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EST. 2011 BY LIZ RUEVEN
Tell Me More: How to Pickle My Veggies

Tell Me More: How to Pickle My Veggies

Katy Morris

With farmers’ markets overflowing with a rainbow fiesta of fruits and veggies, it’s a perfect time to consider pickling, an age old method of preserving  summer’s bounty.

Pickling is uncomplicated, time efficient and will nourish you deep into the winter months. And besides, who doesn’t love a crisp, sour pickle?

We consulted Sandor Katz, James Beard Award winning author of The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation (just two of his fascinating resources) and master pickler, to get a peek into the world of pickling and why this preservation method is so easy to grasp and good for you.

 

Sandor Katz, teacher and pickler extraordinaire
Sandor Katz, teacher and pickler extraordinaire

Pickling vs. Fermenting. What’s the difference?

 

Photo: Liz Rueven
Photo: Liz Rueven

Pickling and fermentation are overlapping concepts. A pickle is anything preserved in an acidic medium. This could be hot vinegar (acetic acid) poured over vegetables, as most contemporary supermarket pickles; or it could be pickles produced by fermentation via lactic acid bacteria producing lactic acid in a salt water brine environment.

Both involve fermentation, as vinegar is a product of fermentation. But only the fermented lactic acid pickles have live probiotic bacteria. My experience is almost exclusively with these fermented pickles. They are classically done with small pickling cucumbers but also with string beans, okra, garlic, and really almost any vegetable.

 

Photo: Liz Rueven
Photo: Liz Rueven

What made you interested in pickling in the first place?

 As a kid growing up in New York City, I loved what we called sour pickles (outside of New York they are mostly known as kosher dills), [which are] crunchy, garlicky, dilly, and sour. I still love them and just the thought of them makes my salivary glands go crazy.

 

What are the health benefits of pickles and pickled produce?

Pickling is a way to preserve vegetable abundance and to get their nutrients (notably vitamin C) in the seasons of relative scarcity. Fermented pickles are also probiotic, rich with beneficial bacteria that can replenish and diversify our gut microbial populations and thereby improve digestion and nutrient assimilation, immune function, and more.

 

Photo: Liz Rueven
Photo: Liz Rueven

What are the most unexpected fruits or veggies you like to pickle? If we peeked into your kitchen, what pickles are fermenting right now? 

Almost anything edible can be pickled. Recently I was served pickled green strawberries, which were delicious and gorgeous. In my cellar you would find the final bit of last fall’s radish kraut. I think of sauerkraut and kimchi as pickles, and these are the constants in my life and fridge. 

 

How does location and season influence what you pickle?

Generally I ferment what’s abundant in my garden, or those of my friends. So in that regard, location and season are everything.

 

A peck of pickled peppers about to happen. Photo: Liz Rueven
A peck of pickled peppers about to happen. Photo: Liz Rueven

How does pickling vary throughout global cuisine?

Picking is a versatile art and can incorporate a vast range of seasonings and flavors. China is thought to be where pickling originated, and pickles are made in infinite regional styles.     

 

Indian pickles use lots of spices, such as mustard, turmeric, cumin, chili peppers, ginger, and often oils. Russian cuisine pickles include not only cucumbers, but fruits, mushrooms, tomatoes and more. Japanese cuisine uses a variety of pickling mediums, including rice bran, miso, soy sauce, koji, and sake lees.

 

James Beard Award Winner
James Beard Award Winner

 

 Ready to try some picklin’ on your own?

Well, if you’ve picked up his latest book, The Art of Fermentation, you might be surprised that there aren’t too many recipes in it; that’s because Sandor tries  “to focus on concepts and processes, and describe the range of ingredients, seasonings, salt proportions timings, etc.” so you can  be prepared to pickle just about anything.

 

Lucky for us, he did share a simple sour pickle recipe from his book for our readers!

 

Photo: Liz Rueven
Photo: Liz Rueven

 

A couple more quick tips from Sandor to keep in mind before your pickle escapade begins:

 

*Pickle-making requires close attention. As it turns out brine pickles are easy. You just need to give them regular attention in the summer heat, when cucumbers are most abundant,” he says.

* Want the crunchiest pickle you can get? Sandor advises using fresh tannin-rich grape leaves in the crock if you have access.

* Keep in mind the three main factors when making the best pickles are “brine strength, temperature and cucumber size,” according to Sandor. “I prefer pickles from small and medium cucumbers; pickles from really big ones can be tough and sometimes hollow in the middle. I don’t worry about uniformity of size; I just eat the smaller ones first, figuring the larger ones will take longer to ferment. “

*A general rule of thumb to consider in salting your ferments: more salt slows microorganism action in summer heat; less salt in winter when microbial action slows,” he adds.

 

For lots more info on fermentation and pickling from Sandor, check out his extremely resourceful website here.

Do you make your own pickles? Which veggies would you like to pickle this summer? 

Ready to learn about a new gourd you may want to pickle? Scroll down to the next post or read about Pickled Chayote by clicking here.

5 Comments

  1. Just threw out the garlic dills I was making from your recipe (after 5 days)! My son (the Chef) said they didn’t look right and asked to see the recipe. He states there isn’t enough salt in it to kill all the bacteria, that 1 1/2 Tbsp of salt isn’t right and could possibly be typo (should it be 1 1/2 cups instead?)

    • Hi Nina, Thanks for your question and yes, better safe than sorry. Having said that, we checked back with Sandor Katz to confirm that in fact, this recipe is correct. Here’s what how he responded to our inquiry, ” In a fermented pickle you don’t want to kill all the bacteria! i stand by my recipe. 1.5 cups of salt would be utterly unpalatable!”. Hope your second batch is better. To read more from Sandor, check his blog http://www.wildfermentation.com/fermentation-blog/ Keep us posted!

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