Quick Visual Guide to Vegetable Fermentation Questions

| 9/16/2015 8:55:00 AM

Tags: fermentation, pickling, food preservation, Kirsten K Shockey, Oregon,

End of summer and preserving go together like peanut butter and jelly, coffee and cream, Tom and Jerry or Fred and Wilma — at least for those of us who crave the deep satisfaction that comes with putting things up. Our soul is calmed with every new jar added to the larder — we will eat well. Winter: Bring it on. (Yes, we also are the ones who tend to sleep better when the woodshed is full.) Of course, that is generalizing as these days there are many folks in cities who are preserving the bounty from the farmers market.

In the toolkit of preservation is the ancient art of vegetable fermentation that is ideal for low-acid veggies, which cannot be canned. As ancient as fermentation is, it is also brand new for many, as it has been metaphorically waiting in the back of the closet to be rediscovered. A lot of questions arise with this revival. The loudest question seems to be:“Is it safe?”

This is a reasonable question when you consider that fermentation is a live process and with that comes many variations of normal. In light of the season, I wanted to come up with a quick visual guide to common fermentation sights — I don’t want to call it "troubleshooting" because often these things that look wrong can, in fact, be fine. 

Your mother always told you beware of a dented lid — well, in fermentation it is okay. There has been a lot of active fermentation in this batch of pickles and the lid was tightened so the building carbon dioxide couldn’t escape. Just open the lid (which may be difficult due to pressure) and let out the excess gas. In some cases, this will cause the brine to bubble over. See the next picture.

This active frothing ferment is just alive and effervescent. Carefully press down so that the vegetables are back under the brine that is left. This was fermented using a simple burp method while on a camping trip. It got a little warm but was perfectly delicious on campfire hot dogs.

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