Fabulous Ferments

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by Joy Racicot


Fermented food: why you should be eating it and how to get started


yogurt,  cheese sauerkraut,  vinegar,  buttermilk,  fish sauce,  soy sauce .  .  .


I was honored to present on the topic of Fermented Foods at the Fall Gathering 2016 hosted by Larry and Lisa Matthews of Modern Missouri Pioneers.  A local event in SW Missouri for all kinds of homesteading goodness; demonstrations and presentations on a wide variety of topics, as well as a chance to gather, visit, and exchange ideas and meet others with the same passions as you have.

This post is taken from that presentation.

vegetables harvested before frost and made into a pickled medly

vegetables harvested before frost and made into a pickled medly

Fermented Foods

People have had traditions of fermenting foods since the beginning. You should learn how to ferment a wide variety of foods, and make it part of your routine so you can always have them on hand BECAUSE . . .

1. They are good for your health

2. It is a good way to preserve your bounty

3. They are tasty

4. They are the ORIGINAL Fast Food

5. They are super Cheap 🙂


they are  HEALTHY!

Having a  “good bacteria” colony in the gut is IMPERATIVE for a strong immune system.  Research has shown  that microbiota may have a role in autoimmune diseases (such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, MS) mental health, allergies, constipation, lactation, healthy skin, and in some cases, cancer.  Lacto-Fermented foods have been shown to kill pathogens in the gut (even antibiotic resistant strains), help digestion AND they make food more bio-available so the body can utilize more of the nutrients.

 As the saying goes, “if your gut ain’t healthy – you ain’t healthy”  There are no sick people with healthy intestinal flora.

Historical uses

Throughout history people have relied on fermented foods for many reasons. . .

Captain cook took 60 barrels of sauerkraut with him on his 2nd, round the world voyage.  after 27 months at sea they were perfectly preserved AND there had not been one case of scurvy!  (It was the norm on voyages half this long to lose half the crew)  We might not be worried about scurvy today, but we can all benefit from upping our vitamin c intake, this powerful antioxidant is beneficial for a myriad of health problems.


George Washington included 1 qt of spruce beer in the rations for the continental army.  Spruce beer was full of enzymes and electrolytes and great for all intestinal problems.



Small beer, a traditional English drink contained only small amounts of alcohol but large amounts of lactic acid, beneficial enzymes, B vitamins, and minerals.  If you are in the habit of watching BBC movies of the classic novels (as you  should be!)  you will notice pitchers of amber liquid poured freely at breakfast, this would be small beer, to help with digestion of the rich meats consumed at such meals.


Poet John Taylor recorded 9 different ales served at one meal in 1618.  Eight of them were herbals including: hyssop, wormwood, rosemary, betony, and scurveygrass!

Traditionally, in the British Isles, grains were fermented into various Ales; at home or in the local Alehouse (think Dickens) each sourcing their ingredients locally and having their own distinct flavor.  These brews had a fairly low alcohol content and were an excellent source of nutrients.

Romans carried vats of fermented vegetables on campaign to serve as a daily ration.

Hard cider and small beer were a huge part of colonial american family life.  My granny, born in the 1920s remembers having cider in the basement or the smokehouse that naturally fermented over the winter.

Studies in the 1930’s on non-industrialized people groups found that they always contained a fermenting tradition, and they were never plagued by illness or disease.

cabbage is a great first ferment

cabbage is a great first ferment

As a Method of Preservation 

It has only been in the last 90 years that there was even an option to have a refrigerator in ones home.  When my grandfather and grandmother were first married, they used a community freezer space in which you rented space in a unit like a modern day locker-room. . . and they were married in the 40’s, living in rural America!  So, in the span of time; from the beginning of human history until 1920, how did people store their food long term?  They Fermented it!  The list of cultural traditions is longer and deeper than I can fathom, let alone expound on here!  Some interesting examples are:

