Part 4: Step-by-step Fermentation
by Diana Zahuranec
How to Ferment Your Own Vegetables
I said in my first fermentation post that I found a couple of particularly helpful websites:
Sandor Ellix Katz, “Making Sauerkraut”
Mary N. Mennes, “Make Your Own Sauerkraut”
Recipes from a German Grandma, “Make Your Own Sauerkraut”
Katz’s was detailed and informative, and I completely trusted his judgment because he is the undisputed wild fermentation expert. Also, he helped my friends and I make cheese, which turned out edible, if squeaky. The unnamed German Grandma had pictures, which I took too and I’ll provide them here for you fermentin’ folks.
Equipment used:2 big glass bowls
2 freezer bags
Big plastic tray
Click here for French/British/American converter1 head of cabbage
2-3 hot peppers
Stems from a bunch of catalogna (chicory (or a type of), a leafy green with tough stems that I didn’t want to throw out)
1/3 C mildly spicy coarse hot pepper
Salt, water: 3 T salt per 5 pounds of vegetables
Whey from yogurt
Note: This outlines what I did, and might not be the ultimate, end-all-be-all way to ferment; I’m just sharing the experience and knowledge I gained along the way!
- Cut up the vegetables. Traditional sauerkraut is cut very finely, but I didn’t have the instruments or patience for that. Slice ‘em up how you want. But, you know, be reasonable and make them bite-sized.
- I separated 1/3 of the cabbage to mix with the other veggies. I wanted to make kimchi, but little did I know there was a difference between the fermentation methods of kimchi and sauerkraut.
- I gathered the cabbage in one big bowl, and the veggie mix with the mildly-hot pepper in another. These hot pepper flakes were from my Korean friend, so I naively assumed they turn anything into kimchi automatically.
After salting, crushing, and pressing with hands
4. I added about a tablespoon of salt to each bowl and mixed and crushed with my hands. (3 tablespoons of salt per 5 pounds of cabbage) I wanted to see if I could draw out enough water naturally from the vegetables to avoid a salt-laden brine, as much as I love salty foods. Let the bowls of vegetables sit for 24 hours, covered with a towel from the flies.
Letting it sit 24 hours, before brine added
5. It made very little natural brine, so I poured my own over top. For every cup of water needed to cover the vegetables, I added about a teaspoon of salt. This link says to use 1 ½ tablespoons per extra quart of water added.
I also added just a teaspoon of whey to help start the fermentation process with naturally occurring and active bacteria (you can get the whey from yogurt by straining using a cheese cloth or, which works beautifully, a clean t-shirt).
6. I pressed down on the top with a clean plate, making sure nothing strayed above the water line. Air is the enemy. Remember, contact with air allows bad microbes to flourish. Then I weighed it down with some containers full of water and gently put a towel around all of it so that no flies would be interested.
7. Press down on the vegetables periodically to release as much air as possible (and later, the carbon dioxide). Carefully transfer bowls to the big plastic tray, or another surface. I found a portable tray useful because, being new to fermentation, I wasn’t sure where the most convenient corner of my apartment would be and tested out a few.
And then came…
After a few days, I was noticing carbon dioxide bubbles escaping; the first night, it made noises. When I pressed down on the plates, it seemed like air had gotten in, somehow. Maybe it was the carbon dioxide bubbling out, but I also noticed that the plates would get off-balanced over the night or during the day when I was out, and this would expose some vegetables to the air.
Undeterred, I pushed the vegetables back into the water. This might not be recommended, especially if you’re further along in the fermentation process, because they can get contaminated. Instead, remove them.
I had doubts that the plates held the vegetables completely submerged all the time, and…
Therefore, I used the freezer bag method:
What I recommend if you’re “open crock” fermenting — that is, in a big bowl and not a special crock.
8. Fill clean freezer bags with brine. Place over the vegetables, covering completely and pressing down, and then put the plate on top of the bag. Weigh it down with some water-filled containers, and cover it all in plastic wrap (forget the towel business, which soaked up the brine when it inevitably dipped into the water).
The bag is filled with brine in case it breaks. That way, it won’t unbalance the salt:water ratio.
9. Let your vegetables ferment for as long as you like, from 1 week to 6 or more. It depends on your taste and the temperature of the room. Higher temperatures cause the vegetables to ferment faster, and longer fermentation results in stronger, more acidic flavors. You can even taste it during the fermentation process, which I didn’t do because it would have made a mess.