The next time you drive to the farm, glance to your right as you approach the Dirt Farm entrance: those shiny purple and green plants are cabbages. We have them in the market as stand bonuses this week, and they’re likely to keep coming for the rest of the season. Arriving just as most other vegetables begin to disappear, cabbages are a real boon to late-fall culinary life. They’re versatile, nutritious, and long-lasting — especially when they start to ferment!
Most of us aren’t inclined to think of bacteria as a nutritional boost or a food preservative, but the right bacteria do in fact improve our health and preserve perishable foods, especially vegetables. The process that allows that to happen is called lacto-fermentation, and it begins with the humblest item in your kitchen: salt.
Anyone who has eaten yogurt or other probiotic foods like kombucha knows that not all bacteria is bad; in fact some strains are really good for you, including the family known as lactobacillus. Well, it turns out that toxic bacteria can’t tolerate salt, whereas lactobacillus bacteria get along with salt quite well, so a simple salt brine will protect vegetables against the stuff that makes you sick while encouraging the healthy stuff to jump in.
From the culinary perspective, fermentation is a way of opening the door to a range of surprising flavor variations: different strains of lactobacillus combine in different ways with different components of the specific vegetables they encounter, so you never know exactly what you’re going to get. That’s a bonus, in my book. And from the nutritional perspective, fermentation initiates chemical changes that give us access to nutrients we can’t otherwise digest. Sauerkraut is a great way to get acquainted with fermentation, and great sauerkraut starts with great cabbage — we’ve got that, so come on out to the farm!