SauerNation: in search of Live-Culture Community

SauerNation stands for the growing number of people who demand high quality, locally-sourced, nutritious and affordable live-culture foods.  It includes the artisans who produce such foods, and the farmers who supply them, as well as everyone who eats them.

Navigation

  1. Rights of the Citizens of SauerNation
  2. The Live-Culture Community Vision
  3. Building Live-Culture Community
    • SauerKnowledge
      • SauerForums
  4. Saueressen Membership

Rights of the Citizens of SauerNation

  • The right to access nutritious live-culture foods made with locally-sourced ingredients
  • The right to know your live-culture food along the entirety of its supply chain
  • The right to meet the people involved in producing your live-culture food
  • The right to learn how to make and use live-culture foods

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The Live-Culture Community Vision

Together, our collective work of SauerNation will build a live-culture community supporting

  1. Access to nutritious, locally-sourced live-culture foods
  2. Local organic farms, farmers and farming practices
  3. Local artisan producers
  4. SauerKnowledge to help you
    • make your favorite live-culture foods
    • use live-culture foods in your diet
  5. Neighborhood food security hubs that
    • provide economic and professional opportunities for individuals
    • build community food preservation capacity
    • produce, store and distribute emergency nutrition supplies
    • prevent food spoilage and waste at all points in the local food system
    • develop the community’s capacity to feed itself during “long emergencies”

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Building Live-Culture Community

Contact us to get involved. We need artisan-producers, consumers and farm-suppliers (including urban small-plot intensive farmers)!

SauerKnowledge

The Saueressen Knowledge Base — needs your input: submit recipes, how-to, tips and tricks, or other information, or help take on an leadership role in building our local capacity for live-culture foods.

SauerForums

Saueressen will host two forums to help facilitate community discussion on the two main subjects of SauerKnowledge:

  • How to make your favorite live-culture foods
  • How to use live-culture foods in your diet

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Saueressen Membership

Anyone may buy from Saueressen at the standard prices.

Annual Membership Fee: $40 to become a Saueressen member, which includes 5 pints of Sauerchi or equivalent value products. Members may purchase additional Sauerchi or other products at member discount for the year of their membership.

Low-income customers on SNAP: $20 to become a Saueressen member, which includes 3 pints of Sauerchi or equivalent-value products. Saueressen will accept SNAP/EBT in the future. Low-income members may purchase additional Sauerchi or other products at member discount for the year of their membership.

Saueressen exists as a worker cooperative collectively-owned by its fermentation artisans.

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Future Considerations

Saueressen will offer a membership for food service / institutional customers that includes an upfront purchase fee for quarts of Sauerchi.

Saueressen will offer a lifetime membership option to all customers, including low-income customers. The lifetime membership fee for low-income customers will consist of an upfront payment of part of the total membership fee, with a flexible payment plan for the rest of the fee.

Membership will include access to a shared benefits network with other local cooperatives or other locally-owned businesses.

The Saueressen strategic plan includes the establishment of neighborhood food security hubs that use and promote traditional low-energy methods of preservation. This concern over the distribution of food and food technologies may require changing the structure of Saueressen from a worker-owned cooperative to a community cooperative owned by workers and customers both. Saueressen must also actively build consumer capacity to locally source and prepare their own live-culture foods, which will blur the line between artisan producers and consumers, changing its business model from a “community-supported enterprise” to a “community-generated enterprise.”

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Pizza with Sauerchi

Day-old pizza.  What to do?  My dad loves it cold, straight out of the fridge.  Blech.  I like to reheat it, but none of that soggy microwave business.  Here’s what I do to give myself a fantastic taste and texture with enhanced nutrition without a noticeable increase in prep time:

