A Spicy Surprise

It’s amazing how life arranges for us the lessons that we are still not sure how to take.

While I have been playing with and learning about fermentation over the last 6months – the question that has lingered the longest is how well and how long can one use fermentation as a preservation method. We are so used to being able to freeze, refrigerate or hot water can our food that leaving it out on the shelf without doing so is an uncomfortable idea.

I don’t want seal them in jars and hot water bath them because this would kill off the living microbes (probiotics) that the ferments have and that support our digestion. Thus, not having a proper cold room (ours only drops to around 10-13 degrees) and as we have plenty of room in our fridge, I have moved my vegetable ferments to the fridge, once they have reached a preferred taste and texture. However I have wondered what would happen if I didn’t do this.

The principles of fermentation are to keep the vegetables in an anaerobic environment by using airtight containers and submerging the vegetables under brine and their own juices. If I upheld those principles, then I shouldn’t have any molds or other un-beneficial bacteria form because they need aerobic environments. The only concern would be that the ferments would continue on developing (which they do in a fridge – the fridge only slowing down the process, not stopping it) and the longer they go, the softer they get. However that is an aesthetic, not a safety, concern.

This is where life stepped in and did an experiment for me. For our family Christmas draw my husband put in a bunch of our chicken wings and a jar of my fermented chili sauce and my Dad received it. However a few days later I received a call saying that the jar of sauce must have been thrown out in the clean up so I delivered another. This past week my parents were back at the hall where we held our family dinner and in clearing up after coffee, my mother found the box with the jar of sauce tucked under a ledge, on a cupboard. The jar had been sitting at room temperature for the last two months, waiting to be discovered. This was the trial I was waiting for.

I opened the jar and enjoyed the sight of a bright red, spicy-smelling sauce – with not a speck of mold on it. The jar had been full to the top and sealed tight (but not hot water bathed) so that there was not enough oxygen for the ‘bad’ microbes to take over the good and to spoil the sauce.

I have a few friends that have started ferments but then have been too scared to try them, worried they would poison themselves or someone else. Working with food in this way has connected me to my nose and eyes and sense of logic. If the sauce was an off colour or smell, of course I wouldn’t try it but considering foods have been preserved for centuries this way, before our modern methods came along, I have learned to have confidence in working with natural ways of food processing and take encouragement from the little lessons life throws my way. For now – I’m tucking aside the jar of sauce and thinking about barbequed wings.

***The following piece is part of a regular column in the local newspaper that Brenda writes, often inspired by our farm journey and adventures.  It first appeared in The Chautauqua in 2013.

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