In late September, we got the chance to catch up with some of our favorite fermenters, Caitlin and Jason of Sobremesa. We asked them lots of questions, including this one (which we’d been wondering ourselves): what advice do you have for fermenting newbies? Here’s what they shared.
Caitlin: I think fermentation is truly the most approachable method of food preservation… you’re not worrying about canning and the water bath and acid and sterilization in the same way. You basically just want vegetables and salt—easy ingredients to start with. Where it starts to get really exciting is, oh, am I putting spices in, am I making different flavor combinations… but honestly, if people are experimenting, it’s pretty easy to start with a head of cabbage and salt. We do recommend weighing the salt, because you’re going to get a much more consistent result.
Jason: Typically between one and two percent is what people do. The way Sandor Katz teaches it, he goes around and sprinkles salt on peoples’ vegetables as they’re doing a workshop—
Caitlin: At workshops! He just keeps going, More salt? More salt?
Jason: Yeah. And what I really agree with is that you want it to taste just a little saltier than it would be if you were eating it raw… it works out great, it’s pretty forgiving. But the more salt you add, the longer it takes to get sour.
Caitlin: We’re also big fans of really massaging your cabbage to produce brine. The way you get a healthy ferment is to pack your shredded cabbage beneath its own natural brine—that’s what keeps it anaerobic and healthy. Today there are all sorts of fancy devices you can get to go on top of a half gallon mason jar to keep your ferment packed down and to keep the air out.
Jason: Cultures For Health is a pretty good fermentation website.
Caitlin: And then you just set it out of sight in a cupboard, around 70 degrees, and we let our ferments go for a really long time. Some people like them in a week… we find that a minimum of three weeks is pretty necessary for that nice sour flavor. Sauerkraut is easier to make than kimchi, but kimchi is so rewarding. So start with the kraut, try that, but people shouldn’t be scared to play around… If you feel comfortable in your kitchen, just dive in. And people can always email us! We’re so excited to help. Sometimes people will bring stuff to the farmer’s market and say, like, “hey, can you taste this?” It’s so fun.
I also really like the Cultured Guru website. One of the founders is a microbiologist so it's a great place for beginners to get information and feel confident that you are making safe ferments that are full of probiotics.
At this point we jumped in to observe just how much community seems to surround the practice of fermentation.
Caitlin: Fermentation was always done in community at the end of the harvest season, as a celebratory thing. I love to imagine people gathering in backyards and making a batch of kraut with their neighbors and sharing it and kind of figuring it out together… That's what we all need right now. And I love the word culture—it’s a cultured food, but how do we create culture while we’re making it? And what culture is this representing, and what are we honoring? It’s a really powerful food, and I’m really passionate about it.
Are you ready to try fermenting?
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