Before we left for the great North, we harvested our garden and I traveled the highways with a huge bag of pickling cucumbers, a bag of zucchini and a couple mason jars.
I love the bounty of summer and I intend, this year, to preserve it more than ever before. And, so far, I’m well on my way to that. I am also trying to avoid the new, commercially inspired methods of preservation: canning with lots of sugar, pickling with vinegar, dehydrating with sulphites etc.
Last year, I was introduced to a magical book called “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon. It changed the way I looked at food, and inspired me towards more traditional foods and methods of preparation. One of the big changes is fermentation, which is incredibly exciting.
Fermenting foods, rather than preserving them in vinegar, enhances the nutritional value, populates your belly with amazing beneficial bacteria and tastes pretty delicious. I started my experiments last summer in fermentation and, after reading “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz, I was inspired to experiment even more!
Having discovered, last year, on the last week of pickling cucumber season at the farmer’s market that, indeed, fermented cucumbers are the most delicious pickles ever to exist. Unfortunately, it was the last week, and I only got to experience one jar of the delicious tang of those lovely cukes. I pledged that I would not suffer the same fate this year and planted three hills of pickling cucumbers this year with a vow to ferment as many as possible.
Curcubits, the family that squash, zucchini and cucumbers are a part of, are a prolific family, as I mentioned before. They like to shoot out babies as fast as they can, and bless us with their bounty. So, not only am I overwhelmed with pickling cucumbers, but also zucchini.
I like picking zucchini young, while they still have that tender flavour that melts in the mouth. Too big and they become tough and watery, not really good for much other than zucchini bread, or, zucchini relish. So, I decided that I would try some fermented zucchini relish with the one zucchini that evaded my eyes and grew past the tender point, and a little end of a zucchini that I had.
I started with the pickles and decided to add some garlic this time, from my dad’s neighbour’s garden. HUGE bulbs (!) all organically grown and gifted to me (thank you Ralph).
The next thing you need to do is wash the cucumbers. Make sure all the spikey parts are off and that there is no left-over blossom clinging on to the end.
Now, because I live with a small person, who is generally not going to eat an entire fermented pickle, I cut the pickles into slices. I also find that this makes it more efficient for space, as you can fit more sliced cucumbers into a mason jar than whole ones. But, there is no reason you have to slice them, I just prefer to. I also cut off the end, but, again, as long as they are clean and not with stem, you can put them whole into the jar.
After I sliced them, I stuffed them in a jar, in a clove of garlic and an oak leaf. I have heard that oak leaves, cherry leaves and grape leaves can help fermented things from getting too mushy due to their high tannin content. So, I threw one in, because mushy cucumbers are yucky. The oak leaf is not necessary either, but I thought I would see what difference it makes, versus my non-oak leaf cucumbers.
Next, I mixed cold water with about two tablespoons of salt into a pitcher, mixed and poured over the cucumbers until they cover the jars by about 1 inch. It is important to note that, whenever you are working with ferments and water, your water must be non-chlorinated. I am very lucky to be at my dad’s where non-chlorinated water comes out of the tap, but most of us either have to leave the water out for 24 hours, or boil it and let it cool, to allow the chlorine to evaporate.
Now, when I did this at home, I used smaller jars on top of the bigger jars as weights, to keep the cukes under the brine, but I don’t have those here, and they are really not necessary. It’s good to check on them every so often while they ferment on your counter to ensure they are under the brine, otherwise they start growing lactobacillus on the top and it looks kind of gross, though is still edible. So, I just put the lid on, left it loose and put it on a corner of the counter, where they will ferment until I leave.
After cleaning up from the pickles, I decided to try zucchini relish. I have never made regular zucchini relish before so I was at a bit of a loss as to where to start. Luckily, the collective consciousness…errrr. internet, exists, and I asked Google and was gifted with this beautiful post to work from. I have no tolerance for spicy things, so I knew I was going to have to change the recipe to accommodate my personal tastes. In the end I worked with this:
1 large-ish zucchini (use as many as you want)
1 chunk of red pepper
1 small spanish onion, fresh from the neighbour’s garden
1 clove garlic
mustard, chinese five spice, and all spice
I scooped out the seeds from the zucchini and cut the garlic, onion and peppers into chunks. Then, I threw them in the food processor with the grating attachment on it, because, well, it’s SOOOO easy and fast. You could do it by hand if you feel so inclined.
I then added the salt until it tasted nice and salty and flavourful, about a tablespoon.
I also added in a couple of oak leaves, to keep the texture firm.
Then, I ground up the spices in a mortar and pestle. As I didn’t really know how much to use, I eye-balled it and am hoping for the best. You may have noticed that this is how I cook, as there are no real amounts to this recipe at all. This is how much I used, for a reference:
I then added that to the mix and put it all in a plastic yogurt container, pressed on it until the juices come up over the top. I would use a weight, but I don’t have one. Weights make life better in ferments, but are not necessary.
In the end, I ended up with three litres of cucumber pickles and a yogurt container of relish. I will let them rest on my counter until they are bubbly and then I will move them to the fridge (if you have cold storage you can use that instead) and eat them on all the most delicious things I can think of.
I am excited to give you an update as to how they all actually taste. MMMMMM!!!
And, a special thank you to Dad and Sara for letting me use their fancy new camera. I forgot mine at home and am glad that I could use theirs to make this post more interesting.