June 21, 2024

Fermented Gooseberries

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Okay, this whole food adventure happened because of a show about food that led me to a book that is all about fermentation!  The show that I stumbled on was "The Bear", the quirkiest, craziest show about chefs? restaurant business? food?   Umm...not actually sure but it was totally fun to watch.  

Anyways at one point one of the restaurant employees wanders in totally engrossed with a thick cook book in hand.  A quick screen grab and some furious searching later, I realized it was a real life cookbook, The Noma Guide to Fermentation.  Wow.  I had to get my grubby little hands on that book!

Once I finally managed to wrangle a copy of the book I gobbled away at it and here is our first 'making' from the book, fermented gooseberries, tangy little bursts of intense flavor and texture.  I've never pickled fruit before.  Aren't they beautiful?!

Note:  Lovers of fermentation aware!  You need to check out this book!  Clear explanations of the basic process of fermentation, lots of different simple and more complicated ferments clearly explained with lots of photos, as well as simple ways to integrate the ferments into your daily food.  I went through the whole book in a couple of sittings.  Inspiring stuff!

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So we started our journey to ferment fruit.  Gooseberries specifically.  Apparently there many types of gooseberries around the world.  The only type I have ever seen in HK is the cape gooseberries, called so because of the cute little leaf capes that each fruit wears.  From my further research the cape gooseberry is, it turns out, not a real gooseberry at all.  But close enough.  

Cape gooseberries (also known as golden berries or Peruvian ground cherries) are slightly sweet, slightly tart, juicy and packed with tender little seeds that make for the most amazing texture.  We've used these berries to great success in making green salsa, nom, nom.

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The capes need to be plucked off and the berries washed.  At this point you can just eat these as fruit.  My little girl actually quite likes to eat these just as is.

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The ferment for these gooseberries will be lacto fermentation.  Which is a fancy name for fermenting in a salt brine.  The salt brine inhibits oxyen, kills bad bacteria and then allows lactic acid bacteria, present on the skins of fruits and vegetables, to convert the sugars into lactic acid.  Lactic acid allows the berries to be preserved and also provides the distinctive tanginess.  Lacto fermentation is also how traditional dill pickles, sauerkraut, sourdoughs, kimchi and yogurt are made.

Incredible, I always think, that so simple a thing as salt can inspire so much creativity and food goodness.  Salt as a food goddess!

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So simple to prepare the ferment.  Just berries in brine.  The amount of salt needed for the brine is calculated using the total weight of the berries + the water used in the brine.  

How to do this?  Prepare a sterile jar and place on to a scale.  Tar the scale (set it to zero with the empty glass jar on the scale.)  Add gooseberries in.  Add enough water to cover.  Note the total weight of the berries and the water.  Calculate 2% of that weight and that will be your salt needed for the brine.  Pour water out, mix with salt and there's your brine!  Pour that brine right back in the jar.

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This next part is always for me the trickiest part of lacto fermentation.  It's super duper important to keep oxygen away from whatever you're fermenting.  In other words everything must be submerged in the brine completely!  Any peeking out can mess up the ferment, most often creating a white biofilm called kahm yeast which is harmless but ugly and sometimes mold which means it's game over and time to start again.

A couple of methods for keeping your gooseberries down under.  You could place a heavyish plate over the berries, as I did in the photo above.  Another method is to use a double bagged ziplock (double bagged in case it leaks) filled with water to press everything under the brine.  In which case you should start with a bigger jar.

Once all your gooseberries are tucked in tight it's time to get ready for bed.  Cover loosely with jar lid as there will be gas released during the ferment that have to have a way to get out.  Find a nice darkish warm spot and let the ferment begin!

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Fermenting is done and now finally for my favorite part, the finale, the first taste!  Indeed this is the thing that I most enjoy about fermentation: that first taste when you discover how fermentation has changed the flavor of the original: enhancing, intensifying, creating new flavor layers and new textures.  Always surprising and delightful to discover these new delicious flavor nuances.

You’ll find the fermented gooseberries slightly salty, slightly sweet with a most addictive tart kick and a lovely soft flesh delicately textured with tiny tender seeds.  There is a umami developed by the fermentation that has developed the flavor to a complexity that is quite addictive.  You’ll eat one and then long for one more.

Okay, the cool show off part!  Now you've got a most beautiful jar of fermented gooseberries in the fridge, waiting to be used.  They can be eaten as is, golden globes of piquant flavor.  They can be most lovely when pureed into a relish.  I like to add them sliced into sandwiches as a tart accent.  These golden berries are the perfect tart and textured accent to help up your food game!  Plus, let’s not forget that fermented foods are chock full of probiotics and prebiotics which boost our gut health and our immunity systems.  Vive la fermentation!!

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Fermented Gooseberries Recipe
(makes 2 cups)  Prep time: 5 mins   Ferment time: 5-7 days

Ingredients:

  • 1 sterile jar that will fit berries with 2 inches left on top
  • 9 oz gooseberries, 260g
  • water to cover berries by an inch
  • 1 3/4 tsp non-iodized salt, 10g

Directions:

Peel capes off the gooseberries, if any.  Wash and dry the berries.  Add berries to the sterile jar.   Pour water in the jar to cover the berries by about an inch.  

Note: If your amount of berries differs from the recipe simply use the method of measuring the total weight of the berries and water explained in the post above to calculate the salt required for your specific brine and then proceed.

Pour water out into a clean mixing bowl.  Add salt and mix until melted.  Pour brine back into the jar.

Use either a clean dry sauce plate or a ziplock bag filled with water to press the berries until they are all completely submerged under the brine.  This is important, the berries must be under and stay under. If using the ziplock method you should use a larger jar that will accommodate the water bag

Cover jar with lid but don't screw on tight.  Leave room for the fermenting gas to escape.  Place in a darkish warm spot and let ferment for 5-6 days.

Starting at day 5 do a taste test using clean dry utensils.  Once the tartness is to your liking the ferment is done.  Place into the fridge where the cold will retard the ferment.  Use within 2 weeks.  Enjoy the ferment!

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