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Friendly fermentation

ALISON GRIBBLE, ONE of several presenters at the Wild Edibles Festival, gives a demonstration on fermentation. C. D. Moore photo
ALISON GRIBBLE, ONE of several presenters at the Wild Edibles Festival, gives a demonstration on fermentation. C. D. Moore photo

Cailey Moore
Staff Writer

For years, the Wild Edibles Festival has been tickling taste buds and cultivating interest in wild foods sourced locally and laden with health benefits, and it returned Saturday, April 16, for its fifth celebration.

A large tent was erected on the lawn across from the Hillsboro Public Library, and Pocahontas County locals and visitors soaked up the sunshine as they perused each vendors’ table. Nature walks were hosted along the Greenbrier River Trail, and seminars were presented in Hillsboro Elementary School and the library throughout the day.

Following a luncheon of “wild edible” soups, wraps and teas, the walks and workshops resumed.

One workshop of interest – Fermenting for Health – was hosted by High Rock’s Amanda Gribble and focused on fermentation and the health benefits of consuming fermented foods.

For those who are not familiar with the art of fermentation, fermentation is the transformative action – or a chemical breakdown of a substance – by microorganisms, and is a process widely used in the making of beer, liquor and wine.

Focusing on the method of lacto-fermentation, Gribble used Saturday’s seminar to discuss fermentation of certain foods and the subsequent health benefits. According to Gribble, lacto-fermentation is when the sugars and starches in vegetables are converted – or “fermented” – by the friendly bacteria known as lactobacillus.

Lactobacillus bacteria is a natural growth inhibitor and is what keeps the harmful bacteria and molds from growing and putrefying – or rotting – the vegetables while undergoing the fermenting process, and the key to doing so is to create an anaerobic environment, – or an environment without oxygen.

Using a fermentation container with an inner vacuum lid, Gribble is able to create an anaerobic environment in which the lactobacillus bacteria can thrive, as well as achieve a nice, crispy texture for her kraut.

“In a vacuum container, that’s where molds and other oxygen-dependent harmful bacteria can’t grow,” Gribble explained. “The lactobacillus is able to flourish. The most important thing – in terms of this style of fermentation – is pulling the water out of the vegetables. That way, when you pack it in your vessel later, the kraut can be submerged completely. If it’s exposed to air, that’s where you’ll have more of a mold growth/vegetable putrefaction.”

Fermented foods replenish, diversify and support stomach health, and Gribble’s research has shown that illnesses can stem from your gut when your stomach is sick.

By consuming fermented foods, people are able to boost their stomach’s ability to replenish its nutrients that have been depleted by processed foods, as well as anything else that isn’t ideal. Because of this, fermented foods are often paired with foods that aren’t easily digestible – such as dairy and meat.

One common example is the Germans’ tendency to pair sauerkraut with meat.

When making her krauts, Gribble uses a variety of vegetables – and the occasional fruit – but no matter what her ingredients might be, the process remains the same.

Using a spread of apples, cabbage, carrots and ramps, Gribble began the batch by chopping and/or grating her vegetables. Once each ingredient had been sliced, Gribble added the vegetables to a large plastic container and salted the batch using J.Q. Dickinson sea salt.

“By massaging your ingredients, you activate a process called reverse osmosis,” Gribble explained as she set to work “massaging” the vegetables. “Reverse osmosis pulls the water out of your vegetables, and the ideal goal is for your ingredients to create their own brine.”

In order for the process to be successful, Gribble recommended leaving the vegetables out of the refrigerator and letting them reach room temperature. By using vegetables right out of the refrigerator, the water will be a little more difficult to draw out.

“You might not end up with as much self-created brine if you use cold vegetables,” Gribble added. “It means more work for you with less reward.”

Once the vegetables have been thoroughly massaged and have produced enough water to cover the batch, Gribble transfers the kraut from the mixing container to a fermenting vessel to keep harmful bacteria and molds at bay.

However, not all mold is harmful.

Experience has taught Gribble that white mold can grow under the vacuum seal, and while it might be a bump in the road, that does not mean you need to dispose of the entire batch of kraut.

According to Gribble, the microbes are unable to grow past the initial layer of white mold. So, while sights of blue and green mold might make a person wary, it’s simply a matter of removing the surface layer of kraut.

“Nine times out of ten, you’ll find beautiful kraut underneath,” she added.

For those with expressions of doubt, Gribble was quick to offer her reassurance.

Historically, it has been widely accepted that pioneers preserved their meats through a method called curing – a technique where salt is introduced to the meat. Bacteria needs water to grow, and in meat, the water content is high – especially in the muscle fibers. By adding salt, the water was drawn out, thus creating an environment devoid of the water required in order for bacteria to thrive.

Through lacto-fermentation, Gribble is able to mimic a similar result in food preservation.

Additionally, Gribble took this moment to remind those in attendance of Captain James C. Cook. When preparing to head out to sea, Cook had barrels of kraut brought onboard, and throughout their journey, fed the vegetable-laden kraut to his crew. Due to the high levels of vitamin C in the kraut’s ingredients, Cook has been famously credited for keeping scurvy at bay.

“The kraut having been fermented prior to the trip was an added benefit, as well,” Gribble added.

Gribble packs and ferments her kraut for roughly four weeks, but the duration of fermentation can vary. It all depends on the person and the depth of flavor they wish to achieve. She stores her kraut in a cool place, but does not put it in the refrigerator.

According to her, storing fermenting kraut in the refrigerator actually slows the process down.

Once she feels her kraut has finished fermenting, Gribble is able to store her kraut in the refrigerator for up to six months.

A number of other seminars were offered throughout the day and discussed a wide range of topics, including: spring tonics, floral jellies, kombucha tea, reishi mushrooms, Appalachian folk medicine, dandelions, bee keeping and more.

The fifth annual Wild Edibles Festival was sponsored by the Friends of Hillsboro Library and the Pocahontas County Nature Club, and supported by the Hillsboro Library, Hillsboro Elementary School and the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). The festival is part of the CVB’s Calvin W. Price Appalachian Enrichment Series.

Cailey Moore may be contacted at

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