Driving to work a few weeks ago, I heard a Fresh Air podcast of Terry Gross interviewing Sandor Katz, the author of The Art of Fermentation. He talked about how fermentation is the “the flavorful space between fresh and rotten” and just how easy it is to ferment your garden harvest.
I was instantly hooked on the idea.
It turns out that a lot of what I eat and drink everyday is made possible because of the fermentation process. Coffee, beer, yogurt, bread, cheese—all sorts of things are fermented. And for thousands of years humans have been preserving their garden produce by fermenting it.
When we got back from a few days at the shore, the cucumbers in our garden were perfect and plentiful, so I knew it was time to join the ranks for my fermenting forbearers by making pickles..
Real pickles. Not those vinegar-soaked refrigerator pickles. I’m talking about lacto-fermented, homegrown, organic, ripe-on-the-vine, pickled-in-the-brine, super-duper cucumber pickles.
Here’s what I used:
‣ 5 tbsp salt
‣ 2 quarts water
‣ 8 medium cucumbers
‣ 8 to 10 grape leaves
‣ a few horseradish leaves
‣ string beans
‣ chard stems
‣ mustard seed
‣ 4 quart-size ball jars
And here’s how I did it:
I add the salt to the water, heated it up (not boiling), stirred it, let the salt dissolve, and let it cool.
Meanwhile, I cut the cumbers in half and sliced the halves into spears.
I put a grape leaf on the bottom of each jar. Grape leaves are a very important part of the process, because they give the pickles their crunch. Without the tannins that are present in grape leaves (or other leaves such as horseradish or oak), your cucumbers will be disgustingly mushy. And nobody likes a mushy pickle. Nobody.
Then I filled the jar with cucumber spears, jamming them in good and tight, along with onion slices, green beans, dill, garlic, mustard seed, and chard stems. And I rolled up some more grape and horseradish leaves and jammed them in too, leaving about two inches from the top of the vegetables to the top of the jar.
Next I poured the brine into the jars. Everything I read about this online said you should leave about an inch from the top of the brine to the top of the jar, not sure why, but that’s what I did. The trick is getting the veggies to stay submerged. I put another grape leaf on top to help hold the cukes down.
After I poured the brine, I tapped the jars on the table to release any air bubbles. Then I put on the lids, not too tight, and left them on the table for a few days, each morning opening the lids and sort of burping the jars.
Once the brine started getting cloudy, I knew the fermentation process had begun. I waited a few more days.
When we finally tried them, my 4-year-old daughter declared these pickles to be the best pickles ever. And she’s right.