Skip

Wood for pickling lids?
March 23, 2009 9:41 PM   Subscribe

What woods can be use to make lids for pickling?

I want to start doing some wild fermentation pickling in pickling crocks. You can buy online special wooden lids with holes in them to hold the food to be pickled down while allowing the brine to come up. See HERE. These are claimed to be made out of Poplar. Rather than ordering the lids online I figure I could make some myself, but a search at my local Home Depot and Rona don't carry poplar in the appropriate size.

My question is is there anything special about poplar that I need that wood in particular? Are other woods okay? Spruce is readily available. Oak could possibly be gotten in the right size as well. What factors are important? I figure that A) it needs to be kiln-dried chemical free, B) needs to be a wood that isn't toxic (ie not hemlock?), C) and of a thickness, say 1/2", so that it wouldn't warp.

I'll be checking out another store that I think carries a larger variety of wood on Wednesday. Any advice before then is appreciated!
posted by GeneticFreek to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
As a woodworker, and occasional pickler of things, I would recomend a harder, non-sap wood like oak. Definitely not spruce. I would get something kiln dried but maybe 3/4" for more weight. Also, for much better longevity I might oil the wood with something non-toxic like Behlen's, which, by the way, is great for any number of wooden kitchen tools.
posted by ijustwantyourhalf at 9:51 PM on March 23, 2009


You wouldn't want to use Spruce or any other soft wood; the resin will make the food taste awful.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:19 PM on March 23, 2009


Do you need to use wood? My dad made pickles when I was younger - he cut a circular piece out of a plastic milk crate, and then used a chunk of rock to weigh it down. There are probably more sanitary ways to do this, but it worked fine for us.
posted by gnutron at 10:40 PM on March 23, 2009


If you go to a store that sells lumber (e.g. in the West, Windsor Plywood), as opposed to a home improvement big box store, they will have many types of hardwood for you to choose from. If this were me, I'd go scrounging in their discount bin for suitable pieces of hardwood. I can't imagine a reason why any non-exotic hardwood wouldn't work just fine for you (poplar was probably used for the pots you link to just because it is cheap).
posted by ssg at 11:00 PM on March 23, 2009


I just mentioned spruce because it was plentiful in the lumber aisle. Without knowing anything it seemed reasonable, but that is why I asked the question. So no spruce.

What about maple? I imagine I might be able to fine some maple.

And I guess I don't need to use wood...it just seemed traditional. I thought about just getting some of those plastic cutting boards and cutting them down. The milk crate might work as well... I have some extras kicking around.
posted by GeneticFreek at 11:02 PM on March 23, 2009


To ssg: Windsor Plywood is where I was going to go on Wednesday. :)
posted by GeneticFreek at 11:03 PM on March 23, 2009


Maple is a hardwood and it should be fine. But spruce, pine, and fir are no-no's.

Redwood might be OK. I visited a winery once in Napa Valley which used large tanks made of redwood to store their wine. Redwood doesn't contain resin like the others do.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:10 PM on March 23, 2009


I think a general rule of thumb is to think about what wine, or other liquids, have been traditional is stored in... as others have mentioned, hardwoods, I'd think oak would work well too
posted by edgeways at 11:48 PM on March 23, 2009


I can't imagine a reason why any non-exotic hardwood wouldn't work just fine for you

Not all woods are food-safe, and even the ones that are ok for brief contact (like a cutting board) may not be great for extended soaking with your food. Oak isn't toxic, for example (or all us wine drinkers would be in bad shape), but will provide definite tannic flavors.

A quick google search for toxic woods and foodsafe woods turns up lots of lists (example, another) and some interesting discussions (example).

The point being, please double and triple check whether the kind of wood you are considering is not only safe for pickling with your food, but will provide the taste you are looking for.
posted by Forktine at 6:04 AM on March 24, 2009


GeneticFreek writes "I imagine I might be able to fine some maple."

Maple would be fine but quite a bit more money than popular.

