Fermentation is wonderful way to experience and enhance the benefits of foraged foods—let me explain. Truly wildcrafted greens or roots from forest, field, and stream often yield small portions of nutrient dense foodstuffs. Some people believe the untamed nature of these resilient plants create a more vital food. Fermentation is not only an age-old method of storing a bounty, but in the case of foraging is also a way to “stretch” the essence and vitality of your favorite wild greens, roots, or shoots. Small doses of wild vegetables will enrich an entire batch of sauerkraut.
Finding wild edibles definitely strikes deep at our core—after all, our species foraged, as in hunting and gathering, most of its existence. I like to think that a relationship with our food is nourishing on a whole different level than the act of simply putting something in our mouths. Just as our gardens or connections with our local farmers provide connectivity to place, so does picking a handful of miner’s lettuce at the base of a cedar tree. Collecting wild foods forces us out of our routines not only when we tramp through the wild spaces but also when we put that food on our plates. As soon as we ask the question what is there to eat, we must pay attention and look deeper—a “weedy” vacant lot can suddenly appear instead as a succulent crop of Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album).
Foraging can’t, and shouldn’t, replace or be the sole source of any part our diet. This planet of ours is too populated to sustainably serve up found food all around—think overgrazing. Practically speaking (and this is the big thing on an individual level) is that our lives are not arranged to spend most of our waking hours procuring calories. Instead, foraging is an amazing way to punctuate our plates with beauty, unique flavors, and enriched nutrients all while cultivating our connectivity. And fermentation is an ideal way to capture each of these benefits.
In the following universal recipe you can enliven kraut by adding a “dose” of foraged vegetables.
Kraut Base for foraged greens
Yield about a half-gallon
This recipe starts with a trip outdoors. (See the list below the recipe for some common edible “weeds”.) Following a few simple guidelines for foraging foods will ensure these gifts from nature are safe for you to eat and will maintain the patch so the plants will be there year after year.
• use three different characteristics to identify the plant
• if you are unsure don’t pick it
• pick only what you need
• collect only where plants are abundant
• leave no trace
• be mindful of how those plants reproduce so that you can make sure that you help scatter seeds, or leave sufficient roots, bulbs, or rhizome as to not deplete the source.
• 1–2 heads (3-1/2 pounds) cabbage, shredded
• 1–1-1/2 tablespoons salt
• about 2 cups foraged greens, chopped and lightly packed
• 1 sweet onion (or a bundle of spring onions with the greens), sliced thinly
• 6 cloves garlic, minced
• Juice and zest of one lemon
1. To prepare the cabbage, remove the coarse outer leaves. Rinse a few of the unblemished ones and set them aside. Rinse the rest of the cabbage in cold water.
2. With a stainless-steel knife, quarter and core the cabbage. Thinly slice with the knife or a mandoline, and then transfer the cabbage to a large bowl.
3. Finely chop foraged leaves and add them to the cabbage. Add the sliced onions and garlic.
5. Grate the zest from the lemon, then add the lemon juice and the zest to cabbage.
6. Add half the salt and, with your hands, massage it into the leaves, then taste. You should be able to taste the salt without it being overwhelming; add more salt if necessary. The cabbage mixture will soon look wet and limp, and liquid will begin to pool. If you’ve put in a good effort and don’t see much brine in the bowl, let it stand, covered, for 45 minutes, then massage again.
7. Transfer the cabbage mixture, a few handfuls at a time, to a jar or a crock. Press down on each portion with your fist or a tamper to remove air pockets. You should see some brine on top of the cabbage when you press.
8. When the vessel is packed, leave 4 inches of headspace for a crock, 2 to 3 inches for a jar. Top the cabbage with one or two of the reserved outer leaves. Then, for a crock, top the leaves with a plate that fits the opening of the container and covers as much of the vegetables as possible then weight down with a sealed water-filled jar. For a jar, use a second smaller sealed water-filled jar, or a water-filled ziplock bag as a follower-weight combination. Then cover it all with a kitchen towel or muslin. Set aside on a plate (to catch any overflowing brine) to ferment, somewhere nearby and out of direct sunlight, in a cool spot for 7 to 14 days.
9. Check daily to make sure the vegetables are submerged, pressing down as needed to bring keep the brine throughout the submerged vegetables.
10. Using a utensil, you can start to test the kraut on day 4 or 5. You’ll know it’s ready when it’s pleasingly sour, pickle-y tasting without the strong acidity of vinegar. The cabbage will have softened yet retain some crunch. It will also look somewhat translucent similar to the color of cooked cabbage and the foraged leaves will be a very dark green.
This kraut will keep, refrigerated, for 12 months.
Getting started: A few common foraged N. American wild edibles for use in fermentation
These are best harvested in winter months when they are sweeter.
• Yellow Dock
Leaves can be harvested during the growing season. Most are better when younger as they are tender and have better flavor.
• Yellow Dock
• Lamb’s quarters
• Red Clover
• Plantain (Plantago)
Kirsten K. Shockey is a post-modern homesteader who lives in the mountains of Southern Oregon. She writes about sauerkraut and life—but not necessarily in that order. She’s written a complete book of Fermented Vegetables and maintains the website Fermentista’s Kitchen.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.