Today I retrieved from the cellar a gallon of halved turnips, harvested and placed in brine in June. At the time, we were sick of turnips, having had a bumper crop of them. They’re a user-friendly, frost-tolerant, early spring/summer or fall/winter crop, fast growing (and therefore not bitter) as long as the soil is moist. But there’s only so many of them you can eat when there are ten new ones to harvest every day for a few weeks. I hear cows eat them, but we didn’t have cows at that point.
So, what’s a farmer girl to do? Ferment the suckers, obviously!
First, I made a wonderful onion-turnip relish with lots and lots of dill. I finely shredded peeled raw turnips, mixed in some minced onions and loads of garlic and dill, and sprinkled on a healthy serving of salt. The salt quickly drew water out of the veggies and the jar was filled with brine as soon as I was done mixing it together. Splashed with a bit of juice from the ever-present kraut crock, in about a week the flavor of that stuff started to turn into something no turnip ever dreamed of becoming. In three weeks, it was gone.
I can’t wait til the next harvest (which could be soon, if the snow ever melts enough for me to find them out in the garden). Turnips and dill belong together. No dill this time of year though. Sigh.
Anyway, back to the June dilemma of over-abundance. What to do with the rest of the darned things? The relish was kind of labor intensive, and I’m a busy farmer-girl, so I opted to simply slice unpeeled turnips in half and place them in some brine, this time with a healthy amount of basil, garlic, and of course, dill – stalks, leaves, flowers and seed heads. Then I added a wooden disk, to keep everything submerged below the brine, and left them at room temperature for about a month. Later, they wound up in the cellar. It’s nice to slow down the fermentation action by lowering the temperature, especially after an initial warmer stage. The flavors are subtler, and the risk of contamination by unwanted organisms (mold is the biggest culprit) seems to go way down.
I should mention here my method of cleaning a jar for ferments. It’s nothing as serious as is needed for canning. I fill the proposed pickling (already quite clean) jar about half full or more with boiling water, then screw the lid on tight. The steam from the water seems to do a fine job of sterilizing the rest of the jar enough for the microbes to do their work. It’s not anything close to truly sterile, just very clean, and it seems to be completely adequate as long as the brine is salty enough.
Today, this is what the jar looked like.
The wooden disk had slipped down to somewhere near the bottom, and I was nervous that I’d open the lid and see a thick layer of slime or mold on top. Usually, this can be skimmed off and discarded with no ill-effects to whatever is under the brine. But my jar cleaning must have been pretty thorough, because there wasn’t even a little scum on top of the liquid, nothing but a lovely aroma of sour-radish-dilly-ness when I got the lid off.
Here’s a huge drawback of this whole internet information sharing thing:
I can’t tell you what the jar smells like.
And that’s a real shame. I think that the nose might be the most important and useful organ for determining what fermented foods are safe to eat. When a ferment has “gone good,”, saliva flows as soon as you get a whiff. And my mouth got very very excited when this aroma wafted up towards my nostrils. Good ferments immediately and obviously smell like something you want to eat.
If there is ever a “I dunno…..” quality to the smell of a fermented something or another, chances are, some of the wrong microbes have inhabited your food. They may or may not be safe to eat. I err on the side of caution and feed these ferments to my compost pile.
You might be able to see that the fermentation process has changed the turnip texture. They are softer, but not at all mushy.
Mushiness is sure sign of a ferment gone wrong.
The skin was soft enough to bite through even when we sampled them raw. They were really good raw! But I was making a frittata, and that is where these slices ended up. I added them as late as I could in the dish, to decrease the amount of heat the microbes they contain have to endure.
I mixed them in with some chunks of grass fed beef, left-over potatoes from breakfast, and a sauteed onion. I splashed some of the turnip brine into the eggs (from our generous free range hens) instead of water before I beat them, poured it over the above ingredients, and then topped the whole thing with some feta cheese.
I did not add any salt to this dish, because fermented foods contain a certain amount of salt. Some people are concerned with sodium intake and may fear that fermented foods will increase the amount of salt they eat. In our own diet, I don’t think we eat any more salt when I add fermented things to our meals, because they reduce or eliminate the need to add salt to that dish.
If you’re one of those people who thinks we shouldn’t eat salt at all….to put it bluntly: I think you’re batty. Salt has been such an essential part of helping the human species survive and thrive on the planet (through many processes of food preservation), I just can’t believe that we aren’t supposed to consume it.
I think that the things that taste really really good on our tongue do so for very good reasons. I don’t buy the idea that “if it tastes good, it must be bad for you.”
I do, however, fully stand behind the idea that if it comes in a box, it must be bad for you. Or at the very least not as amazingly flavorful and nutritious as it could be.