It took me years to be where I’m at with vegetable fermentation – okay with things not being ideal and uniform. You see, vegetable fermentation is not canning. It is not uniform freezing in plastic bags that will be sold behind glass freezer doors in the mega mart.
Vegetable fermentation is part science, part art. Get the science right, and the art comes through in the new and different combinations you create from whatever it is that is being harvested in your garden.
But things can go wrong, and they most likely will. You can have ten great batches of pickles and then one will just not be right. There is, most likely, an explanation for why things didn’t work out. So, I find it helpful to run through some of the possibilities.
Let’s take a look at one of the most common problem we all have with vegetable fermentation: mold.
Mold is actually quite common in vegetable fermentation, but it freaks. people. out. I understand that. I don’t like to eat salsa with a layer of white fuzziness on top either. I do like to remember, though, that there are things I like to eat that do contain “good” molds, like cheese.
If you’re experiencing mold problems, you might want to check a couple of things out:
- Are you keeping your vegetables submerged well under the brine? The vegetables need to be kept in an anaerobic environment to avoid contact with air, and thus mold, and to fully ferment properly. This is one of the most important elements of vegetable fermentation.
- Are you fermenting at a reasonable temperature? Vegetables fermented in hot weather – 90 degrees or more – tend to have a shorter shelf-life, whereas vegetables fermented in cooler temperatures – 60 degrees or less – tend to not acidify fast enough to deter some molds.
- Is everything neat and orderly? There are yeast and mold spores – good and bad – all around us. If a piece of equipment we are using to ferment our vegetables with is not very clean, or there are mold-carrying items nearby when you are fermenting in an open crock, then you could have cross contamination.
- Are your vegetables fresh? The very bacteria by which vegetables ferment are already on the vegetable itself, assuming it is a good and fresh piece of produce. As food begins to decay, if there is no measure taken to preserve it, it can begin to carry spoiling bacteria. Always ferment vegetables at their best, this is an act of food preservation after all. Waiting too long will preserve something you don’t want to keep.
Barring these things, and assuming you’ve got a good layer of brine separating your vegetables from the surface mold, you should be able to carefully scrape that mold off and not worry about the vegetables well beneath the layer of the brine.
If you have a health concern, then by all means throw that moldy ferment to the chickens or the compost pile, and consider fermenting with an airlock. I don’t think it’s necessary, but some people find it gives them peace of mind.