Flatbreads from Your Morning Porridge

baking, bread, fermentation, Homegrown Grains

This recipe is a continuation of a ditty about the early days of grains and the gradual “rise” of bread. The first step to this process is making some fermented porridge, which is described in aforementioned ditty. I love the variability of a process where the same porridge can be cooked for your breakfast, and any leftover can become bread for scooping up your lunch and dinner. The more active the ferment obviously the better, so if your porridge has been sitting for a long time, scoop the scum off the top and make some flatbreads!

In modern days like we’re in where just about every aspect of a food and its production are able to be controlled for really specific outcomes, this recipe is a refreshing throwback to times when intuition and experience were more valuable than control, and “perfection” was likely defined in a less homogenous way.

Process

There are no precise measurements that make sense to give. However much fermented porridge you have to use is what you have, and obviously the water to grain ratio will be all over the place. Yet, none of that business should be much of a hurdle here.

Pour your porridge into a bowl. Add a sprinkle of salt. If you are doing this on a scale something like 16 grams of salt per 500 grams of final dough is good. If your breads are undersalted you can always sprinkle some finishing salt over them straight out of the oven. Always be careful to not over salt!

Start adding in flour that has good gluten building qualities. Store bought “Bread” flour is the ticket. Add gradually, mixing it into the porridge slurry until a dough gets formed. You’d want enough flour so it’s not a sticky dough but not so much that it’s super firm either. Intuition and experience right? Getting things right the first time is boring, you learn nothing. A recipe worth making is one that you earn a relationship with, right?

Give the dough a few kneads and let it rest. The goal is to have everything mixed and incorporated but being mindful to not overmix. Giving it a covered over night or long day rest is great. The dough can be stored in a container the fridge and used here and there if not needed right away.

When it’s time to make the bread, on a lightly floured surface cut the dough into whatever size your after, perhaps the size of a doubled golf ball? And then roll them into a ball. Let the balls rest for 20 or so min and in the meantime warm up a skillet on the stovetop to medium high.

After a little rest period, using as much flour as needed, roll out the balls into flat disks. You can press them first with your fingers, and toss them like a pizza or come in with your rolling pin. Play around with the thickness and size (which will also be factors in how hot your skillet should be) until you found what you like.

Cook the flatbread, flipping as needed until both sides are lightly browned and the bread is cooked all the way through. Breads can be dressed up with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of seasonings if that’s your bag. Then fill em up with delights!

Fermented Porrdige & Kvass

fermentation, Homegrown Grains

Sometimes the grandeur of bread makes the grains feel unrecognizable from the labored summer months caring for it, processing it, and cleaning it. Porridge makes me feel closest to my grains. Tortilla retains an intimate connection too. I remember reading a long time ago somewhere that a bread baker was the first specialized profession. It’s easy to understand for anyone who’s tried to consistently integrate the time intensive task into their daily life. Before bread “technology” became widely accessible, porridge was the primary way people consumed their staple grains.

It’s believable to say that porridge is the rough stone that was smoothened into bread by the running waters of time, fermented porridge actually! Before porridge maybe there were handgathered kernels chewed between your teeth. Actually doing this yourself is a jolting time warp worth doing to reset your racing clock. It’s become an annual moment after harvest for us to hand thresh a small bowlful of kernels and eat them as is, just to remember. Next I’d imagine was progressing to crushing kernels between stones, earth’s teeth, and maybe add some earth tears like water, and there you’d have a porridge. Uncooked it would be a chewy mush. With enough time it would ferment and soften more, maybe making it easier to eat and introducing humans to their first versions of a sourdough starter. With a little added flour, cook a fermented porridge into a flatbread and there’s a leavened bread. Add a little more ground grain for an even firmer dough and with more time and a cook, you got yourself a loaf.

Fermented porridge can be made from any grain: wheat, rye, corn, oats, rice, and so-on. It can be cracked, ground, whole, or even just sifted bran. A hand cranked meat grinder works great for cracked grain and often pop up in the tool sections of thrift stores for a couple bucks. It’s possible to crack them too by laying the grains on a hard flat surface, draping a towel over them, and pressing hard on them with bottom of a jar, a rolling pin, or maybe a rock.

