By Lola Dalrymple, Phase II Fellow
As my time as an AMI Fellow starts to come to an end, I feel lucky to know that I will be walking away from these eighteen months with many gifts in hand. There is the gift of friendship from my fellow Fellows and all the wonderful people I’ve met in Highland County. There is the gift that I finally know what I want to be when I grow up: a farmer(!). But of all the new skills and passions I am leaving this place with there is one that is perhaps closest to my heart (or, better yet, closest to my gut): and that is the wild art of fermentation.
Fermentation was not new to me upon coming to AMI- I had worked in winemaking for multiple seasons and also baked sourdough bread at home on and off for a decade. However, from pretty much the moment I stepped foot in the AMI kitchen, I took this nascent passion and ran with it. A non-exhaustive list of the ferments I have tried in the last 16 months includes kombucha, ginger beer, cider, many batches of beer, kimchi, sauerkraut, garlic scapes, carrots, pickles, radishes, garlic, cheese, switchel, sourdough bread, hot sauce… and I’m surely forgetting as many as I’ve remembered.
I can’t choose one reason why I’ve allowed fermentation to take over my life, but the process’s transformative nature might be what is most alluring to me. I never had a pet growing up, so I think I am making up for lost time. Now, I have jar after jar of live concoctions that I have to check on daily: to burp, to stir, and if we’re being completely honest, to talk to far more than I’d like to admit. And then one day, like magic, this product that I’ve cared for since its infancy matures and stabilizes and is ready to be out in the world.
If you’re reading this and thinking “I wish I could be just like Lola and coo and sing to bubbling crocks,” fear not- you can! Allow me to be your guide as you dip your toes into the gurgling jacuzzi that is fermentation with one of my favorite ferments to make: hot sauce.
What you’ll need:
1 pound hot peppers* (any type will work, but I like to use orange and red ones best, as green peppers will lead to an end product that closely resembles snot)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
½ gallon mason jar (or a ceramic crock, or other fermentation vessel)
4 cups warm water
2 ½ tbsp salt*
2 tbsp honey
A piece of ginger the size of your thumb, thinly sliced
3 peaches (or other stone fruit) cut into cubes
1 carrot, unpeeled and grated
*You can use less or more peppers, however the weight of salt needed for a safe fermentation is 5% of the weight of your peppers. If you are using peaches (or other fruit) or carrots, then the salt needs to be 5% of the total weight of the peppers, fruit, and/or carrots combined.
Sanitize your jar. If you have a dishwasher, use it. Otherwise, wash thoroughly with hot water and soap.
Remove the stems from your peppers and thinly slice. Put slices in a large bowl. Add in garlic cloves and any other add-ins you are using. Give ingredients a stir.
Pack the contents of the bowl tightly into your jar. Use a spoon or another tool to jam the peppers in as much as possible.
In a small bowl or measuring cup, add 2 ½ tbsp (or 45 grams) of salt into your water. If you are using fruit, then you will need to add 3 ½ tbsp salt (or 68 grams). Stir the salt into the water so it dissolves. Pour the salt water into your jar with peppers. You want your peppers to be submerged under the liquid, leaving one inch of headspace in your jar. You may need to use more liquid. Create a weight to keep your peppers submerged- one way to do this is to fill a ziploc bag partly with water and jam it into the jar, making sure the peppers stay under the water level.
Leave your jar in a dark place. You should notice some activity within a few days. Check on the jar daily; if any peppers have floated to the surface, remove them as they will mold. Allow the jar to ferment for 2 weeks.
When fermentation is done, strain the peppers and reserve the brine. Put the strained peppers in a blender. Add in the honey. Blend for up to 3 minutes, adding in the brine a little at a time until you get a consistency you like. Taste to see if you’d like to add more honey or salt.
Transfer to a bottle and store in the refrigerator and enjoy for up to 6 months.
A word of caution: fermentation is a highly addictive activity!