Beer, Bread & Jars

beer, bread, bacteria, food in jars and fermentation

Classic Sauerkraut

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Since prehistory, humans have been involved in symbiotic relationships with a variety of species, from cattle to canine. However, the longest standing and, perhaps, the most misunderstood of these relationships has always been our relationship with the bacterial cultures that populate our own bodies.

For Sandor Katz, renowned fermentation specialist, it is no coincidence that we use the same word, “culture”, to describe the cornerstones  of human achievement as we do to identify a gathering of bacteria. As a result of Katz’ tireless touting of bacterial benefits, the domestic culturing of healthy bacteria through the fermentation of vegetables is emerging as a powerful trend.

The most basic, simple and ancient of the fermented vegetables is sauerkraut. In recent years, sauerkraut has risen to the fabled status of superfood because of its immense probiotic potential, but it’s worth giving it a shot based on the fact that it is simply delicious and incredibly easy to make at home.

Home fermenting requires a certain level of demystification. Despite the endless debate regarding equipment, process and safety, it is important to remember that making sauerkraut is an ancient and time tested ritual that will allow the safe fermentation of a head of cabbage in any part of the world.

To ensure proper fermentation, the cabbage must be shredded, salted and packed into a sterilized fermenting vessel (a simple mason jar is my personal preference). Once the cabbage is submerged in its own brine, it becomes impossible for harmful bacterial to populate.

The dominant lactic acid bacterial strains will immediately have an advantage in the salty brine and will push out any other strains that threaten fermentation. Mold may form on the top of the brine but it poses no threat and can simply be skimmed off.  According to the USDA, there has never been a recorded instance of food poisoning resulting from the ingestion of fermented foods.  

Before getting started you’ll need to round up a few supplies, including a large bowl, a sharp knife, two pint-sized mason jars and 2 sterilized weights to keep pressure on the kraut (a boiled rock or small glasses)

Makes 2 Pint Mason Jars

A small head of cabbage (Around 2 pounds)

30g of course sea salt 

1.  Resting the cabbage on its base, peel the outer leaves off of the cabbage and cut it into quarters. Cut the entire stalk from the bottom of each quarter and begin slicing the cabbage. I prefer a thin cut but you can really cut it any way you like.image

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 2. Begin to lightly salt the cabbage as you transfer it into the large bow. Ensure that the salt is evenly introduced as it will be responsible for drawing the moisture out of the cabbage. image

3. With clean hands, begin to squeeze and press the cabbage. After a few minutes you will notice the moisture beginning to build up. Continue until a large amount of liquid is released image

4. Once the cabbage is sufficiently moist, begin packing it in to the mason jars. Pack as much as you can into each jar and make sure that the brine covers the cabbage. You may need to add a touch of filtered water to top it off.

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5. Place the sterilized weight on top (I just use a thin glass) to keep the cabbage submerged in the brine. image

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how long to wait. Fermentation is dependent upon many factors including temperature and available surface area of the cut cabbage and each individual has a distinct preference for how tangy they like their kraut. Just don’t worry; you can taste the kraut at any point and decide if a desirable flavor has been achieved

 I leave it for about a week, checking it each day to ensure that the cabbage is still submerged in its brine and to scrape off any forming mold spores. Once it’s done, just cap the jar and put it in the fridge. It will last up to 6 months. image

Strawberry Rosemary Vinegar

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Earlier this year, I found a strawberry plant on sale for $2. I didn’t expect much from it but it ending up surprising me with continued growth throughout the summer and I was able to propagate several runners in another planter. Somehow, in mid-October, both plants decided to produce one final bounty.

I felt like keeping it simple so I decided to use the strawberries and infuse them in basic white vinegar. I imagine it would go well on a salad if I let it sit for a few weeks. I also added a fresh sprig from my gigantic rosemary plant, another example of my unusually active backyard flora.

