Sunday, August 17, 2008

Crocks, Crocks Everywhere

A quote by Sandor Ellix Katz:
"Not everyone can be a farmer. But that's not the only way to cultivate a connection to the Earth and buck the trend toward global market uniformity and standardization. One small but tangible way to resist the homogenization of culture is to involve yourself in the harnessing and gentle manipulation of wild microbial cultures. Rediscover and reinterpret the vast array of fermentation techniques used by our ancestors. Build your body's cultural ecology as you engage and honor the life forces all around you."

We are drunk on the philter of fermentation. Our house is alive with the scents of pickles.

We invested in some beautiful ceramic crocks. I'd had enough of scavenging the local thrift stores, only to find cracked and leaky vessels that made me feel like I was in a mud wrestling battle with wet dirt caking my ears. Or something like that. But now we have 2, 3, and 5 gallon crocks and two large Ball jars, all with their own living concoctions. The crocks themselves are inspiring. Check them out here. Right now these crocks contain kombucha, pickling green beans, sauerkraut, dill cucumber pickles, and plum wine.

The pickles that we decided to make are sour and salty, the flavors hitting the inside of your cheeks with a pithy punch. These pickles aren't preserved in vinegar like store bought pickles are generally. They age in a salt brine with multifarious other vegetables and spices. The brine allows for this food to be alive, aiding in our digestion, and helping our systems to fight against sickness and disease. The first pickles we experimented with turned out a bit too salty, and the cucumbers were a bit cumbersome in size. Many of the larger ones ended up being hollow on the inside. No one wants to eat a hollow pickle. But this second batch, they seem to be approving of the current alchemy and process. As they ferment it's important to taste the evolving product. These smaller cucumbers are starting to turn that shadowy mossy green, and as our jaws chomp them, they satisfactorily crunch.

Here's a few hints when you pickle those extra cucumbers. Into the crock, add some grape leaves or leaves that have a good amount of tannin in them. The tannin provides what the fermenting foods need for crunch. In addition to the grape leaves, add lots of peeled and punched garlic, fresh dill, and whole peppercorns. The ceramic crock you choose only needs to be big enough for all the ingredients and enough brine to cover them. Once you layer the ingredients and add your cucumbers, just top the whole thing off with brine, cover the food with a plate and weight it down with a water filled jar to keep everything from floating to the top. Brine strength requires a bit of math, but it's easy. Josh found that diluting 3 tablespoons of salt in one liter of clean, filtered water is perfect for our climate in Michigan right now. He fills a capped one liter bottle (like a Nalgene) half full with water, adds the 3 TB of salt, shakes it to dissolve, and the fills the rest with water. So adjust as you see necessary. Just remember that the brine is what controls the action of microorganisms. So more salt will help slow fermentation in the summer, and probably cut down on mold growth on top of the pickles. Just don't fear the mold! Expect it, and when you discover it just carefully skim it from the top. Cover the whole thing, though, with a clean cloth to keep debris and bug invaders from feasting on your concoction. Once you are completely in love with the flavor of your pickles you can slow the whole thing down by putting the pickles into the fridge or jarring them with the correct canning techniques. You lose a lot of the health properties of the pickles when you can them under high heat, though.

Josh also put together a batch of bean pickles. He used the same brine recipe above for the cucumber pickles, but used a hot pepper from our garden, zucchini, and green beans. We are using a glass jar instead of a ceramic crock for these, so this is a bit of an experiment.

Do it! Try out these simple pickles that evolve with time and the other invisible creatures that are so beneficial all around us. I think of all the anti-bacterial products we are surrounded by and love the idea of making friends with some of these enemies.

Here's the pickle recipe I've found before.

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