To ferment or not to ferment?

10 Mar

Here’s the thing: I love beer. I love wine. Fermented beverages such as these have a special place in my heart (and my liver). So when fermented food started popping up on my radar in the last few years, I decided to have an open mind. Fermented foods aren’t even that far outside the mainstream of American food culture, if you consider the popularity of pickled cucumbers.

However, I don’t actually love the flavor of pickles and other veggies fermented in vinegar, so I decided to give the recipes in Nourishing Traditions that use water, salt and whey to ferment food a try. I started basic, with cabbage and carrots.


I used a cabbage, 1 tbs salt, 1 tbs caraway seeds, and 4 tbs whey (yes, I made my own whey, which is probably the most out there hippie thing I’ve done in a while but I kind of love it and I’ll get to why in an upcoming post).

Ginger Carrots

For these I used a big bag of carrots, 1 tbs fresh ginger, 1 tbs sea salt, and 4 tbs whey.

The process is pretty simple. You chop up the veggie (I grated the carrots), mix it with the other ingredients and then pound the heck out of it until it releases juice. A great arm work out! Then you pack it down tight tight tight in the jar, cover it, and leave it on the counter for a few days.

Guess what? When you ferment food it bubbles just like beer does during fermentation! Amazing.

After a few days at room temperature, it goes in the fridge. I gotta tell you, the cabbage smelled pretty gross to me at this point. I wondered if maybe something had gone wrong? I left both jars in the fridge for a week and after that the cabbage returned to smelling normal. It tastes like sauerkraut. The ginger carrots have a more complex flavor. Both are clearly best as condiments. I ate the ginger carrots with left over beer bourguignon and the combination was fantastic.

Am I sold on fermenting my own veggies? Not really. I like both of them just fine, but my life is not changed by them in the way it was by my now beloved homemade almond milk or even the whey (I’ll get to it, I promise). Maybe someday when I fulfill my dream of having my own garden and I have surplus veggies to deal with. But for now, as an apartment dweller who buys her fresh produce on an as-needed basis, I am not so convinced I should be going out of my way to ferment my food.

This reveals a personal quirk of my own food philosophy, which is that I’m only really willing to go to the extra trouble if I perceive it to be “worth it” or if a commercially produced alternative is not available or far inferior. For instance, I am all about making my own pie crust because there is just something so satisfying and irreplaceable about a flaky, homemade crust. But I am also a big supporter of farms and ranches using humane husbandry practices because I would like to continue to enjoy a nice steak now and then, but goodness knows I am not interested in raising, slaughtering, and processing my own cattle.

I’ll continue trying out food experiments like fermentation, and even returning to them if my life circumstances suggest I give something another chance, but in the end not all of them are going to speak to me or become regular projects in my kitchen. For now, in terms of fermentation, my heart still belongs to adult beverages.


3 Responses to “To ferment or not to ferment?”

  1. Destiny March 11, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    First comment, holla!

    Can you please try pickled red onions? I don’t really like onions served in most ways, but pickled red ones are AMAZING. Also, I now have linked to you from my blog, so I hope to encourage other people to find you. Also, I have an old acquaintance from high school whom I think you would love (her blog is Something for Sunday – also linked now on my blog). Also, yay for a new blog. I’m confident that this one will hold your attention, which is good for those of us hungry (haha) to learn about some of things you’re up to.

  2. Lauren March 16, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    my family always had “pickled cucumbers and onions” in the summer since everyone had a garden. it wasn’t exactly like pickles, though. as i remember, it was more like cucumber slices and onion slices soaked in sugared vinegar and kept in the fridge. i will ask my mother for the recipe and give it a try.

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