The prep work is easy, just covering your prepared grain with a generous amount of water or milk or nut/ seed “milk” to keep it submerged for a prolonged soak- a couple hours or a couple days or weeks at room temp depending how funky you’re feeling. The fermentation will help breakdown grain characteristics that inhibit digestion. In the morning, heat it in a pot until boiling, then lowering it to a short simmer, keep an eye on it all the while in case some extra liquid needs added along the way. The final consistency is up to you. Depending on where you’re trying to take your day, add a splash or nob of fat (buddder/ oil/ maybe bacon), pinch o salt, and any seasonings and delights (like those summer time berries you dehydrated or a potato) before cooking. For a quicker fermentation turn around you can backslop today’s porridge into a new one just like splashing in a starter. What an easy vehicle for any adventure.

Remember the rye bread recipe for traditional style pumpernickel from a few months ago? This one? The recipe used “scalding” which was heating a porridge situation until it was at least 160 degrees at which point the flour released its starches and gelatinized. In pumpernickel, this is what gave the gluten-lacking rye bread some bonding to help it hold its shape. This is the same process that occurs when cooking the porridge, transforming it into a lovely cohesive mush rather than water and grain that sit separately in a bowl like oil and water. It’s also the same process used for making injera which is a mixing of “fermented porridge” and scalded porridge to help the thin batter hold together.



Kvass

The same grains- whether cracked, ground, whole, or bran, but this time also adding old baked bread to the list, when covered with water and left to ferment is the beverage associated with Eastern European origin called kvass. There are a million variations to this beverage (including versions without grain), with many adding some kind of additional sugar whether it be cane, fruit, berries, vegetables, juice, honey, sorghum, or maple in order to get a spritely effervescent and maybe alcoholic beverage. Where’s the line between fermented porridge and kvass? Doesn’t seem like there is much of one, just don’t boil your kvass or you’ll lose the fire in that firewater. What’s the difference between beer and kvass? Beer gets most of its sugar out of its grains by sprouting them first (aka malting) and steeping them at a specific temperature (mashing), kvass is a little lazier and ferments things as they are with no special processes (although malt still may be used). It almost feels like kvass is a brew made of collected leftovers.

Winter is a good time to perch a brew of kvass on your radiators as if it were your hearth. To make it add cracked grains, old bread, and as much sweetener of choice as suits you. Dress it up with any other flavors and seasonings that inspire you. Don’t forget a little splash of sourdough starter to help get everything rolling (not required). Let the wild yeast ferment it at room temperature till it’s actively bubbling. Remember it’s winter so be patient. Then strain out the contents and enjoy.

(I suppose you can also not strain out the contents and warm it up into a nice porridge! Boom.)

Growing & Fermenting Horseradish

farm, Vegetable Fermentation

Growing Horseradish

Horseradish easy to grow. It’s a vigorous plant that can thrive in many conditions. Deep lose soil is best for straight taproots that otherwise would be fine but a little gangly. (You’ll see the piece used in the pictures here must have hit a rock and took at hard left.)

Plant pieces in full sun a couple inches deep and for fuller roots cut away new green shoots as they sprout above ground leaving only around 2-4. If planting multiple plants spacing of 30 inches recommended. Mulching is also a good idea. Feed with a high phosphorous, low nitrogen fertilizer to promote root growth. Harvest after the leaves wilt from frost making sure to leave some behind for the plant to continue growing. Aim for new growth as the root will become woody after enough time.

Fermenting

Wash and peel your horseradish root.

Cutting up the root is a tricky endeavour because the heat of the horseradish will fill the air. I like using a fine grater over a food processor because in my experience the food processor created a spicy plume that overwhelmed the room. Either way hand and mouth protection isn’t the worst idea if you have it.

Once the root is grated you can add a pinch of salt and any water if it seems too dry. You could also add a splash of vinegar with or instead of water- the vinegar neutralizes the enzymic reaction that makes the horseradish spicy, so adding some asap will lessen the spiciness of your condiment.

Lastly, pack your horseradish into jars to ferment at room temp. Use it as needed throughout winter to wake up your potatoes, sausages, and other comforting meals. If you want purple horseradish like seen in some stores, just mix in a little bit of grated beet before packing it into jars.

