Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin (and a Giveaway)

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I’ve fallen in love with fermenting vegetables over the past year and I think that Alex Lewin’s book Real Food Fermentation will help me to take this to a new level. His book is a gorgeous, hands-on guide to food fermentation at home. 

The goal of Real Food Fermentation is to provide a useful starting point for folks who want to ferment food at home, and who want to understand the basics of how and why fermenting works. Lewin covers topics such as why we preserve food, why fermentation is safe and delicious, and selecting ingredients. Then he covers the equipment that we need for fermenting food at home, including pictures of all of it. The main portion of Real Food Fermentation includes fully-illustrated recipes for fermenting vegetables, dairy, fruit, and beverages, with variations on all these recipes and information about improvising and troubleshooting. 

Real Food Fermentation is ideal for first-time fermenters; for folks who are not always confident in the kitchen; and for people who are visual learners, who like seeing something in addition to reading about it. 

Creme Fraiche

Included in the book is a recipe for crème fraîche which is traditionally a fermented food. To make crème fraîche:


  • 12 – 13 ounces unpasteurized cream
  • 3 tablespoons yogurt, kefir, or cultured buttermilk as a starter, if using pasteurized cream; starter is optional if using raw cream


  • 1 pint mason jar


  • If using a starter, measure out the amount you’re going to use. Put it in the mason jar.
  • Add the cream to the jar, leaving 1 inch or so of room at the top. Close the jar and shake it so that the starter mixes well with the cream.
  • Place the jar somewhere warm for 12 hours or overnight. Check the cream. If it has not yet thickened, leave it for another 6 hours.
  • When it has thickened, store it in the refrigerator, where it will keep for a week or two.

Crème fraîche is great for cooking because it won’t curdle the way cream sometimes does when you heat it or add an acid like lemon juice or vinegar.

The publisher sent me a copy of Real Food Fermentation to review AND is giving a copy to each of two of my readers! Enter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Recipe and photo used by permission of the publisher.

Shared at: Fight Back Friday, Freaky Friday, Weekend Whatever, Sunday School, Monday Mania, Real Food Fermentation, Fat Tuesday, Scratch Cookin’, Teach Me Tuesday

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PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.


    • says

      Hi Joan. It really depends on how much apple cider vinegar you want to make! You can do it with a small number of apples, but you will wind up with a smaller amount of vinegar.

      Depending how you’re juicing them, it seems like 10-20 lbs of apples will make a gallon of juice (or cider). So this might be a good amount to start with. A gallon of vinegar could last you quite a while.

      Also be aware that if you’re thinking of canning things using vinegar, you may be better off using standardized vinegar, or at the very least measuring the acidity of your vinegar.

  1. E Marshall says

    Can you please explain how the “cultured” buttermilk is cultured if it’s pasteurized? Can items in the store that say “cultured” be trusted and used?

    • says

      The buttermilk you buy in the store is pasteurized, THEN cultured. Same with (most of? all of?) the yogurt. The tip-off is that these usually say “live cultures” or something like that on the container.

      On the other hand, the crème fraîche and sour cream are usually pasteurized after they are cultured. So they do not contain live cultures, and cannot be used as starters.

  2. says

    Is creme fraiche the cream-only equivalent of clabbered milk? I’ve tried to make clabbered milk from our whole, raw, organic herd share milk, and it always seems like I get molds on the top of the cream before the milk actually clabbers. Is it safe to scrape the mold off and use what’s underneath?

    Thanks for the giveaway!

    • says

      1. Yes, exactly right. Creme fraiche (at least the kind made from raw cream) is analogous to clabbered milk.

      2. It may be that there’s some source of mold that’s interfering. Are you doing this near fresh fruit, perhaps? Or musty towels? Or even a damp sponge? Maybe you could try doing it in a different room? As far as whether it’s safe to scrape the mold off, I can’t really say without seeing it, and even then I might not be able to say.

