Sunday, February 9, 2014

Fermenting garlic and making airlock fermenting jars

This past summer I was given a big basket of "scratch and dent" hardneck garlic.  It needed to be processed fast, as it wouldn't keep.  Hardneck garlic is not the type to keep a long time even in perfect condition, but it sure is easy to peel, and it is easier to grow in my neck of the woods.

Salting is one way that food was preserved in times past, as was fermenting.  My Memere would salt scallions down in the spring, packing many, many chopped green onions into jars with thick layers of salt and storing them in the fridge (probably in the cellar before electricity and refrigeration was available on the farm) until fresh scallions were available the following spring.

In the days before industrialized food, pickled foods and condiments were fermented.  Think sauerkraut.  This was a way to have a high vitamin C food that would keep for months and could travel easily on ships, preventing scurvy on long voyages.

I combined these two methods to preserve my garlic, and it was a huge success.  I still have a bit left and it is mid-February.  Next year I'll put up more, since I do give some away.

Minced garlic ready to start fermenting.

You can buy ready made airlock jars for fermenting, but I just can't seem to look at anything without asking myself if I can make it.  So I did.  Since drilling the glass lids of my few precious Fido jars didn't seem like a good idea (although I asked around and it can be done, find someone who works with stained glass or maybe someone who repairs and replaces windshields on cars.)  I used what I already had on hand from my wine making ventures.

Oh, and I did make a gallon of garlic wine for cooking, it is still bubbling away.  Onion wine is fantastic to cook with, and I can't wait to try this one out.

Drilled Tattler's reusable canning lid, airlock, grommet.
You can buy the plastic canning lids here, BPA-free.  The airlock and the grommet are available for about a buck, total, from any beer and wine making supply store.  Google it.  You might be surprised to find that there is one right down the street from you.  The grommet is used to ferment a large batch of wine or beer in a five or six gallon pail with a hole drilled in the lid.  The grommet goes in the hole, and the airlock goes in next.  You fill the airlock with water to the fill line, and it will allow gasses to escape while keeping air and fruit flies out.

My first attempts at drilling.  Good thing these come in boxes of a dozen!
What we finally figured out with drilling the holes is that the lid needs to be clamped to a scrap of wood to hold it very still.  A small pilot hole helps, too, before using the larger drill bit.  The lids still had a tendency to crack, so be prepared for a learning curve.
Although not pictured here, there is also a red rubber gasket that comes with each lid, also to create a tight seal on the jar.

Wash the peeled garlic and mince it in the food processor or with a sharp knife.

Fill the jars.  The book is my copy of Nourishing Traditions, which has a recipe for fermented whole garlic.  I leave out the whey and just use salt.
I put a spoonful of salt between each layer of garlic.  I didn't measure, but I was generous.  Anything I use garlic in will also be salted, so the amount was of no concern.  This is salt we made on our woodstove from sea water.

Each layer was packed in carefully, squishing out any air bubbles.  Leave an inch or two...or three...of headspace for expansion.

The lid and airlock were fitted on tightly, and the jars were labeled.

Overflow!  Notice how the brine moved up into the airlocks.
Garlic is high in sugars and ferments rather vigorously!  I left for a couple of appointments at my office and was back within four hours.  I found garlic juice running across my counter and soaking wet....and rather fragrant....labels on my jars.  I quickly cleaned it up and put the jars in a loaf pan and let them continue doing what they were obviously so good at doing.

Re-packed for storage, use, and gifting.
When the fermenting calmed down in a couple of days (this was during the hot days of summer, so fermentation tends to be faster in our non-climate-controlled house.  It would take longer in cooler weather) I transferred the garlic into smaller jars that would be easier to use. 
This project was such a success that it will be repeated next summer and I will attempt to make even more.  It is very handy to have ready-to-use garlic in the fridge without spending money on chemical-laden stuff from the store.  If you don't grow your own garlic, check in with your local farm stands and farmer's markets and see if you can get some in bulk.  You may even get some scratch-and-dent garlic, like I did.  This was simply heads of garlic that didn't properly develop the papery covering and thus would not store well at all.  It was still perfectly good garlic.
I did get some "good" heads of the same garlic and planted it in a sunny location near my irises and in front of my grape arbor, so hopefully, come mid-summer, I'll be fermenting my own garlic.  If it doesn't do well, I know exactly where to buy the best organic garlic in the area....Eddy Farm in Newington, CT.  Get to know your local farmers and support them with at least part of your food dollars.   It is so worthwhile!
And yummy!



  1. Love this article! As someone who is looking forward to making all things from scratch (I found a recipe for making lye from scratch, in order to make soap from scratch:) I appreciate this information. Thank you!

  2. What does the garlic taste like when fermented? Thank you.

    1. When used in cooking, I don't really notice a huge difference. It does have a bit of a pickled taste. You know, that slightly sour taste almost like vinegar. But not as harsh.