  • Germany: Kraut, cucumbers
  • France:  cheese, ham, sausage, wine
  • Korea: Kimchi
  • Alaska (native): fish, greens
  • Russia: Kefir
  • Massai: Kule Naoto -milk allowed to clabber in a smoke treated gourd
  • America:  buttermilk, butter, cheese, sourdough

Laura Ingalls Wilder describes the process of keeping a sourdough starter in her book On The Shores of Silver Lake.  My own grandmother remembered her mother storing the seasons peppers and cabbage by stuffing the peppers with cabbage, covering it with brine, and storing it in the smokehouse to ferment slowly.

I, personally, have kept lemons (fermented) in the fridge for over a year and they were still delicious.  I have let kraut as well as kimchi, ferment slowly in an insulated, cool room, that did not freeze.  It lasted until things warmed fairly hot in the late spring, at which time I had to refrigerate what was left.

Even with our wonderful, modern refrigeration abilities, it is still a great way to preserve the summer bounty into the winter because, unlike canning, it keeps all of the nutrients and enzymes intact –  And even multiplies some vitamins and creates others!

Lacto-fermented foods taste great and make other foods more interesting to eat!

beans pair well with kraut

rice is delicious with kimchi

what is a hamburger without a pickle?

what soup is not made better with a dollop of sour cream?


They are the original Fast Food! 

If you have them on hand . . . they will be handy! (you can’t see me, but I’ve cracked myself up with my wit! 🙂 )

cheese and kraut on sourdough – you can’t beat it!

kefir or yogurt with fruit – lunch in minutes!

kefir smoothie – on the run

Kombucha, blended with frozen fruit – refreshing in minutes!

any fermented veggie with cold meat – delish

            . . . add cheese, glorious!

get them in your routine and deep them on hand!


SO, with all of these benefits, “how much does this cost?”, you ask. . . well, I’m so glad you asked that because . . .

    They are CHEAP!

one quart of sauerkraut, if you’ve grown your own cabbage will cost you about 20 cents – or whatever 1 T of some good Celtic sea salt costs you.  If you have to buy your own cabbage you must add that into the bottom line, too. So, I dunno. . . $3 per quart?  that’s some pretty cheap vitamins!

Science. . . or Art?

Is this a science, or an art?  Both.  There is science involved, for sure, and you can make a recipe and follow it, and it will come out – – –  almost always.  What?  Yep! you heard that right.  Sometimes stuff just comes out wrong, even if you do it all right!  Thankfully, this isn’t often.  I, personally, in all of my fermenting days, have only had this happen a couple of times. My very first batch of vegetables was horrid!  I didn’t know, I thought it must be an “acquired taste” so I plugged away at it and downed almost the whole jar.  Don’t do that!  If it tastes “off” or rotten in any way –  DON”T EAT IT!  they are supposed to have a pleasantly sour taste.  It will taste different than anything you are used to, it will be different than vinegar pickled things, but it shouldn’t taste rotten.  Even a little.   Luckily, mine did not make me sick, but don’t try it.  Why is it a little unpredictable?  Because we are dealing with living organisms- and they are not always predictable!  For the most part, as you gain experience, the “art” will work in your favor and you can learn to come up with your own recipes and concoctions because you can follow the basic principles and it will be beautiful!



Some of my favorite VEGETABLE FERMENTS

include:  kraut, pickles, and kimchi

the method for vegetable ferments is the same:

place your vegetables in a wide mouth quart jar

add any seasonings or spices

add 1 T whey, for extra insurance

pour they brine over the top until the vegetables are completely submerged

ALWAYS leave 2 inches of headspace per jar because the vegetable mixtures WILL expand and if there is not enough free room the liquid will leak out of the jar, or potentially break the jar!

cover with a (preferably) plastic lid

let it sit out at room temperature for 3 – 10 days, depending on the temperature.  You can test them every few days until they are sour to your liking

move them to the fridge, and enjoy as you have need of them!

