Fermented Foods

Local businesses, Ashland class spotlight sauerkrauts and traditional preservation methods
Mellonia Farms' beet and red cabbage kraut is made entirely with locally grown vegetables.Bob Pennell

From the bounty of their Applegate farm, Kirsten and Christopher Shockey could have chosen to market any number of foods — cheese from their dairy animals, honey from their bees, preserves from their fruits, oil from their olives.

Perhaps surprisingly, sauerkraut became the first product sold under the Shockey's business moniker: Mellonia Farms.

If you go

What: "Cultured Connection," an Ashland Food Co-op class on fermenting foods with Roanne Lewis; cost is $30 for Co-op owners, $35 otherwise.

When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19.

Where: Co-op Community Classroom, 300 Pioneer St., Ashland.

For more information and to register: See www.ashlandfood.coop or call 541-482-2237.

"Our passion was more kind of around the preserving," says Kirsten Shockey, explaining that her family has grown a large, organic garden since moving to the area from Corvallis 12 years ago and had to learn how to put up produce.

It didn't take long for the Shockeys to find other ways of extending their fresh foods' shelf life. Little suspecting she'd forever change the family's culinary culture, Kirsten Shockey's mother gave her an old crock as a Christmas present. Packing such a crock with shredded, salted cabbage or other vegetables, weighing it down with a heavy slab of rock and leaving it in a cool place for about a month transforms the ingredients into tangier versions that will keep, refrigerated, for more than a year.

"The food was so much more vibrant and alive, and the vegetables stay crunchy," says Shockey.

Naturally occurring fermentation in the presence of lactic acid causes bacteria to multiply as they feast on the vegetables' sugars. These live "probiotics" promote a healthy human digestive tract.

Enamored of their healthful, delicious recipes, the Shockeys started trading kraut for products from neighboring farms. Eventually, they took farmers' surplus produce and turned it into kraut that could be sold at local growers markets and farm stands, such as Whistling Duck's. Last month, Mellonia unveiled apple-fennel and juniper-onion krauts, $6.80 per pint, on the online farmers market, Rogue Valley Local Foods.

"People are really excited," says Wendy Siporen, executive director of the nonprofit group THRIVE, which manages the market. She notes that Mellonia's kim chi was so popular that it completely sold out.

Because they contain only locally grown vegetables, Mellonia krauts were approved for sale through the market, which requires vendors to obtain ingredients within the 100-mile radius of Medford. THRIVE also has been working with Pickled Planet, a 9-year-old Ashland company that distributes to nearly 50 grocers in Oregon and California, to sell its krauts online, says Siporen.

"We got so big that we had to branch outward," says Pickled Planet proprietor Courtlandt Jennings.

Pickled Planet uses vegetables grown outside Southern Oregon in its core product line of six styles of kraut. However, it produces about 30 different recipes throughout the year, including cucumber and green-bean pickles. Many of its pickles and krauts contain only locally grown vegetables in season, says Jennings, adding that the widest variety can be purchased in bulk Mondays from its kitchen at 225 Water St.

Ashland Food Co-op's culinary educator, Mary Shaw, credits Pickled Planet for popularizing kraut and raising awareness locally of probiotic foods. The topic was among cooking class participants' most requested, she says. A class planned for Saturday, Feb. 19, will introduce the concept of fermenting foods in the home kitchen.

"It's something we don't do much in this culture," says Shaw.

Macrobiotic cooks do. So Shaw engaged longtime macrobiotic instructor Roanne Lewis, an Ashland newcomer, to teach the class. Lewis plans to demonstrate fermentation of not only vegetables but also nuts, grains and tofu. The techniques are common in Asian countries where Lewis has lived and traveled.

"For some cultures, it's right on," she says. "We're used to dill pickles, but that's about all we're used to."

And while eating locally produced, fermented foods a tablespoon at a time with every meal "makes everything more digestible," says Lewis, making one's own is an ideal way to use up vegetable scraps and reduce grocery bills.

"You're getting incredible nutrition at a good price."

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

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