Gardening and Fermentation

Gardening and Fermentation

When I first started gardening, I was already fermenting. Funny that I did not understand how these two things complimented each other. After my first harvest, I realized that there was no way I could eat all of my wonderful vegetables. I had given them so much love and attention and now I had too much of a good thing. Some of them would be spoiling in three weeks and some of them wouldn’t even make it that long. So I broke out my fermenting jars and some salt water and went to work.

I’ve met many gardeners who around harvest time are trying to push their fruits and vegetables on family and friends. Not that I ever minded their generosity but I felt bad if I didn’t get around to eating them before they spoiled. Occasionally I met a gardener who pickled or canned some of their food but it wasn’t common. Now that I’m a fermenting gardener I try to bring this precious knowledge to anyone rendering food from dirt. 

Fermenting your garden grown vegetables is easy and fun. It’s the healthiest of all the methods of preserving. It only requires a jar, some salt, and clean chlorine free water. Best of all for a procrastinator like myself, there is no rush. You can wait until your vegetables have started to look a little soft and wrinkled. Fermentation hardens vegetables as it preserves. It basically reinvigorates the texture and consistency of your fading vegetables. This crisp feature does begin to fade however when you do extra long, multiple month ferments. The crazy flavors you can achieve more than compensate for this.

I like to ferment some of my vegetables for a couple of weeks and then transfer them to the refrigerator. This stops the fermentation but leaves the bacteria living. The wonders of refrigeration give you the option of a light fermentation that can be eaten months later. I have forgotten about some of my ferments in the refrigerator for over a year and then discovered that they were in the same condition as when I put them in. Other vegetables I let ferment until I eat them. This can be weeks or months. I make sure to check on them every week or so to make sure that the water is still covering the top of the vegetables and remove any yeast that might have formed. I love the development of flavors from long fermenting periods. The vegetables are a little softer but some of the tones are truly extraordinary. This also save space in my refrigerator.

If you are a gardener consider becoming a fermentation enthusiast as well. If you know a gardener turn them on to this idea. But whatever you do, stay generous with the bounty of your garden. We all appreciate receiving delicious garden fresh fruits and vegetables and there is no better gesture than sharing food with family and friends.

G.I. Tract Health, Auto Immune Disorders, and Fermented Foods

The Gastrointestinal System

Gastrointestinal Tract Health and Auto Immune Disorders

Auto Immune Disorders

Auto immune disorders are a generalized group of conditions where the body is making itself sick. It is a strange condition where one’s own immune system is healing a well body to sickness, but this is exactly what is happening to millions of Americans. These conditions range from allergies, eczema, p.m.s., and migraines to much more serious conditions such as lupus, m.s., and cancer. What causes auto immune disorders? How do we stop them? How do we go about preventing them? Let’s take a look into this condition.
There are two basic systems which govern immunity in the body: the T1 and the T2 immune systems. The T1 immune system is in the gut and it is there to neutrilize the bodys main source of toxins, food. The colon is home to a host of anerobic bacteria called the gut flora. This bacteria fights the aerobic bacteria found in every bite of food. This allows us to absorb the food we eat minus the pathogenic or bad bacteria. When the gut’s flora becomes weak and ineffective it causes an imbalance of aerobic bacteria. Once this imbalance occurs, bad bacteria start to migrate through the gut wall and into the blood stream. This is where the body’s T2 immune system is found. The T2 system is more of a maintenace system for healing the inner body than a primary fighting system. It is not designed to handle this bad bacteria in mass and quickly becomes overworked and strained. This is the basis of most auto immune disorders. The T2 immune system is taxed beyond its normal responsibilites and starts to over heal the body creating problems within healthy systems and tissue.



How Do We Prevent It?

