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Fermenting Vegetables

July 8, 2019

Prior to the invention of canning and refrigeration, fermentation was one of the most common methods used to store vegetables.  Fermentation of vegetables is currently experiencing a Renaissance among young people who have discovered that fermented vegetables are tasty, healthy, and easy to prepare.  Fermenting vegetables is a valuable skill for homesteaders, preppers, and survivalists to learn.  Fermenting is actually easier, and requires less equipment than canning.  It should be noted that fermentation is not a long term storage technique.  You don’t ferment vegetables and plan on storing them for years.  Fermentation is a method used to store vegetables from a Fall harvest for use until the first Spring crops are ready for the table.  We’re talking about a matter of months; not years.

Canning, as most of you know, requires a lot of equipment.  It requires canning jars, lids, rings, a water-bath or pressure canner, salt, and in many cases vinegar and sugar.  Fermenting requires only a glass or ceramic container and salt.

Fermentation takes place when the good bacteria known as lactobacillis converts the sugar in vegetables to lactic acid which preserves the vegetables.  Lacto-fermentation is actually a 2 part process.  The vegetables to be preserved are placed in a mixture of salt and water called brine.  The salt-water does not affect the lacto-bacillis which goes to work on the vegetables.  The salt-water does affect the bad bacteria by killing it off so the vegetables don’t spoil.  After a few days the lacto-bacillis will have converted enough sugar to lactic acid to keep the vegetables preserved.

So, let’s get into how you do this.  The first thing that you will need is the vegetables that you are going to ferment.  I happened to have a few small heads of cabbage left in my garden, so I decided that I would turn them into some old-time fermented sauerkraut.

Before you shred your cabbage, remove several of the large outer leaves and set them aside for later use.

If you are making kraut you need to shred up the cabbage.  You can do this with an old-time kraut cutter, a Mandolin, or a butcher knife.  I’m only making a couple of quarts so I am using a butcher knife to cut the cabbage into quarter inch slices.

When your cabbage is shredded you need to place it in a large bowl.  I would recommend a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel bowl.

Now you need to add your salt.  Don’t use iodized salt.  It will give your vegetables a funky taste.  The best salt to use is pickling salt, or you can use kosher salt or non-iodized sea salt.

For kraut, I use one tablespoon of salt per pound of cabbage.  There is a lot of info about fermenting on the internet.  I recommend that you do some research on the question of how much salt to use with different vegetables.  Personally, I always err on the side of too much salt.  It’s simple enough to rinse your finished vegetables in fresh water before you eat them, and this will remove any excess salt.

So, sprinkle the salt over the top of your cabbage and then use your hands to gently massage the salt throughout the cabbage.  The salt will, almost immediately, begin drawing water from the cabbage.  Set the cabbage aside and let the salt do its work.

Check the cabbage every half-hour to see how much liquid it has produced.  Squeeze a handful to see if it drips then toss the cabbage a little with your hands and set aside again.

At some point, after 2 to 4 hours, squeezing the cabbage will cause liquid to rain out of it.  When this happens your cabbage is ready to go into jars.

The cabbage needs to be packed very tightly into the jars, so you will need a wooden spoon or a section of dowel rod for a packing stick.

As the cabbage is packed into the jars it will release more moisture.  It should actually release enough moisture to keep the cabbage covered.  In this case I actually had to pour a little liquid off as the jars filled up.  Keep adding cabbage until the jar is full to just below the shoulder (the curved in part at the top) of the jar.

Now is where those whole cabbage leaves that you saved come into use.  You want to take a leaf or two and fold it into a flat plug that is larger than the mouth of the jar.

This plug is shoved down into the jar so that it wedges under the shoulder.  The plug should be beneath the brine and should hold all of the shredded cabbage down under the brine.  Remember, if the cabbage and plug stay below the liquid, only the good bacteria will live, and the cabbage will ferment.

When the plug is inserted you can put a lid on the jar.  Leave the lid a little loose.  As the cabbage ferments, gas will be produced, and the contents of the jar will expand a little.  You want the lid loose enough for the gas and possibly a little liquid to escape.

 

It’s a good idea to set your jars in a shallow pan in case they over-flow a little.

You also need to either cover the jars with a cloth or put them in a dark place while they ferment

Check the jars every few days.  If they get a white fuzzy growth on top, throw them out.  If they get a little white growth on top that is not fuzzy, spoon the white stuff out and recap and cover the jars.  Be sure to keep all of your vegetables, including the plug, under the liquid.

After the cabbage has fermented for about a week, remove the plug and take out a fork full of cabbage.  Rinse this fork full under a little warm water to remove the excess salt and give it a taste.  In the case of these jars they were not quiet fermented to my taste so I let them ferment for three more days.

After ten days it tasted like good kraut to me, so I put the jars in the refrigerator.  When the kraut is placed in a cool environment, like a root cellar, the fermentation will slow way down.  When placed in a cold environment, like a refrigerator, fermentation will nearly stop altogether.

I rinse the kraut as I use it to remove excess salt.  I also do not heat the kraut as this will kill the pro-biotic bacteria that make fermented vegetables so healthy.

 

 

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