We have a fairly large stash of mason jars, also known as canning jars. We use these for canning here on our little homestead, but I also use them for just about all sorts of things – making coffee, brewing herbal tea, storing various dried goods, holding pencils, and lots of fermentation experiments.
The nice thing about using them for ferments is that 1). they serve a multitude of purposes, so they save on space and 2). they’re just right for most fermentation projects. We have pint, quart, and half-gallon sizes around so we can make a small batch of cultured salsa, or keep a whopping sourdough starter.
Here’s how we utilize them for culturing.
1. VEGETABLE FERMENTS
I know there are two camps on fermenting vegetables in canning jars. I’m in favor of it, if you know what you’re doing and can provide the right circumstances. If not, you can get yourself an airlock system that can be used with your vast collection of mason jars.
I make pint-sized batches of cultured condiments, use the quarts for storing open-crock sauerkraut, and make big batches of whatever needs to be fermented in those lovely half-gallon jars.
2. SOURDOUGH STARTER
I always start my sourdough starter in a quart-sized jar. Because I’m feeding it to increase the yeast population for the first week or two, much of the discarded starter goes into sourdough pancakes or to the chickens anyways.
Once I’m in full baking mode, I like to switch over to a half-gallon jar so that I can keep lots of fresh starter for baking loaves of yummy sourdough bread.
3. WATER KEFIR BREWING
Water kefir is fun to brew in quart jars, at first, because you can check on the state of the grains and watch the little bubbles float to the surface. As we get more serious about churning out larger batches, I inevitably switch to the half-gallon size.
I’ve also successfully performed a second fermentation in quart-sized jars. The key is to use the canning ring and lid and to check to see that the lid has not been damaged in anyway. This will create a tight enough seal to hold carbonation, but I always check it once or twice a day to be sure the lid isn’t popping up from too much pressure.
4. MILK KEFIR BREWING
Milk kefir does well in a quart-sized jar for us. That’s about what we can consume in one day when we’re all having just a little bit. When I use kefir for making soft cheeses and salad dressings then I like to start a half-gallon jar.
5. YOGURT MAKING
Making large batches of yogurt in half-gallon jars once a week has worked really well for us in the past. I can get four or five of them culturing together – either in a cooler with a heatpad if using a thermophilic culture or right on the counter if using a mesophilic culture.
Making large batches of yogurt does require that you plan ahead and have enough starter for all of those half-gallon jars, though.
So, that is how I utilize mason jars for culturing. Of course they also work really well for shaking up a quick kombucha or kefir-based salad dressing, storing soft cheeses, and making smaller batches of kombucha too.