Love is a process: Raw, Lacto-Fermented Beets

When my friend, Bennet, and I began trading produce for food, the bulk of what he brought me were beets. It was the end of the growing season and we were both into using what was abundantly available. The challenge is to use beets in as many ways possible in order to really get the most out of what is plentiful and, for the most part, inexpensive.

I read through other blogs to learn how to make raw kraut-like beets and found myself particularly drawn to the entry on Harmonious Belly, written by Meg Cotner. Her instructions are simple and when it comes to a day of processing, the less complicated the recipe, the better. Also, the beauty of an amazing product, for me anyway, lies in the simplicity of its design process.

Cotner says that she plans on paring the fermented beets with legumes and grains. By this, I can expect the fermented beets to have a tangy bite that tastes as sweet as it is salty. The recipe calls for a lot of salt. My batch was pretty saltly. So salty, in fact, that I felt unsure about whether or not they tasted good at all. I kept sampling them on their own, not pared with anything. I was considering dumping everything and starting over when I had the idea to try it with avocado.

For most people, enjoying an avocado means dressing it with lemon juice and a dusting of coarse sea salt. I applied this notion and found that the tanginess in the fermented beets was brought out by the avocado. No additional salt was needed either, since my kraut-style beets contained a fair amount. The result, a delicious taste that reminded me of Deep South mayonnaise. Perhaps this is an idea for a new sandwich.

My friend Mary (another farm technician – friends are farmers) got to work. We had a variety of colorful beets available to us so each jar ended up being a different hue of beet color. I had been holding onto some fresh fennel bulbs too. Not much of the fennel taste pulled through, I thought, but I thought it lent a note of fragrant spring with the the very slight, distinctive taste of anethole, an organic compound in both fennel and anise.

When I make them again this week, I plan on making a much smaller batch and being diligent with making sure the beets are packed down enough and topped off with enough brine. I didn’t add brine last time because so much liquid from the beets covered them up. The next day, however, I realized that there was less liquid in all of the jars and proceeded to top them off with brine. This resulted in half the batch becoming contaminated with mold. Working in the sterile environments of tissue culture labs has taught me the way of our ambient, microbial environment. I’m surprised that only half became contaminated. Proper fermentation depends on the balance amongst favorable microbes and yeasts. Unwelcome guests ruin the whole thing. The half that survived is now in the refrigerator and is occasionally sampled with several foods to study flavor combinations.

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