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What's that Smell: August '20

It's tomato season! And if you haven't already, now is the time to be really overwhelmed by your vegetable gardens. Tomatoes are a doozy, turn your back on them and they'll become a moldy, fruit fly covered pile of goop! That's why in our consistently 90° summer right now vinegar-making is an excellent tool for your arsenal. The recipe below will you talk you through making vinegar with any quality tomato, but can be used almost universally on anything you have lying around.
This month's microbe is a bacteria that creates rain, which could be helpful in this hot, dry summer to keep your cilantro from bolting. But even if it does, read below for a great idea on taking advantage of that moment too.
We'll be featuring peppers next so submit your pepper ferments for us to share, along with any other seasonal favorites you might have! Send to: fermentpittsburgh@gmail.com
Happy Fermenting!
Cornelius
vingar is great
Tomato Vinegar
Making vinegar is such a sinch. The process of getting to vinegar is simply: start with a sugary liquid, let the sugars ferment into alcohol from our friendly local wild yeast, and then with continued exposure to air the alcohol will be eaten up by acetobacter to make vinegar. Boom! Even quicker overview: leave crushed fruit in a container exposed to air until it tastes like vinegar. So easy!
This will work great for your damaged fruit, even if it's hosting a fly and mold party if you wish- as neither will survive in the ultimate high-acid environment.
That's the easy explaination. Now to dive a little deeper, let's look into sugar's influence on our vinegar's strength.
Generally the percent acidity is the same as percent alcohol, so 5% alcohol makes about 5% acidity (which is the levels we usually buy from the store.) Since the sugars present will ferment into alcohol, the amount of sugar will directly affect our final strength of acidity. I use a hydrometer I bought for $20 that measures sugar in liquid through Brix. 1° Brix is about 0.5% alcohol. Additionally my napkin math says that 12g of sugar per a quart of liquid equals 1 brix, so 24 grams equals 1% alcohol. That estimate can be handy if you wish to bulk up the potency of your vinegar, or if you want to make vinegar from something that doesn't really have any sugar to offer, such as celery (make your sugary liquid to your prefered strength and add your celery.)
I crushed my overripe heirloom tomatoes and got a reading of 6 Brix. If I ferment until all bubbling activity has ceased (0 Brix) I'll get a 3% alcohol tomato "wine." So that'll be a 3% vinegar. That's not too bad, and I can assume even if you don't measure, if you're using ripe tomatoes you'll get something similar. If I wanted to shoot for 5% acidity I could just add 48 grams of sugar to my quart of mashed tomatoes to get that additional 2% more.
Process
1. Cut up and crush tomatoes into a container safe for fermentation. Add additional sugar if you're into the idea. (24 grams sugar= 1% alcohol)
2. Cover with something breathable such as a cloth.
3. Give it a stir once a day as you remember to. The tomato solids will float to the top and it's a good idea to break those up periodically. Perhaps when fermentation slows some kahm yeast (whitish surface stuff) will colonize, but don't worry much about that.
4. Listen for the bubbling activity to completely cease. This could be 1, 2, maybe even 3 weeks depending on original sugar content and ambient temperature. Hotter temps go faster! This is the easiest indicator that you"ve reached maximum alcohol, and that you've made tomato wine! Now let's strain out the solids and return the liquid back to continue its fermentation.
5. Watch it carefully by periodically tasting. The magic transformation into vinegar comes suddenly though not always predictably. We're at the whim of the native acetobacter. It could take a few weeks or longer, or shorter.
6. Once you've reached vinegar move it into an airtight container. Leaving it open to air will actually allow the acidity to waft away.
Fermented Fresh Coriander
We received this recipe suggestion from Jake C for a great idea of your what to do with your bolted cilantro:
"I was planning on harvesting the dried coriander seeds from my plants as they dried, but as I was looking at the green, fresh seeds, I thought of caper berries and said...why not! They got super active in about 3 days, it was about a 3% salt brine. 
They have a bright citrus note of lemon, and an aroma of really strong cilantro, but that goes away as soon as you eat them. Great on tacos, salads, smoked salmon, basically almost any way you would use capers.
The small jar was just salt and seeds, they have that deep olive color, and are much stronger. Since this is around the time that cilantro is going to seed, I figured I would share! Happy fermenting!"
Thanks Jake!
Microbe of the Month: Pseudomonas syringae
P. syringae is a bacteria well-known as a plant pathogen, creating much disruption over the years to tomato plants, chestnut trees, and more. While researchers usually focus on a how a microbe directly affects our daily lives, like as an agricultural pathogen, diving deeper into this bacteria's life cycle revealed that it wafts up to the clouds and actually creates rain and snow.
Precipitation is caused by the either the collection of water or the formation of ice crystals in the clouds that grow larger and heavier until they drop. A fascinating detail about water's freezing point is that ultra pure water actually freezes at -40°F, and that certain bacteria known as Ice-Nucleation Active Bacteria give water its higher freezing point. This is done by a unique protein they carry on their surfaces. On the ground this bacteria can cause frost damage to plants even when it's a few degrees warmer than a frost is usually created. However, up in the clouds these bacteria are rapidly forming ice crystals, and thus precipitation.
The research on this is still relatively new but one theory is that this bioprecipitation is the bacteria's incredibly innovative method of dispersal. Either way it also begins to paint a picture of how what's growing below can influence annual rainfall. For instance, a crop infested with P. syringae may cause more rain overhead and conversely something like overgrazing could potentially lead to a drier year. While P. syringae is not the only Ice-Nucleation Active Baceteria, it is the most common. Studies are being made inregards to strains that are benign to plants so that perhaps one day a field innoculation could in turn increase precipitation in areas desperately in need. Who knew?
Best of City Paper?
To be honest we're not that into lists, or bests, well other than just trying to be the best version of ourselves, which requires no outside voting. Anyway, the City Paper has done some nice write ups on us in the past so if you feel so inclined to generate some "clicks" for them, head on over to their Best of Pittsburgh voting and vote for your favorite food-based festival, among other things, of which we were kindly nominated for.
Fermented Grape Leaves
Most sources I've found recommend picking grape leaves in the spring as they are said to be most tender. But I've found that these abundant vines keep putting out new leaves all season long as they sprawl out, so I decided to pick the young growth as it unfolds all year.
Most recipes I've read for stuffed grape leaves call for the fresh leaves to be poached first, but I'm fermenting them in a 3% salt brine instead and topping off the same jar continously as I pick.
I recommend planting a vine of your own for its endless supply of leaves alone (I planted the Italian Nebbiolo known well for its vigorous growth), but you can also head into the woods. Any well managed forest won't have any wild grape vines (like Frick park) as they can be a nuisance to the healthy growth of the woods. I was recently at Cayahoga National Park and saw endless vines everywhere. Surely a plentiful harvest isn't a bad thing, and perhaps you can take a cutting home to propogate for your garden.
Come fall and winter I look forward to rolling them up for some nourishing dolmas.

 
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