The word suggests a coiled energy ready to burst forth, which is exactly what this season delivers. There is a rush of unseen commotion—seed, bulbs and roots waking up under the ground, then bursting out of the earth in an explosion of green underfoot. The songs of birds, frogs and the hushed suckling of fox kits born in dens break the winter quiet.
Humans too, find themselves needing to move. We are eager to open the window to let our homes inhale the fresh vernal air and replace what is stale. We find we long for change in our bodies as well. We’ve all experienced the longing that we call “spring fever”.
Traditional Chinese medicine describes this time as one when our liver and gallbladder need to move the stagnant energy of winter. Many of the vegetables that are seasonally available this time of year support the needs of our bodies during this change. Without getting into the intricacies of the medicine, we can recognize that beets, burdock root, radishes, ginger, turmeric, parsnips and turnips are the appropriate foods to give us the verve we need in the coming months.
For me, the soul-warming root based soups no longer feel like the right nourishment, I’m ready for crisp and fresh. However, we can reinvent any of these roots for freshness and added health benefits through fermentation. So let’s ferment some beets!
The health benefits of beets are tremendous. The striking crimson color is beautiful and also part of what makes beets healthy. Interestingly, Traditional Chinese Medicine sees the red foods as blood food—nourishing, building, and keeping it moving. Western medicine, with its scientific analysis, confirms that beets improve blood flow and arterial health while reducing blood pressure. The high folate content and bioflavonoids keep our blood and bodies strong. To these things, add the health benefits of raw probiotic rich and vitamin enhanced fermented vegetables and the result is a real power food.
And as a spring bonus use this ruby kraut to color your hard-boiled eggs.
Beet Kraut Recipe
Makes about ½ gallon
Beet kraut is as messy as it is beautiful. It is messy in the making, discoloring hands and counters, but watching the magenta brine take over the cabbage and deepen in color is magical. For extra credit beet fermenting here is another fermented beet recipe you may want to check out.
• 1 medium head (about 2‑3 pounds) cabbage, shredded
• 2 medium beets (about 1½ pounds), grated
• 1–1½ tablespoons salt
This is the simple part. This is where you finely slice your cabbage into shreds. Place in a bowl. Grate your beets and place in the same bowl.
Massage in one tablespoon of the salt. Taste - it should be like a salty chip, you should taste salt but it shouldn't be at all briny.
By now your brine will be developing. Continue to massage the veggies. (As if you are kneading bread.) When the veggies are glossy and there is a liquid at the bottom of your bowl you will begin to press them in your jar or crock. Start by putting a little of your kraut in the bottom of your vessel, press until compacted and continue until all of the kraut is pressed in the jar—air bubbles are out and brine is on top.
There are many ways to add pressure to ensure that your kraut stays under the brine once the fermentation starts bubbling.
The simplest fermentation method for a small jar batch is to use a zip-style plastic bag.
Open the bag and place in the jar on top of the vegetables, wedging it along the top edges. Fill the bag with salt-water brine until all the air spaces are filled. Seal the top of the bag.
The first day or so you will see your beet kraut get a layer of pink foam—think cotton candy. If you are using a plastic bag for the weight, it will ooze up the sides of the bag. This is our friends the LAB, eating the sugars and exhaling the CO2. A few days later, this foam can have a nasty brown muddy color with the remaining bubbles looking almost metallic. It can be alarming. Keep breathing; it is still okay—lift out your bag and rinse the bag with clean water, set aside. If you have plenty of brine, gently ladle this scum off using a clean utensil. If you are a little low on brine your best bet is to use a clean cloth to clean the sides of the jar and then return the bag to the top of the kraut.
Kirsten K. Shockey is the author of Homebrewed Vinegar, coauthor, with her husband, Christopher Shockey, of The Big Book of Cidermaking; award-winning Miso, Tempeh, Natto & Other Tasty Ferments; Fiery Ferments; and the best-selling Fermented Vegetables. Kirsten is the co-founder of Fermentation School a collective of food authors and teachers who are fermenting a better food system for land, people, and the microbes on which we depend. You can see more of her work at her website FermentWorks. Read all of Kirsten’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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