I finally took the plunge and tried my hand at fermenting vegetables. Are you like I was… knowing your family would benefit from all the probiotic goodness of fermented vegetables, but putting off learning to ferment your own? What was I afraid of? It’s just salt and veggies, after all. I was afraid that I had to do it right.
Well, I’m here to tell you, I did not do it right.
But, guess what? It turned out fine, even with my mistakes! It’s actually a very simple process. You probably won’t make any mistakes, but even if you do , you’ll find out there is some leeway. Reading Preserving Vegetables through Fermentation: A Primer will give you an overview of the process.
I made my foray into fermenting with just a half head of cabbage and one carrot to make a little bit of carroty sauerkraut. I reasoned that if I messed up, or we didn’t like it, I haven’t wasted much.
I read a couple fermenting articles online before I started and learned that cutting the cabbage fine is a good idea. You want to break as many of the vegetable’s cells as possible so they will release juice. I sliced the cabbage to about 1/8 inch thick.
Using the Right Sized Bowl
Mistake #1 was putting my cabbage and grated carrot into too small a bowl. After adding the salt you massage the vegetables, breaking their cell walls and letting the salt draw moisture out. You need a bowl big enough to accommodate both the veggies and your hands. I transferred my grated vegetables to my biggest stainless steel mixing bowl.
Using the Right Salt
I had to figure out how much salt to use. Most of the instructions I found recommended the amount of salt based on the weight of cabbage. Not having a food scale, I guesstimated my cabbage to be around 2 pounds, and I was using half of it. I used the recommendation found on the Wild Fermentation blog for 3 tablespoons salt to 5 pounds cabbage. I added a scant 1/2 tablespoon of salt to my one pound of cabbage.
Mistake #2 was that I used regular iodized salt. Iodine retards bacterial growth. Uh oh, this was a big mistake! Fermentation is food preservation accomplished by growing bacteria. The goal is to support the grow of lactic acid bacteria and inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause spoilage.
Next time I’ll use sea salt. You can also use pickling salt or run-of-the-mill noniodized salt. If I lived just a few miles from a grocery store I would have made a salt run, rinsed off the cabbage and started over. But, I don’t. So, I didn’t. I carried on and hoped for the best.
As I massaged the the raw cabbage and carrots they began to get wet and stick to my hands. I did this for 10 minutes. My hands were tired and other tasks I needed to get done were racing through my mind. I decided to let my cabbage set a while and see if the salt would draw out the liquid on it’s own. The idea is to bring the liquid out of the plant cells into the bowl. Eventually you need enough liquid to cover the veggies.
Using the Right Materials
Then, mistake #3 popped into my mind. I remembered reading that you should use non metal equipment when fermenting because the acids created during fermentation corrode metal. I moved the salted veggies back to my original glass bowl. The bowl that had been too small at the beginning now worked, because enough juices had come out of the cabbage and reduced it’s volume.
I checked on the sauerkraut an hour later and sure enough the liquid had increased. Not enough though, as it wasn’t covering the veggies. I went back at it, this time with a potato masher. Using a downward,circular, grinding motion I was able to extract more juice from the cabbage than I had extracted with my hands.
It was nearing dinner time and I needed to be done with this sauerkraut experiment. Even though I didn’t think I had enough juice I began packing the vegetables in the jar…and guess what? I had much more of the salty brine than I realized.
As I packed the jar I smashed each handful of cabbage down tightly with my fist to force air out. Oxygen is the enemy of anaerobic fermentation. Oxygen causes the wrong kind of organisms to grow and hence, spoilage. Keeping the vegetables entirely submerged in liquid keeps the oxygen away from the vegetables.
My cabbage and carrots were only submerged by about a quarter of an inch. The pictures I saw online showed an inch or more liquid on top. I filled a ziplock baggie with salty water (in case it leaked) and placed it on top of the veggies just to add a little more pressure and help keep the vegetables submerged.
The next morning before I strained my kefir I spooned out a few tablespoons of whey and added it to the sauerkraut. Because the iodine salt mishap might stunt the growth of the desired bacteria, I figured adding a few teaspoons of lactobacillus rich whey might help. I didn’t want to disturb the jar of sauerkraut and repack it all again, so I just poured the whey on top.
I only mentioned the mistakes that I’m aware of as I made my first attempt at fermenting. There may be more, obvious to those who are experienced, and I welcome advice! My hope is to encourage others to give fermentation a try, by showing that even though I had a major blunder with the salt I didn’t poison anyone. My first batch tastes good and though it probably isn’t as rich in probiotics as it would have been had I used non-iodized salt, it is a start. I’m off to try again!
Watching this video of Sandor Katz preparing fermented vegetables and seeing how simple it is gave me the push I needed to give fermenting a try.
This post was shared at: Healthy 2Day Wednesday, Wheat Free Wednesday, Allergy Free Wednesday, Gluten Free Wednesdays, EOA, Waste Not Want Not Wednesday