Pickling large cucumbers

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Late in the season I planted two cucumber plants, with no great hopes for them. In Sydney’s hot and humid climate I’ve found that cucumbers, zucchinis, etc are killed off by powdery mildew long before they produce any real crop.

This time was different, and we were quickly overwhelmed by a glut of cucumbers, some of which had grown quite large.

Sandor Katz to the rescue! His book Wild fermentation — which really kick-started the recent fermentation movement — provided a useful recipe for sour pickles.

Undeterred by the fact I didn’t have lots of tiny “pickling cucumbers” I instead cut my big cukes into thin half-discs. The recipe suggested including grape or oak leaves to keep the pickles crisp, so I scavenged some oak leaves from the convent next door.

A big jar of cucumbers, with an airlock to keep out the air

Into a big jar went the cucumbers, along with peppercorns, garlic cloves and dill flowers. I added an airlock, and left it to blip away for 3 weeks. And they behaved themselves perfectly: they didn’t bubble up and out the airlock, no mould grew on the surface, and the cucumber slices kept their shape.

Three jars of piquant cucumber slices

We ate some slices today on a ham sandwich, and they are delightfully tart. Another win for Sandor, thanks!

Making beet-kraut

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Packing jars full of delicious beet-kraut
Packing jars full of delicious beet-kraut

It’s a well-understood phenomena of growing your own vegetables that you’ll inevitably end up with gluts of produce throughout the year. This season, it was beetroots.

The small ones we baked in the oven with olive oil and thyme, but that still left us with some monster beetroots.

The book Fermented Vegetables provided an easy solution. Organised by vegetable, this great book provides a heap of basic (and more exotic) ways of fermenting, plus recipes that make use of the results.

In this case, I created a straightforward “beet-kraut”. Four big beetroots were grated in minutes, using my food processor. To that, I added half a red cabbage, to introduce the vital lactic acid bacteria.

Combined with a small amount of salt, the bright red mix was packed into tall Mason jars, with airlocks. As the bacteria bubble away they produce carbon dioxide, which forces the air out of the airlock, keeping the vegetables protected against moulds.

About a month later, I decanted the vegetable mix into smaller jars, for final storage in the fridge.

The end result has a sharp sauerkraut hit at the front of the palette, finishing with a strong lingering taste of fresh beetroot. Delicious!

Home-made olives

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On the back of our verge gardening, a neighbour from down the street asked if it would be reasonable to plant an olive tree next to their house. Of course I said: go for it!

A guerrilla-gardened olive tree in the verge.
A guerrilla-gardened olive tree in the verge.

Fast forward only a few years, and the small tree started producing olives. They sat on the tree, ripening, and eventually starting to fall onto the street. So you know me: I hate seeing something go to waste…

So we took a small ladder around, and harvested about half a bucket’s worth. Not a huge amount, but still quite a few.

A small harvest of olives, ready for pickling...
A small harvest of olives, ready for pickling…

Now olives can’t be eaten fresh, as they contain a very bitter substance that needs to be treated away. A bit of Googling found an excellent resources from the University of California titled Olives: Safe Methods for Home Pickling.

It outlines seven different methods, and I chose the kalamata-style approach.

Olives 'de-bitering' in a jar of water for 20 days
Olives ‘de-bitering’ in a jar of water for 20 days

This involves soaking/fermenting the olives in water for 20 days, changing the water each day.

Our home-made vinegar, produced from left-over wine
Our home-made vinegar, produced from left-over wine

After that, the olives were pickled in a mix of brine and red wine vinegar. (My home-made vinegar, by the way, created from left-over bottles of wine.)

Three jars of home-made olives...
Three jars of home-made olives…

Now I don’t actually like olives, but I’m assured that the results were excellent (a ‘very mild’ flavour, and ‘the best olives I’ve had’). Now I can’t confirm the veracity of these statements, but it was a fun process, and actually not very labour intensive.

All in all, it was a good proof of concept, and I think I’ll give it another go next season, if there’s a good crop…


Fermented chilli and garlic paste

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One jar of chilli and garlic, ready to be fermented for a full month.
One jar of chilli and garlic, ready to be fermented for a full month.

If there’s one challenge about chilli plants it’s how abundant they are. A single plant can produce 100+ chillis, easily overwhelming the capacity of our household, all our friends, and fellow workmates.

The obvious solution is to preserve the chillis, so they can be used throughout the rest of the year.

Following my first fermented vegetables, I took the plunge, and created a jar of fermented chilli and garlic.

Just a few of the chillies our one plant has produced.
Just a few of the chillies our one plant has produced.

Wearing gloves, I finely diced approx. 275g of chillis and garlic. I measured out 2% salt, and then crushed the lot by hand until the liquid started to come out.

Finely chopped, ready to be crushed by hand (wearing gloves!).
Finely chopped, ready to be crushed by hand (wearing gloves!).

Unlike the previous quick pickle, Sandor Katz recommended fermenting it for a full month, before storing in the fridge. Which we did.

The result is a single jar, shown above, of serious chilli-ness! It’s very hot indeed, and should keep our stir-fries and other meals lively for at least a full year…


My first fermented pickle

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Two jars of pickles - ready to eat!
Two jars of pickles – ready to eat!

A few weeks ago I attended a workshop on fermenting vegetables, presented by Sandor Katz (organised by the always-wonderful Milkwood Permaculture).

This covered a range of different approaches to using lactic acid fermentation to preserve vegetables.

The first and simplest technique is the one that most took my fancy (it was also the one Sandor recommended the most).

It goes like this:

The food processor made light work of even hard vegetables.
The food processor made light work of even hard vegetables.

Start with a mix of hard vegetables, in our case:

  • beetroots (red and yellow)
  • daikon (white radish)

Slice them into small pieces, by hand or by food processor. With the slicer attachment of our food processor, this took mere minutes.

The vegetables, crushed by hand with salt.
The vegetables, crushed by hand with salt.

Put everything in a large bowl, and add salt to taste. (I tried 3% salt as a first test, but next time I’ll use a little less.)

Crush and squeeze it by hand, until as Sandor put it, “you can wring water out of a handful like you would out of a sponge”. This only took about 5mins of easy work.

Ready to ferment!
Ready to ferment!

Squeeze the vegetables into jars, and pack down until the water level rises above the vegetables.

Put the lids on, and then watch and wait! Because I was doing a very quick pickle, I didn’t worry too much about keeping air out (there are a heap of techniques for doing this).

Each day I checked the pickles, as well as getting Priscilla to taste test. After just 3 days, the vegetables were soft enough (and not too sour) for Priscilla’s taste. Into the fridge they go!

This is a super-simple preserving technique, and I’ll definitely be doing more of this.

Some footnotes for future reference:

  • 1kg of vegetables, which made approx 1L of pickles (as Sandor had predicted)
  • 3% of salt (use less next time, a bit too salty for our salt-reduced diet)
  • 3 days pickling