By Nick Hodgson, Phase I Fellow
A big part of our experience here at AMI is learning to live closer to the land and to be more in tune with the seasons. One way we accomplish this is through food preservation. In the past, I’ve dabbled a little in trying to preserve the summer bounty of my home garden with some freezing, pickling, and making homemade tomato sauce. Some of it worked, and some went horribly wrong! So, I was eager to learn more about fermenting and canning. When I arrived at AMI, it was really amazing to see all the preserved food left by last year’s cohort. The shelves were packed with quart after quart jar of tomato sauce, apple butter, peach slices, autumn olive jam, pickles, hot sauce, and beet kvass!
The beet kvass was especially welcome - we had daily toasts with shot glasses filled with beet kvass. This was a daily occurrence until we opened a batch that tasted like you accidentally swallowed a gulp of sea water. Of course, last year’s Fellows were learning and sometimes, that is the way ferments can go. We also had many frozen peas, beans, peppers, and tomatoes. In the spring and early summer, it was nice knowing that our food was coming from the same garden that we were sowing seeds in.
Over the last few weeks we had workshops on fermentation and canning. We thoroughly these workshops as most of us had pretty limited experience in these two areas. The workshops also had good timing because we were starting to be overwhelmed by the amount of produce we were harvesting and were struggling to eat all of our bountiful harvests, even after donating and selling a fair amount at the Farmers Market every Friday. The workshops gave us the skills to preserve our produce so that it would last longer and not go to waste.
I was especially interested to learn how to make fermented foods because of the many health benefits. The beneficial bacteria that grow during fermentation help to feed our gut micro-biome with probiotics, make nutrients more absorbable, and aid with digestion. Did you know that we consist of ten times more bacterial cells than human cells? Our gut is filled with these beneficial microorganisms. We are learning more and more about just how important our gut is to our health, even though humans seemed to have recognized this long ago. Ancient cultures all had a relationship with fermented foods, including sauerkraut in Germany, kimchi in Korea, and kombucha from Siberia. Isn’t it amazing that 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates was wise to say that “all disease begins in the gut.”
Dawn and Brian from Farmstead Ferments led our fermentation workshop. They were knowledgeable and had a passion for fermentation that made the day lots of fun. After sharing the history and many of the reasons for fermentation, they led us in making sauerkraut from things we harvested from the garden. We started by chopping cabbage, onion, garlic, combined these veggies with salt and spices. Then, we began massaging the cabbage and salt mix so that juices from the cabbage started to come out. We let it sit and “sweat” for a bit for more of the liquid to come out, and then packed the kraut to a massive five-gallon ceramic crock. We put a heavy object to keep the kraut below this brine and we fastened a towel on top. We also packed some kraut in mason jars, and for these, we must loosen the lid to “burp” and periodically release some of the carbon dioxide that has built up. I’m looking forward to eating this kraut in a few weeks, as well as the other fermented pickles, kefir and kombucha that we made.
Our canning workshop was led by former founding Fellow Sarah Collins-Simmons who has been teaching AMI’s canning workshops ever since. This was an area that I had no previous experience and was apprehensive about trying. I have heard the horror stories of botulism and how easily it can contaminate canned goods and potentially kill you. Sarah eased our concerns and showed us the proper sanitization protocols for canning.
Gaining confidence with her instruction, we began to prep to make peach jam. We began by blanching the peaches to easily remove the skins. Next, we cut the peaches. We then added 1 part liquid to 6 parts peaches. We also added pectin, a plant-based jelling agent, and a cup of sugar for sweetness. Constantly stirring, we cooked the peaches down on the stove and once the peaches cooked down enough, we removed them from the heat. Then, we ladled them into sanitized quart size jars, placed the jar lid on and hand tightened the ring. We placed them in a boiling hot water bath for the right amount of time, and then took them out to cool and finalize the sealing process.
We are currently getting into processing a lot of food on our own. It is nice to know that our hard work in the garden this year will nourish the bellies of next year’s cohort. I am also really enjoying learning a new skill that will serve me for the rest of my life. So far, we have made several gallons of kimchi, countless krauts, peach jam, apple sauce, blueberry jam, and much more. We have also frozen peas, green beans, and blueberries. On the protein side, we raised and processed chickens, that we get to eat and so that some of that meat will feed the Fellows for next year. I am looking forward to getting more experience in fermentation and preservation through my time at AMI.