Preserving the Season
Food preservation used to be a way of life. With advances of technology, it has become less prevalent and not needed to survive. You don't need to pickle (the original way of lacto fermentation) to have a food storage for the winter. Today we are able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables from around the world and keep it in our refrigerators or freeze until we are ready to use.
There are health benefits from eating lacto fermented products. I am not a dietitian nor nutritionist, therefore I will not be telling you the benefits because I don't know how true they are. I enjoy making items this way and I would like to document it and share it with you.
In my blog it will not be just about food preservation, but about things that I enjoy. What follows below is my explanation of lacto fermentation and acedic pickling.
Food preservation used to be a way of life. With advances of technology, it has declined because we can easily purchase it plus we don't have the time to make it. Today, there is a movement to bring back this almost lost art of food preservation at home.
Lacto Fermentation is making a comeback in kitchens today. There is a lot of information out there on the health benefits of lacto fermented foods, the history of, how to start and how to store. Historically, societies all over the world have been using lacto fermented method of preserving foods.
When learning about lacto fermented foods, I was intimidated about the method because I didn't understand it. I have a hard time doing something and hoping it comes out because someone said so. It took me a while to play around with this ancient method. While I'm still learning, Idind it fun monitoring and waiting for the outcome of the final product. The satisfaction of knowing you made this will make you proud, and the product will most likely taste better that you made it. The flavors are different than you would get using vinegar (acetic pickling/ modern pickling).
With the advent of vinegar (acetic acid) method, most people abandoned the lacto fermented method. With the vinegar based method, it's faster and you will get a more consistent product. The flavors of vinegar based pickles are what most people are used to today. There are benefits to using this method. It will be discussed next.
The part that I didn't understand and the reason why it took me so long to try, how do you tell if it's good or bad? I purposefully created a batch that I wanted to go bad so I could see what it looked and smelled like. I agree with all of the information out there that you will be able to tell when your ferment is not fit for human consumption. If you have any doubts (the way it looks, smells or tastes) about your product or food in general, throw it out. Use your instincts, they're normally correct.
The basic formula for starting a lacto fermentation project is salt, water, vegetables and a container.
Sanitation- Make sure you wash, rinse and sanitize your equipment and surfaces (cutting boards and knives as well as your hands). Wash all of your vegetables under cold running water, not just submerged in water.
Salt- We like using Hawaiian Salt- salt that is extracted from the water that surrounds us. You can use kosher salt, other sea salts, or almost any type of salt. The salinity of the brine not only helps to flavor of the food but it also kills unwanted bacteria that would "spoil" your ferment. It doesn't damage the healthy bacteria that will help the fermenting. DO NOT USE iodize table salt or "wet" salts- it can hinder the fermentation process.
Water- We use our tap water. Our water is pretty good. You can use bottled water.
Brine Solution- I suggest using a scale, that measures in grams, to measure out the salt and water. To find the right amount of salt to add to the water, multiply the weight of the water (in grams) with the percentage of salt you want in your brine. This will give you how many grams of salt to add to the water. You don't need to know the metric system, but doing the water and salt this way makes it easier to figure out how much salt you will need. Make sure to combine the salt and water well, I normally bring it to a boil and then cool it down to room temperature. I do this to insure the salt is incorporated well.
You should try different brine solutions to find the one you like the best. From trying different items, I do like the 2% brine- not too salty and does the job it needs to do. Your taste would determine if you like a 2%, 2.5%, 3%, 3.5% or any percentage you would like to use for your brine. Remember you can always add salt to your final product but you can not take it out.
2% brine solution is good for most hard vegetables.
3% brine solution is good for making pickles.
For sauerkraut (a great lacto fermentation project for beginners)- I start with 4.5 grams of salt per pound of cabbage- then taste it and add more salt if needed. I don't measure the amount of extra salt that I add. There are times where the initial salting is where I want it to be and other I add in more.
Container- I do small batch fermenting, I use mason jars. For larger batches you can use crocks.
Weight- This will help keep your vegetables submerged in the brine (those that are out of the brine can mold). I use a fermenting glass stone.
Anaerobic Environment- For the fermentation process, it needs to have an anaerobic environment. We use an air lock kit. It prevents the outside air from going into the jar, but lets the gasses that are formed from fermenting be released.
Timing- The amount of time you should let your vegetables ferment is your preference. I do at least 3 days and up to a month. I have read that you should let sauerkraut ferment for at least 20 days because of the beneficial bacteria that is created. But like most foods, it depends on the texture and flavors that you want.
Storage- After the amount of time you want your vegetables to ferment, take off the air lock and the glass stones. Taste the product, it's not too late to let it go longer if you want. If you want to go longer remember to was, rinse and sanitize the air lock and stone before putting it back on the mason jar.
I store my ferments covered in the refrigerator. Remember the fermentation process doesn't end because you put it in the refrigerator. The fermentation process will continue at a slower rate. When the flavor or texture is not what you want, dispose of it.
