Culturing and fermenting foods is becoming an increasingly hot topic in the culinary world. Who wouldn’t love the gut-benefiting and immune-boosting enhancements that these methods bring to our nutrition, all the while delivering on much more interesting and complex flavors, techniques that break down food macronutrients into easier-to-assimalate components? Enhanced flavor, better nutrient use, helps to keep a body well–sign me up!
Wild (as in CRAZY) Fermentation in the Summer Months
But all is not rosy when the seasons change and temperatures rise, at least as pertains to cultured and fermented foods. Beneficial bacteria and yeasts–the foundation of these changes–like to work in a certain temperature range, and when the house starts heating up with the warmer days of summer, these temperatures can be too hot, too fast.
Water kefir that has been a delicious and nutritious homemade probiotic beverage during the winter and spring, starts taking on strange and pungent aromas and flavors as the days grow warmer and longer. Fermenting vegetables are pushed up and out of their containers within a couple of days of preparing them, with the increasing heat generating a lot of carbon dioxide in a very short window of time. Milk kefir, usually a mellow ferment on the kitchen counter, quickly separates into curds and whey, leaving a marked separation between the cultured milk solids and the increasingly acetone-scented liquid.
Definitely not too appetizing.
Keeping Ferments and Cultures Calm, Cool and Collected!
If any of the above describe what happens to you in the summer months as you attempt to maintain your fermentation practices, you might consider being a little more mindful of the temperature ranges you’re fermenting in. Ferments and cultures that do best in the 60-75 degree Fahrenheit range (about 15.5-23.8 degrees Celsius) really won’t do well if your home gets warmer than this. My workaround for this, living in the Mojave Desert of the American Southwest, is to prepare my ferments, and then keep them cooler than my kitchen at its warmest points.
Happy Water Kefir, Milk Kefir and Mesophilic Yogurt Culturing
Plan to prepare each of these as you normally would, only do so at night. Then, whether the cooling system is on so you can sleep at a more comfortable temperature, or, because the outdoor night air has cooled to a temperature comfortable to sleep in, leave these ferments on the kitchen counter, or outside on a table (whichever appears to be coolest.) The home (and hopefully the outdoors!) will eventually be in the mid-to-high 70’s, and, with the cool ingredients (milk or water) going into mix, the final temperature will stay in the cooler temperature range through the night as the ingredients slowly warm to the ambient temperature. There have certainly been some flat-out hot nights here in the desert, where the temperature doesn’t dip below 90, so, in those instances, I definitely leave the ferments indoors.
The next morning, as temperatures begin to warm in earnest, move the ferment to the warmest part of your refrigerator. This allows the fermentation to continue, but at a much slower pace. Generally, this allows for the cycle to complete for the day. Every person’s refrigerator is different, so if you find yours seems to stop the fermentation cold (pun intended), then you might consider making a cooling box, of an ice chest stocked with a couple zipper bags of ice.
This is an art, with scientific components at its root, so you’ll have to find the method that best works for you. You just want to find that happy spot that keeps things cool, but not too cool. We keep our refrigerator on the medium setting, so, putting my ferments away from the cooling element seems to work fine for us.
Fermenting Summer’s Bounty as a Salsa or Sauerkraut–to be Enjoyed In the Summer!
I really get to missing fermented veggies over the summer, and the best way to get around this (short of purchasing some from the grocery) is to learn to work with the heat of summer. Plan to prepare your veggies for fermentation as usual, but handling from that point forward requires a little more care than simply placing in a cool spot in a closet or at the back of the pantry.
Once your veggies are prepared, place them in an ice chest or some other insulated environment, into which you’ll place a few zipper bags of ice. Keep them in this container for about three days, switching out the ice every 10-12 hours, to keep the temperature cool (an ambient temperature between 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit/15.5-21 degrees Celsius) is a very good spot. At the end of this period, move the ferment to your warmest spot in your refrigerator (which might be a little crowded with your other ferments and cultures!), and plan to enjoy in about four weeks.
Using a little ingenuity and an extra nod to the attention to detail on temperature should allow you to enjoy your ferments and cultures throughout the year. And there is nothing as refreshing as some fresh water kefir with a twist of lemon juice and a sprinkle of Himalayan Salt after a hot afternoon in the sun–so be sure to keep those home ferments brewing!