Makes 1 small mason jar

A handful of fresh-picked strawberries

1 sprig of fresh rosemary

White vinegar to the rim of the jar, cap once full

I’ll leave the jar somewhere dark for a few weeks before tasting and decide then if it is time to strain the vinegar from the strawberries and rosemary.

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Chili Curry Carrots

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Harvest season in Canada inevitably puts a spike in my consumption of root vegetables. The sharp arrival of the crisp autumn weather fills the darkening days with parsnip, potato, carrot and turnip. As a relocated Newfoundlander, I crave and unnatural amount of starch but even I will admit to being bored by basic boiled roots.

Preserving root vegetables is a great way to enrich them with a variety of delicious and seasonal flavors. The earthiness of curry goes well with any pickled root vegetable and it somehow seemed fitting for autumn. I added some dried chili pepper for some heat

My recipe was simple: A touch of salt and sugar, dried chillies, curry powder, vinegar and peeled carrots. I decided to go with apple cider vinegar to add a fruity touch and keep in line with the tastes of the season. After 3 days, they were sweet and pleasantly tart. The carrots still had a desirable crunch and the curry flavour blended well with the sweet/sour combo.

Makes 8 small mason jars

3 pounds of carrots, peeled and cut to fit in the jars

2 cups filtered water

2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup white sugar

2 tablespoons coarse salt

1 tablespoon curry powder

4 dried chili peppers

1. Bring the water and apple cider vinegar to a boil. Add sugar, salt and stir until dissolved. Add the curry powder and remove from heat.

2. Pack the cut carrot sticks in to the sterilized jars along with half of a dried chili

3.  Fill the jars to the rim with the brine mixture and then cap them.

4. Put in the fridge. They can be enjoyed for several months.

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Pickled Autumn Grapes

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In Southern Ontario, the coming of fall is filled with talk about the condition of one of our most cherished crops: the grape. The source is, of course, the Niagara peninsula, one of North America’s most abundant and acclaimed wine regions. Admittedly, I was inspired by an unstoppable desire to try my hand at creating a recipe to preserve a few of these local treats.

Based solely on availability and economy, I chose an Ontario sourced variety of the Coronation grape. Coronation is an early ripening hybrid variety of grape developed in Canada and is virtually seedless. Although they tend to be a bit mushy when compared to other commercial varieties of grapes, I thought these grapes would be perfect smeared on a cracker or toast with some cheese. 

I decided white wine vinegar was fitting. Ideally, I’ll muster up the patience to source a local variety for my next attempt.  For the spicing, I decided on a simple blend of fresh rosemary, ground cinnamon, a chunk of fresh ginger and a few black peppercorns. In hindsight, a stick of cinnamon in each jar might make them look a bit better but I had to settle for ground cinnamon that day. The Recipe is as follows:

Makes  4 Small mason jars

2 Cups White Wine Vinegar

3-4 Cups Coronation Grapes (or any variety you please)

1 cup of white sugar

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

A pinch of black peppercorns

4 small chunks of peeled fresh ginger, one for each jar

4 sprigs of fresh rosemary, one for each jar

1. Sanitize each jar and lid thoroughly and rinse the grapes and rosemary

2. Combine the vinegar, sugar, ground cinnamon and peppercorns in a small pot or sauce pan and bring to a gentle boil. 

3. Place a sprig of rosemary and a chunk of ginger in the bottom of each jar

4. Fill the jars with grapes to just below the rim. Make sure to take care not to squish the grapes if using a mushier variety such as coronation.

5. Let the vinegar mixture cool before pouring over the grapes and filling to the rim of the jar. A scalding mixture will cook the grapes and make them ever mushier.

6. Cap and refrigerate. They should be at their best for at least a week.

I couldn’t help but taste them after just 2 days. They were delicately tart and the white wine vinegar worked great with the natural grape flavour. The ginger and cinnamon provided a marriage of seasonal flavours that blended  wonderfully to the earthy spiciness of the black peppercorns. 

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