Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lacto Fermented Pickles

 I originally wrote this post as a guest post for one of my favorite blogs, Sustainable Eats. It  hasn't been posted yet, and as I haven't gotten around to writing a new post lately I thought I'd cheat and post this one here for now.

A few summers ago I came across Eull Gibbon's Dill Crock recipe in Stocking Up, The Third Edition of The Classic Preserving Guide by Carol Hupping and the Staff of the Rodale Food Center. The recipe caught my eye because it uses lacto fermentation to preserve the vegetables rather than vinegar. At the time my son was a little over one and I was looking for a way to increase his consumption of lacto fermented foods. I had been making sauerkraut and other lacto fermented vegetable salads and condiments but they weren't very finger friendly. My son enjoyed eating store bought pickles and brined olives but those are just full of vinegar and oil, tasty but not nutritious. Today most pickled foods use vinegar, whereas traditionally they were fermented by the lactobacilli; lactic acid producing bacteria which feed off the starches and sugars in food and in return fight off harmful bacteria and provide beneficial enzymes, raise vitamin levels, increase digestibility and even add antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances.

 The Eull Gibbon's dill crock pickles are both healthy and tasty. They store well and are simple to make. You hardly even need a recipe, and after making them once you will probably just look up the recipe to remember how much salt to add. Start by choosing crisp fresh vegetables, whole or cut into pieces if dense or large. The veggies are layered in a crock with dill and garlic. Then you make a salt water brine and pour it over the vegetables and then store the crock away for a couple weeks. Once the veggies are pickled to your liking you can eat them or store them in the fridge or cold storage for up to several months. I usually keep a crock or two going during the summer months, and transfer the contents into jars which we keep in the fridge. We just recently finished off the last of our veggie pickles from last summer. I feed them to the kids as snacks and alongside their lunches. This recipe makes about a gallon of pickled veggies. I use a glass crock but you could use a gallon glass jar. You could easily downsize the recipe and just make a quart for starters, just do the math for the salt water brine. The original recipe called for three quarters a measure salt to ten measures water.

Lacto Fermented Dill Veggie Pickles

  1. Wash and scrub your vegetables. Suggestions include green beans, green tomatoes, peas, cauliflower cut into small florets, baby onions, cucumbers, beets or turnips cut into cubes, the white part of scallions or leeks, baby carrots or sliced carrots (use different colored carrots and vegetables if you have them; red and yellow carrots, purple beans, etc. makes for fun eating especially if you have small children). The original recipe used peeled and cored Jerusalem Artichoke which I'd use if we had them. You can also add red tabasco peppers if want some heat.
  2. Cover the bottom of the crock with fresh dill followed by several peeled garlic cloves
  3. Then alternately layer firm, crisp vegetable, followed by another layer of dill and then another vegetable. Proceed until you are near the top of your crock or have used up all your veggies.
  4. I usually just have about three to four layers of dill and garlic. Example from bottom up: Dill and garlic, carrots, cauliflower, dill and garlic, beans, baby onions, dill and garlic, peas, topped off by a little more dill.
  5. The original recipe calls for ten measures of water and three quarters measure salt, which would be ten cups of water and three quarters cup of salt. I believe this makes a little more brine than you need, so you could break it down to eight cups of water and five eighths of a cup of salt or so depending on how many veggies you have to cover. The recipe also calls for a quarter cup of vinegar for taste. You could add whey or lemon juice in place of the vinegar, or leave the extra acids out.
  6. Finally you need to put something heavy on top to keep the vegetables submerged beneath the brine. You can use a small plate and set a quart jar of water on top. Or, if a plate does not fit I have often filled a gallon plastic storage bag with water and a couple tablespoons of salt (in case it leaks) and set that on top of the veggies. Cover all of this with a flour sack or cloth and secure with a rubber band to keep flies and dust out.
  7. Set your crock in a safe location, away from direct sunlight, but somewhere you'll remember to check on it every now and then. The time it takes your pickles to ripen depends on how warm your house is, but it should be around two weeks or so. If a bit of mold grows on the surface just skim it off, the veggies beneath the brine are protected.
  8. You can preserve your pickled veggies for shelf storage by water bath canning them for fifteen minutes. Just strain off the liquid, bring to a boil and pour over your veggies packed into hot clean jars. Leave half and inch head space. This does destroy most of the healthy enzymes and bacteria. However, sometimes you just don't have to fridge or cold storage room. And these are still healthier than other dill pickle or pickled green bean recipes that you might already make and can.  
  9. Enjoy your pickles! 

After reading Brookes post (at Sustainable Eats) on lacto-fermented salsa a while back, I lay in bed thinking of salsa and how long it would be before I'd have fresh tomatoes and a chance at her recipe. Then I thought about what I did have on hand, and what would make a more seasonally appropriate veggie ferment. I had cabbage, carrots and onions. I also had some cilantro and a jalapeno (both far from local or seasonally correct). I'm sharing this with you, not because I'm suggesting you run out and buy these exact veggies and follow this recipe to a T, but rather, to inspire and share how easy it is to make a lacto fermented dish or condiment with whatever it is that you do have on hand.

The next day I shredded part of a cabbage, a couple carrots, an onion, a handful of cilantro, a few garlic cloves and a half a jalapeno. I added to this a few Tb. of whey off the top of my yogurt and a tablespoon of salt. We stirred this all together and packed it into a jar. By leaving this veggie ferment out at room temperature for a couple days, it begins to ferment. The live enzyme and beneficial bacterias begin to multiply. I did not want to ferment this to the point of soft sauerkraut. Instead I was looking for a crunchy slaw and salsa like condiment. We have been using this as taco filling, or just on a plate with some bean dip and tortilla chips.

I ferment a lot of things these days. I just make them like I usually would, but then I add whey and let them sit out for a couple days before putting them in the fridge. This goes totally against how I was raised; to refrigerate everything immediately, not let food sit out on the counter... I am beginning to implement traditional food practices in my cooking. I am trusting in my own common sense and in the healthy bacteria I know are there waiting for a chance to do their job.

With summer on the horizon you will soon have ample opportunity to try your hand at fermenting some fresh garden produce. Happy fermenting everyone!


drfugawe said...

Hi Emily,
I bet summer's just about over up there! Down here (Oregon) we've got maybe a few weeks more, and I'm trying to get as much stuff fermented as possible. As I remember the Gibbon's crock pot pickles from a past reading, he didn't worry about refrigerating them after they were ready, maybe he had a nice cool location where they just sat and waited to be eaten - I also remember him discussing how they just would "bury" any new additions down under the old stuff and keep the process going that way.

Yup - I think I'll try that too. Thanks for the idea.

Emily said...

John, My fridge is full of pickled (lacto-fermented)peas, beans, cauliflower and cucumbers. We are working towards having a consistent cold storage. Right now my beets and carrots are stored in the middle of a hay pile. I don't know if I mentioned it in the post, but I do keep the veggies submerged in their brine, but if there is extra brine I use it to start the next batch.

Richard Washburn said...

I have a brand new product which is very useful in lacto fermented vegetables made in a jar.
They are weights made of glass that fit into the top of the canning jar that help hold the veggies under the brine solution.
I have them listed on Ebay, just search for ‘lacto ferment glass jar weights’.