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The Problem is Abundance; the Solution is Abundance of Ferments! (Australia)


Photos: Ingrid Pullen

If you are lucky enough to come to PRI Zaytuna Farm you will be shocked with the abundance of produce we are harvesting from the renowned main crop (above). During the last year we’ve been managed by our Australorps — they dictate our weekly schedule. Monday morning is the compost mob move (the "chickens on steroids" as Geoff likes to call them), and Tuesday morning every fortnight is the garden mob move. The compost mob are making compost that’s going to be used on the gardens that the other mob leave behind! It’s like a chicken amusement park down there in the main crop, and our job is to keep them amused!

Now that’s lot of work, until you start harvesting! We have an abundance of spuds, carrots, turnips, beets, greens of all shape, colour and sourness, including Ethiopian cabbage, silverbeet, spinach, mezuna! People who know me will remember that I’m allergic to salad (just kidding!), but I’m not allergic to ferments!

So what we end up doing is chopping up all those greens, add to them grated carrots, beets, turnips, a bit of garlic, ginger or turmeric if you like, and we press them really good as we add them to buckets, making sure there’s no air, and then cover them with vinegar.

We use 20kgs buckets and leave them in the store room for a month or so — there’s no rule really about how long you need to wait, it all depends on your taste — and when they are ready, they are out on the table for students and WWOOFers. It’s amazing how some people can’t stop eating them while others won’t even try it, but those who don’t are missing out on a lot of beneficial microflora that the gut would love — the microflora of where we live!

The other abundance I have to deal with is milk. We are now milking four beautiful cows. Honey just gave birth to a new steer, which Latifa wants to call Rosie! Rosie the Bull? Laila, Freeza and Udina are all also showing up in the morning waiting to exchange the abundance of milk in their udders for some breakfast cereal. No worries, we’ll take that milk, drink a lot of it fresh, drink a lot of it with our coffee, have a lot of it with our porridge… but there’s still a lot left! Ferments are the solution again. We turn it into yogurt, and then have that yogurt at breakfast, which again gives us that gut flora boost. But there’s still surplus of yogurt! Easy, turn it into yogurt cheese (what we call in the Middle East, ‘labaneh’) by pouring that yogurt pot into a cheese cloth and adding some salt then hanging it until it gets its paste-like texture. It can take 3-4 days. I sometimes forget about them and then come back to find it more sour and yummy. Now that’s a cheese that will not last on the dining table!

Another way we deal with excess milk is by turning it into a white feta-like soft cheese. This is a pretty simple procedure that only takes 2ml of rennet in 10 litres of warm milk. I usually add it at 40°C. I stir that and leave it to cool down until it curdles, which usually takes an hour. After that I pour it into a cheese cloth and add some black sesame seed, press it with bit of weight overnight until it lets go of all the whey (which you can collect and soak your chicken seed in it before you feed them, or use it for baking some sourdough bread). Now the cheese will look like a big slab, which is waiting to be cut into squares that will fit into your jar after dipping in salt and then covering with water. Depending on your consumption rate, you might have to increase the salt, or add it to the water that you use to cover the cheese with, to make sure that it lasts longer. In Jordan the way they traditionally do it is that they increase the salt to the extent that you have to boil it in fresh water twice to release the saltiness before its edible. This is simply to enable Jordanians to store it without fridges for up to a year in room temperatures that might reach 40°C!

The next phase of abundance we have to deal with are ducks! Any suggestions?

21 Comments

  1. Excellent idea.. I did not know that you can ferment vegetables.. I think our bodies would love that super food.,,,

    Thanks for sharing it

  2. good to know that you are using all that you can from the harvest, as to the abundance of ducks…well there is always the egg business and all meat of course can be preserved in salt, but like some of your cheeses will need to be rinsed before cooking. Good luck with your ventures

  3. Thanks for a beaut article, it looks like you’re eating fantastically! I’d like to try that yoghurt cheese, sounds so simple and so delicious.
    I just have a question about the vinegar preserves – no doubt they are delicious and nutritious with all that lovely veg, but my understanding of preserving in vinegar is that the only microbes that survive the acidity are those already in the vinegar?
    To preserve those same ingredients plus grow out the best of the bacteria they harbor, sauerkraut would be a good alternative. The process is very similar, just salt each layer of chopped/grated vegies before squashing them down, the salt draws out the liquid and covers it in brine, in warm weather it’s nice and sour in a week or so. I love it! At present we have a red cabbage/kale/broccoli leaf one and sweet one with kale and cabbage plus apple, carrot and ginger…
    The downside of sauerkraut compared to vinegar preserves is the vinegared veg can last much longer (in theory virtually forever!) – maybe that’s why it’s the favoured method when you’re dealing with such a huge surplus.

