If you’ve been to the drum circle Escola de Samba Boom at Sagg Main Beach in Sagaponack, you’ve probably seen the outgoing Nadia Ernestus, 59, in action. Maybe you took her popular fermentation class. Or you’ve seen her life-size portrait, painted by boyfriend, artist Jim Gingrich, in a local gallery.
Heck, she could have sold you a house in Westhampton, before she moved to Sag Harbor five years ago. Hamptons Brine, her new business, goes back even further, to her Russian roots. “Every-one in Russia has a crock of sauerkraut on the kitchen counter,” she says.
Sauerkraut was the end result of certified health coach Ernestus’s classes on the benefits of fermentation. “Everyone in my class would ask me,” she says, ‘Where can I buy it?’”
She now employs four people to make her three types of sauerkraut (plain, chunky and spicy) and two types of kvass (plain and spicy) at the Stony Brook University Open Kitchen Incubator at Calverton, with plans to expand.
Ernestus is hard pressed to stay put. She bounces up from her chair every few minutes. Reaching above the refrigerator, she shows off a beautiful cobalt-blue ceramic crock with a lid traditionally used to ferment vegetables by covering them in brine, a salt and water mixture. Although many cultures brine cabbage, Germans brought “sour cabbage” to America in the 1770s.
Brining not only preserves cabbage, it creates as many as 20 different strains of good bacteria, fungi and trillions of probiotic colony–forming units, which correct imbalances in the gut’s bio- flora and strengthen the immune system. One serving of Hampton Brine’s sauerkraut can contain as many probiotics as a bottle of powdered supplements. “Powder? I don’t get that,” Ernestus says. “How is that alive?” In addition, sauerkraut has 20 times the amount of vitamin C as fresh cabbage and travels well.
That’s probably why Captain Cook forced his sailors to eat it, and the Mongolian nomads fermented cabbage with wine more than 2,200 years ago. Legend has it that Genghis Khan substituted salt for wine and introduced the early superfood to Europe.
To this day, sauerkraut is eaten on New Year’s Day for good luck. Agricultural traditions may account for part of this history, but that sauerkraut and kvass—the briny by-product—are said to cure hangovers, doesn’t hurt. “In Russia, we love the brine,” says Ernestus. “It’s the best hangover remedy ever invented.” The theory is that the electrolytes keep the body hydrated, and the enzymes and probiotics settle the stomach. “You feel much better. In Russia, believe me, they know hang-over,” she adds. “When the surfers found out it was good for hangovers, I sold out.”
Selling out is not a bad problem for a new business. After arriving from Moscow 21 years ago and with distribution in Whole Foods within her reach, Ernestus is just hitting her stride.
She jumps up to open her refrigerator, revealing jars of fermented vegetables. She opens one jar and offers a string bean. “This will be my next product,” she says. The texture is crisp and the taste is big and bright, just like Ernestus herself.
COOK To make your own sauerkraut using Nadia’s recipe, click here.