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What's That Smell: Sauerkraut & Kimchi Edition

It's sauerkraut and kimchi season! In this email we have the basics for making kimchi and sauerkraut, with some fun possible variations. In the spirit of Halloween this month's microbe is so scary it might make your arms fall off. I hope you enjoy!

In addition to cabbage, we've been busy cracking away at many other projects. We recently made a trip to Virginia to pick wine grapes. We are making wine this year with the Norton grape, which is a grape native to Virginia that can produce a high quality wine, a rarity to North America. It's interesting to note that according to the book The Wild Vine (which is about Nortons), Thomas Jefferson spent a great deal of his life trying to discover or develop a native grape with outstanding wine qualities, only to ultimately fail. The Norton was discovered after TJ's death and ended up winning a gold at the 1873 Vienna World Exposition. There was excitement that the United States would soon rival the great European wines until prohibition put a cork in that and the Norton became forgotten.
We are doing ours in a natural style, which means using native yeast present on the grapes themselves and adding no chemical additives.

We also did our annual harvest and press of sorghum. In our search for a local homegrown sugar we really fell in love with sorghum. It's fun to grow and even funner to press. We use a sugar cane press to extract the juices, which then gets boiled down to the thickness of molasses. However a carboy amount of straight pressed juice gets set aside to ferment into sorghum wine. Nick from Grow Pittsburgh handed out seeds at least year's Fermentation Festival and offered his press to anyone who grew it. It seems there were some takers. If you're interested in growing it this next year reach out to GrowPgh. Your pancakes will thank you.

With refreshing timing Sandor Katz, the leading revivalist of wild fermentation, has released a new book titled "Fermentation as Metaphor." It's a beautifully written book with Sandor using his experiences with fermentation to wax philosophically on our modern and current situation. I found it worthwhile and enjoyable and loved the pictures of ferments through an electron scanning microscope. Kudos to Sandor for continuing on with his original message, especially as Chef culture is pulling fermenting into some weird directions.

Sauerkraut

Kraut is easily the number one food I eat in the winter. Since now is the time for our local green cabbage I make a huge batch annually to use with almost every meal. I absolutely adore a long slow simmered sauerkraut with a chopped onion from the cellar during winter's cold dark days. I make mine in 5 gallon buckets and if you were interested im doing the same, Home Depot and Lowes sell a white food grade 5 gallon bucket and lid in their paint section. I know food grade plastic is less than ideal but my house in an urban row stays surprisingly mild. So I found the buckets with snap lids to beautifully safeguard the kraut from getting too gnarly, being a fly residence, and keeping the smell from filling the house. The 5 gallon size also accomidates 50# of green cabbage perfectly.
I do really enjoy the creative whim that can go into a sauerkraut with spices, herbs, fruit, and different vegetables. I hope your creativity can be your guide whether you are making a pint, a quart, or more.
For sourcing your cabbage and other assorted veggies, if you're making a large enough batch that you'd likely sell out the farm stand, give the farm a call ahead of time and ask for a bulk order. If they have it they'll likely be happy to accomidate.

Process
1. Peel off any weird outer leaves from your green cabbage.
2. Cut the cabbage in half to remove the core, then proceed to slice into ribbons or whatever shape you'd like.
3. Mix with salt, let's say 1&1/2- 2tsp per a pound of cabbage, but salt to whatever is your taste preference. Then massage, pound, stomp, or club your cabbage until its giving up its water.
4. Pack cabbage and its brine into your fermenting vessel of choice so that it's submerged. Be careful not to overfill as it will rise and possibly spill over. 
5. Either affix a lid or place a weighted cover to keep the cabbage under the brine and the bugs out.
6. Ferment at room temperature. Taste it as it goes along and learn what you like. You can leave it out indefinitely or eventually move it into the fridge.

Variations
•Add seasonings and fruits and vegetables. Apples and caraway is a fun one. An El Salvadorian spin uses carrots, onions, and oregano.
•Ferment whole cabbage heads. Peel the cabbage heads down to the best leaves and submerge in a bucket with a 3% salt brine. The leaves can be used as rolls for your favorite stuffed cabbage recipes.

