By now you’ve probably finished canning your summer fruits and vegetables, perhaps freeing up a little space in your home cooking schedule. So if you’ve just put up your last batch of heirloom tomato sauce and are ready to tackle a new DIY food project, fall into fermenting and whip up a crock of sauerkraut to tide you through the dark days of winter.
For those new to fermentation it is, simply put, culinary alchemy in which agents like yeast, bacterium, mold and enzymes cause organic substances to break down into simpler substances. Think soybeans to tempeh, tea to kombucha, and cream to crème fraîche. Fermentation’s myriad ancient techniques also encompass a preservation method that creates lactic acid that “cures” so-called sour foods such as kimchi, dry sausages and of course, sauerkraut.
Need some pointers on getting started? Attend the one-night only Portland Fermentation Festival on October 20 from 6-8 pm at the Ecotrust Building.
The Fermentation Festival is the brainchild of some of Portland’s brightest food personalities: George Winborn, David Barber and Liz Crain, author of the Food Lover’s Guide to Portland. The trio first launched the festival in 2009 to spread the word about fermenting through an educational evening of demonstrations, sampling, skill sharing and recipe swapping. The festival is more clubby than commercial, and no products are available for purchase; come to connect with nouveau to veteran fermenters of all ages.
Go See It!
Portland Fermentation Festival
- Thursday October 20, 6-8 pm
- Ecotrust’s Billy Frank Jr. Conference Center, 721 NW 9th Ave., Portland
- $5 admission at the door
- Visit website
Since demonstrations are part of the festival fun, attendees may be able to take home a bit of a fresh batch of kimchi, kraut or kefir. If you’re looking for a culture or starter, you’ll likely be able to score one too, so come prepared with small jars or sealable plastic bags to transport your percolating potions and products home. Even if you aren’t a registered exhibitor, attendees are encouraged to bring their own ferments and recipes to share. Some of the more exotic foods you may encounter include goji berry kefir, dandelion wine and pickled asparagus.
While at the festival, you’re likely to encounter Kate Patterson, a naturopath and Peg Butler, an artist, cultural entrepreneur and the pickle proprietress of Cultural Fermentation. Both Butler and Patterson are committed to rekindling interest in what they see as an art in danger of slipping away. “Fermenting is something that we have lost as we have become a germaphobic society,” observes Patterson.
Both sustainably minded women have a history of experimenting with fermented foods including kimchee, kombucha and even some of the more far-out fermented sodas that can include exotics such as eggshells. However, both agree that the basics are where it’s at and encourage beginners to start there and keep practicing. Further enticing for the new and experienced alike is the fact that basic fermenting is not a huge commitment in terms of time or resources. Equipment can be minimally low-tech, and as Butler quips, “I got kraut cabbage for 18 cents a pound.” Once the initial prep is done, your ferment does the work itself. “You just sit there, watch and wait,” says Patterson.
Butler’s specialties include a super basic sauerkraut, a sauerkraut juice tonic (deliciously rejuvenating) and old-fashioned sour dill pickles.
In addition to the old standbys, Patterson is known for her fermented salmon, a recipe from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. When Patterson was first introduced to Fallon’s work, she “fell in love with the idea of making food more nutritious.” Patterson believes that fermented foods are more bioavailable than non-fermented foods since they are pre-digested by the fermenting process.
Spreading these messages is one of the tenants of the Portland Fermentation Festival and the trio of organizers, along with many of the exhibitors and participants, are keen to create a Portland Kraut Cooperative by zip code to carry on the craft post-festival and continue to connect with those who do want to try this at home.
Recipe: Basic Sauerkraut
Cultural Fermentation’s Peg Butler’s Super Basic Sauerkraut
- One head kraut cabbage
- 1.5 Tablespoons sea salt
- Crock with weight
Click on “View Gallery” in the right-hand sidebar to see step-by-step photos.
Finely slice the cabbage. Patterson doesn’t recommend grating it as the cabbage can become too pulpy.
Layer handfuls of cabbage with a sprinkle of salt into your crock. Make sure that your crock has straight sides so that the contents stay in the middle.
Work the kraut with either your hands or a wooden tamper — a sturdy dowel-like tool. Butler “pumps” the cabbage with crossed hands, a technique resembling CPR, until it starts to bubble, and as fermenters say, the water comes up. She likes to pay attention to her energy while kneading the cabbage, infusing it with calm and good intentions.
Once you see the bubbles and the water that has been released, weight the cabbage down and cover with a cloth to keep out dust and bugs. Butler uses a glass plate and juice bottle filled with water as a weight because she checks on her kraut daily, regularly tasting it until it reaches the desired consistency, usually in 10 days. Keep in mind that in warmer temperatures, fermentation occurs faster and in colder, more slowly. Her daily ritual includes washing her hands before removing the weight, tasting the kraut, and washing the plate and bottle before returning them to the top and re-covering. If you didn’t have time to monitor your kraut as closely, conventional crocks with more substantive seals are available that can sit on their own without much supervision.
Butler hasn’t had a problem with “scum” on the top of her sauerkraut, probably because she is a pro and keeps a close eye on it. If you were to develop scum though, simply skim it off and continue. Butler reassures novices that you’ll know if something has gone awry. Just try again.