Sauerkraut, Silage (and Saltillo Floors)
By Patty Wilber
Remodel update first. The floors are grouted and sealed! The Mex Seal tile sealer is probably toxic and has taken 10 years off my life and 20 years off the contractor’s life, but hey! The floors are beautiful!
The stub wall is in and the top is oak baseboard salvaged from the Old Albuquerque High School, complete with character marks! The transitions between the tiles and the existing (faux) wood floors are the same stuff. For some reason, that AHS wood really pleases me.
This coming week: we get to finish the painting, change out two light fixtures and move some furniture (SOME I said SOME!) back in.
And now back to our regularly scheduled program.
I recently made sauerkraut. Sauerkraut, as you may know, is fermented cabbage.
Here is how you make it.
Get a crock. Chop some cabbage, add some sea salt, more cabbage, sea salt, etc.
Normal salt is iodized to prevent goiter–the thyroid needs iodine. This iodine impairs the bacterial fermenters necessary for the conversion of cabbage to kraut. Store bought salt also has anti-caking agents (who knew?). That is why Morton Salt’s slogan “When it rains, it pours” works. Those anti-cakers do not make the microbes happy.
Need natural salt.
Go on line. Be dismayed. Or amazed. There are salts of all colors! Sizes! Flavors!
I picked gray salt. It was economical.
Pack the salted cabbage, tightly. Add sea-salty water if the cabbage doesn’t make its own brine in a day or so. Add a weight, and wait….
…a few days if it is warm and a few weeks if your house doubles as an ice box (which, incidentally, also really retards the drying of plaster, grout and Mex Seal).
I used red and white cabbage and at first it looked like: red and white cabbage in salt water. It tasted that way, too.
Eventually, fermentation began and now I have crazy pink sauerkraut!
It tastes like sauerkraut, but the cabbage is still crunchy, unlike the stuff you can get at CostCo to put on your dollar hot dog.
How the heck does this work? And what does this have to do with a) horses and b) silage?
Works like this: Bacteria are already present on the cabbage. Salt inhibits other undesirable bacteria and keeping the whole mess tightly packed and underwater creates anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions. The lack of oxygen inhibits mold and other unwanted bacteria.
Our preferred cabbage fermenters are lactic acid producers and once they get going, acid accumulates, and sauerkraut develops its characteristic sour flavor–which evolves over time due to changes in lactic acid concentration as well as the effect of the acid on the cabbage. The saltiness seems to diminish.
Fermentation is an ancient method of preservation! (Sourdough starter, beer–there was no water on ships because the water would go bad!, yogurt, cheese, fermented sausage–like dry salami!)
These foods are chock full of living bacteria that can help us regain a thriving bacterial ecosystem in our guts.
One current hypothesis regarding the increasing prevalence of lupus, autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, depression, and more, (of course more!) in the U.S., is that antibiotic use has disrupted the normal bacterial ecosystem of our guts. Eating diets high in fermented foods, can, in part, restore the balance. See the GAPS diet for more info — from one source.
I have recently (I teach microbiology remember, so I am not just pulling this out of my … hmmm lots of bacteria there…) have come to the conclusion that we need to start to practice ecosystem management on our own gastrointestinal system! The very habitat that may be home to 30,000 species of microbiota.
So, making sauerkraut sparked my interested in silage. Or balage. Or haylage. And that’s where the horses come in.
In case you want to make your own, you can just go build a great big crock–most people call this a silo. Then add chopped greens, pack it down and it starts to ferment, just like the cabbage, creating silage. The fermentation is even due to the same bacterial organisms.
Ok, it is not quite that easy. The moisture content is important, avoid any dirt in there–prevent botulism–, pack tightly, creating anaerobic conditions, don’t fall in the silage and disappear in the mix, or suffocate due to the lack of oxygen, or get poisoned by nitrogen dioxide, a by-product gas, or blow up the silo when a spark ignites the loose dry silage in the air…or pollute your stream due to the silage ooze leaking out the bottom…
Ensilage the easy way. Bale the field and encase the bales in plastic. Instant fermenting vat. So long as the plastic does not tear. If so, air gets in and the bale does not ferment. It molds. We can add anti-molding agents and a nice mix of bacterial fermenters to our silage, too, to help it along.
If it works and fermentation occurs, this balage (an ensiled bale) can be fed to to cows and horses. (If it was alfalfa, some would call it haylage.)
Some sources claim the nutrient content of silage is the same as normally baled hay. Others say it is different enough that there is a limit to the amount of silage a horse should eat. In case you are contemplating this diet for your equine, more research than my little bit is needed.
It sounds kind of complicated, so why ensile anything at all?
In New Mexico, for horses, there is probably no good reason. Our forages dry easily, more often than not are baled traditionally without being damaged by rain, and store quite well, even outside.
But in Northern Europe, turns out that due to weather conditions, high quality traditionally baled hay is difficult to produce and to store. So, bag those bales! This decreases crop loss, and creates effective storage while providing a quality feed.
In New Mexico, silage is produced from small grain crops like wheat, rye and barley. This, apparently, is mostly for cattle. Wheat is a good choice because it gives the grower flexibility–if everything goes well, the wheat can be grown for the grain itself, but if prices fall or the crop has other issues, baling in regular bales or ensilage for use as dairy cattle feed is a viable use of the crop!
And I always thought those big plastic covered mounds near dairies were composting manure. Nope. Silage! Who knew! (I love the Internet!)
And that is the end of my fermented tale!