On summer pickles

Pickle Pot covered with one of the World’s Ugliest Tea Towels

Okay, so I lied a teensy bit in my last post:  I *have* been pickling nearly everything in sight, putting away for tomorrow (well, or at least next month) that which grows abundantly today.

It’s lacto-fermentation, though, that I have been relying upon to pickle my veg, not vinegar.  As far as methods go, this is as Old School as it gets.  I’ve basically been throwing grape leaves, unripe grapes, peppercorns and mustard seeds, garlic, fennel and parsley flower heads, and any nice fleshy unripe vegetable that I can get my hands on into a crock with salted water.  Cover them up (weighted down with my lovely weights and a quart jar of water) and in a week, voila, pickles!  The salt in the water interacting with the lactobaccili on the surface of the vegetables is what makes this happen.  (I could goose the process by adding whey…but then things end up tasting like goat.  No thanks.  It works fine on its own.)

Frankly, I can’t wait for all my cukes to get to adequate pickling size, even though I am growing a lot of them this year.  And–as ever–I am way behind with my dill plantings.  No matter; I look to see what’s blossoming and indeed fennel, cilantro, celery and parsley are all bearers of significant umbrelled flowers…lovely, all, for seasoning.  Italian flat-podded green beans, radish seed pods, young peppers (hot and not), eggplant, okra, thin green paste tomatoes, leek pearls, young onions, scallions, shallots, purslane:  these are all fair game to add to the limping-along cucumber stash. Even Brett’s milkweed buds and pods get harvested and thrown in the crock.

Sandor Ellix-Katz is my guru in all of this.   Perhaps he should be yours too.  Please pick up (even at the library) a copy of his Wild Fermentation.

My veggies’ weekly trips (more or less depending on the weather) in the crock yield about 7 pints of veggies:  one for each of my CSA people and one for us.   These aren’t canned, then; they’re eaten fresh from the fridge, preferably within a month or so…it’s basically slow(er) food.  And if you do eat it all, don’t worry, more is coming soon!

More information in the comments.

More lies:  here’s the first batch of paste tomatoes en route to the masonry oven.  Sundays are Oven Days so…why not hold off on picking tomatoes for the whole week and then having a steamer pan or two of cleaned, halved paste tomatoes go in for gentle cooking overnight?  When I took the bread and the chicken out of it, the Loven was about 300*.  It holds its heat overnight, but…I go check it before bed, and if it’s reduced “enough” then I will take the pans out, put their contents in half-gallon jars for the fridge, and then tomorrow after a trip through the food mill they’ll be canned.  It’s a great way to get paste.

13 responses to “On summer pickles

  1. Hey: Lacto-fermentation takes a leap of faith, just like sourdough or cheesemaking or practically anything else we eat that is microbially alive. You HAVE TO LET THINGS ROT. That sounds so…icky, I know! Regarding the pickles: They need to be checked every day, AND there will be mold that grows on the top. I skim it daily, washing the weights and water jar and replacing them… I get over it. I know it’s working! I taste it after about 3 days and gauge the sourness. The grapes and leaves are there to help keep the veggies crisp…they work, but these won’t be the tooth-breaking things you get at the store. The water will become cloudy, and either you can change it with fresh salted water when you transfer the pickles to the jars, or you can let it be. Mold might form either way on the top; skim, and get over it. Trust your instincts, though. If it is truly foul then you shouldn’t eat it.

  2. Ha! I stumbled across these interesting looking plants just last week and never did get a chance to figure out what they were …and I happen to have the Foragers Harvest book (great book) sitting on the shelf behind me. How fun, something new to try…thanks a bunch.:)

    Look at those tomatoes…mmm.

  3. Funny, you’ve been my fermenting inspiration,(take that as you will!), and this was to be the year I was going to be using all the crocks that live here,(some giant ones), to cuke-out but oddly, and very disapponitedly, this has been a dismal cuke n’ squash year here..at least for me and, apparently, a few others nearby. Now I know I can tell you El and you will understand that mixed in with the disappointment is a dollop of relief with the soild commitment to moving it up into next season’s rotation…great job, as usual El..Oh..love the oven and the paste tomatoes look wonderful..still mostly green here but beginning..yippee!

