If that's not an off-putting remark, I don't know what is... And coming from my gourmet-conscious youngest daughter who has VERY strong opinions about most things, it was a killer. And it was about my first ever batch of sauerkraut. You can then say that my first foray into making fermented vegetables was anything but bubbly - and it was certainly not received well by my brood. And to be fair, sauerkraut does smell in the making. I have heard it being described as anything from old socks to stagnant pond water. So how have I come so far from such inauspicious beginnings? Thereby hangs a tale or two and it involves the King of Kraut, Sandor Katz at some point, but let's just say, ferments have become an integral part of my life and my kitchen. They are so captivating, exuberant and life-changing, I had to share them! And this is how a week ago I found myself together with a bunch of enthusiasts running my first fundraising fermenting workshop at Tablehurst Farm in Forest Row. I'll talk about the magical place that is Tablehurst in another blog post. This post is dedicated to you all who came and joined me in creating some magic on that mild, sunny afternoon at the end of September. I'd like to thank you for your great humour, banter and effervescence and hope you have taken away, alongside your lovely new ferments, some inspiration! Some basics:
Arm yourself with the best, sharpest knife you can afford. I love my Sabatiers and my basic Kitchen Devils knife sharpener
A vegetable mandolin is also a must. Despite my oh-so-handsome, drool-worthy Heston Blumenthal food processor, I'm firmly enamoured by my basic mandolin. One word of caution: flesh, blood and nails are NOT an integral part of your ferments and maiming yourself is certainly no rights of passage into the bubbling world. So please be ever so careful with your cutting and grating instruments!!
Stout fermenting vessels are worth their weight in gold. Avoid being lured by cheap glass - it can explode and hurt you and make a mess of your kitchen. I can think of very few more soul-destroying things than scraping smelly sauerkraut gracelessly dripping from your ceiling. Clear glass Kilner or Le Parfait jars are my own favourites
Keep a clean house: surfaces, implements, chopping boards, jars, funnels: all should be kept clean. Wash with hot soapy water, sterilise glass, scrub chopping boards with half a freshly cut lemon. You want only the germs you want into your ferments and no other invaders.
Your veggies should be the freshest you can source with the fewest food miles, organic as much as you can. Think how your food has been grown and transported to get to you.
You can substitute some ingredients or leave them out altogether if you don't like them: Sauerkraut: Garlic, cumin, juniper berries: they can all be left out of the Sauerkraut recipe - indeed, all you really need is cabbage and salt to make a basic lactofermented offering. As for Kimchi, depending how 'authentic' you'd like it, you could leave out the spring onions (or onions), the daikon radish and the fish sauce. I make a great vegan kimchi that everyone raves about... but more of this in my next blog!