Since finishing up the final edits for TFF I’ve been thinking a lot about fermentation. You’d think after nearly a year on this project I’d be a bit done… but I’m maybe even more passionate about fermentation than ever.
One thing I wanted to communicate in the Vegetables Chapter of TFF, besides providing some unique and delicious recipes, is that you do not need any fancy equipment to ferment vegetables. There are some basic principles to follow in the fermentation process that are key to consistently delicious and well-preserved pickles – which I cover in the book – but fancy equipment simply isn’t necessary.
It was really important to me to emphasize that preserving all types of food without refrigeration can be done simply and effectively through lacto-fermentation. Just look at how our ancestors used fermentation to preserve food!
With that, I thought I’d share the minimalist equipment I use over and over again for making krauts and traditionally lacto-fermented pickles with all sorts of vegetables.
These guys do so much in our kitchen – holding the morning’s milk or storing away canned meat, keeping ferments and storing leftovers. Because so many of us own them and because I personally use mostly quart and half-gallon mason jars for fermenting, I include a whole section in the Vegetables Chapter on tips for successful mason jar ferments.
Heavy Fermentation Weights
This single-purpose piece of equipment is probably the only specialty item I use for fermentation. Most of my weights came via my work for Cultures for Health. A heavy, sturdy weight is imperative to good, consistent fermentation so my current favorite is this variety. You do not need to purchase weights, however. In TFF I have a section on homegrown and edible weight ideas.
I sometimes use these for Open-Crock Sauerkraut ferments. If you’re preserving loads of vegetables in a cellar with a consistently cool temperature, this is a good option. Likewise, fermentation crocks are worth the investment if you are putting up loads of produce year after year.
I found one of these guys at a thrift store a few years back and it really transforms the kraut making process. I was working in a tiny corner kitchen with no counter space at the time and this mandolin made it possible to sit on the floor with a huge bowl in my lap and slice away. It really speeds up the process but is only truly useful for cabbages and some root vegetables.
That mandolin got broken somewhere along the way – a foregone conclusion when you thrift it for $2 – so now we’re back to the dependable cutting board and knife.
The Equipment I Don’t Use
Note that I didn’t mention airlocks. I own some and use them, especially since it comes with the 1/2-gallon Fermented Vegetable Master we have, but have never noticed a considerable benefit from them. In side-by-side comparisons, I have found that proper technique and best practices in a mason jar will give you just as much protection against mold, delicious flavor, and perceptible health benefit as an airlock.
I also rarely use a kraut pounder. I simply salt those self-brining vegetables such as cabbage and walk away from the bowl for 30-60 minutes. By then the juices have been drawn out and the process of mixing and packing does the job for you.
And because many people ask about this, I almost never use starter cultures like whey or dried culture starters. Not only is it not necessary, but I personally prefer the flavor of ferments without them. Again, if you understand the biological process, which I outline in TFF, you’ll realize that you have everything you need right there in your vegetables, salt, and water.
So while proper, clean equipment helps, a simple understanding of the process will take you so much further. A ridiculous collection of mason jars doesn’t hurt, though.
p.s. Anybody want some turnips? 😉