Preservation- The food item is preserved, but without proper care it can spoil on you. It needs to be stored in a cool, dark area for long term storage (a refrigerator works).
You can, can your lacto fermented products but I do not recommend doing so. From what I have read, it will destroy the beneficial bacteria. I do can some of my products, but I do this for food storage.
Vinegar (Acetic Acid) Pickles
This is the newest method of pickling. It's more convenient than lacto fermenting. When lacto fermenting you create lactic acid where the vinegar method you add acetic acid to create an acidic environment where harmful bacteria do not thrive, you don't have to let it sit to ferment. The end product you could can (preserve) it for long-term storage or put it in the refrigerator to consume it right away.
There are many recipes out there on vinegar pickles. For quick pickling, not processed for long-term storage, you can try any recipe that sounds good to you. If you will process the pickles for long term storage, use recipes from trusted sites or reference the USDA Guidelines. The guidelines change, always use the latest guidelines to make sure you are producing safe food. Do not rely on, "we have done it this way for years."
Making pickles to consume right away, you can do it by taste. Balancing the acid for the flavor that you want. It will take some time for your vinegar to infuse your vegetables, I suggest letting them marinate for at least 6 hours and would not keep them past 1 week. The rest of this page, I will be discussing pickles that you can (preserve) for the long term.
Before you begin any pickling project, these are some of the guidelines that I follow before I start:
Read the recipe. Make sure you have all of the equipment and ingredients that you need. There is nothing like starting a project and not having everything to finish it.
Make sure you have enough time to finish the project or break it up into sections that you have the time for. Make sure the sections where you take a break will not effect the final product.
Wash, rinse and sanitize all of your equipment and hands.
Wash your vegetables.
Basic Principles for Making Preserved Vinegar (Acetic Acid) Pickles- salt, water, vinegar, foodstuff and flavorings:
Sanitation- Make sure you wash, rinse and sanitize your equipment and surfaces (cutting boards and knives as well). Wash all your vegetables under cold running water, not just submerged with water.
Salt- We like using Hawaiian Salt- salt that is extracted from the water that surrounds us. You can use kosher salt, other sea salts, or almost any type of salt. Unlike lacto fermentation, the salinity of the brine is for flavor of your pickles. It doesn't need to kill off unwanted bacteria, the acetic acid is there to do this job. DO NOT USE iodized salt or "wet" salts.
Water- We use our tap water, it's pretty good. You can also use bottle water.
Vinegar- You must use a vinegar with at least 5% acetic acid. Any type of vinegar you can use as long as it has the 5% acetic acid; distilled vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, raw apple cider vinegar, etc. This will be your base flavor of your pickles.
Brine- Your brine should be at least 50% vinegar (5% acetic acid). If its less than 50% vinegar, you should not process (can) the pickles for long term storage. The pH (acidic) level of your brine will be in the "safe" zone. A food grade pH meter should be used to calculate the pH level. The pH level should be 4.6 or lower for safe canning.
Foodstuff- Almost any fruit or vegetable can be used for food preservation. Blanching (quickly cooking the foodstuff in boiling salted water) then shocking (putting them in a cold bath to chill rapidly) your foodstuff before canning is recommended.
Flavoring- You can be creative and use different spices and herbs to create a flavor profile that you like. I like to toast my spices before using them. From everything I have read out there, do not substitute fresh herbs for dried herbs as it may cause the pH level to change and could make it potentially dangerous. If you have a recipe (from a trusted source) that calls for fresh herbs, follow the directions carefully.
Water Bath Canning- For high pH foods, (4.6 or lower on a pH meter) water bath canning is the appropriate method for long term storage. The process time for each recipe differs, follow the recipe for the amount of time and what size jar to use. DO NOT change the amount of time in the bath for convenience. If it is a low acid food you are canning, a pressure canner is needed to create a safe product.
Hot Packing or Cold Packing- There is not a great difference in the taste of the product if you hot or cold pack the jars. Follow the recipe instructions on hot or cold packing before processing.
Water Bath Canning Procedures:
Make sure you have enough water to cover the top of the jars by at least 1.5 inches.
Before putting your filled jars into the bath, make sure the water is at a raging boil.
When putting the jars into the bath, I turn off the heat and then submerge the jars. I do this as a safety procedure.
Do not start the timer until the water comes back to a boil.
When the time is done, turn off the heat and let the jars rest in the water bath for at least 5 minutes. This step will help from rapid cooling and the liquid leaching out of the jars.
Take the jars out of the bath.
Let them sit on the counter for a couple of hours. Check to make sure a proper seal is achieved.
If the seal doesn't set, reprocess the jars according to the recipe or store them in the refrigerator for short term holding.
Label and date the jars. Always use older products before the newest product. Do not store with the bands on the jars for long term storage, sometimes the bands will rust and it will be difficult to come off.
I like to have my products sit for 24 hours before I consume them. Some say to let it sit for a minimum of 3 days to let the flavors integrate.