The Internet is full of daunting encyclopedic guides to fermentation. We break it down to the basics.
A mason jar packed with cultured or fermented vegetables at your local urban provisions shop will likely set you back $10 to $15. Given that the time and materials involved are no more than five minutes and $2, respectively, one imagines that the makers of cultured vegetables have spent eight years training with fermentation masters in some stone-age village, or that they’ve mortgaged their house to pay for high-end fermenting equipment to ensure that the dilly beans come out tasting properly pickled.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s how it works. This process can be applied to virtually any vegetable.
The finer you chop or shred the vegetables, the faster they will ferment (and the greater the quantity you can stuff in a jar). You can also ferment things like carrots, onions, radishes, beets — even whole cabbage leaves. It’s primarily a matter of personal preference and how you intend to use the finished product. Depending on the vegetable, wash and peel as you would if you were going to eat it raw.
Salt prevents mold organisms, while favoring beneficial bacteria, and results in a crisp-textured fermented product. Stuff the vegetables in a mason jar or fermentation crock and cover them with a brine made from 1 tablespoon of salt per cup of water (use natural, non-iodized salt and, preferably, bottled spring water). Mix in herbs and other seasonings as desired.
The key here is for the vegetables to remain submerged in the brine, as anything exposed to air will rot. For vegetables that float, find a way to weigh them down — fermentation weights are the easiest way to go.
Let it Ferment
If using a mason jar, tighten the lid until it is barely snug. This prevents oxygen from entering, but lets carbon dioxide escape; otherwise pressure can build until a messy explosion occurs (fermentation crocks typically have a water seal for this purpose). Store in a cool, dark place, ideally where the temperature stays around 65 to 70 degrees.
Fermentation times vary from three days to three months or more, depending on the vegetable, temperature and other factors. The only true guide to know when it’s ready is taste is that you want a pleasant, effervescent zing. Enjoy your dill pickles! Once the optimal flavor is attained, move the batch to the refrigerator to stop further fermentation.