Easy Pickling at Home

In recent times, fermented foods have become increasingly popular due to their unique flavors and numerous nutritional health benefits. This ancient food preservation technique not only extends the shelf life of your garden vegetables but also amplifies their nutritional content; so, investing in stoneware crock of your own can be a powerful incentive to starting on a journey to a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle.  Not only will a Polish pottery fermenting crock look beautiful doing its work on your kitchen counter, you’ll be amazed at the results you can produce with this iconic piece of pottery, from simple pickle recipes to more complex dishes like kimchi.

various crock pots and jars with watertight-seal lids

Fermentation Crock: Your Gateway to Healthier Eating

Fermentation crocks are specialized ceramic vessels that aid controlled vegetable decomposition, preventing spoilage while enhancing nutritional value. Equipped with a unique feature—a water-filled gutter in the rim—these crocks keep air out, inhibiting the growth of surface molds or yeasts that could spoil your fermenting veggies.

The Benefits of Fermented Foods

Before we talk about how to use a crock, let’s understand why incorporating fermented foods into your diet is worthwhile:

  1. Enhanced Nutritional Content: Fermentation significantly boosts vegetable nutritional value by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria like lactobacillus. These bacteria produce vitamins, enzymes, and bioactive compounds, making fermented foods more digestible and nutrient-rich.
  2. Probiotic Powerhouse: Fermented foods are natural sources of probiotics, friendly bacteria crucial for a healthy gut microbiome. A balanced gut microbiome supports better digestion, improved immune function, and overall mental well-being.
  3. Preservation Without Preservatives: Fermentation preserves vegetables naturally, eliminating the need for chemical additives. This extends shelf life while reducing food waste.

Picking Your Brine and Air-Tight Jar

6L crock pot by Zakłady Ceramiczne

Brine is as important to the fermentation process as using an air-tight jar is.  Both create an environment where beneficial microorganisms, like lactic acid bacteria, thrive, while inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria.  Most countertop crocks create an air-tight seal by using a lid that, when placed atop the jar in a water-filled trough, stops outside oxygen from getting in while gently allowing building gasses from the fermenting process to escape.  Some also come with weights that hold vegetables under the brine, which can be important for evenly textured and pickled sauerkraut or kimchi, for instance.

Which should you use — a salt brine or vinegar? Both have their merits and can be employed in different ways:

  1. Salt: Salt is the traditional choice for creating a brine. It not only enhances the flavor of the ferment but also encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria. The salt concentration in the brine can vary, but a common ratio is one to three tablespoons of salt per quart of water, depending on your taste preference.
  2. Vinegar: Vinegar can also be used in fermentation, even just as an additional flavoring. However, vinegar ferments involve acetic acid bacteria and have a different taste compared to lacto-fermentation, which relies on lactic acid bacteria. Some people enjoy the tangy notes vinegar brings, but it’s important to note that it might not offer the same probiotic benefits as a salt-based ferment.  A common way to balance the tartness of vinegar is to also add sugar, often according to this ratio: 1 cup vinegar/1 cup water/ 1/4 cup sugar.

Easiest Foods to Ferment, and Wait Times

For those new to fermentation, starting with simple foods is key.  Just chop or shred your favorite vegetables, submerge them in a brine in an air-tight jar, and wait! The fermentation duration varies based on your taste preference and the food being fermented. Keep in mind, the finer you chop or shred your vegetables, the faster they will ferment, and the more you can fit into your jar:

  1. Carrot Sticks: Chop carrots into sticks, create a brine with salt and water, and submerge the carrots for a week to enjoy a crisp and tangy snack in about 1 to 2 weeks (for a mild flavor).  If you like to add some heat, consider adding a tiny pepper, but be careful!  The longer you let your carrots ferment, the spicier the result.
  2. Pickles: Slice cucumbers, prepare a saltwater brine, add some spices and garlic, and let the flavors develop over 2 to 4 weeks for the ideal pickle tang. Homemade pickles are a delightful addition to various dishes.
  3. Sauerkraut: Shred cabbage, sprinkle with salt, and let it sit to ferment for at least 2 to 4 weeks. The cabbage will release its own brine as it wilts, creating the perfect environment for fermentation. You can allow these flavors to continue developing for months. The result is tangy sauerkraut to complement your meals.

Whatever you choose to pickle, the essence lies in experimenting with spices and wait times, as well as finding your preferred flavor.  And it’s a method of preparing food that can undoubtedly help you gain more control over what goes into your body and give you pride in the process — Happy fermenting and happy eating!