“If you’ve added vinegar to vegetables and let them sit, you’ve made quick pickles. If you’ve added hot vinegar and spices to vegetables and then boiled them in a hot water bath, you’ve made canned pickles. If you’ve poured salt brine over vegetables or mixed salt in with finely chopped vegetables and let them sit at room temperature for several days to months, you’ve been fermenting your vegetables.”
Fermentation is different from canned or jarred veggies, since fermented veggies are still alive and the microbes preserving them thriving. That’s why making fermented veggies is an incredible way to start bringing living ferments into your life. They’re quite easy to make, delicious with just about any meal, and extremely nutritious and beneficial to your gut flora.
Vegetable fermentation took root in temperate climates where people needed to preserve vegetables for winter. This was one of their only sources of vitamin C, as discovered later by Capt. Cook who realized bringing barrels of sauerkraut and buckets of limes on board prevented scurvy within his crew.
The other cool thing it does is preserve its "aliveness". Living foods have an abundance of enzymes and probiotic bacteria either in or on them, so allowing people to eat living foods throughout long spells without fresh crops helped keep their digestion functioning.
The way vegetable fermentation works is through a process called lacto-fermentation. Lactic acid bacteria is found on nearly all plants, and the lactic acid it produces inhibits the growth of mold and other bacteria. Thus, when mixed with salt and submerged away from air into an anaerobic environment, the veggies are fermented without the growth of other harmful intruders.
Lactic acid bacteria is pretty cool, since it’s so symbiotic with humans. It’s one of the very first microbes we ingest as we are born, and it’s plentiful in breast milk. We should really be consuming it our entire lives, and it's why eating lacto-fermented foods is found in cultures from around the world. Sadly, with the advent of antibiotics and the germaphobia craze, we have tended to damage much of our gut supply by adulthood. That’s why incorporating lacto-fermented veggies into your daily diet can be such an incredible dietary aid.
First off, there’s no one way to ferment anything! Every culture had different ways and preferences, and even different families in the same culture might choose to ferment in different ways. Even I make fermented veggies about 4 different ways. I’m saying this to remind you to play around with recipes and methods. Here I’m just going to break down the easiest way I personally know to make simple, homemade, fermented veggies.
What you need is a 1/2 gallon mason jar, and a perfect pickler lid (find HERE).
Chop your favorite veggies up and pack in jar.
Fill with brine to the 8 cup mark and shake out any excess air bubbles.
Screw on perfect pickler lid and stick in a temperate place in your house for 1 week. The perfect pickler lid lets bubbles out without letting air in, making it an anaerobic environment. Voila! Now you have fermented veggies to stick in your fridge!
To make brine: Separately, boil some water and mix it into a 1 litre jar with 3 tbsp sea salt and stir until it dissolves. Fill the jar up with water the rest of the way. This is your brine. [For a less salty brine you can use 1-2 tbsp sea salt, and after cooled add 1 cup of whey. This will also make your ferments more bubble I've found].
Veggie Ideas: I personally love to make any ferments with some mixture of cabbage, carrots, ginger, garlic, collard greens, peppers, or napa cabbage. It depends on my mood and what’s at the farmers market. I rarely use cucumbers because they seem to turn soggy in the Kaua`i heat, but maybe you’ll have more luck in cooler climates ;)
For more in-depth information please check out Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz! This guy is my guru, and will soon be yours too.