In a Pickle

Just joking around

The heat was slow in showing itself over the summer. Even though it’s normal to have rain and overcast in Port Townsend that persists until June, this last summer we saw these cool, wet conditions last well into July. The lettuces and and peas were happy while the tomatoes hardly grew at all during their first month in the ground.

An usual crisphead variety whose bright green leaves are splattered with crimson.

Then, from the shadowy depth of my garden, one variety of lettuce, joker, surprised me by making it through the heat (finally!) of August before bolting in September. Joker is described as being both cold and heat tolerant but, I had never experienced anything like that before. With most lettuces, the flavor becomes unpalatable as it bolts, going from flower to seed with summer’s rising heat. By the time July rolls around, it’s usually a done deal and I’ve had to move on to the summer crops but, with amazing results like that, I will continue to grow this variety because it stays sweet and tender until the bitter end. Joker, we will meet again!

Beeting me to the punchline

Another crop that did well in the garden this year was the beets. It had been a few years since I last grew them but, as I was perusing my seed collection and caught sight of the unopened seed packets, I felt a sudden strong craving for borscht. It happens.

The spring garden: a row of beets behind a row of lettuces.

This year I sowed two varieties of beets. I love to grow Bull’s Blood for it’s beautiful, red leaves and Feuer Kugel is a German heirloom that keeps its flavor and texture whether large or small. The plan was to eat the Bull’s Blood first and then switch to Feuer Kugel to extend the season. I’m lousy at succession plantings and figured this would produce a similar effect by enlarging the time frame for picking. I envisioned myself cooking and roasting them at leisure, without a whisper or thought that they might become tough and woody with age.

I thought it was a good plan. The only problem was that I didn’t follow it. By the time I finally checked in on the beets they all needed to be pulled and put up.

A Time to Ferment

When the time comes to harvest a mature crop, most gardeners know that it is a mixed blessing. After all the work that goes into growing the food, now comes the even bigger job of what to do with it or you risk losing it to the compost pile. The good news is that there are many different ways to “put up” and preserved your crops. There’s canning, drying and freezing to name a few.

Twenty years ago I stumbled upon the cookbook Nourishing Traditions. The recipes were based on traditional cultures and how they prepared and preserved food. Before there was refrigeration or canning, people everywhere used fermentation to preserve their food. It’s a process that utilizes the lactic-acid-producing bacteria that can be found on the surface of all living things. Given the right conditions, these lactobacilli convert sugars and starches into lactic acid which, in turn, can perfectly preserve food by stopping the growth of putrefying bacteria. If you think that sounds unappealing, just consider that sauerkraut, pickles, yogurt and sourdough bread are all fermented foods…and they’re good for ya!

Fermenting beets, also known as pickling, was the first recipe that I tried. At the time, only Brandon, my oldest son, and I would eat them. Years later I bought a new addition of the book. In this version it said to bake the beets whereas in the original recipe you pickled them raw. I was hopeful that baking them first would improve the flavor of the final product and make them more appealing to my whole family.

The scene of the crime

(A.K.A. Processing the evidence)

Exhibit A: The beets

It was a success. Everyone agreed that the pickled beets had improved greatly since my early years of fermenting.

After a short recess…

As summer was coming to a close and the tomato plants had finally produced a ripe crop, I decided to try my hand at fermenting again. This time with salsa.

The first step, that I left out of the previous description, was how to drain the whey from yogurt. You don’t have to use whey but, you will get more consistent and reliable results if you do. It acts as a kick-starter to the whole fermentation process because it already contains lactic acid and lactobacilli strains.

Exhibit B: The salsa

To the Pickler go the Spoils!

Some of you may have noticed that in the process of fermentation a by-product was produced: the drained yogurt. After being drained of the whey, its consistency is very similar to cream cheese. I have a recipe from another cookbook of mine, Horn of the Moon, called “Yogurt Cheese Pie”. I know, it sounds about as appetizing as bacteria preserving your food but, hey, why change my mode at this point in the game? Sounds gross, tastes great!

Yogurt cheese pie is basically a kind of cheese cake. The recipe says to combine the yogurt and cream cheese but, I only use the drained yogurt. It has become a family favorite and something we can all look forward to after all of that work in the garden and kitchen.

Yogurt Cheese Pie with a graham cracker-almond crust. I ran out of honey so, I used coconut nectar as a sweetener instead.
Pie: It’s not just for breakfast anymore!
I love this pie with fresh berries from the garden and almond slices.

This post of Gardenkeeping is adjourned. All rise and give fermenting a try!

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