Don’t forget to save some nubs if you need to plant more out in the spring. Roots will maintain in the fridge or cellar in a plastic bag for many months. You could also try your hand “forcing” the leaves for fresh horseradish greens in winter.

Homemade Bacon

meat

Late fall and early winter always stirs thoughts of the annual pig harvest as this cold post-farm moment invites the perfect time to stuff, smoke, and cure meat for the year- especially in accord with the season of holiday feasts that follows in tow.

For those who have always been curious about venturing into the world of preserving meat there is included in the monthly featured recipes the technique for making your own bacon. It’s a perfect first-go as it’s easy, safe, and as deliciously rewarding as a homemade treat should be. This recipe is the one I’ve used and tweaked for many years for well over a hundred batches of bacon I’m sure. For me this belly is destined to enliven this winter’s miso soups.

***

Get ahold of a slab of pork belly. Talk to your local pork farmers or head to your butcher shop. You can usually find them in ~5 pound sizes, with a full belly averaging around 12- 15 pounds.

As with most recipes your salt is the most important ingredient to be thoughtful about and then after that it’s all play. For salt you’re looking for about 2.8% of the belly weight. For a 5 pound slab that would be around 64 grams.

Now with bacon there is also a second salt called pink salt or curing salt (different than Himalayan). In Pittsburgh you can get this either at Penn Mac or The Pittsburgh Spice and Seasoning Company. Curing salt contains sodium nitrate which helps meat fend off dangerous microorganisms in processes where meat is held for significant periods of time in the “temperature danger zone” (which is a phrase used to describe temperatures that make microbes happy, like room temperature)- which is the case in curing meats. The curing salts also have an effect on flavor and color, helping meat retain a red color rather than gray and giving it that flavor that is synonymous with bacon. Making bacon without nitrates is possible but will produce a porky flavor rather than bacony, if that makes sense.

Typically your pink curing salt should provide a recommended amount which should be in the ballpark of 0.2 ounces per 5 pounds. Keep in mind that too much pink curing salt is a bad thing so do take care to measure this one out well.

After that the remaining seasoning is for you to decide. Some suggestions per a 5 pound belly are:

  • Sweet Stuff: add 55 grams brown sugar/ honey/ or maple syrup, or some blend of each
  • Garlic- mince 2-3 cloves
  • A Bay leaf
  • Go wild on the herbs, especially thyme. Gotta love when fresh is available.
  • Black peppercorns- teaspoon or two

The sky is the limit here. You can use gochujang to make a kimchi bacon, add a splash of whiskey, just as long as your salt and pink curing salt is consistent.

Mix everything together- both salts, sweet stuff, and seasonings, and rub it all over the pork belly to coat it. Put the belly and any seasoning that fell off in a bag, stacking them if you have multiple slabs, and place it in the fridge for 6 days. Flip and turn every day or so to keep the marinade even.

I usually aim for a 1 week process so on the 6th day take the belly out of the bag and place it on a rack with a tray beneath it to catch any falling juices and put it back into the fridge. A cookie sheet with a plate underneath works well. We are trying to dry off the belly. I do this primarily because I smoke my belly and smoke doesn’t stick to wet things well, but it also has a great effect on the roasting color by doing this step. Air drying meat before roasting is a great idea, like chickens for roasting. *Some recipes recommend rinsing the belly prior to drying, I presume to remove any excess marinate so maybe the herbs and sugars won’t burn during cooking. I used to do this but don’t anymore. I don’t have any problems and I like the way it looks more. Go with your heart.

The next day preheat your oven or smoker to 250 degrees and smoke or cook for around 90 minutes or until an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Feel free to add a little more time if it needs it to finish off the gorgeous color.

First thing after it’s done, eat a fresh hot bacon snack by working the odd nubs that hang around the edges. This is one of the highest moments of human experience, relish in it. Then let the belly cool and then refrigerate it. If you’d like to slice your bacon, whether by hand or if you’ve got your hands on a commercial meat slicer it’s best to toss the belly in the freezer until it’s about 1/3 frozen. This will give you a slab that is firm enough to make uniform cuts more easily.

