How To Ferment Vegetables : guest post by artists in residence Erik Sultzer and Emily Halbaldier

While artists-in-residence at Have Company we’ve been busy painting ceramics, updating our website, making a quilt, mending clothes, brainstorming new zines, being present in the space, eating donuts, watching X Files (while working, of course), and making lots of fermented vegetables.

Oh yes, lots of fermented vegetables. We’ve been traveling around with various pickles and krauts that have been made from produce that we picked up along the way and even some that we grew ourselves. Fermented vegetables are not only tasty and good for keeping us healthy on the road, but they also start a dialogue about locality, slow food, DIY culture, health, and community.

Because part of our artistic practice involves community and bringing people together, we wanted to share some information that we covered in our workshop and demystify the process of lacto-fermentation.

 

HOW TO FERMENT VEGETABLES

During the workshop, we identified two different methods for preparing lacto-fermented vegetables: brining and dry salting. Brining is the process of submerging vegetables in a prepared saltwater solution; dry salting is the process of directly salting vegetables, massaging them until they release their own liquid, then submerging the vegetables in this liquid. Some vegetables are better suited for brining (for example: green beans, cauliflower, & cucumbers), while others can be easily fermented either way (carrots, cabbage, beets). Think of it this way: brining makes pickles, dry salting makes kraut. Both processes are extremely simple and require the most basic of materials.

PREPARE THE VEGGIES

Brining (pickles)

A basic saltwater brine for lacto-fermentation is mixed at a ratio of 1-3 tablespoons of sea salt fully dissolved into 1 quart of non-chlorinated water. That’s it. Mix the brine and prepare the vegetables. Slice, chop, halve, quarter or leave whole the vegetables you’d like to pickle, then stuff them into a clean jar. Add any flavoring herbs or spices and top off with brine.

Dry Salting (kraut)

Dry salting requires a maximum amount of exposed surface area on the vegetables. For this method, we usually coarsely grate, slice, or chop the vegetables. Prepare your veggies and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with a small amount of salt (we never measure for this method, but a general guideline would be 1 tablespoon of salt per two pounds of vegetables, or about the size of a medium head of cabbage), then use your hands to aggressively massage the mixture. You are trying to break down the cell walls, so really give it your all. After a couple of minutes, the veggies will begin to release their own liquid. Keep it up until the vegetables have softened and a fair amount of liquid is in the bowl. Firmly pack into a clean jar.

KEEP THE VEGGIES SUBMERGED

Whether brining or dry salting, lacto-fermentation requires keeping the vegetables in an anaerobic environment throughout the fermentation process. In other words, veggies need to remain completely submerged beneath the fermentation liquid. The liquid can be exposed to ambient air, but the veggies can’t. There are a number of different ways to do this. As part of our workshop, we supplied small vitrified ceramic discs that fit into jars, weighing down the veggies to keep them under brine. Other improvised objects work (a small plate, a small jar, a boiled stone, etc), so long as they are able to keep the vegetables submerged. Cover loosely with a lid or towel. Do not tightly seal, as the fermentation process produces carbon dioxide, which will quickly build up in the jar and could cause the jar to explode.

LET THE VEGGIES FERMENT

Place the jar of submerged vegetables in a place that is out of the way, but not out of your mind. Over the coming days (or weeks), the raw vegetables will transform into fermented pickles or kraut. The amount of time it takes for this process to occur is highly variable, so the best way to check their progress is to occasionally taste them. Let them ferment for a couple days, then taste. Let them go a bit longer, then taste again. When they are to your liking, firmly cover with a lid and place in the refrigerator. A longer fermentation at room temperature will produce a more acidic flavor and, generally, a softer texture.

STORE THE FERMENTED VEGGIES

Keep your fermented pickles/kraut in the refrigerator. Since lacto-fermentation is a living process, they will continue to ferment. Placing your jar in the refrigerator will drastically slow down this process, nearly (but not completely) stopping it. Even in cold storage, the flavor of your ferments will develop over time, nearly always for the better. If you’ve made a batch of something that didn’t turn out as you expected, stick it in the fridge for a couple of months, then taste it again. Perhaps now it’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted.

 

DO IT AGAIN

You can now lacto-ferment vegetables. You win! Pickle power!

TIPS & HINTS

- add an oak leaf in your pickles to keep them crunchy (it’s the tannins that help!)
- use a couple tablespoons of the brine from your previous pickles to jumpstart the next fermentation

- large cabbage leaves are good at covering vegetables
- letting the veggies ferment at a cool room temperature (upper 50s or lower 60s) will slow down the process and tends to result in a nicely balanced and complex sour/acidic flavor
- label your ferments! When were they made? How long did they ferment at room temp? When did you transfer them to cold storage? You get the picture.
- keep a plate or bowl under the ferment to catch spills
- if during fermentation the kraut absorbs too much liquid, just add extra brine as needed

Erik and Emily were in residence at Have Company from October 5 - 13. You can hear us delve further into the world of fermentation in their podcast HERE