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Preserving Food: Lactic Fermentation

Finished jars now they only need to ferment for 5 to 7 days.

Several months ago, I stumbled across lactic fermenting. Honestly, I had no idea what that was. I had been planning on canning this fall. I knew about freezing and drying food but other traditional methods of food preservation I really never thought about. My Aunt Sue kept telling me about fermenting and how wonderful it was. I should tell you that my family, especially my Aunt Sue, has long been followers of healthy "alternatives". Vitamins, avoiding white sugar, probiotics, filtered water via osmosis, mineral make up, sometimes trendy diets, etc. Some of it has gone by the wayside but most of it is a great way to live a healthier life.

Regardless I began to research fermenting and discovered that it is an amazing way to add probiotics, good bacteria, to your diet (without spending tons of money on a supplement). I was sold. I won't bother now discussing in depth why I need large quantities of probiotics but if you are a suffer of candida like I am (three strains of the stuff live in my unhealthy gut) you need LOTS of good probiotics to fix yourself. I simply don't have the money for the store bought fixes, supplements, doctors (alternative or otherwise), etc.

Once I discovered fermenting it was like my eyes were open for the first time and I saw it everywhere. More than likely you know someone who ferments food, you ferment food, you have read about fermenting food, you buy fermented foods, and on and on. I am not on the cutting edge here but if you are ready to take the plunge here is how...

My Aunt Sue gathered two of her sisters (my mother & my Aunt Kathy) myself and my baby (baby's go everywhere mom goes) for a "CV Party" (Cultured Vegetable Party). We were all new at this and it made for a fun afternoon.

The sisters! Sue, Kathy, and Mary (my mom).

You need jars. These lovely jars are from Weck and they are completely beautiful. You don't need these pretty jars though. All you need is a canning jar. The problem is pressure can build up in the jar and potentially explode it, so if you use a canning jar don't pack it insanely full and occasionally release the pressure. You will find tutorials for using your average canning jar all over the internet. I want to ferment in quantity so I may in the future invest in an amazing stoneware fermenting crock but in the meantime I will consider investing these airlock lids that fit any wide mouth canning jar.

Weck jars and culture starters.

You need a recipe but once you get the hang of it fermenting is like cooking. You can make up your own. Most often cultured vegetables are a combination of cabbage and other vegetables and you pack them into a jar. You leave them at room temperature (72 degrees Fahrenheit) for three days or longer. Winter six or seven and summer as little as three or four. During the winter you can place the jars in a warmer place, inside a cooler chest (minus the ice), or wrap them in towels to keep things warm and fermenting. Once finished you place the jar in the refrigerator or some place cool to stop the fermenting. Properly fermented veggies can be stored for quite some time. Typically eight months and up. 

The recipe we used:
3 heads green cabbage, shredded in a food processor (or shredded by hand)
1 bunch kale, chopped by hand
1 Tbsp. dill seeds
We used a combination of red and green cabbage. 
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Remove several cups of this mixture and put into a blender. Add enough filtered water (don't have filtered water or water without chlorine so I boil my water and let it cool to room temp) to make a "brine" the consistency of a thick juice. Add blended brine back into bowl with all ingredients. Pack mixture down into your jars using your fist or potato masher. Leave about 2 inches of room at the top for veggies to expand. Roll up several cabbage leaves into a tight "log" and place thme on top to fill the remaining 2 inches of space. Clamp jar closed (or screw on lid). Leave at room temperature for at least 3 days to a week and then refrigerate to slow down the fermentation (it never completely stops but will continue to age... like wine).  
To use a culture starter:
If you aren't fermenting with salt or whey you need a culture starter for a better culture. Culture starters can be purchased online or at health food stores. Dissolve one or two packages of starter culture in 1 1/2 cup warm (90 degree) water. Add approximately 1 tsp. of some form of sugar to feed the starter (Rapadura, Sucanat, honey, Agave, EcoBLOOM, or other). Let starter/sugar mixture sit for about 20 minutes or longer while the L. Plantarum and other bacteria wake up and begin enjoying the sugar. Add this starter culture to the brine mixture.

Culture starter in water with EcoBLOOM.
All ingredients in one pot.


Brine and ingredients.

Filling the jars and packing them down.

Cabbage roll.

