Thursday, June 17, 2010
I've been canning and preserving for over 20 years, first as a way to preserve excess food for later or to control the flavors of jams, pickles and chutneys that our family ate. Later I began to see it more as a way to control the preservatives and other chemicals that frequently appear in these kinds of foods. Quite frankly I've never understood why pickle manufacturers felt it necessary to add yellow #2 to pickles. It doesn't add anything to the flavor and if you want your pickles to be yellow just add turmeric.
As I learned more I began to wonder about lacto-fermented foods. Through this process lactobacilli, an anaerobic beneficial microbe, converts starches and sugars in the food into lactic acid. This lactic acid helps not only to preserve the food for an extended period of time, it also helps to promote a healthy bacterial balance in your gut.
There are many traditionally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, relishes, and chutneys. Many of these foods are now made commercially, a process that frequently does not allow for lacto-fermentation. Part of the reason that commercially processed foods are not lacto-fermented is because it takes longer, requires more interaction with the food, and does not last as long on the shelf.
I see lacto-fermented foods as an addition to my pickled vegetables. Let's face it, confronted with an abundance of zucchini, there is only so much lacto-fermentation I can do. I'll make my favorite bread and butter pickles and zucchini relish with the rest. The canned foods will last for a longer time and the lacto-fermented ones will support digestive health.
Back to the conference. I took a class with Sandy Der and Nishanga Bliss where they demonstrated making kimchi and lacto-fermented soda. I had always thought that lacto-fermentation required a fermentation crock. Mostly because the books I have seem to call for one. Both Sandy and Nishanga demonstrated using 1 gallon glass jars. When Sandy demonstrated the kimchi she showed off her beautiful pickle weights which she makes in her ceramics studio. I was amazed at how easy the whole process was and as soon as the lecture was over I rushed for the door to purchase a set of pickle weights.
Shortly after arriving home I dug out a one gallon jar, went to the grocery store and bought the ingredients for my first batch of kimchi. It turned out amazingly well and having a little bit every day with a meal turned out to be a most delicious way to add probiotics to my diet. I finished it very quickly and made some more; a gallon seems like a lot but when you are eating it every day it doesn't last long.
I then moved on to lacto-fermented pickles. The first batch smelled fabulous and pickled really well. Unfortunately I didn't particularly care for the flavor. The recipe called for pickling spice. Now I have used pickling spice before when making vinegar preserved pickles and the flavor didn't bother me then. I'm not sure if the lacto-fermentation process intensifies the flavor or if it simply is stronger since there is no pickling and no boiling. I wound up giving them to a friend who is from India and thought their flavor was great. Trying another batch this time I branched out and following the basic tenets of lacto-fermentation I made a brine but modified the flavorings. I'm waiting for this next batch to be done, frequently stopping by to enjoy the aroma of my fizzing jar of lacto-fermented pickles.
I've been writing down my lacto-fermentation adventures on my Facebook Fan Page and have gotten a request for my recipe. This is a basic recipe, feel free to modify the spices to suit yourself. The most important parts are that the brine be a suitable strength to preserve the cucumbers until the lactobacilli take over the preserving process and that the cucumbers be fully submerged in the brine (hence the need for pickle weights).
I made this recipe in a two quart jar as there are not that many people living in my house and a whole gallon of pickles plus a whole gallon of kimchi seemed like a lot. If you decide to make this in a gallon jar you will need to double the recipe.
4 large pickling cucumbers (only because this is what fit - if using baby cukes you may need more)
3 cloves of garlic, crushed, not peeled
2 bay leaves
1/2 t. celery seed
1/2 t. dill seed
1 quart of water
1 1/2 T. kosher salt
Sterilize the jar
Wash the cucumbers
Add spices to the jar
Mix together water and salt until salt is completely dissolved (this is your brine)
Pour brine over cucumbers and herbs
Use pickle weights to hold down the cucumbers
Loosely cover jar with wax paper and a ring or rubber band
Let sit in a warm (not hot) dark place
After 4 days you can cut off small pieces of pickle to taste. When it tastes pickle-y enough you can put it in the refrigerator. This will slow down but not completely stop the fermentation process
If you'd like to learn more about lacto-fermentation there are a few books out there that are really good resources: