Well, did you think I dropped off the face of the earth, folks? You could be forgiven if you did: I’ve been neglecting the BPC for a month now and I have Absolutely. No. Good. Reason. For it. Other than the fact that I can be a little stubborn sometimes, and I just haven’t been feeling very food-writey for the last few weeks, and therefore I have not pushed myself to snap out of it until now.
However, no matter how food-writey I feel, I am always food-eatey. I have been reveling in the wonder of summer veggies fresh from my garden, stealing bites of fois gras custard or lobster risotto from the kitchen at work, and scouring the internet for the best restaurant to splurge on for my upcoming first anniversary of being married to my honey. Any recommendations on the Southern Maine coast gratefully received. (Anneke Jans and Fore St. both in the running!)
Now, back to the garden. We savored the first ripe zucchinis and cucumbers, tossing them with salt, pepper, and olive oil before grilling on the BBQ, or stuffing thick raw slices into sandwiches for crunch. It was heavenly. I tromped out into the back field each morning and felt like I was on a treasure hunt for the day’s lunch.
Then I started finding several a day, a handful a day, a basketful a day. I really can only eat one cuke for lunch, even if I mix it into an irresistible feta cucumber salad. And I just can’t think of any more ways to incorporate zucchinis into my dinner.
Luckily, I bought a hundred Mason jars last year to use as drinking glasses and flower vases at my wedding. And so, the great pickling has begun.
The “quick” pickle or “refrigerator” pickle process is incredibly easy, especially as a first project, and basically relies on packing your veggies in an acidic brine, then processing your jars in boiling water for 10-20 minutes. The acid keeps bacteria out, and the heat of the water process kickstarts your veggies to absorb any herbs or seasonings you’ve included in the brine.
I started this in the spring with pickled asparagus and fiddleheads, being careful to follow recipes for the correct proportion of acid to water in the brine, but then taking artistic license with my flavorings. Then I moved on to bread and butter cucumber pickles.
The problem is this: what I really like is a nice, crunchy, savory pickle—not a sweet floppy disc. It’s nice to know my goods are all jarred up until winter but I’m not that into the idea of cooking my cucumbers in a boiling water bath. So I’ve been experimenting with lacto-fermentation.
With fermented pickles, yeast in the air eats up the sugars in the veggies and replaces it with lactic acid. So instead of you having to add acid to the brine, the mix generates its own and preserves itself.
I’ve got a five-gallon bucket of dill, garlic, cucumber spears, and zucchinis bubbling away in a closet as we speak. To be honest, I’m not totally convinced that everything is ok in there. The room temperature has been a little too high, and I read after making my batch that you should use filtered water as chlorine will kill your good bacteria. So there may be some problems, as evidenced in the slightly soft texture my spears seem to have achieved. However, they don’t smell or look BAD per se, and the Hubs confidently ate a bite yesterday with no ill effects. So far.
The real success though, has been in fermented veggie relishes. Here is my process.
Basic Lacto-fermented Veggie Relish
Grate veggies into a bowl. Season with salt until it tastes nice and salty. Add some other seasonings, if you’re into that. Stuff into a jar and press veggies down (really smush the suckers down into the bottom of the jar) until they are fully submerged in their own liquid. Lightly place cap on top of jar, but don’t screw it tight. Leave it on a shelf for a few days, then refrigerate and eat.
Simple, right? If it sounds slightly dodgy and like you might contract some illness if you jump into this particular deep end, just remember: people have been doing this sort of thing for thousands of years because a) it works, b) it is an incredibly simple way of preserving fresh foods and c) it tastes so good, you’ll ‘accidentally’ drop a fork in it every time you pass the fridge.
If you want some ideas for what sorts of relish to make, here are some that I’ve been enjoying:
- Grated cucumber, a big handful of chopped dill, thinly sliced onions, garlic, and salt.
- Grated zucchini, thinly sliced jalapeno, mustard seeds, turmeric, and salt.
- Grated zucchini, garlic, ginger, red chilis, and salt.
“How should I eat this stuff?”, you ask? On sausages, burgers, sandwiches, pulled pork, on its own, with grilled chicken or fish, out of the fridge, out of the jar, out of the bowl before you get it into the jar, etc.