Cooking with Sauerkraut – Bigos

cooking with ferments

Bigos is a Polish dish often with cabbage, a meat, and some other assorted vegetables. It works as an incredible starting point to inspire infinite variations of winter meals. The word “authentic” often get tossed around with recipes, but the most authentic way to make this dish may be to use whatever ingredients you have stored up in your larder or cellar.

The base of bigos is a heap of sauerkraut. We make our kraut for the year in 5 gallon buckets that we’ll scoop out handfuls for this recipe. The kraut is simmered as long as you have time to let it. The other ingredients are up to what you have. Big chunks of garlic and onions are natural companions, as would be roots like carrots, rutabaga, beets, potatoes, and radishes, as well as any dried herbs. Then toss in protein which could be your homemade sausage, frozed-away or cured meat, or homegrown beans or tempeh.

Use any variety of your winter storage veg and meat to go with your sauerkraut.

Chop everything up and toss it in.

Then dump on a heap of kraut.

Pop on a lid and let it stew on low heat for as long as you will. Don’t forget to salt to taste. The colder it is outside the darker I crave a brown caramelization. Stir occasionally.

Enjoy with a big dollop of sour cream or yogurt!

Homemade Tempeh

fermentation

Quick n’ easy Ferment Pittsburgh take on making homemade tempeh- in any shape.

Give your choice of bean or beans a good long soak, ~12 hours or so.

Cook the beans in boiling water, being careful to not overcook them. You’re after a bean that holds its shape. Its okay if it’s a tad undercooked, al dente works great. Mushy beans not so much.

Drain the beans and spread them out to dry and cool off a bit. Spread them out on a clean towel does a nice job. In the end you want the beans to be dry to the touch and about warm-lukewarm temperature. At this point add your tempeh starter at the suggested rate of your starter and mix well in a bowl.

Before you incubate you’ll need to pack the beans up so the fungi can knit them together into a cake. All that is required is covering enough to keep the beans humid and some air holes for ventilation.

You can place your beans in ziplock plastic sandwich bags with holes poked in them every inch or so to accomplish the classic tempeh cake look. A shallow pan like a casserole dish works well too, perhaps with a lid of cling wrap with a few holes poked here and there. Or better yet, why not make it a shaped cake pan? Below is Tempeh Wonder Woman.

This is one here is just a plastic bag filled with inoculated beans and incubated.

Incubate the beans in a humid environment at around 86 degrees for 24- 48 hours. If you’re using a pan or dish, the oven or a dehydrator could work well. This incubator tutorial using a lamp is our preferred method. However in the winter time a radiator is perfect and in-season.

The tempeh is done when the white mycelium has knit together and smells fresh and fungal. If let gone too long darker colors will develop and so will smells and flavors maybe more preferable to hard-core tempeh aficionados.

Lacto-Fermented Snowflake Ornaments

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Imagine replicating the infinite wonder of a snowflake’s crystal structure in a fermented vegetable.

Process

Follow the technique for “Grated Lacto-Fermented Vegetables of Any Kind.”

After week or more of fermenting, drain the excess brine from the grated veg by squeezing it out as best as you can.

Then arrange the vegetables into basic circle and star-like shapes on a tray and dehydrate according to your preferred method. Keep in mind that you’ll be dehydrating a fermented product so there will be a prevalent scent abound.

A good tip is to pack the shreds dense enough so that can knit and your shape will hold together well. Wreath wire was then used to make the loops to complete the ornaments.

This idea was inspired from Kiriboshi daikon, which are strips of shredded daikon preserved through dehydration and are a great addition to winter soups.

Enjoy!

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Grated Lacto-Fermented Vegetables of Any Kind

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Typically root vegetables are the proper candidates for grating into a lacto-ferment. That is because they are firm and contain enough water to complete the process self-contained. I often refer to these ferments as slaws, which may be another good way to picture them. They are a great companion for garnishes and dressing food up from hot dogs to salads and soups, or even as a simple stand alone side with maybe a kiss of olive oil.

