After reading all the benefits of fermentation, who doesn’t want to get their ferment on? I was delighted to hear Sandor say you don’t need any special tools or ingredients, you can simply use the organisms naturally present on the food you are fermenting (known as wild fermentation, which is appropriately the title of his first fermentation book) and you can devise fermentation vessels from things you likely already have in your home. He also mentioned there have been zero cases of food-borne illness attributed to fermented vegetables…ever. So no need to stress!
Step 1: Grate all your veggies like you are making coleslaw. Sandor says experiment with different combinations and varieties. Dark greens have a stronger flavor, so use them as a minor ingredient.
Step 2: Add a little salt. Any kind of salt will work, although he prefers unrefined. Salt is important because it will pull water from the vegetables, creating the brine needed for fermentation. It also hardens the pectins naturally present, creating crunchier veggies. Additionally, salt creates a selective environment that allows the beneficial organisms to thrive while killing any harmful organisms that may be present. And last but not least, salt slows the fermentation process and aids in preservation. Since preservation is one of the main benefits of fermenting vegetables in the first place, this is a good thing.
Step 3: Let the salt sit on the veggies. Massage the veggies intermittently to let the salt draw out the natural juices. These juices will make the brine that your veggies will ferment in. (You can make a separate brine, but he prefers to use the natural juices if possible because then the flavor of the vegetables won’t be diluted. You can also add various starters, such as whey, but they are not necessary.) Taste your veggie/salt/brine mixture and add more salt if desired. Sandor recommended starting with about 1.5% salt and then experimenting over time to determine what you prefer.
Step 4: When you can pick up a handful of the grated veggies and water is dripping off of them, you can go ahead and pack them into a jar, ideally glass or ceramic (plastic is a compromise and metal, even stainless, is a huge no-no). You can use mason jars, one-gallon repurposed pickle jars, fermentation crocks, etc. The veggies need to be completely covered by the brine. If you don’t have enough brine, you can add a little water. The veggies need to be packed in very tightly.
Step 5: Add a weight. The veggies need to be submerged beneath the water level. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. You can buy weights online (I’ve seen them on etsy or ebay for mason jar sized operations), or you can stick basically anything in there (a small plate, depending on the size of your fermentation vessel) and then weigh it down with something. Sandor ferments on a very large scale, so he uses large barrels as vessels, puts a plate on top and adds of jug of water on top of the plate to provide enough weight to keep the veggies below the liquid surface. I’m going to use a half gallon mason jar and just buy fermenting weights from ebay or etsy.
Step 6: Allow to ferment for three to four days, then taste, pack down again, and continue fermenting. Repeat this process of tasting (or scooping out a serving and eating) and re-packing every three to four days. Eating your ferments at different stages while continuing to let them ferment will expose you to the maximum variety of bacteria and will allow you to figure out how long you prefer to let things go. Sandor draws the line when vegetables get mushy. Different vegetables get mushy at different rates, and the temperature also affects things, so this will just take some experience. When you get to a point where you want to stop the fermentation process, stick them in the refrigerator. To give you an idea, this workshop was in mid May, and the sample ferments he brought in were from November and December of the previous year.
A word on mold.
If you ferment this way, without an air tight container, you are able to taste and consume your ferments throughout the entire process. However, there will be a layer of white mold that develops on the water surface (which is why you want your veggies submerged beneath the water surface, to keep them from contacting any mold that develops). The unanimous consensus amongst Sandor and everyone he’s personally encountered in his years and years of teaching and fermenting is that this white mold is harmless, and can either be scraped off or stirred into your ferment. Heck, one lady raised her hand and said she always just ate it as a child while helping her mother make sauerkraut… Sandor scrapes his off, for what it’s worth. He did say that if you’ve ignored your ferment for months and all kinds of crazy colorful molds are growing on top of it, you might want to toss it. But if you’re checking it weekly, you should be good.
If you are uncomfortable with the idea of mold, you can purchase things like the Perfect Pickler, or even a specialty crock, that keep your fermenting vessel airtight. The only downside to this is that you can’t taste it as it ferments, or eat it throughout the fermentation process. Either way though, you’ll still be benefitting from all the great bugs!
And there you have it, my friends. All my pages and pages of notes from the workshop.
As Sandor says,
Find Sandor’s upcoming schedule here. If he will be anywhere near you and you are interested in fermenting, it is well worth your time to go!
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