I have been devoting much of my time to fermenting these days. Most of the time actually went into researching how to do it. The real fermenting takes place all by itself. The good bacteria work their magic to transform simple (and cheap!) foods into healthy probiotic, super tasty treats that cost quite a pretty penny in the health food stores.
I devour Sandor Katz books and watch The Healthy Home Economist videos. I found their instructions very easy to grasp and execute. Especially Sandor. He leaves a lot up to your own taste and imagination. He encourages experimentation. There is no one perfect no fail recipe. There are many factors, the heat and climate of your house, the food itself, what you prefer the finish to taste like. My first fermentation experience was with sourdough starter. My starter has been going strong for about six months now.
I made this starter with equal parts flour and water. I have seen recipes that use commercial yeast, but I didn't find it necessary. Left alone for a couple of days it caught the wild yeast it needed right out of the air. This stuff is free for the taking! It is very cold in my house right now so I don't have to feed it as much as I did a couple of months ago. Only about twice a week. I always feed it right before using it. Make sure those microbes are happy and alive, doing their thing. I should mention that even though I have a triple filter on my tap I boil the water that I will use for any fermenting to get rid of the chlorine. Chlorine kills bacteria so I don't want it to interfere or slow down the progress of the beneficial bacteria I am trying to cultivate. After using my sourdough starter I always add more flour and water to replace what I took. I keep my starter at a consistency of pancake batter. I find it easier to feed and use this way, especially since I use it for pancakes and crepes.
My next fermented project was Kimchi. I have been eating kimchi regularly for over 20 years. My family loves it too. Unfortunately most commercial kimchis have sorbitol or msg in them. Sorbitol is a preservative, if kimchi is fermented it IS preserved. So, why sorbitol?
I started buying only health food store kimchi. (as opposed to Korean market) That proved to be quite expensive as my family can go through a jar a week.
I tried my first batches with whey. Disaster every time. I don't know what I did wrong, but they were bad. Then I discovered Sandor Katz. "Why use whey?" he said, when you can make a delicious kimchi (or kraut) without it. I tried his method and it worked first time! One head of cabbage makes 2 quarts, now that is economical. I also made saurkraut and it also came out great. So addictive in fact that my daughter wanted more when it was gone so she just made her own 2 quart batch. She is tearing through it and needs to start an new batch soon.
There are many sources detailing the process, but it is as simple as cutting, salting and washing cabbage, pushing into a jar and waiting for those happy microbes to come and transform your cabbage into something fantastic. I know I am oversimplifying, but this is basically what it's all about. The recipes always say you need to put a weight on top of your cabbage to make sure it is always submerged under 1" of water to prevent decay. I don't have a suitable weight so I have been doing something else and it has been working out fine. I cut 2 rounds of waxed paper to fit on top of the cabbage. I pour salted water on top of that, it makes a good seal and I haven't have any spoil yet.
I moved on to a fermented soda beverage made with whey. I made 2 quarts of fresh lemonade and added 1/4 cup whey and left it alone to ferment. After 2 days I put it into one of those flip top beer bottles with the rubber gasket. As the bacteria eat up the sugar they produce carbon dioxide and this type of bottle creates a fizzy fun drink that we love.
The only drawback was that I had to wait for the whey to form (from leaving out my raw milk). That could be 2-3 days. To get to the finished soda it could take 6-7 days all together.
I moved on to water kefir. I purchased my grains from Lifetime Kefir. Now I can't keep up with drinking the soda. Every 2 days my grains produce a new batch of kefir water. At that point I flavor and bottle it for 2 days for soda or mix it with tea for ice tea. So far my favorite soda flavorings have been lemon, ginger and vanilla.
Be careful with kefir soda! I am scared to open it. My kids love to so I let them do that part. I've had a couple of real explosive bottles that I let ferment a bit too long. A vapor so thick it looked like smoke came out and then VOLCANO eruption! We lost 1/2 the bottle on that one, it even blew the rubber gasket off the bottle. I advise always opening them the sink with a towel nearby.