For a few years, I had been reading and hearing about fermenting vegetables. People who are pursuing natural living and eating seem to delve into fermentation at some point. In the past, most cultures around the world used some form of fermentation to preserve food. I will not pretend to understand all the science behind it, but basically the fermented vegetables are supposed to be good for your digestive tract. (A more familiar concept is the idea that the good bacteria in yogurt is beneficial for your body.)
Though the process sounded interesting, I had not mustered up the courage to try it for myself. This past September, after I had canned all the pickles, relish, and salsa I needed and still had plenty of cucumbers, beets, and tomatoes to spare, I decided to give fermenting a shot. Now that I understand the process, I realize that I had actually used the same method in the past when I made sauerkraut. I just did not realize that other vegetables can be fermented as well.
I tried four different recipes: dill pickles, red beets, bread and butter pickles, and salsa. I find all of them delicious. The dill pickles are so crisp and flavorful, and usually I do not care for dill pickles. The red beets have an earthy and unique taste. The salsa is my favorite with a mild sour flavor. The bread and butter pickles are my least favorite, I think because of the strong onion taste. The cucumbers and beets maintained their crisp fresh texture, something I have always found a bit lacking in my canned pickles. These recipes do create a very salty and sour product, but I eat them in small amounts as an accompaniment to unsalted meat, potatoes, rice, or cooked vegetables.
The process is so easy: cut up your vegetables, place in a quart jar, add herbs and 1-2 tablespoons of salt, add a bit of filtered water if necessary, close with a jar flat and ring, set jar on counter or shelf, and wait a few days. Once the jar is opened, place in refrigerator. Since it took me a while to finish a quart jar, I only opened one at a time. The salsa sat on my shelf from September through February and was delicious when I opened it today. The jar had actually sealed itself with no canning involved.
I plan to try fermenting again this year. The benefits I see: easy process, no heating up the kitchen with a canner, preserves the raw vegetables, delicious way to add flavor to meals, and provides healthy bacteria for your body.
I am not going to include the recipes I used because they were not my own, but most came from the cookbook Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. I also found some on the internet when I was searching for recipes for fermented bread and butter pickles. If you are interested, you can find plenty of blogs and websites with more information.