Bringing in the Harvest: Root Cellaring, to “Forcing”, to New Seed

homesteading

The first frost that cuts down the most vulnerable plants pulls like pulsing tides the unabating freezes who crash on to the ground until most growth is finally silenced. Carrots and parsnips generally survive and so long as the ground isn’t too frozen can be dug up as needed. But the moment- just before the ground freezes- many of the other root characters are gathered up, the leaves cut off about an inch from their growing point, and brought inside to join us- and the mice- to be saved from these conditions too extreme.

Different vegetables have different temperatures ideal for keeping them in dormant long-haul storage. In looking for a place in your abode or other to act as a “root cellar”, you can keep an eye out for cold protected spaces- an unheated closet, an attic, an odd nook under the staircase, or beneath your porch. The best option I have is under the cellar door which gets some insulation laid on top and is not perfect but tends to be good enough. For a good root cellar cool temperatures (~45 degrees is great, but you can get by with warmer for a while, just not as long), moderately high humidity (which can be assisted by storing veg in a moist medium like sand or sawdust or leaves in bags, boxes, and crates), and a certain degree of air flow in the room to clear out any off gassing from the vegetables and spoilage organisms. All of that mostly pertains to most root veg, potats, etc. Some others such as onions, and garlic store best with dryer conditions closer to 50 degrees, while squash and sweet potatoes can do lukewarm temps so second as a living room decoration well, and that only gets better if let’s say in late winter a squash starts to rot and then you can put it on the tv stand and watch it decompose together with your family and friends until the flies come home.

If those stored roots are given too much moisture or heat they can sprout, which is likely to happen because a good system is an imperfect system. A tradition likely discovered through that thinking is the “forcing” of plants. Chicories with strong taproots like radicchio, endive, and dandelion, are favorite candidates, but other well-rooted folks like rhubarb, beets, and asparagus also can be intentionally tricked into sprouting new growth indoors. There are lots of different ways to do it but generally the roots are dug up in the fall, topped, and stored in the cellar just as if you were keeping them. When you choose it’s time for forcing, the roots are transplanted into containers of soil, this time watered well enough with around 50-60 degree temps ideally. Often times these second sprouts can be tough or bitter so forcing is done in the absence of light for sweet, delicate leaves. The forcing can be staggered for a continuous supply of fresh greens in the winter, and in some cases getting multiple cuttings is possible, after which the roots, at least of the chicories, can be roasted and ground into coffee. Keep an eye out for the possibilities, like if you store onions you’ll probably notice a few sprout uninvitedly. Why not place these in a shallow dish of water by a window for fresh winter scallions?

Now let’s not stop there. Let’s say we continued allowing those sprouted roots to grow, well they will eventually shoot flowers right? Many of the aforementioned veg are biennial which means they flower in their second year. Where we live in Western Pennsylvania our winter temperatures can kill some biennial plants begging the question: how do we collect seeds from them? By bringing those plants inside like beets and radishes and storing them our cool nook or root cellar, we are inadvertently also enroute to saving them for seed. When the weather breaks in the spring they can be planted back into the earth outside to complete their reproduction cycle. This transplanting also provides enough placement control if someone were trying to avoid cross-pollination to boot. Other non-root-centric biennials, like let’s say you were afraid of your cauliflower dying overwinter for instance, are entirely dug up, cleaned of leaves for a naked stem, and stored in a bucket of lightly moist soil at a spot in the cellar to protect them from killing freezes and devoid of sunlight to keep their dormancy until it’s safe again to transplant outside.

Saving your own Koji Spores

fermentation, mold

One time a million years ago was the only time we ever purchased koji spores. As with our gardens and farms where the priority of seed saving carries us from one season to the next, hopefully adapting to the unique character of our land and weather, so it also made sense to foster that seed saving mentality to our spores and cultures.

Saving koji spores is as easy as growing koji because, well, they are the same thing. If you’re a grower of koji already then you can perhaps find the permission to follow through with your spore saving here.

To save koji spores we are simply looking for mature koji. I usually shoot for mature rather than over-mature as I feel better about a cleaner population. Many times I won’t even attempt to over-shoot my koji incubation, instead proceed with the process as usual, and put some aside for “seed” and it always ends up working fine. When growing your koji hopefully you can notice a bit of powder on the surface as that’s sign enough that’s ready. The bits I save from a batch are usually the best looking parts, with no discoloration or peculiarities. Those pieces are allowed to air-dry fully then they are bagged and stored in the freezer until the next time I make a batch of koji. To use them I’ll hand grind just before sprinkling on my newly cooked grain. And like any other culture, a little is saved again to keep it all going.

