Or: The Largest Zucchini in the World
Squash deserve a place in every kitchen garden. I mean, they just make so much food! Zucchini is the summer squash that we’re most familiar with, so they are a good place to start. But what to do when your summer squash production outpaces your ability, and maybe even your neighbors’ abilities, to eat?
Make pickles! Lacto-fermented pickles require no special equipment or ingredients and take precious little active preparation time. But they do require patience. Lactic fermentation preserves food thanks to the action of certain bacteria. Most microorganisms can’t survive in the salty brine that you’ll bathe your pickles in, but lactic acid forming bacteria can. They eat the sugar in your vegetables and convert it into lactic giving the mixture its distinctive sour taste. This lactic acid lowers the acidity of the mixture, making it even more inhospitable to the microorganisms that would otherwise cause the vegetables to rot.
Fermentation was the traditional method of making pickles, but today, commercial pickles are made by soaking the cucumbers (or other vegetables) in vinegar and then canning them. This gives a similar flavor, and before they are opened, the jars will last indefinitely. But the canning process kills all bacteria. Traditionally fermented pickles are a great way to introduce a variety of beneficial bacteria into your body.
This is the recipe that I used, and it was delicious. But it was dictated more by the ingredients I had on hand than by culinary inspiration. The basic process will work with other vegetables and other spices. If you use more salt, it will just be very salty. If you use less salt, it may not last as long. For more information, recipes, and ideas, I highly recommend the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.
Lacto-Fermented Zucchini Pickles
This recipe is scaled to fit in a one gallon glass jar. If you don’t have one, you can scale it up or down to fit whatever vessel you have.
Zucchini, as much as will fit, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 onion, sliced into rings
1-2 heads garlic, separated into cloves
2 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp celery seeds
3 tbsp salt (more if necessary)
1/2 gallon water (more if necessary)
1 gallon jar (or a jar of any size – scale recipe accordingly)
Object to use as a weight
1. Put mustard seeds, celery seeds, and garlic cloves in the bottom of your jar.
2. Mix together onions and zucchini (I did it on the cutting board.) Add them to the jar.
3. Dissolve salt in water. Pour saltwater over the zucchini mixture. If it does not cover everything, dissolve additional salt in additional water at the same ratio of a little less than a tablespoon per cup.
4. Vegetables float in saltwater, and anything that sticks up above the saltwater brine will develop mold. To keep your pickles from molding, weight them down so they are totally submerged under the brine. I used a small jar that fits into the mouth of the larger jar. You could use a small plate, a scrubbed and boiled rock, or even a ziplock bag full of saltwater (use saltwater in case it leaks.) Just try to make sure that whatever you use pushes the pickles safely under their protective brine.
5. Wait. Try to taste your developing pickles every day. When you like the taste, eat away! This might take a few days, and it might take a few weeks. When it happens, you can pack your pickles into smaller jars and refrigerate them to slow down the fermentation process. Or, you can leave them out and experience the flavor getting stronger and stronger over time.