Jocelyn Albrizzi (my co-writer on this column) and I share a passion for yeast and the wonderful world of yeast fermentation, whether it is brewing my beers or her kneading her dough. However, there is another form of fermenting, commonly called pickling. Pickling basically takes complex carbohydrates, like cucumbers and cabbage, and soaks them in salt, or a brine. Archaeological evidence shows pickling has been around before humans harnessed the power of fire — making paleo and pro-biotic unknowingly available to our ancestors! Unlike beers and breads, which use cultured yeasts, the pickling process in contrast encourages the growth of a mix of lactobacilli and leuconostoc bacteria. Unlike yeasts, which convert simple carbohydrates like wheat, sugar, barley and malted sprouts into alcohol and carbon dioxide, these bacteria produce lactic acid.
The pickling bacteria thrive in an anaerobic environment, meaning with little or no available oxygen, which is why you can pickle cucumbers directly in glass jars. The pickling of sauerkraut happens in two stages: first, the leuconostoc bacteria consumes any available oxygen by converting in to carbon dioxide. You will observe your kraut fizzing and bubbling away. After about two weeks, your recipe will stop fizzing because the dissolved oxygen is fully consumed and now the lactic acid-producing lactobacilli bacteria kick in. The second stage is when the bacteria are living off the naturally occurring carbohydrates and the added salts. In another week, your kraut (or kimchi, or pickles, or — you get the idea) will reach an acidity of 2-2.5 on the pH scale and develop its wonderful sour, complex flavors.
My recommendations for making your own pickled vegetables:
• Find a recipe on the web that tickles your fancy; say, sweet gherkins, spicy kimchi or mouth-puckering dills and krauts.
• Locate a cool, dark corner of your basement where your fermentations can evolve in a great environment.
• Use a food safe 5 gallon bucket with a home brewing bubbler, which allows the carbon dioxide to escape. It will also protect your concoction from wild yeasts or other contaminates.
• If you are pickling in glass jars, remember to “burp” them every couple of days to keep them from exploding.
• Remember: cleanliness is next to godliness, so sanitize, sanitize, sanitize.
I discovered my passion for food and cooking because my parents and grandparent used our kitchen for learning science, geography and creativity. Pickling with your kids is a great way to share each of these factors with young children, which will hopefully inspire them to better understand and appreciate the world around them. If you pursue a pickling adventure, please share your successes and failures by emailing us at email@example.com via our website, irontreerestaurant.com.
Ross Derby graduated with two degrees from the Culinary Institute of America, with a focus on culinary arts and business management. Previously, he oversaw the opening of a 210-seat brewpub at the Orlando airport that did $23 million in sales. Currently, he co-owns and manages the Iron Tree Restaurant and is the brewmaster for Funky Town Brewery in Florissant.