  1. Preheat a well-seasoned iron frying pan on low
  2. Finely mince some fresh herbs (or use dried herbs or spices, whatever you have on hand).  I mince some sage, thyme and rosemary.  Sometimes with oregano.  I use a generous amount — the taste is sublime!
  3. Put the pizza in the frying pan (keep the temperature low), sprinkle the herbs over the pizza, douse with a bit of olive oil and black pepper and turmeric (black pepper and turmeric synergize to increase health effects).
    1. TIP:  if you have a hard time fitting two pieces, try cutting them in half lengthwise and arrange them in the pan alternating the direction of the crust.
    2. TIP:  Bend the tips up the side of the pan, since they cook fast anyway.
  4. Cover and fry/steam on low for a few minutes until the bottoms are crispy and the tops are melty.
  5. Remove and serve immediately with a few dollops of sauerchi.
  6. Eat up to the crust.  Save the crust for dessert.
  7. For dessert:  Tear the crust open and apart where it connected to the rest of the pizza (the part you just ate), to expose the soft insides, to create little mini breadsticks.
  8. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon.
  9. Add some olive oil and balsamic vinegar to the plate or bowl.
  10. Dip the cinnamon-sprinkled crust in the oil and vinegar and enjoy!

Total prep time:  about 10 minutes.

Using this method, I enjoy day-after pizza more than the original!  It’s crunchy, melty, gooey, with added nutritional density to make up for the fact that it’s, well, pizza.  The sauerchi adds a great flavor and temperature counterpoint.  By saving the crust, I get a satisfying dessert as well.

This recipe fits under the principles of using leftovers as the “original fast food” as well as combining leftovers as ingredients in new meals.  In other words:  don’t just reheat — consider it an ingredient for something new.  If it’s a new concept, this recipe is a great first step in that direction.

Pro tip:  Sauces can have a dramatic impact on the rest of the pizza flavor.  If you make pizza from scratch, try using sauerchi as a pizza base substitute for tomato sauce.  Mix with yogurt or sauercream for a creamy base.  Although baking it kills the live cultures…yum!

How do you use your live-culture foods?  Write in and let us know!

A Day at the Market

Narrative

To bed at 2am after a long day.  Up at 6:30am.  Load up coolers, load up car.  Pick up partner in crime (so to speak).  Arrive at the Salem Public Market slightly before 8am.  Set up the display by 8:30am, which turned into a very nice rainbow fo colors.  Chatted with other vendors and learned a lot.  Sampled about three pints worth of Sauerchi between 9am and 1pm.  Said hi to dozens of people.  Helped make several sales for the Salem Food Co-op.  Bartered with other vendors.  Drank too much coffee.  Returned wired.  Put everything away.  Todo list followup.  CRASH.

Quotes

The most memorable quotes from the day…a very engratiating and humbling reception!

(after first bite) Wow…oh my God!

You should be here every week.  You’ll be here next week, right?

[Do you want a receipt?]  No, I want a spoon!

I didn’t think I liked pickles for 49 years!

Pictures

With Saueressen, you can eat the rainbow for all the health benefits it entails.  No food coloring added — it’s all from the ingredients themselves!  As flavorful as they are colorful, too!

Products and Labels and Tastings, oh my!

Summary: New menu, new products available, new labels and some scheduled appearances at the Salem Public Market courtesy of the Salem Food Cooperative.

My next announcement will probably concern opening my own online marketplace using the Open Food Source software.  Salem Food Cooperative is following suit, and they will have a similar announcement.  In the mean time, if you are interested in trying or buying, please email me.

Product Tastings

I will be at the Salem Public Market on Saturdays dong tastings and helping out the Food Cooperative wherever I’m able.  I will have extra on-hand for those who wish to take some home with them.

Current Menu

December 02, 2014 (you can find it via the navigation menu on the website)

Some of the veggies available

Final labels for the available products

Saueressen on salt

Although many others discuss the matter of salt in ferments, and do a pretty good job, Saueressen has yet to find a more complete practical discussion of salt.  We attempt a more complete introduction to salt use, below, in two parts:  How much salt?  (the more popular question first) and Which salt?  Please comment if you have questions or more information / experience to share.

Table of Contents

  1. Why Salt?
  2. How much salt should I use?
    1. General Guidelines
    2. Ingredients Quality
    3. Self-brining?
    4. Remember Osmosis
    5. Salt for Security
  3. Which Salt?
  4. Final Note:  The Value of Salt

Why salt?

