|cucumbers | photo: pdh
I’ve picked what I believe is the last cucumber of year from my garden. The heat and the lessening rain have done a number on the plant which is shriveling and not likely to produce any more fruit. Of course there are also no more blossoms, another pretty good indicator.
Although we treat them like a vegetable, cucumbers are actually a fruit, related to melons like cantaloupe. High in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory, cucumbers are a good source of vitamin K which is important to help the body properly utilize vitamin D.
Refreshing, hydrating, and delicious, cucumbers can be prepared a number of different ways, used raw in salads, creamy salads (such as raita or tzatziki), or pickled.
One of my absolute favorite ways to eat them is as a refrigerator pickle because in season I just keep throwing more cucumbers into the jar. They only need to sit for a few days to be ready to eat. It’s important to remember that because these are not hot water bathed, they will not last outside the refrigerator and even stored in the refrigerator are probably not good to keep for more than two weeks, I confess I eat them so quickly when I make them that I’m not really sure how long they would last.
Refrigerator Cucumber Pickles
1/2 gallon jar – sterilized
2 cups raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
6 cups of water
1/2 cup pickling salt
1 bunch fresh dill
3-4 cloves garlic cut in half
1 small vidalia onion, peeled and sliced – optional
Don’t forget the cucumbers
In a medium pan combine vinegar, water and salt
Bring to a slow boil, stirring until salt is completely dissolved
Remove from heat and let cool completely
Add remaining ingredients including onion slices if desired
Wash and prepare cucumbers by cutting into slices or spears
Put as many as will fit into jar and still be submerged
Let sit 2-3 days before eating
|in the news | photo: mconnors
It’s a new week and this is what’s on my mind:
Cocoa can be the new cranberry
– according to this article there are some studies that have promising results for it’s antioxidant flavanols. While I do believe that there is quite probably some health benefits this emerging claim needs to be approached with caution. Firstly the studies are all being done by major chocolate companies, especially Callebaut, one of the world’s largest confectionery producers (formerly Belgian, now Swiss-owned). Any study done by a company that has a vested interest in it’s end results needs to be examined more stringently in order to avoid any potential bias. Secondly, even if cocoa does have major health benefits that is for cocoa. The raw product. This does not cover chocolate products that are made from a cocoa base. Unfortunately I have visions of Cocoa Rice Krispies trumpeting major health claims on the front of the box if these studies are proven scientifically valid. So while I will be watching and reading further about this I am advocating that this news be taken cautiously and not as an excuse to add processed cocoa to the diet with abandon.
Potatoes may offer blood pressure benefit
– the caveat here is that this refers to purple potatoes. My personal bias against this article is that it refers to potatoes simply as a vegetable. In my practice I have gotten into the habit of labeling types of vegetables so that people understand that not all vegetables are equal. Potatoes are a starchy vegetable, there are also crunchy vegetables and leafy vegetables, etc. Limiting starchy vegetables in our diet makes sense, if only to encourage people to eat a wider variety of vegetables. A little research reveals that purple laver (a type of seaweed) also has anti-hypertensive qualities, as did purple carrot juice
. This all seems to suggest that anthocyanins, the substance responsible for that purplish-red pigment, may be responsible. Should the news media start to promote this and someone begins to manufacture anthocyanin-only pills I’d like to the be the first one to tell you to get your anthocyanins through your food.
Can fermented foods make you healthier
– in a word, yes. We don’t eat enough of these in our modern diet. We’ve gotten away from traditionally lacto-fermented foods. We think the saurkraut and pickles that we buy in the grocery store are good for us. Unfortunately they are not the types of foods that we need to be eating. Pickles especially are often laden with artificial colors (yup….read the label). And these foods are made using commercial vinegar, not a culture or a whey to ferment naturally. I agree that we need to eat more fermented foods in our diet; I would include kefir, kombucha, and kvass in this mixture for those who like those foods. Want to make your own fermented food at home? It’s very easy…here’s a great lacto-fermented saurkraut recipe
Thirteen (plus) years of asparagus
– I love asparagus. I planted some in my garden. This will only be it’s second year so we need to harvest with caution (it takes three years for an asparagus garden to be fully functional – or so they tell me). But I continue to read asparagus recipes and drool for the day that I can plunder with abandon and eat our fill of the tasty stalks. Of course that’s if there is any left. The little heads have started poking above ground and I’ve discovered that I made a vital error. When we have asparagus in our house we cut off the ends. Most of them go into the compost heap. A few we feed to the dogs, giggling as we watch them leap into the air to get these tasty-to-them tidbits and chomp down. Guess what? Turns out with their highly sensitive noses they’ve discovered that the tasty treats also grow in the backyard. Not only that, they’re *much* yummier as young tender tops. ::sigh:: Now to figure out how to protect the asparagus garden from the dogs so that we have some to eat for ourselves.
Chocolate orange macaroons
– I love macaroons, they’re one of my favorite treats. I often don’t take the time to make them though. But this recipe from Bauman College
is enough to make me change my mind. The combination of orange and chocolate is one of my favorites. Add in that it’s in the form of a macaroon cookie? I’m in.
Back in May, I attended the National Association of Nutrition Professionals Conference. One of the sessions that I attended dealt with naturally fermented foods.
I’ve been canning and preserving for over 20 years. First as a way to preserve excess food for later or to control the flavors of jams, pickles, and chutneys that our family ate. Later I began to see it more as a way to control the preservatives and other chemicals that frequently appear in these kinds of foods. Quite frankly I’ve never understood why pickle manufacturers felt it necessary to add yellow #2 to pickles. It doesn’t add anything to the flavor. If you want your pickles to be yellow just add turmeric.
