The Start of the Journey
It all started with Michael Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie. I know, how odd. A book about curing meats got me interested in fermenting vegetables. Go figure. But it had some recipes for making pickles and sauerkraut just using salt, and I decided to just try to make sauerkraut using his instructions. I used a food grade bucket, 5% salt solution boiled then cooled, and poured the brine on the cabbage. I laid a towel on it and put a plate on top to keep all the vegetables in the brine. I then covered loosely with plastic wrap and waited 2 weeks.
While the fermentation was going, I started to do some research. Phrases like “skim the scum of the top”, “mold growing”, “scrape it off” just did not sit well with me. I did not feel like I understood what was going on, what was the best technique, or that I was in control of this process. And I needed to know more, especially since I was going to eat this! I decided I would rather be safe than sorry, so I scrapped my first attempt. It was probably ok, now that I am learning more about fermentation, but I wanted to be cautious.
I am interested in pursuing fermentation for two reasons: (1) for preserving my harvest, and (2) for the probiotic benefits. I have not given much thought to probiotics, but the more I learn, the more I suspect it will benefit my body and health, and that of my family.
Research & Procedure
First, I was surprise to see people just adding salt to all different mixtures of vegetables. I just assumed you made a salt solution and you used that. And, it is not about just cabbage. These people are adding cabbage, kale, carrots, beets, beans, cucumbers, garlic, herbs, fruit, etc. As I remember, most were shredded. This has opened up a whole new world of possibilities in mind.
They salted it, squeezed it, mashed it until enough water came out to cover it in a jar. How much salt? For a lot of people, it was to taste. How was I supposed to know what “to taste” means?? Or, since they have been doing so long, they just knew. That doesn’t fly for me. I saw in two places to use 3 tablespoons of salt per 5 pounds of vegetable. That is what I am sticking to, at least for now. Here from PaleoLeap:
You don’t have to use much salt either and in fact you could even ferment food without salt, but using at least some salt prevents undesired bacteria from gaining power over the lactobacillus. Using salt also helps the vegetables stay crunchy and helps draw water out of the vegetables. This extracted water can then act as the liquid for the brine. The quantity of salt to use is up to you, but 3 tablespoons per 5 pounds of vegetables is a good ratio to follow.
If the vegetable chunks were large, thought, the procedure seems be to add either a 2% to 5% salt solution, depending on the type of vegetable. Some vegetables mold more easily, and there for need more salt. From ProbioticJar, this is probably the most concise information I have found so far:
For most fermenting vegetables and kvasses a 2% brine is sufficient. Carrots, asparagus, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, whole or quartered beets, onions, garlic, horseradish, and just about any other firm vegetable you can think of, will do well with a 2% brine. Finely sliced cabbage and grated or very thinly sliced beets will create their own brine. Pickling cucumbers and peppers are very prone to mold, and require higher salinity to prevent mold: at least 3.5% up to 5% for cucumbers, and up to 10% for pepper mash.
There is also a picture on the site for making the different solutions:
This helps me to understand why some people add salt “to taste”. I can do that when cooking, but this was fermenting! So, it seems the exact amount of salt is less important as keeping mold from growing (according to this site), except that you can add too much salt as to inhibit the LAB (lacto
CO2, O2 & Venting
Everything I was seeing said oxygen will promote the bad bacteria and mold to grow, and so whatever set up you use, it should limit oxygen exposure. I saw people using lids with airlocks, or using fido jars and burping, or topping the fermentation liquid with oil. Basically, CO2 is produced by the fermentation, which will push out or drives off the O2 (oxygen). That was the important thing. I felt a little overwhelmed as to what to use. I just decided to get a few fido jars and see how that went.
My First (Edible) Ferment
The experiment was force upon me: I had prepped vegetables for a napa cabbage slaw for Memorial Day, but we had way too much food and so I did not dress any of it. So why not ferment it?! I didn’t plan it, but it worked out. I ended up using about 10 pounds of veg for the 2.5 gallon fido jar, adding 6 Tblspn of kosher salt. I squeezed and pounded and got my brine from the veg.
For the container, I wasn’t sure what to do, but I decided on using a combination of some techniques. I used a fido jar, and cut a dehydration screen to fit into and push down the vegetables into the liquid and away from the air. I also lined the top of olive oil to keep the oxygen out.
I did place the jar in a tray, and I am glad I did. The first day, I did not see any activity. The second day, the oil level had risen to the top, and when I went to “burp” the jar, it was more like a slight “vomit”. Oil splashed on me and the wall, and I am glad I opened it when I did. I kept it unclipped the rest of the ferment, and it makes me more liable to get a jar with an airlock to let out the CO2. In the future, I will just leave it unclipped and see how that goes.
I let it go a full 7 days and tasted it last night. I had a really good flavor, salty and sour. I gave it to two of my kids who warily tried it. They did not out right reject it, which was good. One said it wasn’t bad. The other asked for more! I can’t wait to start another one, and try some variations with spices and herbs!
Here are a few of the videos I watched to help educate myself. You might like them as well, or just search on Youtube – there are a lot!