Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Easy Pickling: Delicious, Fermented Pickles for Idiots

Little pickled tomatoes on the left, and Anahiem peppers on the right.
First off, I am not going to tell you that you'll be healthier, your gut will function better, and your immune system will flex its muscles all winter if you eat fermented foods. I will tell you that they are one of the best things you'll ever eat, and that you can probably get a big jar of pickled carrots or green tomatoes, or baby cukes going in about 5 to 10 minutes.

You don't need any fancy crocks, special jars with airlocks or any thing other than kosher salt, a clean quart canning jar, water, some spices and garlic you probably already have, and enough clean, firm smallish or sliced vegetables to fill a jar. It's been done for centuries, and trust me, our grannies didn't buy pickling tools off a fancy website. They used what they had, and so should you. They used fermentation for two reasons: it preserved the harvest, and it tastes good. This easy method I'm showing you is lactic fermentation in its simplest form. Idiot proof.

Right before our first frost, I picked of a lot of too small green tomatoes, and Anaheim peppers. Not good to eat or cook with as is, but waste not, want not… They are now becoming wonderful, easy, fermented pickles and I just use whatever I have in my kitchen: kosher salt, water, jars, coriander seed, garlic…don't let the food gurus scare you off. Pickling is pretty much idiot proof. Carrot sticks, baby cukes or sliced cukes, whatever you have can become something entirely new. If you can stir salt into water, you can do this. I'm sure, once you make your first batch, you'll be hooked. Just remember you can double, or even triple your batches, using the proportion of 1/4 cup of kosher salt  to 4 cups of water.

Here's how:

Into a bowl, measure 4 cups of water. Dump in 1/4 cup of kosher salt, and stir furiously until it dissolves. You just made a brine.

 Into a clean quart canning jar, pack your sliced carrots, or baby green tomatoes, hot peppers or whatever you want, tossing in the occasional peeled garlic clove, and a few pinches of your favorite spices, like coriander seed, dill seed or cumin seed and even a few cloves or bay leaves between the layers of veg. You can layer in a few small, hot peppers if you like spicy. The veggie pieces should be bite size.  Pack it full, right up to the shoulder of the jar. If you put the smaller pieces in the bottom, and the bigger at the top, fewer of the small pieces will float up out of the brine. Go find a smaller jar, or a bowl or a ramekin that will fit into the mouth of the jar and give it a good scrub.

Place the jar in a coolish spot, and set it in a pan or a tray to catch any overflow. Now, pour in the salt - water mixture-- your brine, right to the tippy top, and set the little container you scrubbed into the top to keep your vegetables submerged. If you have extra brine left, keep it in a jar to use to top up your pickle if it evaporates too much.

Check your pickle jar every day, and it should be sour enough to eat in a couple of weeks…or wait longer. remember that the colors of things will change a bit, green vegetables will dull a bit. Remember those wonderful sour pickles in the barrel in your favorite deli? Make sure the vegetables are always submerged. A little mold  floating on top is OK,  you can skim it off and top up the jar with the leftover brine. If it really smells awful, or goes moldy down in the jar, toss it all and chalk it up to experience. Use common sense; if it looks or smells bad, toss it. I like to label my jars with the start date, nothing elaborate, just a piece of masking tape and a waterproof marker.

I generally go about 3 weeks before I screw the lid on the jar and pop it in the fridge. I like my pickles cold, and it's all I can do to wait to taste the results. So freaking good!