GeneticFreek writes "I thought about just getting some of those plastic cutting boards and cutting them down."

This would be ideal. The polypropylene is very easy to mill with wood working tools and they'd be safe to put in the dishwasher.
posted by Mitheral at 6:33 AM on March 24, 2009


We just use a heavy ceramic plate.
posted by electroboy at 6:35 AM on March 24, 2009


GeneticFreek, why not do as electroboy suggests and use a heavy ceramic plate that's both non-reactive and easily washable? You can always place a weight on top of it. IIRC, a plate is the traditional lid.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:06 AM on March 24, 2009


Mitheral writes: "The polypropylene is very easy to mill with wood working tools and they'd be safe to put in the dishwasher."

My concern might be that the plastic would leach chemicals or flavours after extended soaking in an acidic solution.

And none of the plate that I happen to have on hand fit my crock. I tried already. So if I'm buying something, I like the wood idea better.
posted by GeneticFreek at 8:21 AM on March 24, 2009


Thanks, Forktine, for the links. They're better than the ones I had found.

An interesting note on the UBC discussion page is that Maple has antibacterial properties. I'm trying to promote natural bacterial growth and fermentation, so maybe maple isn't a good idea for pickling!

Noteworthy is Poplar doesn't seem to be on the mimf.com list.

Thinking of what woods I see used for cooking utensils, olivewood, acacia and bamboo are popular these days. I bet sheets of olivewood would be expensive, though! A quick search of wooding cooking spoons on Amazon indicates that beech is common as well, apparently.
posted by GeneticFreek at 8:40 AM on March 24, 2009


Poplar has been used in wooden spoons for generations because it has a reputation of not imparting flavors to food.

I would avoid all plastics. You're going to be encouraging the growth of a whole community of micro-organisms, and I don't think you can be sure what they might not be able to produce from a substrate of even non-toxic plastic. Arsenic used to be a common preservative of wallpaper until it was found that some mold had developed the ability to detoxify the wallpaper by producing trimethyl arsine, a gas which then proceeded to poison nearby humans.

I think there are limitations even to ceramic plates. If they have any unglazed areas, such as the unglazed bottom rim typical of dinner plates, that will be loaded with micro-organisms already unless you sterilize it, which boiling is often insufficient to do, whereas wood has natural bactericidal properties.
posted by jamjam at 8:41 AM on March 24, 2009


Check. If nothing turns up here, contact the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Lehman's offers crock lids in unfinished poplar (coat with food-safe mineral oil). Sounds like that's the wood of choice.

Incidentally, I had bookmarked sauerkraut making over at BoingBoing and had forgotten this tidbit: "The wooden disc had become so waterlogged and swollen that I couldn't lift it out of the crock. I had to make hooks out of a clothes hanger, insert the hooks into the hole of the wooden disk, and tug it out." So if you do find your wood, factor swelling into your sizing. Good luck!
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:46 AM on March 24, 2009


Posted too soon. From Wisemen Trading: "Poplar wood was chosen for these Sauerkraut Tampers as it outgases very little, and does not have a strong or objectionable odor or taste. These qualities make it superior for individuals addressing health problems related to toxicity or those with allergies, chronic disease, or chemical sensitivities; as well as all people who desire to preserve their health. Poplar is the wood recommended by toxicologists. "

I can't vouch for the link or the info, but bear these qualities in mind if you choose another wood.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:49 AM on March 24, 2009


I would avoid all plastics. You're going to be encouraging the growth of a whole community of micro-organisms, and I don't think you can be sure what they might not be able to produce from a substrate of even non-toxic plastic.

Food grade plastic buckets are pretty common for making pickles and sauerkraut. There aren't any issues with using appropriate plastics.

