Beets are a traditional staple food in eastern Europe, since they grow easily and keep well in storage over the winter. In eastern Europe, Russia in particular, they are often fermented in a brine solution and kept in crocks. The beets themselves are eaten as pickles, and the fermented beet juice, called kvas in Russian, is used as a central ingredient in borscht (beet soup). If you want to make borscht completely from scratch, prepare fermented beets at home. It only requires a few kitchen tools and basic ingredients.
Peel three beets for one cup of fermented beet mixture using a vegetable peeler. Then, with a knife, chop them into 1 inch cubes, or slice them. Some recipes advise that you cook the beets before placing them in the crock for fermenting, but most basic recipes do not require this.
Place the cubed beets in a sieve and place the sieve in the sink. Run cold water over the beets and wash them thoroughly. Meanwhile, measure out about 5 cups of water and place in a pot. Heat the water on the stove until it is lukewarm (about 105-115 degrees F). Take the water off the stove and pour it carefully into the crock, over the beets. The water should only reach about 2 inches above the level of the beets.
Put the lid on the crock. If it does not have a lid, cover with a piece of aluminum foil. Put the crock in a warm place. Traditionally, the crock would be put near the kitchen stove. Let the crock sit at room temperature for between three and seven days, or until the liquid is sour and has a pickled taste.
Line a sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth and place the sieve over a large bowl, if you only want the fermented beet liquid (kvas). Open the earthenware crock and carefully pour the fermented beet mixture through the cheesecloth. The kvas can be stored in well sealed jars. The beet chunks can be stored in separate jars and eaten, or else discard them.
Take the filled crock and remove it from the warm place when it has fermented thoroughly, if you want to keep both the liquid and the beets. Place the crock, still sealed, in a cool dark place such as the refrigerator; this will stop the fermentation. It will keep for several months.
Laura Crawley has been writing professionally since 1991. She has written about urban history for "The Hillhurst-Sunnyside Voice." She has also written about New York City history at the Virtual Dime Museum website and about popular culture at Kitchen Retro. Crawley holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Swarthmore College and a Master of Arts in English from the University of Toronto.
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