I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation and really enjoying it. Right now I’m in the fermenting section and it is making me want to bust out my pickling (read: ferment) recipes so that I can up the healthy bacteria in my gut.
I’ve known that fermented foods are good for us. I’ve known that while anti-biotics can be useful in certain cases, they come with a whole host of side effects by killing all the bugs in our intestines, not just the bad ones. I’ve been suspicious for a little while now of anti-bacterial soap and how clean the average American suburban home is. There is research now that shows farm-kids as healthier because they are exposed to more germs.
But reading about what is actually going on in here, makes me want to feed my bacteria.
“[The human body] is more like a complex ecosystem—a social network—containing trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit our skin, genital areas, mouth and especially intestines. In fact, most of the cells in the human body are not human at all. Bacterial cells in the human body outnumber human cells 10 to one. Moreover, this mixed community of microbial cells and the genes they contain, collectively known as the microbiome, does not threaten us but offers vital help with basic physiological processes—from digestion to growth to self-defense.” -Ackerman http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=ultimate-social-network-bacteria-protects-health
I get all sorts of science fiction images when I read this. . . what happens if the bacteria takes over? . . .
But so far, it seems like we are in charge, and that it also makes sense to start taking better care of these little bugs that do so much for us. Like pickling and fermenting and such good things. So here’s a recipe for you by Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation www.wildfermentation.com
I’ll let you know how it goes at my house. . .
Making Sour Pickles by Sandor Katz
The biggest variables in pickle-making are brine strength, temperature, and cucumber size. 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.
The strength of brine varies widely in different traditions and recipe books. Brine strength is most often expressed as weight of salt as a percentage of weight of solution, though sometimes as weight of salt as a percentage of volume of solution. Since in most home kitchens we are generally dealing with volumes rather than weights, the following guideline can help readers gauge brine strength: Added to 1 quart of water, each tablespoon of sea salt (weighing about .6 ounce) adds 1.8% brine. So 2 tablespoons of salt in 1 quart of water yields a 3.6% brine, 3 tablespoons yields 5.4%, and so on. In the metric system, each 15 milliliters of salt (weighing 17 grams) added to 1 liter of water yields 1.8% brine.
Some old-time recipes call for brines with enough salt to float an egg. This translates to about a 10% salt solution. This is enough salt to preserve pickles for quite some time, but they are too salty to consume without a long desalinating soak in fresh water first. Low-salt pickles, around 3.5% brine, are “half-sours” in delicatessen lingo. This recipe is for sour, fairly salty pickles, using around 5.4% brine. Experiment with brine strength. A general rule of thumb to consider in salting your ferments: more salt to slow microorganism action in summer heat; less salt in winter when microbial action slows.
Timeframe: 1-4 weeks
- Ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket
- Plate that fits inside crock or bucket
- 1-gallon/4-liter jug filled with water, or other weight
- Cloth cover
Ingredients (for 1 gallon/4 liters):
- 3 to 4 pounds/1.5 to 2 kilograms unwaxed cucumbers (small to medium size)
- 3⁄8 cup (6 tablespoons)/90 milliliters sea salt
- 3 to 4 heads fresh flowering dill, or 3 to 4
- tablespoons/45 to 60 milliliters of any form of dill (fresh or dried leaf or seeds)
- 2 to 3 heads garlic, peeled
- 1 handful fresh grape, cherry, oak, and/or horseradish leaves (if available)
- 1 pinch black peppercorns
- Rinse cucumbers, taking care to not bruise them, and making sure their blossoms are removed. Scrape off any remains at the blossom end. If you’re using cucumbers that aren’t fresh off the vine that day, soak them for a couple of hours in very cold water to freshen them.
- Dissolve sea salt in ½gallon (2 liters) of water to create brine solution. Stir until salt is thoroughly dissolved.
- Clean the crock, then place at the bottom of it dill, garlic, fresh grape leaves, and a pinch of black peppercorns.
- Place cucumbers in the crock.
- Pour brine over the cucumbers,place the (clean) plate over them, then weigh it down with a jug filled with water or a boiled rock. If the brine doesn’t cover the weighed-down plate, add more brine mixed at the same ratio of just under 1 tablespoon of salt to each cup of water.
- Cover the crock with a cloth to keep out dust and flies and store it in a cool place.
- Check the crock every day. Skim any mold from the surface, but don’t worry if you can’t get it all. If there’s mold, be sure to rinse the plate and weight. Taste the pickles after a few days.
- Enjoy the pickles as they continue to ferment. Continue to check the crock every day.
- Eventually, after one to four weeks (depending on the temperature), the pickles will be fully sour. Continue to enjoy them, moving them to the fridge to slow down fermentation.