‘Tis the season for preserving food. But to be honest, we’re not doing that much fermenting this fall because we still have SO MANY jars of fermented vegetables from last summer! We wasted absolutely no time in munching through our favourites (pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi) and ran out of these quite early, so despite the full fridge I couldn’t turn down the big bag of cukes I recently found at the market. I went home and promptly made seven jars of garlic dill pickles.
We’re a bit out of sync, and we owe our thanks to the hard-working farmers that supply our year-round farmers market. Normally there should be a bit more of a flow to the seasons. Plant in the spring, live off the land all summer, harvest and preserve like crazy all autumn, then live off the harvest throughout the winter before starting all over again.
Thanks to the farmers market, we did the live off the land all summer part and the preserve like crazy all autumn part, though we didn’t really have a “harvest”. We weren’t able to plant much on our tiny balcony, and we weren’t buying mass quantities of produce like an efficient garden supplies you with throughout the growing season.
Instead of living off a harvest throughout the winter, we bought local farmers market foods weekly which included the luxury of greenhouse-grown tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and eggplant. Because of this, we weren’t as focused on using up our personal supply of fermented veggies. And that’s how it came to be that we still have rows upon rows of jars of fermented foods in our fridge, another season later.
I read Animal Vegetable Miracle over Thanksgiving, and absolutely loved it. It’s an inspiring and insightful read for those who are unsatisfied with our current food system and want to know what they can do to help preserve food security. Those who haven’t given the issue much (or any) thought will derive even greater benefit from the well-laid out information packed into this sometimes hilarious book. Needless to say, I highly recommend the read.
After finishing Animal Vegetable Miracle, I’m absolutely dying to have a yard to dig in and a chest freezer to stock up in (even more so than before). I’d like to start learning how to grow my own food in quantities large enough to feed my partner and I, to become more in tune with the earth and its seasons. For now, the farmers market and the odd balcony-grown tomato and cucumber are happy alternatives.
Back to the pickles! In my opinion, last years pickles turned out better than this years. The flavour was great (I used the same recipe) but I used different varieties of cucumbers. Last year I used mini cucumbers (they look like Lebanese cucumbers) and they turned out perfectly crunchy. It was the best pickle we’d ever tasted, and made everyone who visited our apartment eat one. They all agreed.
This year I used actual pickling cucumbers and was surprised when they turned out a bit mushy. Next year I’ll be trying mini cucumbers again, but really any cucumber will work. Use whatever small cucumbers you grew this year, or whatever you can get your hands on at the farmers market. Though I haven’t tried it myself, you can add a couple oak leaves, grape leaves, horseradish leaves, or a small amount of black tea leaves to your ferment. The high tannin content will help your finished pickle retain its crunch.
- Soak cucumbers in a sink filled with cold water to help them retain their crunch. Scrub each cucumber well and slice off any stems or flower bits left behind.
- In the bottom of a 1L wide-mouth mason jar, place 1 clove halved garlic, a handful of dill, and 1 tablespoon pickling spice. Place cucumbers vertically, packing in as many as you can. Depending on their length, you may be able to fit a few resting on top, but keep in mind you'll need to save a few inches of space at the top of the jar. On top of the cukes, add another 2 cloves of garlic, a handful of dill, and ½ tablespoon pickling spice.
- Dissolve mineral salt in filtered water. I like to add it to a flip-top bottle and shake until dissolved. Once dissolved, pour brine over the cucumbers leaving an inch or so of space at the top. Though not required, you can add a few tablespoons of brine from a previous ferment to get things going.
- Choose your desired method of fermentation. I ferment in wide-mouth mason jars, placing a 4 ounce jar in the opening to keep the vegetables submerged under the brine. Alternatively you can use a clean rock or ceramic fermentation weights. Don't use any weights containing metal or plastic, and make sure all your vegetables are submerged otherwise they may develop mold. I fit my jar with a wide-mouth mason reCAP with a #6.5 rubber bung and an airlock. There are also kits available. Alternatively, you can use the regular mason jar lid, but you'll need to burp it a few times a day to let out pent-up gasses. If you're a frequent fermenter like myself, you may want to consider upgrading to a fermentation crock.
- When your set-up is complete, place the jars at room temperature out of direct sunlight. Make sure you keep it at least a few feet away from other ferments or sources of bacteria such as houseplants and garbage cans to prevent cross-contamination and mold.
- Let ferment for 5 days, then give it a taste. Taste every few days until you're happy with the flavour, then screw the regular lid back on your jar and store in the fridge. I typically let my ferments go for about 4 weeks. The longer they ferment, the broader the bacteria count and more developed the flavour becomes. It's up to you, so let your taste buds guide you.