Traveled to Brookings, SD today to help present a Farm Beginnings marketing workshop. Got into town a little early, so I stopped in Threads of Memories antiques to check out their extensive crock selection.
I bought the six gallon crock a couple of years ago, and today I picked up a two and a four for about the same (total) price as the #6 was then.
In case you’re wondering, I’m not trying to be anal about matching my Red Wings, it’s just that the other designs (like the birch leaf) and the crocks from lesser-known companies seem to be more in favor by collectors right now, and are thus more expensive.
Threads of Memories tends to have the fanciest crocks up front, with the less expensive ones hidden throughout the back regions of the store in the various consignment areas.
Back there, you can find cheaper ones that have cosmetic issues (rim chips, finish flaws, or small, non-integrity-threatening cracks)–there is no need to have a “perfect” crock for fermenting–let the collectors pay the high prices and get something that you can use and not feel bad about setting in a back corner of the basement to ferment whatever deliciousness you want to brew up.
The one thing you really want to watch out for is a hairline crack that goes all the way around the base. That’s bad news if you want to move a crock full of veggies and brine.
You can use a plastic bucket instead of a crock, but I don’t trust even supposedly food grade plastics with storing a fermenting, acidic brew. I have soured vegetables in gallon glass jars with good results.
The #6 crock has been in a cold corner of my basement since I moved here, patiently holding just a couple of gallons of garlicky dill pickles–what I was able to harvest by the end of last August, when I moved away from my cuke patch.
Because the brine had evaporated and some of the top layer of cukes was exposed to the air (though there was no mold or objectionable material), I tossed the surface fruits, plus some of the big ones that looked a little shriveled.
Then I transferred the rest into this gallon glass jar–a gift from my now-deceased boss Marj Robertson when I worked in her cafe a decade ago. She used jars like these to make sun tea out front of her restaurant and jalapeno-spiked refrigerator pickles, too.
Due to the brine’s reduction, 2010’s batch of pickles is really salty, but still very tasty. They might be best used chopped in salads or as an occasional pick-me-up.
The past couple of years I have canned my fermented dills, but I’m just going to keep this jar in the fridge and slowly eat my way through them instead of killing off the live cultures in the boiling water bath just so I can store them on the shelf.
For the 2011 season, I think I’ll use the #4 size crock for pickles and save the #6 for something more exciting (to me, anyway)–like sauerkraut or kimchi. Number two can be my experimental crock for small batches of something new I want to try.
My guide in this experimentation is a new book bought with a Christmas gift card. It’s not really a cookbook per se (especially since a lot of things aren’t actually cooked), nor does it give super-specific instructions throughout, but it’s a guide made with a sense of adventure and love.
Wild Fermentation is part revolutionary food manifesto, part ode to microbes, and part life celebration. It’s great fun to read, and there are all kind of ideas for fermenting grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products (meat is not included).
However, I do suggest looking over the reviews before you decide to purchase it. If your sensibilities will be offended by discussions of GLBT communities and/or you prefer to live in a pasteurized, homogenized, sterilized world, this book is not for you…
…and neither are sauerkraut, beer, chocolate, coffee, cheese, or any of the other fermented foods that have long been part of humanity’s diet. What a loss!