Fermented foods are experiencing a bit of a resurgence as more people turn away from processed foods and seek to improve their overall health through better and varied nutrition. New studies on probiotic foods seem to be coming in near weekly linking a healthy gut microbiom to not only maintaining a proper weight and having sufficient nutrient reserves, but also more unexpected areas like depression, auto-immune disorders, inflammation and even skin health. If you are new to the world of probiotic foods, this article published in the will provide a good starting point:
Beyond just great nutrition, however, fermented foods can help us reestablish links to our heritage and act as a bridge to exploring others. As fermentation is a common, natural occurrence, most cultures have deep-rooted traditions involving the preparation of unique foods and drinks that can serve as engaging links to the past. Holidays serve as especially wonderful times to explore these special ferments with friends and family.
And while store bought versions of many fermented foods do exist, they tend to be sterile approximations that any old world grandmother would scoff at. Yogurt, Kimchi, Sauerkraut, pickles and even alcohol have been beaten into submission in our modern world which treats all bacteria as invaders and values consistency above all else. In the process, many people have lost not just the old recipes and practices, but also fear that making healthy ferments at home is beyond their ability. With the aid of this DIY fermentation jar, however, you'll be making a variety of amazing probiotic foods in no time, so let's discuss the parts and tools that you'll need.
- 1 glass jar. I use Ball canning jars all the time for preservation, fridge storage, and crafts, so they were the natural choice for making my fermentation jar. Pictured here is the 1/2 gallon size, which will come in a box of 6. If you do not need six jars, some alternative options would be garage sales & thrift stores in which you may be able to purchase a single jar, or consider having a fermentation jar party to split the cost amongst your friends or family. These also make a unique gift, especially for any chefs, vegetarians/vegans or healthy eaters on your list. **While I recommend the 1/2 gallon size, you certainly can use a smaller canning jar that you already own. Just pay special attention to the size of jar's mouth, being referred to as either 'regular' or 'wide'. Examples of both will be shown later if you are uncertain of which size your jar may be.
- 1 box of Tattler reusable canning lids in the correct size for your jar. If using the 1/2 half gallon sized jar, you will need a box of the wide lids. If creating a smaller jar with a small opening, you will instead need to purchase a box of regular sized lids. While many hardware stores do stock Tattler lids in the fall, they can be a bit challenging to find locally and you might just want to just order these online. **Now you may be wondering why I do not use the metal lid that comes with the jar. In truth, you could certainly use it -but- it will rust in time under most fermentation conditions. Best to make a lid from materials that will not break down under regular wear.
- 1 brewing airlock per jar. These great little devices are the key to releasing the gases that occur naturally inside your jar during the course of fermentation while keeping bugs and other contaminants out. As many fermentationists have discovered, the gas build up inside a sealed jar or bottle can become great enough to shatter glass, so an airlock is not only convenient, but much safer. An airlock will also help to control the level of oxygen present, preventing any young alcohol ferments you may attempt from turning to vinegar instead. Airlocks can be purchased from your local brew supply store for less than $2.00. *** If your local store only carries the 'S' style airlock, those will work just fine.
- 1 food safe silicone grommet size 3/8 in (9.5mm). While it is relatively easy to find this size grommet at any hardware store, I would strongly recommend using one that is made from a food safe material. Even though this is part of the lid, your ferments will come into contact with it. Most brew supply stores will stock this size, or you can find them on Amazon.
Optional but helpful:
- Weights. While not essential for pickles that can be wedged below the level of the brine, weights are necessary for sauerkraut. Any food allowed to float and make contact with air will develop unsightly yeasts and molds. While you could always scoop out the affected pieces, this is unnecessarily wasteful. You can purchase ceramic weights from Ohio Stoneware, Cultures for Health, from artisans on Etsy or most ceramics shops (just make sure that they are food safe). You can also fashion your own from:
glass jar lids (Emma jar lids work well, but they have become very hard to find lately).
food safe cooking bags filled with pie weights
even food safe bags filled with brine can work in a pinch. (Why not water? Because a leaking bag could dilute your brine and ruin your ferment)
Just remember that this weight will be sitting on your food for the length of the ferment, so make sure it is made from a safe material. Glass is usually a good substance as it will not stain or leech into your brine.
