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Friday, September 6, 2013

Inexpensive Solutions To Home Fermentation

We love Kefir at our house! My kids have grown up with milk kefir and they would have it morning, noon and night if it was up to them!
But because I have been off Dairy since earlier this year, I branched out into Water Kefir a while back, as I still wanted to get all those good probiotics! And we have totally fallen in love with Water Kefir!
We all love it and we love experimenting with different flavors, different stages of fizziness, etc.
We generally have our Water Kefir in the evenings with dinner and the kids have become quite the connoisseurs, judging every new flavor as to it’s fizziness, ripeness, overall flavor profile and if we should have it again!
So, after a while of doing water kefir, I started looking into other home fermenting, especially with all the fruit and vegetable abundance summer brings with it!

{From left to right: Water Kefir Lemonade, Grape Water Kefir and in the back in the large bottle is some Blueberry Water Kefir. Then a half gallon jar of Water Kefir in the process of fermenting, two jars of fermenting peppers and other vegetables and a jar of lacto-fermented sauerkraut!}

The internet is full of fermenting recipes, ideas, descriptions of the benefits and last but by no means least, gadgets and contraptions that aid you in proper fermenting. All 0f it of course costs quite a bit of money, which I was not prepared to spend.
When you first start playing with it, you can do it with just regular mason jars, but once you do it on a regular basis, it really helps to have the proper equipment!
So, I went about rigging up my own!
It’s not all that hard. Since I use Mason Jars for just about anything anyway, I am of course using them for fermenting too.
The caps I am about to show you how to make rather quickly and inexpensively, run from $10 to almost double that on the internet and are basically exactly the same.
For my initial set-up I used what I already had on hand. Note that there should be no metal touching fermented food or drinks, so please always choose glass or BPA free plastic lids!

You will need Plastic Lids for Mason Jars or Tattler Lids (make sure they fit your jars - wide mouth or regular,) a 3-piece Airlock, 1/2 inch rubber grommet and a rubber gasket. Unless you’re using the Tattler lids, then you don’t need a gasket as that is already provided. You do however need one of the metal rings that come with a mason jar to tighten the finished lid down.
Since the  plastic lids for the mason jars are rather leaky and not air tight at all, we need to trim the rubber gasket so it fits inside the lid and seals it.
You only need to cut a few millimeters off around the outside, which is easily done with a pair of scissors.

Next you need to use a 1/2 inch spade bit and drill a hole in the middle of your lid.
Once you drilled your hole, place the rubber grommet in the hole and adjust so it sits properly. Next insert the airlock and fit the trimmed rubber gasket - and you’re done!

To use your airlock lid, pull off the little lid off the 3-piece airlock and fill it about 1/3 full of water. Place the lid back on and screw the entire lid on your fermenting jar.

For the Tattler Lids, you do the same thing as above and then tighten down the lid insert with the metal ring provided with your mason jar!

I usually use this lid for my first ferment with the water kefir grains.

Then I remove the floating raisins* (I keep them in a little container in the freezer and use them as probiotic, pre-soaked raisins in baking and smoothies,) strain out the kefir grains and the lemon (I squeeze the juice into the finished water kefir and use the rind like I would any other organic lemon rind.) 
*The raisins are there to feed the kefir grains as well as a good indicator as to when the kefir is done with the first ferment, as they all float to the top (and stay on top) when it’s ready! During fermenting time you often see some being pushed up to the top by the bubbles, but they sink back down to the bottom. Until it’s ready, then they stay on top!
I then bottle our water kefir with a little fruit juice (our favorites so far have been organic grape juice, blackberry, raspberry, pineapple and cranberry) in flip top bottles (check your local wine and beer brewing store for those, they tend to be less expensive locally,) leaving them out on the counter for another day, burping them once.
Then I place the in the refrigerator. We usually drink the water kefir within a day after it has been placed in the refrigerator, even though we have found that some flavors develop better if they are given an additional day in the refrigerator, like the water kefir lemonade and ginger ale!

If you want to be really adventurous, you can also make your own Pickl-It jars. You would be drilling the hole into the glass lid however, which can be a little bit more involved than a simple drilling into a plastic lid. But it’s doable. There are plenty of tutorials about drilling into glass on the internet and once you have done that, you just add the grommet and the 3-piece airlock as above!
I am getting ready to try this soon, as I just stocked up on some of those jars at IKEA! They currently have quite the variety of flip-top bottles and jars!
I will keep you updated on my progress!
Now let’s move on to fermenting vegetables.
In fermenting it is pretty much the most important thing to keep any fruit and vegetables submerged and well below the brine. The vegetables float to the top and anything that peeks out over the brine can grow moldy and spoil your entire jar.
So fermenters usually use weights that keep the food below the brine. For large crocks you can buy ceramic weights, but for the individual jars, you can purchase glass disks that keep your food submerged.
They are however quite expensive and it occurred to me that there must be something less expensive out there that would do the same job and that would be commonly available!
I did find it eventually, in the form of  the dollar store glass candle holders!

Yep, you’ve probably seen them before and they fit into most mason jar openings just right.
The best part? They are $1 for two. So yes, that’s 50 cents instead of $9 + per glass disk!
First, I thought the indentation in the middle might present a problem, but as it turns out, it’s actually a good thing as it makes getting the glass disk out of the jar much easier. You can just grip it from the middle and lift it out!

Just make sure you place the glass candleholder with the hole facing up in your jar and that you don’t have any food in the middle indentation, as that would invite spoilage! Having the brine in there is fine though!

And yes, it has occurred to me too that that cheap dollar store glass is probably made in China and that it may contain lead. So, I consulted my trusty Lead Check before I started using them and I can report that they do NOT contain lead! Yay!

I’ve been collecting a variety of fermenting recipes, which I will be trying. I have collected them here, if you want to follow along and try some of your own!

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  1. Thank you very much for the information! I really enjoyed reading it. I am learning about fermentation and this will help me a lot. :-) keep the good work! Namasté

  2. Hi:
    Really liked your articles. We will be making our equipment from your instructions. Thank you for that.
    I am personally concerned about the final Sodium content of the end product from this process. Do you have any info on how much of the pickling salt is retained if I were to wash off the external excess prior to ingesting? Heart problems do not like salt/sodium.

  3. I'm sorry, unknown, I have no idea. I doubt anybody could reliably determine that without a lab, anyway.


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Birgit Kerr