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Ilaine

Lactofermentation 101 - expert tips solicited

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We are starting to get a mite overwhelmed by our CSA bounty, and I want to save some it via lactofermentation.

For the unititated, lactofermentation is a type of pickling which does not use vinegar, but salt. and time, in an anaerobic process.  The salt kills the bad buggies that cause decay, and favors the growth of lacto-bacilli, which convert the sugars and starches in the vegetables into lactic acid,   This preserves the vegetables for a long time, especially if they are refrigerated.  The cultures remain alive even when refrigerated and are widely believed to be beneficial to health, especially gut health.  Think sauerkraut (alive, not the boiled or canned stuff) and kimchi.

But I am basiclally a novice.  I have made several batches of sauerkraut.  First batch I had no idea that one needed to provide an anaerobic environment, and it came out NARSTY.  Once I learned my lesson, no more problems.  Shred cabbage, massage with salt at the proper ratio until it makes brine.  Tamp down the salted shredded cabbage, cover with a cabbage leaf, make sure the brine comes well over the surface, put into a Mason jar with a loosish lid, put on something with a rim to catch leaks, "burp" the jar a couple times a day, ferment to taste, refrigerate.

But sauerkraut is easy to make.  I want to ferment beets, kohlrabi, garlic scapes, green beans.  For that, my question to you, dear experts (if any indeed there be) -- what about fermentation locks?  If you use a fermentation lock do you also need to weight down the vegetables so that they are completely submerged?  If so, with what?  Because it all needs to fit under the fermentation lock.

Any additional tips welcomed.

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One of the most awesome, local resources for this topic is the VA Cooperative Extension.  Their classes/seminars, pamphlets, and blog posts are no-nonsense and informative.  Unlike other organizations and resources, they are "less preachy" and "more teachy".



Here is a sample:


http://blogs.ext.vt.edu/arl-alexvce/2013/04/16/home-fermentation-add-a-kick-to-your-local-produce-this-summer/



The best practices document mentioned in that post gets to the heart of your question about submerging.  Here is a more direct link to the info; the link in the blog post only points to the index:  http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/container_cover.html



The folks in this organization are highly committed to sharing all their insights.  Contact any of them and they will share the treasure trove of their knowledge.

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Good advice, but not what I need. Discretion being the better part of valor, for my small ferments in Mason jars, decided to weight as well as use an air lock. Small freezer grade zip lock bags with some pie weights inside should do the trick. The usual suggestion is fill the bags with brine so if they leak it won't spoil the ferment. Washed and boiled rocks are said to be tradional for kimchee.

Last night at Gypsy Soul our charcuterie plate was garnished with okra quick pickled in vinegar. Woody but tasty. Coincidentally, yesterday I read Sandor Katz to the effect that lacto fermenting okra digests the woodiness. Must find okra.

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As I surf the lactofermentation food bloggers, I see most of them tout the Pickl-it systems, which are hideously expensive. $23 for one liter, up to $39 for five liter. They also have affiliate links, which makes me suspicious.

Phickle is a welcome contrast, and I am intrigued by her suggestion to put pie weights or marbles in a cotton reusable bag suitable for infusions. I used pie weights in a ziplock, which did the trick, but now am worried both about plastic and forming too tight a seal so gasses can't get out. I have no problem using bisphenol free plastic for storage and really have no idea whether the acids created by fermentation will interact with the plastic.

Picklemetoo is so uptight about plastic that she worries about the plastic liners on Mason jar lids.

On the other hand, Sandor Katz, the fermentation guru, has no problem fermenting in food grade plastic tubs.

Who knows?

Two jars of pickled okra, two jars of sauerruben, one part each shredded turnip, kohlrabi and rutabaga. Did not wash the dishes last night, and the kitchen counter has a brassica funk, but not the jars, which are in the pantry, with air locks. I may have overfilled one of the jars of sauerruben, there's brine in the airlock. I don't see bubbles but there is a faint fizzy noise.

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Reporting back on first experiments.  Time to confess that I am really, really, really math impaired.  I always wanted to be a doctor, not a lawyer, but I simply cannot do math.  Haven't passed a math class since tenth grade geometry, which I flunked once but made an A on the repeat.  Only way I graduated from college is that they let me substitute symbolic logic and Fortran, neither of which use numbers, just words.  I am otherwise very intelligent, so when I make mistakes like this people who know me (engineer husband, for example) actually drop their jaws in astonishment, even after all these years.

