Fermented Beets with a Homemade Air Lock System

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fermented red beet slices

photo by vsimon


I am in love.

With my fermenting husband, and these fermented beets.

Vibrant, colorful, crunchy, tangy, salty, probiotic, raw.


Last summer he experimented with sauerkraut, the old-fashioned way. In a ceramic crock, with a rock as a weight. It was beyond gross. Under the rock was blue, green, gray, and white mold. Supposedly, this is to be expected. Nothing wrong a little (or a lot of)  mold, they say. My response? “Yuck, no!”

So I bought some glass crocks with loose fitting glass lids. And tried fermenting diced beets. They were equally disgusting. The brine became as thick as honey and everything turned brown. These were dispatched to the compost bin.

We learned about fancy-dancy German crocks with air locks in the lids. They are lovely, prevent mold and spoilage, but cost three figures. That would make for some expensive veggies.

Then Vince’s engineering nature kicked in. And his frugal streak. I will let him explain from here.


fermenting jar with air lock

air lock lid on a canning jar

photo by vsimon


Simple Raw Fermented Sliced Beets

The recipe is simple enough, but I wanted the fermentation process to be just as simple.

Normally fermented pickles are done in a crock or glass container with a weight on top to keep the contents below the brine level. And then you have mold and scum that needs to be occasionally and regularly removed. This is not a nice task, and rather off-putting for some.

Another common practice is to use a large plastic bag filled with additional brine as a weight and a seal against mold and scum. But it doesn’t always work and can spring a leak.

The method I like best is to use an air lock to keep out the exchange of air during fermentation. Off gassing is allowed by the air lock during fermentation while maintaining an air seal, thus eliminating almost all mold/scum growth.

To begin with, you will need the right equipment. Any size jar will work, just adjust the recipe to fill it. But the jar cap is not typical. I made the air lock cap by purchasing a simple inexpensive air lock from a beer and wine making store. It cost less than $1. Then I fitted it to a standard jar lid by drilling a hole and sealing the air lock into the hole with silicone caulking. I’ve made several of these for different size jar lids, regular and wide-mouth. You will also need a small weight to keep the beets submerged in the brine. We went weight hunting at a local re-sale shop and found small round glass coasters that just fit into my jars. The weight has to be made of materials that are not reactive with the brine. Glass works great. Marble, and the previous rock, started to dissolve in the brine.

Half-sour pickles. What?

My recipe is based on the basic Half-Sour Brine recipe from Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich, with a couple of added ingredients.

Half-sour pickles are not pickles stopped half way through the process. They are pickles that are fermented in lower salt brine.

Classic full sour fermented pickles are fermented in a brine of 5 to 8 percent salt to water ratio by weight. Half-sour pickles are fermented in a 3.5 percent salt brine.

Half-sour pickles also do not take as long to ferment as full sour pickles. These beets will be ready to eat after about 2 weeks in a dark location at room temperature.

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light streaming through paper thin fermented beets

photo by vsimon

Fermented Red Beet Slices


1 quart jar

1 air-lock cap

1 glass weight


fresh beets – thinly sliced. Estimate 6 to 8 medium beets.

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon


2 cups water

1 tablespoon pickling salt

Begin by thinly slicing your washed raw red beets. Do not remove the stem end, use it as a handle while shaving off the very thin slices. I use a mandolin to slice the beets, but you could slice the beets with a knife.

Pack the beets into your jar until you are within about 1-1/2 inches from the top. Add the ground cloves and cinnamon. Place your weight onto the sliced beets.

Mix brine in a separate container until the salt is dissolved. Pour the brine mixture over the beet slices until it completely covers all the slices and yet is below 1/2 inch from the top of the jar. Save any unused brine, you will need it later.

Install the air lock cap and fill the air lock half way with additional brine mixture. Set aside in a dark location at room temperature. Place a saucer or plate under the jar to catch any possible spillage as the fermentation process “breathes”. Bubbling should start within days and slow after a couple of weeks. Keep the air lock half filled with brine during the process adding more if needed.

At the end of 2 weeks, remove the weight and replace the air lock with a regular cap. I found the top layer of beets where a bit off color, but where easily removed. Refrigerate and enjoy.


3 kinds of garden beets

fresh beets

photo by lsimon

More notes from Linda:

Use organic veggies. Fermenting cultivates bacteria and yeast that come with your veggies. They will have more if they aren’t sprayed with killing chemicals.

Vince talks about room temperature. That will vary of course. We put our ferments in the basement when our temperatures are over 85 degrees. If your veggies are bubbling vigorously and so much brine has overflowed that the beets appear “dry”, move them to cooler quarters. And add more brine.

We have used this equipment for sauerkraut with caraway, shredded carrots with thyme, cucumber pickles, and hot radishes. The cabbage, carrots, and cukes where as wonderful as the beets. The radishes were musty and nasty. So far, four hits and a miss. We are waiting on green beans and garlic.

