Culture

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Several weeks ago we harvested the vegetable gardens. Turns out this was a stellar year for carrots and beets- two lily trays of carrots and one of beets. Some critter had already started harvesting the beet crop before we got there. Probably half a lily tray was wasted, from our point of view, when the critter gnawed the top half of many beets. I can see him rolling backward after chomping his way through it. A smile would be dripping beet juice as he rested on his fully satisfied belly for a snooze. Peter Rabbit lookout- this is "way not cool!"

For the past few seasons we found a way to preserve that fresh-picked crunch over the winter and well into summer of the next year: culturing. There is no heat during the process other than when I clean the jars. The vegetable never loses its pizazz, like conventional canning. Now this is not for everyone's taste - just ask at my workplace. The smell drives some people to the point of uncivilized inappropriate gestures. And surprisingly it is some of the people who extol sauerkraut. Let me put it this way, I hesitate to offer it to anyone used to standard American fare. One of our children loves it, one doesn't mind if we eat it, the others do not care for it at all. Both Rod & I really enjoy it - we use it as a relish for meats, a topping for oatmeal, a hearty salad addition, a side for just about anything you might want for a meal. When Rod cooks for himself, he need only grill a piece of meat, then add his cultured vegetables from the fridge. So to you adventurous souls, I present a great way to put up the bounty of beets and carrots from the garden. Add to that, for all you concerned with your girth, it is one of the foods that help curb carb cravings. Yes!

Washing the carrots from the garden
For a culture starter I usually buy a box or two from Body Ecology. Yes, this is a lot like making yogurt. The box comes with several packets of the culture, specifically intended to synergize with the vegetables. And of course, it's good for synergy with our guts. The labels reads anti-gut disbyosis, like IBS, Crohn's Disease and Colitis. Sign me up to keep all that at bay. And culturing vegetables is not a complicated process, quicker than home canning, with a result that is fresh tasting as well as good for you. First you wake up the Lactobacillus with a little warm honey drink. Then you mix it with the shredded vegetables. Keep it in a warm room for a few days and let the bacteria do the job. Fermenting.


Rod cutting off the carrot tops
We start with cleaning the kitchen and sterilizing all the tools - bottles, lids, bowls, ladles, et all. Then we brush the vegetables clean in the sink, removing all the bad spots, tops, and gnarls, if any. Rod or I then push the beets or carrots through the food processor. Years ago I decided to get a used commercial food processor. It makes matchstick carrots in seconds flat. This makes processing large batches from the garden a few evening's work. That is all we put into this year's batches - two evenings after dinner during the week.


Filling the jars
There is a special white stool I keep nearby the kitchen for this occasion. Next to this I  place a low small table (in our case an old chowkie leftover from the children's school days) up close. I feel like the dairy maid a'churning. To prepare, I mix the warmed activated culture with water and a few stalks of celery in the blender and add from a list of possible ingredients such as garlic, ginger, or herbs. This I pour over the julienned vegetables in my large stock pot. Next comes the pounding. I have found my baker's professional plastic rolling pin to be the best tool. It is easy on the hand and really makes a good mash. After twenty minutes or so, Rod usually takes a turn. One can also make cultured butter this way.


Packing the jar
Then I pack the sterilized jars, mashing down the ingredients until near the top. For the last inch or so, I roll logs of cabbage and press them down. This helps keep the juices from overflowing while bubbling. I cap the jars, wash and stack them near the sink. I will leave them out to bubble for 5 days in the warm kitchen. After that, it's off to the extra refrigerator downstairs. We pull a jar or two as needed to keep in the main fridge. Oh-delicious!


Jars a'Culturing
There are so many variations to the recipes that we usually try something different in each batch: gingered carrots; garlic carrots with dill; cinnamon carrots with ginger. You get the picture. My daughter does this same process with cabbage, but without the packets of culture. Cabbage has a natural proclivity to ferment with beneficial bacteria. I will have to plant extra cabbage next year - maybe red and savoy. That would make a pretty jar!

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