Monday, 24 April 2017

you can't get blood from a turnip

I'm in the midst of a love affair with beets.

Not, alas, fresh from the garden. It's only early spring here, so not much is coomin' oop yet. What there is, is a delight of course (do click to enlarge):

lilliputian dandelions
(shown with coyote bones)

adorable, crinkly thumbnail
mallows (with mullein)

finch feathers of yarrow
teeny tiny whorls of cleavers
with dropped clothespin

Minute as they are, none of these delights are making it to the house.

They're strictly for grazing on in situ, so to speak.

The beets in question are of the humble, bagged in plastic, devoid of greens, super cheap at the grocery store because hardly anyone ever buys them variety. Utilitarian.

But that works for me. I like my vegetables serviceable. Work horses. I buy my onions by the 10 lb bag because onions are a staple here, and when it comes to carrots, well, don't give me no wimpy 'baby' carrots. Give me the big daddy carrots, the kind you could club a burglar with. If I want them small, I'll use a knife. It's less about what you've got and more about what you do with it that counts in cooking for most of the year (especially if you're a seasonal eater and/or on a tight budget). There will come a time when things tender and succulent from the garden will actually make it to the kitchen, but until then there is a lot you can do with good old dependable roots & tubers.

And they'll do a lot for you, too. Consider the humble potato, shunned in recent years for being devoid of nutrients, "too starchy", fattening even. Turns out the potato is a secret weapon in the fight against obesity, and probably your colon's best friend. So healthful is the potato that you could write a book about it, as my pal, the famous (and friendly) Tim Steele has done.

One of my favourite books in the whole world is about beets. Okay, technically it's not about beets, but they are central to the plot, to be sure.

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious." 
                                                                                                     -Tom Robbins, "Jitterbug Perfume"

Yes, this man is
'wearing' bees.

(Nobody writes like Tom Robbins. If you appreciate a good turn of phrase, if you need a laugh or if you're passionate about fragrances, you should read that book.)

(If you're a little too 'buttoned down' of personality you should read it too. It will unbutton you.)

(Also, bees.)

Where was I? Oh yes, beets.

Actually, I'd like to talk about spring, and how hard it can be on our bodies. Are you a gardener? You know what I mean then. Inside all winter, lacking in sun and exercise, we're not at our best in spring, the very time we have to put in some of the hardest work of the year! Beets are our friends right now because they offer deep nourishment and deep nourishment leads to better energy. I guess that's why I've been craving them, because my clever body knows what it needs.

It also needs (and craves) fermented foods. Lacking intimate contact with soil, my microbial population was dwindling, I could feel it right down to my bones. Literally, my joints were aching, and in my case, fixing the gut means real relief there. We'd been eating a bit of kraut throughout the winter but not as much as we usually do. Not sure why.

You know what's coming of course .. I had to combine the two cravings into one satisfaction!

First I made a batch of sort-of kvass. I call it sort-of because it's not true beet kvass, I add other bits and pieces to mine (according to my mood and what's in my fridge). This time, along with the chunks of 3 beets I added a chopped green onion and a bit of thinly sliced cabbage. I sprinkled celtic salt on top of the vegetables, (how much? I don't know .. some?), added enough water to come to within an inch of the top of a reused pickle jar, stirred, covered it with plastic wrap and an elastic band and set it in a casserole dish to catch the overflow (it always over flows).

If you want more detailed instructions than that, I'm sure you'll find them elsewhere on the internet. It really doesn't matter how much (or how little) salt you use, you know, vegetables will ferment without it, and you definitely don't need to buy 'starter microbes', what a load of consumer crap those are! Salt also ensures that if you have predominantly sweet vegetables, like beets and carrots, they don't turn alcoholic on you. I guess most sites about fermenting vegetables offer such detailed measurements and instructions because it looks and sounds more professional, but in real life, most cooks eyeball their ingredients and method comes by 'feel'. I'd rather give you real life advice than pretend this is a science project, you know?

Also, unless your tap water is really awful, it will work fine. If you're worried, boil the water first in an open pan, that will get rid of the chlorine for you (let it cool before you use it). But honestly, as the years go by I've dropped all the fancy steps I've read and just do it as above and it works just fine.

