Rugutis goes home Pt. 1

In naming this blog I hoped to tie together my love for all things fermented as well as celebrate the cultural and religious heritage of my own Polish/Baltic ancestry.  As the Lithuanian god of fermentation, Rugutis seemed like an appropriate muse to dedicate this work to.

My great-grandfather and great-grandmother emigrated to the US from what is now the Lithuanian city of Vilnius, but was at the time part of the Russian Empire around 1913.   I can only imagine what drove them to leave friends and family behind and embark on a journey to a strange new land so far away from the world that they had known, but the political turmoil that swept through Europe on the eve of the first world war may have played a pivotal role.  By emigrating to America they saved themselves and their family from the ravages of two world wars, and decades of repression under Soviet rule, for which I am eternally grateful, yet part of me always wonders about those that stayed behind.  What were there lives like? and how might my own life be different had been born in Soviet Lithuania instead of the USA?

Now almost exactly 100 years to the date of their emigration their prodigal great-grandson returns home!

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Because who wouldn’t want to come home to this?

In this series of posts I hope to cover the fermentation traditions and culture of Lithuania and Poland through a travelogue of sorts highlighting some of my adventures in these two intriguing countries…    Stay tuned!

į sveikatą!

Beet Kvass

One of the down sides of my travel to Estonia is that I’ve had to take a 4 month hiatus from brewing beer and baking bread (My apartment’s kitchen is tiny and lacks an oven).  But rest assured this doesn’t mean that I’m not fermenting things!

Over the past month I’ve been trying my best to embrace the vibrant food culture of Estonia and Eastern Europe, which is big on fermented foods of all sort, from beer and vodka, to sourdough, kefir, kvass and sauerkraut.  While trying to come up with a short list of dishes to try while I’m here I came across some interesting recipes for borscht that call for fermented beets.  Since I love beets, and all things fermented, this seemed right up my alley, and I decided I had to give it a try.

There are hundreds of variations on borscht, but a few things are constant.

  1. Beets… its not borscht if it isn’t red and made with ’em
  2. Broth or stock, this can be beef, mushroom, fish or vegetable, but there is usually a salty savory component
  3. A sour note, this can come from either naturally fermented beets or some other acid like lemon juice.  I’ve made it both ways and will say that the fermented soup was hands down the winner.

    Beets!

    Wear an apron cause these things stain!

So how do we go about fermenting vegetables like beets?  For a brewer it seems like a weird concept, but fortunately its ridiculously easy to do, and produces a wonderful sour liquid that can be drunk on its own as a refreshing beverage or used as the foundation for a knock yours socks off batch of borscht!

So let us begin!  You’ll need 3 medium sized red beets, water and food safe plastic container or a sauce pan you don’t mind sacrificing for a few days.  It will take between 2-5 days for the beets to ferment so if you want to make borscht plan accordingly.

Beets chopped and ready to go!

Beets chopped and ready to go!

  • Step 1. Peel the beets
  • Step 2. Dice the beets into cubes about 1/2″ in size
  • Step 3. Place the beets in a pan or other non-reactive food safe container
  • Step 4. Add water until the beets are covered by 1/2-1″ of water
  • Step 5. Place in room temperature area away from direct sunlight and wait and let the magic happen…

My beets took 3 days, but I didn’t make borscht until day 4.  The longer you wait the more sour the liquid will become.  Its really up to you when you think its ready, but I would suggest no more than 6 days.

Beets Day 1

Beets Day 1

Taste the liquid after 2 days taste daily until you’re satisfied, I found mine to be about as sour as lemonade.  I’ve heard that sometimes mold can develop on the surface of the liquid as it ferments but didn’t observe that myself. If this occurs, simply remove it with a clean spoon before using.

Beets Day 2!  Almost ready

Beets Day 2! Almost ready

I’m somewhat skeptical that its actually mold because of how acidic and anoxic the surface becomes during fermentation and imagine that those that report mold are actually seeing a pellicle formed by symbiotic yeast and bacteria. If in doubt throw it out, but there really is no reason to worry.

If you want to try the kvass as a drink, simply strain and chill, it will have a slight fizz to it and a wonderful sour-earthy flavor.

If using for soup retain the beets with the liquid and begin preparing your soup (recipe for borscht to follow). Terviseks!

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Beets day 4, active fermentation has subsided and the kvass is ready