My sister has been getting lots of produce from her garden. Recently, she wrote to tell me that she made some pickles.
She is ahead of the game by even making her own pickles from home-grown cucumbers! Preserving your own food is excellent. Home food preservation is the next step after learning how to grow your own food.
I asked her if they were with vinegar or in a salt brine, and she told me they were vinegar pickles.
This is by far the most common way to make pickles in the United States
We are generations removed from the old days of having pickles fermenting in counter-top crocks.
Now, our Great-Grandparents’ crocks are just decorations, their original uses long forgotten.
It’s up to us to bring them back.
Pickling With Vinegar vs. Live Fermentation
Pickling with vinegar gives you consistent and safe results. You’ll get the same product every time, whether you’re making dill pickles or bread-and-butter pickled eggs.
I use vinegar in my homemade pickled eggs and in my homemade pear salsa.
However, most vinegar (with the exception of homemade vinegar and some store brands, like Bragg’s) is dead.
That is, it doesn’t have any beneficial microorganisms in it.
If you make pickles and can them – even with live vinegar – the vinegar is sterilized.
On the other hand, if you lacto-ferment pickles the traditional way, by submerging them in salt brine and letting wild bacteria create an acid brine, you cultivate a range of beneficial bacteria that bring great health to your gut and can even raise the nutrient levels in the original produce.
It’s like magic. After a few days, the brine is sour, just like you added vinegar.
People are surprised when I tell them I’m not using vinegar to make pickles! It’s just salt brine, yet the pickles become wonderfully sour and tasty after only a few days on the counter. When they reach the right level of tartness, we put them in the fridge and eat them for months.
The downside of live fermented pickles is that they aren’t shelf-stable like dead, canned vinegar pickles. You can keep those in your pantry for a year or more and they’ll still taste the same. Live fermented foods require refrigeration in warm climates or they start to develop weird flavors. The weird flavors won’t kill you, but they aren’t pleasant. The salt keeps you safe; however, it doesn’t necessarily keep your ferments tasting the same. They are alive!
This means we often enjoy different ferments at different times of the year. In winter and spring, we often enjoy fermented radishes, cabbages, turnips and beets. In summer and fall we eat fermented peppers, okra and cucumbers. It’s fun to roll with the seasons.
Fermented foods are very good for you
In a clinical trial, 36 healthy adults were randomly assigned to a 10-week diet that included either fermented or high-fiber foods. The two diets resulted in different effects on the gut microbiome and the immune system.
Eating foods such as yogurt, kefir, fermented cottage cheese, kimchi and other fermented vegetables, vegetable brine drinks, and kombucha tea led to an increase in overall microbial diversity, with stronger effects from larger servings. “This is a stunning finding,” said Justin Sonnenburg, PhD, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology. “It provides one of the first examples of how a simple change in diet can reproducibly remodel the microbiota across a cohort of healthy adults.”
In addition, four types of immune cells showed less activation in the fermented-food group. The levels of 19 inflammatory proteins measured in blood samples also decreased. One of these proteins, interleukin 6, has been linked to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and chronic stress.
“Microbiota-targeted diets can change immune status, providing a promising avenue for decreasing inflammation in healthy adults,” said Christopher Gardner, PhD, the Rehnborg Farquhar Professor and director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. “This finding was consistent across all participants in the study who were assigned to the higher fermented food group.”
By contrast, none of these 19 inflammatory proteins decreased in participants assigned to a high-fiber diet rich in legumes, seeds, whole grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits. On average, the diversity of their gut microbes also remained stable. “We expected high fiber to have a more universally beneficial effect and increase microbiota diversity,” said Erica Sonnenburg, PhD, a senior research scientist in basic life sciences, microbiology and immunology. “The data suggest that increased fiber intake alone over a short time period is insufficient to increase microbiota diversity.”
We try to eat fermented foods every day, and multiple times per day. Our health isn’t perfect, but I’m sure it would be worse if we didn’t eat a living diet of good foods and ferments.
How to start fermenting your own produce
Kefir, yogurt, kefir cheese, clabbered milk, apple cider vinegar, pickles, sauerkraut – we have ferments all over the place.
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz was the first to open my eyes to the possibilities:
Once you lose your fear of live fermenting food, you open a new world of possibilities and health. And it’s fun! We’ve already eaten half of this current batch of pickles:
Jump in! You can definitely do this. Rachel is a champ at making fermented foods, and you can be too. Here’s her simple method of making sauerkraut in a mason jar:
I also add black peppercorns, mustard and caraway seeds and some homemade cayenne pepper to my ferments.
When a neighbor of ours had a sickness that required him to take a lot of antibiotics, we brought him some sauerkraut, homemade kimchi and kefir. He’d never had any of those before, and he is at least sixty.
These traditional foods are nourishing and we should take them back. Modern life is overprocessed and literally killing us inside.
Yet with a little salt and some fresh produce, you can start taking back your health while preserving some of the bounty of your gardens.
Can you post Rachel’s kimchi recipe? Pretty please with…sauerkraut on top?
We just randomly mix up cabbage, some ginger, hot peppers and radishes, maybe a little turmeric and garlic, and add dried shrimp if we have it. No real recipe.
Really enjoyed this method. I hate having to smash up cabbage for what feels like hours just to force enough liquid out of it. I should have just trusted my instinct and used a salt water brine like this. BTW, ginger and carrot adds a unique flavor to the kraut as well. Try it some time if you haven’t but not too much. I just shred one medium/small carrot and about a 2inch piece of ginger.
Ginger and carrot sounds great. I have added ginger to our kimchi.
And yes – I gave up on smashing cabbage a long time ago. Why bother?
Great post! I just ordered more fermenting lids and I have several of the old pickling crocks that I will use. I want to do more of this and somewhat less traditional canning this year; although with our short growing season I really have to do most of my preserving that way. I will check out the book – thanks for the recommendation!
You bet – thanks, Jen.
Have you considered publishing a recipe book?
Yes – Rachel was thinking of one, but we never did it. Neither of us are really recipe followers, though she is better than I. If she wasn’t so busy, it might happen.
Rachel’s fermented pickle recipe filmed in the tropical kitchen is my go-to recipe.
We liked those picks so much we purchased a crick, and make cabbage in it. We really enjoy it. Thank you, Rachel and David.
A friend who grew up on his family farm said his grandmother made sauerkraut the old way, in a wooden barrel. He said that as a little boy his job was to stomp the barrel down with his bare feet as his uncles shredded cabbage, his mom added salt and grandmother tasted it to make sure the concentration was right.
Half way through one year, he says he heard his uncle ask, “Has this boy washed his feet?”
I make quart jar sauerkraut every Fall, and my wife makes Kimchi throughout the year. The bottom shelf of the fridge is dedicated to the quart jars of kraut. I have had good luck with the salt drawing enough brine out of the shredded cabbage, but you need to let it sit out a while to sweat out the brine
That is hilarious.
Live fermentation is definitely superior in my opinion. I started making my own sauerkraut after seeing one of Rachel’s recipes back when you guys were living in Grenada, and it was so easy, and my family LOVED it, and I was hooked. Last summer I made pickles from my own batch of cucumbers, and now that I can get often hot peppers at the farmer’s market I’m going to try making pickled jalapenos and habaneros. I also had a batch of homemade kombucha going for a while.
Thanks for the book rec – I’m definitely going to check it out. I’ve been looking for more opportunities to sneak fermented foods into our meals. It just feels more satisfying knowing that a good portion of our food has probiotic properties.