I had the pleasure of speaking with Kirsten and Christopher Shockey. They have been married for over 30 years, live on a homestead, and ferment many different things. They have more kitchens in their house than bathrooms and his and her fermentation cave. Read on to learn about what you can do for the planet, how to ferment vegetables with the correct salt to vegetable ratio, how easy hard cider is to make, and the top reasons why fermentations spoil!
Kirsten’s background story: My journey into fermentation started with raising my 4 children. At some point when they were young, I wanted them to know where their food comes from and how it was grown. Moving out here was a big piece to that. When we moved here we:
-Purchased goats, cows, and chickens
-Had a garden and trees
We ended up with a lot of food. You have to figure out how to preserve it or it will go to waste. I started my journey with cheese making because there was a lot of milk. It was a very organic journey. In 1999, my mother gave us a crock that was already filled and bubbling away and that was the first time we brought vegetables into the scene. For years we just fermented sauerkraut, it didn't occur to us that we would take it to where we have taken it to now…..
Christopher’s background story: I was trained in technology and I worked a career with Hewlett Packard. We bought the farm when I was travelling 5 days a week and my role was to try and pay for the farm. In 2006, I left and tried to chase some dreams around education, farming, and food. Kirsten has a better palette and she is the better cook. I am the chief taste tester and am also the cider maker now.
Why Were You Drawn To The Idea of a Homestead?
In our area, we have a dynamic small farming community. Once we bought the land we realized that we should be doing something with it. We then were interested in permaculture and biodynamics. Christopher was travelling a lot but we hoped that we could have a tiny little farm and it could pay for our family of 6. We started the farmstead business to look for a way to work together. Food became a huge passion because:
-We wanted to grow our food without chemicals
-We saw the health of so many people on a decline
Food is so important to get right. I have previously talked with Dr Zach Bush and he brought up that we should be improving our farming practices not only for our health but for our planet. Both of you are an example that people can follow.-Kriben Govender
What Are The Health Implications of Growing Your Own Food?
When we first moved to the farm we were vegan and vegetarian. But I was always hungry. I think you have to keep listening to your body and figuring out what works for you. Kirsten also became anemic when she was pregnant with our fourth child so iron became a huge thing for her to have to consume to be healthy. She also had to change her diet. Our bodies change and we have to listen. I try not to be dogmatic about it. You have your identity tied to one of these things and then you can't listen to your body if you say “NOPE, I am a vegan or vegetarian.” Which was where I was coming from. It was hard to say I need to eat a little meat now.
The farm taught me to raise animals humanely and it is a real gift. If you can't do that then find the sources of your food. Local farmers need consumers that will come back and buy their food every week. Try to shift away from the supermarket to a little farm and buy from them every week.
In our society, we almost feel powerless. BUT the consumer is extremely powerful because we can shape industries with our wallets. If we can support these young farmers that are trying to do the right thing in terms of sustainability, our footprint on the planet, and impacting climate change by simply altering our buying decisions we can really make a difference. -Kriben Govender
What Are Tips For Someone That Wants to do the Right Thing in Terms of Their Health, The Planet, and Sustainability?
We were eating low on the food chain being vegetarian and vegan. We always continued that but with the next book we have coming out next we explored beans, grains, tempeh and miso. Things where we can take this a step further.
- Eat More Fibre! This will help you to eat a little lighter on the planet. It's funny how we are swinging back towards less meat. We are excited about what beans and grains can do. You should see what local beans you can get your hands on.
- Traceback where your food came from! Finding the humans responsible can decommercialize the experience. Eating less processed foods is always good for everyone. Bring more whole foods in your diet. It takes longer to incorporate this because we get so attached to convenience food. BUT a lot of fermented foods can save you time as well! They are a healthy convenience.
- Grow vegetables even if you have a small space! We work with people who are putting gardens in cities and vacant lots. When neighbours join together it makes it a social experience. You can also use pots if all you have is a porch or a window sill.
What Inspired You To Write “Fermented Vegetables”?
We built a commercial kitchen onto our farmhouse and we were in farmers markets selling our fermented vegetables. The next time you are at the farmers market and you see someone selling fermented vegetables just know that is a hard way to make money. You spend all of the time making it, then you are trying to keep it cold at the market. We would have 9-10 varieties at a time and people would come and they graze and say this is the best ever and then walk away....
We were working 15 hour days and we were eating terribly. We didn't have time to eat well because we were making all of this food for other people. Our customers were starting to crave the fermented vegetables but they were 10 dollars a jar and they were saying they didn't have enough money. So we would give them a recipe and tell them to go make their own. They would look at us like you’re giving us the recipe? But it has been made for 4,000 years we didn’t start the idea of fermentation.
Another reason was that people were curious. It wasn't quite hip yet but it was the beginning moments of knowing that our guts might have something to do with our health. We started to have more and more people come to classes on the farm. These people needed more hand-holding. There is nothing about the way we have all been raised in this culture that says it's okay to leave something on your counter for a week or two then stick your fork in it. It is ingrained in us to refrigerate it.