Batches can be made with a single variety or a blend like carrots & beets, and then dressed up with herbs, hot peppers, garlic, or other seasoning combinations that move you. Consider any root vegetable to employ: beets, radishes, turnips, carrots, rutabaga, etc.

Process

Clean and trim the veggies.

Grate with a common kitchen grater. Then mix with salt by adding according to your taste preference.

Pack the mixture with any run-off brine into a jar, crock, or other container. Cover with a lid or cloth and ferment at room temperature.

Be sure to keep the veggies submerged in the brine as needed.

I leave my “slaws” out indefinitely, leaving them on the counter until they eventually get all eaten up by dolloping a heap here and there throughout the winter.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Making A Sauerkraut Tradition (general kraut tutorial)

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Sauerkraut is easily the number one food we eat in the winter. With fall rolling through we make a huge batch annually to use with almost every meal. A long slow simmered sauerkraut is the perfect canvass to marry with anything in the cellar- roots, potatoes, sausages for comfort all winter long- with a big dollop of yogurt.

We make ours in quantities that fit into 5 gallon buckets and if you were interested in doing the same, Home Depot and Lowes sell a white food grade 5 gallon bucket and lid in their paint section. I know food grade plastic is less than ideal but our house in an urban row stays pretty mild. The buckets with snap lids wonderfully safeguard the kraut from getting too gnarly, being a fly residence, and keeping the smell from filling the house. The 5 gallon size also accommodates 50# of fresh green cabbage perfectly. Having an abundant amount makes using it often as easy as remembering it’s there.

For sourcing your cabbage and other assorted veggies, if you’re making a large enough batch you might sell out the farm stand. Give the farm a call ahead of time and ask for a bulk order. If they have it they’ll be happy to accommodate. And then you’ll have no need to buy any of that out of season cabbage from the grocery store this winter.


The creative whim that can go into a sauerkraut from spices, herbs, fruit, and different vegetables is really special. I hope your creativity can be your guide whether you are making a pint, a quart, or more. We tend to make a bulk “traditional” batch, and portion smaller amounts off for making something more eccentric.

Here’s The Sauerkraut Process

Peel off any weird outer leaves from your green cabbage. Cut the cabbage in half to remove the core, then proceed to slice the cabbage into ribbons or whatever shape you’d like.


Mix with salt, let’s say 1 & 1/2- 2tsp per a pound of cabbage, but salt to whatever is your taste preference, there’s no wrong answer. Then massage, pound, stomp, or club your cabbage until its giving up its water.

Now pack the cabbage and its brine into your fermenting vessel of choice, pushing it down so that all the cabbage is in brine. Be careful not to overfill as it will rise and possibly spill over, so give a couple inches of headspace.

Either affix a lid or place a weighted cover and then a cloth draped over to keep the cabbage under the brine and the bugs out. I really like fixing a lid on top. It takes most of the work out it things. The Co2 that results in fermentation will protect the kraut from oxygen. Contact with oxygen carries the risk of mold growth and mushiness. Without a lid the Co2 doesn’t get trapped and maintenance to keep the cabbage submerged in the brine will be necessary. With the right amount of headspace in a bucket with a lid, we’ll just move it to a cool area and not touch it until we start tapping into the larder around Thanksgiving.

In the fall it’s really nice to take advantage of the mild days and cool nights by leaving the kraut outside in a shady area to ferment. We only bring it in once it starts getting too cold, then it move into the cellar or a cool corner of the house where it slowly disappears every day, one scoop at a time.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Growing a Sorghum Syrup Tradition

homesteading, Uncategorized

Growing and pressing sorghum is a fun crop to have in your garden rotation for homegrown sugar. Sorghum stalks are filled with a sugar-rich sap that once pressed out takes just a short bit of boiling to get syrup.

Growing sorghum

Growing sorghum is similar to growing corn. Look for cultivars that specialize in being pressed for sugar over ones that favor its grain production. Direct sow after the last frost in a bed prepared with high fertility with 1/4″ depth. Space similarly to corn with rows 3-4′ and 8″ in row. Overseeding is fine as you can thin as they grow up.