Making a Miso Tradition

fermentation, Homegrown Grains, mold

The winter solstice has for myself become the day for annual miso-making traditions. It’s after most of the hardy holdout plants are finally delt a frosty blow, and grains and beans from the year are (hopefully) dried and threshed and stored away. Miso was introduced to me with an aura of magic- one of the first ferments I interacted with and so carries the same wild mystic held by the woods on a full moon’ed night as when I met it then. It’s retained its magic over the years, and that seems like a feeling worth fostering in anyway possible.

Sticking to annual miso-making means there are countless jars who present like vintages of wine marking out the years. The differences between the young and old ones are tremendous. It’s something that if you make, I highly recommend then hiding it from yourself for a couple of years. Just the other day I unearthed a crock that has been living on my porch for two years. It’s made of our homegrown marfax beans and danko rye. The location was an accident, probably nowhere anyone would recommend. I never really covered it or protected it from weather. The ceramic weights were covered thickly in fly pupal cases. After pulling them out and scraping off the top layer it was gorgeous miso with a fruity alcoholic smell the rest of the way down. It was scooped into a series of peanut butter jars to continue aging in the basement somewhere I already can’t recall.

Here’s how we’ve made miso, generally this same way every time, and may you find a way that works for you and becomes your own:

Preparing the Koji

First you’ll need some koji spores. Most people love GEM Cultures. If you’re really impressive you can go outside and find some growing out there somewhere. Either way add your cultures to a cooked starchy grain, mix, and incubate in mid-80 degree temps until your mold spores have colonized the grain. Since we mostly make our misos from homegrown grains like wheat or rye, it takes some extra cooking soften the grain enough to receive the mold. In other cases like with rice, a kernel that is just-cooked through and holds its shape is best. When your grain is cooked spread it out to let dry some and cool to about a mid-80’s temp and inoculate right away by spreading and mixing your spores in. The finished koji grain can be dried and saved or used immediately.

Preparing the beans

Unlike when making tempeh– who does better with beans cooked juuuust right (not over cooked), miso has no such need. Cook your beans fully after a nice overnight soak by boiling them, but in this cook no salt is needed.

Strain and let the beans cool. Often times I’ll let them sit out until the next day because life is busy.

Mixing

Next it’s time to combine the beans and koji’d grain. The many styles of miso can vary according to the ratio of each, as well as the salt levels but my usual aim is eyeballing a 60% bean and 40% koji ratio when preparing the ingredients. Whatever I come out with in the end is what I mix together in the biggest bowl I have. Something like a potato masher can be used but I feel like this is a job for your hands to make the beginnings of your paste. The beans will mush but obviously the grain won’t yet. You can still get the general idea of the consistency already though. Add a little water here and there to get a consistency close to paste with the understanding that things will be breaking down more over time.

Then mix in salt. I hold true here to the salt to taste perspective. Salt, mix, taste, salt, mix, taste. You want something salty but pleasantly so. Not overwhelming, but not under salted.

Packing & Aging

Pack the miso in a jar or container pushing down to minimize air pockets. Leave ample head space for the big initial fermentation event on the horizon (the photo below shows too little headspace and the consequential overflowing). Many folks like to put a fresh sprinkling layer of salt over the final miso surface. It’s possible to pop a screw lid on top but the miso will commence fermentation and need some gas release. I like a loose-fitting lid but a cloth with rubber band or similar is good too. When the vigorous fermentation eventually ceases it’s a good idea to throw on some kind of lid. Depending on your conditions the miso could dry out. I’ll let the fermentation boil to a dripple in a bigger vessel, then transfer the miso to mason/ peanut butter jars and lid them to be taken to the basement for long term storage. I like breaking them down into many smaller jars so when one is being actively scooped from, the oxygen exposure is limited to just that jar as with all the microbial activity in there, things will begin to grow.

Consume when you’re ready to- in a few months, a year, or many years.

