Over the last couple of weeks, the garden has gone from the, "Will this ever give anything?" stage to the, "What in the world am I going to do with all of this?" stage. It is a good place to be as it means the weeding is less, and the amount of fresh food on your plate increases as your grocery bill goes down, but now the work changes to harvesting, and preserving the harvest.
Our cucumbers have been doing well this season. We planted "Pick-a-bushel," which produces a lot of pickle sized cucumbers which can be picked anywhere from gerkin sized to 6 inch barrel pickles. They have been good fresh, and we are working on preserving them through lacto-fermentation as true pickles.
If you have not heard of lacto-fermentation, it is the process that is used for centuries to make sauerkraut and kimchi in the traditional way. In its simplest terms, salt is used to make an environment where certain good bacteria flourish in an environment devoid of Oxygen. These good bacteria out compete bacteria that would make you sick or cause food to rot. As the good bacteria eat sugars in the vegetables, they release lactic acid. This process, which takes about a week at 65-75 degrees F continues until the sugars are used up, or the environment becomes to acidic for the bacteria to continue.
There are many who will try to sell you on the health benefits or the pre-refrigeration nostalgia of it all. What I like, though, is that it's super easy, and the flavor that comes off of the end product is not something that can be duplicated. There are crocks that are made especially for fermenting vegetables that cost a minimum of $150. If you get into it, they are really nice. To start off and see if this is for you, I would recommend a simple airlock and wide-mouth mason jar set up. A good set of 4 airlock and lids can be purchased for about $20, and mason jars can be purchased for less than $10. Glass weights can also be purchased for about $10. These make it really easy to hold things under the water, which is necessary for fermentation, but if you are on a budget, you could get away without them. With these supplies you are ready to ferment just about anything and there are many good books available to help you out.
For Pickles, you will need the following:
Cucumbers (green beans are a good addition if you have them too)
2-3 Cloves of Garlic
Pinch of Red pepper flakes (Optional)
Mason Jar- 1 or 2 qt.
Brine Mixed at the strength of 3/4 cup sea salt to one gallon of water.
Make sure everything has been rinsed well with clean water, then put the Dill, Dill Seed, Pepercorns, Garlic, and Red Pepper Flakes in the bottom of your jar. Layer your jar with cucumbers and broken pieces of green beans using smaller cucumbers and beans to fill in the gaps. Fill the jar up to about 2 inches from the top with vegetables. Then fill it up with your prepared brine. Place some form of weight on the top to keep things under water and then put on your airlock. Find a cool (65-75F) dark place to keep your jar. After this, other than clean up, you are done! Wait a week and enjoy the results. During fermentation, you can expect the brine to get cloudy and the vegetables to start to look "cooked." Your end results will look something like the jar below.
For More Information:
"Cooked," by Michael Pollan has a great section that discussed what happens during fermentation and is what turned me on to trying this process.
"Fermented Vegetables," by Kristen K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey is my go to resource for recipes and brine ratios. It also contains an introductory section that goes into depth about the process of fermentation.