Above is a very small collection of some of the things I have tried my hand at in Pickling and Fermenting. There are several things missing, such as Kombucha, Kimchi, Yoghurt, Kefir, and various jams of course (A favourite of my mother’s was my Rhubarb Chutney, and my father adored my Lemon Marmalade). Top left and working clockwise ending in the middle:
Tempeh, a cultured bean food originating in Indonesia that my partner and I make on a regular basis, and plan to start a business in producing; Boquerones, a Spanish recipe involving the curing of Anchovies; Salt-cured Egg Yolk a delicious recipe I stumbled upon and tried out of pure curiosity- it turned out delicious, and is great grated over foods; Sauerkraut with apple and bay leaf, just because; Ginger beer, made by adding Whey from a previous batch of Yoghurt I had made (It’s amazing the fizz that develops from it!); A Ginger Bug, an attempt to make ginger beer without whey (it didn’t work too well, but was still very tasty, since it’s just sugar water with ginger); Apple Cider Vinegar, which first went through a stage of being alcoholic Apple Cider (boy was that hard not to drink); Sourdough bread, a regular occurrence in my home. It’s the way I make most of my bread at home, if I remember to get my starter out of the fridge ahead of time to feed it once or twice.
I was excited for this project, because I’ve already honed in on the regular ferments that I like. Sourdough is my preferred bread, for it’s naturally occurring yeasts and the benefits of it’s long fermentation time breaking down much of the carbohydrates, making it easier on my stomach. Michael Polan talks about sourdough in his netflix series “Cooked”, and one interview included a baker theorizing that sourdough bread would likely be perfectly safe for those with Gluten Sensitivities because so much of the gluten is broken down in the process. It’s an interesting theory that I think deserves some research.
Kimchi is regularly made in the house, as well. My partner loves it, even the “fart smell” it produces. It’s delicious, and he loves stinking out his coworkers with it.
Fermentation is fascinating to me, and any time I have gotten a new one on the brew, I am a child full of excitement when bubbles start to form against the glass. I get my kicks out of burping sauerkrauts and knocking jars on the table to see what happens.
Obviously, this time around, I wanted to try something new. I’m not going to recreate a Kimchi, or even start a new batch of Yoghurt (I just don’t have the room in my fridge to keep a big bowl of yoghurt straining, because if I do it, it’s going to be a large batch to make it worthwhile monetarily- which reminds me, DIY Yoghurt is MUCH more affordable than buying yoghurt by the container, and incredibly simple, but that’s for another day). It’s October, Squash season is in, and my father has just given me several from his garden.
So, let’s ferment a Kabocha Squash!
I adore Squash. It’s versatile, full of nutrients and vitamins, and lasts well into the winter- and I tend to have an endless supply of Organic and home-grown squash from my dads garden back home in Stirling. Whenever my step-mom makes it, she dumps in brown sugar and mashes it into a deliciously sinful puree. I love roasting the hell out of it with any spice I have on hand, and my mother makes a batch or two every year of Curried Apple Squash Soup, which she freezes the excess of and gets out when she needs a pick-me-up.
But this squash, this little Kabocha, was going a new route. I browsed the internet and landed on my prize trial recipe from Cultures for Health, a site I have bought Tempeh Starter from in the past. They’ve grown significantly over the last year in terms of product range, and I highly recommend them to the newbie.
Cutting into a squash is always a little scary for me. I’ve not cut myself from it before, but I’ve definitely had to put my entire body weight on my blade before. Sometimes a squash gets a bit dried out in the season (This season would have been a hard one), so it can get tough. This guy, for his size, was a bit tough, but not too mealy once I got in there. In fact, it glistened with juice not longer after cutting in.
Have I mentioned how much I love squash, or the seeds? Because you can bet I roasted those bad boys too!
Back to the plan:
This recipe called for 2 pounds of squash. Well, this guy wasn’t quite 2 pounds, so I grabbed an apple to fill in the rest of the weight. I peeled and chopped everything up into bite-sized chunks, thinly sliced a bit of ginger, and grabbed some cloves and cinnamon sticks for my jar.
Fermenting, to me, has always been an au naturale approach. You just need salt and good, clean water (distilled or spring- Believe me, after a while, you taste the difference when you ferment with tap water. Sometimes you can’t ferment because of the high level of chlorine, which I found out living in my little apartment back home). It’s pretty simple, and so was this recipe: 2 Tablespoons of salt (Not table salt), and enough distilled water to cover everything inside the jar. That’s the key to fermenting and preventing mold from growing (the bad mold, that is), is keeping everything air-locked and submerged with any form of weight you can garnish. I tend to use a small mason jar that I sit into the mouth of my larger one. When I made kimchi or sauerkraut, I put a large leaf at the very top before putting the mason jar inside, just to make sure little pieces of vegetable don’t sneak up.
This recipe recommends letting it ferment for a week. So once everything was into the jar, I set it on the counter and let it sit.
Done. Just like that. Fermenting is wonderful! A little bit of prep, and you’re done. Of course, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes you have to baby something. Sourdough needs daily feeding, as does a ginger bug. Sometimes something just needs a monthly feeding, like my SCOBY for my Kombucha, which currently sits neglected on the back of my counter. I’m afraid to look at it’s state, I know a layer of bad mold has formed. Shame on me.
Well, a week later I tried a taste. The texture had softened a little, but was still somewhat firm. The salt had permeated the Squash very well, and the brine flavour was prominent, as were all the spices. However, the flavour of the squash just wasn’t appealing. It was mild, but not sweet, and was overcome by the spice and brine too easily. Also, the texture, which I still find hard to describe, was off-putting. It was almost like biting through softened cardboard or styrofoam, without the grinding feeling of the paper or the squeeking. It didn’t excite me nearly as much as the bubbles did as it fermented. I think I am just too used to eating squash in it’s cooked form.
It’s a disappointing batch, and I likely won’t eat it. But as sad as this is, it’s a part of reality with fermenting. I’ve had numerous batches of Kombucha and water kefir fail, and I’ve failed at maintaining a Ginger Bug, and even messed up yoghurt once or twice. Sometimes, things don’t work out, either because the culture wasn’t strong enough, or the flavour composition wasn’t right.
Now, of course, I am thinking of other things to ferment or pickle. It’s the season to keep your harvest for the long winter ahead that they’re calling for. So, for the preserving season upon us, I recommend grabbing some of the reading materials I have listed before in the Bonus Readings section. And if you want a good show to watch, check out Cooked on Netflix.
Lacto-fermented Spiced Winter Squash. Retrieved October 26, 2016, from http://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/recipe/lacto-fermentation-recipes/lacto-fermented-spiced-winter-squash/
Crocker, P. (2012). Preserving: The canning and freezing guide for all seasons. New York: William Morrow.
Katz, S. E., & Pollan, M. (n.d.). The art of fermentation: An in-depth exploration of essential concepts and processes from around the world.
All photos taken by my self