Salt performs several functions in a vegetable fermentation process.  Among other things, it

  • inhibits the growth of undesirable organisms,
  • inhibits the activity of pectic enzymes that threaten to turn your ferment to mush
  • slows down and regulates the fermentation process,
  • draws water from the vegetables to create an anaerobic brine,
  • helps select for anaerobic lactic-acid bacteria (LAB) that create the desired end product and
  • enhances and balances the flavor of the ferment (making it taste less acidic)

Salt has a place of importance in such ferments.  That said, people can and do ferment without them.  For example, some people ferment vegetables in wine.  In Nepal people mash kale leaves and ferment them unsalted in their own juices to create gundruk, a food of great national importance (emphasis mine):

The shredded leaves are tightly packed in an earthenware pot, and warm water (at about 30°C) is added to cover all the leaves.[2] The pot is then kept in a warm place.[2] After seven days, a mild acidic taste indicates the end of fermentation and the gundruk is removed and sun-dried.[2]This process is similar to sauerkraut production except that no salt is added to the shredded leaves before the start of gundruk fermentation.[2]

Gundruk has very different characteristics than sauerkraut (including the fact that it results in a sun-dried product).  Those differences stem from different processing techniques and expectations, and have little or nothing to do with the safety, quality and performance of the ferment itself.  In fact, what makes for good sauerkraut might make for bad gundruk, and vice-versa.  So much of what makes a “good ferment” boils down to expectations formed out of preference and acquired taste.

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How much salt should I use?

Short answer: salt to taste.

Not satisfied with that answer?  Same here.  Some further guidelines and points to consider, below.

General Guidelines (longer answer)

use more salt if:

  • your ferment involves physically-delicate ingredients
  • your fermentation enviornment tends to run hot (70-75 or higher *F)
  • you do not have a reliable airlock and way to keep your ferment submerged in the brine (e.g,. a weight or various mechanical systems — ask about those and I’ll write an overview)
  • you are doing a “plain jane” ferment without other protective ingredients (garlic, onion, herbs, spices)

use less salt if:

  • your ferment involves tougher vegetables you wouldn’t mind softening a little bit during fermentation
  • your fermentation environment tends to run cold (65-60 or lower)
  • you have a reliable airlock system (airlocked crocks, airlocked mason jars, or baile-top [fido-style] mason jars) and submersion method
  • you tend to ferment with other protective ingredients (garlic, onion, herbs, spices)

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Ingredient Quality

Different vegetables — and even the same vegetables across different farms or harvests — contain different salt/water/sugar balances.  Celery, for example, typically has a high salt content.  I’ve worked with both relatively dry, dense and savory and relatively heavy and sweet cabbages.  Technically the same cabbage, but grown and harvested at different times and places.  The carrots I get from one of my farm suppliers taste so juicy, crunchy and sweet, it almost feels like I’m eating a fruit or a piece of candy.  That difference in going into the ferment creates a noticeable difference in the outcome as well.

Other ingredients have preservative qualities in the ferment, such as garlic, onion, antioxidant/anti-microbial herbs and spices (ginger, rosemary, tannic acids from grape or oak leaves, etc).  These “minor ingredients” help balance the finished flavor while providing additional protection for the ferment throughout its lifecycle (including in storage), potentially allowing more flexibility on salt use.  I’ve found adding such ingredients gives me much more flexibility and control over the finished flavor, quality and longevity of the ferment — so much so that it’s become a core part of the Saueressen Process and our concept of sauerchi.

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Self-brining?

Use enough salt to extract juice from shredded vegetables.  NOTE:  The more finely shredded the vegetable, the less salt needed to create the self-brine.  If the shredding is too coarse, you run the risk of oversalting to create the brine!  If you drain off some of the excess brine, it will leave the remaining vegetables much less salty.  Adding ingredients, such as an unsalted pesto, will also further reduce the salt content (which can rescue base ingredients that you accidentally oversalted).  You may also rinse over-salted vegetables, in a pinch.

Remember Osmosis

The perfect amount of salt will initially taste like too much salt, until it diffuses equally throughout the liquids and solids of the ferment over the course of about a week.  The same principle applies when adding salt to soup or sourdough bread, so if you’re used to seasoning soup, you should have an idea of what to expect when salting vegetables for a ferment.

Salt The Top for Security

A ferment will always most likely (and often does) become contaminated along its edges — especially the top.  Sprinkle additional salt over the top of the packed ferment to give the top of the brine or other surface more protection during the vulnerable, early stages of the ferment.  The salt will diffuse throughout the rest of the ferment over time.  Only take this opportunity if the ferment still needs additional salt!

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Ok, sheesh.  So, which salt?

Short answer: Use either unrefined mineral (mined) salt or unrefined sea (evaporated) salt in fine grain texture (e.g, not rock salt or flake or powder).

Both unrefined sea and mineral salts have all the good stuff the ferments need (trace minerals and nutrients, fantastic flavor) and none of the bad stuff (such as aluminum and other chemical additives).  Supposedly the iodide supplement in table salt can further inhibit or kill the micro-organisms responsible for fermentation, but I haven’t noticed a difference.  Even then, it could be useful to slow down overly-vigorous fermentations (e.g,. in a warm environment).

Consider the granularity of the salt — how coarse or fine the salt is.  Fine-grain sea salt tends to be cheap, ubiquitous and practical.  It stores compact, doesn’t require additional processing to use, is easy to measure and handle, and dissolves quickly into solution.  If you keep recipes and use different sizes of salt grains, remember to measure by weight and not volume!

Some people also consider salt a spice and pay a premium for different types of specialty or “finishing” salts to affect taste, texture and even color, such as black salt and smoked salt.  Whatever floats your boat, although such salts probably get lost in a ferment (if you’ve found specialty salts useful in ferments, please write in and let us know!).

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Final note:  the value of salt

Our bodies are self-contained sacks of salty brine.  We need salt to live.  If the concentration of salt in our bodies falls too low, our bodies stop functioning. Yet, we need freshwater, not salt water to help balance things on the other end.  Human (and probably most) life depends on a very delicate balance — a balance that requires our bodies to continually readjust.  Readjustment requires, at its core, salt and freshwater.

In light of this delicate balance, throwing something like a vegetable brine away feels to me like throwing away liquid gold.  Such a rich, nutritious and useful liquid, full of electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, sugars and other nutrients.

Instead of throwing out excess brine:

  • Reduce it down to a thick, syrupy brine.  It will store for a long time in a refrigerator.
  • Use it in recipes that call for both salt and liquid.
  • Use it as a soy sauce substitute — it provides much of the same rich, umami flavor.
  • Use it to deglaze/braze pan-cooked meals (such as veggies, meat, rice, quinoa, etc; just don’t add dry salt!)
  • Create marinades and dressings with it
  • Make a stock, broth, soup or stew out of it
  • Use it as brine in non-self-brining ferments

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Wild Fermentation: the “one book to buy” about fermentation (review)

Introduction

Sandor Ellix Katz (aka Sandorkraut) isn’t the first person to evangelize fermented foods, nor thankfully will Katz be the last (not in the least because he has created so many acolytes).  But I can think of several good reasons why Sandorkraut is perhaps the best-known fermentation evangelist to-date and for the forseeable future:  For example:

  • He has a compelling personal story.
  • He researches and knows his topic well.
  • He makes things the reader knows nothing about seem both familiar and doable.
  • He communicates with humility and honesty.
  • He “writes about the transformative power of fermentation with such infectious enthusiasm that he makes you want to try things just to see what happens,” according to fellow evangelist Michael Pollan, himself no slouch when it comes to writing.

For the above reasons and more, Wild Fermentation is a classic inside and outside of its field.  If you trust our word without explanation: Saueressen strongly recommends Wild Fermentation as most people’s first purchase to help guide their foray into the world of food fermentation.  Read on for more details…

Contents

  1. Why Read Wild Fermentation?
  2. Who:  Suggested Audience
  3. How: Suggested Use
  4. To Purchase

Why Read Wild Fermentation?

Wild Fermentation looks like a modest book at first blush.  However, the number of fermentation topics it covers would be staggering and overwhelming were it not for Katz’ ability to make everything sound so darn fun, and show just how truly easy most fermentation really is.  Through this book, Katz breaks down technological, technical, cultural and psychological barriers to empower his readers to experiment and integrate fermented foods into their own lives.  He covers historical, philosophical and practical angles, including recipes and processes to get the reader started with their own projects.

Katz does a fantastic job discussing variables (such as heat, salt, sugar content), and prepares the reader to experiment and see what works best for them.  That in itself is huge.  In an internet culture spreading so much fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD), with so many people posing as experts only to scare and confuse newcomers with unfounded claims, Katz stands apart from the crowd — through his life, writing and work — as an ethical model and a timeless resource of unquestionable integrity.

Wild Fermentation and its bigger (albeit younger) sibling, The Art of Fermentation (review forthcoming) bring thousands of hours and dollars of experience and expertise to their readers for pennies on the dollar.

Who:  Suggested Audience

Anyone interested food will benefit, one way or another, from familiarizing themselves with the material in this book.  This includes people who just enjoy reading about food (the Michael Pollans of the world; although they’ll probably want to start experimenting), as well those of us who enjoy preparing food from scratch.

More specifically, live-culture food and fermentation hobbyists of all types and fermentation enthusiasts and professionals alike should read the book purely on the basis that it has had such a massive impact on the revival of interest in food fermentation in the United States, and for good reason.  Wild Fermentation presents few, if any pitfalls, making it easy to recommend wholeheartedly as an introductory and foundational text in an evolving and expanding field.

How:  Suggested Use

Read the book itself straight through the first time as a sort of well-written and interesting fermentation travelogue.  Then go back and use it for inspiration and recipes, over and over again.  Katz presents a wealth of cultural information in a very concise and compelling manner, then backs up each fermentation topic with all sorts of recipes that show how quickly variations on a basic theme can lend diversity to the topic.

To Purchase

For local (Willamette Valley) residents:  Please buy the book from (and support) The Book Bin.

If you read this review and are non-local, please ask your local bookstore before purchasing online.  If you do purchase online, we ask that you purchase Wild Fermentation through us directly using the link on the sidebar to the right of this article.   Doing so directly supports Saueressen, the publisher and the author.  Thank you!

Sauerchi Recipe: Using Fennel in the Ferment

Fennel has wonderful versatility.  It provides a delicate and subtle anise-like sweetness, and every part of the plant has culinary use:  The root/bulb, stalks, fronds, flowers and seeds all have a role to play in fennel recipes.

In general, I find that the sugar-content and tenderness of fennel decreases as you go higher on the plant, while the anise-like sweet-spice flavor increases from bottom to top.  To me, this generally means

“use the bulb and lower, tender and younger stalks like a vegetable; use the higher stalks, fronds, flowers and seeds like herbs and spices”

Recently, I applied this principle using the Saueressen Process to create a fennel-spiced Sauerchi.  I used about a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio of fennel to red cabbage by weight.  I chose turmeric due to its subtle earthy flavor to complement and enhance the fennel without overpowering fennel’s relatively delicate flavor.  I relied mostly on the fennel for the pesto, using just enough onion to smooth out the texture.

Recipe:  Fennel-Turmeric Sauerchi

  1. Brine the base ingredients:
    1. Shred and salt the red cabbage to prep it for the self-brine.
    2. Separate out the fennel bulb from the rest of the plant.  Shred it like you would cabbage, and mix it with the cabbage.
    3. Cover, weight and self-brine the fennel bulb-cabbage mixture for 24-48 hours, until the salt seems equally distributed throughout the brine.
  2. Sometime after step #1 above and #3 below, make the fennel pesto:
    1. Chop the fennel stalks and fronds perpendicular to the grain (so you don’t get something stringy and fibrous) into small chunks, no longer than 1″ (the shorter the better).
    2. Food process a generous amount of fennel seed with an onion base.   The onion provides additional sweetness and protection for the ferment, and it improves the texture of the pesto.
    3. Add the chopped fennel fronds and stalks to the onion-seed mixture and continue processing into a thick paste.
    4. Mix with turmeric, cover and set aside.
  3. Drain the brine from the base ingredients, mix with the pesto, and crock the Sauerchi.

While I never know how something’s going to turn out, I always strive to produce amazing flavors and combinations on the way in.  My first thought in tasting this recipe was, “I don’t want to share this with others!”  Always a good sign.  I should have approximately three gallons of this recipe available this winter.  And, yes, I plan to share it with others!