Inside and Out: Vessels for Fermentation

Let your personal aesthetic, form, and function guide you to the perfect container.

| Fall 2019

Clay fermentation vessels.

As long as humans have been fermenting vegetables, legumes, meats, grains, and fruits, they’ve needed a vessel to contain their creations. Some ferments require protection from the ambient air and its native microbes, while others depend on this contact for the process to work. As American architect Louis Sullivan famously said, “Form follows function,” and we see this in the case of the underlying materials used in fermentation vessels. So, let’s explore fermentation vessels through the materials used to make them, so you can confidently choose the right one for your next ferment.


Clay crocks and pots are the classic fermentation vessel, and for good reason. They come in two basic forms: One has straight sides with an open top, while the other usually has more rounded sides with a lid that fits over its opening. Weighting down your ferments in straight-sided crocks is as simple as finding something round that fits the inside area, such as a salad plate, and placing something heavy on top of it. For the more rounded crocks, the weights need to pass through the narrower opening on top and then cover a wider surface inside. To accomplish this, they often come with split weights, meaning the round weight is a piece of ceramic that’s split in two down the middle, so each half can easily fit through the narrow opening and then reassemble on top of the ferment.

When our family began fermenting vegetables in the late ‘90s, the only new crocks available in the United States were straight-sided, lidless crocks from the Midwest, sold through specialty catalogs that catered to homesteaders and back-to-the-landers. With the renewed interest in all types of fermenting, that’s thankfully changed. Today, you can find artisan potters riffing on classic styles with innovative glazes, shapes, and sizes, as well as time-tested commercial versions from all around the world: classic European water-seal designs with gorgeous glazes from Mudslide Stoneware; open crock styles from fermentation enthusiasts, such as Ogusky Ceramics; a variety of commercial sizes of water-seal styles from Germany’s Harsch or Poland’s Bolesławiec; and straight-sided styles from America’s own Ohio Stoneware. There are also traditional Asian styles, such as the beautiful handmade Onggi pots of Adam Field.

Crocks are beautiful and time-tested; they provide temperature control for your ferments and can last for generations when properly cared for. However, they’re usually heavy and costly. When we produced vegetable ferments commercially, we used a dozen 10-gallon monsters from Ohio Stoneware that were more than 100 pounds when full of ferments. That’s a lot to lift, but they helped us consistently produce large batches of quality fermented vegetables. If you want to make batches of a gallon or more, and beauty is important to you, clay crocks and pots are a worthwhile consideration.

Glass fermentation vessels.



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