Writing Fermented (gardens in jars pt.2)
In the past few weeks I have done very little writing, or at least of the variety that can be read. In fact, I’m only writing today because it didn’t feel right not to…write. I’m coming off the heels of a crisis of meaning and purpose, that is to say, I was asking myself in as many words, “what the hell am I doing anyway?” Indeed, what the hell are any of us doing? Luckily for me, this corresponded nicely to the peak of harvest season in the garden, which means I’ve had plenty of meditative work to do there and in the kitchen. In addition, I have begun building an office of sorts in our basement which I’ve dubbed my war room—essentially a couple half walls that I can hang whiteboards and paper on, maybe a map or two, and do whatever I need to do to follow my brain down the rabbit hole of any creative project as I continue to seek the answer to the questions laid out above.
Back to the jars. In addition to the Kimchi I began with weeks ago, I’ve fermented habaneros into a deathly spicy and delicious hot sauce; an assortment of other peppers into a more mild, smoky sauce; cherry tomatoes and (I believe) tomato vinegar; okra; sauerkraut; and fermented greens. I’ve also pickled some peppers, made jerk sauce out of Scotch Bonnets, and smoked habanero chipotles. Each instance has been an experiment and most have been successful. Despite the time commitment on the front-end, these jars will effectively keep the garden alive long into winter, preserving its freshness and nutrients while also adding a completely new palate of flavor to our kitchen. After a few weeks of doing and thinking about this, I feel like I’m fulfilling my human purpose more than I have in quite some time—just opening my computer to write this seems like a cheap substitute for “work”. I’ve said it before, but we’re meant to have our hands in the dirt, we’re meant to work for survival; not for money. To me, computers represent the latter, gardens and jars the former.
So, while our garden quietly ferments on our countertops and in the fridge, transforming into something new and delicious for later consumption, I’m taking a step back from writing. Thoughts are reorganizing themselves in my brain, fermenting if you will, in order to be presented in new ways for their later consumption. Hopefully they will also be more delicious and nutritious for you, the reader.
In the meantime, here are some (rough) recipes for a few of the ferments I have going:
Fermented Habanero (or any other pepper) hot sauce: fill a jar with sliced peppers, garlic cloves, fresh ginger, and salt (all to taste) and cover all ingredients with non-chlorinated water (weighting them down may be necessary). Allow to sit unsealed for as long as you like (I let mine go for about two weeks). Once fermented, process into a sauce, and refine seasoning to taste. **You can adjust the level of brine in the finished product to affect the thickness of the sauce.
Fermented Okra: Cut off stems but do not slice okra. Pack jar, add salt, garlic, fresh thyme, and Thai chilis (or pepper flakes) to add heat. Cover all ingredients with non-chlorinated water and ferment for 4–5 days until the brine is cloudy—the okra should taste mostly like pickled okra and this is a great use for old, woody okra that wasn’t harvested in time as the fermentation process tenderizes them.
Fermented Cherry Tomatoes: Ideally use slightly-less-than ripe tomatoes that are still pretty firm. Poke a small hole in the skin of each, and fill a jar. Add a few cloves of garlic, split, and some pepper flakes if heat is desired. Cover all ingredients with non-chlorinated water and ferment for 4 days. After this point the tomatoes will be sparkling, little bursts of flavor. Put in fridge to slow the fermentation or they will continue to break down and get mushy. The brine can be saved to start the next batch.
Have you noticed a pattern? Fermentation is basically: add plant to jar, cover with water. The lactobacillus (lactic-acid fermenting bacteria) are already present on everything and only need an anaerobic (i.e. underwater) environment to thrive. The addition of salt not only flavors the ferment but slows the process down as well, which allows for longer preservation times. Biology can be pretty magical when we acknowledge it. Alright, I’m getting back to it. Happy experimenting!