Revisiting Old Fermentation Projects   9 comments

Today marked my first day off from working since I returned to the farm. As such, today has been more relaxed. I’ve been puttering around the farm, having a decadent and leisurely breakfast of french toast and bacon, doing some relaxed reading, a bit of cleaning, preparing dough to bake bread later this evening, and noticing old fermentation projects.

This last came about due to Ginger mentioning the possibility of a dinner using sauerkraut. I went exploring what we had on hand, knowing I made some this summer and that I even had a couple quart jars of the stuff from a year and a half ago floating around. The sauerkraut from this summer sat in a crock out on the porch and, upon the last check, it had been covered by quite a bit of nasty looking mold. It might be able to be saved, but I didn’t feel excited about trying. So next, I checked the oft-ignored cold box in the house and scrounged up a quart jar about two thirds full, made in the summer of 2010 when I was farming at Sauvie Island Organics. That, too, had molded on the top—though perhaps not to the same degree as the crock sauerkraut.

Voicing my distaste for that jar, Ginger noted from upstairs that I had a few other random fermentation projects I should check, sitting on the kitchen shelves in mason jars. One was a batch of ginger carrots and the other a jar of cherry chutney. I hadn’t forgotten totally about the carrots—I consistently would catch glimpses of their orange presence while in the kitchen—but the cherry chutney had long exited my memory. Curious now, I pulled down the ginger carrots and took a taste. The fermentation process on these had clearly gone into overdrive. Most of the liquid had dried out and while the carrots hadn’t turned moldy (perhaps due to the ginger) they had turned to the consistency of mush. They also had an incredible bite to them, not so much from the ginger as the long fermentation and high build up of lactic acid. They weren’t particularly pleasant, but I imagine they could give quite a boost to the digestive system. Perhaps they could be turned into a tonic.

The cherry chutney also packed a punch, but it had better survived the long months of quiet shelf life. This had been my first attempt at chutney and came from a recipe in Nourishing Traditions, dusted off after Ginger acquired multiple large boxes of cherries from a fellow market vendor on the cheap. After spending an hour or two pitting the cherries alongside some WWOOFers, I decided to finally try out a chutney recipe—something I’d been wanting to do for years but had never gotten around to. Lo and behold, the recipe turned out great. A mix of cherries, cloves, coriander seeds, and the zest and juice of an orange, the chutney ended up sweet and spicy, with a bite from the lactic acid.

In the months that followed, the chutney sat on the shelf, somewhat forgotten as, while I loved it, I wasn’t entirely sure what to use it on or with. Tasting the chutney now, I found that it had preserved wonderfully, not molding a bit and essentially becoming tangier. The lactic acid had increased, but otherwise it was the same lovely chutney. So now I have to figure out some way to eat it. Perhaps just a spoonful or two with the occasional meal for digestive purposes and to add a little something interesting.

Finally, having explored these random jars of fermented foods, I remembered my forgotten bottles of ginger ale out in the tool shed. I started making ginger ale this year and it proved a success—with certain caveats. The bottle conditioning proved a bit overzealous, creating a drink carbonated to the point that it would either explode out of the bottle upon opening it (though I developed quite the skill for popping the cap outside while holding a large glass and being able to immediately direct the fountain into said glass, preserving most of the soda) or sometimes just shatter the bottle. This happened with one batch sitting on the same kitchen shelf that the chutney now sits on. I was standing next to the bottles when one of them exploded, sending out small shards of glass and sticky soda. Somehow, none of the glass hit me. Needless to say, I moved the soda to a less exposed place, which in this instance meant a box tucked away in the tool shed.

Of course, I promptly forgot about the soda. It was made on July 19th—much of it is still out in that box in the tool shed. I noticed it about a month ago, much to my surprise and chagrin, and so today I figured I should give one of those bottles a try since I was in that mode of past project exploration. The reused beer bottle was dirty, the cap a bit rusty, but it otherwise seemed okay. I pulled my trick of popping the top outside with a glass handy and pretty soon had a nice mug of fizzy ginger ale, no worse the wear for being nearly six months old. In fact, it was delicious and I drink it now as I write this post.

So by my final count, that’s three less-than-successful projects (though all of them had their day) and two that had survived the months of neglect to still provide tasty, fermented goodness. Not a bad haul for such a lack of attendance! And a good reminder of one of the joys of fermentation projects: they’re alive and changing and so you never quite know what you’ll end up with as you let them play out their existence. While the moldy sauerkrauts don’t shock me, I didn’t expect the ginger carrots would fail to mold but turn to mush as their brine dried out or that the cherry chutney would remain mold free and as delicious and edible after multiple months on the shelf as shortly after I made it. It’s a pleasant surprise to return to old projects and find their success continuing, and a nice reminder from the less successful ones that a bit of care and attention can make the difference between maintaining something useful or losing its function.

