Culturing in a Cookie Jar
Once you know all the benefits of adding cultured foods to your diet and you’ve made the decision to culture your own vegetables, you might be tempted to go out and buy an expensive fermentation crock. While there are some benefits to being able to culture large amount of vegetables at one time, there are also some benefits to using a very inexpensive clear glass cookie jar. A one-gallon jar costs less than $10.00 at most large retail stores and a two-gallon jar is only slightly more. A one-gallon jar holds three to four pounds of vegetables, still leaving plenty of space at the top for expansion. And, when not being used for cultured vegetables, these jars make great kombucha-brewing vessels.
If you have children at home, the fermentation process is a great science activity and kids love watching the bubbles that form while the vegetables are fermenting. It’s much easier to get kids excited about eating carrots they have seen transformed right before their eyes from plain carrot rounds to “dilly carrot chips.” Even adults enjoy watching the process.
To start your “cookie jar culturing” wash the jar and rinse it well with hot water. It does not need to be thoroughly dry. Prepare about three pounds of vegetables. Carrots are a great vegetable to start with. Ideally you’ll want to use organic carrots and the larger they are the better. Scrub or peel them and slice into 1/4-inch rounds. A food processor makes quick work of this. Place them in the cookie jar along with a few cloves of peeled garlic and several good-sized fronds of fresh dill. Even in the winter months you can find organic baby dill in the produce department of many food markets.
The next step is to mix a brine to pour over the carrots. A standard 5% salt brine is fine: about 3 tablespoons of Celtic sea salt dissolved in 1 quart of room-temperature filtered water. Filtered water is important because if your water comes from a municipal water supply chances are it has chlorine in it, which can prevent proper fermentation. Once the salt has dissolved you are ready to pour it over the carrots. To help achieve good fermentation you can add either 1/4 cup whey or one packet of prepared vegetable starter culture, like Caldwell’s Starter Culture , dissolved in 1/4 cup water, along with the brine. If the water does not cover the vegetables completely, add a little more water until it does. The vegetables must stay submerged under the brine, and since the cookie jar has a nice, wide opening a small saucer works well. Place a small glass jar filled with water on top of the saucer to keep it weighed down. Put the lid on the cookie jar, and place it somewhere out of direct sunlight, but in plain view so everyone in the house can watch the transformation process. The ideal temperature for fermentation is around 68° to 70°F. The cookie jar should be no more than one-half to two-thirds full because carrots get quite active as they ferment. Just to be on the safe side, put a plate or tray under the jar to catch any overflow. In four to five days remove the lid and taste the carrots. If the taste is pleasing to you, transfer the carrots to quart jars for storage in the refrigerator. If you want them tangier re-cover the jar and leave them for an additional two to three days before refrigerating.
Once you see how easy and inexpensive it is to culture your own delicious fermented vegetables the possibilities will be limitless. Sauerkraut, kimchee, green beans, and of course, cucumbers, are just a few of the possibilities that will keep your cookie jar filled with healthy “living” treats to enjoy year-round.
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