I was not prepared for how much I enjoyed this hands-on workshop - who knew you could pickle green beans and that sauerkraut was so easy to make?! All revelations to me!
Rebecca Sullivan, author of Like Grandma Used to Make and The Art of the Natural Home, led the workshop. Queen of the Granny Skills movement, Rebecca is an eco-agronomist, activist, sustainable food writer, urban farmer and entrepreneur. Rebecca helped to launch the Real Food Festival in London and the Slow Food Nation in San Francisco. She's farmed coffee in Uganda and has spent many years learning skills and traditions from grandmothers the world over. She is an extremely passionate person and is determined to spread this knowledge far and wide. Hence why she ended up at the Henley Beach Library with boxes full of green beans and quartered cabbage.
We were going to learn to basic recipes, pickled green beans and simple sauerkraut. I have tried neither and was slightly sceptical about how easy this was going to be. I had always presumed you needed to be an alchemist (like my grandmother) in the kitchen to be able to make preserves, chutneys and pickled things. I don't mind admitting that I was completely wrong! So simple, and so much fun! We all lined up around the tables with bowls of green beans in front of us. Step 1: top and tail the beans (cut the ends off). Step 2: shove them into a sterile (as clean as possible) jar. Step 3: shove in other things to make it look pretty and to enhance the flavour (introducing chilli and garlic). Step 4: Pour in salted water (use the best salt you can, Murray River Salt is a favourite of Rebecca's) so it covers the beans. Step 5: Screw on the lid. Ta dah! Done! I could not believe it was that easy. Rebecca told us that you can add other vegetables and spices and that after seven days of pickling and burping (a process of releasing the built up C02 every few days), they will be ready to eat! Once opened, keep in the fridge and enjoy! They last for ages.
Excited by the ease of pickling beans, we were ready to tackle sauerkraut! Rebecca said that sauerkraut is an easy first fermentation project to try, and with good reason. It's beyond easy to make, it requires very little special equipment (a knife and a sterile jar), and the results are dependably delicious (apparently! I have yet to try mine so stay tuned!). Sauerkraut is made by a process called lacto-fermentation. There are beneficial bacteria present on the surface of all fruits and vegetables. Lactobacillus is one of those bacteria, which are the same bacteria found in yogurt and many other cultured products. When submerged in brine, the bacteria begin to convert sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid; this is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. Step 1: Slice and dice a quarter of a cabbage (or however much you want), the finer the better. Step 2: in a bowl, add four teaspoons of salt (again use good quality non-iodised salt). Now the fun part! Step 3: squish the cabbage and salt together using your hands until lots of the cabbage juice has formed in the bottom of the bowl - this will be your brine. Squish long and hard until it feels a bit like wet newspaper. You can use purple cabbage; it just might take a little longer. Step 4: add any spices or herbs to your cabbage. We added a few juniper berries and a small pinch of caraway seeds. You always need at least 60% cabbage, so don’t over do any additions. Step 5: Squish the kraut into a jar and push it down as much as you can. Step 6: tear up a piece of cabbage leaf and fold it over so it will fit inside the jar. You want the cabbage to act as a barrier between the sauerkraut and lid. Squish the leaf down so no sauerkraut can escape. Step 7: Slowly pour in the brine, making sure it has completely covered the leaf. Stop pouring once you reach the shoulder of the jar - you need some room for the gas produce by the fermentation. Try to pick out any pieces of sauerkraut that ended up escaping. Step 8: use paper towel to clean around the inside of the jar and screw on the lid. Ta dah! Sauerkraut! Again, the jar will need burping every few days and then from day 7, you can take out the cabbage leaf, try a bit and see if you like it. If you do, remove the leaf and pop it in the fridge. If not, you can leave it to ferment more for up to 2-3 weeks.
This workshop showed me just how easy some granny skills can be! I am sure the process of making jam is a little more involved but it’s something I can work up to. Rebecca was so inspiring and I highly recommend picking up a copy of her new book The Art of the Natural Home. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram @Grannyskills and keep up with her adventures! If you ever get a chance to attend her workshops, definitely do it! A big thanks also to the lovely ladies at the City of Charles Sturt Henley Beach Library for organising the evening - what a great event! I hope it didn’t take too long to get all the cabbage off the floor! Whoops!