One of Hollywood Farmers Market’s newest arrivals is The Fermentista, a great source for live, cultured, and enzyme-rich foods. Owner and creator Sarah Pesout grew up on a homestead in the foothills of Calaveras County in Northern California where canning and preserving the garden bounty were part of summer rituals. She learned first-hand that locally-grown vegetables have the most intense flavor.
Leaving the rolling foothills and her family’s homestead, Sarah migrated to sea and redwoods along California’s coast. Here she completed a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and anthropology from UC Santa Cruz. Always drawn to cooking and experimenting with food, she was soon taking culinary classes at Cabrillo College. Here, she completed a Culinary Arts degree. As part of a bakery staff team, she loved working the local farmers markets all over the San Francisco Bay Area ─ still her favorite job.
Farmers market vendors often trade products such as vegetables for bread. But not all of it is easily consumed fast enough to avoid spoilage. Never one to waste, Sarah wanted a way to preserve the abundance she was getting. She had already been making kombucha for several years, and with her degree in biochemistry, she experimented with fermenting vegetables as a great way to preserve the abundance.
But the California shoreline and redwood trees gave way to the Pacific Northwest’s call for the budding fermentista. Romance, as in all great stories, was the impetus to migrate to Portland. While getting started in her new environment, Sarah worked at Roman Candle, Ava Gene’s, and finally Tusk. After a year at Tusk, she took the opportunity to get a food processing license. Soon she was providing the fermented vegetables used on the menu. And it wasn’t unusual for Sarah to take vegetables that might not have a home on the menu and create delicious fermented accompaniments. For example, celery was a favorite to whip up with other vegetables; add a little salt, let this batch ferment, and voila! A lush marinade for meats.
As Sarah says, “All ferments are pickles, but not all pickles are ferments.” Most pickled vegetables are preserved in vinegar which is great for preserving pickled vegetables, but it’s highly acidic and kills all microbes, including the good ones necessary for a healthy digestive system ─ think naturally occurring probiotics, millions of them!
Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut are alive, and the good microbes are kept intact. Lactic-acid fermented foods (such as fermented dill pickles and sauerkraut) are rich in enzyme activity that aids in the breakdown of food, helping the GI tract absorb the important nutrients for optimal health. Eating a fermented pickle or spoonful of sauerkraut daily often leads to better digestion. In addition, the fermentation process is slower and more gradual, allowing flavors more time to develop naturally. To ensure the best quality fermentation, Sarah uses only organic or organically grown produce. Pesticides are known to adversely affect the fermentation process.
Vegetables in their natural state have beneficial lactobacillus bacteria on their surface. Once cut, the bacteria start eating the vegetables’ (or fruits’) surface. Given the right environment (oxygen-free), lactobacillus turns naturally occurring sugars into lactic acid. Lactic acid prevents the growth of harmful bacteria, acting as a preservative for the produce ─ giving fermented foods their tangy flavor as well as an excellent source of probiotics─ excellent for the GI tract.
Working in small batches allows Sarah to use ingredients from local farmers. Sarah’s criterion is that she must be able to drive there and back in less than a day to pick up the produce. From the Hollywood Farmers Market, she patronizes Deep Roots Farm, Sweet Leaf Organic Farm, and Flying Coyote Farm; farms that use farming methods known to replenish the soil. Not only are the ferments extremely fresh, but the farming methods contribute to healing the earth.
Some vegetables are hearty and require a brine mixture for fermentation. For a surprise, try one of Sarah’s brine shots for a super boost. Tender, leafy green vegetables such as turnip greens create their own juice and just need the right amount of salt and spices. The tasty fermented turnip greens are delicious with rice, as a side with chicken or roasted potatoes. In season now, the Rhubarb-Ginger is the most popular. Sarah’s favorite is Cumin-Onion. In season now, the Rhubarb-Ginger Sauerkraut is the most popular while Sarah’s favorite is the Cumin-Onion kraut. In addition to pickles and sauerkraut, you can sample an assortment of other seasonal veggies. And as the produce changes, don’t miss Sarah’s summer favorites like fermented salsa, watermelon rind, and hot and sweet pepper spreads.
This newcomer to the Hollywood Farmers Market has a smile as bright as the flavors found in her ferments. This fermentista is already developing quite a following as people are getting to know her and her products. Stop by and help her feel welcome.
by Susan Gibson, HFM volunteer