Class #5 of the Can It Academy Food Preservation and Cottage Arts Certification Program: Pickling and Fermentation
Knowing how to preserve food beyond jams and jellies is super cool! I’m starting to feel more homestead-ish every day. Class #5 was all about pickling and fermentation and, as always, Chef Miller was an encyclopedia of information. (Honestly, I don’t know how he rattles off all the facts that he does each class. I keep looking at his hands for scribbled notes, but it’s all tucked very neatly in his brain, ready to be shared at the asking.)
So, one of the key factors to a successful pickling: Vinegar. 5% acidity vinegar or higher, to be exact. Adding this acid is what preserves the food and, more importantly, prevents the growth of botulism. Vinegar good. Botulism bad. (Below are three vinegars and only the one on the left should be used for canning, so read your labels!) Ok, I’m glad we’ve got that established.
The salt you use is also important and, as you can see, there are quite a few out there to choose from. Make sure to use pure salt with no additives like iodine. You’ll also want to measure salt by weight, not volume, as this will differ with each brand. And the water you use is equally as important, especially for fermentation, and must be purified. Many bottled or tap water sources use chlorine, so just go bottled and purified and you’ll be good to go.
Chef showed us a great tip when sizing our veggies to be canned. Since you want them packed in fairly tight with little chance for moving around and causing air bubbles, stick them in your jar, mark a small incision, then make your cuts going a half inch down for jar headspace.
Making a brine for your veggies is where you can get creative with your flavors. Dill, mustard seed, celery seed, pepper flakes, oregano… the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. There are a bunch of pre-made pickling spices and mixes, but don’t bother – make your own.
As always, remove air bubbles and make sure your brine reaches the jar height per your recipe. In this case, that was 1/2″ of headspace for both the cucumbers and carrots.
Low temperature pasteurization is another way to can. Sous Vide is a method of cooking sealed food (airtight jars or bags) in a water bath, usually at super low temperatures for long periods of time. We used this Sansaire temperature control, which brings your water up to the exact temperature you want and keeps it there! Pretty cool toy, I mean tool. In the case of canning, we brought up the temperature to 180 degrees for 30 minutes because it is at that temperature that bacteria dies. With this cool machine, you can guarantee you got it up to temperature exactly. Just don’t go over 185 degrees, though. The cellulose structure of veggies starts to break down at that point.
And fermentation… with the popularity of kombucha, you’d think fermentation was some new fangled way to preserve. But evidence of food fermentation dates back to 4000 BCE China, and fermentation, as a whole, to Neolithic times. The health benefits of eating fermented foods (hello, cheese!) are enormous. There is a great paper on the chemistry of fermentation here.
For class we made sauerkraut. Chef shredded the cabbage and added some carrot and red cabbage to it for color, as well as seasonings, such as caraway and celery seed.
We mixed it up by hand, getting all the seasonings and sugars combined, then packed it into our jars pretty tightly. You’ll most likely see juices already forming from the salt drawing out the moisture from the cabbage. You’ll want to leave room for a weight to continue putting pressure on the cabbage to keep forcing water out and keep it under the brine. We filled plastic baggies with liquid to do just that.
Chef Miller sells a line of awesome fermenting jars that you can find online here or at the following So Cal stores: Whole foods in Pasadena, Steinfillers in Long Beach or Fermentation Farm in Costa Mesa.
And some other fermenting/pickling crocks…
Some fermenting tips and trivia take-aways:
- Sauerkraut is always thought of as a German export, but history shows Chinese laborers eating it as the Great Wall of China was being built. Gengis Kahn most likely brought it Europe.
- Vinegar will help with acidity, but you still need to process for long-term storage.
- Rice Wine Vinegars are under 5% acidity, so do not use them for pickling unless your recipe specifically calls for it.
- When pickling in a water bath, you must wait 5 minutes to take it out after turning the flame off.
- Never use ground spices, only whole.
You’ll want to come back for class 6: beer making! And vinegars… but beer making! Awesome, right?
Previous Food Forward Can It Academy classes from our series can be found here: