DIY Kitchen: fermented pickles
On the early September MRI of my brain you’d see the flashy billboards of my amygdala (associated with formation of emotions) parading their daily messages: bombing Syria is NOT the answer! or, Oooooh, new Facebook pix of Rebecca’s baby!, or Omg, this book! I want to hug it. And then there’s my prefrontal cortex (associated with planning ahead, delayed gratification), currently colonized with: pickle recipes, pesto ingredients, and do I have to wash food processor between batches of eggplant dip and salsa? It’s also tied up in freezing chard, kale and beet greens, and what to do with the zucchinis. Which is to say, if you thought my life lacked zesty drama before, well, welcome to September.
Dan too, is jammed up, prefrontally-speaking, in find elk, stalk elk, make precisely accurate shot to vitals from 15 yards away. Now, try Again. And the children? Well, truthfully I’ve lost track of them. What are they doing? Oh, lets see, they’ve built some lego-buckskin device they’re dangling out the 2nd story window (cover your ears dad) to clamp onto the vigas eight feet below. Now Col’s finger is bleeding from some vague knife-work project (Did I approve it? Who was supervising?) and whoops, we’re out of band-aids…but wait, here’s Rose with a stack she flourishes like the band-aid broker, asking in return only to bandage the wound. Now they’re practicing for future debate team but failing miserably, never developing their arguments beyond: You did it; did not; did too; Mom said; stop talking to me. Also, pretty sure pinching is frowned upon.
Pickles cured without vinegar – in case you were wondering what the hell this post was about.
And I stand at the stove, stirring my fragrant salsa, watching the zippy green of the cilantro merge peaceably with the red ocean of tomatoes. Or I’m at the table, packing fat little cucumber submarines into half gallon jars. And I think, cheerily, Kids need to figure out their own program of entertainment. It’s good for them! Plus, parents can’t be endlessly available. Two minutes later when Rose bursts into teary flames because it’s her turn to give Col a shot with the pencil and “he’s not letting me,” (the word “me” now having 4 syllables), I think, guiltily, Shit. They need me and I’ve been unavailable since mid-August.
Why no, we don’t keep the hair-cutting scissors locked up, why do you ask?
Which is to say, I have no answers on how to get your household work done while caring for kids. Maybe, like my friend Melanie, you’re raising kids who want to help in the kitchen; maybe like me, your kids will slice a few tomatoes and then float off to the next thing. Maybe like us last Sunday, you will actually need to stop in the middle of it all, save children from each other, bring everyone to a dark room and read aloud chapter 11 of Lemony Snicket’s Book the Twelfth, while everyone’s blood pressure settles, even though you’ll be late to meet friends at the river.
What I do know is that these pickles, these real sour pickles, or refrigerated pickles, or lacto-fermented pickles (though fermented without whey), these raw, enzymatic, teeming with lactobacilli, old-fashioned pioneer pickles that will last in the fridge for at least four months are worth the trying to figure it all out.
Ingredients (for 1/2 gallon)
5-10 small/medium cucumbers
2 qts water
4 TBSP salt
3 peeled whole garlic cloves
2 dill seed heads (leaves good too)
2-4 grape leaves (oak/apple OK: for tannins to keep pickles crunchy)
Use freshest cukes possible. Wash cukes well and let sit in ice cold water bath for 1 hour (this helps them stay crunchy). Make brine by heating 2 quarts (8 cups) water and 4 TBSP salt to a simmer. Let cool. Clean 1/2 gallon jar (or 2 quart jars) well. Place a grape leaf in the bottom of the jar and start layering cukes on top vertically. Pack them in tight. Press the garlic and dill into available spaces. After cukes are packed in, add another bit of dill and a grape leaf on top. When brine has cooled, pour in jar so it’s covering the top grape leaf. Leave 2 inches headspace. Cap tightly. Let sit on counter for 3-5 days. Brine will start bubbling and turning cloudy by day 2 or 3. When bubbling settles, around day 3-7 (quicker in warmer temps), place in fridge or cold storage.
Don’t be scared of cloudy bubbles: that means it’s working.
Other tips for making lacto-fermented pickles
* “Burp” jars daily to release CO2.
* Whole, small cucumbers work best, but it’s OK to slice a few to make everything fit.
* You can add the culture of a previous batch to a new batch, or just drink it, as Rose and I prefer.
* Salt. Yes, it’s a lot. On these hot days, the salt holds off spoilage so the lactobacilli can get a foothold and start their colonization. You can try reducing salt, fermentation may take longer. It’s not overpowering in the mix of the finished brine.
* How do you know it’s done? Brine should get bubbly for a few days and then slow down. Taste it!
* The tannins in the grape leaves (or oak or apple/plum/pear) keep the cukes crunchy.
* Get creative. Add what you like: peppercorns, fresh herbs, spicy peppers.