The key to fighting auto immune disorders in most cases is to stop the imbalance of pathogenic bacteria in the gut and reinvigorate the gut flora so that this imbalance doesn’t occur in the future. There are many ways to attack bad bacteria in the gut. Antibiotics will often give short term relief to an imbalance of pathogenic bacteria. However, because they also attack the good bacteria long term they can have a negative effect on controlling imbalances in the future. Probiotics also kill off bad bacteria and have the benefit of not harming the good bacteria. It has been shown that even dead anaerobic good bacteria will neutrilize bad bacteria. Unfortunately the probiotic pills and drinks do not help in regrowing the gut flora. To understand why and what does help regrow flora we have to look at bacteria.

Good Bacteria vs. Bad Bacteria

Bacteria mutate moment to moment, day to day. They are ever changing and one of the ways in which this happens is that they exchange DNA with each other. By doing this bacteria learn from each other and this is how they adapt. Dead bacteria do not engage in this “sharing”. Adaption is survival of the fittest. The most adapted bacteria will have recieved DNA from strong, current bacteria.
Now if one compares the different types of probiotics it will become clear what the best option is. Free floating bacteria found in pills and drinks needs to make it to the colon before it can help. Standing in the way is the stomach. The stomach washes everything we ingest in a 4.1ph acid bath which generally kills anaerobic good bacteria. Bacteria found in roughage such as fermented vegetables does the best job of making it to the colon because roughage is only partially broken down by the stomach. Another reason that the beneficial bacteria found on vegetables is superior to bacteria grown in a petrie dish and added to foods or put in a pill is bio-diversity. Vegetables have many millions of different strains of bacteria fighting to eat the vegetable’s sugars. The bacteria produced in the petrie dish is one strain replicated millions of times. Think of a newspaper which your flora is trying to read to find out about the incoming threats represented by bad bacteria. The biodiverse bacteria will give your flora many different strategies and information. One strain replicated many times will be like a newspaper with a single letter repeated over and over. Now imagine if that single letter was not even current but had been developed based on tests done 5 years ago. This is why bacteria found in probiotic drinks and pills will help fight bad bacteria but won’t help your body learn to fight it off itself. Fermented foods are created by submerging the vegetables in salt water. This cuts off oxgen and allows the anaerobic beneficial bacteria to grow without competition. After a short period of time, the vegetable is literally covered in millions of different strains of beneficial bacteria. This is strong bacteria that has fought its way to the top of the vegetable’s biome. This bacteria is also current and housed in roughage that can successfully make its way to the colon where it is needed.

What To Do

So how do you go about eating bacteria rich fermented foods? Firstly, make sure that there has been no pasteurization designed to kill the living bacteria for the sake of stability on the shelf. Living fermented foods such as Scotty’s Stout Sauerkraut and Kimchi are found in the refrigerated section of the supermarket. Secondly, do not trust bacteria that has been named such as L-4382. This is bacteria that has been patented and produced in a petrie dish. It lacks biodiversity. Often times probiotic juices and yogurts are pasteurized and then injected with petrie dish probiotics. Once you have found a good fermented food such as Scotty’s Stout Sauerkraut or Scotty’s Stout Kimchi, start regimenting it into your diet everyday. But start slowly! This is powerful stuff and killing off too much bad bacteria all at once can cause discomfort. A fork full a day is a good start to get your gut balanced. After a couple weeks start eating more. Within several months you will begin to notice significant changes in your digestion and a lessening of symptoms from your auto immune disorders.

Why Is This Important?

American’s have some of the most unhealthy gut floras in the world and this is why there is a near epidemic of digestion issues and auto immune disorders in our culture. Antiobiotics, large amounts of processed and cooked foods, and stress are all culprits in this. Regain your health! Start eating foods rich in beneficial bacteria like the fermented vegetables in Scotty’s Stout Sauerkraut and Kimchi today.

