When I teach fermentation classes, invariably someone will ask me what the difference is between Picking and Fermenting. This will be a super short post to explain the difference, just for funsies.
When we ferment our foods, we are adding or creating a salt brine to our container of veggies in order to favor lactic-acid producing bacteria while holding back putrifying bacteria. Lacto-fermentation is a great way to preserve foods, AND they contain probiotic bacteria which are necessary for healthy gut function, immune function and brain health.
When you ‘pickle’ something, you are adding a vinegar solution for the purpose of preserving. In pickled foods, there are no probiotic bacteria….but vinegar is a PRE-biotic, which is something that the probiotic bacteria feed on, so it’s still good for you.
I use both methods to preserve wild foods that I harvest. Some things I like better fermented, and some I like better pickled. Here are links to a couple recipes you might enjoy:
It’s Elderberry Syrup time! It’s been cold outside for many weeks now, and we’ve been indoors, mingling with family and friends, viruses and bacteria, so now is the time to boost up that immune system to ward off The Crud.
I LOVE taking those berries out of the freezer and inhaling the scent of summer when there is snow and ice outside. As I pour them into the kettle and simmer them with a bit of water, I think about the days I harvested them. One time was at a friend’s house – he had an enormous bush, heavy with berries that he wasn’t going to use this year. I picked over 10 pounds in a short while that day! And I made sure to gift him with some syrup. 😊
Another time I noticed a little shrub growing alongside theroad not far from my house….I’d never seen it there before. It was little, but there were lots of berries on it, and I actually got to them before the birds ate them all.
The fondest memory from this summer, though, is when I picked Elderflowers and then, later, Elderberries with some Good Friends. (You know who you are. 😊 ) I know that these warm memories fuel the healing energy in the syrup simmering away on my stove.
My recipe for Elderberry is SUPER simple. Equal amounts of frozen berries and water – I usually make it in batches with 2 cups of berries, 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and let it simmer for 30 minutes or so. Let it cool a bit, strain out the berries (give ‘em a squeeze so you get as much juice as you can), add honey to taste. That’s it. It’ll keep in the fridge for a few weeks…..but we use it every day, so it never lasts that long. If you wanted to keep it longer, just add some brandy.
Here are links to other Elderberry Syrup recipes you might enjoy, too.
I love this little flower, and it’s a good thing, because it grows ALL OVER my yard and property. It is delicate and beautiful and it makes me happy to look at those sweet blossoms with their heart shaped leaves. And they taste good, too.
The blossoms have sort of a nutty, raw-pea kind of flavor, and the leaves are just nice and mild. I like to chop the leaves and put them in salads and fritters (my current-favorite way of using wild greens, recipe down below). The flowers I’ll leave whole and put on top of salads and dips as an edible decoration. They make a nice presentation when bringing stuff for a pot-luck.
These delicate, innocent-looking little plants grow very robustly, so I’m not worried about over-harvesting at all. They are related to pansies and johnny jump ups, which are also edible flowers. They grow around the edges of buildings and woods, where they get some shade for part of the day, and are happy no matter how much or little rain there is.
Okay, here’s the recipe for my current-favorite way of eating wild greens: Fritters!
1 cup grated fleshy vegetable like sweet potato or zucchini.
1/4 cup flour of choice (I like garbanzo bean flour)
Now here’s the fun part – chop up whatever wild greens you’ve got on hand, throw in about 1/4 cup (more or less, depending on taste) and mix it up good with the other ingredients. Spoon onto a hot griddle with plenty of oil and flatten into a disc shape. Fry until golden, flip and repeat. These are delicious hot off the griddle or cold so they are great to pack in lunch boxes.
A friend recently served me some Mushroom and Brie soup, and it was so delicious I had to try making some. The wild-foraged mushrooms in my freezer were starting to look sad, so I used them all up in this soup: Oysters, Crown Corals and Pheasant Back. I looked up a couple of recipes online, and then made up my own. That’s how it’s done, right?
