Pickles from a bounteous summer garden

When your summer garden produces way too much squash and cucumbers, do like Margaret Knight and Lily K. Morris and make pickles. — Photo by Lily K. Morris

I have been making “lacto” pickles for at least 10 years, and every single time I open a jar and reach inside with a fork or my clean fingers to snag a spear of cucumber or a wedge of summer squash, or a bite of shredded cabbage on its way to becoming sauerkraut, my mouth waters with anticipation. “What will it taste like this time?” I wonder.

I have some idea of what I will encounter when I have made a cultured food like sauerkraut over and over. But even with the same ingredients, the same equipment, the magic in home culturing comes with the natural variations in environment, especially temperature. When it’s hot, those bacteria babies want to GROW, causing the fermentation process to happen very quickly and often resulting in a sharper flavor, or softer veggies. As the weather has cooled again, and the fields are overflowing with a bounty of vegetables, now is the perfect time for making pickles.

My mom and I discovered the book “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon when I was still living at home. Both of us are pretty enthusiastic about processing food, and we jumped at this idea of cultured versus canned veggies. I have always been a die hard dill pickle fan, and at the same time quite sensitive to vinegar. These so called “lacto” pickles contain no vinegar and are actually a “live” food. They rely on growth of the lacto bacteria that occurs naturally on all fruits and vegetables to preserve the produce through an anaerobic process. Salt is usually added to slow the growth of other, less beneficial critters such as yeast and mold. Whey or a bit of liquid from previous pickle making is often added to help the good bacteria become established. Lacto-fermented pickles can be stored for months at cool temperatures — mine are in the fridge until the cellar becomes cool enough to store them there. They can also be very helpful for repopulating the digestive system with beneficial bacteria.

I currently live next door to Slip Away Farm, and have been the gracious recipient of some of their surplus produce. This has given me incentive to become a bit more experimental with my pickling; sometimes I love the results, other times I don’t. This summer I tried using fennel flowers in place of dill, with a combination of carrots, green beans, and summer squash. While the visual effect was rather stunning, to me, the pickle tastes a bit too much like the anise flavored toothpaste I used as a child.

Summer squash was a bumper crop for Slip Away this year; they grew a beautiful variety called Zephir, with a smooth yellow and green skin and a firm, slightly sweet flesh. I discovered that the younger squash make a fabulously tasty and crisp lacto pickle.

Summer Squash Pickles

Lacto-fermented vegetables (made using a simple brine instead of vinegar) are delicious, easy to make and healthy too!

Ingredients and supplies:

• 1 to 2 quart sized (or larger) glass jars with lids
• brine made from 2-3 T. salt dissolved in 1 quart of non-chlorinated water
• 2-3 summer squash or zucchini, cut into slices, chunks or spears
• 3-4 cloves fresh garlic
• a few fresh grape or oak leaves (tannins help keep veggies crisp)
• fresh coriander, with flowers or seeds welcome
• optional: 1 T. dried coriander seeds and 1 cinnamon stick
• other options include:
-4 T. whey (can be made by straining yogurt)
-Use other fresh herbs such as basil, rosemary or dill and other dried spices such as black peppercorns, mustard seed, dill seed, cloves, whole allspice, red pepper flakes, cloves, etc.
-Try other veggies like carrots, green beans, cukes, green tomatoes…

In a clean, quart sized (or bigger) jar with a tight fitting lid, place some fresh herbs, a clove of garlic and a grape leaf. Pack in the squash until jar is half full. Put in another layer of seasonings and a grape leaf and fill with more squash until top of vegetables are a little more than an inch from the top of the jar. Put in the last of the seasonings and top with a grape leaf tucked down around vegetables. If using whey, add to jar.

Pour in brine until veggies are covered (this is key), and liquid is about one inch from top of jar. Put lid on securely and label or mark the date somewhere so you remember when you started your pickles. Leave on the counter out of direct sun for three days; the brine will begin to bubble and turn cloudy. After this time, taste your pickles and if they’re sour enough, put them in the fridge to enjoy. If you want a little more kick, leave them on the counter for a few more days (ideal fermentation temperature is in the low 70s). Make sure to “burp” the jar every day to release the pressure from fermentation. I find that 3-5 days is plenty in the heat of summertime. In cooler temperatures, the fermentation process is slower, and pickles can take a couple weeks or up to a month to get nice and sour.

Lily K. Morris is a writer, artist, certified health practitioner and healing foods specialist, among other things. She loves to wander the woods and fields of Chappy in search of beauty, inspiration, and nourishment. Find out more about making cultured and lacto-fermented veggies on her blog at waltzingwithwellness.com. Here’s an essay by her mother, Chappy writer Margaret Knight, on growing the garden that produced all the cukes and zukes needed to make these pickles.