Lacto-fermented pickles are a painless and delicious way to make your summer vegetables go the extra mile. Try these thyme pickled beets and turnips!
My original idea for a food blog was to explore the cooking and eating habits of people from 200 years ago. Ya know, before modernity and the advent of ultra processed food. I guess I wanted to put the fabulous back into the pilgrim. Our paleo ancestors and the fad diet ascribed to it doesn’t interest me much. I believe that stumbling upon food preservation and the innovation of farming was a gorgeous expression of human art and creativity. Without farming the chef would have never evolved. But I was still interested in looking back at how we used to eat. To traditions that have been lost to convenience. That was until I realized adding several hours in the library each week to a busy blogging schedule was less than sustainable. And cuz, antithetically, I am a creature of convenience.
Nevertheless, this interest of mine in “old time cooking” is marbled throughout this food blog like the lines in a Maytag bleu cheese. Which is ironic since I’m talking about fermentation today (FYI cheese is fermented). Specifically lacto-fermented pickles. Or as I like to call it, lazy canning. Because lacto-fermented pickles are so easy I honestly wonder why anyone would go through the burdensome process of any other way.
Lacto-Fermented Pickles and Farm Shares
My first experience of joining a farm share resulted in so many heads of cabbage and zucchini that I was swimming in them. Especially since I basically never cooked with cabbage and my partner rather dislikes zucchini. This often happens when you join a farm share. You receive a lot of produce that you are unfamiliar with and more than you can use in a week. Things rot in the bottom of your fridge or are thrown out, resulting in feelings of frustration or regret in joining the share in the first place. This is why preserving is an important skill to learn when joining a farm share. And lacto-fermented pickles are the quickest and easiest way to preserve. Bonus: lacto-fermentation actually enhances the nutrition of those already nutritious veggies!
I’ve posted a recipe for fermented ketchup a couple months back in which I used a culture from whey to speed up the process of fermentation. In this lacto-fermented pickles recipe we are going to do it the old school way: with only sea salt, water, and some fresh veg. This method maintains more of the crunch of the vegetable while leaving out the middle man. Crunchy pickles win any day in my book. The method is simply pouring a brine over veggies and letting them sit for a few days. No sterilization, cooking, or pressure cookers necessary. Only salty sour crunch.
WHAT’S IN SEASON THIS WEEK | July 5-11
This week you’ll find lots of veggies that are fun to make into lacto-fermented pickles. Try veggies you’ve never seen pickled before like sugar snap peas or use a variety of vegetables to make a pickle combo that you can keep on the dinner table every night to accompany your meal. The possibilities are really endless. The recipe I have below are for thyme pickled beets and turnips. Every vegetable takes a different amount of time to get to the perfect texture and flavor. Everything varies on the temperature of your house and how many sugars are naturally found in your food. Test your lacto-fermented pickles every three days and see if they are pickle-y enough for you. The longer you let your pickles sit the more sour the flavor and the softer the veg.
FOODS YOU’LL LIKELY FIND AT FARMER’S MARKETS OR IN YOUR FARM SHARE THIS WEEK:
- Snap Peas
- Garlic Scapes
- Summer squash like zucchini and patty pan
- Braising greens like mustard greens
- Herbs like mint and lavender
The bold items would be perfect veggies to try pickling. Once cabbage is in season you can try throwing in some kale or braising greens in your sauerkraut or kimchi.
Other veggies great for pickling when the season arises:
- Green beans
- Brussels sprouts
- Cabbage + Napa cabbage for kraut or kimchi
- Peaches (not a veg, I know)
- Green tomatoes
- Corn relish
3 TIPS FOR LACTO-FERMENTED PICKLES
When you make lacto fermented pickles you want all of the veggies to be fully submerged in the water. To do this you will need to use something to weigh it down. I simply used the lid of a mason jar and placed it on top of the veg but this is not a very reliable method. You want to use something heavy enough to hold everything down. You can buy weights if you want to commit to the lacto way of life. Other cheap ways of submerging veg is using a smaller glass jar, an apple, the core of a cabbage or a chuck of daikon radish.
If you’re an experienced fermenter than you may have some cool airlock gadgets to allow any gas created by the fermentation process to release. But it’s not necessary! While you let your veg ferment you want to burp your jars once every day. Open the jar enough just so it let’s out gas, like opening a bottle of a fizzy drink, and then close it again. This will keep the gases from building up in your jar.
Fermentation works best when it sits between 68 F (20 C) and 78 F (25C). Make sure you are aware of the temperature in your home. If it’s too warm it will ferment too fast while cool temperatures will keep fermentation from occurring in the first place. Once your pickles are perfect, you can store your pickles in a cool place like the refrigerator or cool basement for up to a year.
THYME PICKLED BEETS & TURNIPS
These beets and turnips were fermented for 10 days resulting in the perfect crunchy pickle. I ate them on top of a moroccan spiced hummus. It is officially my new jam. These would be great in a wrap, in my farro and beet salad, with falafel, on burgers or just on their own. Avoid moldy vegetables at the bottom of your fridge and put the fabulous into them beets the way the pilgrims did. Cuz there ain’t no party like a pilgrim lacto-fermentation party cuz a pilgrim lacto-fermentation party don’t stop. Well at least not up to a year.
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- 2 cups beets, peeled and sliced into eighths
- 2 cups turnip, peeled and sliced into eighths
- 8-10 sprigs of thyme
- 1 tsp mustard seeds divided
- ¼ cup sea salt or kosher salt (not iodized salt)
- 4 cups filtered water
- 2 clean quart sized mason jars with lids (wide or narrow mouthed jars will work depending on what you're using as a weight)
- Fermenting weight, narrow glass jar or bottle, or the core of a cabbage
- Cloth to cover jar if using a jar or bottle as a weight
- Add half of the thyme and half of the mustard seeds to each mason jar. Evenly divide the sliced beets and turnips between the two mason jars making sure you leave 1½ inches of space from the top.
- Mix the filtered water and salt together and stir until the salt has dissolved. Pour two cups of the salt brine into each jar just until the liquid completely covers the vegetables. Place a weight over the beets and turnips so that all the vegetables are fully submerged. If you are using another glass jar or bottle as a weight, obviously you will not be able to fit a lid on top. Instead, cover the jar with a clean cloth and place a rubberband around it to keep it secure. If you have another form of weight than put the lids on.
- Let the beets sit out at room temperature. If you are using regular lids you will need to "burb" your jars everyday to release excess gas. Keep an eye on your beets and try them every 3 days. Mine took 10 days to get to the sourness I liked. Do your beets form bubbles? Good! Does the liquid get slightly cloudy? Great! Does it smell like something died? Not good. Throw it our and try again. Does it get slimy or moldy? Not good. Throw it out and try again.
- Once your pickles are perfect transfer them into cold storage such as the refrigerator or a cold cellar. They will stay good up to 1 year.