I started fermenting vegetables when I found that my son couldn’t tolerate either of the SCD-legal probiotics. It’s a fairly easy and relatively inexpensive way to get some good bacteria in, with the added bonus of tasty (and very healthy) food.
The actual term for fermenting is lacto-fermentation. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that resists any putrefying bacteria. Lactobacilli are present on the surfaces of vegetables and fruits, and lacto-fermentation is the process by which the starches and sugars in these vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid.
Fermented foods are eaten in every culture- kimchi, for example, in Korea, pickled plums or ginger in Japan, yogurt, cheeses, and sauerkraut in many different cultures. Traditionally, fermented foods were developed as a way to both preserve food and also because people discovered that eating them kept them healthy.
Basic sauerkraut recipe:
1 head of organic cabbage (green is milder-tasting, red a bit stronger)
2 Tbsp sea salt
Shred cabbage in a food processer, or slice thinly. Dump it in a large bowl, add salt, and pound and knead it together until you get a LOT of juice (working on the kitchen table is easiest, so that you can use your body weight just like you might when you're kneading dough).
Knead for about 15 min. or so. You might use something to pound a little, too- a really clean meat tenderizer, or a kitchen mallet. Your goal is to get the veggies to release as many of their juices as you can.
Veggies ferment when submerged in their own juice. So.... dump it all in a glass or crockery (not metal) bowl, put a plate or saucer (something that can fit inside the bowl) on top of the veggies & push down so that they're submerged in the juice. If you need to add a little filtered water, you can. There should be AT LEAST 1 inch between the juice and the top of your bowl (the stuff expands a bit) weigh the plate down with something heavy (I use a glass pitcher filled with stones, actually), and cover it all with a dish towel & let it sit somewhere in the house at room temp (somewhere around 75 degrees Farenheit) for about 4-5 days.
A little whitish or spotty foam may develop on the top... this is natural, just skim it off.
Fermenting longer makes for a stronger flavor, shorter a milder one.
Fermented veggies have a very strong smell (and taste). Trust your sense of smell, though- if something smells spoiled, it is. Throw it out. Your veggies should naturally change in color, but only slightly- if anything blackens, it’s gone bad. Throw it out, and change plans- if the weather is too hot, for example, you may have to let your veggies culture in a cooler basement.
As you get more comfortable with fermenting, you can add whatever you like to this recipe. A bunch of dill is yummy, or a few cloves of garlic. Just chop or shred them with your cabbage & go from there.
A few musts:
* It’s very important to use organic vegetables, when you can. Conventionally raised produce has been sprayed with chemicals that often greatly reduce the number of live bacteria on the vegetables you’re using.
* Sea salt or kosher salt is a must. Table salt (or iodized salt) has iodine in it, which kills the live bacteria you’re trying to encourage.
* Temperature plays a big part, too. The median temp for culturing veggies is around 75 degrees... you can culture them for longer if the weather is cooler, and shorter if it's warmer. Fermentation won't take place if the temp is below 55 degrees or above 76 (or so) degrees (all of the above degrees are Farenheit).
* 2 Tbsp/ batch of veggies is a general rule of thumb. A “batch” usually gets me about 2 quarts, roughly, of finished food.
You can store your veggies in the warmest spot in the fridge you can find, and they’ll last for weeks.
You can use different vessels, too- some people use Mason jars, I’ve also used nesting bowls… there are special fermenting crocks that are sold, but I’ve never used one. (Plus, they’re expensive!)
A few more recipes:
Ginger Carrots (from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon)
4 C of shredded carrots (god bless the food processor)
1or 2 Tbsp fresh peeled, grated ginger
about 2 Tbsp sea salt
follow veggie preparations above, and let culture about 3 days.
This is a very mild-tasting recipe, and the carrots are sweet and delicious- it’s a good starter recipe for kids.
Beets, Kale, and Ginger (recipe from a fellow Pecanbreader)
4 or 5 large beets, peeled and shredded
2-4 Tbsp fresh peeled, grated ginger (depends on how gingery you’d like it)
Small bunch (8-9 leaves) of lacinato kale (aka dinosaur kale)
About 2 Tbsp sea salt
Follow veggie preparations above, and let culture about 5 days.
Delicious, a little spicy, the beets are great for detox, and there’s a lot of available calcium in the kale.
5 pickling cucumbers
Sm. Bunch of dill
1-2 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 ½ Tbsp sea salt
Wash cucumbers, slice if you like, and place in a Mason jar(s). Stir together remaining ingredients, & add to cucumbers. Add more water, if necessary- cucumbers should be covered, but there should be an inch of space between the top of the water and the top of the jar. Cover tightly, and let ferment 3 or 4 days.
I hope this is clear. There are plenty of other online resources, as well as books, etc. available should you need them or want to do further reading.