Arsenic used to be a common preservative of wallpaper

Pigment, not preservative, and irrelevant since he's not making anything out of wallpaper.

the unglazed bottom rim typical of dinner plates, that will be loaded with micro-organisms already unless you sterilize it, which boiling is often insufficient to do

No, it's actually quite sufficient. It's the defacto standard for sterilizing for stuff like this, as well as beer making and pickling.
posted by electroboy at 9:23 AM on March 24, 2009


the unglazed bottom rim typical of dinner plates, that will be loaded with micro-organisms already unless you sterilize it, which boiling is often insufficient to do

No, it's actually quite sufficient. It's the defacto standard for sterilizing for stuff like this, as well as beer making and pickling.

"Clostridium botulinum is a soil bacterium. The spores can survive in most environments and are very hard to kill. They can survive the temperature of boiling water at sea level, thus many foods are canned with a pressurized boil that achieves an even higher temperature, sufficient to kill the spores."

Other sites I looked at but did not consider authoritative enough to link claimed botulism spores could survive 5 hours of boiling. And lest you think botulism is not generally an issue with pickles:

"Pickled peppers and mixed vegetable-pepper home-canned products are commonly prepared by many Colorado households. These products also have been implicated in botulism deaths due to the use of untested recipes, under-acidified products, addition of too much oil, or lack of processing."

I thought these facts were so widely known and appreciated that my answer did not require links in support, but I was mistaken.


Arsenic used to be a common preservative of wallpaper


Pigment, not preservative, and irrelevant since he's not making anything out of wallpaper.


Given that you know this much, I am astonished you don't see that, regardless of the intent of the manufacturer, the fact the fungus which was trying to eat the wallpaper exerted itself to volatilize the toxic arsenic and get it out of the way means that the arsenic was functioning as a preservative. This is such an obvious implication I thought it went without saying, but once again I was mistaken.

Also, I think it remains to be demonstrated that the wallpaper manufacturers of the day did not include arsenic and other toxic metal based colorants (such as cadmium and chromium) partly because they recognized their preservative properties.

I would avoid all plastics. You're going to be encouraging the growth of a whole community of micro-organisms, and I don't think you can be sure what they might not be able to produce from a substrate of even non-toxic plastic.

Food grade plastic buckets are pretty common for making pickles and sauerkraut. There aren't any issues with using appropriate plastics.

In this age of bisphenol A and phthalates (among many others), after eight years of an FDA transmogrified into a yell squad for industry by W, I find your faith in the putative food safety of plastics naïve.

However, let's assume that there are plastics being used for pickle making which are perfectly safe. I would say that is due to the care pickle makers, commercial and amateur, have devoted to choosing strains of organisms which are compatible with their plastics. But GeneticFreek is planning to make pickles by wild fermentation, " the reliance on naturally occurring bacteria and yeast to ferment food", and there are plenty of microorganisms out there which can degrade plastics: here, for example, is a PDF describing bacterial degradation of polypropylene, and here is a newspaper story about a Canadian boy who won a science fair competition by managing to concoct a cocktail of organisms from stuff hanging around his house that proved capable of consuming 43% of the material of his plastic bags from the grocery store.

Of course, I can't say how toxic the metabolites of plastic these bacteria produce may or may not be, but it would be the capstone of my surprises at your comment if a person as familiar with home brewing and the ethanol it produces from ordinary carbohydrates as you seem to be could say with a straight face they will not be toxic because the substrates aren't.
posted by jamjam at 4:41 PM on March 24, 2009


I thought these facts were so widely known and appreciated that my answer did not require links in support, but I was mistaken.

Botulism can only reproduce under certain conditions, one of which is a low acid environment, which naturally fermented sauerkraut and pickles are most definitely not.

I would say that is due to the care pickle makers, commercial and amateur, have devoted to choosing strains of organisms which are compatible with their plastics.

You've clearly never made pickles or sauerkraut (or beer for that matter). All you need is the appropriate amount of salt (and spices) and the rest takes care of itself. Occasionally you get a bad batch and have to toss it, but it's rare and very obvious from the smell. There's no inoculating and no special processes except keeping it covered and occasionally skimming the top.

he fact the fungus which was trying to eat the wallpaper exerted itself to volatilize the toxic arsenic and get it out of the way

Yeah, that's complete bullshit. You were trying to make the "hey this used to be common but then we found out it's poisonous" point and now you're just handwaving.

