Let’s talk a little about pickles. If you’re thinking that pickles are only used to decorate a burger at a certain fast food chain, then you’re in for a treat. There is a world of flavour and goodness waiting to be discovered. Right in your own kitchen! Around this time of year, gardeners all over the district are looking for hints on how to use up their excess zucchinis and cucumbers. Whether you’re a keen vegetable grower or a part time dabbler with a spade or trowel, and you had planted a punnet of zucchini seedlings before Christmas, then about now you’re bringing a basket of produce into your kitchen every few days. There are only so many grilled zucchini slices or ribbons of cucumbers that one can eat in a season. Besides shredding them for soups to be enjoyed during the colder months, or making slabs of zucchini slices, there are pickles to be put up.
There are two categories of pickles. The first one most of us are familiar with. They’re the regular pickles you’d most likely pick up at the supermarket. The gherkins are usually bright green and all perfectly uniform in size, pickled in vinegar. The onions are also the same. No variation. Not too many options either when it comes to the flavours of the pickling liquids. The acidic medium of vinegar is the preserving agent. I have found that most of the supermarket pickles are overly sweet.
You can make your own simple vinegar pickles on your stove by combining vinegar, sugar (not too much!) and some spices if you wish. The brine is poured onto some prepared vegetables and bottled for use after a week or so. This method is easy and it’s a great way to preserve your excess harvest. How will you eat them? Chopped into salads, sliced onto sandwiches, served on a cheese board or as an accompaniment with barbecued meats. There are many recipes to get you started.
Then there is a second family of pickles. Making and eating from this category is a little more adventurous. These pickles are fermented. There is bacterial alchemy involved with creating these ‘good for your gut’ foods. Once you’ve experimented with a couple of different ferments, you’ll be hooked. These pickles are alive! They are packed with probiotics and amazingly good for you. The pickling process involves anaerobic fermentation, which creates the acidic medium of lactic acid. This lactic acid is what gives fermented foods the sour smell and taste.
This method of preservation is as old as time. Many cultures still actively use fermentation in their foods. In fact, you’re probably consuming fermented foods regularly and not noticing it. That soy sauce on your sushi roll, the fish sauce in your Thai dish or even the loaf of sourdough bread bought from your local store; all of these foods are fermented. Let’s not forget cheese and of course a very important food group, wine! But I digress… Back to the pickles.
This week, sitting on my fermenting bench beside the window I have two ferments on the go. In one I have sliced up some cucumbers and poured a salt brine over the top of them. In the other vessel I have chopped up some radishes and have simply sprinkled them with a little salt. The salt has drawn out the liquid in the radishes, and I have a glass pebble keeping the vegetables submerged in the fermenting brine.
If you’d like to try a simple ferment with some of your excess zucchinis or cucumbers, then this is what you can do. Dissolve couple of tablespoons of sea salt in a liter of water. It’s important to use non-chlorinated water. We use rainwater, which is fine. Chop your zucchinis or cucumbers into fingers and place them into a big glass jar or fermenting crock. Add some garlic cloves and dill for flavour, perhaps even some chili. Pour the salt brine over the vegetables. Place a vine leaf or cabbage leaf on the top of the veg and pop a stone onto the leaf. You want the vegetables to remain submerged in the liquid. This is where the anaerobic bacterial activity takes place. Pop a piece of muslin or a ‘chux wipe’ on the top fo the jar and secure with a piece of string or an elastic band. There is no specific time limit for these ferments. A few days are all you need. Check on your ferment every few days and have a sniff and taste. It’s ready when you’re happy with the flavour. A little of these fermented vegetables on served on your dinner plate each day will do wonders for your insides!
And there you have it. Pickles, two ways.
Till next time,