Lacto fermentation doesn't have a snappy ring does it? It would take a hot PR company to make it so too. Now one of the proudest moments for me in recent years has been the fight a small but organised group of residents took the fight to a waste company to prevent an incinerator being built near our town. Now the reason I mention this is that we all became familiar with waste disposal methods, one of which was anaerobic digestion and the reason that I mention this is that the fermentation process is anaerobic too.
Once I'd got past that thought I set about getting started. In the past I've made some bushcraft confectionery using a Fergus Drennan recipe from a cardboard insert that Bushcraft and Survival Skills magazine (issue 36) had in. I'd always wanted to try lacto fermentation (think Sauerkraut) which also featured on the card.
Fergus used seaweed in his recipe but an abundant supply of Few Flowered Leek near me meant that I was spurred into action to try it. I'd recently had cortisone injections in my hands so I used this as an excuse to send my two sons out to pick them.
I was planning to make one jar full but the boys applied themselves and came back with a good supply so I thought I'd see if I had enough for a second jar. It is easy to see from the right hand side picture above triangularish leaf profile.
Onto the milk separation. The recipe used lemon juice and I was interested to see how quickly it separated the curds and whey because I recall helping on a school trip on a Tudor day and vinegar was used to make a cottage cheese whey and it worked quickly (milk protein was also used as a glue for making shields I believe). lemon juice also started off quickly too and was left overnight. I used just under a pint and a quarter for this.
To separate the curds from the whey I used a frame mounted muslin bag which I usually employ to strain fruit when making jam or leather. It looks a bit milky but this is just a small layer of fine whey that gets through which quickly goes to the bottom.
As you can see, the whey is a lot clearer even straight after straining and it made just under a pint from a pint and a half or so. With a fair bit of whey left I added a shot of fine sea salt, lined a pastry cutter with cling film and placed it in the fridge on kitchen roll with a cling film wrapped can on top to shape it and remove the moisture (I had to change the kitchen roll several times).
Whilst letting the whey finish settling I roughly chopped up the three cornered leek and added sea salt and slightly more than the stated amount of whey, and then had fun shoving it all in the jar!
I did have a fair bit left over so I added another Fergus recipe card ingredient, namely grated cucumber to a second jar. This meant the only omitted ingredient was onion as it seemed overkill with obvious properties of the primary ingredient. The only issue I had in the bottling was submerging the three cornered leek leaves whilst leaving a gap. I pushed them down as best I could and wedged a piece of scrunched up cling film in to help submerge the leaves. they are left at an ambient temperature with a regular check for gas build up.
And yep, I still had some spare! I rinsed the whey off the leaves and made a small impromptu pot of pickled leek and cucumber by just adding malt vinegar. To do two small coffee jars full I'd suggest using one and a half pints of milk because it was a bit tight filling the jars with the whey from one and a quarter pints.
For future lacto fermentattion attempts I will leave the leaves either unchopped or only in half (depending what I was doing) because even this very rough chop has seen issues with bits of leaf floating past any plastic bag barrier I insert and the process needs to have oxygen excluded to work. I will also use the jam jar style (pictured above) because I managed to insert a small round plastic disc, cut from a strawberry punnet, into each of the coffee jars and then reinserted the folded bag, but it was a bit of a faff. This shape of jam jar would facilitate a round plastic disc being slipped in easily.
The day after the preparation and bottling I tried the now fairly solid cheese curd with some jack-by-the-hedge leaves on some slightly posh oat crackers and home made slow rise bread. The lemony, salty combination was fantastic with the hastily foraged leaves, and this has led me to purchase some essence of rennet to further experiment with basic cheese making...A happy discovery in the lacto fermentation process.
I decided to make the switch to the jam jars as I was having continual trouble securing the leaves below the...er...whey line, even with a plastic disc weighed down with a cleaned pebble placed on top! I have popped the disc and pebble in the new jars to and will investigate using clear plastic yogurt lids going forward as they are perfectly round and should fit nicely to the sloping glass sides. As per the procedure I got a gentle 'Phsst' from the mix after five days when I undid the lid to check for gas.
So to the taste. As mentioned earlier I've never tried anything lacto fermented so I really didn't know what to expect...I like it! The only thing I can liken it to is pickles and specifically cornichons yet it has a taste of it's own.
I have a lot of wild cabbage growing near me, well I'm not 100% sure what it's name is but Kevan Palmer identified it at this evening. Silly boy, I should have concentrated. Anyway, I was going to try and make Sauerkraut but the cabbage plants aren't big enough at the moment so it will wait...Like the impromptu pickled few flowered leeks that I did...All good things and all that. Oh, and the three cornered leeks were decent too.
I've also found myself looking over this Facebook page too.