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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.

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Comment by Pat Johnson on May 8, 2011 at 8:26am

Kimchi & Kraut have been made for centuries using salt to enhance the fermentation. I think the salt's ability to draw the moisture out of the veggies is it's biggest plus. Fermenting in it's own juices means you get more of that particular veggies unique taste once fermented. I can tell you there is a world of difference between the taste of fermented Napa Cabbage vs. the standard cabbage used in kraut. Of course salt's preservation properties arealso  insurance when storing it for extended periods of time. I would think if you are going to keep it in the fridge, eat it right away and want to stay away from salt you'd be fine to leave it out and use "whey" or "store-bought starter".

Comment by Pat Johnson on May 8, 2011 at 8:58am

Nitrates, the stuff everyone loves to hate, but eat on a regular basis. Nearly all smoked sausages, bacon, lunchmeats, hotdogs, salami,  pepperoni, summer sausages & other fully cooked meat products that are not sold frozen....contain nitrates. Nitrates are a naturally occuring substance and you get them in small quantities from the veggies you eat out of the garden among other sources. Still, I agree with Harriet that they should be gennerally shunned and only used to make gunpowder from (Saltpeter is a main ingredient in black powder). However (there's always a however huh?), the nitrate amount used to cure home made bacon, sausage, corned beef, pastrami, summer sausage, country hams....is small and I don't make a regular diet of any of these. So I choose to use the saltpeter for a occasional batch of corned beef I make.I probably get more from the pepperoni pizza I occasionally eat. I'll also be choosing not to use it as soon as Harriet posts the instructons on how to cure that ham;-)

The salt, smoke, sugar or other mean of preservation is the main preservation instrument in making these meats but the nitrates are used because none of these techniques are quick and the meat has no protection from botulism during the early stages of these types of preservation so the NITRATES are brought in to provide a barrier while the smoke and other means of preservation take hold. I guess I'm more scared of botulism than the controversial, much discussed and often studied, effects of the various nitrates used in todays meats. Evidently, with regard to botulism, the odds are better using the nitrates or all the big meat companies would not be using them for fear of law suits.

Comment by Harriet Fasenfest on May 8, 2011 at 11:18am

Pat - no way to win the nitrate, nitrite debate so I'm not even gonna try.  I've taken lots of classes with old-world artisan charcuterie makers and the verdict is the same ---"You guys in the U.S. think it is necessary......".  So I will leave it be except to say I make bacon, pancetta, corn my beef, make prosciutto, and lots of other things with none of it.  Certain dried sausages require the addition of certain cultures but lots do not.  Enough said.


On the "what is the purpose of salt in fermentation?" debate, here is the idea.  If you're only aim is to eat fermented vegies fairly quickly - be it cucumbers, cabbage (whatever variety) or any other vegie, salt is generally used to pull out moisture so a brine can form under which the vegies can stay in an anaerobic environment (no air) for a short period of time - a week or so max.  After that it is stored in the fridge.  The purpose of the salt is just to draw out the liquid.  Some say you can just put vegies in water and it will ferment but it won't taste all that good and it won't be long before it gets all nasty cause the salt serves the purpose of preserving the vegies as well. But even if you are just using water there are natural levels of bacteria flora(good ones) and cultures on the vegies that begin decomposing the vegies (actually transforming the starches and sugars on the vegies into acids via this decomposition) which, in turn, creates the fermentation that you see in the form of bubbles and creates the flavor that we all love.  Though using water alone can do this, it is not a good idea cause it generally will have your mixture going dank quickly and have no flavor.  So again, the issue here is how much salt do you want/need to use and that depends on what you are trying to do.   

Salt can simple be a flavoring agent.  If you are not hoping to keep it for a long time outside the fridge and you don't want that fully fermented flavor then you don't need all that much.  If you want fully fermented vegies, salt is used to create a strong brine solution that works as a sort of  holding solution, if you will, keeping the vegies "safe" and undank like, while the real work of fermentation takes place.  Which is to say, if you want traditional full fermentation, a state that may take up to six weeks, you must wait till all the bacteria (lactobaccillia in particular) transform all the starches and sugars in and on the vegies into the acids that will create the "pickling" process.  It will help to understand this sort of pickling as opposed to quick pickling.  Lacto-acid development as the acid source is one sort of pickling, using vinegar as the acid sorce is another sort of pickling. 


In lactic acid full fermentation pickling it is important to understand  it is the lactobaccillia that exist on the outside of most vegies and fruit that work to ingesting the sugars and starches and who, after dining on the goodness, poop out, if you will, the lactic acid that will fully ferment your vegies.  Hence the term - lactic acid fermentation.  It is this development of lactic acids that you are after but it takes a bit of time to fully develop.  So, you keep your vegies "safe" in a certain level of brine solution while this process is happening. Generally speaking, you are waiting for the acid to take over.  It will be this certain level of high lactic acid environment that FULLY ferments and acidifies your pickles and cabbage and that renders them, as a consequence of this acid development,  safe for water boiler canning.  That is what a full salt brine solution (I think they call it a 5% solution) is all about.  It gives the process of lacto-acid development to time to develop.  Quick pickles are acidified by vinegar.  Lacto-acid fermentation is acidified by this process of lactic acid development and requires no additional vinegar though some recipes call for a little bit as an added measure of safety.

