I've been fermenting vegetables for about 3 years now, mostly for the health benefits (building up good gut flora) but also because it's delicious! Has anyone else done it? If so, please share your experiences and/or pictures.
You can buy fermented food of course (sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.) but the plus to making your own is you know it has live bacteria in it. Often with purchased fermented food, it's been pasteurized or heated to avoid the jars exploding during shipping.
I've made several different vegetables over the years. Cabbage is still my favourite, but hot peppers is a close second. They're great on homemade pizza (put on after the pizza is cooked to preserve the probiotics). I've also made traditional kimchi. It's more work so I haven't done it in a while. I'll have to make some soon.
Today I started green and red cabbage with a bit of carrot, and a separate jar of carrots. Since I use low salt, I like to put in some fresh herbs in, so that's dill in with the carrots. I didn't put anything extra in the cabbage, but I usually put in a hot pepper. I didn't have any this time so I left it out. Garlic cloves are another good thing to put in.
I usually top up the jars (to keep the contents below the water level) with cabbage leaves or in the summer I use horseradish leaves because I have tons of it in the garden. I didn't have either today so I used baby jars on the top to weigh it all down. I usually use 2 litre (quart) jars, but today I used 1 litre for each.
These are pictures from older ferments I've done. I prefer fermenting each vegetable separately as some are softer than others so ferment at different speeds, but I make some combinations occasionally. One of my favourite combos is striped red and white beets, striped yellow beets, kohlrabi and zucchini. Here's a pic of some I made a while back.
hot red peppers and dill cukes
If you're still awake and care for more information, you can read on. Here's some of what I've gleaned from my experiences and from information I've picked up:
I bought a kit of lids with airlocks, made specifically for fermenting vegetables, after trying out different methods. They let the gases out without letting air in, so there's no chance of mold forming. These work best for me, I'd probably forget to burp the jars and have a huge mess on my hands when they explode. lol But you can use regular jars and just burp them (open them occasionally to let the air escape) or use crocks. The trick is to keep the contents under the liquid which prevents mold from forming.
I highly recommend the airlocks. I tried a couple, skeptical about the claims, but after seeing the results, I have to support them. You don't get the scum on top, it greatly lessens the smell, and you can ferment it longer. I put mine in the cold room for a slower ferment. And you can put them in the jars and forget about them until it's time to take them off the shelf.
Fermented vegetables can be ready after only a few days, in a warmer room, but I like the slower ferments better. Apparently slower (colder) and longer fermenting breeds more good bacteria. I've been fermenting mine 4 to 6 weeks, even up to 8 in the cold room. The vegetables stay a lot crisper too. I bought the lids with the airlocks, but if you're handy, you can drill a hole in your lid, put in a gasket and just buy the airlock (pretty cheap) to put into the lid.
You don't have to sterilize the jars as some people's videos will advise. They confuse fermenting with canning or preserves, that's when you have to sterilize. With fermenting, once the good bacteria get going, they will kill any bad bacteria.
I'm on a low-sodium regimen (high blood pressure, and I don't want to take medication), so I use a lot less salt than most recipes advise. Instead of a few tablespoons, I use 1 teaspoon per litre of water, but I also add 1/4 cup of previous liquid, from the last batch, to each 1 litre jar (1/2 cup to a 2L jar). The liquid serves as a starter to get the fermenting going faster to get those good bacteria doing their work and killing any bad bacteria.
If the contents bubble into the airlock (you may also see that in videos, touting that it means it's doing its job) that's not a good thing. It means you overfilled the jar and the gases are having trouble escaping, finally bursting through. That's why they advise to leave an inch or so of headspace. You shouldn't have to put anything under your jars to catch runoff. They don't run with the airlocks (if not overfilled).