Two years ago I attended a fermentation workshop with @surlyfarmer and have been fermenting my own pickles ever since. For a while I was probably putting up a new jar every day. Documenting the beautiful colors and patterns of the fermenting plants turned into the Every Day I’m Pickling project.
Below is included a basic recipe for fermenting vegetables using a simple water and salt brine. Do look up recipes to inspire you with additional vegetables, spices, and color combinations.
As I write this post we are in a self-directed art residency in Mexico, an the vegetables in these photos came from the market in Tepoztlan, a little town in a mountain valley about 2 hours drive south of Mexico City. As we don’t have jars in our rented casita, recycled food containers and a pop bottle with the neck cut off make perfectly serviceable vessels for putting up some pickles. The recycled bottle doesn’t have a lid for later storage but that is not a problem because the pickles won’t last that long. They will be the perfect thing to toss into a fresh tortilla with some beans, cheese, and hot sauce for a quick snack or a meal.
Brined, fermented, brine pickled, salt pickled – all these terms refer to the super easy way of making naturally pickled vegetables, without vinegar.
Naturally Fermented aka Salt Brine Pickled Vegetables
- Add vegetables to a jar or a container.
- Add salt brine to cover the vegetables.
- Cover with a loose fitting lid or a cloth.
- Keep on the counter for 2 to 5 days.
You can look up many more tips and recipes online, but essentially it’s that easy.
- 3 tablespoons (15 ml) of table salt
- 1 litre (4 cups) of water
Vegetables to Pickle
Cabbage, carrots, onions, cucumbers, radishes, peppers, and beets all make excellent candidates for your first few batches of brine pickles. Dark green vegetables can turn out bitter. Wash the vegetables and wedge, slice, or shred. Use one vegetable at a time, layer them in the container, or mix beforehand to get a medley of pickles straight out of the jar. Shredded vegetables will marinate faster than large wedges – try putting large pieces at the bottom and smaller pieces at the top.
Spices to Add
Here is a list of my favorite whole seeds and flavor kings that I like to add to my brining vegetables. Experiment with adding singly or in combination.
- garlic cloves
- fresh horseradish root
- yellow or black mustard seed
- slices of ginger
- dill seed
- green cardamom pods
It will take just 2 to 5 days for flavor to start to develop in your pickles. So after a couple of days start tasting – when you taste the vegetable and it tastes good to you, then it is ready to eat. A longer fermentation period will develop a more sour, more effervescent flavor in most vegetables, for example cucumber pickles or sauerkraut. On the other hand, a long pickling process is needed to soften the bitterness of the rind when pickling lemons.
Putting the jar in the fridge will slow down the fermentation greatly but it will continue and the flavor will continue to develop and change. For faster fermentation, simply leave on the counter for a few extra days.
Containers to Use
Don’t sweat the perfect glass jar or crockpot – in the photo above, a soda pop bottle with the neck cut off works just fine for fermenting pickles. Containers should be washed clean but do not need to be sterilized. So long as vegetables stay submerged under the brine you don’t need to close off the container – in fact you want it to be open and to breathe so that carbon dioxide can escape. After the main pickling is done, put a lid on the jar before putting it in the fridge, primarily to stop water from evaporating and avoid vegetables from getting exposed to the air.
What About Bacteria, Mold, and Safety?
Salt brine pickling is an anaerobic process and it is self sterilizing to all harmful bacteria. No need to sterilize your jars! The growth of beneficial bacteria in the salty water robs the brine of oxygen and harmful bacteria cannot survive. Meanwhile all surfaces including the vegetables and jars, as well as the open air, bring in beneficial bacteria to flourish in the brine, the very bacteria that we want in our guts.
Bacteria that would be harmful to us might develop above the water line, floating on the surface as a white scum or growing on vegetables that stick out above the water. Bacteria on the top does not mean that the whole jar is “contaminated”. Simply skim off this white growth and any vegetable pieces that develop growth. This white, surface growing bacteria is only harmful in large quantities and after you skim it off the surface the rest of the jar contents are perfectly fine.