Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lacto Fermentation - version 1.5

Lacto Fermentation 1.5

We had attended the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Common Ground Fair in September, and specifically went to a session on Lacto Fermentation, Saurkraut and Beyond hosted by David Levi, a chef and restaurateur. He spoke about his new restaurant project, Vinland, lacto-fermentation science, health benefits of active cultures, and then he got down to making saurkraut. He discussed kimchee, lacto-fermenting carrots, and other amusing combinations, and let us sample some of his four-day old kimchee. Spicy hot, but really good.

He did stress that we all have lactobacillus in our kitchens, on the foods we eat, on our skin, etc. They are a core part of our living bodies, so yes rinse the jars and wash your hands, but don't sterilize anything.

We all looked at each other during and after this session and said, well, lets do this thing. There's no excuse to not, and we can probably get used to these new foods. Its a sustainable, healthy way to preserve the harvest, and we already like pickles, so we committed to giving it a try.

We started with cabbages and cucumbers from our local farm stand, bought 1/2 gallon canning jars, and got started. Despite our careful weighing and measuring, we had a bit of a crisis in the middle, described here on our home blog,, and so our results were mixed.

So here is the 0.5 to follow our 1.0 attempt.

Saurkraut: for every 5 lbs of raw cabbage, plan to use 3 Tablespoons of salt. I used this article, How to Ferment Garden Veggies – Simple and Healthful Preservation for some tips and basic recipe. We used iodized sea-salt. You can use non-iodized or whatever salt you want, but I don't believe the lactobacillus really cares - the salt is to keep everything else at bay while our friendly bacteria turn hard indigestible cabbage into tangy healthy saurkraut.

  • Shred the saurkraut into very fine bits. Personally, I think the finer the slices the better. Next time I'm using a food processor. In fact, I might take some of our prototype kraut and re-shred it and let it ferment some more just to see.
  • Massage the cabbage well with the salt. Pound it with a potato masher or french rolling pin, whatever you can to get it less crunchy and a little mangled. Mix well with the salt, the salt should be dissolved, evenly blended with the cabbage, and then the cabbage will start releasing water as the cell walls start to open up. Keep mixing and mashing.
  • Pack this into a large container. I think one big bucket or crock is probably best, because then you have one thing to watch, and it will be consistent. Mash it down well. Fill this up to an inch or two from the top of the jar.
  • Take a heavy plastic bag, like a freezer ziplock, and open it up. Set it inside your jar or crock, and fold down the open part over the top of the jar. Pour water into the bag. Loosely set the jar or crock lid on top of this open bag of water. 
  • This will accomplish four things: 1) Hold down the cabbage so when the brine fills up the jar, all of the cabbage is turned to kraut 2) Reduce surface exposure to bacteria in the air, preventing anything funky from happening, 3) Provide a way for carbon dioxide to be released without creating pressure inside your fermenting jar but still minimizing air (#2 above), 4) Allow for an aesthetically pleasing fermenting container to sit on your counter, without requiring a lot of head space for weights, airlocks, etc. 
  • We put a plastic container under our jar, because the brine will stain aluminum, enameled steel, etc.Wait a few days, and you should have some bubbling action. After a week or so, you may have white foam. You can remove the bag (carefully) and sample the kraut. You can rinse off / wipe off the foam from the bag and jar and then replace it.
  • Check to make sure the brine is keeping the cabbage at the top covered. If you need to add more brine, 2 1/4 cups of water with 1 Tablespoon of salt is the ratio you need. Just add enough to get the top cabbage wet, so when you add the weight of the bag, it does not flow up and over the sides.

Once its done, you should have a tangy saurkraut, and a lot of the cabbage crunchiness (or toughness) should be reduced. Store in the fridge, basement, etc. as the article above recommends.

Kosher Dill Pickles: Our first attempt was off in a couple of ways. First, we used slicing cucumbers. Second, we sliced the cucumbers. Third, we used grape leaves for tannin.

Here is how we did the next batch. The results speak for themselves - a nice crunchy pickle with a strong garlic and dill bite, tangy and delicious.

Starting Ingredients
Pickles - use pickling cucumber varieties only. These have a thicker skin and a smaller overall size, which will help them hold up to the brine and fermentation. Don't cut or slice or anything. Wash well. Bruised cucumbers will result in mushy pickles, so only ferment the best pickles.
Brine - 2 1/4 cups water to 1 Tablespoon salt. Use kosher / sea salt / iodized / non-iodized. Whatever as long as you mix it in the water until dissolved. Depending on your container, you may need a lot or a little brine.
Tannin - for a 1.5 gallon batch, we used 2 teabags of black tea. The tea settled to the bottom of the jar over time, and kept the cucumbers crunchy. Loose tea is probably better, so use about 1 teaspoon per half gallon container. Grape leaves might work, but we didn't have good luck. Tea is more compact anyway.

  • Wash the cucumbers, fit into jars. Pack tightly, and try to eliminate voids between and around the cucumbers. 
  • Add tanning source (tea) to the jars.
  • Prepare the brine, pour into the jars until the cucumbers are fully submerged. 
  • Top with the open plastic bag described above. Make sure liquid is still above the top of the cucumbers.
  • Wait a few days, you may see bubbling or foaming. Check after a week or so. The cucumber you test should not go back into the jar, since it will just turn to mush anyway. See if the fermentation is all the way through the pickle or just starting. 
  • Once you think they are done, add the Finishing Ingredients.

Finishing Ingredients
Garlic - we used 1 clove, peeled and cut in half, per half gallon jar. Next time, I might use a half-clove per half gallon, adjust to your own palate.
Dill - we used 1-2 sprigs of fresh dill per jar.
Peppercorns - we used 1/4 teaspoon per jar of black peppercorns. Use whatever you like.

Put all of these inside the jars, ensuring they are under the brine. After about a week, this gave the pickles a very strong garlic and dill flavor.

Final Processing
I feel like I broke every rule here. I took the pickles out of one jar and repacked about half of them into a new jar. I topped this off with brine, and put it into the fridge. These will be for eating as whole pickles.
I took the rest, and sliced the pickles into long sandwich slices. I packed these into three quart jars, and then topped them up with brine. These are also in the fridge. This let me find any of the pickles that had gotten mushy, and takes up a lot less space than the half gallon jars. Being already pickled and now refrigerated, these slices should stay firm.

Final Words
We are hoping this is a starting point for future fermentation. I'd like to try the red cabbage / beet / carrot salad fermentation David recommended as a nice compliment to morning eggs. It sounds like it would be colorful. And dilly beans, while they don't sound that great, might actually taste wonderful. So here's hoping this is the beginning of something really good.

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