What delicious fun!

Are you fermenting yet?

Gingered Beet and Berry Salad

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gingered beet and berry salad photo by vsimon

This is intense.

Intense flavor- sweet and spicy. A cool salad with a hit of hot ginger.

Intense color- red beets and red raspberries.

Intense texture- crunchy grated raw roots.

Intense nutrition- click on each ingredient in the recipe below for in depth information from The World’s Healthiest Foods website.

Garden fresh.

Beets, beets, beets. I ask myself, “What new can we do with the beets, just pulled from the garden?” 

Blue cheese, goat cheese, roasted. Been there, done that. And I have to say, I loved all of it, but I don’t have any cheese today and it is much too hot to turn the oven on for an hour.

And we have so many raspberries. There is a chunk of ginger root in the fridge. OK, let’s see what we can do with these.

Don’t have fresh ginger root?

I respectfully say, “Get some.”

Just a few fragrant gratings perk up anything it is added to, sweet or savory. It isn’t expensive and lasts a long time. A chunk of fresh ginger root in the veggie drawer of the fridge is as useful as jars of pickles in the pantry.  And it is amazingly healthful.

Ginger root grows with finger like projections. At the store, you can break off as much as you need. If you are a ginger virgin, start with a knob just an inch or two long.

Gingered Beet and Berry Salad

serves 4

4 small beets, 1-1/2 to 2” in diameter

1 cup raspberries

2 tablespoons honey

4 crossways slices of ginger root,  each 1/4” thick

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Hold onto the stems of the beets and using a vegetable peeler, remove the skin from the beets.

Grate beets using a box or plane grater, into a small bowl.

Or use a mini food processor. Transfer beets to a small mixing bowl.

I have shaved them using a ribbon microplane. This works too, and you get a softer texture. I prefer more crunch.

In a mini food processor, puree 1/2 cup of berries, honey and ginger root together. Note: this is a lot of ginger. You can start with half as much as the recipe calls for if you are a bit timid.

Add raspberry ginger mixture to grated beets. Mix thoroughly. Chill until ready to serve.

Right before serving, garnish with the remaining whole berries and walnuts.

What is your favorite beet recipe?

What do you do with fresh ginger root?

8-3-2010 This recipe is included in the July Grow Your Own #43 recipe round up at Kitchen Gadget Girl Cooks. Check out what yummy things people around the world are growing and cooking.

Preserved and Pickled Presents

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beet, cauliflower, and cucumber pickles photo by vsimon

We are making a list and checking it twice. Sorting through our colorful pickle and jam selection, choosing just the right kind for each recipient. Wouldn’t you like to get some summer in a jar?

These gifts took some forethought. We pickled and preserved this summer. But the time spent then is paying BIG dividends now.

We had an overabundance of produce in our garden. We ate it, gave to the local food pantry, froze, dried, and canned some. This was the first time Vince made pickles and jams using a water bath canner. He became a canning maniac. 🙂

Many nights after dinner, 6-12 jars of new pickles would appear. All of the pickle recipes were from The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich.

These are mighty tasty pickles that brighten up winter meals with loads of flavor and color.

Beets were wonderfully flavored with cinnamon, allspice berries, whole cloves, brown sugar and cider vinegar.

Turmeric makes the Indian style cauliflower and cucumber spears sunny yellow. They are also highly spiced with garlic, cumin seeds, fresh ginger, a bit of very hot carrot pepper, distilled vinegar, and salt. These are my favorite.

Whole red cherry peppers were pickled with a garlic clove, bay leaf, several whole peppercorns, distilled vinegar, and salt. They are so pretty with the green stems intact.

Dills, dills, dills. We have many.

These are pretty too. One recipe of sliced cucumbers has a sliver of hot carrot pepper, a chunk of red cherry pepper, whole dill seed heads, and yellow mustard seeds.

Another recipe of chunked cucumbers has dill heads, grape leaves, garlic, another sliver of carrot pepper, black peppercorns, distilled vinegar, and salt.


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plum jam photo by vsimon

Vince made plum, ground cherry with orange, tomato, tomatillo, and arctic kiwi jams. Our homemade jams are made with love and sugar. We left the high fructose corn syrup out, unlike most store bought kinds.

The plum and ground cherry jams are winners!! These are perfect slathered on wonder buns. We need to make more next year.

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ground cherry jam with orange photo by vsimon

One orange tomato jam used pineapple tomatoes flavored with ginger. Another jam used yellow peach tomatoes flavored with lemon.

Both of these jams are good on toast. And also make excellent pan sauces for pork or chicken. Just cook the meat, then melt a bit of jam in the pan. Scrape up the browned bits and you have an instant sweet and tangy sauce.

Great gifts, don’t you think? Plan ahead and next year you may be able to share your riches too.

Note to self, buy more jars.