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Naturally Fermented Pickles

Written By Culinary Pen on Sunday, June 12, 2011 | 6:22:00 PM

With much thanks to Euell Gibbon's Dill Crock, I think I've found the true calling for my sauerkraut crock. As much as I like sauerkraut, it's hard to eat my way through liter after liter of the stuff. But there's no reason I can't use it for a bevy of fermented vegetables. Unlike "regular" vinegar pickles, the crock allows vegetables to naturally ferment in a 5% salt solution. This inhibit bacterial growth, but allow lactic bacteria to preserve the veggies through a natural fermentation process.In their landmark book, Charcuterie, authors Ruhlman and Polcyn say they've had success fermenting everything from cucumbers to mushrooms. While any veggie can be pickled, you need to have a good broth of lactic bacteria going. Some vegetables, like cabbage and cucumbers, will produce this on their own. If not, you can buy a lactic "mother" starter, buy why bother when you can just chop up a head of cabbage?

Best of all, I can have my pickles and still enjoy sauerkraut. I just keep the cabbage on the bottom layer to ferment for 4-6 weeks, while I take the pickles off the top every 1-2 weeks. So far I've had the best luck with gherkin cucumbers, sweet and hot peppers, baby onions, cauliflower, and asparagus. There have been some less-than-delicious, results, too. Baby hothouse cucumber get super mushy and water-logged after a week. And while I like the flavor garlic gives to the brine, the garlic itself takes on a weird bland flavor with a hit of a horseradish bite right at the end. Odd.

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