The Basics of Lacto-Fermenting

Lacto-fermenting is an amazing way of storing vegetables. The basic idea is you put vegetables in a brine, salty enough the vegetables to not grow mold and as they sit in this brine the sugars from the vegetables turn into lactic acid. The result? A naturally pickled vegetable full of enzymes, probiotics, live/raw that has a much longer shelf life then unpreserved vegetables (months or longer depending on the product).

Sauerkraut and TRUE Kosher Pickles (not what you get at the store) are made this way. Today I will share with you the basics of lacto-fermenting, and will be sharing a video of my sister Hannah making a gallon of pickles so you can see just how simple it is.


Pros:

  • VERY Tasty (if done right…)
  • Easy
  • Quick (Extremely)
  • VERY Healthy
  • Little to no heat involved (like there is with canning)
  • No canning
  • Great for your Gut
  • It is an art not a science, thus being pretty easy once you get your mind around it.
  • Is a LIVE form of preserving which means you can have summer’s bounty throughout the winter without eating less nutritious canned products.
  • It is how you make TRUE kosher pickles (no, it is not the garlic,

Cons:

  • It is an art, not a science so it might take a little bit of experimenting. 
  • It is a little trickier when fruits, or large amounts of sugar, are involved. 
  • The fermented vegetables need to be kept in cold storage. Which is a hardly a problem if you have a root cellar, but chances are you don’t so they must be stored in the fridge. I want a root cellar at some point!
  • Can be intimidating if you are new. It goes against a lot of what is commonly known about preserving food. You let food sit out at room temperature for a few days to a few weeks.
  • Need a system that allows gas out, but does not allow air in. 
The basics:
Pack clean vegetables, in a clean jar, add a brine made out of salt and water (no whey, more on that later), add spices, herbs, and aromatics. Let sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight. Store in a cool dry place (such as what a root cellar would be, but since most people do not have those now use a fridge). 
A few notes:

Most recipes I see on the internet call for whey, I feel this is a waste of both vegetables AND whey. Whey is much better at making a tasty ricotta cheese and the vegetables taste better without it anyway. I have not tried it, but whey is not exactly tasty and is reported to make poor tasting results. 
I use less salt then a lot of recipes without whey use. I like to use a brine salty enough to create the right environment for the vegetables to pickle in, but most recipes use so much salt the final product is TOO salty and hard to enjoy. I do not suggest the book Nourishing Traditions as a recipe collection of fermented vegetables. I have heard numerous reports of nasty vegetables, as well as have had a little experience with it myself. Wild Fermentation and Truly Cultured have recipes that create fermented vegetables which are actually tasty.

It is better to make a brine and add it to the vegetables then to add the salt and water separately as it will dissolve your salt better.

Do not use iodized salt. I like Redmonds Real Salt.

Use purified water.

If at ALL possible use organic produce. You do not want sprays to get into your ferment. 

Basic Pickling Method

You will need:

  • Small cucumbers (20-25 will fit in a gallon jar).
  • Brine made with 3/4 T NOT iodized salt per cup of PURIFIED water. (It takes about 8 cups of brine for a gallon of pickles, 2 cups for a quart, ect. If you have brine left over… add it to your pasta water as the salt element.)
  • A few grape leaves (Optional. It keeps them CRUNCHY. I have used them sometimes, and not others. I like the satisfying crunch as well as the homemade feel of less crunchy ones)
  • Spices, herbs, aromatics to taste (ex. garlic, dill weed, dill seed, red pepper flakes, pickling spice) For the recipe I did I used one and a half heads of garlic and a full recipe of pickling spice. I do not know how it will taste yet… we shall see. 
  • A ziplock baggy that will open up the width of your jar. (Sandwich for quart, and gallon for gallon) Plus some water or glass beads.
  • Glass jars, which are very clean. Sterilized is always best. *cough* But, I usually just clean mine in hot hot hot soapy water.
To prep cucumbers for pickling you need to cut the blossom ends off. Those can lead to spoilage. Cut cucumbers do not do well with lacto-fermenting, you’re better off using large pickles.
In your clean jar layer cucumbers with grape leaves (if you are using), spices or fresh dill, and garlic. Use about 1- 1 1/2 heads of garlic per gallon of pickles. 
Pour the brine over the pickles making SURE they are covered. Any pickles exposed to air can lead to spoilage of the whole batch. 
If you are using a ziplock bag as your weight do not fill the jar above the lip.
Stuff your baggie down into your jar opening it up across the surface of your brine. The more baggie bunched up towards the bottom the better.
Add some water to your baggie. 
Put your lid on and close tightly.
Allow to sit in at room temperature away from direct light for 5-7 days. You can fetch out a pickle to see if it’s to your liking. Each day unscrew the lid slightly to allow any built up gas to escape. 
Store your FANTASTIC pickles in cold storage. Will last for SEVERAL months… theoretically. :D My last batch did not last long at all. 
Variations: Carrots cut into logs, whole okra, bell pepper slices, and zucchini spears are just an example of other vegetables you can ferment with this method. Lengths will very though depending on the density of the vegetable. I usually just let them go a week though.
SCARED? Does letting pickles ferment on the counter scare you? Well, let me just say you will KNOW if the batch went bad. They will smell foul and there will probably be mold. 

I know those are just the basics so… have any questions? 

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hello,
    I just purchased a book called preserving without freezing or canning, I purchased a jar with a bail lid and rubber gasket. I followed the instructions for a mixed vegetable medley, but it said nothing about keeping vegs below the surface, nor opening the lid. It’s been 2 days in the jar, some vegs sank to the bottom, but turnips and onions are floating, should I be worried? I thought this type of jar is supposed to allow pressure release, no??

    • This is without any special equipment, so if you have a special jar I would follow the instructions for that. Sorry for the late comment, I missed this somehow.

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