Here's what I learned today: if it weren't for war, we would never have started pickling in sugar and vinegar. We'd still be doing it the old fashioned way, the way Dan Rosenberg and Addie Rose Holland do it, by fermenting.
Lost? I hear you. Here's the deal:
In 1795, the French government offered a 12,000 franc reward to anyone who could come up with a new method for preserving food. They had wars to fight, but they couldn't make much progress, because they could only fight during the summer and fall when there was plenty of readily available food. Nicolas Appert came up with canning, and the pickle's fate was sealed.
Dan and Addie are trying to change that. There's nothing wrong with a good bread and butter pickle, but they think it's a shame people have forgotten about good old fashioned fermented pickles.
Here's how it works. You combine vegetables—not just cucumbers, but things like beets or carrots or radishes or cabbage for sauerkraut—with salt and a little bit of water. Lacto bacteria (same family as the little guys that help make yogurt) are naturally found on the vegetables' skin, and they get to work fermenting. Pretty soon the liquid gets cloudy. You taste the veggies. They're starting to get sour, salty, pungent. You decide they need a few more hours, maybe a few more days. Maybe they're done.
When you're ready, you put them in the fridge. The cool temperatures bring the fermentation to a halt (the reason your grandmother kept her pickle crock in a cool root cellar or basement) and you can eat them whenever you're ready. (Dan says months, even years.) Voila! Pickles, without any vinegar or sugar.
Pretty neat, huh? The other cool thing about lacto-fermenting, as this pickling process is called, is that it has all sorts of great digestive and health benefits. And what's cool about Dan and Addie's company is that they buy all of their vegetables locally, they're all organic, and they are so committed to the idea of a regional foodshed that they'll only sell their products in the northeast.
Around here, you can find Real Pickles (spicy dills, garlic dills, tomatillo hot sauce, sauerkraut, garlic kraut, pickled beets, ginger carrots, dilly beans, and more) at all sorts of great markets.
Our cucumbers aren't ready yet, but when they are, I'm going to try lacto-fermenting for the first time. You in too?
LACTO-FERMENTED CUCUMBER PICKLES
This recipe comes from a great book—Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning. It's a compilation of recipes done the old way from the gardeners and farmers of Terre Vivante, a non profit founded in 1980 to promote a way of life that is respectful to the natural environment. This particular recipe comes from a D. Mary of Belgium.
2 and 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
2 quarts of water
2 cups unchlorinated water
a few black peppercorns and fennel seeds
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
5-6 cloves garlic
a few onion slices
2 pounds medium-sized cucumbers, freshly picked and well washed
1 horseradish root, sliced (to keep cucumbers firm)
a few dill (or fennel) flower heads and leaves
1 horseradish leaf (optional)
You will need a container for mixing brine and a 1 and 1/2 quart sterilized jar with a rubber seal and fastener.
Mix the sea salt and water to make a brine. Meanwhile, place the peppercorns, mustard seeds, and fennel seeds in the bottom of the jar with the garlic and the onion slices. Pierce the larger cucumbers with a toothpick or fork to help the brine penetrate. Layer the cucumbers into the jar upright with the horseradish, mustard seeds, and dill leaves, packing them tightly. Place the flower heads on top of the last layer of cucumbers to keep the cucumbers from floating above the brine. Cover everything with a piece of horseradish leaf that you have cut to the fit the size of the jar.
Fill the jar with brine, making sure that all ingredients are covered, and stop 3/8 of an inch below the rim so the brine doesn't overflow during fermentation. Close the jar tightly; the rubber seal will release any gas produced during fermentation. Starting the next day, bubbles will appear and a sort of foam will form on the surface; fermentation has begun. Leave the jar in the kitchen for a few days; then store it in a cool place when the brine becomes cloudy. Wait about six weeks before eating. If you want to keep the pickles longer, put the container in the fridge.