 

Kimchi

With kimchi there seems to be as many ways of making it as there are people who make it. I remember one time a friend was buying kimchi peppers from a Korean market and the cashier asked him what he was making. He said "kimchi" and she immediately told him he was making it wrong. I think making it wrong is always worth leaning into, that way we are free to make it our own way because we're already outside the rules, so we might as well stay there. I like letting whatever I have from the garden dictate how the kimchi gets made.
Kimchi is essentially three parts: 1. Napa cabbage, 2. Sliced vegetables which can include radishes, carrots, other roots, and scallions, and 3. Hot pepper paste. The hot pepper paste is generally a puree of ginger, garlic, and hot pepper. You can make your own or buy gochujong at a store that might sell it. You can find it in a few places in the Strip District, though it's hard to find any without corn syrup. There is also the tradition of adding a shrimp or anchovy paste. Up to your tastes, but not a requirement.
While there are more involved kimchi recipes that employ a cabbage pre-soak and adding rice flour to your paste, I'm going to lay out a super easy process below. If you wish to go for it a little more just look up some of those recipes. But I do hope you get playful with what sliced veggies you add, beets make a beautiful color, and fruit adds sweetness, etc.

Process
1. Peel off any weird outer leaves from your cabbage. (Some of this will be familiar from above.)
2. Cut the napa cabbage in half to remove the core, then proceed to slice into 1.5" strips or whatever shape you'd like.
3. Mix with salt, let's say 2- 2&1/2 tsp per a pound of cabbage, but salt to whatever is your taste preference. Then gently massage your cabbage until its giving up its water.
4. Meanwhile for each napa head, take 1/4 cup (or your preference) or kimchi pepper flakes or pepper flakes of your choice, 1-2 cloves of garlic, and an inch nob of ginger. Puree together adding some of the cabbage water if necessary to get a paste consistency.
5. Now slice up your assorted vegetables such as any radish, onions, carrots, beets, brussel sprouts, broccoli, scallions, and on and on. Maybe one or two per a napa head.
6. Mix together the cabbage, the paste, and the other vegetables. Give it a taste and adjust salt and other seasoning as needed. 
7. Pack the whole mixture into your fermenting vessel of choice so that it's submerged beneath the brine. Be careful not to overfill as it will rise and possibly spill over. 
8. Either affix a lid or place a weighted cover to keep the cabbage under the brine and the bugs out.
9. Ferment at room temperature. Taste it as it goes along and learn what you like. You can leave it out indefinitely or eventually move it into the fridge.

Fermented Roots

Not all kimchi has to have cabbage as a base. In some cases cucumbers, radishes, turnips or others can be sliced, diced, or grated and finished the same way as above. Tis the season for radishes and turnips, as well as carrots and beets. Here are some ideas to ferment roots:
Kkakdugi- radishes are cubed, salted, and tossed in hot pepper paste.
Sauerruben- grated turnips, salted and fermented.
Beet and Carrot Slaw- grated and salted beets and carrots. I also love adding a squeeze of orange or some ginger to cut through the earthiness.

Microbe of the Month: Ergot

In recognition of the Halloween season this month's microbe is a fungus that makes your arms fall off, what could be scarier?!
Ergot, is a fungus that enjoys inhabiting rye, but can also colonize on other grains. It colonizes on the flowering part of the grain head and grows into a wonderfully menacing horn like potuberance that could, and had been for a long enough time, just thought to be a weird looking grain seed.
There are many scary tales to tell about ergot as it has a history as long as the human consupmtion of rye. Ergot infection in humans can cause violent burning, hallucinations, and mania, or the loss of limbs due to restricted blood circulation. In the middle ages ergotism was rampant as rye really took hold as a reliable food source in cooler and wetter environments. A monk later sainted into Saint Anthony was attributed with successful treament of ergotism. I mention this just so I can tell you that when medical care centers were made later by the Order of Saint Anthony, people would leave their lost limbs at his shrine. Wild. Also interestingly enough the Order of Saint Anthony didn't have rye in their normal diets which may or may not have contributed to their decent record with treatment. It wasn't until 1853 that ergotism became attributed to grain infection.
Yet long before that many households were using a light ergot tea during childbirth to bring on contractions and reduce bleeding, and then later on, the mania part of ergot became the foundation for the drug LSD.

Share with us how you are fermenting with the seasons at fermentpittsburgh@gmail.com

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