Lacto-fermentation is one method of preserving seasonal food, it’s an age-old process used the world over which is simple, natural and inexpensive.
Fermentation is a biological reaction which results in a foodstuff being transformed naturally and is how milk turns naturally into yoghurt or cheese. Grapes turn into wine thanks to the alcohol produced during fermentation.
Moreover, apart from preserving foodstuffs, lacto-fermentation can also enrich them. During the fermentation processes, naturally-occurring enzymes are not compromised, and instead other beneficial enzymes will often appear. They make fermented foods extremely easy to digest and the body does not then require any energy to absorb the organic nutrients available. Fermented foods can provide many health benefits such as cell oxygenation and bowel regularity, they help to disinfect the gut, combat anaemia and assimilate iron.
However, please note that lacto-fermented vegetables are “powerful” foods which should be eaten in moderation.
How Do You Ferment Foods Successfully?
It couldn’t be easier: select your seasonal vegetables (carrots, cabbage, beetroot, turnips, cauliflower, etc.) and wash them thoroughly. Then chop the vegetables into chunks and place in a very clean “Le Parfait”-type glass jar. Press down really firmly so as to get rid of any oxygen. In between the layers you can add aromatic herbs (bay leaves, thyme, dill – or spices such as star anise, cinnamon, ginger, etc.).
Add 30 g salt to a litre of water. Once it has dissolved, fill the glass jar with the mixture leaving a 2 cm gap at the top. The food will swell slightly, so to avoid the water spilling out don’t overfill the jar. Hermetically seal the jar (with a rubber seal) and leave it in your kitchen for at least seven days at room temperature (between 19 and 25°C). You’ll see that the liquid will go cloudy and small bubbles will appear, this is to be expected. Then you can either put the jar in your fridge if there’s room, or you can store it on a shelf (away from sunlight) and after about three weeks, you can start eating the vegetables. The growth of good bacteria in the jar will help make the food easier to digest. This can also be a handy way of using vegetables which are starting to wilt. It’s also more environmentally friendly as it doesn’t use any energy.
You’ll taste the original vegetable but with a slight acidity – a little like the acidic taste of buttermilk. It works for all vegetables except for potatoes. Because of the “sugars” in potatoes, they will undergo alcohol fermentation rather lactic fermentation – so you could end up with schnapps! :-)
As for using these fermented vegetables, either you eat them as they are or you can add them to a cooked dish but only do so at the very end, just enough to heat them through.
Handy tip: don’t throw away the fermentation juice as it’s a perfect way of adding a touch of acidity to gravy and sauces.
Pickling is another method. Tiny vegetables are marinated in vinegar which give the ingredients depth and a touch of acidity.
The principle is simple: 1 amount of sugar, 2 amounts of vinegar, 3 amounts of water. This acidic mixture can be used with virtually all fruit and vegetables, but also with buds and wild plants and berries.
Pickles are extremely popular in trendy restaurants – and a great way of keeping food for longer but also of giving depth and a touch of acidity to ingredients, which can then be added to salads, terrines and all sorts of other dishes. Certain pickles which have been fermented for several months will only be served in tiny amounts, more as a natural remedy than as a foodstuff (although very often it’s the same thing, pickles should be used carefully depending on the punch that they pack).
And as well as being delicious with their hint of acidity, pickles can ease digestion, especially when eaten at the start of meal.
Both these preserving methods are the best way to prolong the shelf life of foodstuffs.
My Recipe of the Month
We tend to forget it, but tomatoes are a summer fruit. The best way of keeping them is to store them with their stalks on at room temperature for 3 to 4 days. Being inside a cold refrigerator will inhibit their flavour and fragrance.
My Nutritional Advice
Eating prunes is recommended for people suffering from anaemia and severe fatigue. Prunes are a source of vitamin A, B, C and E in significant quantities, enough to stimulate memory and strengthen the body’s immune system. Prunes also contain many vital minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium and phosphorus.
A René Mathieu Tip
We’ve always loved using lots of fruit pickles in our dishes: for example pickled elderberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, sloes, rosehips, etc.
Especially during the winter, these pickles can add a little touch of magic to our food.
My Wild Pickings
Hogweed is a great classic among edible wild plants. Once you’ve tracked hogweed down, believe me you won’t grow tired of it! All parts of the hogweed plant can be eaten. Its young, soft-green and still shiny leaves can be eaten raw, just like the stems which should be peeled. Their highly aromatic odour is great for adding fragrance to salads and pesto sauces. The stems are juicy with a taste reminiscent of celery with a hint of coconut. Hogweed roots can be compared to ginseng with the same rejuvenating and toning properties. They contain a substance similar to the male hormone and, like its fruit, are reputed to be an aphrodisiac.