Pickles are one of my guilty (or perhaps not quite guilty… but they do tend to be salty) pleasures. The common vinegar and salt based ones are always stocked on my shelves and in the fridge, whether they are cucumber, beans, cauliflower, carrots, or mixed pickle. Chopped, they add a zing to salads or a nice contrast to rich dishes. Straight out of the jar, they fulfil a craving for crunchy sourness tempered with a shot of salt that is particularly welcome at the end of a hot day. A good pickle is near heaven next to a great grilled cheese (see photo).
[I just talked myself into eating a pickle straight out of the crock. Cold. Crunchy, tangy, and delicious.]
This summer, I decided to venture out into the lactofermented or traditional pickle realm. The basic idea is to soak the vegetables in a salt solution, promoting the growth of “good” bacteria like lactobacillus. Think sauerkraut, or half-sour pickles from delis. There are professional, obsessive lactofermenters out there to consult for more details. Sandor Katz, who wrote Wild Fermentation, is a good place to start. My goal was simply to stretch my vegetables a little further, learn a new skill, and add a source of probiotics. The following pseudo-recipe requires you to figure out the volumes based on your container, so you can use it for any amount from a pint to a gallon.
Baby Cukes and Kohlrabi a la Crock
Small cucumbers, to fill the crock
Grape leaves, to layer between the vegetables
Canning salt or kosher salt
Optional: pickling spice and/or dill seed (Approximately 1 T per quart/liter)
Wash vegetables well. Trim the ends of the cucumbers. Peel and slice the kohlrabi into sticks. Layer the vegetables into a clean crock with the grape leaves. Add the pickling spice or dill, if using.
Mix a 5% salt solution, in a quantity sufficient to cover the vegetables. (This is best done on a scale, by weight. Use 50 grams of salt per 1000 g of water.) Pour over the vegetables, and press with a plate or lid that fits inside the crock. Place a weight on top, and ensure the liquid covers all the vegetables. Store in a cool place, if possible. If not, allow to ferment at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, and then transfer to the refrigerator. Allow to bubble gently for 1-2 weeks, and then taste periodically to determine when you like them the best. Colder temperatures will lead to slower taste changes, so toss them in the fridge when they reach a reasonable level of deliciousness. If weird stuff starts growing on it, go consult the experts or give it to the pigs.
If you’re concerned about the right bacteria taking over, buy a jar of “real” pickles or sauerkraut, or the non-pasteurized ones from a refrigerator case, and add a few tablespoons of that liquid to your crock.