Fermentation Cooking Class at iW

Inn at Weathersfield
Perkinsville, VT
Saturday, January 7, 2017

It's time to massage the cabbage." A phrase you don't expect to ever hear but if you are making a Sauerkraut or Kimchi, massage you do. On a cold Saturday morning in January, I'm in a warm space filled with colorful vegetables and some wonderfully curious people. We've all come together at the Hidden Kitchen, the cooking school associated with the Inn at Weathersfield on Route 106 in the village of Perkinsville.

Today's lesson is fermenting vegetables. "How many of you ended up composting some of your garden vegetables this fall?" asks Caitlin Elberson, one half of the Sobremesa team, down from Marshfield Vermont to instruct us in this ancient tradition of storing food using salt. She and her husband Jason started Sobremesa in 2014, Sobremesa translates literally from Spanish meaning "over the table," the more meaningful translation is that time spent after a meal, hanging out with family or friends, chatting and enjoying each other's company.

Our first lesson is how fermenting differs from pickling. To get technical, fermented foods go through a process of lactofermentation where natural bacteria, lactobacilli, feed on the sugars and starches in the food creating lactic acid. "You create a beneficial environment so that the bacteria can grow," explains Jason. The food is preserved and contains beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids and strains of probiotics. Fermentation differs from "pickling", which is a method that uses vinegar (acetic acid) to preserve the food. It also is unlike canning where heat is used to "sterilize." Fermented vegetables are raw vegetables so they retain more nutrients.

Caitlin and Jason met in Philadelphia and discovered they each were looking for more than the city could offer them. They packed a truck and headed to Vermont. After spending six months at the University of Vermont's 6-month Farmer Training Program, they worked at an organic grass based dairy and beef farm in Fairfield, Vermont. They found their own farm on Craigslist and settled at Wild Rhythms Farm, a 7.5 acre homestead where they grow vegetables and herbs; fruits and berries; sheep and chickens; guinea fowl and ducks and are living on this farm sustainably.

Their desire to have local food year round lead them to discover fermenting as a method for food storage. "You can have a bad ferment" says Jason but you can use your senses and "go with your gut" Caitlin adds to check your ferments to see if they have gone bad. When checking on your mason jars look, smell, taste, to make sure your ferment is coming along well. If done properly, the lactobacilli will grow so well that bad mold and other things you don't want growing won't be able to survive.

The first ferment we set up is Lemon Dill Garlic Kraut. This is where massaging the cabbage comes in. After shredding the cabbage, you add lemon juice, zest, salt, dill and garlic and "massage" the cabbage and watch for the brine to start forming. The cabbage gets moved to a mason jar and packed in tightly. An outer leaf from the cabbage is used to cover the cabbage in the jar to keep out air. The jars will be stored at 62-75 degrees F for 21-28 days. They will be watched for bubbling and "burped" to release the gas. The ferment gets tasted each week to find a "sour" that works for you, then the jar gets moved to the refrigerator to stop the ferment and can be stored there for up to 12 months. If a dark or black mold appears, compost that jar of sauerkraut; white mold can be scraped off and you can still enjoy the kraut.

Our next recipe is Pickled Carrots. Caitlin and Jason have provided the group with a colorful array of carrots to be chopped and placed in mason jars with herbs and garlic. Jason mixes up a "brine" at 3% salinity or 1 tbsp salt to 1 pint of un-chlorinated water to be added to the quart jar of chopped carrots. These ferment for 7-14 days at 62-75 degrees F. These jars will also last in the refrigerator up to 12 months.

Our final ferment is Beet Kvass. Kvass is a traditional Slavic and Baltic fermented beverage made from black or regular rye bread. In this class, beets will be used. After chopping the beets, adding some fresh rosemary and a little salt to a mason jar a 1% brine is added. "Sometimes adding a little 'starter' (from a previous batch) helps get the ferment going" Jason tells us. This ferment gets shaken daily and burped to release the pressure for 7-14 days at a higher temperature, ideally over 70 degrees F. When your daily sampling tastes right for your taste preferences, you pour the beets into a strainer and collect the liquid.

We line up the jar and everyone smiles. The counter is filled with a rainbow of colors tailored made to cheer us up on this cold winter day.

Three more classes are being held at the Hidden Kitchen Jan. 28: Winterize Your Body Through Food with Ayurvedia instructor Lini Mazumdar of Anjali Farms in Londonderry, VT, Feb. 11: Winter Stews and Soups with Molly Stevens, and March 4: Learn to Batch Cook For Two with Chef Michael Ehlenfeldt. Sign up quickly, these classes are small and always sell out.

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