Part of that first book was bringing them along on a way that felt safe. We were self-publishing it when a story picked it up and it was an evolution. We wanted to teach people how to do it for themselves so we didn't have to do it anymore. Customers would tell us “this is just like homemade!” and I was thinking “this is homemade.” There is no machine at my house doing this for me.
We used American made ceramic crocks that were 10 gallons. They are over 100 lbs when they are full of sauerkraut. We would have 12-15 of them going at a time it was very intense. We live in such a small area and to make enough to make any money we would have to ship it. When it came to the point of shipping it we thought that we would rather teach people how to make it instead. Then it becomes a local product for everyone. Get a kit today to get your journey started. It will take the guesswork out of it.
How Did Your First Fermentation Recipe Come About?
You have to go back in time to when the internet only had recipes for sauerkraut that said shred cabbage and layer it with salt. The first recipe I made was “let's add something to the sauerkraut.” BUT the first time I veered off of that was when a friend of mine had a lot of winter squash. I started searching “can fermented squash kill you?” I didn't understand the science completely back then. The microbes are not picky. They are equal opportunity carbohydrate eaters. The science works on squash as much as a parsnip.I ran it through the grater and I decided that chipotle peppers would go nicely with the squash. At the same time, I cut some of the squash and tried squash pickles which turned out awful. But my peppered squash came out great! I really like the concept of fusion food. I like putting things together that shouldn't go together and seeing what happens. The art of fermentation is such a creative process. It is exciting to be in control of your food. It is also exciting to take it to places that have never been done before. With flavour combinations and cuisine combinations.
How Do You Figure Out The Right Salt Ratio For Fermenting Vegetables?
My rule of thumb is 1.5% salt by weight of the vegetable. You can pull back the saltiness if you are going to ferment peppers to be used as a condiment. Commercial ferments are between 3%-5% and it works from 0.9%-10%. If you go lower than 1.5% it won't be as crisp. The salt hardens the cell walls (pectin) and it keeps them crisp and helps to slow down the fermentation when it gets warm. If you are fermenting in a warmer location you will need more salt! I start at 1.5% and sometimes I add more because salt is part of the flavour.
Tomatoes: They have a higher sugar content so the fermentation with be active more quickly. The sugar yeast will want to move in. You have to get the lactobacillus on board before the yeast comes in and add their funk.
Cucumbers: Every enzyme in a cucumber wants to soften it. You can go up to 5% salt. If you want a quick pickle from a few days then you don't have to go up that high. But if you want to make summer pickles for the winter then the salt ratio needs to be higher to keep it crisp! Also, if you know you are going to save them then ferment them for a few days, put them in the refrigerator, and make sure they are covered with brine and they will continue to slowly ferment in the refrigerator. Instead of bringing them to their full ferment and then bringing them into the refrigerator.
You have to balance the flavour, texture, and then selectively control the good acid-forming bacteria vs yeast. It is a balancing act to get this right. This is why a lot of people are trying to find help to get their fermentation right - Kriben Govender
What Is The Most Common Cause Of Spoilage or Visible Growth of Mold?
If oxygen can get it in, it will mould. Remember that there are two different types of funk. There is the funk that tastes good (a stronger vinegar taste.) Then there is the intense funk. That is the oxygen and yeast. When we teach children how to ferment and we dress up as superheroes. Brine and fermento. We tell them “Submerged in brine conquers evil every time.” We explain that the vegetables are like fish and they realize they need to keep all of it under the brine. Keep everything submerged in the brine and it will go according to plan. If something peaks out then it might attract that mould. Ferments need oxygen to mould! This fermentation kit comes with pickle pebbles which will make sure that your vegetables stay submerged and oxygen-free throughout the whole process!
How Do You Adjust Fermentation Recipes For a Variation in Climate and Temperature?
There is so much that is out of your control such as: what bacteria are going to react, how much sugar is in the cabbage you have vs the cabbage you got three weeks ago, and the weather. All these variables have an effect but here are ways to help!
Salt is a huge controller
The nice thing about vegetable fermentation is there is a large range of what the lactobacillus will accept and still do their job. If you are in a warm climate then adding more salt will bring the ferment down to a slower pace. You want it to be slower because there is a relay race that makes this fermentation happen. If you slow it down then each one of those types will have their chance. The first one that moves in will take this neutral base environment of the vegetable and bring the acidity level down. Once it brings it down it dies out because it makes it too acidic for itself. Then the next one moves in. When it's a fast ferment you get a flat sour flavour. Salt is a great way to counteract this.
The upper limit for the salt ratio is 2%-3%. If the recipe says to let it ferment for 10-14 days start tasting it on day 3 and watch it. The beautiful thing about fermentation is that you can eat it while it's fermenting and it won’t cause a problem. Make it in a clear mason jar and watch the colour change so you can see where it is at. If you don't want to raise the salt level then it will be done a lot faster. Watch it, taste it, and trust your gut.