 Still, this high salt full-fermented process is not everyone's thing particularly if you're not wanting it to sit out on the counter or have that much salt or be "fully-fermented" by the rule of law.  It might not be the taste you are after though it is the taste of those old world N.Y. deli pickles that folks like.  Also, not everyone wants to can up their fully fermented pickles and kraut.  Not that you have to even though you could.  Remember, fully fermented pickles are sufficiently acidified to do so.  Low salt fermentation will render great tastes but unless you add more vinegar (in tested recipe amounts) it will not be safe to do so.


Certainly their are lots of reasons not to can fully fermented vegies but I like canned kraut and to be able to reach for it when I want it as a side dish or to ladle on top of a dog.  I like to have my pickles on a shelf canned up as well and for me, the full fermented flavor translates no matter if it is canned or not.  

So salt can play a role in either flavor or full fermentation.  Full fermentation takes up to six weeks - sometimes longer depending on the ambient temperatures.  Some folks say that the longer the fermentation time the better the flavor.  I like fully fermented pickles and linda ziedrich does a stand up job of offering this explanation.  I follow her recipe.


Now that you understand what roles salt plays it is easier to understand that other systems have been designed to speed up the acidification process by pumping up the cultures that exist right from the start.  In the older method you are waiting for the existing cultures and bacteria to do their thing.  By adding cultures you are creating a more advanced field and a different flavor but I'm not sure of the entire process because I have not used it.  I see those cultures sold in the store along with all sorts of yogurt starter cultures but I don't use those either.  I just use regular yogurt from an old batch to start more batches of yogurt.

But I admit,  the world of cultures is amazing  and they exist everywhere.  Like yeast - they exist in the air and you can capture them naturally if you're lucky.  That's the idea of sourdough but let's not get into that now.

The point about adding whey is that it is an acidified mixture.  If you are making cheese regularly you will have whey on hand but most folks don't.  That's why folks buy whey cultures but I don't really get that either.  You don't really need it with regards to making kraut - again, just salt and time.  If you do have whey on hand because you are a home cheese maker (even yogurt will give you whey - that watery stuff on top) you can use it but each whey culture is slightly different depending on the cheese you are making. That's a whole other conversation but any whey culture will work to help speed up the acidification of the ferment in much the same way vinegar will but exactly how and how much to add is beyond me.  If I have some on hand I add it but I'm never quite sure about how acidic my whey is at any one time.  The long it sits the more acidic it becomes. In Sally Fallon's book I think she suggest you can reduce the salt by half if you add the whey.  She gives specific recipes.  I don't remember them off hand but I have done it and it has seemed to worked but I don't do it very often.  


So while using imported cultures, whey powders and pretty bottles adds some sophistication and mystique to the craft it is not really necessary.  And remember, if you just want to make a ferment that tastes good and you can eat in no less than a week (actually ferments will start tasting good after just a few days) you can do so with less salt as long as you keep it under the brine.  Under the brine is key.  I don't suggest you keep those ferments out on the counter for more than a week cause they don't have enough salt.  Those sorts of ferments go into the fridge for me.  The old world techniques (3 T. salt to five pounds shredded cabbage) will allow for slow, full, fermentation.  It will keep the cabbage environment "safe" or in statis (if you will) while the busy micro-organisms existing on the vegies themselves (that white dusty looking sheen you see on most cabbages, cucumbers, grapes, apples and plums) do the work of eating up the starch and pooping out the stuff that works to acidify and ferment the vegies in a way that renders them both delicious to eat and safe to can.  


And THAT is the whole freak'n story.  Happy Mother's Day all you mommas and poppas and good chill'ns who are supposed to be cooking up momma a breakfast but who are nowhere in sight - YET.  Oh well, no one promised me a rose garden so I went about planting my own.  


Comment by Lauren Klouda on May 8, 2011 at 12:20pm

Wow. Harriet. Please don't take this the wrong way but a lot of the information you have been sharing is biased, unsolicited, and missing the point of what I posted. I have really and I am really trying to be polite. However if someone is trying to get their toe in the water you just scared them off. I am fully educated and capable of making salt ferments. I was showing an easy way for people to start fermenting vegetables for health reasons (or just for fun). Not everyone wants to ferment with salt. And if you look over my instructions they are correct for people who don't want to ferment with salt. The "pretty jars" that are unnecessary were something my Aunt wanted to buy and I bartered with her for. I certainly don't have the money or the care for just pretty jars. 


The other things discussed here have been completely unrelated and unnecessary. A bit more than off target. I am sure there are more appropriate discussion boards for those topics than here.  I will hesitate to share further posts because I was just offering a friendly option to the Homegrown community and not looking to open a whole book of worms on topics like salt fermentation, DVDs for sale, nitrates, colonists, etc.  


I apologize again if I offended you. I truly don't mean to but I feel like I need to be as frank and honest as you are. :) You most certainly know a lot of information. It is just that other people may know a thing or to as well. Sorry Harriet.