Simple Kimchi Soup

Simple Kimchi Soup

Let’s start with the basics. Kimchi soup is a delicious and easy way to make a meal out of kimchi and it just takes a second. I like that the final product is not as hot as I would have expected. I’m not a hot pepper guy, when I eat spicy kimchi I cut it with white kimchi or sauerkraut to dial the heat back. If you want it spicier just add more pepper sauce of whatever variety. I used Scotty’s Traditional Kimchi but Scotty’s Vegan Kimchi is fine as well. Likewise I use a beef bone broth for my stock, but a vegetable stock is fine. One of the nice things about using Scotty’s is that you don’t need to add garlic or ginger or any other vegetables, it’s already in there. We added green onions to make a pretty picture but they are already in Scotty’s as well. So here you go, enjoy.

-one 16 oz jar of Scottys Stout Kimchi traditional or vegan
-12 ounces tofu cubed
-32 ounces beef, chicken, or vegetable broth
-2 tablespoons sesame oil
-1 egg
-1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

-Strain kimchi fluid and set aside.

-In a 2 qt pan lightly saute drained kimchi with sesame oil for 3 minutes or until dry looking.

-Add tofu and saute for another 3 minutes or until tofu has firmed.

-Stir in broth and strained fluid from kimchi

-Bring to boil and simmer low for 30 minutes

-Let soup cool and serve over rice with a fried egg and sesame seeds 

Serve over rice or you favorite starch.  A delicious way to serve kimchi soup is with a fried sunny side up egg over the top. Garnish with fresh green onions and toasted sesame seeds.

Add salt to taste, the broth you use will undoubtedly affect this so salt after you try it.

For a twist stir in 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream right before you take it off the stove.

Cooking with Fermented Foods

Cooking with Fermented Foods

Surprise! The ferment blog is going to have a recipes page. It’s kind of a no brainer. At the heart of this entire lifestyle is cooking and eating. You commit to a level of time and energy that you are willing to put into your daily food regimen when you start a garden or a ferment closet. When you grow and prepare food, you must eventually cook and eat it.

This is a salinity test I did on shoestring potatoes

It’s easy to lose sight of the time commitment involved with cooking and eating. When I first created my ferment room I didn’t fully realize that I would mostly stop eating out. I have to, I have a rotation of food coming through. This involves at least an hour a day of cooking and preparing food. On weekends or whenever I have extra time, I may spend several hours preparing food for later. Of course we are all human, sometimes you take days off and sometimes you do abbreviated cook days. The idea is to not have a big burst of energy and then slack off, its about generally doing something day afer day and making it a part of your life. Making sure you have the time and energy to give to cooking and preparing food is essential to good health, there is no other way around it. Being healthy means eating healthy and in todays world that means cooking and preapring your own food.

Eating uncooked raw fermented food is one of the healthiest ways to eat and promote good digestion and absorption. The problem with this is that if you are making your own fermented foods you probably have more ferments than you can just eat raw. Cooking dishes with fermented vegetables is an age old tradition. Before refrigeration every culture relied on fermented foods to get through the months when there was nothing to harvest. There are tons of recipes and creative uses for ferments like sauerkraut and kimchi. So lets cook this stuff up!

This is a salinity test I did on some beets. Notice how the 5% is much more active than the rest.
Notice the pressure build up on these sliced jalapenos

Aside from health and preservation, the food value of fermented vegetables is tremendous. First and foremost is a delicious sour flavor that complements many different foods. Almost equally important when cooking is that fermented foods have a very sturdy consistancy. Fermentation hardens vegetables so cooked fermented vegetables stay crisp longer while being cooked. Another aspect that I like about cooking with fermented foods is that you don’t ever have the surprise of one of your key ingredients having gone bad on you. I hate it when I’m making something to get rid of the left over carrots and then once I’ve started I find out the carrots have spoiled. But the best reason for cooking fermented vegetables is that there are so many different delicious recipes. Remember that this is the way literally everyone from every culture ate before refrigeration. That’s a lot of recipes involving literally everything that can be grown in every region on earth.

