Monday, March 02, 2009

Let your taste buds tingle - fermented foods workshop!

What an incredible weekend of fine local food flavours! On Saturday we hosted a workshop here on lactic acid ferments - a category that includes delicious and health-promoting foods like sauerkrauts, pickles, miso, kimchi, tempeh, sourdough, yogurt, beers and wines. The two hour workshop did not feel long enough, as our facilitator covered a wide range of information including history, astounding stories of the health benefits, cultural traditions, "how-to" of fermented foods, and of course a tasting of many of her homemade ferments. We were priviledged to try her brined garlic, carrots/daikon/burdock, dilly beans, last spring's asparagus, wild harvested brined grape leaves, and year-old sauerkraut made into a rich salad dressing. Mmmmmm. Yes, our taste and olfactory senses were tingling alright!

Her basic recipe for salt water brine is simple - 1 litre distilled water (as chlorine or other chemicals can destroy the living bacterias which are needed for fermentation) at a ratio to 2 Tbsp sea salt. She also suggests adding 2 Tbsp of whey (skimmed off her homemade yogurt) to each jar to help activate and speed up the fermentation process. Here is one of the recipes she shared, which we made together as a group - a colourful winter slaw made with locally grown root vegetables, cabbage, garlic, kale and more. Just seeing this gorgeous raw "salad" shredded into a huge bowl on the table was enough to make us all salivate. Everyone took home a sample jar, and after watching these wonderful colours bubble and meld, and tasting the changes to our jars over the next days and weeks we will all be hooked on fermentation.

Colourful Winter Slaw
3 1/4 cups peeled & chopped roots
3 1/4 cups chopped onions or leeks
several garlic cloves, peeled
1 large bunch kale, chopped
add other spices as desired (bay leaf, horseradish, ginger, mustard seeds, dill, tarragon, clove)
Salt water (2 Tbsp sea salt: 1 litre water)

Mix all ingredients except the salt water. Crush slightly by hand to start breaking down vegetables making them more susceptible to absorbing the brine. Pack into sterlized jars up to 3-4 cm from the lip. If using metal canning lid, consider layering a piece of waxed paper inbetween so the vegetables don't react with the metal. Add 2 Tbsp whey and fill the jar to cove the vegetables by 1 cm with the salt water. Store at room temperature for 10 days, then in a cool dark place. When desired level of fermentation has been achieved the jars can be stored in the fridge.

An excellent book that covers a wide range of fermentation lore is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. It's just worth reading on it's own, regardless of whether you plan to ferment or not, as he is such an engaging writer drawing the reader into this tradition of foods. He describes fermentation as a form of activism! Fermentation is unpredictabile, unique, strongly influence by local conditions, and engages the eater directly in the process of its preparation (often for years before the ferment is "ready" - e.g. 10-year old miso, cheese or wine that improves and changes flavour with age). This in opposition to mass produced consumer culture food that is denuded of nutrition, uniform to the extreme, and controlled by corporations leaving the eater powerless. He describes a society without "culture" (i.e. fermented food traditions) as having lost its culture, and encourages us to find ways to engage in our food and food histories again - be it growing, cooking, baking, fermenting...

Thanks to everyone who came - what a great group of food enthusiasts! We could have used another hour after the workshop just to get to know each other and share more recipes and ideas. We plan to offer this fermentation workshop again in the fall, at harvest time when we are all thinking of best ways to put food away for the winter. Not all of us have root cellars or solar dehydrators, not all want to use loads of electricity for canning or freezing foods, but fermented foods are simple, require no electricity, and retain optimum nutrition (in fact, nutrition is enhanced by the fermentation process). Stay posted on our website for updates on the next fermentation workshop date.

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