  4. Do you know if the lactobacilli ever die? One would think that when they exhaust the sugars, and the brine is too acidic, that your active cultures…deactivate. So does that mean that kraut over X days old is no longer probiotic?

    • Good question, Emily. My experience is things just get more sour. I am unsure if it’s because they’ve run out of sugars so much as there’re too many of them! The fridge slows the process down a LOT and gives you some time on it. I have, however, canned my kraut in the past. It kills the good guys but the stuff still tastes great. As it is with the pickles, kimchi, beets, etc. that I do, I usually just make a batch that’ll get consumed in the next month or so. Perhaps, though, my daughter and I can look at new and older samples in her zoomy microscope and see which is more, what, numerous or something.

  5. Oh man, El, you are a woman after my own heart. Carry on! (just noticed your masthead chickens. Heh.)

  6. I WANT A LOVEN. You should hold a workshop or something! I would come.

  7. It’s on the list for this year. I just warmed up my crock with a batch of short-brined pickles, but if I get enough cukes the next picking I may do the real sours.

    And thanks for the reassurance on how much mold is expected/okay.

  8. What an evocative picture, the tomatoes, the bread, the Loven. How’s the fermented milkweed? Last year I did my milkweed “capers” in vinegar, a la cornichons. This year I’m going to ferment some, the Katz method.


  9. Everything looks fabulous – and I am sure IS fabulous.
    El, have you had any issue using your stove in winter, when it’s cold or/and wet (’cause I am assuming you use it all year long)? Thinking of Hannibal and heated rocks split by cold water (or was that vinegar???) and wonder what sleet or snow might do to a hot masonry oven (or I guess you would not use it in such weather any… not good carrying the bread back & forth….)

  10. Hi Mike! I loved your post about your greens! You get so much traffic, too: I hope you were able to turn a few minds (and not all just Idahoans either). Hope you give them a try!

    Randi, hah, well, I will dog you next year about the fermentation experiments. I think like anything it needn’t be an All or Nothing proposition. Really, the whole canning thing? And having to have, what, a bushel of crap to can before you do it? Nonsense. Small-batch jams are so much more fine, and yeah, a skillet full of tomatoes will yield a couple of pints…not shabby. But yeah it’s a crap year here for squash too. I blame the cold/wet.

    Emily, so yeah, lame nondefinitive answer, sorry.

    Sharon! I think you’ve subbed your bowl of kraut on the counter to a bowl of pickles that you graze on at will, right? Nice to know there’s some shared madness between the two of us.

    Serina, hah! Should just have you and the troop over for dinner sometime. But I might make you weed 🙂

    Sara, mold just happens. Sigh. Glad to hear you’re in the swing though.

    Hah, Brett. They’re still pickling away so I will have to let you know. Granted I haven’t been beating the high weeds to get ’em because it’s a mighty fine year for poison ivy here (scratchscratch) but…there are some out on the road I could nab. And might yet.

    Ah, Sylvie. My friend in Wisconsin uses hers all winter but last winter I left mine be because we never did get the roof on it (and it remains off it to this day…just not enough hours in the day to get all I need to get done accomplished). The plan on mine was to cover its bare concrete with 3″ of perlite (basically those little white balls you see in potting soil mix) and an asbestos blanket that used to cover the boiler downstairs, then slap the metal roof on it so nothing happens. I have the walls up to pour the perlite in but that’s as far as I got last year. This fall/winter though? I intend to use it all the time. Especially with the CSA and school to cook for.

  11. ah!!! duh!!!! a roof!!!!! Roger that.

  12. I had hoped to make pickles here on our homestead but this year we got a seriously lousy crop of cukes. No pickles for me this year! Love the tea towel though! Ha!

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