The harvest in the garden is in full swing now, with tomatoes growing like gangbusters and the string beans popping out beans like mad. And my carrots--I've picked a few now, and some are long and thick, some stubby--are growing beautifully, too! It was time to do some canning and fermenting.
In the back: red spaghetti sauce, yellow tomato salsa.
In the front: fermenting carrots, green beans, and garlic.
I can my tomatoes, sauce, and salsa according to the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It's an essential book in my (much smaller now) home library, and I use it extensively, while modifying recipes for our family's tastes and health. Canning is a great way to preserve the food you've so diligently grown over spring and summer!
But fermenting, you ask? Well, it was new to me, too. But a visit to my friend Becki's home to learn about it prompted me to experiment with fermenting this summer. Needless to say, I was hooked, as you'll see in this post.
First, a trip to the garden to see what the yield would be this week...
Ohhh, those carrots!
This spider found a meal...
I had a very nice harvest this week, and even though I just finished canning tomatoes (sauce and salsa), I'd be back at it soon!
Fermenting. Google it and you will find this simple definition:
At its basis, most lacto-fermented foods are nothing more than whole, chopped, sliced or grated vegetables placed in a brine of salt and water for a period of time at room temperature to let the beneficial bacteria develop.
Those beneficial bacteria are essential for gut health, and you can find them in foods which contain active live cultures--many brands of yogurt, for instance. Another benefit of fermented vegetables is the higher nutrient content: since you're not heating them up (as in water-bath or pressure canning), they retain more of their nutrients. They are also crunchy when you eat them, and so they taste fresher. A smaller side benefit is the fact that you're not heating up your kitchen in the middle of summer (usually) with a huge pot of water boiling on the stove; plus, it's less time-consuming. Just make your brine, cut up veggies, put them in jars, cover with the brine, seal, check after 3-5 days, then shelf-store them. And that's another benefit--it takes less time than canning!
Why brine? Salt is essential for the fermentation process, simple enough. Plus, the type of jar you use is important--some kind of lock must be in place so that oxygen can't get into the jar (which would cause bad bacteria to grow and thus spoil the food). Also, as the fermentation process occurs, gas must also be allowed to escape (if it doesn't, you'll end up with an exploding jar). There are specialized jars available, such as the ones at Pickl-It, that you may use. Some people use regular canning jars, which must be "burped" to let gas escape or they will explode.
My friend Becki highly recommended Fido jars. It's pronounced fee-doh, and they are high-quality jars with rubber rings and seals. I would not trust knock-offs or other glass jars for fear of ring failure or low quality glass (many are manufactured in China). The best out there are Bormioli-Rocco Fido jars, and I found the best price here at Sur la Table, which offers free shipping on orders over $75. It's worth the investment if you can't find a Sur la Table store near you! They also offer replacement gaskets (the rubber rings used around the lids) when they wear out. I've also recently found some Fido jars at The Container Store. Another note--they're made in Italy, so they're metric measurements--1/4 liter jars, 3/4 liter, one liter, etc.
I helped Becki with fermenting her jalapenos, and armed with hands-on experience and lots of reading and research and advice and much trepidation, I was ready to try my own hand at it. Becki advised me to use a 2.5% brine solution, so I did. There is a helpful web page that explains the salt-to-water ratio, and has the original brine chart from which I copied this one (credit goes to that site, Pickl-It, for the chart).
I highlighted the line showing the 2.5% brine measurements so you can see the amounts. Why grams? Well, that was what the chart was in, and I was too lazy to convert to ounces. And, measuring in grams is more precise than in ounces. :)
You'll need a weight scale that can convert to grams. Being a former homeschooler, I actually have a plug-in weight scale with grams and ounces--and I didn't sell it! Woot!! Since measurements by weight are much more accurate than measurements by volume (cup, teaspoon, etc.), and since the amount of salt in your brine needs to be accurate, please find a way to weigh your salt!
Speaking of salt, it should also be high quality. I use Real Salt by Redmond. You can purchase it here through Amazon, or at least click the link to see what it looks like. I purchase mine through our food buying co-op, since those are the best prices I've found. Any high quality sea salt is great, though.