Finished jars just need to ferment now.

Visit Two Blue Houses for more posts related to the farm, home, DIY, and using what you got.

Views: 1697

Comment by Pat Johnson on May 5, 2011 at 8:27am

Generally speaking the fermentation starts well using 1.5TBS of salt per 5 pounds of veggies (sprinkled and mixed well). If you need to top up with more liquid use the 1.5TBS of salt per quart of water. Crocks with perfectly verticle sides are best because of the ability to fit a weight into the crock that fits fairly tight. An airlock is not nessessary but a lid is. I've heard that you can use a "water-balloon" like bag as a wight and it will keep the scum/most at bay. So far I've not tried that. A daily skimming of the scum/mold seems to be the universal recomendation. I always have a little of the scum left in the sauerkraut when I finish and it isn't a health problem and doesn't affect the taste. Koreans& Germans traditionally make Kimchi & Sauerkraut when the cabbage crops are ripe and keep them a year or more in cool spaces so I think it's pretty safe to say the shelf life is long on the lacto fermented veggies (At least for those using salt as an ingredient). I ferment my sauerkraut for couple weeks and up to a month(Iif i want a more pungent, tangy flavor).

I've not had any aftertaste in my crocks. I wash them well after each use and inspect and disinfect them prior to future uses. A weak bleach solution will work to disinfect/sanitize.

Comment by Harriet Fasenfest on May 6, 2011 at 10:14am
Fermented foods are nutritional powerhouses - particularly fermented cabbage.  Doesn't need to be refrigerated or canned and is best made (in my opinion) in fall with those cabbages grown particularly for kraut making.  Harvest around October or November, they are large and sweet and make big heaps of kraut that will get you through the nutritionally challenged winter months (should you be thinking of going the full "in season" approach) in good stead.  Properly fermented and kept under the brine, kraut will keep and just keep aging.   Not to be all self promoting or anything, but the Preserving with Friends dvd has a section with Ye Old Sandor Katz in it talking about and making kraut.
Comment by Harriet Fasenfest on May 6, 2011 at 10:22am

Also, while I think adding interesting cultures to your fermentations can be, well, interesting, I have never done it.  There is enough bacteria, sugars and yeast growth on the cabbage and in the air to do the job just with vegetables and salt.  

And as an annoying side note...... Shiver me timbers, if it wasn't for kraut keeping away the scurvy from fine english sailors we wouldn't have been able to invade, colonize and destroy a entire native american culture.    I'm not saying, I'm just saying.   I always cringe when I hear that story.  Yep, fermented cabbage got serious Vit. C.  That's the good news.  What we did with that is not.    

Comment by Lauren Klouda on May 6, 2011 at 10:51am

Thanks Harriet for your comments. I wasn't actually making sauerkraut. I am interested in all cultured veggies for that wonderful nutritional powerhouses as you put it (I LOVE that language!! :)


When I use fermentation for long term storage I will be putting the veggies in a "root" cellar of sorts and NOT the refrigerator.  

Comment by Pat Johnson on May 6, 2011 at 2:33pm
Harriet is right, femented veggies kept many a sailor from getting scurvey but it was Salted Cod kept them alive! There are several books out about how salted cod was the enabling factor for most of the early exploration of the world! I'm experimenting with various traditional salt cures and find it very interesting (I'm also getting into the lacto fermentation in a big way).
Comment by Harriet Fasenfest on May 6, 2011 at 3:40pm

Lauren, you don't even need the refrigerator if you use enough salt in the fermentation.  And that is an important thing to know.  Full fermentation, as in fully fermented cucumbers that are "acidified" due to the development of lactic acid or sauerkraut that you will ferment and can with a water bath, have particular salt specifications.  I won't get into it now but Linda Ziedrich's Joy of Pickling does a great job of explaining it.  Foods that you want to ferment with less salt is can still be stored under the brine outside of the fridge but it is a little more iffy given that the saline solution is lower.  

As such, my formula (and how I was taught) for making sauerkraut is  3 T. salt to five pounds of shredded cabbage for fully fermented cabbage that can be water bathed.  Of course, most folks don't want to water bath kraut at all given its microbiological goodness that go dead in heating.  Still, the point is (and as Sandor show in the dvd), you can use less salt but you will generally eat it before it gets fully fermented in that highly acidic way that renders it "safe" for water bath canning.  It will take longer too - up to six weeks at times.  More salt equals slower fermentation.  

