Fermentation is rooted in agriculture, and no place does Ag like Berks County, Pennsylvania. As our harvest festivals continue, and fall vegetables and grains are tumbling out of our gardens, it is time to start fermenting.
I grew up in the Philly suburbs, but spent a lot of time on a friend’s farm where I learned how to grow food and preserve it. We canned, we dried, we pickled, we froze. But we never fermented, even though there were old crocks in the basement. That homesteading spirit hooked me hard enough to find me smoking, drying and canning salmon over an open fire while living in a tipi in Alaska. Back in Pennsylvania, I canned all of my home grown produce for decades until I discovered fermentation ten years ago.
While all food preservation systems have their benefits, none is as amazing as fermentation. It requires very little energy, costs almost nothing, increases nutritional content and bioavailability of nutrients in food, eliminates pathogens and above all, creates an amazing spectrum of unique flavors. It is ancient, safe, easy, tasty, cheap, nutritious and fun. During this harvest season, consider the options for preservation and consider trying fermentation. Drying is the easiest method, and one of my favorites. Add salt and smoke to the drying process and you are getting into seriously wonderful flavors. But In eastern Pennsylvania, humidity often causes mold, so you need an oven or dehydrator. Freezing is great if you don’t lose power. Canned food lasts the longest, but it requires a lot of physical labor and fuel. It kills beneficial bacteria, destroys some nutrients and can turn the food to mush. And although it is rare, improperly canned food can lead to botulism, which can be fatal. Pickling is fine, but pickled foods must be canned for long term storage.
With vegetable fermentation, all you do is chop, add salt, pack into jars or crocks, set on a shelf and wait a while, then move to a cold place for storage. It’s that easy. The natural, probiotic Lactic Acid Bacteria that live on all veggies (and all over our bodies) are activated by the salty brine. They go to work eating the sugars, starches and proteins and excreting lactic acid. This acid kills all pathogens and prevents their future growth. The process increases- yes, increases – the nutritional content of food, especially amino acids and trace minerals. In terms of food safety, Fred Breidt of the USDA calls fermentation “bulletproof.” Of course, as with any process, there is much to learn. That’s why you should take a class with me. Classes in Miso Making, Fermented Nut Butter, and Fermented Condiments are coming soon. For more information, please visit my website www.palchosproducts.com/classes. I’ll be having classes in all kinds of fermentation year-round.
Karen Palcho is a Berks County artist, educator, gardener and fermenter whose interests are rooted in transforming earth based raw materials and plants into things that are beautiful, tasty and useful. She teaches classes in fermentation, botanicals, and art. For more information, visit www.palchosproducts.com.