      I would recommend that you try to find a kefir starter. This would help you tip the balance in favor of the good microbes, but you wouldn’t have to change anything else you’re doing–you could do it at room temp, without heating the milk first, etc.

      3. You’re welcome. :-)

    • says

      Hi Anne. Good question. The bacteria digest the carbohydrates into acid, so if you know the carbohydrate grams when you start, you might be able to weigh everything, measure the acidity at the start and at the end, and from that figure out how much carbohydrate the bacteria metabolized.

      There’s no easy rule of thumb that I know of though. Just know that the longer it ferments and the more sour it is, the lower the carbs. (And counting carbs is quite an approximate process in the first place.)

  3. says

    Could you recommend three of your favorite, easy-enough-for-beginners of beginners, foods to ferment? Which one do you recommend I start with?

    Thanks for the great post! I’m excited to try this.

    • says

      Start with sauerkraut! Super-easy, few ingredients, very high success rate. And a very versatile food. You can eat it plain, on sandwiches, as a side, in soup, in eggs, and so on.

      Other vegetable ferments are easy too. Include some cabbage or turnip with your favorite mix of vegetables. But skip the cucumbers, summer squash, and bell peppers for now–they can get soft. Come back to them once you have more confidence and a better intuition for when things are fermented.

      Kefir can be really easy, too, and satisfying. If you can get some grains, this is another good one.

      (Yogurt and cucumber pickles are more difficult! Save them for later.)

    • says

      Yes, the cooler the slower! Below 40 or so (fridge temp), things get really really slow.

      I’d recommend fermenting stuff at room temp, or cool room temp, first, until it’s definitely fermented and sour. Then you can put it somewhere cool or cold and it will keep for a long time.

      As far as freezing goes, I suppose you could, but the freeze-thaw cycle is likely to make vegetables and the like a little mushy. Dairy ferments should be okay. I believe most of the microbes survive the freeze-thaw.

      • jennifer says

        That’s awesome. Another, healthier way to preserve foods for a long time without electricity. I better start digging a storage room. You would want low humidity though, right? Not like a root cellar.

        • says

          For the ferments that are done in a sealed container, a root cellar should be fine. For things that are open, like kombucha and vinegar for instance, a root cellar might not be ideal, because of the mold.

          I don’t think humidity itself is a big issue.

    • says

      Karen, I’m sorry to hear that. There are a lot of factors that play a role. How much less salt did you use? How fresh was your whey? What food were you trying to ferment? What was the temperature like?

  4. Kara Yeckley says

    Susan mentions that you cover equipment in your book. Do you have suggestions in your book for where to buy the equipment needed?

    • says

      Great question.

      Yes, I make a few suggestions. A lot of it, like mason jars and kitchen equipment, you can get at a typical supermarket or hardware store. A few specialized pieces, like the airlock, you can find at homebrew stores. (Look in college towns for these!) And in the end, everything is available on the Internet.

      My “resources” page has links to a few, well, resources:

  5. Sarah DJ says

    Do you recommend using lids like the Picklit Lid to ferment? Or are you able to achieve consistent results otherwise? Thanks for taking the time to answer questions! :-)

    • says

      Pickl-It is particularly helpful when you’re doing “tricky” things–whole vegetables (including cukes), less salt or starter than usual, etc. For things like kraut and yogurt it’s not necessary, although it certainly doesn’t hurt.

  6. Carol Woodside Guenzel says

    Thanks so much for the opportunity to enter a chance to win the copy of the Real Food Fermentation book!

  7. Malisha Burns says

    I am sooo nervous about fermenting foods. I do Kombucha and have made fermented lemonade, and homemade ginger ale. Yogurt too. But I just can’t wrap my mind around fermenting FOOD. But I would love to give it a try!

  8. Tammy Dougherty says

    Can you explain how it is that raw dairy products can be left out of the refrigerator for many hours without spoiling? My family is already nervous about trying raw dairy , so they are really concerned about dairy items that have been sitting out on the counter for hours. Thanks.

