Along with dehydration, fermentation has been used for a very long time as a way to harness food preservation. Without refrigeration, canning, or freezing; these means of putting food up were critical for the safety and livelihood of cultures everywhere. But in our modern day culture where these other high-energy means of food preservation are available, is it even necessary to pursue such a challenge? Is it too good to be true that you can ferment pickles in minutes of hands-on time instead of standing over a boiling canner in the height of summer? Is it possible to preserve food for months with an age-old method? After all, if it doesn’t actually preserve the pickle for long periods then, besides the health benefits, is it a practical solution? After many years of practicing lacto-fermentation and talking to those who do the same – all without refrigeration – I’ve poked around to find the answer.
In The RefrigeratorI started out by making fermented pickles, krauts, and salsas by the gallon and storing them in the refrigerator. This allowed me to dabble in fermentation and test the waters of exactly how well this method would work to keep our food fresh and filled with probiotics. I did lose a few jars to mold or rot. However, the very large majority – probably at least 90% – kept for 6-7 months in a refrigerator. Using this method of cold storage, I recommend allowing the vegetables to fully ferment before transferring to the refrigerator. The extreme cold of the refrigerator pretty much halts the fermentation process entirely.
In The Root CellarOur root cellar is still a very large hole in the ground. In speaking with friends and neighbors who have been making ferments for quite some time – and storing them in the cellar – I’ve heard mixed results.The good news is, folks are safely and happily eating their ferments a full year after they were stored! From what I can tell, the success of long-term storage depends on several factors:
- The temperature of the cellar. Anything cooler than room temperature certainly aids in keeping these guys in a good state longer. However, it seems a temperature of 45-65 degrees seems most ideal.
- The conditions they were fermented under. Obviously, you want to start with vegetables that were fermented under ideal conditions – not too hot, well-protected, and fresh ingredients are all critical. Also, utilizing clean containers, plenty of brine, and a thorough fermentation process is important.
- The ability to recognize a safe mold or yeast. We often ferment in sealed jars and I find that, contrary to rampant opinions on the internet, these jars actually aid in the ability to keep good bacteria in and bad bacteria out, when the jars are used properly. Open-crock ferments, on the other hand, are quite common and safe. Oftentimes their open exposure to air results in yeast or mold growth. While this may make you squeamish, it is perfectly safe. But it’s important to know what’s normal and what is not.