Comment by Harriet Fasenfest on May 8, 2011 at 1:31pm

Hey now,


Just so you know you sure didn't offend me.  I was just offering what I know and what I thought was a question - how much salt and why.  I actually was a bit annoyed trying to write all this stuff being mother's day and all but thought being less clear would be frustrating to some.  So whatever, please accept my apologies if you thought my comments where targeted to you.  They were not.  Just another opinion and some information about a complicated subject.



Comment by Jeanmarie Todd on May 8, 2011 at 2:08pm
Just for the record, I enjoyed both the original post and the discussion afterwards, especially Harriet's long comments. I have read everything I can get my hands on about lactofermentation (from Sally Fallon to Sandor Katz to Linda Ziedrich and many others) and I'm always looking for tips and tricks. I have made a lot of delicious saurkraut and other ferments over the years but lately my efforts haven't worked out so well, so it seems I have lost my touch or am doing something different that I don't realize. So I love to learn from the wisdom (including the mistakes!) of others. I stopped using whey because that seemed to make things too soft, but probably because I was adding too much salt too. Or something. I used some old veggie fermentation starter I had around recently and it went moldy! I scraped off the mold and added salt. I probably need to weigh and measure but I hate doing that. Often I end up buying Cultured brand sauerkrauts from Berkeley. They are so delicious and I reuse the jars for my own stuff.
Comment by Lauren Klouda on May 8, 2011 at 2:28pm
Oops. Well then my bad. I apologize for my crabbiness this morning. I definitely woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
Comment by Harriet Fasenfest on May 8, 2011 at 2:37pm

Well, just so I'm sure ....is this thread, or the post thereon, only supposed to be solicited?  Yes, Lauren, nobody asked me but Im thinking this is a free forum.  But if I am mistaken then, again, I apologize.  It is true, however, that I wander far afield of stuff when discussing stuff.  Who needs it all?  I get that.  Shit, can't we just stay on topic?

So while colonists and cans of worms will make it in my rants I realize it is not for everyone and I apologize.  I understand how it can be oft putting.  I am a bit of a frustrated activists and see food preservation as a means to an end.  I am tired, very tired, of how this economy functions  and so I landed on the life of a householding to make the world more tenable for me.  But not everyone is quite as "tight" or rambling as me.  Just my style, just my world - can of worms, colonists and all. 

Comment by Nancy on May 8, 2011 at 3:14pm
I just read all of your posts, found them all very informative and neither one of you should be upset about what you wrote.  Just call it a minor misunderstanding and be done with it.  This world is made for learning and I, for one, learned from both of you today and that is a good thing and I thank you for that!  Happy Mothers Day!
Comment by Pat Johnson on May 9, 2011 at 8:55am
I like to mess with Harriet cause she can take it! Luckily for me I can too cause she can dish it out too! This is a discussion and like Harriet, I get to mention things like nitrates (just did it again Harriet) and that generates more discussion which leads to a better understanding of the issue. There are a lot of interesting characters in these discussions but don't feel like some of us are THE experts. As Cornelia politely terms it when describing me, some of us are" Jacks (or Jills) of all trades" and that's just a polite way to say we're "know-it-alls". Still, when a " know-it-all" actually posts on this site, it gets cut up, magnified and chewed on and verified so everyone can see if it stands up to closer scrutiny. That's a good process. You can participate or stand by the sidelines as the Sh#$&@t hits the fan, but in the end you will have learned a little and that's the point. Usually we are rushing to spew out a response and haven't had the time to polish it up real well before regurgitating it out in the discussion so try not to be offended if a  response seems abraisive, in nearly all cases, it wasn't intended that way. I'm sure Harret really loves nitrates;0)

Harriet....So the salt keeps the food safe until the fermentation provides enough acids? Sounds a lot like my Nitrates;0). Just kidding, just kidding. We need to start another discussion to discuss the use, or non use, of nitrates. I think, like this Lacto fermentation discussion, it would be useful and benificial to a lot of us. In the meantime I promise to only use my nitrates to make gun powder and stump killer!

In the meantime, since everyone is pretty familiar with Sauerkraut & Kimchi, I think we need to post more lacto fermenting recepies. Here's one for Jalapinos (or other hot peppers)

Equipment Needed for Pickled Jalapenos
■1 Quart-sized Mason Jar
Ingredients Needed for Pickled Jalapenos
■1 Quart Fresh Jalapeno Peppers
■½ Onion, Sliced
■3 – 4 Cloves Garlic
■3 Tablespoons Unrefined Sea Salt
■1 Quart Filtered Water
Instructions for Preparing Pickled Jalapenos
1.Gently wash and clean the jalapenos, discarding any bruised, marred or mushy peppers.
2.Add the peppers, garlic and onions to your vegetable fermenter.
3.Combine unrefined sea salt and filtered water to create a brine and pour over the vegetables.
4.Ensure that vegetables are below the water-line.
5.Culture at room temperature until the jalapenos change color from deep green to an olive green as pictured above. This usually takes approximately 5 to 7 days depending on the temperature of your home.


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