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Wild Pickled Turnips

The purple-hued pickles are at about the halfway point when this was taken.

The purple-hued pickles are at about the halfway point when this was taken.

I’m fascinated by the idea of preserving food by wild fermentation so I decided to give pickled turnips a shot.  Most natural pickling calendars start in early August when the cucumbers come in and then really pick up steam through September when the rush is on to make kimchi and sauerkraut from the year’s cabbage and radish crop.

(The quick review: vegetables–whole or cut–are submerged in a salty brine and kept at room temperature. Over the course of days to a few weeks the lactobacilli from the air, water in the brine, or the vegetables themselves consume the sugar in the vegetables and convert it to lactic acid. The salt in the brine and the this acid both protect the vegetables from spoiling and make them much more delicious.)

Refrigerated storage stops the fermentation but the problem that keeps me from having a year’s supply is space. Without a cellar that stays below about 8°C well into June I just can’t find room for all the pickles I’d eat before the next year’s crop of cucumbers.  What I’m driving at here is that I needed something to fill a Mason jar with and cover in brine to tide me over.

Two unrelated observations led to a solution. First, every falafel joint I’ve been in devotes one of their bins of garnish to captivatingly bright purple turnip. It’s the low-cut t-shirt of Lebanese food. And (here the analogy quickly expires) adds a delicious, savoury flavour to pita sandwiches. This is something I’d like to try making myself. The other is that during that time of year before Ontario asparagus arrive in stores turnips are one of the only local vegetables they still have.

The turnips start off white but as the brine is coloured by the beets the turnips are also stained purple.

The turnips start off white but as the brine is coloured by the beets they are also stained purple.

Conveniently–though I’m sure not accidentally–pickled turnips get that shocking pink-purple colour from beets. And beets are another of the handful of grown-in-Ontario produce for sale in early spring.

For more of my experiments with pickled by wild fermentation see:

Wild Pickled Turnips

Wild fermentation produces a distinctly sour pickle flavour that matches well with the mustardy sharpness of raw turnips. The vibrant colour of pickled turnips comes from raw beets.

Yield: 2 big Mason jars of pickled turnips and beets

  • 600 g (4 to 5 medium)  turnips, peeled and skins reserved
  • 150 g (2 to 3 small) purple beets, peeled
  • 675 g water, filtered or unchlorinated is best, if using tap water let it stand in a wide, open container for a couple hours so that at least some of the chlorine will evaporate
  • 29 g salt, unrefined sea salt is best but kosher (especially non-iodized) will be fine
  • The raw materials--turnips and beets--cut in batonnes on a mandolin.

    The raw materials--turnips and beets--cut in batonnes on a mandolin.

    Use the 6mm (1/4″) blade on your mandolin to cut the peeled vegetables into batons. For a batch this size you could also get away with using a knife but small variations in size can lead to variations in taste and texture.

  • Heat the salt and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir frequently and remove from heat as soon as all the salt has dissolved. Depending on several factors this may happen very quickly or may take a few minutes. Allow the brine to cool to room temperature.
  • Place a small handful of the turnip peels in the bottom of each jar. I do this to make sure that enough of the lactobacillus are introduced to the brine. Pack the turnips and beets tightly into your largest wide-mouth Mason jar. I alternated the layers but you could just as easily mix them together.
  • This is supposed to illustrate keep the turnip strips submerged. Fill a 125 ml Mason jar with water and attach a plastic lid. Drop it into the opening of wide-mouth Mason jar.

    This is supposed to illustrate keep the turnip strips submerged. Fill a 125 ml Mason jar with water and attach a plastic lid. Drop it into the opening of wide-mouth Mason jar.

    Place the filled jars in a wide container such as a pie plate, lined with paper towels. You won’t want to move it much once they’re filled so it’s good to have the pie somewhere in the kitchen that is out of the way but not out of mind. Pour the brine in to the very top. For each large jar fill a small 125 ml one with water put a lid on it. Gently drop the small jars into the mouths of the larger jars. The idea is that their weight will press the turnips and beets down and displace enough water to keep the vegetables from coming into contact with oxygen while they’re pickling. Wipe down the sides of the large jars.

  • Leave at room temperature for one to four weeks. Every few days you should carefully lift out the small jars to see if the brine needs to be topped up with more water and to taste if the pickles are sour enough for you. After 16 days I’ve move half of my batch to the refrigerator to stop the fermentation. At this point it’s medium sour but the mustard-like kick from the turnips still comes through. I’ll let the other half of the batch go another week or so and report back on how sour it gets.
  • In the refrigerator I suspect them to last at least a month, probably longer. I’ll also report back on this.

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