1/2 cup chopped onion, 1 cup mushrooms – saute in butter, add 1T Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 Cup brandy. Pour a quart of chicken broth over the mixture, add 1 teaspoon dried thyme and a clove of crushed garlic. When the broth gets hot, stick the immersion blender in and blend until it’s as smooth as you like. Then add 8 oz of cubed Brie (I took the rind off) and 1 cup of cream. I stirred and stirred but that Brie never melted all the way through, so I ate it with soft chunks. I kinda liked it that way.
Okay, so my soup wasn’t as good as my friend’s, but I had fun making it and it wasn’t terrible. Plus I’m eating Wild Mushrooms in the winter, so it’s a good day.
Today’s Tea: Fresh White Pine needles and some dried Rose Hips. So simple, so delicious. I picked up a few wind-fallen pine twigs, pulled the needles off and cut them up into a quart jar. Threw a handful of dried Rose Hips in the jar, topped it off with almost-boiling water, capped it to keep those volatile oils in, and steeped it for a couple hours to get as much vitamin C as possible. It’s mild and smooth, and I drink it hot or cold. I noticed when it was cold I could taste more of the tartness of the Rose Hips, but either way it’s refreshing and nourishing.
You can use most Pines and Spruces for teas, with the exception of Yew, Ponderosa Pine, and Norfolk Island Pine. In addition to having lots of Vitamin C, pine needle teas help loosen congestion and are high in antioxidants. Good stuff!
The first time someone asked me about Kombucha (a sort-of-sweet fermented beverage), I thought they were talking about Kimchi (a spicy fermented vegetable mix). It took me a few beats to realize that we were having a conversation about completely different things. I stopped, mid-sentence, and said something like “Wait, what?”.
I’d never heard of it before, and the more my friend told me about it, the more intrigued I was. You put WHAT on top of the tea? SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, and it’s a slimy blob that contains, well, bacteria and yeast. The good kind. The bacteria and yeast eat the sugar in the sweetened tea and convert it to lactic acid, carbon dioxide, vinegar, and a teeny bit of alcohol. The resulting beverage is tangy, sweet and sometimes fizzy. It’s really quite delicious, and I’ve been drinking it off and on for several years now.
One of the reasons people drink this beverage, besides the fact that it tastes good, is because it contains probiotics, those beneficial bacteria like the kind in yogurt. Probiotics line the gut and are essential for our immune system. I’ve been a little suspicious about the amount of sugar in my homebrew, but a little bit of math made me feel better. I start out with 1 cup of sugar in a gallon of tea. Okay, that’s a lot, that’s 4-ish teaspoons of sugar in one cup. But….a good bit of the sugar gets eaten and converted to other, more healthy stuff. In looking at labels on store brands of kombucha, they vary from 4 to 10 grams of sugar per serving (4 grams is one teaspoon). I like mine a bit on the tangy side, so I’m guessing my homebrew is on the low end of that scale. Even so, I don’t drink it every day, and I don’t use it as a “health food”. It’s a treat for once in awhile, and a fun experiment to keep on my kitchen counter.
So, how is this very tasty, sort of healthy-ish trendy beverage made? I’m not going to go into tons of detail here, because so many others have done that pretty darn well. I’ll include some links at the end of this post. I WILL go through the basics, though, and tell you my tweaks.
It’s a pretty simple process: make tea, add sugar (1 cup per gallon), put in a glass container, put SCOBY in the container along with the liquid it came with, cover loosely, start tasting in a few days and drink it when the tangy/sweet flavor tastes good to you. It will keep getting tangier, the longer you let it sit, turning completely into vinegar eventually. You can use the vinegar, too!
If you want to keep the Kombucha going perpetually, there are a few things to keep in mind. The tea needs to be Real Tea, from the plant Camellia sinensis, and the sugar needs to be plain ol’ white sugar from cane or beets. These items give the Kombucha what it needs to keep on going. Or so I’m told. I like to use organic black tea and cane sugar, because that’s kind of the point of making my own stuff, right?
