Over the centuries, humans have tested the boundaries of what can be fermented. We’ve done it long enough that you can ferment yourself at home with things around the house or with exclusive fermenter kits. Fermentation, the action of various microbes on their respective hosts, brings us the glorious gifts of beer, yogurt, bread, cheese, kimchi and sauerkraut. These are the products of fermentation most of us know and love. But what about all the other ones we are unfamiliar with?
What of cacao? The lengthy chocolate process begins by storing harvested pods in a “sweat box” for several days to develop a robust yeast colony which creates heat, eliminates tannins, and produces acids that are essential to the flavor profile of a high-quality chocolate bar. Ever think of sausage as being alive with microbes? Traditional sausages are safe to eat only because the meat is inhabited by acid producing microbes who prevent pathogen growth. A coating of white mold on the outside of a casing is all part of the time-honored method—not a mistake.
Today I shall share two ferments probably unknown to you, but not weird enough to make anyone question your sanity. The following recipes are perfectly suitable for the Trellis Jar Fermenter Kit.
First off: Fruit Kimchi. Yes, kimchi as in the beloved Korean spicy cabbage dish. The same process and ingredients can be applied to fruits with fantastic and delicious results. Who was the first person to look at bowl of fruit and decide to ferment it with salt? Perhaps Sandor Katz (his first book Wild Fermentation is where I read about fruit kimchi for what it’s worth) and perhaps many people over the centuries.
To make any kind of fruit into something inspired by kimchi, begin by cutting everything into bite-sized chunks. Grapes and small berries should be left whole. Add anywhere from a small pinch to a whole teaspoon of salt, fresh or dried ginger, and chili flakes, to taste. Mix in a bowl, like a fruit salad. Transfer the mixture to an appropriately sized mason jar, smash it down with a Helix Pickle spring, and top with an airlock lid. Remember that soft fruits will become a jam-like sauce, while firmer fruits will retain their crunch. A combination of both is pleasant as the saucy fruits will coat the crunchier ones. Something more like a slightly salty and carbonated jam is achieved by using only soft fruits (perfect for an oatmeal or ice-cream topping). This ferment has a quick turnaround time, so be sure to taste it every day. When it gets “good” — as in mildly alcoholic and carbonated, put it in the refrigerator and eat it quickly! You’ll have a chunky kind of hooch on your hands if it ferments too long.
My second treasure to share is a bean ferment that is a staple in my kitchen and requires no purchased microbes. Beans are the focus of many different fermentation methods. You are probably familiar with miso, a paste made from beans and/or grains inoculated with the koji culture. Koji is a salt tolerant fungus rather than a bacteria, and it produces enzymes that devour proteins in the legumes and grains in which it inhabits. Both ferments require the introduction of quite specific microbes for success, and the company Cultures for Health is a wonderful resource for these and many other cultures.
The second ferment is as follows: I call them Sour Beans and making them is easy. Soak dry beans for eight hours then cook in generously salted water until just tender. Pour into a mason jar, including enough of the cooking liquid to completely cover, and leaving two inches of space at the top. Add another two teaspoons of salt to each quart of beans, and dried herbs if desired. Press them down with a Helix Pickle spring and top with an airlock lid. If you have a bit of juice from a previous ferment, add a splash or two. Store in a room temperature place for about a week or until bubbles are visible in the liquid. Gradually the beans will develop a rich sour flavor, eventually reaching a point where a bowlful would be daunting, but a spoonful adds bright notes to a salad or omelet.
Fermentation is both accessible and mysterious. There is a rabbit hole of reading to be done on the topic, and there are combinations of foods and techniques yet to be invented. Only those of us willing to just try it can discover brave new microbial worlds. Rather than relying on recipes (some purposefully vague ones are hidden in the blog this time around), I encourage readers to try adding salt, water, and time to their favorite foods. Trust your senses - you will know when something should be tasted and when it must be discarded. Experiment with different amounts of salt and seasoning and see how varying the temperature can change the outcome of a ferment (as simple as making something in the winter and again in the summer). The only thing to lose is perhaps a bit of produce, and the only thing to be gained may well be the next national delicacy or bestselling food product.