Adventures with Homemade Ferments

Homemade sauerkraut, ready to eat!

I’ve been making sauerkraut for a few years now. I kind of sidled my way into it, because I was so apprehensive about undertaking the fermentation process by myself. I was already sold on the benefits of sauerkraut (and was already eating store-bought, unpasteurized sauerkraut), and I was fascinated by the fermentation process. But I was so worried about stuffing it up or being unsure about whether or not it had actually worked that I hesitated to try it.

I was also a bit stumped on the equipment front. You see, lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process, which means that it won’t work in the presence of oxygen. The cabbage should be packed down and completely submerged in brine to ensure that no oxygen can get to it. A fermentation crock is designed to exclude the oxygen, but I didn’t want to buy one of these because they are expensive. But I had no idea how I was going to ensure my cabbage remained weighted and submerged.

So I had many excuses 🙂 But I really wanted to master this very important traditional food technique! So I decided to start easy and small, and chose the Ginger Carrots recipe in Nourishing Traditions. I followed the recipe and ended up with slime! Yes, long slimy goo was dripping off my fork when I picked out some carrots after the 3 day fermentation time. Was this correct? I wasn’t sure if it had worked!! I didn’t think slime was the correct outcome. I tried a little bit, and it tasted tangy and ok, but the slime made me uneasy. My husband convinced me to throw it out. I think the reason I got slime was because the carrot wasn’t properly submerged in brine and was therefore exposed to the air. I hadn’t weighted it and hadn’t covered the carrot with enough brine, and the packed carrot rose up to the surface of the brine. Even though I had a lid on my jar, there is still an oxygen pocket between the top of the brine and the lid of the jar.

I was a little discouraged and didn’t try again for a while.

Decided to try again. I REALLY wanted to be able to do this. This time I made sure I had enough brine in the jar to completely cover the vegetables and I put a smaller jar inside the mouth of the jar I was fermenting in, to weigh down the carrots. This time it worked! How did I know that it worked? It looked good (no slime, no mold). It smelt good (no off smells, and smelt fresh and tangy). It tasted good (tangy, crunchy, a little salty). Success!

Look at it. Smell it. Taste it. If it’s all good, then it worked!

But I still wanted to make sauerkraut. So I had a go, and cheated a little. As a starter, I added some of the liquid from the store-bought brand that I was currently eating. This is actually a really good way to start if you’re a little unsure, because you’re inoculating your sauerkraut with a healthy dose of the right bacteria from the start. But for this to work, your store-bought brand must contain live bacteria ie. it must NOT be pasteurized. I weighted down my cabbage and made sure it was submerged in brine. I left it at room temperature for a few days, then removed the weight and transferred my sauerkraut to the fridge.

Success! It looked good, it smelt good, and it tasted good!

But I wanted to be able to make this on my own, without relying on liquid from an existing batch as a starter. So I followed the Nourishing Traditions recipe of using both whey and salt. And it worked! I had finally, successfully, made my own sauerkraut from scratch!

Since then I’ve made sauerkraut numerous times. I’ve had a few failures – occasional mold and more slime, but I’ve always known because it either didn’t look right, or didn’t smell right……and if it doesn’t smell right I’m certainly not going to taste it! But I’ve always been able to pin point where I went wrong. Most of the time it was because I left it to ferment in some place that was too warm, or forgot about it and left it fermenting for too long!

I’ve since experimented with many different types of vegetable ferments, although sauerkraut remains my favorite. I’ve also made beet kvass, kefir, yogurt, young coconut kefir and sourdough starter. I don’t make all of these on a regular basis, but with practice I’ve become much more confident in my abilities to ferment and I enjoy experimenting.

Lacto-fermentation is such an amazing process, and offers amazing health benefits. It also feels really good to know how to do something like this – you really feel like you’re crafting something wonderful, and participating in a time-honored real food practice. I hope you feel inspired to give it a go! Don’t worry about stuffing it up, its all part of the learning process. If it doesn’t look right, smell right or taste right, you will know if something has gone wrong 🙂

In my next post, I’ll go over my method for making sauerkraut, and some of the things that I’ve learned to watch out for along the way. I’ll also show how I solved my equipment dilemma.

