It’s that time of the year again. The temperature is swinging wildly. On Tuesday, I was out in my t-shirt checking the sap buckets while the mud sucked the boots off my feet. Today, I needed my winter coat and gloves to push 4 inches of fresh snow off the truck. It’s rather typical March weather and hard on the root cellar vegetables. They like a nice, even 38 degrees to maintain their best condition. When it gets warm, the beets and carrots break dormancy. Both are biennials. The first year they produce an edible root. If the root is overwintered and allowed to grow again in the spring you will get, not another root, but a seed head. I noticed light green leaves poking out of the bin I stored the beets in and I knew I had to do something or lose them so I pulled them out Some we will eat roasted and a few will be grated in salads. The rest I shall lacto-ferment.
In a perfect world, I would only ferment fresh vegetables, the juiciest and best flavored. In a world where we worry about waste and hard times, we work with what we have. Certainly our peasant ancestors rescued their aging root-cellared vegetables this way. What we have to work with today are beets and carrots that have seen better days.
Here’s how the process works. Vegetable have naturally occurring lactobacilli on their surface. When the vegetables are mixed with salt and tamped down in a jar, protected from oxygen and given a few days for magic to happen, you get an all-natural pickle that actually has better nutrition that the original vegetable. That is a real plus in the latter days of winter when our bodies are craving vitamin C.
I grabbed several beets and a very few carrots and ran them through my spiralizer as I was in a rush. You can grate them or just chop them finely with a sharp knife. I washed and rinsed a one-pint canning jar and layered the vegetable with unrefined sea salt. The rule of thumb is 1 pint of vegetables to 1.5 teaspoons salt (1 tablespoon salt to one quart vegetables). I like to use beets, carrots, cabbage and turnip, all the things most likely to have made it through a New England winter. As I add layers I tamp down with my wooden rammer. When the jar is full I add the Perfect Pickle Lid. It has a hole in the top to hold an air-lock. This prevents the liquid from the fermentation process to spill out. If you don’t have this set up you can use a regular jar and lid but be aware that the CO2 released will cause a build-up of pressure and you will need to burp the jar a couple of times a day. In 3-4 days, depending on the temperature of your kitchen (warmer temps means shorter fermentation time) the most dramatic bubbling will slow down. Give your pickles a taste. You may want to give them a few more day to get more sour of put your jar in the refrigerator. It’s a forgiving process. The high acid level will prevent the nasty bacteria that could make you sick from forming. We love the results. I eat my fermented beets on sandwiches, as a side-dish and added to salads.
When hard times come, people are far more reluctant to waste food. Developing the skills, acquiring the equipment and developing a taste for the food you can create will give you a head start on being practically prepared.