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Small-batch Spicy Sauerkraut

Spicy Small-batch Sauerkraut

Other than marmalade in all its various forms January and February don’t offer many opportunities for preserving. It’s also the time when lacto-fermented preserves that have been moved to the fridge are starting either to run out or go off.

This week I ate the last of this year’s batch of Wild Pickles. Seems like a strange thing to be wistful about, I guess, but I was proud of them because not only did I really like how they tasted (strongly sour but backed with lots of garlic, dill, and black pepper) but also because they won the People’s Choice award in the amateur category for the Annual 86′d Monday Pickle Battle. It’s not everyday that you get to call yourself a pickle champ.

Coincidentally, I’ve been poking around a book, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig that my cousin turned me on to. It’s peppered with some pretty strong claims that I want to look into more but there are also some very interesting recipes. (more…)

Pickle Problems

Earlier in the week, I had a post that was intended to be my simplified recipe for wild, lacto-fermented dill pickles. It went a little long and still I feel like there are questions to answer so this post is intended as a sort of troubleshooting guide for that recipe. Unless you’re familiar with the process, that I adapted from Sandor Katz’s recipe in Wild Fermentation it’s best to read the original post before this one.

That seems like a lot of cucumbers. Well, yes, half a bushel, or a couple ounces shy of twenty-four pounds is a lot of cucumbers. I’ll update this post later in the year if this turns out to be more than we can eat but this is really where the volume discounts kick in. Two years ago when I bought the cucumbers from the same market vendor by the basket I paid roughly $4/kg ($10 for 2,670 g) but the pre-ordered half bushel worked out to more like $2/kg ($20 for 10,858 g). A full bushel is an even better deal at $35.

I’ll leave the commentary on how this difference illustrates a big hole in the economic model of farmers’ markets for another post.

Cukes like hot weather but also benefit flavour-wise from cooler nights so if you have the choice, like we do in Toronto, between warmer sources (Niagara) or cooler ones (north of the city) go with the latter. I’ve had very good luck with Willowtree Farms from Port Perry, ON and all the prices here are from them. (more…)

Wild Dill Pickles Recipe

Pickles at the one-week mark

Other than bacon, dill pickles may be my most frequent topic for posts. I’ve veered from strictly mainstream with posts about deep-frying pickles and making Jello shooters from the brine (seriously) but in 2009 I also did a background post on my second batch of homemade pickles and then a comparison between mine and similar store-bought pickles. With my fifth batch (in four years) of lacto-fermented, kosher dill pickles fermenting in the crock I think I’ve gained enough experience to offer some guidance to others.

I’m going to do a couple posts this week on these pickles. Today’s will be a straight-up recipe and the second will be a more in-depth troubleshooting post.

What distinguishes this recipe from other dill pickle recipes is that no vinegar is added to the brine. Cucumbers and flavourful ingredients are left in a salty brine for a few weeks at room temperature. “Wild” lactobacilli that are either already present in the container, on one of the ingredients, or land in the brine digest the sugars in the cucumbers and produce lactic acid which flavours the brine and keeps other micro-organisms from taking over.

This recipe is adapted from Sandor Katz’s Sour Pickles in his excellent book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Lve-Culture Foods. Especially since the recipes trick comes from him credit is definitely due in this case. Wild Fermentation is a very useful book that is full of rare gems.

Update: After three weeks in the crock we have pickle success. For the fermenting period (July 30 to August 20) we had daytime temperatures that were roughly average (high 20′s in Celsius) for this time of year in southern Ontario. By the last of the three weeks it had started to get cooler at night (down to about 15C) on a more reliable basis.

By the time I was ready to transfer the pickles to jars the scum on the top of the brine was a slightly darker off-white shade. The pickles were sour, not too salty, had lots of garlic punch, and had a good, if not perfect, crunch.

In jars they’ll last in the refrigerator for about two to three months–some sources even say as long as six.


What Happened Here?

Last year I made lacto-fermented hot sauce and really enjoyed the results.  The Coles Notes on the process is: Vegetables if put in a brine and left there for a time ranging from days to months (depending on the strength of the brine and temperature of the space) will pickle.  This happens because wild lactobacilli eat the sugar in the vegetables (often cucumbers, sometimes cabbage, and in this case hot peppers) and convert it into vinegar.  Between the salt (which gives the right lactobacilli a head start) and the resulting vinegar the concoction will keep at refrigerator temperatures for a long time.

There is a group of people who have strong feelings about the digestion-improving healthiness of the products of this type of pickling.  (It is the bastardisation of these beliefs that has inspired yogurt companies to: a. patent proprietary strains of lactobacilli; and b. make disturbing commercials that feature graphics transposed over the stomachs of their consumers who always seem to be dancing.)  As with all things, I’m skeptical that this is some sort of silver bullet but I do use it because: a. It has a long history of safety and utility; b. it’s even cheaper than pickling with bought vinegar; and c. the results are delicious.

A recent commenter on last year’s post offered the suggestion that instead of fermenting, pureeing, and adding vinegar I alter the process and puree first and skip the vinegar.  Seems reasonable so I gave it a shot.  Five percent brine, a mix of washed hot peppers, went from the blender (after a couple minutes on the “liquefy” setting) into a clean mason jar.  I affixed a clean, dry dishcloth with a rubber band over the jar’s opening. (more…)

Fermented Hot Sauce

Finished fermented hot sauce

Finished fermented hot sauce

An article on grist caught my attention because it reminded me that “lacto-fermentation” is the proper term for what I have been referring to as “wild fermentation”.  By this process lactobacillus create acid as a by-product of consuming the sugar present in brined vegetables.  The salt of the brine gives the lactobacilli a head start on other micro-organisms (like yeast and mold) that otherwise would cause the food to become unpalatable or even dangerously inedible.   I have used this process three times now to make dill pickles and a couple times to make sauerkraut but cucumbers and cabbage are very popular, mainstream choices for natural fermentation.  Hot peppers, I think, are a bit more daring.

That being said this is a very easy and approachable recipe.  I know that when a lot of North Americans read the words “fermented” and “sauce” so close together they can’t help but think of those (I think, excellent) fish-based concoctions which “taste better than they smell”.  This is not the case here.  Even while fermenting the peppers smell grassy, spicy, and well, peppery.  Compared to a crock of fermenting cucumbers and especially a container of fermenting cabbage the peppers are a breeze.