Harvesting

Harvest sorghum when the grains on its seedhead reach soft dough stage. This means that the grain has filled in and no longer exudes a milky ooze when bitten. They should be red colored. This happens usually towards the end of September and early October here in Western Pennsylvania.

To harvest pull all the leaves off in the field, which can be done by hand. Using a pair of snips cut off the seedhead. These can be saved and used as grain and/or seeds for next year. Then cut down the stalk using a machete, sickle, or other method and stack the stalks.

Sorghum stalks are firm but can snap easily. If it happens its not a big deal but it helps to keep in mind where you’re planning to press to minimize moving them around.

Pressing

We’ve tried pressing sorghum a couple of different ways. The first time we tried we used a wooden hand-cranked apple crusher. It was immediately obvious that we were missing out on a lot of juice. A proper pressing mechanism is handy.

A tabletop sugarcane press does a great job. They seem to cost around $100- $250, but can do a lot of sorghum every year.

Get a friend and start cranking. Do a handful of stalks at a time according to how much your machine and cranker can handle. Usually we’ll have one person feed the stalks and the other turn the crank as the juice flows out to a pot below.

Boiling

Sorghum syrup boils down at a 10:1 ratio rather than 60:1 like maple sap. It’s a much quicker process and one I don’t mind doing on my home stove, as it’ll be just a few short hours.

Boiling will make a lot of crud on the top so skim the surface throughout the process. Boiling is done when a the sorghum reaches you desired syrup consistency. If you have a hydrometer, 74 Brix is the level of store-sold syrup. We fill them in mason jars hot and flip upside down for a seal.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Saving Vegetable Seeds

farm, homesteading

With fall just starting to show, now is the perfect time to think about putting some seeds away for next year. While growing your own food invokes essential traditions with family and community each year, seed saving is a worthwhile practice that can carry those important traditions across generations. Here are a couple straight-forward veggies that are a good place to start saving.

When choosing a fruit to collect seeds from consider carefully as seed saving is akin to adopting a new family member. Once you’ve chosen the plants you want to work with, look for the general attributes of the fruit and the plant as they would be the parent of the future generations in your garden. Choose for characteristics you like, perhaps the plant’s performance, fruit size, disease resistance, etc.

Tomatoes

Some genetic crossing with other closeby tomato varieties are possible, so maybe consider spacing different varieties apart in your garden. Collect ripe fruits. Crush them in a container and stir twice daily. There is a pulp that surrounds the seeds that will be reduced by a light fermentation. The seeds should eventually sink to the bottom after about 2-4 days. Caution that over-fermentation can reduce germination.

When the seeds are ready add water, stir, and pour off the water with the tomato solids. Keep repeating until the seeds are left with some pretty clean water. Strain the seeds and lay out on a cloth to dry.

Peppers

Use ripe fruit. Remove the seeds from the flesh. No washing necessary. Allow to air dry. Varieties should be grown with some separation if genetic purity is desired, around 50′.

Eggplant

Use mature fruit whose flesh leaves an indent when pressed. Remove seeds by cutting and crushing the fruits. A knife will likely slice through some seeds so maybe just cut in half then tear the rest with your hands. Place in a bowl and add water and continue to crush, squeeze, or rub free the seeds. Wash out in a way similar to tomatoes but there’s no fermentation required. Lay out to dry. Varieties should be separated by around 50′ if you want genetic purity.

Beans, Grains, & Potatoes

Plants like beans, potatoes, and grains are quite simple as the harvest is the seed itself. Just let the plant reach full maturity, harvest, and store away as you would as if it were food. Beans and grains tend to be left on the plant until it fully dies back, they are further dried indoors for a few weeks just to be sure, then packed away. Potatoes are stored in the root cellar or a cool basement.

