It’s starting to warm up here in Central Texas; so many changes happen at this time of year. We are hoping to soon plant beans, squash, melons, and sunflowers along with other heat-loving crops. The wood stove isn’t being used and now holds jars full of wildflowers picked by my blue bonnet-loving five year old.
Things in the kitchen are changing as well. The door of our cabin, which leads directly to the small kitchen, is usually swung wide open for much of the day. I’m trying to use the oven less and less, while making stove-top meals, solar oven meals, or cold meals more often. And, of course, the ferments I work with change as well.
I tend to pick up a few different ferments in the summer than I do in the winter. Likewise, I drop a couple of ferments for one reason or another – usually having to do with the heat. This shift has quite a few reasons, and benefits and today I thought I’d share them with you.
Heat and Fermentation
Fermentation generally occurs at a more rapid rate as temperatures rise. Some fermentation processes are simply sped up due to the heat, while other struggle to do well at all in our 95+ degree days with no air conditioning.
For this reason I only do small batches of fermented vegetables that we will eat through quickly. The process happens so fast, and at such a high temperature, that the fermentative bacteria often do not seem to take hold fast enough to ensure a good-quality end product. It is fermented, to be sure, but flavor and texture and shelf-life all seem to suffer.
I also increase the amount of salt I use in vegetable fermentation during the summertime. While I generally use 2 Tablespoons of salt per quart of water as a brine, I increase it to 3 Tablespoons of salt per quart. Salt slows down the fermentation process and the increase in salt helps to counteract some of the problems I have with the hotter summer ferments.
Electrolytes and Cultures
Summers here are nothing to mess around with. Two years ago I developed heat stroke on a day when I thought I was doing almost nothing except enduring the heat. Last year I was pregnant and had strict orders to keep cool and hydrated. But water simply does not cut it when you are sweating all day long.
For this reason, I like to keep lacto-fermented beverages on hand. They have all sorts of vitamins and minerals, as well as enzymes and probiotics. Sipping on kombucha, water kefir, or tea drinks fermented using whey really seems to help us stay truly hydrated, as does including extra good quality sea salt in our diet.
From Warming to Cooling Foods
All winter long we’ve been eating sourdough everything you can imagine. Pancakes are the most popular, but breads, muffins, English muffins, biscuits, and more have all gotten us through the colder months. Pretty soon I’ll probably save that sourdough starter for pancakes and tortillas only and forgo the oven-baked breads.
Instead, I like to include more cultured dairy in our diet, when we have access to fresh goat milk. Milk kefir is definitely my favorite for ease, sustainability, and health so we drink it chilled or mixed with flavorings throughout the day. I also like to make cultured dairy dips to go along with the fresh vegetable slices and salads that are also cooling.
Through my reading I found that places like India and Africa also relied on cooling foods like lassis – a cooling beverage of cultured dairy cut with water and a pinch of salt, sometimes sweetened, sometimes not. Having come from a cooler climate, I had to learn how to exist in a place like this and to do it healthfully, and of course with our beloved cultures as well.
How do the seasons dictate what you’re culturing?