit mysterious with mutually beneficial exchanges occurring at the micro level. Lactobacilli ever present on leaves and roots digest sugars and other carbohydrates in jarred captivity before giving off lactic acid which staves off the growth of bacteria capable of spoilage. Fermented foods are therefore more easily digested as well as being safely preserved. The bonanza of healthy bacteria or probiotics produces enzymes, increases vitamins, and strengthens the flora of one’s intestines all the while infusing the pickle with saliva inducing lip smacking flavor which continues to refine and deepen as it ages. These zingy comestibles are an artisanal food, lovingly nurtured, and unique each time it is made. Intimately connected to variables in the home environment such as the temperature of the room, the types of bacteria present, and the salinity and moisture content of the brine and food; they are antidote to a world full of standardized sameness. Thinking about it further, fermented products promote biodiversity at the individual level. They are a window into the cooperation and strength of a thriving ecosystem. Participating in the process, one begins to appreciate the myriad interconnected relationships that sustain life, and that is simultaneously wild and a quiet kind of knowledge too. So while I’ve been having fun with fermentation and my kitchen counters are crowded with kefir, kvass, kraut, and ketchup; I have also been nourishing the body ecology and dreaming up a healthier world- one pickle at a time.
"I therefore advise you to lay in a Store of Spices, ... neither ought you to be without ... Kitchup, or Mushroom Juice." The Housekeeper's Pocket-Book and Compleat Family Cook
Lacto-fermented Ketchup: Adapted from Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions. This is a great first project because it is so simple and there is no fear of anything going off. This makes quite a thick ketchup which can be thinned out later with water. Fish sauce and maple syrup? Move over high fructose corn syrup!
1 1/2 cups organic tomato paste
2 Tbsp. whey (strain good quality yogurt by placing it into a cheese cloth covered sieve set upon a bowl)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp. fermented fish sauce
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cloves
Directions: Mix everything together in a non reactive bowl. Place the mixture into a wide mouth mason jar and cover tightly with the lid. Let it ferment for 2-3 days at room temperature. Refrigerate and enjoy.