Find a place in the house that is cooler
This is getting harder as the years go on. The heat affects the environment, fermentation, and the plant. All of us will have to learn to eat things that we aren't used to eating once the climate changes. Be willing to adapt. Try to find a place in your house that is cooler or make a small area that is climate controlled.
We also need to unlearn the bad fermented vegetables that we have tried in the past. They are not the commercial, processed stuff that you are experiencing. If you don't like it allow other people in your family to try it. If your children are willing to try it it will help their little gut microbiomes, they are forming during this time. If they can have good food it will be wonderful.
Wild fermentations are influenced by environmental factors and you need to taste often. Stop the fermentation when it is good for your palette. -Kriben Govender
What Are Your Thoughts On Using Starter Cultures?
With Miso, Tempeh, and Yoghurt they are important. Vegetables do not need them because they are ready to go as soon as you give them the environment. Bacteria are very strong. Those veggies should have what you need and if they don’t, you wouldn’t want to eat them anyway!
What Are The Top 5 Vegetables for Novices to Start With?
- Cabbage: Makes great sauerkraut!
- Carrots: A great snack
- Peppers: Homemade fermented hot sauce
- Root vegetables: radishes are beautiful on a salad
- Onions: no onion breath with fermented onions!
Are There Any Unconventional Ferments?
There are a few things that you can ferment that are unconventional:
-Herbs: if you dry them then the compounds will go away but when you ferment them it is just like using the fresh herbs!
-Sweet potatoes ferment beautifully.
-You can also use seawater as a brine! But I recommend a filtration system because of the microplastics in our oceans.
-If you ferment fish and oysters then the proteins turn into amino acids. That is where you will get rich deep flavours and more nutrition. A lot of chefs in the USA are having a lot of fun with ancient garums. They are making them with bugs or grasshoppers instead of fish!
What is the Timeframe for Fermenting Vegetables?
It depends on the environment and how much sugar is in it. Most vegetables in a litre will take anywhere from 5-7 days in winter conditions and 2-7 days in summer. You will also read some recipes for sauerkraut and it will say 6 weeks. There is a whole range! The ferment will keep going until all the carbohydrates are consumed then it will die off. That is where you want to stop the fermentation. Also, some of the recipes you see are for big crocks. When we were using 10-gallon crocks in 60 degrees we would let our sauerkraut go for over a month.
Large Volume + Colder Temperature = Longer Time to Ferment.
1-litre jar on your counter in the summer will go more quickly. The flavour changes the longer you ferment, the sourer it will get. More and more is predigested for you. If you are eating it ready but young not much will be processed by the microbes but if you wait too long then the probiotics are going away. They did their job, made it acidic and they will die off. You want to eat it early on so you can reap the benefits.
What are the Basics of Making a Hard Cider?
With hard cider, we are taking the sugars and converting them to alcohol. Instead of bacteria, we are using yeast. The yeast love to eat the sugars. Because let's be honest, everybody loves sugar. We have experimented with 40 different kinds. You need fresh-pressed juice that has not been pasteurized. You can make that with the yeast that is in that juice….
Put it in a jug
Put an on an airlock
Leave it alone.
The yeast that is naturally on the apples will convert it into alcohol. If you cannot find unpasteurized apple juice then you can use commercial yeast. You can use beer or wine yeast. It is as simple as getting yeast, a jug of juice, giving it a swirl, putting a cap on it and you are done. You want the CO2 to get out but you don't want air to get in. Your job as a cider maker is to make sure the alcohol doesn't get to the vinegar stage. The number one way to do that is to keep the air out.
If you do a 4-litre jug in 60-70 degrees this can go to two weeks. There is a device called a hydrometer that measures the specific gravity and you can measure your juice before-hand and then afterwards and it will tell you if all the sugars have converted to alcohol. Sweet-tart apples will give you a cider in the 6-7% ABV range. I would put an airlock on it and let it go. If it doesn't work then those microbes aren't there. I would give it a few days and if you don't see bubbles in 5-6 days then I would add yeast. Leave as little head-space as possible!
How Do You Make Miso?
With Miso you have to make Koji. This is where you grow a fungus on a substrate which is usually rice. The wonderful thing is that it is easy to buy premade koji rice,(you can buy an entire starter kit here!) That is the rice that will get everything started. This is how to make Miso:
-Get your Koji
-Cook your beans
-Bring them together
-Press them into your container
The biggest challenge will be your incubation system. Once you learn how to control your oven or heating pad then these ferments are not very hard. That first bit of figuring out your system will be the hardest part. Koji needs to ferment at 27- 36-degree Celsius ( 80F-95F) and miso is fine at household temperature!
These are the best fermentation tips to help you get started on your journey! Remember that it doesn't have to be hard. The best thing you can do for your gut health is to limit the number of processed foods. Try to eat more whole foods, ferments, and fibre as well! Adding in these fermented foods can boost your gut microbiome tremendously. Remember to grab yourself a vegetable or miso starter kit, find a cooler place in your house to store your ferments, try your hand at hard cider, and support your local farmers. Join our Nourishme Organics' facebook group to get some tips and tricks from other readers just like you!