Right now my 4(ish) days old kvass is nicely effervescent & seeping slightly into the casserole dish. I stir it down once a day because the lighter veggies tend to float to the top, and I keep it covered with a tea towel because fermenting happens best in the dark. How long it takes depends on the warmth of the kitchen, it can be a few days to a couple of weeks, so I just taste it. Once I figure it for ready I strain it and keep it in the fridge in a glass jug.

Making the kvass just got my cravings even more revved up; I knew it wouldn't be ready for a while so I made a mixed veg ferment next. I love these mixed veg ferments for lots of reasons, but mostly because they're so simple, you can use just about anything and they're ready in a few days. The juice from them is fantastic as a salad dressing if you can keep from drinking it straight from the jar.

Again, easy-peasy - (At first everything goes into a non-metallic mixing bowl) I grated 2 small beets, sliced about 1/8th of a cabbage really thin then again crossways, chopped/pulled a small head of broccoli into the tiniest florets, pulled apart a few brussel sprouts and threw those lovely curved leaves in, minced a whole green onion and crumbled in a couple of tablespoons worth of 2 year old dried stinging nettles that I had just discovered in the herb room. There may be other things in this ferment that I can't recall, but upon checking the jar I can't tell. It's a mass of dark red now!

Nettles seem to hang on to their natural microbes even when dried, because man, they really kick start a ferment. They're not necessary, but a nice addition.

Once everything was in the bowl, it looked to be nearly 3 cups of vegetables, so I added just shy of a tablespoon (give or take) of celtic salt. I got my hands in there and squeezed & rubbed & massaged the salt into the veggies. I think one error people are making when they say their ferments aren't working might be that they're being too gentle. You want to break down the fibres, so whether it's cabbage for kraut or one of these mixes, you gotta be firm with them! This is all about grip strength, and as we know, grip strength is an indicator for overall health. So put your all into it!

If you have any tiny cuts on your hands you didn't know about, you'll find out about them at this point. "Salt in the wounds", ouch!

I covered the now pink mess with a plate that fit inside the bowl and let it be for a few hours. When I came back there was a bit of liquid showing, just what I like to see. I packed it all in a jar and topped it off with water, again leaving some headroom for bubbling, gave it a good stir, covered it like the other one and set it in the same casserole dish.

I had some of the mixed veg ferment with my breakfast of eggs and hash brown potatoes today. Yowza that's good. I love how probiotic foods (ferments) just taste so good with the prebiotic foods (the potatoes, cooked, cooled & reheated) that feed the microbes and keep us healthy. It's like nature wants us to enjoy what's good for us or something!
Left- Mixed ferment (minus a couple servings)
Right - sort of kvass

These were small batches, but we're only two people and besides I don't mind if I end up doing it all again in a couple of weeks; fooling around in the kitchen is my idea of recreation.

The whole process took less than an hour, no specialized tools required; just a sharp knife, a bowl and a couple of reused jars. The ingredients were as cheap as dirt.

Try it! Your taste buds and innards (and possibly your joints) will thank you.


  1. I cook/prepare that way. It is challenging to me that people I love don't cook that way. To me, following a recipe is a sure-fire way for it to fail! Ingredients are "alive" and fluid; I can't tell you how much you'll need of this or that. It's determined by the day and the month. I read once that cabbage that is "old" (after being picked) ferments better than a fresh cabbage. I wonder if your beets are the same!

    1. Huh, interesting about "old" cabbage! I've always read to "choose the freshest possible".

      But in my world, a cabbage might sit in our downstairs 'overstock' fridge for quite some time before anything is done with it. I have fermented many a rather tired vegetable. I always see it as giving them a new lease on life. ;-)

  2. Your piece of a your comment about how you've always read to "choose the freshest possible [cabbage]" reminds me of one of your lines from a post maybe back in March. Where you mentioned to us about how we "go to the internet" for this and that. I was pegged with that line. Anyhow, been on my heart for a while that we have everything we need to know right inside of us in most ways. Which has nothing to do with cabbage except I never get a good, fresh cabbage made into sauerkraut!

    1. "we have everything we need to know right inside of us in most ways"

      I think that's true. Then we get 'educated' and everything we need to know gets piled on by stuff we don't need to know. Shoved to the back of the closet, so to speak, so well hidden we forget it was ever there.

      Learned helplessness, that's what we're all suffering from, isn't it?