here to read about it. But the ones I am most proud of are the fermented pickles that spent a week sitting in a bowl on my kitchen counter. This was my first attempt at fermented pickles and I am awed by how authentic they taste.
Fermented vegetables were a staple in the diets of my eastern European Jewish ancestors. The fermentation process allows the natural sugars in the vegetables to turn into lactic acid, which creates an acidic environment that prevents the growth of bacteria that would normally cause food to spoil. Its an easy and inexpensive way to preserve foods for extended periods of time, which is great for long, harsh winters. The crunch and sharpness of brined veggies also makes an excellent counterpoint to the often bland meat & potato based diets that were common in places like Poland and Russia. When immigrants came to America from eastern Europe, they brought this tradition with them and the kosher dill pickle became a popular street food and standard fair in Jewish delicatessens. The cucumbers were washed and stacked in barrels with dill, garlic, spices, salt and clean water and left to ferment in a relatively warm place for a few weeks or even a few months. The longer they sit in the brine, the more flavorful they become. I grew up on those pickles and have vivid memories of fishing them out of the huge barrel at Tabachnick's deli.
10 large pickling cucumbers
5 cups clean water, filtered or distilled
5 tbsp pickling salt
5 large sprigs of fresh dill or a tablespoon of dill seeds
5 cloves of garlic
About 20 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 grape leaves or horseradish leaves (optional)
There is quite a bit of science behind the perfect naturally fermented pickle and they deliver health benefits that shelf-stable vinegar brined pickles do not. Fermented foods are an excellent source of probiotics, which are essential for gut health and aid in digestion as well as boosting your immune system. Fermentation helps break down cellulose in the skin and seeds of the vegetables, making them easier to digest. Because pickles are highly acidic, bad things like e.coli are unable to survive in that environment. A word of caution, however, while the ingredients and preparation are very simple, there are plenty of things that can go wrong. The more you know, the less likely you will end up with mushy or even moldy pickles.
First, choose the right cucumber. Look for varieties that are bred specifically for pickling, like Kirby or Alibi. If you use standard slicing cucumbers, which have thinner skins and more moisture, your pickles may turn to mush. Pickling varieties are smaller, shorter, have thicker skin and less moisture, which allows them to soak up the brine more effectively. Second, make sure you use the right salt. Ordinary table salt contains iodine and other chemicals that can interfere with the fermentation process. Kosher salt will work, but pickling salt also contains an enzyme that inhibits the growth of bacteria. Make sure the salt you use does not contain iodine. Finally, the addition of tannin will help keep your pickles crisp, which is where the bay leaves, grape leaves or horseradish leaves come in. I was extremely fortunate because my husband decided to grow horseradish in the garden this year, so I was able to use a leaf in my pickles. However, horseradish leaves will probably be impossible to find, but grape leaves are available in the specialty section of your grocery store. If you can't find them, use a couple extra bay leaves. They'll help keep your pickles crunchy and add a little extra flavor.
|Fermented pickles, day 1|
|Fermented pickles, day 5|
|Fermented pickles, day 8|