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The Fermentista’s Kitchen

Cabbage and cucumbers may be mainstays for fans of fermented vegetables.

But burdock or shiso? Eggplant or spinach? Obscure roots and leaves — even those that readily soften and turn slimy — only build character, along with healthful bacteria, inside a crock, says Kirsten Shockey.

“We started playing around with so many vegetables,” says Shockey, an Applegate resident who made pickles and krauts for a dozen years before selling them at local farmers markets.

Shockey, 47, no longer produces fermented vegetables for sale. She’s instead marketing a 376-page paperback book, “Fermented Vegetables,” that details the age-old preservation method applied to 64 vegetables, from arugula to zucchini, in 140 recipes.

“We really did try to cover just about every vegetable,” says Shockey. “We have sections where we just tell stories.”

An Oct. 14 class at Ashland Food Co-op will borrow serving suggestions from the book’s 84 mealtime recipes. Shockey, with husband and co-author Christopher, also will sign books from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9, and provide recipe samples at the Co-op, 237 N. First St., Ashland.

“This stuff tastes good, and it’s fun,” says Kirsten Shockey, calling fermented vegetables “instant, little, side-dish condiments."

“We end up always putting them out on the table.”

Amid the trendiness of traditional foods, many of the home cooks conversing with Shockey at farmers markets still felt uneasy about doing their own fermentation. Books on the topic didn’t furnish the explanations and step-by-step instructions that popularized her occasional classes, says Shockey.

“It’s so simple and so safe,” she says. “Your kids can be involved.”

Homeschooling four children, now age 15 to 24, Shockey has a teacher’s passion for nurturing future “fermentistas.” Her blog, The Fermentista’s Kitchen (www.fermentista.kitchen) is the platform for “Fermented Vegetables,” enriched with still more tips, recipes, techniques for troubleshooting and a calendar of classes and book-tour events.

“It’s pretty major … given the popularity of the topic,” says fellow author Gianaclis Caldwell, cheesemaker and co-owner of Pholia Farm near Rogue River. With three titles on cheesemaking and dairy management to her credit, Caldwell connected the Shockeys with Massachusetts-based Storey Publishing.

“Those are the kinds of books that stay around instead of being briefly popular,” says Caldwell of the authoritative but approachable tone of “Fermented Vegetables.”

Much of the book’s full-color photography was shot on the Shockeys’ 40-acre farm, which boasts a commercial kitchen and fermentation cave. Kitchen countertops, however, are ideal environments for small-batch fermentation, says Shockey.

“It goes faster if it gets warmer.”

Lactobacillus, a widely acknowledged probiotic, thrives between 65 and 75 degrees, says Shockey. And ceramic crocks, while time-tested and aesthetically pleasing, don’t allow a window on the fermentation process, she says. A glass jar, topped with a liquid-filled, plastic, zip-close bag, is all a novice needs to “get crocking,” says Shockey.

“People will just be able to explore so many more things.”

Try these recipes from “Fermented Vegetables,” which retails for $24.95.

Carrot Kraut

8 pounds carrots, peeled or unpeeled (see note) and grated

1 to 2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1½ to 2 tablespoons unrefined sea salt

In a large bowl, combine the carrots, ginger, lemon juice and zest. Add 1½ tablespoons of the salt and, with your hands, massage it into veggies, then taste. It should taste slightly salty without being overwhelming. Add more salt if necessary. Carrots get briny almost immediately and liquid will pool.

Transfer the carrot mixture to a 1-gallon jar or crock, a few handfuls at a time, pressing down with your fist or a tamper to remove air pockets. You should see some brine on top of carrots when you press. When vessel is packed, leave 4 inches of head space for a crock, or 2 to 3 inches for a jar.

Cover carrots with a piece of plastic wrap or other primary follower. For a crock, top carrots with a plate that fits opening of container and covers as much of surface as possible; then weigh it down with a sealed, water-filled jar. For a jar, use a sealed, water-filled jar or a resealable, zip-close bag as a combination follower and weight.

Set aside on a baking sheet to ferment, somewhere nearby, cool and out of direct sunlight, for 7 to 14 days. Check daily to make sure carrots are submerged, pressing down as needed to bring brine back to surface.

You can start to test kraut on day 7. You’ll know kraut is ready when it has a crisp-sour flavor and brine is thick and rich.

When it’s ready, transfer kraut to smaller jars and tamp down. Pour in any brine that’s left. Tighten lids, then store in refrigerator. This kraut will keep, refrigerated, for 1 year, but is better within 6 months.

Makes about 1 gallon.

NOTE: It’s not always necessary to peel carrots. If they’re young and sweet, just scrub them and grate. If the carrots are large with darker, bitter skins, peel them before you grate.

Northwest Gingered Carrot Cake

2 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground mace

1½ cups sugar

4 large eggs

1¼ cups coconut oil, melted and cooled

Grated zest of 1 orange

3 cups Carrot Kraut (see related recipe)

½ cup walnuts or pecans, quickly toasted in a pan and then chopped

½ cup dried cranberries or raisins

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Butter and lightly flour either 2 (10-inch) round pans or a 9-by-13-inch rectangular pan.

Into a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and mace.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, oil and orange zest. Stir in the carrot kraut.

Using a rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients until combined. Add the nuts and dried fruit. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, usually for 30 to 40 minutes. As soon as cake’s center no longer looks different than edges and begins to crack a bit, remove pans from oven to preserve moistness of cake.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.  

This photo shows some of the foods featured inApplegate author Kirsten Shockey's book 'Fermented Vegetables.' Photo courtesy of Erin Kunkel
'Fermented Vegetables' details the age-old preservation method applied to 64 vegetables, from arugula to zucchini, in 140 recipes.