Many everyday foods and drinks are in fact fermented, including chocolate, coffee, cheeses, breads, cured meats, soy sauce, and vinegars. The science of fermentation is understood as a chemical process by which food is exposed to bacteria and yeasts which preserve it. You don’t need to understand the science in order to make it work. Historically, fermentation was fundamental to extend the life of perishable foods, before the advent of refrigeration. Fermentation is a great way to preserve foods when we encounter gluts in the garden, or when your favourite vegetable is in season and the shops are full of it.
If you feel intrepid about fermentation, why not start with a simple refrigerator pickle? This is not a ferment as such, but will preserve almost any vegetable quickly and simply, introducing your palate to the tangy taste of fermented foods. Cucumber pickle is a sandwich favourite.
Here is a quick and easy recipe:
900g (2lb) unpeeled cucumber
3 small white or red onions
350g (12 oz) sugar
2 level tablespoons salt
230g (8 floz) cider vinegar
Choose firm fresh cucumbers without bruising. Slice as thinly as possible. A mandoline (slicer) is very useful for this. Slice the onions thinly also. Combine the remaining ingredients and pour over the layers of the cucumber and onion slices. Store the pickle in the fridge in a tightly sealed container. After about 3 hours it will be ready to eat. Cucumber pickle tastes great in a sandwich with leftover meats.
Another great way to get longevity out of vegetables throughout the year is through the process of lactic acid fermentation. Sauerkraut is one delicious foodstuff that can be produced by this process. It has a unique sour taste that can be addictive! Sauerkraut can be eaten cold or hot. It goes particularly well with pork. Sauerkraut is a good bet for the simple reason that it can be a challenge to use up a whole head of cabbage in a single household. Thumbs up for bacon and cabbage, coleslaw, and a little shredded cabbage thrown in to a stir fry but sometimes those heads are so sizeable that they become tricky to use up. Additionally, sauerkraut is full of healthy bacteria that is good for your gut.
See here for a how-to of sauerkraut.