Fermenting veggies is fun, practical and healthy. But how annoying when those hand picked, washed and prepped vegetables peep over the brine instead of staying completely submerged. Why do we need to keep those vegetable totally submerged you may be wondering? Simple, to create an oxygen free environment and protect food from rotting. During the fermentation process, carbon dioxide produced rises up through the vegetables and pushes out any oxygen that remains to the top of the jar. Any food that is not completely submerged and in contact with this oxygen can become contaminated from bacteria, kahm yeast, a frothy layer that develops on the surface, or mold. It would be a shame to have to chuck out the lot when such mishaps are so easily preventable.
All great fermentation begins with the right kind of fermenting vessel. We are partial to wide mouth jars. With a conveniently large opening, you can choose a variety of methods of submerging or weighting the vegetables inside the vessel. Every fermenter, from the novice to the seasoned guru, has a personal preference on how they like to keep those veggies down under. Read through the ten methods provided in this guide and choose a technique that works best for you.
Non-organic fermentation weights are generally made of food safe ceramic or glass and are easily available. They are practical and reusable - dishwasher and oven safe too. Check the size of the fermenting jar and the diameter of the weights to make sure they will fit.
A cheesecloth, muslin bag or reusable cotton tea bags filled with food safe pie weights work beautifully to keep those veggies nicely compressed under the brine. These make a convenient option as they will fill any sized jar you have on hand.
Ever considered making your own weights from everyday edible materials in your kitchen? The most commonly used organic weights for pickling are cabbage core, apples and daikon radish. Place enough pieces of cabbage core over vegetables to weight down (especially good when fermenting Sauerkraut.) Peel and core, apple or radish. Slice into thick discs, trimming edges if necessary, and gently place as many discs as needed to keep vegetables submerged.
Fill some brine into a ziplock bag and use to weigh down vegetables. Overfilling bag will prevent you from putting the lid back on (only loosely secure your lid to allow carbon dioxide to escape.)
A Cabbage Leaf or Other Large Vegetable Pieces
For those days when you’re running low on energy, this technique ticks the box. Tuck a cabbage leaf over the top of the prepared vegetables. Often this leaf alone will be enough to keep the vegetables in place under the brine. However, just to be doubly sure, thin wide strips of zucchini or carrot can be placed over the vegetables as a mat.
A Small Ceramic or Glass Dish
Mini jelly jars, condiment dishes or small dessert ramekins that fit inside the mouth of the jar work very well. Partially fill the jar with water for extra weight. Every now again, compress veggies by pressing down on the nesting jar.
A Small Dish Plus an Additional Weight
Place a small dish or a silicone cupcake liner on top of the prepared vegetables and weight down with a heavy object like food safe marbles, pie weights or whiskey stones, heavy enough to hold down your ferment.
Marbles make great weights but make sure that they are paint, glaze and lead free. Tie them up in a muslin cloth or similar and place over vegetables.
If you live close to a beach or out in the countryside where stones are aplenty you’re in luck. Stones and pebbles are nature’s gift to the pickling enthusiast. They make great weights and will cost you nothing. It is advisable however to stay clear of limestone. Limestone is rich in calcite and reacts with the lactic acid created during fermentation. Always, boil the stone/s for 15 minutes before using.
Stainless Steel Chain
Restaurant-grade stainless steel weight chains make a great weight solution to add to your ferments. They easily fit into any size jar and are reusable. More ever, these weight chains are dishwasher and oven safe and double over as pie weights. Food safe stainless steel will not rust or react to the acid created during fermentation. Place the chain in a cheesecloth or reusable cotton bag and place over veggies.
Use the above fermentation submersion tips to keep your ferment safe and your gut healthy. Apart from keeping your vegetables under the brine, remember the right amount of salt and room temperature are essential. Store your ferments in a cool, dark place (room temperature 60-70°F is preferable.) When fermentation process is complete, transfer jars to cool storage.