I consider that I’m pretty with it when it comes to the lost, or forgotten if you will, homesteading arts. I know how to sew, save seeds, and butcher a chicken. I have enough skills to knit a hat, a scarf and a mitten. I can split wood, cook from scratch and able to preserve the season by putting it in jars. But, I’m reluctant to say, fermenting is not something I’m well versed in.
Fermentation is a natural process that is happening all around us. Like most of the wonderful things in this world, it preceded humankind. Practiced for centuries as a way to preserve food before canning and refrigeration, fermentation also keep us healthy. Fermented foods are natural probiotics, meaning they help grow that natural bacteria inside us. The human body works better when certain types of “friendly” bacteria flourish in our digestive system, helping to break down foods and flush out the system. Ever stop to wonder why fatty sausages are served with fermented cabbage? To help you digest it! Instead of taking a costly probiotic to keep your gut happy, simply eat some fermented foods!
I’d done sauerkraut and just recently did my first batch of open crock fermented pickles, but anything else seemed a bit scary to me. But recently, I’ve had fermenting on the brain and am super excited to jump into this next homesteading skill.
So why the sudden interest? Because a few weekends ago, I went to the Farm to Fermentation Festival. Now in its 4th year, this festival was way beyond the standard food festival commercial scene we’ve all been to, but a day celebrating all things fermented. The day was filled with informative lectures and demonstrations covering a wide range of fermentation topics, such as “Your Digestive Health”, “Making Healthy Sodas”, “Making Your First Batch of Kimchi” and “Making Miso at Home”.
I sat on a few of these lectures, including “Small-Scale Lactofermentation” by Nicole Easterday from FarmCurious where I learned about how easy it is to ferment veggies in small scale by using a airlock on a mason jar. Matt really enjoyed the “Asian Pickle” lecture by Karen Solomon and learned about using a rice bran bed, or a nuka-doko, to pickle veggies.
In between learning from the lectures, we browsed and shopped in the exhibit hall and checked out the latest fermenting wears, such as hand thrown pottery crocks and jugs, airlocks, books, culture kits and the new Kraut Source, which just met its kickstarter goal– an inventive stainless steel set of a press and water moat that fit on a mason jar.
My favorite part of the festival, which is no surprise because I’m always at events for the food, was all the samples! Local and regional vendors of fermented goodness provided samples of all kinds- we spent the day tasting a variety of cucumber pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, cheese, bread, beet kvass, kombucha, wine, beer, mead and cider. I resisted buying a jar of everything and came home with only a jar of very unique ‘cheriboshi’, which are fermented then dried cherries. And a mason jar fermenting set. And a few books.
Armed with my new supplies and excitement, I’ve already started a jar of fermented salsa and have a plan for getting a jar of carrots started soon. Are you fearful of fermenting, as I was, because your concerned with food safety and spoilage? The line between something being fermented and rotten is a confusing continuum, but trust your judgment, and as I also learned, the CDC has never reported a case of someone getting sick from a fermented food, so take the plunge!
Not ready to make your own but want the health benefits? Find these types of live fermented foods at your local grocery store or farmers market: kefir, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut (freshly fermented, not from the jar!), pickles (freshly fermented, not from the jar!), tempeh, sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, unpasteurized aged cheese, unpasteurized beer. Still think fermentation is weird and something only hippies or health nuts are into? There are many other foods that ferment with the help of bacteria, such as: charcuterie, wine, beer, vanilla, ginger beer, fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, bread, chocolate, tea, coffee and miso.