editor’s note: Stacie is our first guest blogger and we are super excited about her contribution and hope to see many more of her posts in the future! If we’re novice homesteaders, she’s an expert, and we feel very lucky to have her share her expertise with us. Welcome, Stacie!
The first time I made sauerkraut, it was almost entirely because I didn’t believe the recipe. It was not possible, I told myself, that simply salting and submerging chopped cabbage would result in that tangy, vinegar-like flavor that I’d always loved.
So I pulled the crock out of my crockpot, crammed salted, chopped cabbage into it, put a water-filled jar on top to press it down, and waited. A few days later, I took a tentative bite of my “sauerkraut” – what a revelation! It was mild in flavor, crunchy, and tasted and felt whole in a way that no store-bought kraut ever had. The flavor continued to develop over time, with the mildness fading into a zesty tang, and I was hooked.
Since then, I’ve become pretty adept with lactic acid fermentation (or lacto-fermentation for short, though the process has nothing at all to do with dairy or the milk sugar that bothers lacto-intolerant people). My kitchen is overflowing with glass jars of varying sizes, and my refrigerator is archeological – last night I pulled out a jar of fermented lemons I made in 2009 to show a friend. We promptly devoured a few, peels and all.
I’ve graduated to advanced sauerkraut making, as well:
I don’t eat much bread, but it’s winter now and the body wants what the body wants. I decided to experiment and make kvass, a classic Russian peasant drink made from stale bread. It is very mildly alcoholic, a little effervescent, and strangely refreshing to drink. As with all fermentation processes, the idea is to extend the useful life of food through microbial action. Kvass is a way of pickling bread.
I got the recipe from Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation, a must-have if you’re interested in the intersection of modern life and the wild array of fermentation processes employed around the globe to achieve tasty food.
To make kvass, take a loaf of bread, preferably a dark bread, and break it up, bake it a little to dry it out, then throw it into 12 cups of boiling water, along with some lemon juice and mint (I used ginger instead of mint).
Cover it and let it steep overnight, or at least eight hours. If you’ve ever brewed beer, this is the mashing phase.
In the morning, strain the liquid into a container, and add a quarter cup of sugar or honey (I used 1/2 cup), a pinch of salt, and some bakers yeast or sourdough starter. Cover it (loosely! The fermentation produces gas and can explode a container) and let it sit for a few days.
Once the primary fermentation is complete, decant it into smaller bottles, where it will carbonate. This still opens the possibility of explosion, so be careful to monitor the bottles. I used Mason jars and opened the lid daily to prevent too much build up, so my kvass didn’t carbonate. Add a few raisins to the smaller bottles, and when they float, the drink is ready for consumption.
The result? A slightly sour, but very refreshing little drink. This batch reminds me a little of ginger ale, but without the sweetness (the yeast have consumed the sugars, both from the bread and the added sugar or honey.)
All in all, this was a lot of work for not a lot of liquid, but a fun experiment and something that households that do eat bread regularly could find fun to make now and then. As for me, I have a second batch going now and another loaf of hearty bread to get through after that. Kvass won’t end up a staple in my fermentation practice, but I’m looking forward to drinking a little more. Salud!