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The Art of Fermenting in Crocks

Sauerkraut-1

With Fall around the corner,  it is time to join the growing trend and start fermenting garden produce for the winter ahead.  IF you are reluctant to try fermentation, just know there are no documented case of dangerous botulism ever occurring in fermented foods.  Sally Fallon Morrel, author of Nourishing Traditions and founder of the Weston A Price foundation,   remarks, “Let your nose be your guide.”  and I have found this is trustworthy counsel.

Fermentation is the transformative action of microorganisms that are all around us.  Lacto-Fermentation (a more accurate term) is the time-tested process our ancestors used to produce lactic acid, a natural preservative that inhibits the bacteria which want to putrefy foods so lacto acid produced during the fermentation process naturally extends the useful, edible life of foods.  We will also discuss the nutritional benefits below.

veggies2Vegetables that can be fermented include cabbage, zucchini, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, beets, turnips, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower and much more just for a start!

By learning to encourage the proliferation of beneficial lactic-acid producing bacteria you are on the road to preserving food inexpensively, healthfully, and for extended periods of time.  There will be no need for water bath or pressure canning with this method.

There are many nutritional benefits to fermenting vegetables

  • Fermented foods are powerful aids to digestion.
  • The microbes begin to break down the food before it enters our digestive tracts.
  • Fermentation breaks down compound nutrients that are known to be hard to digest such as lactose, and gluten.
  • Beneficial for gut troubles.
  • Fermentation produces additional nutrients and enhances the ones already in the foods.
  • Helps to build up higher levels of B vitamins during digestion.
  • Lactobacilli create Omega-3 fatty acids essential for cell membrane and immune system functions.
  • The naturally occuring microbes are often better than high quality commercial digestive enzymes.
  • Fermentation will increase cancer fighting compounds found in cabbage and other brassicas

To ferment foods you can use Ball type canning jars with rings and lids which are ideal for small batches, or  Crocks for larger batches.  A fermentation crock is a stoneware pot designed to hold cabbage and/or other vegetables as they ferment.

Open Crocks and Water-Sealed Crocks.

The two primary types of ceramic crocks for fermentation available are Open Crocks and Water-Sealed Crocks.  Both have advantages and disadvantages to consider.  Generally speaking fermenting crocks have thicker stoneware walls which creates a more stable fermentation temperature, resulting in sauerkraut and fermented veggies with a greater depth of flavor.

opencrocksAdvantages of an Open Crock

  • Generally, less expensive than a water-sealed crock and readily available.
  • Open top and straight walls make it easy to clean.
  • Easy to fit whole or large vegetables into.

Disadvantages of an Open Crock

  • Ferment prone to developing surface mold and/or Kahm yeast (a harmless yeast that appears when a ferment is exposed to air).  This surface mold can be removed and discarded.
  • Older crocks may contain glazes unsafe for food use, especially crocks from Mexico.
  • Weights and lids often need to be purchased separately and can dramatically raise the cost of the crock.
  • If a cloth is used to cover your ferment, it’s prone to wicking brine onto the floor.

    Water-Sealed Crock

Watersealedcrocks

Water-sealed crocks are a bit more difficult to find.  After a water-sealed crock is packed, two half-circle weights are placed into the crock to keep your ferment submerged. Then, the lid is placed into an open moat which is then filled with water. No outside air is able to enter the crock and carbon dioxide gases produced during fermentation can easily escape or bubble-out.

Advantages of a Water-Sealed Crock

  • Makes for a very easy, almost care-free fermentation experience (You have to keep the moat filled with water.).
  • Neither flies nor fruit flies can get into the crock and lay eggs.
  • Very little chance of mold or surface yeasts growing on your ferment.
  • Takes the guesswork out of making sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables.

Disadvantages of a Water-Sealed Crock

  • The water in the moat must be monitored and filled as necessary. If not, the seal will be broken and air will be allowed to flow into the crock.
  • Narrower opening makes it more difficult to pack your ferment.
  • Shape at the top of the crock, where the lid is, can make it difficult to clean.
  • Sealed environment makes it hard to monitor what is going on inside.
  • Generally, more expensive than an open crock.

In general, the use of metal and plastic containers is discouraged for obvious reasons.

More Information and reliable recipes about fermentation. 

In Addition to Nourishing Traditions, my favorite fermentation guides are following, but there are many other good books on this subject available.

Idiot#2The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermentation By Wardeh Harmon

Maria says this book is loaded with easy recipes many of which are her favorites.

_artoffermentationThe Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellis Katz Foreward by Michael Pollan

His book is widely considered the Bible of Fermentation.  For the serious fermenter, this last book is an in depth exploration of essential concepts and processes from around the world with practical information on fermenting vegetables, fruits, grains, milk, beans, meats, and much more.  Or you may watch a short Youtube video to familiarize yourself.

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