 brine: 2 1/2 – 3 T Celtic sea salt dissolved in 1 quart of water


traditionally, kraut is pounded out until the juice rises up enough to cover the (shredded) cabbage.  I abhor this task, so, I skip it!  After shredding my cabbage, I layer it, alternately with a sprinkling of my measured salt in a bowl and let it sit, like, overnight.  Covered with a towel.  The juices will be pooled somewhat and after scooping the cabbage into my jars, I divide up the cabbage juice between them, then I add brine to each jar, enough to cover the cabbage completely.  Lid.  Done!  Let it sit and let the good bacteria do their thing 🙂  It tastes great and is hardly any work – so I do it more often!  Win 🙂  Also, the kids really like it if I add some purple cabbage in there, it slowly colors the whole jar purple.


A few tricks to pickles to get that really crunchy effect:

  • use really fresh cucumbers! a few minutes after you pick them is awesome!
  • add a couple oak or grape leaves to the jar, the tannin in the leaves really help with the crunch

I add 3-4 cloves of garlic and a head of dill and sometimes a hot pepper, but be as creative as you dare


This traditional Korean staple is farmstead Ed’s favorite cultured food. hands down!  It brings him back to the 3 years he spent on the DMZ with his KATUSA and all of the samplings of many local foods.

Nappa cabbage, carrots, daikon and (optional) onion are the basic vegetables. Traditionally, they are slathered with the paste and then roughly chopped and stored in a large vat underground.  Again, I modify the process to still get a good taste but to lessen the work and, in this case save my hands from pepper burns!

chop the vegetables to the size you like, we like ours bite size, the carrots and daikon can be shredded or chopped fairly small, or sliced.  these dense vegetables have to be smaller or they will take a lot longer to ferment than the cabbage.

mix in your kimchi paste:

I make a jar of blended sauce to keep on hand for kimchi making and to add to Asian style soups, but you could just add 1-4 red chilis , sweet peppers can be added also, about a T garlic and a T ginger to start. and add these to your cut vegetables.  Fill quart jars with the mixture and add a brine to cover the vegetables completely.  Lid.  Let sit for 3-10 days, then refrigerate.

Dairy Ferments

Some of my favorite dairy ferments are Kefir, and yogurt, sour cream and “cheese” spreads.


To make Kefir, you need to acquire some Kefir grains.  You can get some extra from a friend’s Kefir making or you can buy them online or at some health food stores. I acquired my first ones from  the Kefir Lady and they lasted me over 5 years before I killed them!  After they grow enough that they want more milk than you want Kefir, simply separate some of them into a freezer bag and freeze for later use ie. your 2 year old eats all of your grains while your back is turned for a second! I usually keep a couple “emergency” bags of grains in the freezer, they keep for 6 months definitely but I have known them to be viable for over a year.  After this point, you can give them away to friends or feed them to your chickens or pet. . .  or a willing 2 year old 🙂

kefir grains ready to do their magic!

kefir grains ready to do their magic!

The process for Kefir making is simple.  Put your grains in a jar and fill with milk. Cover.  Let them sit on your counter for 24 hours.  Strain, using a plastic strainer sitting on top of a bowl.  Then, I personally, blend the Kefir with a hand held blender to get a very smooth texture, but this is optional and a personal preference for people with texture issues.  Next, you put your Kefir grains into a clean glass jar and add fresh milk.  Repeat.

to use your Kefir you can:

  • drink it!
  • add it to  homemade mayonnaise you made with coconut oil (it will solidify in the fridge but the liquid kefir will slow this process so that in a few hours you will have a good dip consistency) and herbs for the most wonderful ranch dip you’ve ever eaten.  hands down. pinkie promise!
  • strain it with a flour sack towel until it is a soft cheese consistency then add herbs and or spices to make the spread of your choice

some options:

*chili powder, salt, paprika with chopped bell peppers and


*rosemary and thyme, salt

*ranch dressing herb blend

  • cheaters sour cream.  add 1 T Kefir to a pint of cream. cover. let set overnight.  That’s it 🙂



Yogurt is probably one of the easiest ferments.

heat up your milk slowly, stirring often, to 110 – 115 degrees.  measure out 1 T of good quality store bought yogurt for every quart of milk you are using.

meanwhile, warm up the amount of jars you will be filling, plus one with hot water.  fill the extra jar with hot water and place it in a cooler big enough to hold all jars.  secure the lid on the cooler so it can warm up.

Ladle a little of the warm milk into your yogurt and stir.  Repeat until your yogurt mixture is smooth and runny.  Pour the yogurt mixture into the warm milk and stir.

Pour the warm milk into pre-warmed jars.  screw lids on and put all of them into a cooler.  If there is extra room fill it with a clean towel.

wait 8 hours and then put it in the fridge 🙂


you will need a starter. to make your starter:

add 1c. of water and 1c. of flour to a quart jar. Stir. Cover with a cloth and secure with a rubber band.

each day, morning and night,  you will pour out 1 c. of starter to either use, or feed to the chickens.  Then, you will add 1c. of flour and 1c of water and stir. covering again.  The feeding of the starter twice daily insures a very active and strong starter.  You do not have to throw it out, you can opt for putting it in a large bowl and you will end up with a large amount of starter in a few days, which is fine if you are going to bake a ton of goods. It’s personal preference.


I use unbleached white flour for my started and this is why

Your starter should be ready to go within a week. It will be bubbly and frothy and smell rather sour.

You can make any kind of bread with this starter, it just takes some adjustments in method. Pancakes, waffles, tortillas, noodles. . .

Shaye Elliot of The Elliot Homestead has a recipe for no knead artisan sourdough bread that cannot be beat.  It turns out delicious every time and it takes only minutes to prep. get this wonderful recipe here.

For those of you interested, a gluten free option to explore.


homemade soda is a great treat and satisfies that craving for something fizzy without all of the sugar and preservatives! BUT, adding enzymes and a little probiotic goodness!

You will need a ginger bug:

in a pint jar, add

  • 1 and 1/2 cups of water
  • 1 T ginger (fresh grated, or powdered)
  • 1 T sugar

each day for about a week, continue to add 1T ginger and 1T sugar until the mixture is bubbly.

there are many kinds of soda you can make, as many as you can imagine. For a thorough explanation  of soda making and more recipes you can go here.  I will tell you how to make Cream Soda as it is very simple and straightforward.

to a 2 liter bottle or 2 quart jar add:

  • 1 c. sugar and enough warm water to dissolve
  • 1 T vanilla extract

after the sugar has dissolved, add enough water to fill the container, being careful to leave about 2 inches headspace for expansion.  leave out at room temperature for 1-2 weeks.  enjoy cold, have a glass handy when you open, as this can be quite fizzy.



aahh, my favorite beverage of all time! Refreshing on a hot day and SO Many variations!

First of all you will need a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) and let me tell you how to save a little money and make your own.


you will need a bottle of store bought Kombucha for this.

make a sweet tea with 1 T of black tea, 1 quart of water, and 1/3 c. sugar

heat the water, pour it over the tea (or tea bag), add sugar. stir. steep until cool.  Strain out the tea leaves if you are using loose tea, or remove the tea bag.

Add the bottle of Kombucha. cover with a towel or cloth, secure with a rubber band, and let set until you have a nice mushroom, or SCOBY!  Let it get at least 1/4 in thick before you use it to start your own Kombucha.

I LOVE Kombucha and never have enough so I do what is called continuous brew and it is explained thoroughly at  the Weston A. Price website .

my continuous brew kombucha vessels have a permanent home on my counter

my continuous brew kombucha vessels have a permanent home on my counter


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