The lactofermented okra pickles and the sauerruben came out great.  The pickled cucumbers were a disaster.  The recipe calls for two tablespoons of Diamond kosher salt per pint of water.  When I scaled up to four pints of water, I only put four tablespoons of salt.  Brine ratio is critical, so critical that if you aren't using Diamond kosher salt, you need to weigh it.  Kosher salt granules are big, sea salt or pickling salt granules are fine, so measure for measure, weigh about twice as much as Kosher salt.  So, you gotta weigh your salt.  But, in this case, since it specified Diamond brand, I thought I was ok.  Oops.  I did weigh the salt for the okra.

The first thing I saw was a huge mishapened bloater floating on the top.  The ones underneath were not bloated but not at all sour after two weeks in the brine.  After I checked the recipe again, and realized my mistake, I threw it all out.  The garlic made me nervous.  Garlic will grow botulism in a non-acid environment at room temperature.  Glad I only ate a tiny piece.

Starting over now, one batch conventional pickling cucumbers from the farmer's market, one batch of absolutely beautiful organically grown pickling cucumbers from Mom's, with a noticeably thin skin.  Engineer husband will supervise the brine.

Edited to add: curious about the strength of the brine, which comes from a post with almost 500 follow ups(!) on Chowhound,

FINALLY... a real, honest-to-Hashem method for making real lower east side SALT FERMENTED KOSHER DILL PICKLES, as directed by Moe, a 90+ year old former pickle master

That's the one that specified two tablespoons Diamond Crystal Kosher salt to one pint of water.Weighed some Diamond Kosher salt.  Four tablespoons of that salt is almost exactly 50 grams, with the inexact nature of using spoons to measure.  One quart is almost exactly the same volume as one liter (1 quart = 0.95 liters).  So, it's a 5% brine, which is standard for fermenting vegetables.  Feeling encouraged, I also started a couple of jars of dilly green beans.  A small Mason jar filled with water almost fills the opening of a quart Mason jar, and weighs down the ziplock bag full of pie weights, and a jar of roasted red peppers fits even better, no ziplock required.

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Garlic will grow botulism in a non-acid environment at room temperature.  Glad I only ate a tiny piece.

A tiny piece of botulism is okay? I tend to favor a no-botulism-at-all policy, in line with my not-even-a-little-bit-of-rabies doctrine.

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Hersch, yeah, I wouldn't have eaten even a tiny piece if I knew in advance that the brine was half strength.  It was on the basis of that taste that I realized I'd messed up.  It should be obvious that I am a novice at lacto fermenting pickles.

Yesterday, I stuck my head in the pantry to see what's going on, and after just two days, there was a strong aroma of dill pickle that I did not get from the first batch, even after two weeks, and bubble of foam on the surface, so now I know what it's supposed to do.

For other novices, I recommend reading the Chowhound post I linked above, and all almost 500 comments, which take place over several years.  One poster in particular, acgold7, apparently a restaurant owner, gives very good advice, although he loses patience with people who will not weigh their salt.  If you use the ratio of Diamond Crystal Kosher salt as given in the recipe, you don't need to weigh, because, as I found by weighing and measuring, it automatically gives you a 5% brine, but if you use ANY other salt, you MUST weigh your salt.

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My Mom came over the other weekend because her house was rented out on AirBNB and she missed seeing me.  She came over with a project, which I always love.  It was two fermentation projects from a Clean Eating magazine.  I have never fermented anything before, but I have eaten many a fermented thing.  If I had more than a galley kitchen, I would be up to my eyeballs in different sous vide, freezing, pickling and fermentation projects.  I am very OCD about food waste, and feel extremely guilty about wasting food, so I love the ideas of saving food in different ways.  So we made fermented carrots and purple apple slaw.  They seem to be processing correctly, I see the foam, they are staying submerged (I used whiskey stones in plastic bags, although the pie weight idea will be used next time, I forgot I had those), and they are changing in the way they are supposed to change.  

I had just bought a book for someone for Christmas with fermentation recipes and then recipes on what you could do with the products.  My Mother leafed through it and LOVED it and said you could give this to ME for Christmas.  

