Q: I have cleared all the veggies from my garden given the weather. There’s not a huge harvest like I was getting earlier in the year, but I’d like to preserve what I’ve got. Rather than gearing up for another round of canning with so little to can I was thinking of trying fermenting. It seems like it might be less fuss. Can you offer any advice one getting started?
A: You are correct, unlike canning, fermenting does not require that all jars, lids and rings, or associated utensils be sterilized (however, everything must be well cleaned) or that your filled jars be placed in a water bath for preservation. The amount of fruits or vegetables you ferment will be determined by the recipe you are using. If you are new to fermenting, it is important that get your recipes from a reputable source and follow each step precisely because these ratios are crucial to producing and preserving foods that are safe to eat and nutritious.
To get started all you need are wide mouth canning jars, food-safe fermenting weights (to prevent food from floating to the top of jars and growing mold), PH meter, fermenting lids to allow the release of CO2 (paper towel and a rubber band work well too), glass or ceramic bowls (some metals are too reactive and will at best discolor, at worst contaminate your produce) and lids for storage when the process is complete. Although it may be tempting to use grandma’s stoneware crock, many glazes used before 1970 contain lead which can leach into your ferment.
Lacto-fermentation, the simplest fermentation process, uses the naturally occurring lactobacillus (not to be confused with lactose – the sugars found in dairy products) to break down sugars and starches in foods to create an acidic environment with a PH of 4.6 or lower to inhibit the growth of undesirable bacteria. Salt and salt brines are most commonly used in 3% or 5% solutions depending on the foods being fermented and how they are prepared for fermenting, such as cubed, chopped, or shredded.
Healthy ferments will smell vinegary with a tangy flavor. When done correctly, fermented foods are easy to digest, rich in vitamins and nutrients, and support the healthy bacteria found on our digestive tracts.
In-depth information about fermenting, small batch ferments, and best foods for processing may be found at the websites below. Enjoy!
University of Minnesota Extension Food Preservation YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vevtZWBBm0M
National Center for Home Food Preservation https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can6a_ferment.html
Written by U of M Extension Master Gardeners in St. Louis County. Send questions to email@example.com.