Introduction: Traditional Leafy Veggie Ferment
So you love local food! Winter is over and you cannot wait to get some great grub, then harvest comes and BAM! you are flooded with:
- Beet greens
- Carrot greens
- Radish greens
- Bok Choy
- Green onion
- Swiss chard
- Garlic scapes
and you have no idea what to do with them other than make salad. The CSA pick up is looming on the horizon, you have already composted way too many greens and the idea of stuffing your face with another salad is overwhelming. Somewhere in the back of your mind you know by not using these nutrient dense, nourishing plant parts you are missing out on an important part of the harvest. You also know that when winter comes you will long for these greens like politicians long for your vote.
What do you do?
Preserve the greens traditionally with a simple ferment!
Step 1: Welcome to the Kitchen
Welcome to my kitchen. On particularly foggy mountain days like today, preserving food is what I love doing.
To join me and ferment in this style you will need a few things on hand.
- Greens to preserve (see intro list for ideas, but so far I have not run into any vegetative parts of plants that do not work)
- A large mixing bowl
- Fine salt (I prefer sea salt)
- A good chopping knife and cutting board
- Clean jars with tight fitting lids
Optional: a great foggy mountain view
Step 2: Wash
Wash your greens and sort out any less than ideal specimens.
Note: Submerging them in a bowl of cold water; allows them to separate, the dirt falls, and damaged pieces/grass can be easily removed.
Step 3: Chop
Then, chop, chop, chop chop. To make this easier you will want a good knife. It is very much worth it to invest in a good knife and take the time to sharpen it (nothing makes someone want to leave a kitchen more than a lame dull knife).
I chop stems small (<1 cm long) to make sure the enzymes can go to work on the whole thing, but I like my greens a bit larger (~1-2 cm long) because they are easier to penetrate by the enzymes, and add great texture.
If you are not a skilled chopper, expect to take your time, and slowly develop the skill. Just like anything else, no one masters it in a day, and if you do then awesome, be grateful for your skill.
Once you have chopped a bunch, add it to the large mixing bowl.
Note: To make things easier as I process, I alternate between Step 3 and Step 4 for each bunch, however here I am going to present them as if everything should be chopped at once for ease of instruction. I do not recommend that, one, because I have a small kitchen and not enough counter space to hold all my chopped greens, and two, because you will want the salt evenly distributed throughout the greens in the bowl to aid later steps.
Step 4: Salt!
After you have chopped a bunch and added it to the bowl, sprinkle it with a layer of salt.
I salt by feel so I do not measure, but the recommendation is to get about 2 tablespoons salt in each pint jar. I do not use this much, usually I would guess I am at about 1.5 tablespoon per pint jar, but being a folk fermenter I do not measure. As you start to make these with your weekly market pickup, you will find a groove that feels right to you.
The salt is important because it will keep the greens from molding or otherwise going rancid until the natural enzymes in the air and from your veggies get to work and start fermenting, then the CO2 will fill the jar and seal it.
Salt each layer of greens as they go into the bowl so that the salt is evenly distributed. (i.e. return to step 3 for the next bunch).
Step 5: Smash, Bash and Mash!
Now the funnest part! Roll up your sleeves and get your (clean) hands in there, and squish, squash, and mix and mash that salt into those greens.
If you know how to "kneed" dough (punch it until its smooth) then you have all the skills necessary for this step.
So go to town, and get all that frustration out (especially the part about the dull knife, which you have promised to improve for the next go round).
This will considerably reduce the size of your greens and in its place will be salty brine, do not be alarmed, that's what you want.
Step 6: Pack Those Jars.
Now we fill those jars with the greens.
Depending on the mouth of the jar I either use my hand or a wooden spoon to cram and jam those greens into the jar.
As you are filling the jars be sure to use a mix of the greens sitting at the bottom of the bowl in the brine and at the top out of the brine so there is enough brine for each jar. When you push the greens down the brine should rise up above the greens.
Pack the jar to about 1 inch of head space, making sure that the brine reaches the top of the greens when you are not pushing down. Once all the jars are packed distribute the left over brine between the jars.
Note: The brine must be above the level of the greens, if you use greens that have lost some of their water you can add a bit of good clean spring water (not chlorinated or fluoridated) to bring the brine above the greens and to the 1 inch head space line.
Second note: Do not fill too high or you will have juice on your counter to clean up.
Step 7: Put on Some Tight Fitting Lids and Leave on the Counter for About 3 Days.
Screw those lids on tight, as they will need to keep the pressure in.
Then set the jars in a cool shady spot in the kitchen (keep them out of extreme heat, or you will have brine all over the counter to clean up), and wait ~ three days.
If brine comes out that means the seal has broken, eat those jars first!
Step 8: Are They Ready??
Every day feel the lid of the jar, some jars will take 2 days, some 4, it all depends on the jar.
The jars are ready when the lid is pressurized out and will not give much when you push down on it.
However, as long as there is pressure you are good, so don't get to worried about waiting for the right pressure.
Step 9: Label and Refriderate
Always always label your jars. Because... I will not get into the mishaps that I have had by confusing what was in a jar, but "Oh, that wasn't raspberry preserves I just put in the oat meal, whoops, hope everyone likes it a bit green and savory".
Then stick the jars in the back of the fridge. They will stay good in there for about 6 months, but are ready to eat as soon as the jar is pressurized and stuck in the fridge (however wait a few days for the best flavor).
I usually pack jars all growing season and then eat them all winter.
Step 10: ENJOY!!
Enjoy your ferment as a condiment on any and all foods.
Remember not to eat too much all at once as it has a reasonable amount of salt in it. I just use this to season instead of salt on a lot of things. And it is alive and full of happy enzymes for digestion!
Note: I have NEVER heard of anyone dying from eating a ferment! (Unlike canning). It is my understanding that if something goes wrong you will know, and trust me, there is nothing on earth that will get you to put that in your mouth. So don't stress over the details. Try it out, if you do end up doing something that doesn't work, then you know what not to do in the future. Otherwise, experiment and have fun, because if it looks good, tastes good and smells good then I am going to eat it.
Thanks for joining me in my kitchen. Let me know if you have any questions, and have a great harvest.