When I was a young, newly-wedded lass, by accident I discovered something quite magical:
If I put baby carrots into a jar of leftover pickle juice, I would end up with crunchy, juicy, mouth-watering carrot pickles.
Yes, my husband did think I was crazy, but it was a feeling he would be growing accustomed to during our nine years of marriage (and counting). 🙂
Years have passed, and due to health challenges in our family, I have stopped buying the neon green jars of pickles from the supermarket. When I started learning about how simple home fermentation is, and the benefits of fermented foods, you better believe I was a happy girl when I realized fermented carrots tasted very similar to my “homemade” carrot pickles (actually, better!) – and were way healthier!
I’m going to be showing you how easy fermentation is in the next few months, sharing the recipes that I use ’round these parts. . . and I wanted to start with these carrot pickles because I think they are the simplest veggie for beginners.
Let’s Talk Fermentation
Why on earth would someone want to get started fermenting vegetables? Wow – you could write a whole book talking about fermentation. Thousands of entire websites are devoted to the subject. For starters, I’ll list the more well-known benefits.
- Probiotics – pesticide-free vegetables actually contain their own unique combinations of beneficial bacteria. When you add these veggies to a salt brine and keep in an airtight container, the good bacteria are allowed to proliferate at an enormous pace. The result? One bite of fermented food can have more beneficial bacteria than an entire bottle of expensive probtiotics.
- With that in mind, I’ll just mention that since one bite of sauerkraut – or what have you – has more bacteria than most bottles of probiotics, which are very pricey, fermented foods end up being extremely frugal. I’d much rather make a batch of sauerkraut for a couple bucks than pay twenty times that for a bottle of probiotics that might not survive the digestive process.
- Enzymes – another great side effect of fermenting live food is the enzymes they contain. Taken before a meal or as a condiment/side with a meal, they provide enzymes that aid digestion and relieve your body of the burden of having to make so many enzymes to complete digestion.
- Fermenting is a way of preserving foods.
- Detoxifying – fermented foods, filled with beneficial bacteria, are “potent detoxifiers”. According to Dr. Mercola, beneficial gut bacteria perform a number of surprising functions, including:
- Mineral absorption, and producing nutrients such as B vitamins and vitamin K2 (vitamin K2 and vitamin D are necessary for integrating calcium into your bones and keeping it out of your arteries, thereby reducing your risk for coronary artery disease and stroke5)
- Preventing obesity and diabetes, and regulating dietary fat absorption
- Lowering your risk for cancer
- Improving your mood and mental health
- Preventing acne
- and so much more.
Want to learn more?
There are also some really great books out there on the art of fermenting which go into much greater depth than I will be able to. 🙂 These are my favorites:
The Nourished Kitchen: Farm-to-Table Recipes for the Traditional Foods Lifestyle Featuring Bone Broths, Fermented Vegetables, Grass-Fed Meats, Wholesome Fats, Raw Dairy, and Kombuchas by Jennifer McGruther
So with all that said, let’s get right down to business, shall we?
But wait – A note on fermenting vegetables with whey:
Many, many recipes (including some of the recipes in the aforementioned books) recommend the use of whey (the liquid left over from straining yogurt) as a starter culture to add to each batch of fermented vegetables.
I don’t recommend the use of whey when fermenting fresh vegetables. The beneficial bacteria found in whey are specifically suited for fermenting dairy. It is just not necessary, and I think you’ll end up with an inferior batch. So – my advice – feel free to skip the whey! As long as you are using fresh, organic vegetables, they will contain all the beneficial bacteria you will need. This is often referred to as “wild fermentation” – using the “wild” bacteria found on the vegetable itself and in the air to ferment rather than with a starter.
Just my two cents – but I have been fermenting without the use of whey for years and it is very, very rare for me to have a batch that doesn’t turn out perfectly. I find it totally unnecessary! Plus, many people who are especially in need of fermented veggies/foods for healing are dealing with dairy allergies, such as my children, and couldn’t use whey anyway.
So let’s get started! 🙂
- about 1 1/2 pounds of organic carrots. They can be from the garden, from the farmer’s market, from the grocery store, with tops or without. It doesn’t matter how they come. 🙂 And you won’t use a whole pound if your jar is a quart-sized jar.
- 19 grams of high-quality sea salt (this is the kind I use) per quart of non-chlorinated water to make a 2% brine – I got this digital scale for my birthday and it is *perfect* for measuring salt. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!!)
- 3 peeled cloves of garlic (optional)
- a few sprigs of fresh dill (flowering is good) – this is also optional
- 1 quart glass fermenting jar. I’ve tried all sorts of fermenting jars, and the ones that give me consistent results every time are Fido, hermetically sealed jars. I love fermenting with our 1/2 gallon jars like these, because we have a larger family, but you can use any size. These jars are high-quality, worth every penny. They will gently release CO2 buildup over the fermentation period, preventing explosions, and yet they will not allow any air to enter, decreasing the chance of mold getting into your ferment. I can’t recommend them enough. (See notes for all your jar options.)
- sharp knife & cutting board
- Make sure your hands are washed, carrots are rinsed, and equipment is clean.
- Cut the tops off the carrots, and slice the carrots into carrot sticks, like you see in the photos. Make sure they are the right length for your jar – not too long, not too short. You want to leave about an inch of space below the “shoulder” of the jar – where the jar curves inward.
- Into the empty jar, put your garlic and dill, if using. Fresh is best – I have read that dried can cause problems with mold. These are not necessary but add nice flavor.
- Pack the carrots upright into your jar, as tight as you can possibly pack them. As I mentioned, try to leave an inch of room between the top of the packed carrots and the shoulder of the jar.
- Make your brine by dissolving 19 grams of sea salt into a quart of purified water. (I just stir with a spoon until dissolved.) Pour the brine over your carrots, and try to pour up to the shoulder of the jar and no higher. You might need to make more than 1 quart of brine, depending on the size of your fermenting jar. Just remember to keep the same ratios.
- Wipe the opening of the jar with a clean towel or paper towel, and seal shut.
- Store your carrots in a cool, dark place for 7 days. (I keep mine in my pantry.) When done, will keep in the refrigerator for many months.
Try not to open your jar while fermenting. The fermentation process will build up pressure, and if you are using a Fido jar, it will escape on its own, preventing contamination. However, if you are not using a Fido, then you may need to slightly twist open the lid and “burp” the jar, quickly closing again.
Feel free to add other flavorings, such as peppercorns to spice it up!
Even though I pack my carrots as tight as I can, during the 10 days they shift around and some end up above the water line. This is not ideal, but if you’re using a truly airtight system, you shouldn’t have to worry about mold.
I have used many different kinds of setups for fermenting. I really speak highly of the Fido jars because I have had so much success with them. You can definitely use mason jars, or even airlock lids with mason jars. I have used those as well, although my results varied quite a bit. But I do realize not everyone has Fido jars on hand. I bought a 6 pack of 1/2 gallon Fidos from Overstock.com by using some rewards points I had accumulated and a discount code. I also have lots of luck finding Fido jars from discount stores such as Ross, Marshall’s, etc. They are worth hunting around for or adding to your wish list!
There you have it! It’s as easy as stuffing a jar with carrots and salt water (and spices, if you wish). Do your body a favor, and try this very, very soon!
P.S. Love fermented foods like I do? Oh Lardy’s Guide to Fermenting Fruits and Vegetables has just been released! For a limited time, you can use coupon code FERMENT30 to receive 30% off the price.
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