Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Making Fermented Products

Some products that can be fermented are:

Peppers                                        Cauliflower
Brussel Sprouts                           Artichokes
Green Tomatoes                           Turnips
Cabbage (Sauerkraut)                   Cucumbers

Some products that do not ferment well:
Asparagus                                     Snap Beans
Corn                                               Peas

The Stages of Fermentation

Stage One
  1. Pickles or product to be fermented are submerged in brine in a  proper container and proper weighted cover.
  2. Helpful bacteria that are found naturally on cucumbers or product  being fermented begin to multiply, changing the color.
  3. Takes 1=2 days

Stage Two
  1. Bubbly Fermentation.
  2. Breakdown of sugars producing lactic acid  (gives the good sour flavor), some acetic acid (Vinegar, if added-sharp flavor), and carbon dioxide (bubbles).
  3. Cloudiness in the brine is bacteria in suspension.
  4. This stage is over when bubbling stops and the PH is 4.2-4.6
  5. Lactic acid grows well in fairly strong acid conditions.
  6.   Takes 3-5 days.

Stage Three
  1. Quiet Fermentation.
  2.   More lactic acid is produced.  PH drops to 3.3-3.7
  3. Two ways to tell when this stage is over:
      a.  Use PH paper
      b.    Lets Pickles or product being fermented progress to stage 4 and produce    one batch of scum yeast (it appears as a opaque film on the brines surface), then carefully remove all scum yeast.
      c.  Chemically, scum yeast cannot produce in quantity until fermentation is over.
       d.   Don’t rush this step!  If the brine is not ready Botulinum bacteria may still be present.
  1. Takes 3-7 days.

Stage Four

  1. Curing.
  2.   Scum yeast begins to form at this stage, must be removed daily.
  3.   Length of curing time depends on temperature conditions. 
  4.   Pickles or product being fermented, the color and texture is stabilized and the flavor mellows.
  5.   Must refrigerate or process pickles at this time to keep scum yeast from taking over.
  6. Curing depends on variety and maturity of the cucumbers or product being fermented as well as the temperature they were processed at.
  7.   The fermentation process can overlap with the curing process and by the time fermentation is complete can take as little as 10 days.  Or the fermentation -plus-curing period can last up to 7 weeks.
  8.   Pickles that contain more pectin and are extra firm cure more slowly.
  9.   Smaller younger cucumbers cure more quickly than larger ones.
  10.   Takes 10 days to 7 weeks.

Processing Fermented Pickles
  1. Fermented products can be stored without heat processing.
  2. If stored in the crock, surface yeasts and molds must be regularly removed.  Store in cool place about 60 degrees F. or below.  The pickles must be kept submerged throughout this process.
  3. For longer, more stable storage, when fermentation is complete,the product can be packed in jars and processed:
  1. Waterbath method-use same brine to fill jars.
  2. Process 15 minutes at 170 degrees F.

Keeping Spoilage Down

It is important to maintain conditions that encourage growth of lactic acid bacteria and prevent growth of other organisms that may cause spoilage.

  1. Keeps air from pickles or product being fermented during all stages of processing.
  2. Keep temperature of vegetables and brine as close to 70-80 degrees F. as possible.  Too high may get hollow pickles.
  3.   Keep the correct salt concentration in the brine.  Do not alter salt in recipe.  Salt content must be high enough to inhibit growth of spoilage organisms but allow lactic acid to grow well.  Lactic acid grows well in fairly strong acid conditions.  Too much salt will cause shriveling, and will not allow lactic acid to grow.
  4. Add a small amount of vinegar to the brine for dill pickles.  Most undesirable bacteria cannot grow well in slightly acid conditions.

5.  Remove scum as it forms.
    Scum is the growth of spoilage organisms.  It forms if the container cannot be sealed and air is present.  If it is allowed to continue it will destroy the acid and provide conditions for the growth of additional spoilage organisms.
6.  How can you tell if a product can be spoiled?
         Lid releases                                Liquid spurts
         Gas bubbles                                Off color
         Cloudy                                         Sediment
         Soft                                            Slimy and Shriveled

 Notes on fermentation in general:
All fermented foods must have a source of sugar for  fermentation.  This sugar may come from the covering brine or from the food itself.
  1. Foods have a wide variety of microorganisms (mixed flora).  During fermentation, the competitions in this mixed flora will be between the spoilage organisms and the lactic acid producers.  Disease causing bacteria usually do not complete well in a mixed flora, and are present in small numbers compared to other microorganisms.  During fermentation, conditions are manipulated to favor growth of the lactic acid producing bacteria.  Illness caused from fermented foods is unlikely if processed properly.
  2. When food is cooked, the native flora is destroyed, including the lactic acid producing bacteria.  If a cooked food is fermented, harmful bacteria may be able to multiply rapidly due to lack of competition from other microorganisms.  Food should not be heated if it is to be fermented. 
  3. Never reduce the salt in tested and approved recipes.  Salt inhibits the growth of many spoilage organisms.  As bacteria produce lactic acid, the PH drops.  The low PH inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria.  

