Exploring the Art of Food Preservation
The Fraser River Lodge
Fermenting and preserving foods has been a part of human culture since the beginning of time, whether it be alcohol, sauerkraut, pickles or cured meats. I was first introduced to the idea of fermentation by a friend in Mexico who sent me a copy of the book “ Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz. The book has a very approachable stance on fermenting and letting nature do its thing. From that point on I was always attempting to make vinegar, kombuchas and other funky things everywhere I went to the annoyance of those around me, leaving a trail of jars with strange liquids in my wake.
During my time in Scandinavia, I got lots of first-hand experience preserving and fermenting as well. In Norway, I made Lutefisk (a lye-cured fish with the consistency of jelly) as well as salt-cured meats and pickles.
I also had the opportunity to spend time in the fermentation lab at Noma with David Zilber and Jason White. Just being a fly on the wall around those two is an amazing experience.
At the Lodge, we predominantly utilize 3 fermentation methods: lactic fermentation, blackening, and making vinegar. We also do experiments with different varieties of fermentation. In the past, I have made bean and rye misos and we usually have a couple of different varieties of kombucha brewing at any given time, as well as the occasional sourdough bread. Most of these make their way into our plated dinners in some form or another.
The most common method of fermentation is lactic fermentation, which is the process of using salts to kill many harmful bacteria while promoting others and creating lactic acid which changes the flavour and complexity of different foods. This is commonly seen in foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi. It has great health benefits, full of probiotics, and is fairly simple to make.
We have found other exciting uses for this technique such as our fermented potato bread. We generally add 3% salt by the weight of the given vegetable, vacuum seal it and leave it in a warm place for a day or two. From this process, we create our “lacto-fermented” vegetable. This process results in both an interesting flavour in the fermented vegetable as well as the liquid run-off which is often the star of the process and can be used as a flavouring agent or as a sauce on its own.
Blackening fruits and vegetables is a process we use to build complex flavours and while it's not technically a form of fermentation I feel it falls under this category. This process is most commonly seen in black garlic. Heat, time and pressure are applied to an ingredient, slowly breaking down the cell walls making it smooth in texture as well as caramelizing the natural sugars, giving it a sweeter flavour. This process is often done at home in a rice cooker. It both applies pressure and keeps a consistent temperature and you can let it run for months. At the Lodge, we use a vacuum sealer to provide our pressure, and a bread proofer (that has been dubbed the funk bunker) set to exactly 110F to provide the heat.
Currently, we have about 50 lbs of apples blackening. The process will take about 2 months but in the end, we will be able to make a fantastic applesauce to serve with our pork roasts. Other examples of things we blacken at the Lodge are scapes, sunchokes, shallots and of course garlic.
The process of making vinegar is somewhat complicated so I won’t go into it here.
Fermenting and playing with how bacteria interact with food can be a lot of fun and rewarding but it can have some risks as well if you're not sure what you're doing. I recommend doing your own research before starting any fermenting projects at home.
If you are interested in learning more about fermentation a couple of books I would recommend are: “The Noma Guide to Fermentation” by David Zilber, “The Art of Fermentation & Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz, and if you can track down a copy “A Field Guide to Fermentation” by Arielle Johnson and Lars Williams!
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