Linking to: Real Food Wednesdays @ Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Healthy 2day Wednesdays @ day2dayjoys, Probiotic Food Challenge @ Real Food Forager, Full Plate Thursdays @ Miz Helen’s, Freaky Friday @ Real Food Freaks, Fight Back Friday @ Food Renegade

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17 Comment

  1. Jenna says: Reply

    I am still stuck where you were :). I have tried pickles twice, and both times the liquid was really cloudy, and I just didn’t know if it was right – so I tossed them. I would really like to try again, but I’m never sure what I am looking for in the end product. I keep chickening out :)!!

    1. Debbie says: Reply

      Hi Jenna, I’ve never tried pickles before, but I’ve heard they’re kinda tricky. Were you using whole or sliced? Were they large or small, and how many were you trying to do at once? I’d probably try sliced first, and only a small amount – no more than a quart-size mason jar. I’d also make sure the pickles were completely submerged in brine and weighted down. I’d use both whey and salt. Maybe you’re doing all of this already! But how about trying grated carrots first – the Ginger Carrots recipe in Nourishing Traditions is a good place to start if you have that book. Trying something other than pickles might help you to get a successful result, and to know what to look out for when you try pickles again.

  2. great article! I think we all go through that at the start. Fermenting is so much fun! I just looked around the kitchen the other day and thought – wow, I don’t have to TRY to get fermented foods into our meals anymore! Kefir, yogurt, kraut, ginger carrots, kimchi, pickle relish, pickles, sweet potato fly (this one is fabulous!), kombucha, home cured proscuitto, raw cheeses, salami – it’s all amazing with great health benefits.

    Thanks for posting this – it helps others to see that we all have “oops” moments sometimes.

    Oh – check out fermentationclub.com – if you are interested in a group fermentation tomorrow 6:30 email me asap, we are getting together to make kimchi in Forestville : )

    1. Debbie says: Reply

      Wow, you have been busy! I’d love to try making sweet potato fly, might try that one next. I agree, it is so much fun! I’ll definitely check out fermentationclub.com, thanks!

  3. Always wanted to try this, Debbie. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Debbie says: Reply

      Hi Chris, I’d love for you to give it a go! It really is a lot of fun and quite addictive 🙂

  4. That jar of Kraut looks so pretty and I am sure would be delicious. I use this process with pickles all the time but have not tried the Kraut, but I would love to give it a try. Thank you so much for sharing with our 1st Anniversary Party at Full Plate Thursday. Have a great week end and come back soon!
    Miz Helen

  5. My results with the Nourishing Traditions approach was hit-and-miss. I’ve had better luck with Wild Fermentation which relies on salt instead of whey. I wonder if some of our kitchens are just better suited for one approach or the other.

    I’d be honored if you’d share this post on our new weekly link up — Friday Food Flicks — Amanda

    1. Debbie says: Reply

      Absolutely, I’d love to!

  6. Viv says: Reply

    Thanks for this post! I have just set my first attempt at fermented food today – sour beets from the Wild Fermentation book. Hopefully it won’t turn out slimy and horrible!! Look forward to reading more of your blog, just discovered via Food Renegade.

    1. Debbie says: Reply

      Hi Viv, thanks for stopping by! I hope your sour beets turn out well. I have the Wild Fermentation book too, and I love it! Now I’m going to hop on over to your blog…..

  7. […] I mentioned in my previous post, I was determined to learn how to make my own sauerkraut, but it took me a while (and a lot of […]

  8. Grace says: Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I have had no luck so far because it’s just too cold in my house! I’m not sure how to fix that, actually, but I’m considering a continuous kombucha maker with a heating element. That would only help with kombucha, though. I might be s.o.l. for other ferments. The only thing I’ve had any luck with at all is sourdough. I’m finally getting pretty good with that. Nice to see it isn’t all roses and ice cream every time for everyone else. I’ll keep trying!

    1. Debbie says: Reply

      It shouldn’t be too cold in your house…..not if its warm enough for you to live in! It just might mean you have to leave the sauerkraut for ferment for 2-3 weeks instead of 1 week. Definitely keep trying, and good luck!

  9. kym says: Reply

    I am just beginning to learn about the importance of enzymes &bought some store bought Polish saurkraut and some raw milk today…so much to learn! Thank you.

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