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Of the Earth: Fermenting visions of a long life

  • Katie Korby of Real Pickles in Greenfield prepares cabbage for fermentation to make sauerkraut during a recent workshop at Green Fields Market. For the Recorder/Wesley Blixt

  • Katie Korby of Real Pickles in Greenfield prepares cabbage for fermentation to make sauerkraut during a recent workshop at Green Fields Market. For the Recorder/Wesley Blixt

  • BLIXT



For the Recorder
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

My friend, Bill Brezinsky, who is one of the people who plans the Greenfield Community College Senior Seminars, mentioned recently that his mother lived to be 101 years old. He attributed this impressive longevity to, among other things, the consumption of fermented vegetables like sauerkraut by folks of a certain eastern European heritage. Fermented vegetables, of course, tend to be rich in probiotics (the bacteria that keep your gut balanced and healthy) and prebiotics (the nutrients that keep the bacteria balanced and healthy).

As I wasn’t prepared to seek fermentation wisdom amid the secret shifting borders of Poland, Ukraine and Russia, I did the next best thing: I attended a workshop at Green Fields Market on vegetable fermentation presented by Katie Korby from Real Pickles in Greenfield and Mark Phillips of Hosta Hill in Pittsfield.

I would have been happy to simply space out over the intoxicating assortment of open jars representing at least part of the Real Pickles and Hosta Hill product lines — which, together, offered up a rich, briny smell of garlic, dill and all the other primordial origins of life itself. But I was there to learn, not yearn, and I was curious to see what presenters Korby and Phillips might be able to tell me about super longevity.

The good news is that basic, small-batch lacto-fermentation of the kind that produces a wonderful add-to-anything-or-all-by-itself sauerkraut is easy and safe, judging from the way that Korby walked a dozen or so attendees through the basics. This was a truly generous act of collaboration, since Korby and Phillips were demonstrating how to do at home in a pint or quart jar what they do for a living in large barrels.

This fermentation method relies on lactobacillus bacteria, which is already on the vegetables we grow or buy.

“You don’t have to add anything except salt to start the fermentation. The bacteria is pretty much everywhere,” Korby said.

What you need is a sealable container (such as a Mason jar), a little bit of kosher (non-iodized) salt, and fresh, local and preferably organic produce. You can try fermenting just about anything, Phillips said. The fresher the better.

My friend, Mark McCandlish, recalls that Korean households will often keep a buried fermentation jar handy to create a steady stream of kimchi. Phillips’ kimchi includes napa cabbage, daikon radish, onion, carrot, garlic, ginger, fish sauce (anchovies), sea salt, gochugaru pepper and rice flour.

The less-good news, Phillips noted, is that I may be off-base in my bid for immortality.

“It won’t save your life,” he said. “It’s a good part of a balanced diet. Keep it in the fridge. Put it on eggs, salads and sandwiches. It will help you eat more vegetables. But it won’t save your life”

We’ll see about that.

Basic Sauerkraut

Chop and weigh one pound of cabbage.

Add 1½ teaspoons of kosher or sea salt. Pack the mixture into a pint jar. Brine will begin to form almost immediately. (Korby really crammed the cabbage in there.)

Store the mixture in the fridge for three days at 68 to 72 degrees. After two days, “burp” the jar, opening it to relieve pressure. Using a clean fork, press the vegetable solids down beneath the level of the brine to keep the fermentation working.

Allow the mixture to ferment for at least two weeks. Taste it after a week, and every three to five days thereafter, until you find the right flavor. (You may, intermittently, want to skim off anything that looks funky, which Korby said is a harmless and ordinary by-product of the process.) Refrigerate the sauerkraut to store it long-term.

Phillips and Korby clearly love what they do, both in their businesses and at home. They conveyed, and promoted, a real sense of play in simply experimenting with various vegetables and spices.

Also, note that additives like vinegar or preservatives just sabotage this natural process. You won’t find any in Real Pickles or Hosta Hill products. Seriously.

Both product lines are available at Green Fields Market and Atlas Farm, among other places.

Among the books that Katie Korby (Katie@realpickles.com) and Mark Phillips (mark@hostahill.com) recommend is “The Art of Fermentation” by Sandor Ellix Katz (also the author of “Basic Fermentation: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Cultural Manipulation”) and Michael Pollan (author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” and “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto”).

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at wesleyblixt@me.com.