You know that team building game that people sometimes play where you have to choose what two foods you would want to live on for the rest of your life if you were stranded on a deserted island?? Well...one of my two foods has always been pickles. I mean, really, if you're stranded on an island what better food to have with you! They are shelf stable, they are a vegetable, and they are always delicious. Yum. My mouth waters every time I think about those sour crispy delectables.
For the past few summers I've made a couple batches of traditional vinegar dill pickles--and I love them and wouldn't go without them. But last year I also tried my hand at fermented dill pickles. It was an experiment--as I've found all fermenting to be. It's not an exact science the way that hot water or pressure canning is. With canning you have to have just the right amount of food in the jars, the jars have to be closed just right, the temperature and/or pressure has to be just right, and you have to do it for just the right amount of time, but with fermenting it's totally different. Your jar of cucumbers can be half full, you can have several different sizes of jars with different types of lids, you can ferment something for a week, two, five, twelve. Every ferment is different and each one is a bit of an experiment with far too many variables to make it scientific---it's awesome! Those are my favorite kinds of experiments. It's like when you make a really delicious meal and your husband says, "Wow! This is amazing! Can you make this more often?" And you respond with, "Um...this exact thing?? Probably not. I made it up." That's kind of how fermenting works, at least for me.
Another thing about fermented pickles is that they taste a bit different from their vinegary counterparts. They are more sour and they are kind of bubbly. They can make your face pucker and they can be incredibly addicting...but I do think they are a bit of an acquired taste. If you've never made or really eaten homemade vinegar pickles, then tasting your first fermented pickle may be quite a shocker. They are very different from the jars of pickles that line the grocery store isles. However, if you are a homemade pickle lover, then I encourage you to try fermenting a batch. The best part is that you can start with a little pint jar and if they don't turn out or you hate them, you can compost those babies without it being a big deal at all.
The basics of fermenting cucumbers include packing pickling cucumbers (I get my mine at the farmers market) into a jar with pickling spices, garlic, and fresh dill, and then filling the jar with a brine of salt water. You then tightly cover them and leave them in a warm place for a bit. If your kitchen is warm (mine was in the 70's and 80's this week), then it may take just 5-7 days for the pickles to be ready. If it's on the cooler side (consistently below 75) then it may take a few weeks for them to finish. Once they have changed from bright cucumber green to dull pickle green and the liquid is bubbly and cloudy, then they are ready to taste. When you bite into them, they should look pickled all the way through. If they are still bright green in the middle--they are not done, or if they taste really salty they are not done. When they get to the sour level of your liking and they are pickled all the way through---they are done!! Hooray! Then you can wipe down the jars (in case they've dripped a bit in the fermenting process) and move them into the refrigerator where they'll keep for 6 months to a year. So easy and so good!
Also, adding traditional fermented foods to your diet can be so good for you! Unfiltered and unpasteurized fermented foods are full probiotics that help to build a healthy gut flora. Stop buying those expensive probiotic supplements and start eating fermented pickles and you'll be set!! I wrote a bit more about this in a post last summer, if you're wanting to find out more.
If you are looking for a recipe to get you started with fermenting cucumbers, this Nourished Kitchen recipe looks like a good one. The one I used this time around is from The New Midwestern Table by Amy Thielen. It's a fabulous cookbook that includes so many great updated traditional midwestern recipes, which is great if you want to cook using local and season ingredients. I fall more in love with that cookbook each time I use it.
For my fermented jalapeños, I just added some garlic and used the same salt water brine that I used for the cucumbers. They take a bit longer to ferment (you can see the changing green colors in the picture above; once they are all the duller green color, I'll start checking them), but I find that fermenting them is a great way to preserve the handfuls of jalapeños that come in from our garden as I can ferment them as soon as I have a pint jar full.
How about you?? Have you tried your hand at fermenting?? If so, what are some of your favorite things to ferment?