Bountiful Bacteria


Recently, I’ve “discovered” the vibrant renaissance of fermented foods and the playful process of experimenting with my own ferments. For centuries, fermentation played a vital role in preserving seasonal raw foods and increasing their nutrient bioavailability, preventing famine during the less bountiful seasons.

Fermentation is part of every culture.

You many not realize it, but many foods in your daily diet have undergone some process of fermentation, such as yogurt, cheese, coffee, chocolate, alcoholic beverages and spirits, soy sauce, and more! I narrowly associated ferments with beer and cabbage. I had no idea that you can practically ferment ANYTHING. I’ve experimented with various vegetables (carrots, radish, kale, cabbage, ramps, and cucumber), beans, nuts, and tofu to name a few.

What is so great about consuming bountiful bacteria rich foods?

Eating fermented foods boasts many health benefits. The bacteria present in fermented foods offer immense healing and health benefits to our gut microbiome, and thus our whole mind-body system. The health of our gut is grossly underestimated. Having a healthy gut ensures that the body can extract and absorb nutrition from food and turn it into accessible energy for our tissues and organ systems. The health of the gut is directly linked to immune function, and gut flora (bacteria!) contribute to ones mental and emotional health. The gut is the second brain!

Additionally, participating in fermentation is a sustainable way to consume and preserve local food resources, while supporting local farmers. Two of my friends, Caitlin and Jason Elberson, owners of Sobremesa eloquently shares her perspective on the benefits of food ferments:



“Eating local, organic wild-fermented foods can be extremely beneficial for one’s health. When you ferment local and organic produce, you create probiotic-rich, gut-friendly foods. Ferments make nutrients more available and digestible, and are a wonderful way to eat raw immunity boosters such as ginger and garlic. The foods we make are “live” and raw foods. They taste great and extend the availability of fresh tasting vegetables in our region. Ferments are a great way to experience multicultural foods and time-honored traditional foods.”

Local food has not had to travel very far to reach the customer, so it is more likely picked at the height of freshness or ripeness. It benefits our local economy for communities to support local farmers and spend food dollars on what is grown locally. Eating organic can help consumers avoid toxic pesticides and helps bees and pollinators have more safe habitats. Organic farmers place a large emphasis on the health of the soil through crop diversity, crop rotation, cover cropping and water management. Concerned and curious consumers can meet and ask their local farmers, producers and stores about management practices.

We have enjoyed food preservation on a home-scale for the last decade; and as we have practiced and learned more about the different methods of preservation such as canning, freezing, and drying, we have realized just how special fermented foods are.

One could ask how relevant fermented foods are in the 21st century with our access to refrigeration. We wholeheartedly believe fermented foods deserve the renaissance they are experiencing. Ferments keep our vegetables raw, make nutrients more readily available than in non-fermented vegetables, and they are great for our gut health by aiding in digestion and diversifying our gut flora. By eating fermented foods, we are essentially promoting diversity among microbial cultures in your body. In addition to all of these great reasons to eat them, they taste amazing! On top of being healthy, fermented vegetables are tangy, bold, earthy and tantalizing. What’s not to love?”


Look at these bubbling live beets!

Many consider fermentation an art form. How does one dive in?

 Read, practice, experiment, wait, taste, discuss, and repeat!

There are SO many resources available to those interested, especially in Vermont. Farms, such as Wild Rhythms Farm/Sobremesa in Marshfield, VT and Flack Family Farm in Enosburg Falls offer educational opportunities. Healthy Living and City Market are great stores providing educational opportunities and carry a variety of fermented products, particularly fermented vegetables. Check out your local farmers markets. I bet there are ferments to sample!  The Northeast Organic Farmers Association (NOFA) conferences often offer introductory workshops. There are also two great Facebook groups that are tremendous resources as members share experiences, photos and recipes. They are called Wild Fermentation and Fermenters Kitchen.

There are many websites, blogs, and books devoted to fermentation. Sandor Katz (aka Sandorkraut) is renowned for his historical review of fermentation, as well as guidance/recipes. Check out his books, “The Art of Fermentation” and “Wild Fermentation”

There is an upcoming educational opportunity through the “Nourish Vermont” conference happening at Shelburne Farms June 4-6. There will be a Traditional Foods Learning Station on fermented vegetables on Friday, June 5. There, you can meet some local farmers and businesses specializing in vegetable ferments!


One of my first experimental Krauts: Cabbage, Raisins, Gomasio

To get you started, here is a basic Sauerkraut recipe by Sandor Katz:


  • Cabbage
  • Salt to taste (optional)


  • Hands
  • A large glass or ceramic vessel with a wide mouth


  • Chop or grate cabbage, finely or coarsely, with or without hearts, however you like it. I love to mix green and red cabbage to end up with bright pink kraut. Place cabbage in a large bowl as you chop it.
  • Sprinkle salt on the cabbage as you go. The salt pulls water out of the cabbage (through osmosis), and this creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment and sour without rotting. The salt also has the effect of keeping the cabbage crunchy, by inhibiting organisms and enzymes that soften it. 3 tablespoons of salt is a rough guideline for 5 pounds of cabbage. I never measure the salt; I just shake some on after I chop up each cabbage. I use more salt in summer, less in winter.
  • (OPTIONAL) Add other vegetables. Grate carrots for a coleslaw-like kraut. Other vegetables I’ve added include onions, garlic, seaweed, greens, Brussels sprouts, small whole heads of cabbage, turnips, beets, and burdock roots. You can also add fruits (apples, whole or sliced, are classic), and herbs and spices (caraway seeds, dill seeds, celery seeds, and juniper berries are classic, but anything you like will work). Experiment.
  • Mix ingredients together and pack into crock. Pack just a bit into the crock at a time and tamp it down hard using your fists or any (other) sturdy kitchen implement. The tamping packs the kraut tight in the crock and helps force water out of the cabbage.
  • Cover kraut with a plate or some other lid that fits snugly inside the crock. Place a clean weight (a glass jug filled with water) on the cover. This weight is to force water out of the cabbage and then keep the cabbage submerged under the brine. Cover the whole thing with a cloth to keep dust and flies out.
  • Press down on the weight to add pressure to the cabbage and help force water out of it. Continue doing this periodically (as often as you think of it, every few hours), until the brine rises above the cover. This can take up to about 24 hours, as the salt draws water out of the cabbage slowly. Some cabbage, particularly if it is old, simply contains less water. If the brine does not rise above the plate level by the next day, add enough salt water to bring the brine level above the plate. Add about a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water and stir until it’s completely dissolved.
  • Leave the crock to ferment. I generally store the crock in an unobtrusive corner of the kitchen where I won’t forget about it, but where it won’t be in anybody’s way. You could also store it in a cool basement if you want a slower fermentation that will preserve for longer.
  • Check the kraut every day or two. The volume reduces as the fermentation proceeds. Sometimes mold appears on the surface. Many books refer to this mold as “scum,” but I prefer to think of it as a bloom. Skim what you can off of the surface; it will break up and you will probably not be able to remove all of it. Don’t worry about this. It’s just a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air. The kraut itself is under the anaerobic protection of the brine. Rinse off the plate and the weight. Taste the kraut. Generally it starts to be tangy after a few days, and the taste gets stronger as time passes. In the cool temperatures of a cellar in winter, kraut can keep improving for months and months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid. Eventually it becomes soft and the flavor turns less pleasant.
  • I generally scoop out a bowl- or jarful at a time and keep it in the fridge. I start when the kraut is young and enjoy its evolving flavor over the course of a few weeks. Try the sauerkraut juice that will be left in the bowl after the kraut is eaten. Sauerkraut juice is a rare delicacy and unparalleled digestive tonic. Each time you scoop some kraut out of the crock, you have to repack it carefully. Make sure the kraut is packed tight in the crock, the surface is level, and the cover and weight are clean. Sometimes brine evaporates, so if the kraut is not submerged below brine just add salted water as necessary. Some people preserve kraut by canning and heat-processing it. This can be done; but so much of the power of sauerkraut is its aliveness that I wonder: Why kill it?

Develop a rhythm. I try to start a new batch before the previous batch runs out. I remove the remaining kraut from the crock, repack it with fresh salted cabbage, then pour the old kraut and its juices over the new kraut. This gives the new batch a boost with an active culture starter!


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