Today’s post is going to be 2 posts rolled into one! I want to tell you about the food fermenting equipment I use and love and also about those beautiful ferments I posted on my social media pages the other day. My love for fermentation is two-fold; first, it speaks to my creative side, and secondly I LOVE the health benefits of fermented foods. In my herbal practice I often recommend clients either increase fermented food-or start eating it! It’s that good for you! It’s quick and easy to do, and delivers a power-punch boost to your immune system!
Let’s begin by talking about fermentation vessels. Fermenting can be easily done with nothing more than a standard canning jar (Ball or Mason), the lid and ring, some salt and some water. The purpose of salt in your ferment is to preserve it until the lactobacilli gain enough momentum in their reproduction to take over the preservation of the food. In a nutshell, that is what fermenting is! As these little organisms populate your food, they become more plentiful than store bought probiotics, and quite likely more bioavailable for your body to use. When you eat fermented foods they populate your digestive system with the good things you need to keep your immune system healthy. Fermentation also increases the nutrient density in foods, and causes those foods to be more easily digested. So-back to the vessel for fermentation. I do many ferments in canning jars. I also do a lot in food grade utility crocks like the one pictured below.
I love these crocks! It is important to get a food grade crock because they use paints on them that are non-toxic. If you have one of your grandma’s old crocks- be sure that it is not lead paint that was used on the surfaces that will be in contact with your fermenting food. It can leach into your food. In my fermentation classes I’ve had questions about cracks in old crocks. I was told by an older and wiser fermenter that you can use beeswax to cover the cracks. There is another style of crock that has a “moat” around the top rim. This is to fill with water and once you place the lid on it, it will seal the ferment from the outside air. This is good, because too much oxygen in your ferment will cause kahm yeast, which is unsightly, and can alter the taste of your ferment. It’s not dangerous-however it may be difficult to determine between kahm yeast and mold when you are a beginner fermenter. You definitely don’t want to consume a ferment that has mold on it!
You can also use a fermenting vessel called a FIDO JAR. It looks like this:
These jars are somewhat “self burping”. As your ferment makes more and more lactobacilli they “breathe” and produce CO2 which needs to be released from your fermenting vessel. Let me backtrack here just a bit. The crock with a moat will not need to be periodically burped as the water seal provides a barrier against oxygen, but will allow these gasses to escape. If you plan to cover your utility crock with saran (which I recommend in some cases-more on this later), the saran will not seal tight enough that it needs burping either. This is the same with a FIDO jar. It also does not seal tight enough that it needs burping. The only fermenting vessels that will need burping is the canning jar. If these are not burped they can build up so much pressure that I have read about them exploding!
If you make enough sauerkraut to pack it into a utility crock I recommend covering the top with saran wrap-otherwise you will get some major kahm yeast going on! If you are making kombucha in your utility crock, cover the opening with a thin tea towel and a rubber band as your SCOBY needs to breathe! If you need more help on making sauerkraut or kombucha be sure to refer to the previous posts under the fermenting tab on my home page!
I’m sure many of you have seen a canning jar, but for those who are brand new to this and maybe you haven’t here’s what they look like:
There is a little device called a water lock that I love using with my canning jars when I ferment. This device burps the jars for you! Here’s what that looks like:
This device usually comes with a special lid-it’s plastic with a hole drilled in the middle and a rubber gasket so that the lock fits snugly into the hole in the lid. You will place your food into the jar along with the weight and the brine. I like to make sure I have about 1/4 inch of headspace between the brine and the lock. You place the lid on the jar, then the water lock into the hole in the lid and fill it with water up to the fill line. What this accomplishes is that it allows the CO2 to escape but keeps the oxygen out. There is a plastic cover that goes over the tube that comes up through the water lock-as well as another plastic flat lid that goes on the very top of this! Stay tuned for a video on my Facebook page at Holistic Home Girl regarding this kind of lock. It’s much easier to show you than to write it out! Trust me-this is something you will want to have! It’s so handy and you can pick these up at a local brew shop or order them online. They are inexpensive and a stress reliever! If you leave on a trip and forget about your ferments-but you put a water lock on your ferments, you can breathe easy!! If you are fermenting old-school and without a water lock, be sure to only screw your lids on fingertip tight-don’t crank them down all the way.
There is one more fermenting vessel that I use frequently called a Grolsch bottle. It looks like this:
These are very useful for 2nd fermenting your kombucha and giving it some flavor! I just had the most lovely strawberry mint flavor tonight with my dinner! When you purchase these be sure you are not getting the decorative bottles, but rather the pressure safe, food safe bottle. They can be found online or at most local brewing stores. These bottles do seal completely even though they look similar to the FIDO jars. For that reason I only allow them to sit 3-4 days maximum in second ferment before placing them in the fridge to chill and slow the fermentation process down. The natural yeast present in kombucha tea ferments will naturally carbonate the kombucha when placed in a bottle like this with a bit of extra sugar like pieces of fruit or fruit juice. Be so careful when opening this. Keep your hand over the lid and allow the pressure to release slowly or you will have kombucha everywhere! Mine has shot to my kitchen ceiling before!!! We had a good laugh on that one!
