Tuesday, October 8, 2013

First Foray Into Lacto-Fermenting

Now that I am (once again) trying to eat healthier I have a desire to try lacto-fermenting. I have been hearing about this for a while, especially when I was hanging out on a kombucha board. I admit that I thought it was pickling with milk....and that didn't sound tasty. Come to find out it is pickling the old fashioned way, using natural lactic acids and yeasts, which are present in our environment. You've heard of "probiotics" and how healthy they are for our guts? That is the benefit of lacto-fermented foods. Unfortunately I got this desire at the very tail end of the pickling season. The only pickling cukes to be had were well past their prime and verging on spoiling. I also couldn't find any dill seed heads. Still, I forged ahead. Nothing will dissuade me from my desire to produce my own delicious, natural dill pickles. Will I achieve this dream? Time will tell. For now let me share with you my first fumbling baby steps on this journey.

First I picked out 6 of the least rotten feeling pickles at the produce stand. I gave them a good scrubbing and  trimmed off any soft spots. I also trimmed both ends of each cuke. Then I soaked them for about an hour in an ice water bath to firm them up. Next I located one of the pickle jars I'd saved. It was just big enough to do the job. Now to add my flavorings. Lacking a proper head of dill I opted to use a tsp. of dried dill. I also added a tsp. of pickling spices and 2 peeled cloves of garlic to the bottom of the jar. Next I added the cucumbers, standing them on their ends. After I had all the goodies loaded into the jar I mixed up a pickling brine using some kosher salt and water. Now to rig up some way to keep the cukes below the surface. I put some water into a Ziploc bag and stuffed that into the jar top. Oh, I forgot to mention the oak leaf. I had read somewhere that if you add a tannin rich leaf (or leaves) to the jar it will make your pickles crisper. The leaves can be oak, grape, horseradish, or cherry. I had access to none of the above. I finally located an oak tree in the Walgreen's parking lot. Later on I read that the oak leaves need to be the rounded, not pointy, variety. Apparently pointy oak leaves have too much tannin and will make your pickles too astringent.

I added a cloth to the top of my makeshift pickle crock and left it alone for 3 days. On day 3 I removed the cloth to take a peek. I was looking for bubbles which would signal that fermentation was underway. Success!

Fermentation is an inexact science. There are lots of variables. My pickles should be done in 7 to 10 days. Our days are getting colder now so I am thinking it will be more like 10 days before they are ready to go into the fridge. The cold will then inhibit fermentation and allow the pickles to mellow. There is just one hitch in my plan. I will be out of town on day 10. I am going to set the jar against a cold outer wall and hope for the best. Here is a picture of the pickles showing the oak leaf I had found.

As you can see, it is the pointy leaf variety (figures). I have removed it today and am hoping the tannin levels in the brine aren't too high. I do have some powdered tannin that I use in wine making. I wonder if I couldn't add a bit of that to my pickles in the future? Check back in about a week to see how these pickles turned out.

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