    1. I think you’re correct, Joel. No beneficial bacteria in vinegar-pickled stuff. But still all those micronutrients in the veggies. A ‘ferment’ would involve salt or lactobacillus culture, but this is a pickle!

  4. Have you tried salted duck eggs? They are yummy. There is also ‘balut’, a Philippine delicacy made of a day old fertile duck eggs…The Chinese also do what they call ‘Century Eggs’ – also from duck eggs.

  5. Really surprised you use vinegar !
    Someone please put together a course on Fermenting vegetables for them – soo so many great foods can be made by Lactic Acid Fermentation. All you need is salt , nature will take care of the rest.
    https://www.wildfermentation.com/ – heres a forum
    https://www.culturedpickleshop.com/products.html – a commercial venture here
    no affiliation with either.
    There’s Nothing like a home pickled Cucumber or homemade Sauerkraut and very easy to do.

  6. Wondering why you use vinegar??? There are no beneficial biota in a ferment that I has vinegar in it! Our ancestors used good old salt which encourages lacto fermentation and a whole array of beneficial bacteria.

    I am sorry to say these ‘fermenters’ aren’t getting the beautiful and wide spectrum of bacteria.

  7. Thanks a lot Joel ,, I’m surprised you don’t use vinegar !
    Please note that one of the top 10 probiotics is actually a vinegar ,, apple cider vinegar !
    We use vinegar and we still feel the probiotics effects of the ferments that we do because we use weak vinegar that has pH higher than the stomac pH ,, the stomach pH can go as low as 1.5 , the vinegar we use will not go below be 4.5 ,, the optimal pH for probioitcs is 6 , but a lot of strains are cable of surviving the ph range of 4 with no problem ,, they are called acidophilus bacteria..
    another thing is we consume this fermented product over the course of the year ,, depending on how many people we have ,, so we need long lasting preserves that keep and spoil quickly !
    another reason we use vinegar is we love it !
    Please write us an article about your fermentation methods ,, spread the knowledge and
    enjoy your ferments the way you like them !

  8. There is a website, Cultures for Health, http://www.culturesforhealth.com, that has instructions and many recipes for many kind of fermentation. You can sign up for a monthly newsletter, or just look at their website. They sell cultures of many sorts, but the simple lactic acid starters can be poured off the top of a carton of yogurt. The website is useful for reassurance that you are doing things correctly and won’t inadvertantly poison yourself or your family.

  9. Thanks Salah for the extra info on vinegar, pH and bacteria. I enjoy vinegar too, and it’s my usual method for preserving whole chillies. I’ll have to give a mixed veg vinegar ferment a go some time.
    My fermentation “bible” is a great little book called “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Ellix Katz, who also has a website of the same name. I highly recommend the book, it’s less than 200 pages but absolutely jammed with information on just about any fermented food and drink!

  10. As to the salt versus vinegar issue: In an inland area like here, it is easier to make vinegar – especially apple cider vinegar – to use as a preserving agent rather than using salt. Obviously, there are differences and different outcomes between the two methods, but preferences possibly may have arisen because of the availability of the preserving agents within a local area.

  11. Using whey will give the same results as a lactic fermentation done with salt. Vinegar is an acetic acid so the fermentation process is different. Lactic ferments have a much higher amount of beneficial bacteria than vinegar pickling.

  12. Hey Salal, if you found your preferred way of using your abundant duck supply, can you also share it too, maybe via another article? This are interesting info. Thanks.

  13. Beautiful pictures! Makes me wonder how long you have been practicing permacultural techniques, the land seems lush and fertile ( I would have thought Middle East is quite dry … I guess depends where you are!)

  14. HI Alisa :) this is all in Zaytuna Farm home of the Permaculture Research Institute ,, Northern New South Wales in Australia , Subtropical Climate ..

  15. The power of fermented vegetables to amazing. In addition to the wonderful favors developed during the process, the health benefits received by the body are significant. I believe that we can effectively connect our bodies to the ecosystem in which we live by consuming vegetables grown in healthy, living soil and fermented to multiply the billions of diverse beneficial organisms that exist in the raw vegetables. This connection to local soils contributes to a body that is ready for healthy living within the unique ecology of your place. Our body chemistry is driven largely by our gut biology, including our brains. It feels good to eat ferments.
    My wife and I operate a business in the US, located in the very small town of Yachats, on the central Oregon coast. It is quite a multi-faceted affair, and one of our specialties is fermented food and beverages. We make about 25 different ferments, including many kinds of sauerkraut, and lots of other fermented veggies. We brew kombucha, water kefir soda, and beer. The response has been incredible. People LOVE ferments. They have emerged as one of the most important parts of our business and lives. You can check in on what we are up to: http://www.yachatsfarmstore.com
    Thanks to PRI for all of the great, inspiring work that you are doing, and for sharing with the world.
    Nathan

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