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Get Pickled!

It’s all the rage. It seems everyone is fermenting something and extolling the virtues of fermented foods.

 

That includes me.

 

So let’s talk fermentation, shall we? Is it really all that?

 

Fermentation dates back millennia as humanity worked to preserve food through the seasons. Before Christ, the Greeks wrote about the health benefits of fermented cabbage. The Romans used sauerkraut to treat and prevent intestinal infections. Captain Cook used sauerkraut and lime juice to prevent scurvy on his three-year journey around the world. H-h-h-h-hm-m-m-m…

 

When fresh vegetables weren’t readily available throughout the year, they were often preserved through fermentation. Now, thanks to efficient transportation and storage, we can buy any number of vegetables all year long. And preserving vegetables?  Freezing and canning have become the methods of choice because they’re convenient and freezing helps retain vitamin content, but…and this is important…they provide little benefit in terms of digestive health especially when compared to fermentation.

 

Fermented foods are newly popular for their benefits to our wellness. From sauerkraut to sipping vinegars, fermented foods are being hailed as a boon to intestinal health, which means great digestion…which means improved immune function, protection from certain cancers, weight loss and super-charged energy (because nutrients are getting to our cells more efficiently).

 

And while there’s more to robust wellness than fermented foods (you can’t just add pickles to a Happy Meal and call it a day…), fermented foods are up to the hype they’re getting…if they’re the real deal.

 

It just makes sense that fermented foods are good for gut health. Bacteria feed on the natural sugars in food and these micro-organisms create compounds like lactic acid which help preserve the food. In turn, these friendly bacteria, as well as beneficial enzymes make for a great environment in the gut to digest and use food. See, bacteria breaks down certain food components, making them easier for the gut to handle and for nutrients to be absorbed when you eat. And since your digestive tract is the largest part of your immune system, introducing friendly bacteria may help ward off illness as well as aid in digestion.

 

Now before you run off and buy pickles in the local supermarket, beware. Not all fermented foods are the same. If a pickle or sauerkraut is shelf-stable, most of the enzymes and bacteria have been destroyed in pasteurization, so their value to your digestion is minimal. Also beware of commercially produced pickles that contain lots of sugar, salt or additives.

 

Of course, there are several brands of natural, fresh sauerkraut and other pickled veggies that you can buy and enjoy. But you can make your own pickles so easily, it’s almost silly.

 

Just remember when making pickles, it’s essential that your veggies are clean, free of dirt and brown spots and that your jars are clean as well. Any dirt or rot on the veggies or unclean jars will result in the pickles going bad.

 

Here are my favorite recipes for pickles this time of year, when produce is at its peak of flavor and freshness:

 

Pickled Fennel

1 large bulb fresh fennel (or 2 medium bulbs), rinsed well, fronds trimmed; save a few fronds

2 ½ quarts spring or filtered water

2 tablespoons sea salt

 

Remove any brown spots from the fennel. Slice the fennel bulb paper thin. You may need to use a mandolin if your knife skills won’t allow you to cut paper thin slices. Pack the slices in a jar and push some of the fronds into the jar as well to enhance the flavor of the fennel.

 

Place the water and salt in a pot and bring to just below a boil. Cook over low heat until the salt is dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. This step is essential as you do not want to cook the fennel, so cool the salted water completely.

When cooled, pour the water over the fennel to just cover. Seal tightly and allow to stand at room temperature for 1-2 days. Refrigerate and allow to continue to ferment for 5 more days before eating. The pickles will keep, refrigerated, for about a month.

   

Cucumber Pickles

3 pickling cucumbers, rinsed well, do not peel

2 teaspoons whole peppercorns

2 teaspoons dried chili pepper (optional)

4 cloves garlic, peeled, left whole

2 cups spring or filtered water

½ cup apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons sea salt

 

Remove the tips of the cucumbers and cut into thick spears. Trim the length of the cucumbers to the height of the rim of the jar you will be using. Pack the cucumber, garlic and spices into the jar.

 

Place the water, vinegar and salt in a pot and bring to just below a boil. Cook over low heat until the salt is dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. This step is essential as you do not want to cook the cucumbers, so cool the salted water completely.

When cooled, pour the water over the cucumbers to just cover. Seal tightly and allow to stand at room temperature for 1-2 days. Refrigerate and allow to continue to ferment for 5 more days before eating. The pickles will keep, refrigerated, for about a month.

 

Cook’s tip: Vary the seasonings, adding dill to taste, lemon rind, dried spices, etc.

 

Pickled Carrots and Tops

3 carrots and their tops

4-6 cloves fresh garlic, peeled, left whole

2 cups spring or filtered water

2 teaspoons sea salt

 

Remove the carrot tops and set aside. Slice the carrots into halves, lengthwise and trim the top and bottom of the carrot to fit just below the rim of the jar. (Use the balance of carrot pieces in soups or other dishes.) Pack the carrot spears and garlic in the jar and press some carrot tops into the jar and on top of the carrots. (You will have more carrot tops than you need; simply use them in other dishes.)

 

Place the water and salt in a pot and bring to just below a boil. Cook over low heat until the salt is dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. This step is essential as you do not want to cook the carrots, so cool the salted water completely.

When cooled, pour the water over the carrots to just cover. Seal tightly and allow to stand at room temperature for 1-2 days. Refrigerate and allow to continue to ferment for 5 more days before eating. The pickles will keep, refrigerated, for about a month.

 

You can pickle any vegetable, from cauliflower to onions; you can pickle a medley of vegetables for mixed pickles. Just use the recipes above with the veggies of your choice. Have some fun and vary the ingredients to create some delish flavors.

 

Of course, come fall, sauerkraut will be made in my kitchen so stay tuned for that recipe.

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