Did you know there are quite a few fermentation vessel options? I didn’t when I started to learn how to ferment foods in my kitchen. It might of saved me a lot of time if I had.
Right about now, some of you may be thinking: We’ve heard why we should be consuming fermented foods and how to overcome fermented food fears. We know that they can be expensive and hard to find in Southeastern Indiana. Can’t you just get on with it and share some fermented food recipes before cabbage and cucumbers are out of season!?!?
I promise I will. In just a few days. But I think fermentation vessel options is an important topic.
I’m not a food scientist or a trained chef, but I have used several different fermentation vessels over the past few years. And I’m going to share my experience with each type, in hopes it might save you some of the frustration I encountered when I began learning to ferment foods.
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Fermentation Vessel Options
Fermentation vessel options include: regular old mason jars, old fashioned open crocks, Italian made Fido jars, jars with air locks and German style crocks.
Open crocks have been used to ferment food all over the world for centuries. My grandparents used one and I bet yours did too.
So when I decided I wanted to make sauerkraut and other fermented foods, I went straight to my local garden supply store and bought one.
Once I got it home, I washed the large 3 gallon crock and immediately stuffed it full of cabbage and salt.
I was so excited! I carefully followed the directions in a well known book about fermenting foods that I borrowed from the library. I weighed the cabbage down with a plate and a big rock that I scrubbed and sterilized. Then, I covered it with a big clean towel secured to the top with some twine (to keep insects out).
Everything looked good for the first 4 or 5 days. But then, I started to get these little tanish white blobs floating on the surface of the brine. A quick internet search later and it turns out it was a pretty harmless organism called kahm yeast. It can affect the flavor of the final product, but it won’t kill you. So I began spooning it off every day and I hoped for the best.
During the second week of fermentation, my sauerkraut developed some black spots of fuzzy mold on top the brine. I was told that I could just scrape off the moldy parts and the sauerkraut underneath would be fine. That was a little bit more than I could stomach. So just like that, I tossed three gallons of sauerkraut onto the compost pile.
Several weeks later, I tried again. My results were the similar.
Frustrated, I waited almost a year before cleaning out the crock and giving it another go. This time, my results were different, but they still weren’t good. I ended up with pink slimy and putrid smelling cabbage. It was so foul, I wouldn’t even dump that batch on my compost pile! It got chucked out back by the railroad tracks.
My big open crock now serves as an umbrella stand. I just don’t have a strong enough constitution to scrape off mold and eat the rest.
Do I still think open crocks are good fermentation vessels? Sure, for some people. They have been used for centuries to ferment foods in after all! They just don’t work for me.
If you have access to one, give it a try. Maybe open crocks will work wonderfully for you? You’ll only be out some vegetables and some time if it doesn’t.
But if it doesn’t work, DON’T GIVE UP! Try a different vessel.
And if you’re brand new to fermenting, I don’t recommend purchasing an open crock as your first fermentation vessel. They aren’t cheap. And there are better options available.
A lot of people have great success fermenting in regular old Mason Jars.
After recovering from my sauerkraut fiasco, I made my first attempt at half sour pickles in mason jars.
Unfortunately, that didn’t work out for me either. I ended up with lots of kahm yeast, mold spots and very soft pickles.
I was so frustrated! And I promptly gave up on fermenting, again. For a little while at least.
You can’t really see it very well in this picture, but there’s mold in them there pickles.
Fast forward a few years and I have now discovered that mason jars work well for short ferments. Things that will be done in 3 to 4 days, like condiments, salsa, water kefir, milk kefir and cherry tomatoes.
Some folks swear by mason jars, even for longer ferments like pickles and sauerkraut, but they don’t work for me.
If you don’t mind risking a head of cabbage or a few cucumbers, and taking the time to burp them regularly, try fermenting in a Mason Jar. It might work for you and you can’t beat the price!
But if mason jars don’t work as a fermentation vessel for you, DON’T GIVE UP like I almost did! There are other options.
I was feeling totally defeated. There had been no other kitchen skill that I set out to learn that had given me as much trouble as fermenting!
I had almost given up and resigned myself to purchasing very expensive, commercially produced, raw fermented pickles and sauerkraut. Any enjoying them as a rare treat instead of a healthy diet staple.
I just couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.
That’s when my fermenting luck changed forever!!!!!!
Turns out mason jars and open crocks can let too much oxygen get inside. And too much oxygen can allow mold and yeast to take hold and cause spoilage.
Fido jars have a special vulcanized rubber seal that keeps oxygen from getting in, while allowing carbon dioxide (and other gasses that naturally occur as a byproduct of fermentation) to escape.
Since I’ve started using them for almost all of my fermenting, I turn out beautiful batch after beautiful batch of fermented sauerkraut, pickles, vegetables and more. All with no mold or kahm yeast.
