Tuesday, 29 August 2017

In A Pickle

This is another one of those non-hockey entries I've been promising to do, so if you're looking for hockey today's not your day on HBIC. Instead, I found myself questioning what to do with a rather prodigious cucumber plant this summer that continues to produce cucumbers of varying shapes and sizes. In total, I have plucked a dozen of cucumbers off the plant in my garden, and my last inspection says there are mostly likely going to be another dozen before all is said and done on this growing season. As much as I like cucumbers, I'm not going to paint myself into a corner by eating a cucumber with every meal, so I needed to figure out how to use these cukes in a more sensible way.

Having watched my mom make pickles out of garden cucumbers, I wasn't all that excited to do the sanitizing of jars and preparation of the cucumbers for pickling. It always looked like a ton of work, and occasionally you'd have a jar of pickles that didn't quite taste like they should have due to some chemical reaction going awry. I needed something less time-consuming that generated the same results, and I think I may have found the answer with lacto-fermentation!

As is the case with most fermentation, bacteria is responsible for the process. This isn't the scary kind of bacteria like salmonella, though. Instead, we're talking about Lactobacillus bacteria that converts sugar into lactic acid. The bacteria was first observed in milk products, giving the bacteria its Latin name thanks to its abilities to convert lactose - the sugar found in milk - into lactic acid. Various strains of the Lactobacillus bacteria are found on the surface of all plants, and can be found in the gastrointestinal tracts, mouths, and vaginas of a number of animal species including humans. In other words, these bacteria are safe.

The science behind these bacteria being good for pickles and other preserves is that the lactic acid produced by Lactobacillus bacteria is a natural preservative that prevents or inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. The lactic acid also preserves vitamins and enzymes, making most lacto-fermented products rich in nutrients that is good for the human body. On top of that, lacto-fermented pickles are considered "kosher" pickles due to the flavor profile made popular by New York's Jewish pickle makers who used lacto-fermentation to produce their pickles naturally. I can honestly swear that I don't have a kosher certification for my pickles, so I will not say they are tried-and-tested kosher by Jewish food laws.

Today, most grocery store jars of pickles, sauerkraut, and other preserves are made with vinegar which offers more predictable results and is true "pickling", but do not offer the probiotic and enzymatic values of fermentation. As stated above, the nutrients are preserved in the lacto-fermentation process whereas the vinegar in the pickling process will kill most of the good bacteria along with the bad bacteria.

So what did I do with all those cucumbers? If you guessed "he made lacto-fermented pickles", your skills of deduction are top-notch!

Using a fantastic and simple recipe from Jennifer on Deep Roots at Home, I went about making myself some dill pickles tonight! Much like the pasta sauce recipe I posted last week, I aim for simplicity and garden-to-table nutrition so that anyone with a garden can make good, wholesome food at home. I'll never claim to be a chef, but I do appreciate good food and nothing goes better with a sandwich than a thick deli-sliced pickle!

I'll test these cucumbers out in about a week's time and let you know the results. It took me about an hour to make six jars of deli-sliced pickle spears, and I have to say that I'm excited to see how they turn out. I was curious, though, about how you stop the lacto-fermentation process once it starts. Depending on the warmth of your home in the summer, the process to turn cucumbers into pickles takes about 5-10 days. As Jennifer suggests,
On day 4 do a taste test of your pickles. They're ready when they taste done to you! Once they taste done, transfer the jar into the fridge to slow fermentation. Once fermented and in the refrigerator, you can remove the grape leaves and you don't need to worry about the pickles being completely submerged.
That's important to remember because the fermentation process likes light and warmth. A cool, dark place like a fridge, a basement, or a cellar would be idea for the storage of these pickles once they're ready to go.

Look for my results next week on this very blog! If you try this recipe out, let me know how it went for you as well!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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