I really wanted to make a joke about putting root vegetables into your pockets and taking them to the opera, theater, or symphony, but decided not to. The culture I’m talking about here is a nicer way of saying fermentation. You can use the same process that is used to make sauerkraut and kim chee for roots; in fact, most vegetables. Besides root vegetables, I’ve cultured greens, green beans, cucumbers. onions, sweet and hot peppers, to name a few, alone and in combination. It’s a simple process; the most difficult part is making the whey, which is not really hard at all, and in any case, you can just use extra salt if you don’t have any whey on hand. This is a good way to prolong the life on all the roots sitting in your fridge and starting to sprout and wither–they get a whole new lease on life and you get the added benefit of the beneficial bacteria and enzymes as a result of the fermentation process. I have jars in the fridge from a couple of years ago, and they’re still good, and tasty.

You’ll need some clean quart jars and lids. I like to pour boiling water into the jars and over the lids, then let them air dry while I prepare the vegetables. The ingredients listed are for one quart, and you can decrease or increase the amounts according to your needs and refrigerator space.

4 c grated carrot, daikon and/or other radishes, turnips, celeriac, kohlrabi, beets, etc.–but not potatoes
enough sliced or chunked root vegetables to fill a quart jar
1 T sea salt or kosher salt–not iodized salt (iodine inhibits fermentation)
4 T whey, or another T of salt
1 c non-chlorinated water (chlorine inhibits fermentation), plus extra, if needed
whole, peeled garlic cloves and/or whole or sliced hot peppers and/or peeled fresh ginger slices,optional
fresh herbs, optional

Grated Vegetable:
1. Peeling is up to you, though celeriac should be peeled. For grated vegetables, put into a bowl, mix in the salt, and with a potato masher or other blunt kitchen tool pound away until some liquid is released. Add, if you like, some garlic, etc., then transfer all to a quart jar and continue to pound it down. You will want the liquid to eventually rise up and cover the gratings. An important thing to remember is that you must leave about an inch head space in the jar, so if your jar is really full, remove some of the vegetable. If you’re having difficulty extracting liquid, or can’t be bothered (as I often can’t), you can just use some of the water to cover the vegetable.

2. Add the whey to the jar, and water, as needed, to cover the vegetables. Remember to leave an inch of head space. Put the lid on, not too tightly. Let the jar sit at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for two days. You should notice some carbonation after this time–open the jar and you should hear a fizz. If not, let sit out another day. Then tighten the lid and put in the fridge to continue fermentation. If you can, let it ferment for a few weeks before devouring.

Sliced or Chunked Vegetable:
1. Peel vegetable if you like, though do peel celeriac. Cut the vegetable into a form that you’d like to eat. Put into the jar along with garlic, peppers, etc., if desired. Make sure the level of the vegetable is at least an inch below the rim of the jar.

2. Mix together the salt, whey and water. Pour into the jar. If the vegetable is not covered completely, add more water. Put the lid on, as above. Let sit out, again, as above, for two days (though I find that sliced or chunked needs three days), before refrigerating.

Not so difficult, right?!!

Making Whey:

First of all, powdered whey, which is usually sold as a protein supplement, will not work to culture vegetables. Powdered whey is usually heated to high temperatures, and is devoid of the enzymes and bacteria required for fermentation.

Use clean cotton or linen kitchen towels for draining. You can also use cheesecloth, though you will need to use several thicknesses of cheesecloth. Do not use terry cloth kitchen towels–they’re too thick.

1 quart raw cow’s milk, if you can get it
1 quart plain yogurt, either homemade, or good quality store-bought, with active cultures and no thickeners, sweeteners, preservatives, etc.
1 quart good quality buttermilk with active cultures

Raw Milk Whey:
Let raw milk stand, in a quart jar, lid on loosely, at room temperature until it distinctly separates–this can take anywhere from 2 days to as many as 6 days. There will be two layers, a milky liquid and a more solid white layer.

Once it separates, line a fine mesh colander with a clean cotton or linen dish towel (not terry cloth), place over a bowl and pour in the contents of the jar. Allow it to drip for few hours. What is in the bowl is the whey; in the colander,¬† “farmer’s cheese”–delicious spread on toast or apple slices. Remove the whey to a jar, cover, and refrigerate.

You can also remove the farmer’s cheese and store it in another container in the fridge, or you can keep it in the colander for up to several more days, over a bowl of course. In this case, you would then want to transfer it all to the fridge. The cheese will firm up even more over time; you can also fold the dish towel over the cheese and place a weight on it–this will speed up the process of firming up the cheese. Any additional whey can go into your whey jar.

Yogurt Whey:
Line a colander with a clean cotton or linen dish towel, place over a bowl and pour in the yogurt. Allow to drip for about 3 hours. The whey will run into the bowl and the milk solids will stay in the colander. You can let the yogurt drip for up to 24 hours–after the first 3 hours, you should¬† put the bowl in the refrigerator. The milk solids, after 3 hours in the colander will become Greek-style yogurt and after at least 12 hours will become “yogurt cheese” . Both have many culinary uses.

Store the whey and solids, separately, in glass jars or other covered containers, in the refrigerator.

Buttermilk Whey:
This is what Native Offerings uses for culturing their sauerkraut and kim chee. Pour the buttermilk into a sauce pan. Put the pan on a burner on the stove, over medium or medium-low heat. In a short while, the buttermilk will separate into curds and whey. The time this takes to occur will depend on the heat level. Do not let it come to a boil. This will kill the beneficial bacteria and enzymes required for fermentation. Stewart likes to let the mixture get to 180?; you’ll need a thermometer. Once the separation occurs, pour into a colander lined with a clean cotton or linen kitchen towel set over a bowl. Let drain for a bit. The solids in this case resemble cottage cheese, and can be eaten or cooked with as such.