An ancient process, crock fermentation is a natural means humans use to develop foods, medications and more. As well, a recent study showed that 4 to 6 ounces of lacto-fermented cabbage, or raw sauerkraut, had a 10 trillion probiotic count, which is superior to probiotic capsules.
“Until about 20 years ago, I didn’t realize I was eating foods made from fermentation,” says Dixie Waters.
Intrigued, Waters bought 10 liter crocks and fermentation tools from Stone Creek Trading, along with the book Real Food Fermentation: Preserving Whole Fresh Food with Live Cultures in Your Home Kitchen by Alex Lewin, published by Quarry Books. Now she also follows YouTube’s “Clean Food Living” channel.
Getting Started With Crock Fermentation
For crock fermentation, Waters, a 45-year gardener, grows vegetables on the family’s Oklahoma acreage. She also buys at farmers markets. From grocery stores, she buys organic. She says frozen vegetables do not work. As well, bags of fresh, precut vegetables have been rinsed or soaked in a preservative that keeps them from fermenting.
Throughout the process, Waters keeps everything clean, and repeatedly washes her hands. Using warm, soapy water, she freshly washes and cleans her crocks, then rinses them well.
She washes vegetables and puts them in a water-and-vinegar bath for a few minutes. While still wet, she cuts them into as many uniform pieces as possible.
All About the Brine
Waters makes brine, comprised of water and salt, ahead of time, so the salt completely dissolves. She uses pink Himalayan or sea salt. But she says it’s okay to simply put the salt in the water, stir it and add it to the crock. She uses two tablespoons salt per one quart of filtered or well water. (Table salt has additives that stop the fermentation process. Tap water contains chemicals that are problematic with fermentation.)
The brine keeps bacteria away from the process, and she has never had bacteria issues.
“I keep the brine in a lidded jar,” Waters says. “I’ve kept some for two years and used it. As long as it’s not contaminated, it’s just salt water. And the lids keep it away from oxygen. Salt is a preservative. If I have extra vegetables during garden season, I can throw them in a jar with brine and just ferment a single jar. Some people reuse brine on their next fermentation. That doesn’t work well for me.”
Waters does not use jarred dill weed because it floats to the top during crock fermentation and causes a mess. Instead, she buys fresh dill and puts the entire dill in, snaking it around the crock bottom. The vegetables hold the dill in place so it does not float to the top.
Layering the vegetables so they ferment evenly, Waters places more dense vegetables, such as carrots, into the bottom of the crock. After that, the vegetable order doesn’t matter. She finishes by completely covering the vegetables with cabbage leaves to keep everything from air exposure.
Next she places two glass fermentation weights on top of the cabbage leaves, pressing down with her hands on the weights to release trapped air. The weights prevent the vegetables from floating to the top above the brine. Then she pours in brine until the vegetables and glass weights are covered.
Waters then puts the crock lid in place. Then she fills the water seal groove around the lid with water. She keeps the crocks sitting on the kitchen counter or the dining room table and checks the groove periodically to make sure it remains full.
Waiting on the Fermentation Process
“I leave my vegetables in the crock anywhere from seven to 14 days,” Waters says. “Starting at three to four days, I carefully use wooden tongs to reach in, take vegetables, and test them to see if they have the crispness and taste I want. But don’t disturb the vegetables. When you reach in, remove anything that has escaped and floated to the top.
“When the vegetables reach the point you like, you’re finished. But if you have any bad odor, or any doubt, throw out the food. Don’t take a chance.”
Maintaining the appropriate ph level, or “power of hydrogen,” ensures that harmful bacteria doesn’t grow in the jars after food preservation.
Waters removes the vegetables from the crocks and places them in canning jars, in the refrigerator, for the family to eat. Her family enjoys eating the brine, which is full of probiotics.
Cucumbers are better if fermented alone. And Waters says sauerkraut is fermented differently than other vegetables.
She says fermented foods help with digestion, and clean out the colon and intestinal system. As well, she claims her family migraine sufferers no longer suffer migraines, which she attributes to her fermented vegetables.
“Start small, fermenting just a jar of vegetables,” Waters says. “So my grandchildren would try fermented food, I fermented beets with the vegetables, which turned them pink. My granddaughter calls them pinkalicious.”