Fermenting & Proper Temperatures

I’ve had more than one fermenting attempt fail! When living in the far north, I never had to worry about temperatures, other than the cold which slowed or stopped bacteria from working. Upon moving into southern Canada, I dealt with the opposite problem: ferments went slimy in the heat, high temperatures allowing the wrong bacteria to wreak havoc with my attempts.

I’ve begun to understand. To start any ferment, proper temperatures are the key (as are proper containers). Below 60F (15C) the proper bacteria can’t begin its work. Above 70F (21C), the wrong bacteria has a good chance of getting started!

Last summer (my first time in CA heat), I attempt to make a gallon of fermented garden beans. Crunchy, yellow, dill-flavored, fermented beans for fresh eating. It was a hot summer! I proudly congratulated myself for the first few days…until I looked in the pantry a week later.

Yick! The wrong bacteria took hold and there was slime, a white slime all over the yellow beans and the surface of the liquid! Proper temperatures? I learned!

What about fermented foods like sauerkraut? In high temperatures 21C (over 70F), kraut will grow mold or go ‘slimy’ (another experience).

When I first began to ferment vegetables, I thought the salt was somehow preserving ’em. As I love old recipes, I’ve since learned how to preserve vegetables in a salt brine. It takes more than a mere 3 Tbs per 5 lbs of vegetables! So why do I add salt to ferments? The answer is simple: it enables the proper bacteria to take over before the others can. But the second part?

I learned regardless of the food or method of fermenting, improper temperatures enable the wrong bacteria to take over as well!

Suddenly, it all made sense! This was another reason why (longer ago) kraut was a winter food. There was no way to keep it cool in the summer heat, so great-great-grandma waited til’ fall and then proceeded (in the proper temperatures) to make fermented goods, which allowed the right bacteria to begin working. And from there she could safely stash it in the cool room for winter.

Remember: 60-70F (15-21C) for the best results!