Fermentation is wild, unpredictable, and fun!
Lunch Hour Lesson #12
The use of vinegar in preserving vegetables came about in the 19th century when industry started experimenting with ways to make vegetables a shelf-stable product. It is easier to implement this type of preservation in a factory setting, because you assure that the same results are produced each time.
Fermentation, on the other hand, is a wild and unpredictable ancient tradition! The vegetables get preserved with the beneficial bacteria and yeasts that are already present in the air and on the vegetables themselves. Temperature matters, and so does the length of time that they sit.
But even though vinegar gives more consistent results in an industrial setting (and even in a home setting), there are other factors besides consistency that I argue make it worth experimenting with fermentation.
For example, some people use vinegar to make pickled cabbage. Or you can ferment cabbage to make raw sauerkraut. Turns out the raw sauerkraut has more than eight times the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C than the pickled cabbage using vinegar! This is a good example of how fermentation increases antioxidants in food.
Let’s talk now about how to make pickles the old fashioned way. Last summer I told my 6 year old neighbor that I was making pickles and she asked if she could help me out. We rinsed the pickling cucumbers – it’s a variety that is short and stubby with little bumps on the side – and packed them vertically into a glass mason jar.
We measured the salt, and she asked why the salt wasn’t white. I explained that we were using a type of sea salt from Utah which has a pinkish color that shows the minerals.
We dissolved the salt in water to make a brine and then we the brine over the cucumbers. At this point we could have closed the jar and let them ferment, but I like to add a little flavor!
So I added fresh dill, mustard seed, coriander seed, and peppercorns. And I also went out back and picked a few raspberry leaves to put in the brine with the pickles – this helps make them snappy! Oak, grape, or black tea leaves will also release tannins into the brine and do the same thing. We closed the jar and let it sit on the counter to do its thing.
Make solid connections between food quality and health.
And, I wish I could tell you that they turned out amazing! But, they didn’t. You know how I said that fermentation was wild and unpredictable? Well, the weather got hot, and they fermented faster than I expected. When I tested them after two weeks, they tasted a little alcoholic. That’s how I knew the fermentation had gone too far and it probably would have only needed a week in that weather. Lesson learned!
Green tomatoes can be pickled in the same way as cucumbers, so I chopped them up and added some jalapeño peppers to the jar with a salt brine and coriander, mustard seed, and garlic for flavor.
These came out perfectly, and they’re so delicious that next year we won’t be bummed if all the tomatoes don’t ripen in time. Here’s the recipe I used:
- 4.5 pounds green tomatoes, chopped into cherry tomato size
- 1/2 pound hot peppers, halved
- 3 heads of garlic, peeled and separated into cloves
- 1/4 cup sea salt
- 8 cups water
- 2 tablespoons coriander seed
- 2 tablespoons mustard seed
- 5 raspberry leaves
Warm the sea salt and water until dissolved to make a brine, then let cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes, peppers, and garlic. Get your fermentation vessel ready. I used one 3 liter and one 1.5 liter jar with airlocks. Divide the vegetables between the jars, adding the coriander and mustard as you go. Pour the cooled brine over the vegetables in both jars. Lay the raspberry leaves on top and put a glass weight on to hold everything under the surface of the water, then seal the lid and fill the airlock. Let ferment on the counter for 14 days, then transfer to the refrigerator.
Share the recipe for fermented green tomatoes with a friend and encourage them to give it a try. Or better yet, get a group together and make a big batch!