Open Crocks are a Crock

Image Pickle Scum “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.” Jeremiah 6:16

I didn’t intentionally set out to be stiff-necked, not following the ancient paths of wisdom. I thought that by seeking the counsel of my fermentation-experienced peers, I was fast-tracking my way back to creating ancient brine-cured kosher dill pickles of my European ancestors.

Thinking that others were offering advice based on well-studied wisdom, I tried their methods – open bowl, open crocks, and screw-on lid (plastic or two-part metal) canning jars – which resulted in limp, off-tasting, splotchy pickling cukes that weren’t even in the same century as my grandmother’s closed-crock, brine-cured cukes. The skimming of scum and fretting over mold was stressful!

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Proverbs 14:12

Taking time off from failed-batches to study European food blogs, antique cookbooks, and brushing up on my microbiology, it didn’t take long to discover the advice I’d received was nothing but a modern myth based on what a friend calls “magical thinking” which goes like this: as long as the vegetables are kept under the brine, it doesn’t matter if oxygen has access to the top of the brine because conditions under the brine are “anaerobic”.

That’s mind-numbingly incorrect.

Just last week, I heard another version of this myth which goes like this: lactic acid bacteria need access to oxygen across the brine so they can selectively grab lactic-acid bacteria from the oxygen in order to perform certain functions.

I don’t know what the motive is for people to ignore the easily-accessible, good science that is readily-available emphasizing the importance of maintaining an air-free fermenting environment.

  • …“it is of major importance that the air is removed as much as possible…”
  • …“it is of the utmost importance to exclude air in order to support the subsequent lactic acid fermentation and to prevent mold and yeast growth
  • ….“the surface of the filled containers must be covered carefully in order to exclude oxygen and microbial contamination”…..
  • …“when the number of strictly aerobic bacteria (those that need oxygen) such as Pseudomonas, Flavobacterium and Acinetobacter species decrease immediately due to anaerobiosis (no oxygen) rapidly attained…with consumption of oxygen by facultative anaerobic enterobacteria accompanied by a pH change (due to lactic, acetic, formic and succinic acids formed)…”
  • …”..Lc mesenteroides – a heterofermentative lactic-acid bacteria, produces lactic and acetic acids that quickly lower the pH, producing carbon dioxide that take the place of oxygen, stabilizing ascorbic and dehydro-ascorbic acid (vitamin C)…”

Clearly, this tell us that lactic acid bacteria INCREASE in no or low-oxygen conditions, reducing oxygen-loving bacteria. At this point the pH drops. This drop is ABSOLUTELY crucial, creating properly fermented foods reported to be safer than raw vegetables against E coli and other pathogens.

Additionally, a crucial part of successful lacto-fermentation is the “headspace” above the brine. In a locked-down, “positive seal” (no inflow of oxygen) vessel like the Pickl-It, volatile sulfur compounds (hydrogen sulfide, methanethio, dimethyl sulfide and allyl isothiocyanate) collect in the region above the brine, having a positive, beneficial impact on the final flavor profiles.

Sound-reasoning and good science put me back on track. The Pickl-It anaerobic lacto-fermenting system protects the crucially-important lactic-acid bacteria, creating anaerobic, lacto-fermented
kosher dill brine-cured pickles.

Most important to me? My family found Pickl-It lacto-fermented foods to have a clean-taste, clean-brine, crispy texture and great flavors, without me having to worry about detrimental yeast and mold.

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To Learn More Graphic

Short-version Kosher Dill Pickle recipe

Long-version Kosher Dill Pickle recipe

Recreating Grandma’s Kosher Dill Pickles

Simple Brine Recipe

Pickl-It versus Harsch Crock – Pickl-It wins by a landslide!

Preservation by fermentation: Focusing on the chemistry and microbiology of vegetables

“Volatile Compounds In Lacto-Fermented Cucumbers”, J. Agric. Food Chem., 1993, 46, 2117-2122

Vorbeck, M.L., Albury, M.N., Mattick, L.R., Lee, F.A., and Pederson, C.S., Lipid alterations, during the fermentation of vegetables by lactic acid bacteria. J. Food Sci., 28, 495-552, 1963.

Steinkraus, K.H., Acid-fermented vegetables in “Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods, Steinkraut, K.h., Ed., Marcel Dekker, Inc., New York, 1983, pp. 99-131.

Hrdlicka, J., Curda, D., and Pavelka, J., Volatile carbonyl compounds during fermentation of cabbage, Sb. vys. Sk. Chem.-technol., Praze, Potraviny, E15-51, 1967.

Boskov Hansen, H., Bognar, A., Buckenhuskes, H., and Gierschner, K., The effect of lactic acid fermentation on dietary fiber content of vegetables in Processing and Quality of Foods. Vol 2. Food Biotechnology: Avenues to Healthy and Nutritious Products, Vol 2, Food Biotechnology: Avenues to Healthy and Nutritious Products, Zeuthen, P., Cheftel, J.C., Eriksson, C., Gormley, T.R., Linko, P., and Paulus, K. Eds., Elsevier Applied Science, London, 1990, p.162.