I'm sorry if all this is confusing.  This may not be the format to explain it but besides Sandor, Linda is also in the dvd and she (and I) go over all this.  She is in the segment about making pickles - both quick and fully fermented.  Sandor does sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha.  Now hopefully I have completely confused you all. 

And salt cod ----yep.  And I think soaking that thing till that cows come home and combining it with mashed potatoes is a famous portuguese dish or cuban dish or something.  Name escapes me but I've eaten it and its good.  You can also salt and brine herring and lots of other small fish.  Okay....gotta run.  Herring, potatoes and vodka.  Now were getting into my family's soul food. 

Comment by Pat Johnson on May 7, 2011 at 8:28am
Oooops, my bad. Harriet is right about the 3TBS per 5 lbs of cabbbage and thats what I use too. The Montana State Extension page is the page I always referred to when making Sauerkraut and it reflects the correct measurements. This is a good expample as to why you need to use accredited sources to verify posts on the internet. Some posts contain mistakes like mine that could pose potentially dangerous errors resulting in health risks. It's always good to find several reciepes and verify that they all seem to agree with regard to important preservation ingredients & processes. Spices will only affect flavor so they aren't so important but things like Salt, Nitrates, sugar, smoke, processing times....need to be right.
Comment by Harriet Fasenfest on May 7, 2011 at 9:00am

I won't say a word about the nitrite controversy - not a word.  Well, maybe just one or two.

I have a big ass ham leg (prosciutto) hanging in my friend's basement that another friend who studied in Italy helped me make.  I write about the journey on my culinate blog (www.culinate.com) under dinner guests (if you enter my name you'll find it - lots of rambling there).  But the point is, no nitrates or nitrites or anything other than salt.  But oh dear oh dear.  Next to the raw milk debate, that one drives folks a crazy - crazy I tell you.  

Having said that, Pat is right.  Check your resources, double check your resources, talk to folks who have done stuff for a while and then make up your own mind.  It is hard, though, to find any book or reference material on making cheese with raw milk (not aged the required 60 or 90 days) or curing meat without nitrites and nitrates in the states cause we go crazy, crazy I tell you, about the "risks".  Which is not to say being stupid and not knowing what to watch for and not learning from a skilled and experienced artisan can't result in some scary shit but it is not an either or debate.  Salt, fire, time has been doing us just fine for centuries.  What I think we are trying to do is relearn these techniques and have very few old-world instructors to teach us.  That's why I say we should hunt out the old timers before they are gone.  They're the ones who still know a lot of this info.  Or maybe we just need to go to Italy or France or somewhere were some of this stuff is still being taught.  

Me?  I'm a bronx girl that didn't know the top from the bottom of a canning jar (well, I would have known that) a decade  or so ago.  Yes, I have taken a full course submersion into this life and stood up against "proven science" and health concerns, a number of times.  But I don't sell retail.  I'm also one to find old school instructors like my friend from italy to guide me along the way.  But the controversy on some of this stuff can be maddening and I have had to face off  with extension on a number of occasions.  Yes, there is safe and then there a prophylactic response to food safety that has more to do with industry then our own homes and kitchens. 

So there it is with so many more words then I meant to use.  I'm off for a day in the country with my farmer friends.  Praise the lord.  This city girl is feeling hemmed in. Actually, gonna try to see if this canning club idea will work.  Me - the preserver.  You - the farmer with too much produce on your hands and not enough time to can it.   The Canning Barter Club that Pat talked about oh so many rants ago.   More on that later.  

Comment by Jeanmarie Todd on May 7, 2011 at 11:07pm
Your recipe doesn't mention salt but you talked about brine... is this meant to be a no-salt recipe? I know Wild Fermentation has some but I haven't tried it without salt. Beautiful photos!
Comment by Lauren Klouda on May 8, 2011 at 12:25am

Jeanmarie - You are right. There is no salt. The "brine" was how the original recipe referred to it. It is a portion of the vegetables, chlorine free water, culture starter (sort bought in this case), and a form of sugar to feed the starter. We picked a simple recipe to "dip our toes" in the water. 


Thank you!


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