In the Eastern European countries of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, they are a well-known fresh-delicious snack and have been very popular since the early Middle Ages - fermented apples. During the Soviet period they were mass produced and popularized for sale. After the collapse of the USSR, when previously unknown imported dishes and products appeared in the post-Soviet space, industrial production was stopped. Since then, this snack is again prepared mainly at home in small quantities.
In the 21st Century, as with so many traditional dishes, every family has their own secret recipe. Nevertheless, two essential methods of preparation can be distinguished. They differ regionally in the ingredients used and the fermentation vessels.
In Ukraine, the still sour harvested fruits are fermented in oak barrels in which wheat straw and cherry leaves are placed on the ground. The apples form a second layer, which in turn is covered with straw. Then comes another layer of apples, and so on. When the barrel is full, the contents are filled with a salt brine, some honey and cinnamon, covered with a linen cloth and a wooden board and weighed down.
In Russia and Belarus, straw is dispensed with and rye flour, malt, sourdough and some peppermint is added to the ferment. Fermentation is often carried out in enamel trays.
By the way, the division into regions is not necessarily strict, so you can encounter fermented apples with sourdough even in Ukraine in winter. Anyway, if you are offered a fermented apple, I strongly suggest: Go for it!
Wikipedia offers a good article about the history of fermented apples. It is written in Ukrainian, but can also be understood quite well in English with Google Translate. https://uk.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Квашені_яблука
By the way, apples in Eastern Europe are not only popular as a pure, fermented snack. Sauerkraut is also preferably fermented together with apples and carrots in this region. And that tastes delicious!
What do fermented apples taste like?
In the fermentation process of fruit, part of the sugar is converted into lactic acid (0.5-1.5%) and alcohol (0.8% to a maximum of 3%) under the influence of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts. As a result, fermented fruits taste refreshingly sweet and sour and have a very long shelf life.
- 1 bail jar, 1 liter
- 1-2 wooden sticks
- 5 small firm apples
- 8 currant leaves - preferably from the blackcurrant
- 1 liter water
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 ½ tbsp sugar or honey
- 1 tbsp malted rye flour
- 2-3 sprigs peppermint
- 1 tbsp active sourdough
- Layer the apples into your glass in such a way that they fit in well and there is still so much space at the top that the brine later covers all the apples. The currant leaves come as layers either at the bottom of the glass and/or between the apples.
- If you use peppermint, also layer the branches down or between the apples.
- Dissolve salt and sugar (or honey) in water. If you ferment more apples, you scale the quantities. It is important that the ratio remains the same.
- If you use sourdough and malted rye flour, dissolve it in the water as well. Malted rye flour is available in some shops in the baking supplies aisle. You can also make it yourself. I have written down how to do this for you below.
- Fill the glass with the brine. If the apples are not well wedged and float up, you have to come up with something to prevent them from doing so. For this ferment, I often use wooden sticks, which I clamp into the opening of the glass. It is important that the sticks are also covered by the brine, otherwise mold will develop!
- Rye flour often develops foam. If this happens, open the glass for the first 4-5 days and scoop it off. Due to the many carbohydrates, you don't have to worry so much about mold. Even after 5 days, the oxygen in the vessel will still be displaced quickly enough. After that keep the glass closed.
- Allow to ferment for at least 42 days. The temperature is not decisive in this ferment, everything between 17°C and 22°C is fine.
Make your own malted rye flour
To make malt, first let rye grains germinate until they get small tails. This takes approx. 1-2 days.
Then they are dried at 50°C in the oven or in the dehydrator. With me they are done after approx. 3 hours in the oven. Then you grind them into flour, which can be done with a grain mill or in a mortar.
If you make a lot of malted flour at once, it is best to store it dark in the refrigerator. This preserves the B vitamins.
What is the shelf life of fermented apples?
The apples have a very long shelf life due to fermentation. Of course, it is important to always remove them with clean tools and ensure that the remaining apples stay covered with brine in the vessel. I find this difficult because the apples have so much buoyancy. That's why I categorized the recipe as suitable for advanced fermenters. Most of the time they are pirated and snacked away from me anyway.
Fermented apples are a zero waste product
Finally, I have a great tip if you like baking. The brine of fermented apples is full of active bacteria that provide your sourdough just the right food. I recently fed a rye sourdough with it, which became very active and had a delicious aroma.