I’ve mentioned weights. There are several kinds I use and like. The first I’ll mention here are called pickle pebbles. They are handmade glass disks that fit exactly into the mouth of most wide mouth brands of canning jars. These weights are so handy because they keep all the floating pieces of food under the brine nicely, and they wash easily when you are finished using them. Here’s what they look like:
These were a gift from my husband and kids for Christmas last year, and I have loved using them! Such a thoughtful gift!
The next weight we will talk about is the Ohio Stoneware crock weights. I also love using these! I have several 2 gallon crocks, and it just so happens that my salad plates are just the right size to fit inside my crock to help weigh the food down, and on top of the plate, I place my stoneware crock weights. This will generally submerge the food and the weights below the brine so we can once again avoid mold! Weights are so important because there’s nothing worse than to be anxiously awaiting a delicious ferment you put together only to find it full of mold when you check on it! Here’s what these weights look like:
Be sure to look at the size of this crock weight before you buy one. They have different sizes for the different crock sizes. So if you buy a 2 gallon crock, be sure to get the matching 2 gallon crock weights!
If you look closely in the picture above, you will also see some marbles! I also use marbles to weight a ferment below brine. I sanitize them and place them in a plastic resealable baggie and place them in the jar on top of the food. This is a handy and cheap way to weight a ferement.
Another tool I use on a regular basis are short range pH strips. I buy this one:
I use pH strips because I want all my ferments to have a pH below 4.5. So anything from about 2.5-4.5 is safe to consume as a general rule. Anything lower than 2.5 I find to be too acidic to be tasty. Food safety laws do not allow stores to stock anything fermented with a pH above 4.5. This acidity makes the environment inhospitable for pathogenic bacteria that could make you ill.
Here is another Christmas gift from my husband that I absolutely love-my kraut hammer:
This makes stamping down cabbage so much easier! I’ve heard tales from grandparents of stomping cabbage with bare feet…I know that our own bacteria is normally not what makes us ill, and that feet can be washed well before coming into contact with food, but this method still doesn’t seem very appetizing to me! I much prefer a kraut hammer!! I never soak this in soapy water, I simply wipe it off or rinse it with clean water and allow it to air dry before storing it after I’m done making sauerkraut.
Last but certainly not least on the equipment I like to use in fermenting are these banetons:
I have 2 of these. One is round and the other oblong. These were also Christmas gifts! HAHA!! My loved ones know how obsessed I am with healthy gut flora in them and myself, and that makes me smile!
These are handy because they help me to shape my sourdough loaves while they rise in the fridge overnight.
Now, on to the second part of this post which is the contents of my jars of fermenting food!!
The jar pictured on the left side is simply carrots and dill-to make dilly carrots. You could also add some garlic, fennel seed, and coriander to this one and it would be so good! If you look closely at the top of these jars I’m using marbles in a baggie to weight all three of these ferments. My husband and I have been going through the lengthy process of getting one of our ferments tested in a food safety lab, so that we can make it available for the local public to purchase!
The middle jar is a veggie type Siracha. It has layers of cabbage, kale, jalepeno slices, and dried red peppers. I will blend this up and add my newest tomatillo ferment to this! The tomatillo ferment has coriander seed from our garden, cilantro, onion, garlic, and tomatillos in it….and a carrot seatbelt to help hold it all down. I’m already buckling up for this one! The peppers are from a local farm that grows HOT HOT peppers!
The jar on the right side is really a kitchen experiment! I put some odds and ends in there and we will see how it tastes! There are some sliced radishes, carrots, a piece of kale over the top. Using large leaves on the tops of ferments is another good way to keep your spices and small pieces of produce submerged in the brine. At the bottom of this jar I put a baggie of my pre-measured pickle spice mix-which consists of dill seed, coriander seed, red pepper, black pepper, and fennel seed.
There are brine calculators out there if you need to figure a certain percentage of brine solution. For example, some recipes call for a 3% brine. You can pull up one of these calculators and quickly figure the correct water : salt ratio. For the jars pictured above, I used 2 tsp himalayan salt in the quart jars, and 1 tsp in the pint jars. Be sure you are using himalayan pink salt or celtic sea salt in your ferments and NEVER iodized table salt!
I hope you find this helpful! Be sure to comment below with your questions or let me hear about your fermentation experiments!