To keep it going, you’ll bottle up your Kombucha when it tastes good to you, leaving at least one cup for the ‘starter’ of the next batch. Make more sweetened tea, add your starter and SCOBY and there you go. I have used one of those beverage containers with the spigot for ease in getting the Kombucha into my cup, but after awhile the plastic spigot started to erode and it grossed me out. I wouldn’t want to use metal, either, thinking the acid in the Kombucha would leach something nasty from that, too. So I just go Old School and use a glass pickle jar. When it comes time to taste or to bottle up, I use a ladle and a funnel. It works just fine.
I usually drink my Kombucha plain, but sometimes I’ll flavor it in a second ferment. Right now I’m getting some elderberry and prickly ash berry simple syrup going, and will add them to a couple bottles to add some punch. I’ll put about a quarter cup of the simple syrup in a flip-top sealing jar, let it sit on the counter for a day or two or three, then I’ll open it up to see if it’s fizzy and check the taste. If all is good, it either goes into the fridge or into my belly. If the fizz and flavor isn’t there yet, it’ll sit on the counter another few days. Along with the crazy assortment of fermenting things already there.
Here are some really informative articles if you want to continue reading about Kombucha. I mean, who wouldn’t?
This one is on a website where you can buy stuff for fermenting. But don’t buy a SCOBY. You can get one for free just by asking around – they multiply, and if someone you know is making Kombucha they WILL have a SCOBY for you.
A great article about Kombucha by the king of fermentation himself, Sandor Katz. I love how he takes the fear out of fermenting.
And lastly, a bit on making flavored Kombucha from the Weston A. Price foundation.
I didn’t grow up eating lacto-fermented foods, and when I first became aware that it was a Thing, I was nervous about it, like many other people. I remember making my first batch of sauerkraut with my own home-grown cabbage, and how absolutely stunned I was when it actually tasted delicious. Not just ‘good’, but DANG good. And it didn’t make anybody sick. That was my biggest concern, and one I hear over and over from people I talk to. So this is what I want to tell you today: Don’t worry about it, you aren’t going to make anyone die from eating your fermented foods.
Sandor Katz, (I think of this guy as being the Bruce Springsteen of the fermentation world) in his book “The Art of Fermentation”, quotes the USDA’s vegetable fermentation specialist Fred Breidt: “There has never been a documented case of foodborne illness from fermented vegetables. Risky is not a word I would use to describe vegetable fermentation.” *
There, doesn’t that make you feel better? It sure made me feel more comfortable about experimenting and expanding my fermentation repertoire!
One new thing I tried this summer and loved is a wild berry kvass. Don’t let the word Kvass scare you off, there is no rye bread or funky smell involved.** It’s simply a naturally carbonated soda, where the carbonation comes from the fermentation process. It is SO simple:
Get yourself some berries. (I used wild blackberries this summer, and I’ve had good success with frozen berries I purchased at the grocery store. I’ve also made it with apple chunks and other fruits as well.)
Take any size jar, and fill it 1/3 full of your berries or fruit.
Top off the jar with water you have sweetened with a bit of sugar – a quarter cup of sugar per quart is a good starting point, and you can adjust that to your taste. I’ve also had success using maple syrup and honey. Although, one time my wild apple kvass that I sweetened with maple syrup turned out thick and, well, syrupy….it was a weird texture violation, so I composted that one.
Cover loosely and let it sit in a warm spot for 3 or 4 days. When you see lots of bubble action, it’s ready to drink! And you can use the berries/fruit at least one more time, for another batch.
This type of ferment has some healthy probiotics from lactic acid production, and it also will have a teeny bit of alcohol. If you were to leave it sit for a longer time, you would get a bit more alcohol content, and if you let it sit for a really long time, it would turn into vinegar. All good!
*This quote is on page 135 of The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Katz. You can also read an interesting article about fermentation safety in this link.
**Often, when someone talks about Kvass, they are talking about the Russian drink made from fermented rye bread.