When it comes to pickled vegetables, many of us will have had more experience with the mass produced kind one finds on a supermarket shelf. But there are pickles, and there are pickles.
Pickling covers anything preserved by acidity but a vegetable that is pickled in vinegar, for instance, is typically heated and thus sterilised. This has the benefit of a dramatic extension in shelf life, but at the cost of precious microorganisms that are extinguished in the process.
Naturally or ‘wild’ fermented vegetables, however, invite these microorganisms to thrive. And the result, according to natural fermentation revivalist and Australia’s foremost expert in the craft, Sharon Flynn, is vegetables that are “crunchy, sweet, sour, salty and absolutely delicious”.
Better still, as most of us are learning, naturally fermented foods are not only delicious and surprisingly versatile, but also extremely nutritious. They are rich in probiotic bacteria that promote a healthier gut and digestive system and have also been linked to other health benefits including a strengthened immune system and reduced inflammation.
“Fermented vegetables lock in good microbes and nutrients and create a complexity of flavour and texture that enhance their natural qualities. That’s why generations of families and communities all over the world have been storing their vegetable harvests in this way for as long as history can remember,” says Flynn.
By using the same techniques that have been used since ancient times, Flynn explains, we are not only remembering the time when food waste was an unthinkable extravagance, but also when sustainable principles were just the normal way that everyone lived.
Carrots in a brine
With Sharon Flynn
Flynn calls these delightfully bright and crunchy carrots a “gateway ferment” due to their subtle sourness and how simple they are to make. And simple they are – a number of us from the NTS team became immediate pickled veg converts on the back of Flynn sharing this very recipe with us in Episode 2 of Small Living.
This is also an extremely flexible recipe – you can cut the carrots however it pleases you (Flynn cuts hers in rounds for herself and in sticks or planks for her kids) and add flavourings to suit your own taste and whatever herbs and spices are in season or you happen to have on hand. You can also substitute the carrots for green beans, cauliflower, onions or even corn. For more tips and detail, visit Flynn’s website or get yourself a copy of her wonderful book, Ferment for Good.
Ingredients and Equipment
- 1 litre jar – make sure it’s nice and clean*
- A knife and chopping board
- A weight of some kind – a clean non porous rock or baking weights could do
- Lid – an airlock lid is great but see method below on how to use a regular lid.
*This is a ‘wild’ ferment, which means you are encouraging friendly live bacteria to grow here, so very hot water will do fine – no need for soaps or detergents.
- Carrots or other in-season veg – enough to fill the jar
- 30g fine sea salt – you’ll want to use a ratio of 3% of salt to the water
- 1 litre of good clean water – rain water is great, spring is good, filtered ok, tap will do
- Herbs and spices: for carrots we like black peppercorns, mustard seeds & thyme but you can make up your own combinations of flavours depending on the veg you are brining. See method below for some more suggestions.
- Mix your salt and water to make your brine, stirring until dissolved.
- Peel and cut your carrots as desired, trying to keep them uniform in shape and size so they ferment at the same speed.
- Fill the jar with your carrots and then a few extra things for flavour. You could put a twig of thyme or dill, some celery seeds or coriander seeds, some ginger or a birds eye chilli. Fresh dill and garlic also works well too but less is more.
- Pour brine over the top to cover the vegetables.
- Weigh the veg down to keep them under the brine with fermentation weights, baking weights a clean, non-porous rock or excess brine in a zip-lock bag can also work well.
- Seal your jar. It’s good if air can escape through an airlock lid, but otherwise just ‘burp’ the jar by opening and closing the lid as needed. Daily should do it.
- After day 2 (depending on the temperature) have a taste to see how they’re doing. They should be ready in 4-7 days but when you think they taste perfectly sour and flavourful, pop them in the fridge to halt the fermentation. If you’re using an airlock lid, at this point, switch to a regular lid. They’ll keep in there for a couple of months provided you don’t eat them first (Sharon’s are usually gone before they even hit the fridge!).
Sometimes a white film can form on the top of the brine. This is called Kahm yeast. It’s not dangerous but can make things a bit slimy and unappealing and no one wants that. An easy way to solve is to tip out the slimy brine and pour some fresh brine in over your veg. Once you get the hang of it, and make a good batch you can just eat them all up and add more carrots/veg to the existing brine to start a new batch. For more detailed guidance head over to thefermentary.com.au. Happy fermenting!