Fermenting summer vegetables
Briget Bride of Randolph loves fermenting summer veggies.
"Fermentation begins when you create an atmosphere where Lactobacillus can flourish and other bacteria will not flourish," she says.
Lactobacilli are anerobic bacteria — that means, they flourish in areas without oxygen. And like people all over the world have for thousands of years, Briget uses them to turn fresh vegetables and fruits into fermented foods. She teaches workshops on fermentation and says that when people learn about the process, the first thing they want to know is where are these lactobacilli coming from?
"They're everywhere," says Briget. "They're on your hands right now. They're on the garlic. They're on the pineapple. They're on everything. Lactobacillus is everywhere."
Lactobacilli are especially everywhere on and in humans. They’re critical to our digestive systems and they’re on our skin and they’re used to ferment a whole range of important human foods, everything from beer to yogurt to cheese to cocoa to kimchi. We don’t need to buy them or specifically add them to make things. They’re on our hands and on the fruits and veggies we’re using. One of Briget’s favorite ferments is a summer salsa.
"So we have pineapple, tomato, onions, I have tons, tons of peppers, and then I have a bunch of dried, I thought this would be fun. So, this is ancho, we have guajillo which is a fruity dried pepper I really like it, we also have pasilla chile, smoked paprika if you want to put a little smokey note into your salsa you can do it with smoked paprika, you can also do it with smoked sea salt, and then I have pepper flakes, if you want to be we have cilantro, garlic…"
Salsa is a quick ferment — in the summer it only needs a day or so on the counter to start bubbling and developing flavor. And Briget says what you put in it is entirely dependent on how you want it to taste — there aren’t any specific ratios you need to stick to. The only ingredient you have to have is salt for the lactobacilli.
"Not many other bacteria like the salt," Briget explains.
"The goal is that Lactobacillus is going to take over all the food, i.e. all the sugars, and space, and crowd out all of the other bacteria and the other bacteria they will be present, because there’s never not bad bacteria present, but it probably is so inconsequential."
We think of salt as antibacterial because it kills a lot of micro-organisms that make us sick. But in the case of lactobacilli, about a teaspoon of pickling or sea salt for every half pound of veggies actually helps the good bacteria proliferate. The only other thing is to make sure the environment is anerobic, or low oxygen, either by using an airlock that fits on top of a mason jar or by simply putting a weight on top of the veggies to push them beneath the brine that the salt has pulled out. The lactobacilli will do the rest of the work:
"As it eats the sugars will give off gas and it’ll force the oxygen out up through the airlock. And then you'll have a nice anaerobic situation going on inside there."
Briget says beyond your typical salsa, there are all kinds of veggies you can add to a summer ferment. She especially likes combinations that bring in the flavors of the season: strawberries or corn. The most important thing is that the produce is fresh and in season.
Fermentation Revolution is a site that has great guides to getting started with different types of fermentation:
They also offer a guide to lacto-fermented salsa:
Sandor Katz is a well-known fermentor and has written all sorts of amazing books on fermentation; I like the Art of Fermentation, this is his website:
This piece first aired in June 2022.