As I learned more about preserving I began to wonder about lacto-fermented foods. Through this process lactobacilli, an anaerobic beneficial microbe converts starches and sugars in the food into lactic acid. This lactic acid helps not only to preserve the food for an extended period of time, but it also helps to promote a healthy bacterial balance in your gut.
There are many traditionally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, relishes, and chutneys. Many of these foods are now made commercially, a process that frequently does not allow for lacto-fermentation. Part of the reason commercially processed foods are not lacto-fermented is that it takes longer, requires more interaction with the food, and does not last as long on the shelf.
I see lacto-fermented foods as an addition to my pickled vegetables. Let’s face it, confronted with an abundance of zucchini, there is only so much lacto-fermentation I can do. I’ll make my favorite bread and butter pickles and zucchini relish with the rest. (Or zoodle them or make zucchini bread – let’s face it you can grow a LOT of zucchini in the summer) The canned foods will last for a longer time and the lacto-fermented ones will support digestive health.
Using pickle weights
Back to the conference…I took a class with Sandy Der and Nishanga Bliss where they demonstrated making kimchi and lacto-fermented soda. I had always thought that lacto-fermentation required a fermentation crock. Mostly because the books I have seem to call for one. Both Sandy and Nishanga demonstrated using 1-gallon glass jars. When Sandy demonstrated the kimchi she showed off her beautiful pickle weights
which she makes in her ceramics studio. I was amazed at how easy the whole process was and as soon as the lecture was over I rushed for the door to purchase a set of pickle weights.
Shortly after arriving home I dug out a 1-gallon jar, went to the grocery store and bought the ingredients for my first batch of kimchi. It turned out amazingly well and having a little bit every day with a meal turned out to be a most delicious way to add probiotics to my diet. I finished it very quickly and made some more; a gallon seems like a lot but when you are eating it every day it doesn’t last long.
I then moved on to lacto-fermented pickles. The first batch smelled fabulous and pickled really well. Unfortunately, I didn’t particularly care for the flavor. The recipe called for pickling spice. Now I have used pickling spice before when making vinegar preserved pickles and the flavor didn’t bother me then. I’m not sure if the lacto-fermentation process intensifies the flavor or if it simply is stronger since there is no pickling and no boiling. I wound up giving them to a friend who is from India and thought their flavor was great. Trying another batch this time I branched out and following the basic tenets of lacto-fermentation I made a brine but modified the flavorings. I’m waiting for this next batch to be done, frequently stopping by to enjoy the aroma of my fizzing jar of lacto-fermented pickles.
The most important parts are that the brine is a suitable strength to preserve the cucumbers until the lactobacilli take over the preserving process and that the cucumbers be fully submerged in the brine (hence the need for pickle weights).
I made this recipe in a two-quart jar as there are not that many people living in my house and a whole gallon of pickles plus a whole gallon of kimchi seemed like a lot. If you decide to make this in a gallon jar you will need to double the recipe.
- 4 large pickling cucumbers (only because this is what fit - if using baby cukes you may need more)
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed, not peeled
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 t. celery seed
- 1/2 t. dill seed
- 1 quart of water
- 1 1/2 T. kosher salt
- Sterilize the jar
- Wash the cucumbers
- Add spices to the jar
- Mix together water and salt until salt is completely dissolved (this is your brine)
- Pour brine over cucumbers and herbs
- Use pickle weights to hold down the cucumbers
- Loosely cover jar with wax paper and a ring or rubber band
- Let sit in a warm (not hot) dark place
- After 4 days you can cut off small pieces of pickle to taste
- When it tastes pickle-y enough you can put it in the refrigerator
- This will slow down but not completely stop the fermentation process
The Ingredient Guru, Mira Dessy https://www.theingredientguru.com/
Other lacto-fermented recipes
There are a number of delicious, easy recipes that you can make at home to get the benefits of these fabulous fermented foods. Here are a few of my favorites:
I have a confession to make. I don’t much like okra. Maybe it’s from growing up in the northeast where I was not really exposed to it much as a child. Whatever the reason I mostly find it unappealing. I have discovered that I can tolerate it steamed, I despise it cooked, boiled, or fried. However, it’s not half bad when it’s pickled. It’s a pity that I don’t like it more because it’s low in calories, high in fiber, has a modest amount of protein, and provides vitamins A and C as well as iron and calcium.
Okra also has a mucilaginous quality that helps to escort cholesterol and bile acids out of the body. As an alkaline food it is also believed to help heal intestinal ulcers and be useful in the treatment of IBS.
When I was at the grocery store today I happened to spy a jar of pickled okra on the shelves. Since this is my least objectionable way to eat it I decided to try it again, scooped up a jar and finished my grocery shopping.
Unfortunately I ignored my own advice and I did not stop to read the label. After getting home I did read the label and it turns out these pickles contain polysorbate-80. I refuse to eat any ingredient that has a number (nature doesn’t number food). According to my Consumer Dictionary of Food Additives polysorbate-80 is an emulsifier “associated with the contaminant 1,4 dioxane, known to cause cancer in animals.” It is also “widely used in baby lotions, cold creams, cream deodorants, antiperspirants, suntan lotions and path oils.”
I’m not sure why these pickles need to be emulsified but I certainly don’t care to eat an ingredient also used in lotions and potions like cold cream. This serves as a personal reminder to ALWAYS read the label.
Needless to say I will be returning this to the store. I wonder what the counter clerk will say/think when I explain why I’m bringing it back.
photo courtesy of: Gerard Cohen | Wikimedia Commons