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Anaerobic Capture on Vegetables


By: An extract from the book Ferment by Holly Davis (Murdoch Books RRP $45)

Anaerobic Capture on Vegetables


When you want to employ the good work of a range of lactobacillus - lactic acid-producing bacteria - and your aim is to exclude fungi/yeasts and moulds, it is important to exclude oxygen. If you do so you are more likely to produce beautiful, brightly-coloured pickles with crisp crunchy textures and complex intriguing flavours.

Firm vegetables that are grown above ground (such as cabbages) and those grown underground in direct contact with soil microbes (such as
root vegetables) produce the most reliable results and are a good place to start if you're new to fermenting.

What you do
Fermentation is a very simple and versatile process, and pretty much any firm raw vegetable that you can chop and salt to extract liquid from can be fermented this way. Whole ingredients and vegetables with a very high liquid content such as cucumbers are better suited to fermentation by brining. Once you have a success or two using these recipes you will be able to create an endless range of lacto-
ferments with whatever is plentiful and at hand where you are.

1. Remove any old or dirty leaves from your vegetable.
2. Wash in cold water and drain well. Remove any fibrous stem and core of cabbages, and the tops of root vegetables. Weigh the prepared vegetable to gauge the amount of salt needed. Keep in mind the variety of vegetable you are fermenting; softer vegetables benefit from extra salt in the mix.
3. Shred or chop the vegetable. The smaller the pieces, the more easily you will produce liquid after salting. However, I prefer the end result to have some texture and crunch factor, so I keep at least some of my pieces larger.
4 Put the vegetable into a large non-reactive bowl and toss with 0.5 to 3% sea salt to the weight of your vegetable. The recipes that follow use 2% sea salt, which, I suggest, is a good starting level. Massage the salt into the vegetables with very firm but loving hands. Continue to do this until the vegetables start to release their juices. If it's taking more effort than you like, you can cover and leave the vegetables to sit for 30-60 minutes and then resume your scrunching. The end point is when a handful can be squeezed to release a stream of liquid and the vegetables are clearly softer in texture.
5 Fill a jar with your chosen vegetables and the liquid produced by salting it. Push the contents down very firmly - the idea is to compress the vegetables, to remove as much air as you possibly can and ensure they are fully immersed in their own liquid (see tip on p. 61 about using your own bodyweight to do this).
6 Make sure you have left at least 2 cm (3/4 in) of space between the liquid and the rim of the jar because the contents will rise in the vessel as carbon dioxide increases during fermentation.
7. If you like, make a vegetable stopper (see p. 17) or use an airlock-style lid. If you are not using a vegetable plug or airlock, simply press the vegetables under their liquid and close the
lid tightly.
8. Label your jar with the date made and type of ferment. Stand it on a tray to catch any leakage and place in a cool place, out of direct sunlight, with temperatures between 15C and 25C (59F and 77F).

What to look for
Initially, the ingredients will look as they did before containing them but after a few days some bubbles will form, caused by the release of carbon dioxide by the lactobacilli as they digest the sugars in the vegetables. The exact timing of this depends on the ratio of vegetables to liquid and the temperature. The warmer it is, the faster the fermentation and the more sour. If you notice bubbles in the first day or two, find a cooler spot to continue the process. If using an airlock lid you will see the gases created leaving through the water in the airlock.

In closed containers these gases accumulate and you may wish to release the pressure now and then by carefully releasing the lid enough for them to escape, then resealing it. If the temperature is too warm, the lid can expand and may even pop off.

If the ingredients include purple, pink or red vegetables you will see the acidity levels rising, as the vegetables turn from purple to an almost fluorescent pink.

The gases may lift ingredients above the liquid and you may notice the ingredients turning slightly brown or discolouring; this indicates oxidation, not necessarily putrefaction. Carefully open the jar; if it smells repulsive, looks slimy or you see bright mould growing, throw out the entire contents and chalk this one up to experience. If it smells strong either remove the oxidised ingredients or use a clean utensil to press out the gases and re-submerge the vegetables and then create a better seal and continue the process.

Check every 2 days to ensure the contents are fully submerged in liquid.

When is it ready
Is up to your taste. During the first few
days of fermentation, though harmless, the
pungent smell and flavour may not be appealing, but by about day 4 the acidity will be building and that's when you can begin tasting it. When it is to your liking, transfer the jar to the fridge. Over time, the flavours will develop further as lacto-fermentation continues and the acidity increases.

When taking from the jar
Always take out only what you need using clean utensils and don't return any unused portion; this will help prevent contamination. Wipe the inside of the jar with a clean dry cloth, dipped into the fermenting liquid, and then use a clean spoon to press the contents into the liquid to ensure they are submerged. Once a third of the container has been consumed you could transfer the ferment to a smaller container.

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