Borscht & Fermenting Grated Fall Roots

Uncategorized

When the locust trees turn golden it seems to mark the main event for the fermentation season. And while as the years go by the tasks of preserving pile on seemingly nonstop, starting with the first shoot of green in late winter, there’s something about a last hurrah of fresh food in combination with cool ambient temperatures that carry the microbial transformation more gracefully that sparks some momentum. It’s exciting that the best way to celebrate this moment is a return to the basics. Those fermentation gateway techniques like kraut-making are a life-long essential practice, rather than something to “graduate” from. It’s kraut and kimchi season.

For those who are fortunate enough to have cool space where you live can consider storing local fall vegetables root cellar style. But for most of us who lack the cool basement or maybe don’t have a basement at all, cellaring may be too much of a challenge. One of my adaptations for the warm urban living situation over the years has been to grate and ferment most of the roots. I feel like if knives magically went extinct, the grater would finally get its due. (Have you ever made a stiff pasta dough and grated it straight into boiling water for noodles?) I like to grate, salt, and ferment individual types of vegetables to live in a series of colorful jars that surround the stove. All winter long I’ll scoop out piles of the different hues onto anything from stews to sautés and roasts. And all of these serve to complement our 5 gallon buckets of sauerkraut. (Certainly whole roots ferment well in 5 gallon buckets of salt brine too.) In the winter almost everything gets cooked in a bed of kraut. For those curious if your living situation is too warm for such a thing take note: A half used bucket became an emergency weight for the greenhouse in the spring and consequently did a full round of summer completely exposed in the backyard. I opened that up recently and after maybe an inch of mush revealed a spectacular deeply rich kraut. Laziness is a pathway to discovery.

The history of borscht is varied and fascinating and counter to what it has evolved into today, doesn’t begins with beets. Those folks who investigate the past say that borscht long predates the beet altogether, who were believed to be first used for their leaves before their roots became of interest. Who knows? Regardless what’s more interesting is the question then, without beets what is borscht? Like all things, borscht needent be homogenized into a single small idea, but you may find it interesting that certain evidence gives way to the theory that for the longest time borscht was a sour soup, that is, plant material fermented in a salt brine, and then used to make a soup by adding it to a meat broth or other, and simmered with other vegetables. (Not only does modern times like to homogenize ideas but it also loves ripping fermentation from foods and replacing it with vinegar.) In the case of white borscht we’re dealing with rye or wheat flour that is fermented with water, and made into a soup as previously mentioned. Yep, it is another neat use for your leftover sourdough starter, but you can go the extra yard by fermenting your starter with spices in it.

I bring this up, not only because it’s a fantastic time to rekindle the nurturing character of warm soup, but because those aforementioned colorful jars of fermented grated roots are basically pre-borscht set ups waiting in the wing.

Because the marvelous beetroot is so marvelous it does deserve to have its own soup kingdom so for now let’s stick to the popular beet affiliation. For making your own sour beet soup, a large scoop of that shredded fermented purple on the shelf will have it ready for you when you’re ready for it. After a little saute of garlic, onion, meats if you want, add your beet and drown them in your choice of stock, maybe a little white (radish) and some orange (carrots naturally), don’t forget the kraut (yellow? or is yellow rutabagas?), and anything else you have around. Any spare brine is welcome too. But at the very least, at least in my household, don’t dare forget the dill and marjoram.

A Little History of Glass & The Mason Jar

story

Blue sea glass is a special prize for those beach comers who keep their noses to the sand. The pearls polished by the ocean’s constant churning, whose previous life may have been a jar, emerges from the water laid on to a nest of sand. There are so many accounts across cultures and time of life originating from the great mysterious ocean. It is a wonder to consider the edges that hold those waters, made by the waters themselves, constitute the elements to make one of our great mythical and literal containers, glass.

Sand, the arms that hold earth’s massive liquid temperament, is a loose term primarily describing size. Formed by the long weathering of inland rocks who journeyed down to the waters to be finely broken down, sands made of quartz specifically are the ones when heated to extremely high temperatures (+3000 degrees) melts into a liquid that hardens off into glass. The first known glassmaker in history is nature. A bolt of lightning striking the beach will do the trick. (Fulgurite.)

