Valley Bounty: Kimchi

Each year in July, a steady stream of vegetables begins arriving at Hosta Hill in Pittsfield. I recently spoke with Maddie Elling who, along with her partner Abe Hunrichs, is the fermenter-extraordinaire behind Hosta Hill, which makes a range of fermented foods, including kimchi. Maddie explained that as the cabbage, carrots, radishes, onions, and garlic pour in from farms across western Massachusetts, the Hosta Hill team frantically chops up the vegetables, seasons them with ginger, rice pepper paste, salt, and fish sauce, and packs them into barrels. Six weeks later, the mixture is transformed into delicious kimchi and the summer’s bounty can be enjoyed for months to come.

This practice of extending the season’s harvest through fermentation dates back millennia in Korea. Kimchi is a staple of Korean cuisine and the popular dish is eaten any time of day with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Kimchi is a dish made from fermented vegetables, most commonly napa cabbage, but hundreds of varieties exist featuring everything from soybean sprouts and radishes to octopus and oysters. Making and sharing kimchi is so central to Korean culture that Kimjang, the autumn practice of Korean communities collectively preparing kimchi to last through the winter, was recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UN.

Lactobacilli are bacteria that naturally live on vegetables and make the fermentation process possible. When the Hosta Hill team packs their kimchi mixture into barrels, they create an oxygen-free, or anaerobic, environment. Lactobacilli thrive in the anaerobic conditions and over time, the bacteria convert the sugar in the vegetables into lactic acid. The lactic acid adds the tangy, sour taste to kimchi and keeps the locally-grown vegetables from spoiling through the long winter. Enjoy some of last year’s harvest by adding kimchi to your breakfast this weekend. Maddie recommends scrambling eggs with cheese, tossing them onto a corn tortilla, then topping everything off with a healthy helping of kimchi.

Valley Bounty is written by Noah Baustin of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)