Fido Jars come in several different sizes. Smaller ones, for when you want to ferment just a little bit of something (instead of a huge crock full). And bigger ones, for those times when your garden overwhelms you with produce.
When you’re not using Fido jars to ferment things, they make wonderful and attractive storage containers for flour, sugar, tea , pasta and more.
And best of all, they’re inexpensive!!
You can purchase Fido jars online at Amazon.com and occasionally in TJ Max stores. I got lucky and found three at a Goodwill store once too!
I just can’t say enough about Fido jars!
A Note about Knock-offs: The made in china Fido jar look a likes available at discount stores like Walmart aren’t good fermentation vessels. They seal poorly, let too much oxygen in and are made of inferior glass. Only trust high quality, made in Italy, Fido jars. Been there, tried that, epic fail.
Jars fitted with airlocks are another great fermentation vessel option.
Airlocks are long tubes that attach to the lids of jars or jugs that you fill partially with water. I don’t know all the ins and outs of how they work, but I do know that like Fido jars, they keep oxygen out, while allowing gasses to escape.
I don’t use them because they utilize a bit more vertical space than I can spare.
You can purchase jars already outfitted with airlocks, but they’ll cost you.
Luckily, you can retrofit almost any type of jar with an airlock yourself.
Here is a tutorial that shows one method to DIY an airlock.
If your interested in making your own, Google it. There are several different ways you can make an airlock yourself.
Many of the DIY airlock supplies you’ll need are available at brew shops and Amazon.com
German Style Crocks
German style crocks, use a water seal around the lid to keep oxygen out and allow gasses to escape.
I’ve never had the pleasure of using one, but I have a fermenting friend who speaks highly of hers.
The large 5 and 10 liter crocks would be wonderful when you wanted to make a really, really big batch of something.
I would definitely love to have a German style crock someday, but haven’t been able to justify the expense yet.
If you’re interested in purchasing one Amazon.com has some pretty good prices on them with free shipping for Amazon Prime members.
Most fermented food recipes require you to weigh the vegetables or fruit down under the brine so that the produce stays safely tucked away from spoilage inducing oxygen.
You can purchase some really nice (and convenient) glass or ceramic weights made to do just that.
Or if your
cheap frugal like me, you can easily improvise with things you already have around the house. Just make sure whatever use is clean and food safe.
Open Crock Weights
If your fermenting in an open crock, you could use a glass dinner plate that’s just slightly smaller than the opening of the crock. Lay the plate on top of the vegetables, then find something to weigh it down. Some ideas include: a large Ziploc bag full of clean marbles or rocks, a couple of Mason Jars filled with brine and capped off with a plastic lid (the metal ones can rust) or a heavy old oven proof bean pot.
Since an open crock doesn’t have a lid, don’t forget to cover the crock with a clean towel or multiple layers of cheesecloth to keep insects out.
German Style Crocks
German style crocks come with weights, custom made to fit inside the crock perfectly. And for the price you pay for them, they should!
Weights For Jars
If you’re fermenting in a wide mouth mason jar, a Fido jar or a jar with an airlock, a small 4 ounce jelly jar filled with water usually just fits inside the neck of many of them and holds everything down nicely.
If the jar isn’t a wide mouth jar, a shot glass might do the trick.
Another jar weight idea is a small Ziploc bag filled with clean marbles, unglazed pie weights or a rock, like this.
A Ziploc bag full of some leftover saltwater brine might work too.
When filling the jar with the food you plan to ferment, make sure you leave enough room for the weight to fit down inside the jar and still have enough room to screw or clamp the lid shut.
Alternately, if your using a mason jar to ferment in, you can skip the lid, let the jar or other weight stick out the neck and cover the jar with a clean towel secured by a rubber band. This will let you use a taller jelly jar if you don’t own any 4 ouncers . Here is a visual of the cloth covered version.
Some of the larger Fido jars have a wide shoulder, wider than the mouth of the jar. In this case, to keep all the cabbage completely submerged under the brine, you may need to can cut a piece of food grade plastic the same size as the bottom of the jar and sit it on top of the vegetables. Then sit your small jelly jar on top of that, making sure you leave enough room to clamp the lid shut.
Examples of food grade plastic include, coffee can lids, ice cream buckets and my favorite, food dehydrator screens like these.
Here is a picture of a piece of food dehydrator screen I cut to fit one of my large Fido jars.
And here are some pictures of a Fido jar with the screen in place and the jar on top.
In the case of a Fido jar, you might not have to weigh your vegetables down at all. They are so efficient at keeping oxygen out, that I sometimes don’t bother weighing down ferments. So far and they turn out just fine. source
Here is a picture of a jar of sauerkraut that’s been fermenting for a little more than a month in a Fido jar, never weighed down. It looks and tastes great. And even though the sauerkraut was above the brine, there is no discoloration or browning of the cabbage.
Which of the fermentation vessel options will you choose?
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