Here’s how to use a fermentation crock to make your own delicious and nutritious fermented foods in your homestead kitchen…
If you’re just getting started with fermenting your own foods, mason jars work just fine. However, if you want to ferment larger quantities of veggies, or whole vegetables, you may want to invest in a fermentation crock. A fermentation or fermenting crock will provide the perfect environment to make delicious and nutritious fermented vegetables right on your kitchen counter. It also looks nicer than a mason jar, and with proper care, will last practically forever!
Fermentation crocks have become quite popular recently, but they are the traditional way to ferment vegetables, and have been used in homestead kitchens for hundreds of years. You can often find fermentation crocks at yard or estate sales (be careful, as some older crocks may contain lead-based paint), or you can get a new one online.
There are a couple of different types of fermentation crocks: open, or with a water lock lid. I prefer the water lock version for ease of use, and they usually come with fermentation weights included. If you get an open crock, you will usually need to supply your own weights and a cover – but they are generally easier to fill. They come in different sizes, so you will want to consider how much food you will be fermenting when choosing what size you need. (I started off with a small half-gallon size, which works perfectly for small batches of kraut and kimchi.)
Once you have your crock, you’re ready to start making some tasty and healthy ferments in your homestead kitchen!
Here’s a basic step-by-step primer on using a fermentation crock from Jill over at The Prairie Homestead:
1. Clean and soak the fermenting weights
Start with clean fermenting weights so you can avoid mold issues.
Fermenting weights are important because they keep the vegetables under the brine. If the veggies aren’t covered with the brine, they’ll get covered in mold (yuck). Presoaking your fermenting weights in water prevents them from soaking up your brine.
2. Wash your fermenting crock and produce
Obviously, you want to start your fermentation process with clean tools and produce. This greatly reduces your chance of spoilage. Wash your fermentation crock in hot soapy water.
Even if your veggies come from the garden, it’s a good idea to wash off any potential dirt and whatnot from them as well. (Tip: If your water is chlorinated, either use filtered water, or make sure to let your produce dry before processing to allow any chlorine that could interfere with your ferment to evaporate.)
3. Prep your vegetables
You can ferment pretty much anything, and there are loads of awesome fermenting recipes out there. Whatever veggies you use, after you rinse them, you may want to ferment them whole (like pickles) or shred them or chop them…
For a basic rundown, if I’m making sauerkraut, I’ll shred the cabbage either with a good kitchen knife or a food processor. I’ll sprinkle on about 1 tablespoon of sea salt per cabbage head. I like to use my hands to combine the cabbage and salt. You can also use a cool fermentation stomper/packer like this one.
I squeeze the cabbage and salt together and it creates its own brine solution (if you’re making a different fermenting recipe, you might have to make the brine solution).
(Sometimes it takes a while for the cabbage to start releases its juices. If your hand gets tired, it’s okay to take a break and walk away for a while. I’ve found if you let it sit with the salt on it after it’s partially pounded, a lot of the juice will start to seep out on its own.)
4. Stuff it into the fermenting crock
Whether you use an open-crock or a water-sealed crock, simply put the veggies and any possible spices into the fermenting crock. Use a fermenting weight to push the veggies down, and make sure to completely cover them with the brine.
5. Keep an eye on things
Put your fermentation crock somewhere where you can keep an eye on it. Your fermenting crock (especially if you use an open crock) might overflow if the liquid bubbles over due to the fermenting process. So you might want to put it in a shallow bowl or container to collect overflow. Also with an open crock, you might need to occasionally skim off any buildup of yeast or mold on the top.
If you use a water-sealed crock, you’ll have to watch the water levels and possibly refill the water lock from time to time so that the seal stays effective.
6. Play the waiting game
The fermentation process will be done in about a week or two, but some people like super fermented foods, and you can wait even longer than that if you want. I like to do a taste test after 10 days to see if it’s the right amount of tang for my family. If it isn’t tangy enough, I’ll let it ferment for a few more days before taste testing again.
7. Store your fermented food
In the old days, homesteaders would keep their ferments in the crocks in their root cellar or cold storage area. However, since most of us don’t have root cellars (or unheated rooms in our home that won’t freeze) we have to make some adjustments. If the vegetables are left in the crock long-term, the fermentation process will continue, resulting in very tangy food after a while. This isn’t necessarily the end of the world, but your family may or may not appreciate super-sour sauerkraut, if you know what I mean.
Therefore, in order to stop the fermenting process, you will need to put your fermented food in the refrigerator once the initial fermentation period is over. The downside to using fermenting crocks, instead of simple mason jars, is that they are usually too big and heavy to stick in your fridge.
I usually scoop the fermented food out of the crock and into mason jars to store in the fridge. Most ferments will last at least 3 months in the fridge.