Weigh out your salt and measure out your water. It's okay to prepare more brine than you think you'll need, since you can store the extra in your fridge for a week or two. And since it's not a whole lot of salt, don't be sad if you have to toss what's left, either.
Once you measure your salt and water, simply dissolve the salt in the water in a saucepan (heat and stir until the salt is dissolved). With Real Salt, I found that there is a small amount of little pink "dust" on the bottom of the pan; this doesn't dissolve, and I stir it into the brine as I pour the brine over my veggies. After the salt is dissolved in the brine, let the brine cool to room temperature before using it.
Tip from Becki here: To use the brine right away, dissolve the salt in a small portion of the water (which will also help with less water evaporating) in your saucepan. Once the salt is dissolved, pour the concentrated solution into the rest of the room-temperature water, making sure to scrape it all out and whisking to incorporate the brine with the rest of the water. Now you have a cooled-off brine which is ready to use immediately!
Cut up your veggies. You can ferment salsa (I haven't tried this yet), but for beginners like me, stick with crunchy veggies--carrots, jalapenos, green beans, etc.--first.
Make sure you wash/dry your Fido jars, and put the gaskets around the lid. Make sure the tab on the gasket is not even with the locking mechanism, or it may be difficult to remove the ring when you're finished with the jar.
Add any herbs/spices to the bottom of your Fido jars. You don't have to do this, and the herbs can be either fresh or dried. I've used both fresh (cilantro), and dried (dill), with great success. There are no set quantities of how much or little to use--throw some in and experiment! Smaller jars, use less, obviously, and it's an art to get it to your liking. Better not enough at first, than too much. I used about a teaspoon of dill in my 3/4-liter jars (Fido jars from Italy are in liters, of course!).
Gently pack (don't cram) your veggies up to about the shoulder area--where the jar starts sloping toward the top. Then, pour brine over until the veggies are covered. I've read that you should weigh down your veggies so they're underneath the brine, but the whole point of using Fido jars is to keep out oxygen, so it's not necessary in my experience. Err on the side of caution if you're leery, though. Once your veggies are covered, wipe the rims of the jars and carefully seal them.
Place the jars on a rimmed cookie sheet (jelly roll pan) or other rimmed pan, and leave on the counter for 3-5 days. The pan will catch any seeping or oozing, which is normal as oxygen is escaping. If you've crammed veggies in, or poured brine too close to the lid, you'll have more seeping. After 3-5 days, the seeping will stop; wipe down your jars and label with with their contents, the date you sealed them, then the date four weeks from the seal date. That's when they'll be ready to open and eat. They will store longer than that (some say months, UPDATE--some of mine have been stored three months so far and I'm still munching away), but the earliest you should try them is four weeks (28 days) from sealing.
During the fermenting process, you may notice the liquid turning white and cloudy--that's normal. Abnormal things to look for: mold, scummy stuff, bad smell. When in doubt, throw it out.
That's pretty much it. I've typed a lot of information here, but it may not address every issue and you need to do your own research and try at your own risk.
I loved fermenting so much I immediately made some more!
These fermented green beans have been on my bomb shelter shelf for about five months. You can see they've changed color slightly, losing their bright green. You can also see the brine is a bit cloudy--that is normal and good!
I added some fresh English thyme from my garden to this batch of green beans, and since the jar has been sitting for some time, the thyme is very flavorful. (Boy, all that time-thyme!!)
The longer I let the ferment sit, the less crunchy the veggies are. These green beans had the tiniest bit of crunch, and were almost like steamed beans--just perfect. Don't forget, you can also drink the brine! it's filled with all those awesome probiotics!
Once you've opened your jar, you must store any leftovers in the fridge! This is because you've allowed oxygen into your jar, and that will be the start of mold and going bad. Also, I transfer my veggies to a canning jar or other glass container, since I discovered that the rubber rings can collect mold as they sit in the fridge.
Enjoy your fermenting adventures!
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