In most parts of the world, preserving crops was historically as or more important to human survival than growing them: the yin and the yang of agriculture. Humans discovered a number of different ways to turn ephemeral products into shelf-stable ones: salting, sun-curing or drying, and fermentation. Together, these methods helped keep people alive from harvest to harvest.
As recently as the 19th century, most preserved foods were staples that people ate for months in lieu of fresh ones. Fast forward to the fresh food abundance of the 21st century and many preserved products have become luxury goods . It’s no longer just wine, cheese and smoked meats but even beer and pickles that have received the foodie stamp of approval.
The reason seems pretty clear. Wine is not grape juice. Cheese is not milk. Beer is not barley or hops. Olives, picked straight from the tree, are not edible at all. The act of preservation changes original ingredients into something completely different and even transcendental.
Fermentation is the most dramatic example of this transformation, facilitated by either bacteria or mold. When the right strains infect the feedstock, the result is not spoilage, but a different food product — grapes into wine, wheat into liquor, milk into yogurt.
The cabbage family is the vegetable that lends itself most readily to fermentation. But unlike with fruit or grain, it’s not a sugar-based process. It works because cabbage is naturally high in lactic acid.
In recent decades, industrial mass production has tended to skip the step of allowing cabbage to ferment and substituted vinegar to speed the process of turning it into sauerkraut. But around the world, people have continued to naturally ferment cabbage in order to make their traditional foods. And in recent years, the process has finally come back into vogue in the U.S. Naturally fermented cabbage is now a gourmet product, vaunted for its high levels of healthful probiotics.
A small jar will set you back $6 or $8. But you can make it at home with a few of the items in today’s TFF CSA box.
Of all the crops we grow, cabbage is one of the most tolerant to the weather conditions that the winter of 2016-2017 has thrown at us: wet and windy alternating with freezing cold. It stores well in the field as well as in our coolers, which means we can harvest lots of it between storms and then pull it out on rainy days.
We grow three different types of cabbage at TFF: the regular green variety as well as red and savoy leafed. Despite its humble image, cabbage is a supremely versatile and incredibly nutritious vegetable. You can eat it raw in salads, marinated, quick-cooked, or slow cooked until its soft. And of course, you can ferment it.
In the recipe section you’ll find instructions for how to make Kimchi, the spicy, quick-fermented cabbage salad that is the “salsa” of Korea. There’s no special procedures for making Kimchi, but it’s not completely fermented so it needs to be kept refrigerated after a few days. The Savoy Cabbage in your boxes today is a good substitute for the Napa cabbage traditionally used in Kimchi.