As the end of summer approaches, I get excited thinking about preserving my harvest. What can I do with my garden bounty, to feed my friends and family for the rest of the year?
One of my favourite ways to preserve food is through fermentation.
So many foods are fermented, some of them well known and others unexpected. Pickles and sauerkraut are the most common fermented foods. Tofu, coffee and wine are probably the most surprising.
Fermentation is easier to do than most think. The end result is a delicious and healthy preserved food.
Read on for an easy recipe for fermented pickles.
Do you have a favourite pickle? There are vinegar pickles, quick pickles, bread & butter pickles, relish, french cornichons, sour pickles and many others.
My favourite is fermented pickles! You may have eaten them at your local deli or remember your grandmother making them. They are traditional sour pickles, that are perfectly salty, juicy and satisfying. They pair beautifully with a roast beef or pastrami sandwich and nicely top a burger.
What’s the difference between fermented pickles and regular pickles?
Regular pickles are treated with vinegar, in order to create a sour flavour.
Fermented pickles become “sour” when treated with a salt water solution. When naturally present bacteria in the food goes through a chemical reaction with sugars in the food, it results in a sour flavour. Lacto-bacteria or lactic acid develops inside the jar, causing the contents to preserve through fermentation.
There are several health benefits to fermented foods:
- Preserves food – during fermentation, microorganisms on food produce alcohol, lactic acid and acetic acid, thereby retaining food nutrients and preventing food spoilage.
- When lacto-bacteria develops in the food – it improves the bioavailability of minerals present in food. Consuming foods high in lacto-bacteria improves digestion and gut health.
- Creates new nutrients – microbial cultures in fermented foods create B vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin and biotin.
- Removes toxins from food – through fermentation, some previously toxic foods change and become digestible.
For these reasons and for the simple fact that fermented food is delicious, I try to add it to our diet as much as possible. Some other fermented food that we enjoy are kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, tofu, yogurt, coffee, wine and dark chocolate.
This will be my third year making fermented sour pickles. The first year’s batch turned out much better than I expected, making fermentation my yearly tradition.
The recipe I follow, is from a book titled “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Ellix Katz. If you’re just starting out with fermentation or are thinking about it, I highly recommend reading his book. Sandor is a fermentation expert. He has been fermenting foods since 1993 and conducting workshops throughout the world. His most recent book, The Art of Fermentation, received a James Beard award. In his book, Wild Fermentation, he explains the fermentation process in detail and its health benefits. Numerous recipes are included for vegetables, beans, dairy, breads, grains, beverages, wine, beer, vinegars and many others.
Recipe for Sour Pickles
- Sea Salt
- Cucumbers (small ones)
- Garlic cloves
- Grape leaves, oak tree leaves, cherry tree leaves, currant leaves, strawberry leaves, horseradish leaves (any of these or a combination of them – used to maintain cucumber crispiness)
- Fresh dill weed and/or dill seeds
- All spice (whole)
- Black peppercorns
- Mustard seeds
- optional: hot peppers, carrots, radishes, horseradish root
- Large canning jars or a crock (for fermentation)
- Cheesecloth or linen towels
- Trays (to store the jars)
- Large pot or bowl to prepare the salt brine solution
- Ladle and jar funnel
- Prepare the cucumbers by soaking them in ice water for at least 2 hours or overnight. This will help to keep them crispy.
- After soaking, wash the cucumbers well and scrub off any sand or dirty spots; cut off the ends.
- Prepare the salt brine solution by mixing 3 tbsp of sea salt with every 1 quart of boiling water. Stir well until the salt dissolves. This will create a 5% salt brine solution.
- Cover the bottom of each canning jar with the grape leaves, cherry leaves, etc.
- Add 1 tsp (combined) of ‘all spice’ balls, peppercorns and mustard seeds to the bottom of the jar. The amount of each one is a personal preference.
- Add sliced garlic cloves to the jar (2-3 cloves per large jar).
- Add dill weed and/or seeds to bottom of jar.
- Fill jar with cucumbers and pack them in tightly. (I sliced some of mine and filled in the empty spaces with them.)
- Pour the salt brine over the cucumbers, until the top of the jar and all cucumbers are covered. If you have a small jar to weigh the cucumbers down, place it on top. Your goal is to keep all cucumbers under the brine. If any float to the top, they will spoil. *when I packed my jars, I did as tightly as I could, thereby keeping the ingredients from floating.
- Cover the jars with cheesecloth or a linen towel, to keep out dust and flies and place your jars on a tray. The trays will collect any liquid that will spill out of the jars, as the contents ferment.
- Check the jars daily and skim off any foam or white mold that develops at the tops of the jars. Within a couple weeks, they will stop producing residue.
- After a week, taste the pickles. If they have reached their desired sourness, close the jar with a lid and store it in the refrigerator. If you would like them to continue to sour, leave them out until they reach the flavour you prefer. Then store all closed jars in the fridge. They will continue to ferment there, but very slowly.
In the first year, I made 22 jars of sour pickles. They kept well in the fridge and lasted until early spring. Last year, I made 17 jars and we’re just finishing them now, at the end of August!
If you’d like to, feel free to add sliced carrots, radishes and hot peppers.
I hope my recipe for fermented sour pickles has inspired you to try fermenting your own pickles.
This recipe is versatile and can be used for other vegetables. The key is the brine solution. I prefer a 5% brine solution, but if you’d prefer less salt, you may adjust to a lower percentage level. The higher the %, the quicker the ferment. The lower the %, the fermentation process will take longer.
What do you do with your excess garden vegetables? How do you preserve your harvest? Please share your experience in the comments section below.