- Ball brand plastic lids. After your ferment has completed, you will need to remove your airlock lid and place a normal lid on the jar in order to fit it within most refrigerators. While you can use the metal canning lid that comes with the jar, after about 2-3 weeks it may begin to rust. These white, plastic lids are a great alternative and are relatively cheap. (Do not be tempted to use one of these lids in place of the Tattler lid for your airlock. They are not airtight and require more attention than necessary. If making a young alcohol ferment, you may even wind up with vinegar, so it's just not worth it.)
- Drill. Basically anything that can spin a drill bit will do the job.
- 1/2" drill bit, preferably one that tappers smoothly to a point (twist bit, or multipurpose). If your drill bit does not, be absolutely certain that you are using eye protection. I attempted to make my first lid with a notched woodworking bit because it was what I had on hand, but the flares caught on the plastic, cracked a chunk out and threw it at high speed.
-a piece of scrap wood to sit below your lid as you drill.
The picture above shows both the regular and wide sized lids. The instructions, grommets and airlocks are the same regardless of which size you use.
With careful and even speed, drill a hole into the center of your Tattler lid until the drill has gone completely through. Being that the lids are a very rigid plastic, some drill bits can become caught at the very end. Should this occur, I have had the best success by removing the drill bit and slowly rotating the bit by hand to remove the remaining bur. Forcing the bur can result in cracking of the lid, so be patient, and again, use eye protection.
Once you have made your hole, you will have to press the grommet into place. Imagining the hole as the face of a clock, press the grommet's inner grove into the twelve o'clock position and with firm, even pressure, work the rest of the grommet clockwise until it snaps fully into place. I often find that using the long arm of my drill's chuck key works better than my fingers towards the end. If you are having any difficulty, watch the accompanying video for a demonstration.
After you have your grommet in place, you are ready to assemble your jar. Place the red rubber ring of your Tattler lid on the glass rim of your jar and then stack your white lid on top, with the name facing upwards. Screw the metal ring that came with your canning jar in place over the lid. Lastly, lightly press your airlock into the center of your grommet.
Congratulations, you have made your very own fermentation jar!
You are now free to load your jar with the veggies of your choice and cover with a 5% salt brine solution. The easy recipe I follow for brine is to fill a 1 quart jar (4 cups) with fresh, filtered water and then add 2 tbsp+ 2 tsp of non-iodized salt. (Iodized salt can cause odd color changes, so it is generally best to use canning or sea salt when possible).
Place your veggies into the jar and then add your brine, leaving about an inch of head space. Add water to your airlock until you have reached the fill line. (If your airlock does not have a fill line, fill the chamber nearly half way with water).
Feel free to add herbs and spices such as mustard seeds, peppercorn, pickling spice or fresh dill. Garlic and onion slices are always a welcomed addition. Cucumbers are an obviously tasty choice, but I've also enjoyed grabbing whatever was fresh at the farmer's market and seeing what works. Sliced peppers tend to make nice, mild pickles while radishes offer an incredible crunch, not to mention a beautiful red colored brine. While strong tastes can interject themselves into milder veggies, I have done mixed ferments as a way to experiment and save time with great results. Best of all, I have found that some vegetables that I don't tend to enjoy fresh are amazing after fermentation.
In part two of this fermentation series, I'll show how to make amazing deli style pickles in your new fermentation jar. But don't wait to get started, cram some veggies into your new jar right now and they'll be done before you need your airlock lid again. Later in the month, we'll also explore how to make traditional sauerkraut that will be ready just in time to host an Oktoberfest themed party.
Do you have any traditional or cultural ferments that you and your family enjoy? Please share recipes and stories in the comments below.