Note on Drying Seeds

Let the seeds dry on their own if your ambient temperatures allow them to do so without molding. Try not to use anything to speed up drying however a light fan for air-flow can be okay.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Homemade Hominy – Nixtamalization

farm, Homegrown Grains

If I had to choose only one grain to grow it would be corn. Of the great variety of products corn can become, hominy is essential. Whether dent or flint, these corns are perfectly edible and are eaten as polenta and grits, but their kernel’s hull bind up niacin which causes deficiencies that lead to health conditions like Pellegra. In comes the innovative technique called nixtamalization. It was eventually discovered that corn soaked in an alkaline brine dissolved the hemicellulose walls of the corn and freed the niacin for human to ingest. Additionally the process softened the kernels and in some cases dramatically increased the minerals available and greatly reduced mycotoxins.

So how’s it done? Two ways of creating a proper alkaline brine is through the addition of lime (from stone) and lye (wood ash). Lime, also known as Cal, is limestone baked at a really high temperature (converting the calcium carbonate to calcium oxide), then when treated with water (where it becomes calcium hydroxide), and dehydrated to a fine white powder as lime or Cal. It naturally increases the kernel’s minerals when used in processing as well as influencing the familiar aromas we associate with tortillas. Lye on the other hand, being more widely accessible, was used by people who might not have had access to limestone deposits, as it is produced by soaking wood ash in soft water. There is food grade lye you can buy which works the same as a wood ash solution but lacks the mineral contribution provided by natural wood ash.

How its done

Get yourself some field corn, whether flint or dent, either will do. Your best bet is to grow it yourself if you can. But if you can’t, research the Open-pollinated varieties grown in your area. Popular out our way is Wapsi Valley, which is a dent corn pictured above (note the dents on the tops of the kernels). We found it by researching OP corn for feed for sale locally and learned more about the varieties, such as how they are actually delicious heirlooms. If you tell the farmer you buy the seed from that your eating it they may think your crazy as lots of people think it’s just for livestock anymore.

Either way, when you have some corn, weigh the threshed kernels and put them in a pot and cover with water to about 2-3 extra inches above the kernels. Add Cal at about 1 gram per every 100 grams of corn. If you’re looking for Cal, check out a grocery store from Central and South America. For the lye method see below.

Bring the pot to a simmer and let it go until the kernels are a little tender. It could take around 45 minutes, or more or less. Caution that boiling with Cal can create bitter flavors.

Remove pot from heat and let it sit for 24 hours.

Strain the kernels and give them a rinse while also massaging them. You now should be seeing the hulls wash off like whispy, soggy paper. The job is done. Wash off the husks according to what you intend to make. Retaining the hulls adds some gelatinization which is helpful in making thin products like tortillas.

The hominy can now be stored a couple different ways. They can be frozen as they are, or dehydrated and stored dry, in which you would soak them like any other grain before cooking or grinding them into hominy grits. You can also grind them fresh to make tortillas for dinner tonight!


Lye Method

If you’re using food grade lye use roughly the same ratio as above 1 gram lye for 100 grams of kernels. For information on food grade lye and/ or using wood ash itself you can refer to this post regarding lye and bagels. Sodium hydroxide, which is what pure lye is, in the right quantities can burn you so use care in avoiding skin contact with the lye brine if you’re using this method.

Cover threshed corn with water, add lye granules or lye brine, and bring to a boil.

Simmer for 30 minutes, turn off heat and steep for another 30 minutes.

Drain the lye water and soak in clean water for 30 minutes.

Change the water once again and bring to a boil one more time, and simmer until kernels are tender. Wash hulls as you wish.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Homemade Blueberry Vinegar

fermentation, homesteading

Blueberry vinegar first began as a failed attempt at blueberry wine, but is now an annual tradition and the primary vinegar we use for everything. Making vinegar is a perfect use for old, blemished, and forgotten fruit.

This recipe is for a sweet blueberry vinegar that is excellent as a finishing vinegar or to dress up salads. No fancy task here, though a hydrometer is laxidazically used to measure the sugar content along the way. It’s an essential tool for alcohol ferments that costs ~$20, though is not required for here.

For every gallon of fresh blueberries you’ll need:

  • 1# Sugar
  • 7/8 gallon of water (or just a tad less than a full gallon)

To start, load up your bloobs into your fermentation vessel and give ’em a preliminary mash.

