There's still time to get your entries in for the Trout Caviar book giveaway --leave a comment about one of your 2011 LOCAL! food highlights by January 1; be specific, be evocative, regale and entice us!
I'm finding that my 2011 food highlights consist more of things I did than of things I ate--though I'm sure I'll be able to dredge up a memorable taste sensation or two, as well. Late last winter Mary and I took a drive south from Bide-A-Wee down Wisconsin highway 25 to the river town of Downsville. There we met potter John Thomas and his wife Kathy Ruggles, shared a cup of tea and talked about the tumultuous political situation engulfing the Badger State (it's worth remembering that the whole occupy phenomenon started with anti-Walker protestors flocking to Madison and the state capitol building).
We came home with my very first crock, an earthtone beauty that I filled with vegetables mid-summer; it's been fermenting ever since. Now it's filled with cabbage that has become sweet and sour, crunchy and salty--the basis for a wonderful choucroute garni dinner, on the elaborate end, or fabulous hot dog garnish, at its simplest.
Prior to acquiring this gorgeous vessel I'd always done my fermenting in quart jars, and that works just fine. I use the same recipe, either way: for each pound of shredded vegetables--cabbage, kale, beets, turnips, etc.--I add 2 teaspoons of salt. Rub the salt in well, pack the veg in quart jars, or into the crock with a weight on top. Into a cool dark place, and fermentation will start almost immediately. Your vegetables will be nicely sour in a few days, and will continute to gain character as time goes by. After a couple of weeks I usually refrigerate the jars, and there they will keep indefinitely. My crock is sitting on the kitchen counter, which is probably fine in a cool winter kitchen; but I oughta check on it, I guess.
Bonnie Dehn, the "Herb Lady" from the Minneapolis Farmers Market, mentioned the last time I was on the Fresh & Local Show with her and host Susan Berkson that you can even ferment cabbage in a zip-top bag. Worth a try, though I wouldn't leave the 'kraut in the bag longer than needed to get it sour, for fear of chemicals leaching from the plastic.
Fermenting your own vegetables is one of those age-old means of food preservation that can seem daunting until you try it and see how simple it really is. Trust nature, and your nose. Acquiring a taste for fermented food opens a whole world of gorgeous, pungent variety--some of the most distinctive and delicious foods from around the globe are of the fermented variety.
Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw