Tuesday, September 25, 2012
It's been about a week and a half since I stocked my crock, and I went poking around in there this morning to see how the fermentation was coming along. The brine had turned purple from the cabbage pigment; that happened almost right away. There were whitish specks on the surface of the brine, quite unappetizing; I skimmed most of those off. The brine had a great flavor, sour, chile hot, savory with garlic and onion. The cabbage was on top, and it tasted like fermented cabbage, which is to say, very good, as homemade sauerkraut generally is, not mind-blowing.
The exciting stuff was down below, specifically the green tomatoes and summer squash, which I had not fermented before. One of the strange things that happens when fermenting soft vegetables is that they actually become firmer, and somewhat shrunken and wrinkled in the process--that's water being drawn out and replaced with salt from the brine solution. Reaching back to our high school science courses, we will recall that this is the result of the liquids within and without the vegetables striving for equilibrium of salinity through osmosis. If I recall correctly. The fact that the tomatoes and squash were actually firmer than when they went in surprised me, though it shouldn't have. I have this sort of "common sense" assumption about fermentation, totally wrong as it happens, that tough vegetables will soften while fermenting. They do not. So don't put gnarly old vegetables into the crock expecting that they'll come out tender in a few weeks; more likely they will just get gnarlier.
Anyway, circling back to an earlier point: the tomatoes and patty pans had firmed up nicely, soured delightfully, and taken up plenty of flavor--and color--from the brine. The beans were nice and crisp and flavorful, the chiles piquant. And the onions, the humble onions, they were absolutely delightful. I'll put more onions into my next crock.
I moved the vegetables to a gallon jar--in truth I could have done it in the jar to start with, but I really like stocking my crock. I mentioned previously that the main use I make of a mixed ferment like this is as a base for winter soups, but the freshness of the tomatoes, chiles, and squash in this one have me thinking of fermented salsas, or choucroute garnie variations. I'm feeling good about my winter pantry.