The earliest glass human made glass is entirely unknown- a detail always worth celebrating. But some of the furthest back dating evidence of glass making employs liquid glass being poured into a breakable mold, and much of these earliest-known glass objects tend to be containers. This early glass-making process was so laborious- plus the additional production of other additives like plant ash and lime- that its luxury came and went through time according to the rise and fall of complex civilizations as it needed a structured civilization to carry it.

Sometime around the mid-first century in maybe somewhere around present day Lebanon a shattering breakthrough in glass-making occurred. It was discovered that glass could be blown into a bubble. Perhaps to some this was exciting enough, to others it meant that glass objects could be made quicker and with more variety which allowed glass to not be only a rare luxury item but something for anyone to own. Eventually in the 19th century a fellow in Toledo, Ohio patented the glass blowing machine which ensured the general mass affordability of glass jars.

Side step: In France during the Neopoleanic Wars a challenge was set for someone to find a method to preserve food for the soldiers aboard ships on long voyages. A candy-maker eventually figured out a method for creating a vacuum by using a hot water bath- the beginning of canning. The early days of canning worked its way to a certain point of maturation with the help of a whole variety of wars to keep figuring out how to feed more and more soldiers and eventually World War 1 that brought us the first whole meals in a (tin) can! Home canning with glass was mostly done by the rural homestead. The way to seal jars then was with wax as Appert had figured out way back when.

Then John Mason randomally swept in and changed all of food preservation forever. Using glass bottles that originally were blue due to impurities in the sand, he designed the very first screw top as an improvement to the wax finish. Secondly on the metal lid he added a rubber ring to create a better seal. Many-a company jumped aboard Mason’s innovations and some stayed true to his standards and design, including Ball who continues to make them today (and who at some point cleverly geared their marketing to appeal to the emerging hipster thing and won over fancy cocktail bars everywhere). Additionally, if you ever saw a Kerr jar you can attribute/ blame them with coming up with the two-peice lid thing we all have fumbling around in our kitchens.

But hipsters aside, the popularity of the Mason jar seems forever bound to society’s back-to-the-land urges as it ebbs and then peaks again with world ending events like WW2, the 60’s, and the Covid pandemic. As opposed to metal and plastic who can potentially leach, glass is a fantastic small scale fermentation device, as Mason jars have gracefully filled the role for so many of us. There have been plenty of times that I’ve pursued the romance of ceramic only to remember, amidst that one fatal lapse in refilling the water reservoir, my affection for Mason’s wonderful screw cap.

Dearly holding on to the speculative story of the first salt-based fermentations originating from sea water enabled by the dramatic alteration brought about by the container that rose its edges around it to hold its contents. That small dose of ocean was spliced to go with those humans anywhere they went. And today while we make our own salt water far away from an ocean, we carry a piece of it, made from the sands that contain it to plunge our vegetables in.

Fermented Okra Chips

Vegetable Fermentation

Okra chips is a neat snack to add more of your garden to the cupboard. When re-embarking on putting up our okra this year I recalled an event Ferment Pittsburgh was invited to themed as a slime presentation for kids. A jar of lacto-fermented okra was perfectly oozy for the job. But when venturing to jot this process out for the “net” here I questioned my memory and searched for other fermented okra recipes and astoundingly saw no mention of how the brine transforms very quickly into a thick slime. Weird. Nonetheless, while simply fermented okra is a wonderful slime-encased treat, following up with drying them into chips is a slime-less way to enjoy some deliciously preserved okra.

Process

Lacto-ferment the okra for a few days. Pack your okra whole into a jar with water, add a tablespoon of salt per a quart, and ferment at room temperature either with a lid or a cloth covering, doesn’t matter which but I prefer a lid. It’s August now so I usually go for about 3 days but in cooler weather maybe 5 or so would works to get a nice fermenty flavor.

Strain the fermented okra and perhaps give them a quick rinse if they are difficult to handle from their slime. Then dehydrate either whole or cut into rings. If you’re doing whole a little pierce with a knife will help them dry inside and out.

Then dehydrate according to your preferred method, oven or machine, or hot car window. About 135-ish degrees for around 24 hours, or however long it takes.

The finished okra can be tossed with salt and other seasonings and stored away in a jar.