What are you favorite easy fermentation products that could be made in a rather small space?  And how do you eat your products?  Where do you source any "weird" products needed for those recipes?

My other question is has anyone seen a noticeable improvement in their gut health?  

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I made a quart of fermented jalapenos which turned out well (5% brine).  They have a different flavor than the pickled variety, less sharp and kind of fresher.  I've eaten them with nachos, hamburgers/hotdogs.  I have also made a gallon of napa kimchi from a recipe on the maangchi.com website (you can scale it down).  That turned out well. 

No noticeable difference in gut health but I don't have issues to begin with and I'm not eating these foods every day.  A friend and her husband drink kombucha regularly and say it has helped reduce joint pain.  Haven't asked about their tummies.

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In the last few years, I've become the neighborhood pickler. I do both lacto-fermentation and vinegar brine pickles. For deep sour flavors, I like lacto-fermentation best. I typically only do lacto-fermented cucumber pickles (whereas the vinegar brine is all kinds of vegetables). After some trial and error, I've found the cheapest and easier way to get good lacto-fermented cucumbers per jar (without doing a gigantic crock) is to use air-locks on standard canning jars.  Here is a link to one version: https://smile.amazon.com/Fermenting-Fermentation-Airlocks-Stoppers-Mouth/dp/B017GFUDWQ/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1476804874&sr=8-8&keywords=fermenting+lids+airlock

There are tons of different varieties. The great thing is that they are reusable, pretty cheap about $10-15 per airlock and fit onto any standard canning jar - check whether you have wide mouth or the more narrow kind. I typically throw in some spices, maybe dill, a garlic clove or two and a dried chili or two if I want spicy hot into a quart sized mason jar.  Then cram really tight as many Kirby or Persian cucumbers (with both ends cut off) into the jar. If you cram them tight then you don't have to worry about floaters. I then,  mix about 2 1/2 tablespoons of kosher, non-iodinized salt into a quart of water and pour in the jar to cover.  Then you screw on the cap, fill the airlock with water halfway, and insert the airlock in the cap's hole. Stick it on a room temperature shelf for about 5-7 days (checking every couple of days). After that I remove the airlock, close the cap, and stick the jar in the fridge.  After a few weeks they are nice and sour - after months they are super sours.   Really easy to do and much better tasting than any store bought pickles.

For pickling tips and recipes I like these two books:

Joy of Pickling - https://smile.amazon.com/Joy-Pickling-Flavor-Packed-Recipes-Vegetables/dp/1558323759/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476805578&sr=1-2&keywords=joy+of+pickling.  This link is to the earlier edition I have and like. According to Amazon, there is a new 2016 version.

Put Em Up - https://smile.amazon.com/Put-em-Sherri-Brooks-Vinton/dp/1603425462/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476805560&sr=1-1&keywords=put+em+up

As for the lacto-ferment's health benefits - I can't say as I only eat these every now and then like any other food. I would say don't worry about the health benefits and just do it because it is easy and delicious.

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Well my carrots ended up terribly salty, with little to no other discernible flavor.  I think that recipe was a bust.  My sauerkraut was very good.

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After neglecting this for awhile, I’ve restarted my fermenting. In the last week, I’ve refreshed my kombucha & kefir, started rye sourdough starter, have oats fermenting for cookies (http://www.beetsandbones.com/fermented-oat-cookies/ -I love this site, I’m also eating kefir flaxseed porridge), & tomorrow I’m going to experiment w/ fermenting green papaya salad-wish me luck.

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Fermented oat cookies were appreciated by E’s crew (I think they took them out of desperation/sympathy), tasted just like regular oat cookies, maybe they didn’t really ferment because they were plain old Quaker Oats.  I am also making Russian fermented plums & the stone I put on top to weigh them down has slipped off-arghh, not rearranging the damned plums!

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For those seeking visually attractive fermentation jars, check your local Home Goods.  Post X-mas, the one in Ashburn had Mortier Pilon kits at less than half retail price.  These are attractive glass jars with a ceramic weight and plastic surroundings, including an air lock.  The glass is not thermal shock proof so you don't want to use boiling water to sanitize.  Currently working on a batch of pickled daikon after my napa kimchi worked out well.  I have developed a crustacean allergy so making my own kimchi is now the safest way for me to be sure my kimchi is free of the tasty salted shrimp that are in so many commercial versions.  

 

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