Today I strained apple cores and a handful of tired cranberries from a mixture that’s been sitting on the counter for a week. Without the fruit, it will sit for another two or three. I’ll mix it up periodically, to expose more of the liquid to the air, and otherwise keep it covered with cheesecloth.
I should have acquired a copy of Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation a long time ago. As it is I received it, along with his most recent book, The Art of Fermentation, last week, for Christmas. The vinegar chapter caught my eye and within a day of reading it I had this mixture of fruit scraps, sugar and water on the counter.
So many things are more difficult than you imagine. Making vinegar isn’t one of them. It’s an opportunity, Katz says, to recycle. It’s so easy, such a foregone conclusion (these peels are headed for the compost bin), I’m hooked. Every time I cored a pear this week, I wondered if I should start a second batch of vinegar.
Fermenting vegetables is similarly undaunting. Meditative, even. I’m not sure how we ever lost our way. Why did people stop doing this again?
Yesterday evening I pulled out the food processor, the cutting board and chef’s knife, the kitchen scale. In the morning I’d plunked three enormous heads of green cabbage into my shopping cart and kept picking up more things in the produce department that would complement them in the fermentation crock – sweet onions, carrots, garlic, napa cabbage, fennel bulbs.
Before I started to chop I consulted an online forum to jump-start my memory. How am I supposed to clean out the crock? Can I use soap? Does it need to air dry before I can begin? Is there some sort of sterilization process?
Answers from the experts were nonchalant. “Fermenting veggies is a quite forgiving process,” read one. A little dish soap and hot water should be fine, they concluded.
Alright. So I did that and ran the vegetables through the food processor, threw in some whole garlic cloves, mixed in the salt with my hands and packed it down tight. For my effort, the ingredients filled only half the crock, but we’ll still be eating from this batch into the summer. I’ll have ample time for another round or two before it’s time for pickles.
I have a number of friends who are good at handcrafts. How lucky they are, always busy, with something like a cable-knit sock taking shape as they visit with a friend. I haven’t practiced these kinds of skills enough to do them well. But I can chop and mix while the moss sits frozen on the bench outside. I can press my fist into a mound of salted, slivered produce and shuttle it off into the corner. I can sweep up the onion skins from the floor before settling in with rose tea and a fleece blanket for the evening.
While I chopped yesterday I thought about this and about the photos I took in the morning. Lichen and moss covered the fence and the branches, of course. The ground was slick and frozen. The only moving things were the chickadees that returned after I cleaned out the feeder and filled it again this week. I thought about them today, about their keen little eyes and how they dart from the feeder the moment they’ve snatched a seed.
It’s unlike the way I move in winter. I’m deliberate. It’s icy outside, and inside the house I’m thinking and making lists, homing in on what to make that we’ll enjoy, sometimes only for dinner, sometimes for many months to come.
based on the instructions in Wild Fermentation
To make homemade vinegar, combine a quart of water with ¼ cup of sugar in a small pot. I used demerara. Warm the water and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Pour over fruit scraps. Katz doesn’t give a weight or measurement for fruit but he provides a recipe for pineapple vinegar that uses the rind of one pineapple, so I used that rough idea as a guide. Cover with cheesecloth. After one week, strain out the fruit. Over the next two or three weeks, periodically remove cheesecloth and stir to expose liquid to more air. When finished, pour into a mason jar and store.