    • says

      If your family is nervous about it, don’t do it immediately. Or don’t tell them exactly how you make it. Best to win them over slowly and not scare them away.

      Kefir is quite safe though. You can explain to them that you are betting on the kefir microbes to beat out everything else…and that if this doesn’t happen, it will be very obvious. You can also tell them that most of the yogurt, cheese, etc. in the world relies on leaving dairy out at room temperature.

  9. Sara Grambusch says

    What would you recommend as a good beginner fermenting recipe for someone who is squeamish of the fermented taste and needs to get used to it?

    • says

      Sauerkraut has a nice sharp taste, not too weird. I think that’s a good place to start. Or fermented beets and/or turnips.

      Or yogurt. Most people seem to like yogurt!

    • says

      Depends what you’re doing. If you’re just making sauerkraut, then no, it doesn’t make a difference. If you’re fermenting whole vegetables, then Pickl-It can be helpful. It’s never necessary though.

      Try different jars and see what works and doesn’t work for you!

  10. Madelyn says

    Just wondering what type of sugar you would recommend for making kombucha. I’ve heard that it’s food for the scoby and gets converted but I’m curious if it matters for the end product. Thanks for your input and for writing such a cool book!

    • says

      Good question. You may want to avoid beet sugar, which generally comes form genetically-modified beets!

      Sugarcane is never GM, so you are safe with any sugar that says “cane” on it. I tend to use raw sugar because it has more minerals in it, but white cane sugar should work great.

      (And thank you!)

      The raw sugar I’ve seen usually says

    • says

      You need some insurance. Some possibilities:

      – use smaller cukes
      – add oak leaves, grape leaves, and/or spices
      – use a container with an air lock (Pickl-It, Harsch, or similar)
      – use more salt
      – add a little vinegar at the start
      – use a starter

      It’s a good question! I address it more in the book.

      • Forest says

        Actually a key piece of info that a lot of people leave out is that you have to cut off the blossom end of the cukes before pickling. The blossom end contains an enzyme that is designed to make the fruit rot so that the seeds will germinate.
        The one time I didn’t cut off the ends my cukes didn’t pickle they just turned into bags of putrid mush.

        Also if the pickles are larger with tough skin, I’ve had better luck by pricking them all over with a fork or toothpick or slicing them into spears before pickling.

        Adding oak leaves or grape leaves is a must. The tannins in the leaves keep the pickles crisper than they would be otherwise.

  11. Lori says

    I tried fermenting cucumbers this year for the first time and I had trouble with a few of the cucumbers in one jar floating above the liquid and getting moldy. I am tempted to use something next time like a rock out of my garden to hold the cucumbers down. Would that be safe?

    • says

      Yes, using a weight is a great idea. If you use a rock, make sure to clean it thoroughly! And/or bake it in your oven for a while to make sure to kill any spores or whatever that might be lurking on it.

  12. says

    I made a fermented salsa recipe last summer. We did eat off of it for a while but then I was afraid to because, although it looked good, I just wasn’t sure. I kept it in the back of the refrigerator. But as it aged, the onions became stronger and stronger. Any thoughts on this? My friend told me it would keep up to a year. Could we have finished it off?

    • says

      Hi Carol,

      Without being there, and without knowing the ratios you used, I can’t really say. And a year is on the longer side. I would say a month or two could work. If it’ll be longer than that, consider freezing it?

      Don’t know about the onions. Sounds tasty. :-)

  13. Melissa says

    Sorry I do not do the Facebook thing, but I am really glad to have found your blog, tweeted about the giveaway too. Looking forward to learning more! Thanks for the opportunity.

  14. Jane says

    Is there an advantage to making sauerkraut in large batches? We live in a small apartment with no extra space and I am experimenting with making kraut by the pint. Is this ok and can I get a good cure on a small batch?

  15. Simmy says

    I’m still learning about fermented foods. I feel so overwhelmed on where to even begin. What are some easy ways to start up with fermenting foods? What is the easiest to ferment?

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