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.

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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

Equipment

1 quart jar

1 air-lock cap

1 glass weight

Ingredients

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

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Brine

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.

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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?

Trendy Bean Soup

trendy bean soup

trendy bean soup photo by vsimon

How many food trends can you fit into a bowl? Let’s count.

  1. Local.
  2. Organic.
  3. Backyard gardening.
  4. Low carbon.
  5. Heritage seeds.
  6. Naturally nutritious.
  7. Food is the new health insurance.
  8. Gluten free.
  9. Frugal.
  10. Make ahead meals.

OK, that is enough for one abundant bowl of bean soup.

We grew many beans this year in our back yard garden. You can’t get any more local than that. Pesticide free and organic, there was plenty to share with the bugs. Together these trends lead to another -> low carbon.

The seeds are saved year to year, from an old heritage line.

Plain old beans are naturally nutritious. You couldn’t pack more fiber in if you tried. And are great sources of many vitamins and minerals, no need to add more. This type of food makes the best health insurance.

Beans are inherently gluten free and frugal. They might be the definition of frugal in a dictionary somewhere. Ours were free!

Our beans

They are mostly scarlet and pink lady runner beans, with a few coco rubicos thrown in. We grow them on 7’ tee-pees,  hummingbirds buzz and hover from one to another all summer long. 

These colorful beans cook to a lovely coco brown.

scarlett-runner-dry-bean

scarlet runner dry bean photo by vsimon

How to cook beans

The traditional way to cook dry beans is to soak overnight in a large amount of water. The beans swell and double in size, or more.

In the morning you can drain the water and add fresh, or not. Some say draining gets rid of the trouble makers in the GI compliant department.

Bring the beans and water to a simmer and cook until they are soft. How long to cook beans varies on the size, age, and type of bean. This could take an hour or more. Skim off any foam that forms. You’ll have to do this several times.

The runner beans are very large, the size of a butter bean or big lima. The coco rubicos are half as big. If the little ones fall apart by the time the big ones were done, no worries.

coco-rubico-bean

coco rubico dry bean photo by vsimon

Quick soak

I wanted to pressure cook this soup and hadn’t soaked the beans overnight. So I quick soaked these beans. That means to cook for a little bit, then let them sit, and swell.

Put the beans in the cooker and see how far they come up the side. Then add water to a level two times higher than the beans.

Make sure you have a large enough pressure cooker. Foam can plug the safety vents. Don’t fill a pressure cooker more than half full with beans and water.

Bring them to pressure and cook for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, and leave the cooker on the burner. Allow the pressure to release naturally (slowly). You can achieve in one hour what an overnight soak would accomplish.

After the quick soak, I added a bit more water. Enough to so there were equal layers of the plump beans and water above them.

Then I cooked these for only 15  minutes. I quickly released the pressure to see if they were tender, they were. If they weren’t, I’d lock the lid back on, bring to pressure, and cook a bit longer.

pink-lady-dry-beans

pink lady runner dry bean photo by vsimon

Cook without a recipe

I could write a recipe for this soup, but I am not sure know how useful it would be to you. You only need to follow the general cooking instructions above.

Or follow the specific instructions on the package of beans you buy. There are many, many kinds to try.

You can add onions, celery, and carrots to the mix while you cook it. When it is done, puree it smooth, or chunky. Or leave it brothy.

There are many seasoning suggestions beyond salt and pepper. Make it Mexican with cumin, oregano, and garlic. Make it savory with thyme and sage. Smoked paprika makes it lovely. Make it Midwestern with chili powder and tomatoes.

*Don’t add tomatoes until he beans are soft though. If you add them in the beginning, your beans may never get soft.

Bean soup is a filling vegetarian meal. Or you can add any leftover meat you like, such as ham, pork, or sausage.

I added sausage and leftover pork roast from pasture fed animals, purchased directly from a local farmer. Is that another trend I spot?

Be sure to serve bean soup with a splash of vinegar! I learned this from the folks at the nursing home I worked at years ago. And my husbands family does it too. It adds zip and ups the saltiness, without ever more salt. I like good vinegar here, apple cider, sherry, or Champaign.  Don’t use malt vinegar, it is not gluten free.

Make ahead

Bean soup freezes (and thaws) beautifully. Make a big batch, cool it, package it, freeze it. You can have lunch or dinner in February from soup you make tomorrow.

What are your favorite dry beans for soup?

Reminder

Enter the Gluten-Free, Hassle Free book giveaway by January, 13, 2010.