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Pickles: Dead or Alive? Why Ferments Rule and 5 Tips for Success

Probably because of all the rain, our cucumbers decided to go nuts this year, so we ended up harvesting dozens every day or two.  After a lot of green “de-tox” juicing plus numerous variations on cucumber salad (Asian-influenced with rice wine vinegar and sesame, Mexico-style with jalapenos and carrot, “old-fashioned” with dill and apple cider vinegar, etc.), the only rational approach was to catch the cukes before they grew too big and haul out the extra-large pickling crock.

Garlic, Grape Leaves and Dill

Garlic, Grape Leaves and Dill

Here’s the classic pickle recipe we’ve been using for years, and we know better than to mess with success.  But, given the many pickle recipes that have surfaced in recent months, we want to issue a friendly reminder that the BEST pickles are fermented pickles.  The lacto-fermentation process, so wonderfully described by fermenting guru Sandor Katz in his books Wild Fermentation and the Art of Fermentation, is where the magic happens.  (Talk about inspiring!  When explaining that sometimes our fermentation efforts, like other life endeavors, do not go as planned, he writes:  “Our perfection lies in our imperfection.”.)

Pickles Fermenting Scummy Bubbles

Scummy bubbles mean ferment success

Yes, fermented pickles are really delicious, but they are also loaded with living microorganisms that convert sugars into lactic acid that preserve food and boost their benefits.  Fermented foods are easier to digest,  are loaded with enzymes that help make nutrients more bio-available, and help support the beneficial bacteria in our digestive tracts.  As we repeatedly note, our bodies are mostly microorganisms so for maximum health, we do best by incorporating as many beneficial organisms into our diets as possible.

 The opposite of living pickles are those made with vinegar.  Some go even further and require cooking too – so there’s pretty much no chance any actual fermenting is going to happen.  Of course, if you really like vinegar pickles, no worries.  Eat and enjoy as we all need an indulgence sometime and eating for the deliciousness of it is fine by us.  Who are we to criticize, anyway, we who definitely eat dead food like potato chips?!

Pickles Cartoon - Cooked Through

Not Much Survives Vinegar and Cooking

But, if you’re just a hapless newbie looking to put up some pickles in the season of abundance, we say go for life and make yourself some living pickles.  Recipe here:

Start of PicklingHere’s a few additional tips for pickle success:

Use the freshest cucumbers you can find.

Soak your cucumbers in ice cold water at least an hour before you make them.  It will help firm up cucumbers no matter what their stage.

Add some grape or oak leaves (cherry is supposedly also good but we’ve never tried).

Check your pickles daily and place in jars when the smaller ones are at the stage you like since the larger ones will continue to ferment, even in the refrigerator.

Don’t be scared by pickle scum – that means the lacto-fermentation is working.  Just skim it off daily and enjoy!