Thoughts on pickles…

I spent most of Sunday making two kinds of pickles. Two kinds of pickles which I would not have ever considered making in the past by myself — whether it because of the method involved to make said pickles or because of the pickled product itself.

One of the items I made on the weekend was pickled jalapenos. They were the easiest…. actually, no, scratch that. Of all the pickled vegetable recipes I have made thusfar, with the exception of the dill pickles I’m gonna talk about below, these were actually super simple by comparison.

I bought a bunch of jalapeno and hot red peppers from the Farmer’s Market on Saturday with The Hubbs, which turned out to be a lot less than I had originally thought. They were quite beautiful and surprisingly: Amazingly cheap! $2.49/lb for all the peppers that were on display that afternoon.

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Jalapeno & Hot Red Peppers

The recipe I used came via the lovely Ms. Shala from Don’t Eat the Paste, who directed me to the Canning Across America website.

The recipe was insanely easy. I mean, if you already have boxes of jars on hand that are clean from previous canning sessions (as I generally do) and all you have to do is sterilize them, more than half your work is already done! That’s how hard this recipe is. The peppers are washed, sliced and squished into the sterilized jars as tightly as possible and then the hot brine is poured over top. Seal’em up, toss them back into their swirly hot tub and 15 minutes later, you have pickled jalapenos!

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Floaty “Pickled Christmas Peppers” post hot water bath

Obviously I haven’t yet tried the peppers since they require a few weeks of standing time, but I have high hopes that they’ll be tasty. How can they not be? They’re homemade! ^_^

As for the other pickles that I made this weekend, I’ve been reading about online for the last couple months about lacto-fermented foods. Delicacies in that category you may be familiar with: yoghurt, kimchi, saurkraut and good old fashioned pickles not made with vinegar, but instead, plain old salt water.

I have had experience in the kimchi-making department and would love to do it again as homemade kimchi just tastes niftier than store bought. There’s certainly nothing wrong with store-bought kimchi, I always have a jar of it in my fridge, but the dedication involved to make it from scratch (and the taste!) makes it uncomparable to the kimchi you buy in the store.

The lacto-fermented pickles seem to be a project that is fairly easy to customize and the least fear-inducing when experimenting with something that can and will mold on you during the time it ferments in its ceramic crock. Compared to regular vinegared pickles, this recipe is also incredibly easy to master once all your equipment is squeaky clean and your ingredients are ready to roll.

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Lacto-fermented pickles ready for crock assembly

The recipe I used came from the Wild Fermentation website for Sour Pickles. I’m not going to write it at the bottom, just click the link. The website is a basic resource if you don’t have the book, which I don’t. Ms. Shala also introduced me to the book and I’ve been pining for a copy ever since. One day I shall get a copy… one day.

I bought and used a whole bunch of local ingredients for making these lacto-fermented pickles and for some reason I’m incredibly proud and kind of excited to see what kind of difference this makes in the resulting pickle. I realize that it’s probably going to taste completely different from the vinegar pickles simply by the fact that this recipe doesn’t even use vinegar. But it will be an interesting experience nonetheless.

As a side note, check this out:

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Hutterite Garlic (left & centre) vs. China Garlic

Holy cow! The size and taste of the Hutterite garlic vs. store bought garlic that ALL seems to come from China is astounding! I mean, not all Hutterite garlic is that size, but still… that’s insane! And yes, I did purposefully buy the biggest head I could find just because it was THAT big. Silly, I know.

I did have a little bit of a lightbulb moment on Saturday afternoon and I’m feeling like a total idiot for it, too. One of the weirdest ingredients I noticed (which is optional) is the use of fresh grape leaves, which are tannin rich, to help keep things crunchy. I don’t have grape leaves and Calgary is not really conducive to growing grape vines. A good recommended subtitute is using oak leaves and I just happen to have an oak tree planted in my backyard. For the longest time I couldn’t make the association of oak leaves + tannins and thought that it was kind of weird to just throw some indescriminate tree’s leaves into my pickling crock. But then the lightbulb moment came while we were out and about again to pick up some jugs of distilled water: Oak trees-> Oak barrels -> Chardonnay. DUH! So yea, then I felt much better about throwing the oak leaves into my crock to make pickles ^_^

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Oak leaf covered bottom of crock

As to the procedure, once you’re ready to take on the task of lacto-fermented pickles, you might want to take into consideration (the night before) to toss all your cucumbers into a big bucket of ice cold water and stash it in the fridge overnight. This will apparently help rehydrate them if they’re not feeling their 100% cucumber-crispy-selves. Otherwise, once that’s all said and done, make the brine, layer all your ingredients on the bottom of the crock, top off with enough brine to cover the cucumbers by a good amount once weighted down (with a plate and boiled rock!) and then cover everything with a tea towel and set aside in a cool dark place to ferment for a few weeks. Check on the progress of your pickles every couple of days, skimming off any scum and mold you see and making sure to wash the plate and rock before reintroducing them back into the brine solution as to avoid making more mold and weirdness.

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Pickling cucumbers ready to be covered in brine!

As I’m discovering over and over again, homemade does taste better and I’m wanting to make more stuff from scratch, if possible, just for the experience and be proud to say, “Check it out! I made that! How nifty is this??”

Pickled Jalapeno Peppers
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
~1lb mixed peppers, washed and sliced into rings

Sterilize the jars and lids and keep warm.
Meanwhile, in a nonreactive pan, whisk together the vinegar, water, salt and cumin. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the salt dissolves.
Pack each 500ml jar tightly with pepper rings and one garlic clove each up to the base of the neck of the jar.
Ladle hot brine to cover the pepper rings leaving about 1/4 inch at the top of each jar. Free any possible air bubbles, wipe rim of jar clean and screw on the lids.
Process in a hot water bath for 10-15 minutes.
Once all the jars reach room temperature, store in a dark cupboard for about three weeks to let flavors develop before opening.
Opened jars can be stored in the fridge for up to 6 months. Sealed, these pickles will keep for about one year.

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