An Introduction

An Introduction

Let’s start with an introduction. My name is Scotty Sheridan. I am 48 years old and I live in a very large city(Houston, TX). I make my means through small business ventures. The last one was a skateboard shop which I owned for 10 years and closed down 2 years ago. I started Scotty’s Stout Sauerkraut 3 years ago when I decided that I was tired of retail and that there seemed to be some real opportunities in fermented foods. I had become interested in gut health about 5 years before when it became an issue in a loved ones life. I read a couple books, made a bunch of ferments and and was soon blown away with the results. Since then I have taken a journey not just through the world of fermentation but I’ve started down many other equally fascinating paths. I became a farmers market salesman and learned a ton about healthy living and healthy foods from my co-workers and patrons. I have spent the last three years working in commercial kitchens learning the ways of commercial food processing. Most of all, I’ve become a fermenter. I sell fermented vegetables but at home I ferment dairy, I make green meads from local honey, I have a sourdough starter, I eat semi-alcoholic fruits I’ve been working on for months. What I’ve found from all this is that being a fermenter is not about food and diet, its a lifestyle.

My business partner and room mate is James Cole. He came into the business after leaving the restaurant industry where he had been an executive chef at high end steak houses for 20 years. Together we have a commercial kitchen where we do large scale production for supermarkets and farmers markets. We have a fermentation room in our house where we can experiment and do small batches from our garden. Obviously we have a garden. We also have chickens and dogs. We have a compost pile which we work regularly. We both love to work/shop/hang out at farmers markets. We are concerned about the quality of the food available at supermarkets. We are also worried about the sustainability of supply chains which give us food just as its needed. This is basically us in a nut shell and these are the things we want to blog about.

Our main focus with this blog is to address fermentation issues. There is so much to say both in regards to the food side of things as well as from the health side. This has been my focus for the last five years and I want to share my experiences. But we also want to talk about the lifestyle of food preservation. I want to talk about living healthy in unhealthy environments. I want to talk about food production and specifically urban food production. Urban gardening is a subject that needs more attention. But knowing how to ferment, pickle, and preserve the bounty of your garden is just as a important. My goal is to sell sauerkraut and kimchi but I want to do it through adding momentum to the fermenting trend. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t show my customers how to ferment because then they won’t need to buy my product. I just laugh and tell them that if someone has gone as far as to start fermenting then they have probably told everyone they know about it and I’m going to get ten new customers out of that one. But more than that this is stuff everyone needs to know. Fermented foods are good for you, fantastic for preservation, and delicious. Fermentation has deep roots in our culture, its time these traditions were rediscovered.

How To Make Salt Water

How to Make the Salt Water

Salt impedes bacterial growth. The thing about it is it impedes some bacteria more than others. Salt is used in fermentation because it only hinders the growth of the good anaerobic bacteria a little while it pretty much destroys the bad aerobic bacteria. Generally speaking salt is the weapon against bad bacteria that gives the good bacteria a chance to grow without competition. When fermenting vegetables salt water is the only essential ingredient other than the vegetables. Thats why its important to know how to determine and adjust your salinity based on your needs.

This is a salinity test I did on shoestring potatoes

Typically you want to add just as much salt as is necessary and no more. Many vegetables need a light salinity brine like 2%. Other vegetables that have a higher water content or are more prone to mold and yeast growth might need a higher salt content like 5%. There are many conditions and preferences however that would cause you to vary from this. As mentioned previously salt hinders all bacterial growth some so if you wanted to slow your ferment down you add more salt. This is important during the hotter months when your ferments maybe going to quickly. A little extra salt will also make an extra crispy vegetable. The cell membrane of vegetables hardens during the fermentation process, this increases with more salt. Then there are instances where I am going to use a ferment in a recipe and I am just looking for something saltier. I generally however won’t vary too much more than half a percent or one percent when making these adjustments.

