Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Our New "Crock", the "K-Box", a review

There are three ceramic crocks within a standing dive of me right now. One's got hats in it (cracked inside but still usable for fermenting), one used to have a potted plant in it (8 gallon!), and one is sitting there all shiny, ready to go. Counting in my head, there are seven different sizes of Ball/Mason jars in the next room. There's a cider kit socked away somewhere but down that path lies digression...


Back in the day, we started fermenting in jars, with a layer of olive oil floated on top as an anaerobic barrier. We figured out how to use a plastic baggie in place of that oil, with a weight to negate the floaters, and progressed as pickleers. Somewhere in there, we started using ceramic crocks in various sizes and learned and progressed some more. After lots of experimentation, we're mostly still using a similar technique. After weighing down the goodies to below the waterline, closely lining the space above with a layer of plastic then cuts out room for mold to grow. The stuff's harmless but it's a pain, and it can't be good for allergies, so in the plastic goes. Then a gallon ziplock bag full of water goes in as weight after that and brine can now fill whatever space there is between the bag and crock wall, with just a touch of over-pressure. We put our crock in a pan as it's fermenting, observing what bubbles out as the batch is working, smelling it, rejoicing over the positive pressure created inside there by our little colony of bacteria.

And we're probably not gonna ferment any large batches in ceramic again for a while, as good as it is. Found something a bit different, that offers more control. Not that we need it, we're controlling our fermentation pretty tightly already, in a wild vs. cultured sense. But I'm fussy, mostly in a pragmatic way. This new fermenting vessel fits beautifully in this paradigm. 

Our new fermenting vessel dropped in on us from out of the random one afternoon. Good brother Meldrum bought himself one at H-Mart, a Korean import grocer/supplier, and another for us to play with!


This is a 20 liter (5.28 gallon) plastic vessel, with a lid that locks on each side and a sub-lid below that, with a closable vent and tight seals. The top locks are solid- I wanted to stress-test them and the top handles, impulsively, after snapping them into place, but therein lies digression as well!

The label is almost all in Korean. The only bit in English, besides "BPA FREE", was this:
"Nice Lock Cover up tight New innovated food preservation Kitchenware". Pictograms lead me to believe I can microwave in this, put it in the dishwasher, freeze it, and that it's food-safe. Here's the label, anyone read Korean?


Not much to go on there, but there's enough- this thing is handy for more than just fermenting stuff in. For what that's worth, I mean, I know what it's gonna get used for around here! Here's a shot inside, with the inner lid in place, vent open: 


The vent stopper and lid gaskets all feel like silicone, tough but flexible. The inner lid's seal is stiff- the lid stays put once you shove it into place, even bowed and under tension. So the vent has to be there, the way I've got this thing figured, as a blow-off valve, since the lid won't budge. After puzzling over the rig for a while, I decided that the inner lid would take the place of both the weight and the plastic bag seal we've been using in the ceramic crocks. And then if I want, there's a superfluous lid to further deter contamination above that. Here's what that looks like with a small batch:


So the inner lid holds down the fermenting vegetables below the level of the brine. And it forms a beefy seal- the brine you see above is cut off from the stuff underneath. The open vent will allow for the extra pressure made as the bacteria turn sugars into acids and CO2. We swabbed everything above this inner lid with the brine and then sealed the second lid into place. You can see the fold-over locks above. So now there's an anaerobic fermentation section well-separated from a place made inhospitable to the harmless but distracting mold. Well, it took a while more of working that inner lid around before I was satisfied enough to seal it all up. Looking closely in the pic above, you can see that there's a big air bubble under the lid. The way the handle is recessed in there made it challenging to remove that bubble. The seal is so tough that the handle is necessary but it's also strong enough to hold the lid in place after I was able to orient the vent at the top of everything with no air bubble. This left the lid in a bit of a bowed position but the seal held all week despite the tension. 

As the batch worked its way through its ferment, I periodically cracked the lid for smell checks and a few peeks inside. Nothing out of the ordinary but the clear plastic lid is kinda handy. It'd be nice if the whole thing was clear but whatever. After fermentation, the lid turned out to be stuck tight enough that I could pour out the brine above it before unsealing the batch. This was of no concern now but could conceivably be handy at some point later. Once we got the inner lid out of the way, I gave the batch a few shakes and was rewarded with flurries of little bubbles and a happy noise like the famous breakfast cereal- sign of a good ferment!

After decanting this batch, I rinsed everything off and put it in the dishwasher's bottom rack. I had to work stuff around to make sure it cleared the washer's top spinny bit- this thing is big. Afterwards, I was disappointed to find that I'd cracked and chipped the edge of the top lid when I did this, or that I'd just wedged it in too tight and it failed during washing. Either way, in its own way, this new fermenter has fragilities to respect. But I'm liking this plastic thing over the ceramic things right now! And I think I'm gonna buy more!

EDIT:
BPA is an endocrine disruptor and it's causing problems not only for the people whose food and drink it taints but also for the environment as it leaches out. And for many products now labeled "BPA free", it looks like producers have just moved on to using BPB or very similar chemicals. So we're still getting endocrine disruptors in our food and drink. Lovely. So I'm shying away from plastic again.



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