Fermenting is in, with more and more people trying their hands at fermenting everything from craft beer to craft pickles, and Northeast Florida foodies are no different.
Fermentation, like record players, used to be necessary rather than cool. In fact, it’s been practiced for thousands of years as a food preservation technique, from ancient Asia to the Middle East and on to Europe and beyond, because it kept all kinds of foods from going bad. And, in the case of wine and beer, the fermented beverage kept people from contracting deadly water-borne diseases that were all too common all over the world due to poor sanitation.
Our ancestors on every occupied continent fermented foods and liquids for times of scarcity, so they wouldn’t starve or die of food-borne illness. Today, we get to do it out of curiosity because, unlike our newly cool probiotic foods, we are so spoiled.
Ready to try your hand at fermenting something simple?
If so, here’s how to make old-fashioned lacto-fermented dill pickles in brine, which turns the crisp vegetables into probiotic powerhouses – a feat not accomplished by pickling in vinegar; Vinegar kills all those good microbes you want filling your gut and kicking out the bad guys.
Recipe for fermenting almost any veggie:
Quart Bell Jars, Mason Jars or any other canning jars. I bought four-packs of the Ball “anniversary” blue quart jars for $10 a piece. They’re so beautiful I use them for vases, too. Just a thought.
Vegetables – Get a quart per jar of whatever vegetable you are pickling – heirloom green beans, multi-colored carrots, the classic and humble cucumber (For a list of varieties that grow really well here, check out this post).
For the pictured cucumber pickles, I bought four pounds of local pickling cucumbers for four quart jars. You can make a mix of vegetables, too, like the giardiniera mixes you see in grocery stores.
Freshly grown and pickled Northeast Florida okra is also a classic.
Spices you like: Peeled cloves of garlic, onions sliced thin, pickling spice, dried dill, you name it.
In the pickles pictured above, I put dried dill in all the jars and then made two jars into garlic pickles, one jar into onion dill pickles and one jar into a savory pickling spice mix (I used McCormick.)
Leaves: Bay leaves, tea leaves or grape leaves for the bottom of each jar. The tannins in these keep the vegetables crisp. (I personally don’t like black tea because I can taste it in the pickles. Other people love that taste. You get to decide.)
Brine (see below for recipe): Enough to fully cover all vegetables
Ziploc bags – one for each jar OR glass fermenting weights. These will be used to keep the vegetables submerged, which is key to avoiding moldy or ruined pickles.
Boil the jars and the lids for at least 20 minutes at a rolling boil. This will sanitize them and help prevent mold growth.
Boil the water for the brine and follow the recipe below.
In the meantime, put the leaves at the bottoms of the jars, then the spices, then pack in the vegetables. I found it was easier to pack them in by turning the jar sideways on the counter.
Once the brine is done and not too hot to put your finger in, pour it over the pickles. Leave a couple of inches for head space.
Fill the Ziploc bags just enough that, sealed, they can be placed on top of vegetables to keep them submerged but not so much you can’t screw down the lids. Or, use your weights.
Leave them on the counter for 10 to 14 days. The longer they sit, the more sour they will get.
Be sure to “burp” the jars every couple of days by quickly unscrewing and then re-screwing the top. Fermentation creates gas, so be prepared to watch your pickles wiggle in the middle as the gasses bubble up.
Noisome Note: If it smells a little like stinky – that’s OK! It’s just the gasses escaping. If the smell turns your stomach when they are done, or if there is any pink or black mold growing on top, don’t eat! Throw them out and try again. You will get the hang of it.
Use 1-3 Tablespoons per quart of water.
You may have to experiment until you find what level of salt you like, and some vegetables get saltier than others. For instance, I made my first batch with 2 tablespoons per quart for cucumber pickles and found it was way too much.
Boil the water and mix in the salt until dissolved. Let cool before pouring into jars.