We’ve recently started to dabble into fermenting, which was the next natural step after canning and basic pickling and it has been a delicious adventure! A dabble quickly turned into a delve which is now currently a full-fledged nose dive into flavor discovery.
Most everyone is familiar with canning in a conceptual sense, perhaps your mom made jams and jellies when you were a kid. Or perhaps your mother spoke with deep mysticism about something your great grandmother did called “preserving”. No matter where you fall in that spectrum we as a society are surrounded by canned food whether it be a lackluster can of commercially canned peas or something delectable such as a jar of Bubb’s Sauerkraut in the refrigerated section of the store. We buy and consume a large amount of food that someone else has put into a can or jar and most people have come to depend on the convenience and time saving benefits of pre made whatever.
Preserving food in this manner has roots that are centuries old with some practices and methods that date back much further than that. For example, pickling cucumbers began in India 4,000 years ago(Yah, you read that right). Even the word pickle itself comes from the Dutch word pekel, which translates to “brine”. Our nation’s forefather, George Washington, is said to have had a collection of more than 450 varieties of pickles!
Pickling is much broader than most people realize and certainly encompasses more than that jar of Kosher dills you pull from for the occasional sandwich. While you can pickle something in just a vinegar brine in the fridge, a true pickle is something that has been fermented and gone through a wonderful transformation which is all thanks to a couple of very wonderful strains of bacteria. Don’t worry, these are good bacteria and they are a couple of the rockstars in that family. Leuconostoc mesenteroides and Lactobacillus plantarum are the hometown heroes that make all of this possible. Just like how yogurt and cheese have their beneficial bacteria, so does the rest of the fermenting world.
Fermenting can be achieved in a brine that contains water and salt, water and vinegar or all three together, but the real magic happens when time and temperature come together and make this brine the home that bacteria needs to thrive. In order to keep this brief I’ll just make one comment about bacteria and save you the extended science lesson. Most all harmful bacteria require oxygen to thrive and are considered aerobic, whereas many beneficial bacteria including the two aforementioned ones, are anaerobic. Anaerobic in this sense means that the bacteria thrive in an environment without oxygen and in the fermenting world that is as simple as keeping the soon to be pickled foods submerged under the brine at all times.
“Why should I care? That sounds like a lot of work”, one might ask themselves or of me when I get excited that my month long fermented Sauerkraut is finally done. The profound flavor difference and unparalleled sense of accomplishment aside, fermented foods are really really really really really good for you in the deepest ways you can imagine food to be. The probiotic benefits of food have long been proven with yogurt being the first thing that people reference, but the naturally occurring lactic-acid bacteria in fermented foods help fortify all the good bacteria and flora in your intestines and aid in digestion in your stomach. Down to a cellular level, this food is good for you!
I personally feel that I’m on the cusp of a lifestyle change that will encompass fermenting a large portion of foods that I eat in order to reap the health benefits that come with them while I play around with all the flavor possibilities that are out there to discover. Below are a few examples of things we have traditionally fermented or quick brined that will now be staples in our diets to come!
Sweet and Spicy Ginger Carrots
Sweet and Spicy Pickled Peppers
(Jalapeño, Fresno and Amarillo)
Sauerkraut with Leeks
(Flavored with Juniper, caraway, celery seed and pepper)
Fermented Dill Green Beans & Beet Kvass
True sour dill pickles, NY Kosher deli style
Kosher Deli Dill Pickles, Dill Green Beans, Vinegar pickled dills, Sweet and Spicy Peppers, B&B Zucchini, Sweet & Spicy Ginger Carrots, Pickled Sweet Peppers and Garlic. Finished Sauerkraut