I have read in many places that iodized salt is not good for fermenting. I agree but I take it a step further. I think that you shouldn’t use any non-naturally derived salts. Sodium chloride is the chemical compound commonly known as table salt. When it is produced chemically it is free of other elements and compounds that would naturally bond with it. This is salt that is chemically ‘hungry’ and will balance itself by bonding with elements in its environment. This leaches minerals out of your ferment and eventually out of you. Salt from sea water or the mined pink salts are chemically balanced and do not leach minerals. When I discovered this I replaced table salt in my ferments as well as on my table.

This is a salinity test I did on some beets. Notice how the 5% is much more active than the rest.
Notice the pressure build up on these sliced jalapenos

At farmers markets many people ask my advice on fermentation. When they tell me that there ferment never started the first thing I ask is if they added tap water at any stage in the process. Generally they would answer that they had. Using non-chlorinated water in your brine is vital. You are trying to cultivate and grow bacteria and chlorine is a powerful anti-bacterial agent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti chlorine guy. Piping water through the city to my faucet requires the use of chlorinated water in my opinion. That being said, you should not ingest it. Your entire digestive track and particularly your gut need healthy living bacteria to function correctly. Don’t drink water that disturbs that. I use a reverse osmosis filter to clean my water and of course bottled water and rain water work as well. Having a large supply of non-chlorinated water on hand makes fermenting and cooking generally much easier.

Now that we know what salt and water to use, in what ratios should we mix them? To calculate the amount of salt to add its easiest to work in weight. Equate one millileter water to one gram salt. To make a 3% salinity brine of 1000ml water simply multiply .03 x 1000. The result is 30 so add 30 grams of salt to 1 liter of water to make 3% salinity. I took my salt which is a fine grade sea salt and weighed one tablespoon of it. It was 15 grams. This is an important step because the courseness of the salt will dramatically change its weight. If I am using a coarse grade salt I might find it only weighs 10g per tablespoon. Anyways I put all this together and created a cheat sheet for myself. Of coarse your cheat sheet might look different depending on the weight of your salt.

per 1000 ml water
1% salinity : 2/3 tbsp salt
2% salinity : 1 and 1/3 tbsp salt
3% salinity : 2 tbsp salt
4% salinity : 2 and 2/3 tbsp salt
5% salinity : 3 and 1/3 tbsp salt
6% salinity : 4 tbsp salt
7% salinity : 4 and 2/3 tbsp salt
8% salinity : 5 and 1/3 tbsp salt
9% salinity : 6 tbsp salt
10% salinity : 6 and 2/3 tbsp salt

I like to do salinity tests when I first start fermenting something. I just cut up a small batch of something thats just starting to come in season and that I am interested in fermenting. I then mix up 5 or 6 different brines typically ranging from 1%-6% or 2%-7%. Label your jars with the date and the percentage salt, pack the vegetables in the jar, and add the brine. I do this because I like to taste different salt levels that I may incorporate in different ways. Here is a quick reference of salinity levels for some common vegetables.

broccoli : 2% – 2.5%
cauliflower : 2%
celery : 1% – 2%
cucumber : 3.5% – 5%
garlic : 3%
green beans : 2%
onions : 5%
potatoes : 2%
radish : 5%
tomatoes : 2%
olives : 10%
beets : 2%
carrots : 2%
Okra : 3.5%

The tester rack

So those are the basics for making brine. But what fun is just adding salt? There are so many delicious spices you can add to your ferments that its almost a shame to do just a basic salt ferment. Try adding mustard seed or celery seed or heck try any seed. Adding garlic or ginger can add flavor and different beneficial bacteria profiles. Want to get crazy? Try adding a slice or two of lemon rind and a tablespoon of real honey. There are so many ways of spicing up your ferment it would be impossible to go through them all. Or maybe you prefer just salt and the vegetable. Go experiment and find out what you like, half the fun is the journey!