Harvest season is well underway, and this next chunk of time is perhaps one of the busiest for most farmers. It is also one of my favourite times in the harvest, as it is when the good big cabbages start rolling in, and all other longer season vegetables and fruits start to show up at farmers' markets and stalls, as well as grocery stores. The humble cabbage is, in my opinion, one of the best vegetables out there. It is prized for its ability to ward off scurvy (meaning VITAMIN C rich it be), high in fibre which can mean many things from improving your visits to the bathroom to assisting in lowering cholesterol and facilitating the exit of excess hormones. It is high in glucosinolates which have been shown to be protective against cancers, and they have anti-inflammatory properties to boot. Cabbages are especially good and helpful for stomachs and intestinal linings, so if you have one or both of these, I'd say eating cabbage is a good bet for you.
Now of course there is the question of goitrogens, so if you are currently working with an under-active thyroid, know that the goitrogenic load goes up when cabbage is fermented. Goitrogens interfere with the regular function of your thyroid gland, so for those who need to be mindful, fermented cabbage is like eating a few extra bowls of raw cabbage. Probably not the best idea. But for those with a sluggish digestive tract? This is probably one of the best foods out there for you, my gastro-hindered friend. For me? Well I add extra minerals to the mix and always add some seaweed in order to provide more iodine in my finished ferment. And when you ferment something, you are freeing up more of the vitamins and minerals locked in those raw vegetables. Your cabbage just became a SUPERFOOD before your very eyes, my friend.
We picked some cabbage up from the fine folks at Blue Mountain Biodynamic Farms at the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Centre's Farmers' Market today, the first ones of the season. Hurrah! Blue Mountain is one of my favourite local producers: I have had the good fortune of accompanying my daughter's class on a field trip out to their farm a year and a half ago, and have been a regular consumer of their vegetables and eggs over the years. Check them out at the links above, and support local! (Thanks Tamara and Kris!)
I decided to make a short-ferment kraut with these little guys, as they were the first of the season, and seconds I suppose you could say. I am keeping the big Savoy we brought home for some cabbage rolls this week… I chopped the little heads all into ribbons, and threw them in a big bowl (pictured above). To this roughly 10 cups of chopped cabbage, I added a tablespoon and a half of sea salt. (You must use sea salt here, not table salt as there are anti-caking agents in the table salt that will halt your ferment and allow it to spoil.) Then I got to work, mashing the whole thing together with my hands and crunching the cabbage ribbons, drawing the water out of them so that after about 10 minutes of mashing, there was a good amount of liquid at the bottom of my bowl, and the ribbons had reduced by about half the volume.
Incidentally, to this cabbage amount you can add any other fruit or vegetable you think would taste delicious: a chopped apple or two, a few shredded carrots or radishes, maybe grated beets or thinly sliced fennel; play with your food!
When it comes to adding flavours, you can keep it simple or experiment. A good basic start is to go for 1-2 tsp of caraway seeds added to the cabbage. But you can certainly play it up! I made another batch earlier today as part of a demonstration I was leading at the Grand Opening for the clinic where I work, Renewal Homeopathy & Wellness. That one was two fuji apples, half a head of red cabbage (which when combined, gave me about 10 cups) and 1 1/2 tbsp of sea salt, along with 1 tsp of curry powder. Here is the red one:
I have done some interesting mixtures: a few tsps of fresh dill, along with seaweed; some fresh garlic cloves along with some chipotle peppers; juniper berries with red cabbage; a batch with ginger, turmeric, radishes, beets, cabbage; the traditional Cortido, a South American sauerkraut calls for cabbage, onions, carrots and oregano. Truly, this is one place you can really play with your food.
In this evening's ferment, I decided to flavour this batch up a bit differently, and went with fenugreek, as it lives on my shelf but I don't use it all that often. I added 2 tsp fenugreek, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp of shredded seaweed and two dried chipotle peppers. Once you have all of your ingredients mixed in, start filling a clean, dry glass jar up with the mixture, really packing it in in order to get rid of the oxygen between layers. I use a mint muddler to jam it in the jar, but you can use the back of a wooden spoon or a small pounder if you got it. You will be leaving an inch and a half below the neck of the jar: this added space at the top will allow the kraut to expand as it ferments. It is imperative here to make sure your cabbage is completely submerged in the brine that has come out during your mashing stage. The brine creates that anaerobic environment that is necessary for proper fermentation to take place; if you find your cabbage isn't completely submerged, you can tuck a leaf of cabbage on top as the 'lid' to the ferment; you can also make sure that you tip your jar upside-down at least once a day to redistribute the cabbage back into the juices. As the fermentation process continues, the oxygen in the jar will eventually get crowded out by the carbon dioxide produced by the good bugs, rendering it anaerobic.
Put your lid on tight at this point, and you can tuck it in your pantry or in a warm room away from direct light from the sun. You can leave it to ferment anywhere from 3 days to a few months, depending on your taste buds. The longer it ferments, the more sour it gets, the less salty it becomes.
Once a day, you will be very quickly 'burping' your jar to let those accumulated gases escape by unscrewing the lid just briefly, and tightening it right up. It will be quite active those first few weeks on the counter, slowing down the gas buildup along the way. When the kraut has fermented to your liking, you may now tuck it in the fridge where it will keep for months, slowly developing more sour notes as time goes on.
If you want more support for your fermentation forays, there are plenty of online tutorials that could be of service; you should also know that I lead fermenting workshops in Calgary and sometimes give presentations and demonstrations on the benefits of fermenting. Make sure you sign up for my newsletter to get the ongoing details! If you're in and around southern Alberta, know that there is a Fermentation Festival taking place mid-October in which I will be participating, including leading a workshop at the Light Cellar in how to make beet kvass following the weekend festival. Make your way to The Light Cellar's page to get the full info on the fermentation festival; the inimitable Sandor Katz will be speaking on the benefits and cultural aspects of fermentation. I will be the gleeful and shy person standing in the corner with my apron on, working one of the booths at the festival. Hope to see you there!
Now go play with your food!