How to Pickle Almost Anything

Why ferment? It’s practical magic. Here are a few basics to get you started.
Pickles by Susy Morris

It began, as do many U.S. fermentation experiences, with Sandor Ellix Katz. We ran a story by him in Issue 68. Tracy Loeffelholz Dunn, the YES! designated early adopter, decided to give it a try. She gave me some of her kimchi. It was so good I had to make my own. Kali Swenson, erstwhile intern, thought it would be cool to have a low-cost source to feed her kombucha habit. Fermentation—it’s catching.

You take something ordinary and let the little beasties make it wonderful.

Why ferment? It’s practical magic. You take something ordinary and let the little beasties make it wonderful. You know exactly what’s in your pickles or kimchi or kombucha, and you make it taste just the way you want it to. And if you’re already eating or drinking ferments, you’re going to save a lot of money making your own. Plus, you can impress your friends and, once they’ve sampled your goodies and want to make their own, you can share tips, recipes, and starters.

There’s a ton of fermentation information on the Web. Get the details there. But here’s where we started.

Kimchi and kraut

What I put in kimchi: cabbage, kale, radish, turnip, greens, onion, garlic scapes, kohlrabi—whatever’s in the garden or on hand.

Chop veggies. About one and a half times as much as your container holds. Massage with 15g salt per kilo (about 1T per quart). Let rest while you mix spices. Korean red pepper (gochugaru) is worth looking for. For 2 liters, I use: head or two garlic, 1t grated ginger, 2T fish sauce, half an apple, 6T red pepper. Blend into paste. Mix with veggies. Pack into jars, just up to the shoulder. Add brine as needed to cover. Add weight to keep veggies submerged (I use marbles). Cap the jars. For the first few days, loosen the cap occasionally to release CO2.

Ferment for three weeks for full acidity—three different types of bacteria work on the stuff at different times. Then refrigerate. If you like it less sour, refrigerate after a week.­

For sauerkraut, follow above recipe, omitting everything except cabbage and salt.

Kombucha

A bit of time, some simple ingredients, and a good SCOBY can get you custom-flavored kombucha for pennies. You can buy a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast). Better yet, get one from a friend who brews.

Put 2T (or about 10 bags) of tea and a cup of sugar in a gallon jar. Add three quarts of boiling water. Let cool to room temperature. Remove the tea, add the SCOBY and starter (a bit of tea from the last batch), and cover the jar’s mouth with cloth.

Store in a warm, dark place for about 14 days—less if you like it sweeter. Remove the SCOBY and the new one it made and save for future brewing (and to give away). Add flavoring if you like, transfer to airtight bottles, and give it a week to get nice and fizzy. Refrigerate and enjoy the refreshing probiotic- and antioxidant-packed drink—even on an intern’s budget.

Yogurt

Slowly heat a half gallon of organic whole milk to 180 degrees, when bubbles form but just before boiling. This process kills any bacteria that might spoil the milk. Cover with a lid, or you’ll need to keep stirring to prevent a skin from forming.

Next, cool the milk to 110 degrees, keeping the lid on. At this temperature, the yogurt culture will thrive, so whisk in 1/4 cup of recently purchased plain organic yogurt with live cultures. If you make yogurt again within two weeks, you can use your own yogurt as your starter.

Pour the mixture into five clean pint mason jars. Fill a sixth jar with hot tap water. Put all the jars into a cooler—or anywhere the temperature will be somewhat constant and the jars not jostled for 5–8 hours. Then refrigerate.