But let me ask you a question, you recommend wood for its naturally bacteriacidal properties, wouldn't that be detrimental to the bacteria you claim you're trying to cultivate?
posted by electroboy at 5:39 PM on March 24, 2009


From a page at the CDC:

[It's] very difficult to tell if food contains botulism poison because you

Can't see it
Can't smell it
Can't taste it

And from the University of Missouri:

For safety's sake

The level of acid in a pickled product is as important to its safety as it is to its taste and texture.

* Do not change the amounts of vinegar, food or water in a recipe. Don't use a vinegar with unknown acidity. Don't use homemade vinegar.
* Only use recipes with tested amounts of ingredients.
* There must be enough acid in the mixed product to prevent the growth of botulinum bacteria. If botulinum bacteria grow inside jars, they can produce the toxin that causes botulism, an often fatal form of food poisoning.


You're a hopeless case, electroboy. You are proof against simple logic and plain statements of fact from authoritative sources; let's all hope you are equally resistant to bacterial toxins.

Oh, and good luck to anybody who eats your pickles.

But I will answer your question despite the apparent futility of the gesture: not if the bacteria have to come into contact with the wood in order to be killed, as is the case with woods such as poplar.


GeneticFreek, if your crocks are old get them tested for lead. Old pickle crocks are notorious for having lead-based glazes.
posted by jamjam at 6:43 PM on March 24, 2009


GeneticFreek writes "My concern might be that the plastic would leach chemicals or flavours after extended soaking in an acidic solution."

High and low density polyethylene (rather than polypropylene like I previously wrote, I think spell check got me) has been in wide spread use for decades. Every container with a 2 or 4 plastic type is polyethylene. Practically every plastic food container from ketchup bottles and milk jugs through commercial food buckets (almost every bulk item not fresh or frozen and even some of those comes in a bucket of some sort) to bread bags is made of polyethylene. It's used as a wear surface in medical implants. The sauerkraut used in the commercial kitchens I work in comes a 20L polyethylene bucket.

jamjam writes "In this age of bisphenol A and phthalates (among many others), after eight years of an FDA transmogrified into a yell squad for industry by W, I find your faith in the putative food safety of plastics naïve."

See above. Unless you are going to eat a very strict home raised diet it is going to be essentially impossible to limit your exposure to polyethylene in any meaningful way.

On top of that trees will uptake contaminates in the soil they grow in. Being a natural product grown in the wild there is no telling what trace chemicals might exist in any given piece of wood.

Having said all that I've thought of something else that might work for you. Any decent glass shop could cut you a circular piece of 1/2"-3/4" or so plate glass to fit your crock and then sand the edges to make them rounded. The holes aren't really necessary, just make sure the piece of glass is sized to leave a gap all the way around when it's in the crock. Don't know how that would compare in price to the online item though.
posted by Mitheral at 7:13 PM on March 24, 2009


Look, it's pretty obvious that you don't understand how the process works. This site lays out the details of the biological processes, this describes the preferred method for canning pickles and sauerkraut. Note that it is boiling water bath.

The short version is this: Lactic acid fermentation produces sufficient acid so that botulinum spores cannot reproduce after canning, despite the low oxygen environment. The brine solution inhibits the growth of other bacteria during the fermentation process. A spoiled batch of naturally fermented kraut will be quite obvious prior to canning, but it will not be because of botulism contamination, which, as noted earlier, requires low acid, low oxygen environments.

not if the bacteria have to come into contact with the wood in order to be killed, as is the case with woods such as poplar.

Huh? Of course it's going to come in contact with the wood. Anyway, enough derail, that's the last I'll say on the matter.
posted by electroboy at 7:22 AM on March 25, 2009


Please stop with the yelling match.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:59 AM on March 25, 2009


« Older Star Wars Filter: Does the Emp...   |  Where can I find large-ish (50... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post