Basic Formula for Old-Fashioned Brine Fermented Pickles

This is a basic formula.  I have used it for cucumbers, squash, garlic, carrots, green tomatoes and just about any other vegetable you can eat.  It works.  You can make any size batch you wish.  Using mason jars is common and I have fermented in quarts, half-gallons and gallon sizes with success.

Salt for brine
Seasonal garden vegetables
pickling spices
leaves for crispness

  1. Prepare a brine using the ratio of two tablespoons of salt to one quart of water.  If it is over 85 degrees in your kitchen, use one extra tablespoon of salt.  Stir well and set aside.
  2. Clean vegetables and if you are going to cut, chop, spear your pickles (vegetables) do it now
  3. Gather flavorings- garlic, onions, fresh herbs, or your favorite pickling spices.
  4. Add one of the following to keep your vegetables crisp: grape, horseradish, mesquite leaves. (This is optional, but makes for a pretty jar and, Tannin in the leaves helps keep veggies crisp).
  5. Put a leaf on the bottom of the jar and add, garlic, herbs, and spices you desire, to the top of your leaf in your jar. (quart, half-gallon, gallon or crock).
  6. Place pickles or veggies atop flavorings, leaving at least 2 inches of headspace from the rim of the jar.  Pour the brine over the vegetables so they are covered by at least one inch.  Two to four is even better, but hard to achieve in quart jars.
  7. Weight down your vegetables so they stay below the brine while fermenting.  I have used small plates that will fit into the jar opening, inverted plastic jars lids, a large leaf.  Any thing that will hold you veggie down under the brine.
  8. Cap the jar tightly and allow to sit at 65-85 degrees for around 10 days, or more, depending on your preference.  The longer they ferment at room temperature, the sourer they become.
  9.   During the earliest stages of fermentation carbon dioxide is released. Check    your jars once or twice a day to see if the lids are building up pressure.  If you cannot press down on the canning lid as you normally would, very quickly and carefully “burp” your jar by slightly unscrewing the lid, allowing a bit of gas to escape, and screwing it back on quickly.
  10. Once completed, move to cold storage-root cellar, a basement, a cool garage, anywhere below 65 degrees, or yes a refrigerator. ( you may waterbath can at this point too.)

Here is a simple Fermented Crock (Jar) Dill Pickle Recipe


3 pounds pickling cucumbers, 4 to 6 inches long
5 1/2 ounces pickling salt, approximately 1/2 cup
1 gallon filtered water
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoons red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tablespoon dill seed 
1 large bunch fresh dill 
3-4 Grape leaves (if using)
(Note: You can replace fresh dill  when making pickles, 1 Tablespoon of dill seed for each 3 heads of fresh dill called for in the recipe. However, the flavor will not be as pungent as when fresh dill is used.) I use both in this recipe.

Combine the salt and water in a pitcher and stir until the salt has dissolved.
Rinse the cucumbers thoroughly and snip off the blossom end stem.  Set aside.
Place the Grape Leaf, peppercorns, pepper flakes, garlic, dill seed and fresh dill into a 1 gallon crock, or jar, you may add grape leaves up the sides and one on top of cucumbers (make it look nice). Add the cucumbers to the crock on top of the aromatics.  Pour the brine mixture over the cucumbers in order to completely cover.  Pour the remaining water into a 1 gallon ziplock bag and seal.  Place plate on top of the cucumbers then place the the bag on top of the plate to hold pickles under the brine.  Making sure all are completely submerged in the brine.  Set in a cool, dry place.
Check the crock after 3 days.  Fermentation has begun if you see bubbles rising to the top of the crock.  After this, check the crock daily and skim off any scum that forms.  If scum forms on the plate and/or plastic bag, rinse it off and return to the top of the crock.
The fermentation is complete when the pickles taste sour and the bubbles have stopped rising; this should take approximately 6 to 7 days.  Once this happens, cover the crock loosely and place in the refrigerator for 3 days, skimming daily or as needed.  Store for up to 2 months in the refrigerator, skimming as needed.  If the pickles should become soft or begin to take on an off odor, this is a sign of spoilage and they should be discarded.  

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