We’ve been on a roll this Summer, despite our best efforts to unwittingly sabotage the garden through irregular watering and late planting out, leaving seedlings in trays a little too long and forgetting the weeding, nature has still won through it all! From late summer onwards we’ve had a steady supply of oddly sized and shaped cabbages, cauliflowers, pak choi, turnips and beetroots.
So we decided to pickle it in the form of sauerkraut and combined veg pickles. We’ve always try to let nature do the work and that’s why we prefer to use the lacto-fermentation method. This method has been around for thousands of years and with the aid of salt we let the anaerobic environment of a briny (salt and water) mix keep the nasty bacteria at bay and allow all the beneficial bacteria (lacto-bacillus) to start digesting all the sugars of the vegetables into a yummy, tangy, gut healing, pro-biotic mix.
So what can you pickle? Well, pretty much most root veggies- daikon radishes, regular radishes (if you can bear to not eat them all immediately), carrots, turnips, beetroots. Dill and cucumbers are a classic. Small green tomatoes were some of my more experimental ferments, it was delightfully successful with a firm texture and tangy taste. Cabbage is a no brainer and makes up the namesake ingredient of the ferment of German fame, Sauerkraut. Red cabbage is delish and if you have asian Napa cabbage then you have the basis for Korean Kimchi (a ferment of radish, cabbage, carrot in a spicy paste of garlic, fish paste, chilli, ginger and onion). Cauliflower is experimental, but possible. Soft leafy greens are best to be avoided, after all you wouldn’t want a soft gooey mush after a month in the fermentation jar! However crisper asian greens like Pak-choi can pass muster.
So you’ve got a glut!? By Autumn there is sometimes simply too much ready veg in the garden than is possible to eat. If you’ve cooked and frozen several batches of soups and stews and filled the chest freezer then perhaps it’s time to give one of the pre-fossil fuel preservation options a try, like pickling!
Here’s how we did it…
- Wash your chosen veg.
- Slice into thin strips, some people like cabbage shredded thinly, almost grated. I like mine chunky in long strips. If you are cutting root vegetables, aim to cut into thin slices so that it becomes flexible. There are not steadfast rules, just play around with shapes and thicknesses which you like. Some people even like to put whole veg into the jar such as with beetroot. It comes down to the size of your jar (and mouth).
- Put your cabbage in a bowl salting it with finely ground salt. Squeeze the cabbage with your hands, like you are giving it a massage. With other veg like root veg, cucumbers, cauliflower etc we will make a separate brine mix to submerge the vegetables with.
- Tamp down your vegetables (if sliced) into the fermentation jar. This is especially important for sauerkraut and kimchi as this will compress the mix into the jar and encourage the water content to come out along with the assistance of the salt (osmotic effect).
- As the water starts to be drawn out the mix, keep compressing with your fingers or fist. This helps to remove the air bubbles trapped between the shredded veggies. These air bubbles are little havens for less than beneficial bacteria, which we do not want in the fermentation bin.
- If you are placing whole or cut veggies into the fermentation bin/jar place them in carefully and place a weight on top.
- This weight can be a heavy plate or saucer, sterilised rock or anything which is heavy, fits in the jar and is clean.
- Add the brine mix to the jar of chunky veg (for every litre of water at 2 tablespoons of salt), wait till water cools to room temperature (if you dissolved salt into hot water)
- For the ferments (sauerkraut, sliced vegetable and cabbage and kimchi) which you salted and massaged, tamp down again and check to see if the water content from the vegetables is starting to fill up the jar. Check again, tamp down again in a few hours.
- If these mixes are not covered by liquid by the 2nd day, add a brine mix to cover them up completely.
- It is important to submerge the mix so that the fermentation process is safe and completely anaerobic.
- Then just wait a few weeks, testing the flavour as you go, some people like their ferments mild tasting, others like them after a few months or more.
- One last thing, don’t be scared by the bacterial flora on the surface of the water, just scrape it off whenever you check the jar/bin.
What to ferment in…?
- Traditionally wide mouthed jars of crockery or ceramic have been used. This means that you can fit a heavy weight in the top of it and fit you hand or spoon in to tamp down or scoop out the goodies.
- Less conventional choices are 20 litre/5 gallon fermentation bins used for beer and wine making.
- There are the very swanky looking Pickl-it airlock topped, kilner jars. A mighty clever idea.
- For a seriously large fermentation mission you have the choice of several litre volume tupperware style fermentation bin E-jen kimchi bins. It is made of mix of high quality polypropylene and 7-10% porous clay, to allow the natural exchange of gas to occur. They are modern equivalent of the traditional Korean breathing earthenware.
- Essentially if you have 2 large glass bowls that you can fit inside of each other, that will do the trick as well.
You can’t say ‘fermentation’ without Sandor Katz coming to mind. He is a big wig of fermentation and has some lovely classic books on the subject. I really enjoyed reading the book and regularly peruse the website, ‘Wild Fermentation’. It has loads of different traditional recipes on much more than pickles, including information on wildly fermented wines, breads, batters and batters from an array of countries and continents.
Well there you have it…happy pickling!