Thursday, September 19, 2013

Improvising airlocks for my Wild Fermentation.

This is the time of year when we do the most fermenting.  The pears have just been picked and juiced, the grapes are plump and bursting on the vine, and there are far too many vegetables in the garden waiting to be picked, and no where to store them all.  Parry (often called pear cider), wine, and fermented pickled veg are all on the menu for this year.  

One of the things I've learnt is most important, whether it be a batch of mead or a pot of kimchi, is to control the amount of air that the fermentation has access too.   In Sandor Katz's book Wild Fermentation there are lots of options, some include covering the salted veg with a plate, weighted down with a rock till the brine comes out, others involved airlocks... some home made, some the type you find in a home brew kit.

I found a whole box of those airlocks in a free pile at a yard sale this summer.   One can often find brewing equipment on UsedAnywhere or Craigslist, for a decent price.  However, these airlocks didn't have corks, they were just the plastic inserts - which turned out to be exactly what I needed.  Because now I can use them for more than carboys and jugs, I can use them for large mouth jars as well.  

I got the idea from the Pickl-It site, who makes these fantastic jars for small batch fermentation.  If I lived in a small house or condo, or could afford it, then I would buy a whole set of these Pickl-It jars.  Their one ltr jar would be excellent for sampling new recipes, and might even be a useful idea for first try at apple cider - though the surface area of the liquid might be a bit big for that.  They also have some nifty recipes and tips on their website that you can check out.

You will need
  • a jar or bottle with it's lid.
  • drill press
  • airlock
  • file
  • beeswax candle
  • Matches/lighter
  • a surface that can get wax on it, like a piece of tinfoil
  • a grown up or someone who is responsible arround power tools and fire.

Anyway, here is how I attach an airlock to a regular jar lid.  Please note, that a lot of fermentations will degrade metal over time, so it's important not to let the fermentation touch the metal, and to dispose of the lid part after each fermentation, to prevent metal particles leaching into your food.    

First I wash and dry a jar and lid.  I take the stem of the airlock and measure it, choose a drill bit that will make a snug hole for the airlock.  In my case, 1/2 inch bit did the job.  

The next step is the difficult one.  It's best done with a drill press and someone who knows what they are doing.  The drill can easily rip the lid, especially the smaller lids, out of your hand and go to work on your flesh instead.  Take appropriate safety steps when drilling the hole, go slow and steady.   

Once the hole is drilled, take a file and carefully remove any rough edges, being careful not to disturb the rubber seal on the inside of the jar lid.  Also, use a magnet to remove any metal filings, don't blow on it or you may get metal slivers in the eye.  

Wash the lid and dry it well.  Fit the airlock into the hole.  You will probably notice that no matter how tight you press it into the hole, there will still be small gaps between the lid and the airlock.  We will fix that in a moment.  You don't really need to press it in that far, just far enough to sit in there stably.  Push it in too far and the bottom of the airlock will be in your ferment - not desirable.

A couple of mead bottles with improvized airlock lids.
 - more on that later.
Lay out a piece of tinfoil or use a level, fire resistance surface that you don't mind getting wax on.  Get your beeswax candle read and a place where you can put it down quickly and it won't topple over.  I suppose you could use any unscented wax, but I feel beeswax is more natural and like to use it for food stuff better than petrol based wax.

With the lid (airlock inserted) in one hand and the lit candle in the other, carefully drip a few drops of wax on the place where the airlock meets the lid (on the top of the lid, not the inside).  Turn the lid a bit, dripp a few more drops of wax, repeat until all the gaps between the lid and the airlock are filled in.

It's best not to hold the candle too close to the lid, as the wax will be a bit cooler and run less when it hits the lid, also flame plus plastic...

I did this with a few larger mouth jars for long term fermentation storage like shredded beats for borscht and swiss chard ribs after I discovered the 'float oil on top' doesn't work all that well for me.

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