For 2012, then, I resolve (amongst many other resolutions) to provide more care to my fermentation projects and to be more attentive to my food preservation attempts. As for my other 2012 resolutions relevant to this blog, that promised post is still coming. It should be up later today, in fact, or Sunday evening at the latest. And for those who have done their own fermentation experiments, feel free to share your successes and failures in the comments. I love a good bit of fermentation, and am always interested in hearing what others have done.

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9 responses to “Revisiting Old Fermentation Projects

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  1. Apologies on the lack of pictures. I wanted to include them, but my camera’s batteries are dead and I can’t seem to find the charger. Hopefully I’ll scrounge it up and start providing some more of a visual component to the blog again.

  2. Oh boy! Pictures of moldy sauerkraut and mushy carrots! I can hardly wait!! :-} (heh)

    Actually, I’d like to see them – for reference if nothing else – some molds are beneficial and others not so good. I’m told you can tell the difference by the color, sort of.

    • Yeah, I really need to get the camera working. I would love to be putting up pictures of moldy sauerkraut. I imagine my Google image search hits would go through the roof.

      I’ve heard that about the color of the mold, as well. Aren’t the black ones supposed to be the scarier ones? This is more of a grey mold. I’m not sure it’s really a deal breaker, but it certainly doesn’t stimulate the appetite.

      • My recollection is that just about any mold growing on food (other than cheese) is a no-no. Most cheese-molds are blue or blue green (as in Blue Cheese) and can be beneficial – or so my Dad used to tell me. He even ate moldy bread (with blue mold) now and then just to prove the point. Can’t say I’d risk it myself.

        • I’ve always been a bit more lax about mold, though I hate moldy bread and am often quite vigilant about that. Sandor Ellix Katz is largely unconcerned about mold in his book, Wild Fermentation, and I think I picked up that attitude. For ferments, he usually just suggests skimming off any mold that shows up on top and then continuing on your merry way. I’ve also heard of a certain mold that commonly forms on top of sauerkraut that becomes something of a pancake that you can apparently just peel off without concern. That doesn’t seem to be the mold I have on my sauerkraut, though.

  3. The story of the exploding ginger ale is great – so glad you weren’t impaled by bottle shards, but the visual had me giggling.

    I was going to make pickles last year but I kept holding out in hopes of getting excess pickles from my CSA share and they never surfaced. Oh well. This year for sure! Good luck with all your fermentation projects in 2012. 🙂

    • Quite glad, as well, that I wasn’t impaled. It was kind of a funny moment, though. I was standing in the kitchen and heard a pop and had this vague sense that some many things had just skittered across the counter and hit the wall and so on, but I had this moment of having no idea what had just happened. Then I noticed ginger ale trickling off the shelf onto the floor. The bottle was simply gone, but there was a wet spot where it had been. After that, I began to search as I cleaned up the mess and slowly found all the pieces of the bottle. On further inspection of the rest of the ginger ale, something like three other bottles had exploded unnoticed, long enough ago that the ginger ale had dried, leaving sticky residue behind. Definitely knew I had to move them at that point.

      For sure do pickles this year! They were really easy, and they came out delicious. Though, really, we now have far more pickles than we need, but they’ll eventually be eaten or given away as presents. It really was just something to do with the many remaining cukes we had before they spoiled, so it worked out well.

  4. Just ran across you’re blog by following links in comments at The Archdruid Report. Great blog!! I’ve read the last couple of your blogs to my wife and she commented that it sounds like me in the near future.

    I too have had exploding bottles although mine were corked so it just blew the corks off and geysered all down the wall in the kitchen from the shelf they were sittin’ on. Mine was mead that I bottled before fermentation was finished. Which is great if you want sparkling mead!

    I also have ferments in jars ranging from a month to a year old. Sandor Katz and Sally Fallon is where I learned all things ferment as well. I’ve dealt with mold several times due to forgotten ferments. Some I just tossed the entire contents at the behest of my nose backed by my eyes and gut. Some I have scrapped an inch or so off feeling safe that what was beneath the brine was safe to eat. I think going with your “gut” (which is a perfect metaphor in this case) is sufficient to keep away from tragedy. I haven’t been sick as of yet and I’ve eaten some questionable ferments.

    I have a feeling that the worst organically grown veggie ferment covered in mold is still probably safer to eat than the crap that McToxic sales to the public by the billions of pounds per day I’m sure.

    Great blog. I’ll definitely be following you from here on.

    • Welcome, Aaron! And thank you.

      I think corks exploding with all the accompanying mess definitely sounds better than jars exploding. I suppose that’s the danger of using a bottle capper—though I assumed it would still manage to blow off the cap before the bottle would actually explode. Apparently not.

      I take a similar approach to mold as you and haven’t gotten sick, either. From what I understand, it just seems extremely unlikely that you could become seriously ill from a ferment, though I could be wrong about that. But yeah, it can’t be much worse than what the average American eats every day—not to mention the vast amount of pollution, oil-based toxins and so on that we constantly breathe and digest. A little mold seems mighty harmless in comparison.

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