*Find a detailed section on Fermentation including Everyday Sauerkraut, Kimchi and Lacto-fermented Vegetables in my new cookbook – Homegrown Kitchen: Everyday Recipes for Eating Well – available in bookstores and retailers around New Zealand and personally signed copies HERE.
Our fridge is currently in a crisis state, and I take complete responsibility. You see, this summer on top of preserving all our homegrown fruit to fill the pantry shelves, I have also gone a little lacto-fermenting mad. Any excess garden vegetables or seconds from the farmers market are being transformed into probiotic goodness for our bellies.
However, with this hot weather I haven’t been able to store the large jars of fermenting produce in the cold store (aka the laundry cupboard). Hence the fridge is currently bursting at the seams with around 16 litres of lacto-fermented goodness and I’m not ready to stop yet. Discussions of a second fridge have begun as every journey into our kitchen fridge entails an emptying of half the contents to find what you are looking for! My family is not impressed. I am beginning to understand why they built houses with cellars several generations ago. Surely I was born into the wrong era…
In case you are wondering what is this term ‘lacto-fermenting’, I will explain. It is a traditional method of preserving without the use of sugar or vinegar. It relies on the lactic acid producing bacteria (lactobacilli) naturally found on the surface of vegetables with the addition of salt, and time, to preserve produce. The slow fermenting is similar to sauerkraut and all kinds of microbial goodness is created during the process. Although these pickles need to be refrigerated (or kept in a cool store/cellar) after the initial fermentation they do keep far longer (up to 6 months) than fresh produce.
In years gone past lacto-fermenting was carried out in large ceramic crocks. These were rarely washed so the natural cultures would build up on the surface of the vessel so an added culture wasn’t required. (That may sound a little urrgh, however, our modern fear of germs and bacteria have not been to the benefit of our health.) In modern-day fermenting where most of us don’t have a large well cultured crock in our cool store room, we need to rely on large glass jars and the addition of a small amount of culture. These can be purchased in powdered form online, however, I find the easiest and most cost-effective way is to strain cultured whey from homemade milk kefir or yogurt (unsweetened good-quality yogurt can also be used and coconut yogurt for dairy-free).
Some recipes for lacto-fermenting don’t use whey – and I don’t when making sauerkraut because there is more surface area to take advantage of the naturally occurring lacto-bacilli – however, when brine preserving as with this recipe I prefer to provide a little cultural assistance. If whey is not available then double the salt quantity and fermenting time – and also wait double the time before eating the pickles… see why I like the help of whey!?
- For best results use homegrown or organic produce to ensure plenty of lactobacilli is present on the skins/ surface.
- Adding cultured whey (see below) helps to speed up the fermentation time without using a powdered culture and increases the shelf life.
- Probiotic pickles can taste a little effervescent this is completely normal, however, if there is funky coloured mold on the surface of the brine and a bad odour discard the pickles. Use your instinct and common sense here.
- Don’t over fill the jars, leave at least 2cm between the top of the liquid and top of the jar so there is room for movement during the active fermentation stage.
- Make sure all produce is completely submerged in brine, packing tightly will help keep everything in place. Any exposed produce can potentially grow mold and in turn affect the whole jar rendering it unusable.
These probiotic gherkins can be eaten after 1 week, however, the microbial goodness increases over time. I try to have a rotation in place with our lacto-fermented produce so we are waiting at least a month before taking our first bite. You will need a 2 litre glass jar. The optional addition of the grape vine leaves helps to retain the crunch of the gherkins.
dill or fennel flower heads
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 tablespoons unrefined salt
1 litre cold filtered water
2 tablespoons cultured whey*
2 grape vine leaves (optional)
- Wash the jar making sure to rinse off any soap thoroughly. Pack the gherkins very snugly into the jar and add the flower heads and mustard seeds.
- Make the brine by stirring the salt in the water until it is dissolved. Pour this over the produce to come within 2cm of the top of the jar (if there is extra brine set this aside for topping up the jar later). Pour in the whey and pack the grape vine leaves into the top of the jar. Secure the lid and gently turn (don't shake) the jar to distribute the whey.
- Place the jar on a tray (to catch any dribbles) and leave at room temperature for 2 days. The liquid may bubble over a little during the fermentation simply top up with extra brine to within 2cm from the top of the jar.
- Once this initial fermentation has taken place store the pickles in the fridge or a cool store cupboard (5 - 8C) . Wait at least 1 week before eating and consume within 6 months.
*Cultured Whey is the opaque liquid left over from low temperature cheese making. The easiest way to obtain whey if you don’t make cheese is to strain natural unsweetened yogurt or milk kefir through a cheesecloth lined sieve set over a bowl. Over several hours the whey will drip out and the yogurt becomes gorgeously thick and creamy. Keep whey in a glass jar in the fridge and use within 2 weeks.