Add water and sugar and give a good stir to dissolve. You could certainly dissolve the sugar before adding but the lazy method is always refreshing. The sugar will dissolve eventually. Cover your container with a breathable cover, like a t-shirt affixed with a rubber band to keep insects out.

After about 48 hours I’ll measure the sugar with a hydrometer. I like to shoot for 22-24 Brix, which is the equivalent of wine’s starting brix. Measuring this isn’t necessary, as the recipe water and sugar amounts will get you close enough.

Soon enough your blueberries will start to ferment from wild yeast. It’s a helpful thing to come by and stir the top once or twice a day, or as you remember. The fermentation will push the blueberry solids to the top so we need to break up that cap every so often. Don’t worry about using a clean tool to do it, we’re making vinegar after all.

A hydrometer can help chart the processes of your fermentation, though the old way is just observing the bubbling activity and intuition. If the mixture can ferment down to around 10 or below Brix then we will be looking at a 5-6% acidity vinegar, which is our goal. Without a hydrometer you can let it go until the bubbling has calmed down to just occasional pricks. There’s no wrong way here. We like a sweet blueberry vin so like to catch it before the fermentation has completed. However you could very well just let it ferment to dry all the same. Regardless, when the time is right, add a little acidic acid inoculation via a splash of live vinegar, over-the-hill kombucha, vinegar mother, or a backslop of last year’s bloob vin. You can also just let the mixture sit untouched with its breathable lid until it eventually sours. Whichever way, it’s time to just let it sit.

Taste it ocassionally until that one magical day when your bloobs taste unmistakably like vinegar. Now is a good time to press which can be done by emptying the contents through a pillow case, then twisting and squeezing it until enough of the juice has run out.

After a couple days rack off the solids accumulated at the bottom by carefully pouring the liquid out until it reaches the sludge. Discard the sludge and store your delicious vin away in a lidded containers or a carboy.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Ferment Hot Pepper Flakes (& Hot Sauce)

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Fermented hot sauce can be a complicated or quite simple affair, but is indisputably indispensable for bringing your winter stored potatoes, squash, and beans to life. My preferred method is just pureeing hot peppers with a little salt, letting it ferment, and donezo! That works well with fresh peppers but you can also ferment them submerged in a salt brine if they’re dried. Though if you want to take your fermented peppers one step further, try making fermented hot pepper flakes from your fermented hot sauce.


It’s a pretty open door as to how you might want to get creative with making your fermented hot sauce. Add a clove of garlic (or maybe roasted garlic) to your puree, or a hunk of onion, perhaps some garden herbs like oregano. Follow you gardens and markets.


A great little trick is fermented hot pepper flakes. These pepper flakes are a fun addition to a pantry, sneaking a hot and tangy zing to your foods, and super easy to do, while stretching one product into two. Instructions are below, just be sure to do your drying outside if possible or where there’s good ventilation!

Fermented Hot Sauce Method

1. Clean and destem your choice of fresh hot pepper or hot pepper medley. Prepare any other ingrdients: garlic, onion, fruit, herbs, etc.
2. Grind everything together in a food processor or blender. Add a bits of water as necessary to get a fully purred slurry to a nice slushy consistency.
3. Stir in salt for a 3% brine, so that’s about 1-3 tablespoons per a quart of slurry.
4. Ferment with lid on or off according to preference. I like to do the lid on and burp it every few days to keep the weird films from developing on the surface. Without a lid make sure to stir it up every few days.
5. Ferment to your preference, maybe 1 week, maybe a few months. Pack it away in the fridge to store when or cap it at room temperature with a snug twist sealing lid.

Fermented Hot Pepper Flakes

  1. After your hot sauce is done fermenting strain out the solids using a fine mesh strainer.
  2. Bottle up your hot sauce liquid, then dehydrate the solids using your favorite method. If you don’t have a dehydrator you can dry it with a regular old fan or in the oven at the lowest setting. (The oven will require some close monitoring and frequent stirring. A fan might be better done outside.)
    3. Be sure to break up the fermented solids every so often when dehydrating as they will clump together. Also be careful as the drying fumes could be intense!
    4. Grind up the dried solids or break up with your hands and store away!

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.