Time to start blogging again. I was going to wait until the end of September, but a lifetime in academia has primed me to feel that the seasons change on Labor Day. It's September: the start of the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Harvest, cool weather, colors.
I haven't seen any fuzzy caterpillars in a long time, so I can't use them to predict anything of the coming winter -- but if the orange and grey coat on Miss Cookie the Semi-Feral Cat is any indication, we're in for a doozy of a winter.
So it's time to get back to work.
I don't have a firm blogging schedule in mind, but in general my plan is to post up to three times a week, when I have the material. Fridays will be the "Friday Favorites" stuff: reviews and commentaries on movies and books and things like that. Wednesdays will likely be devoted to writer stuff. More about that ON Wednesday.
And Mondays.... Mondays will be a kind of "Life in Michigan" column. Sometimes this will be closely related to writing. Other times, the relation to writing will be less obvious -- just that this is the life that inspires what I write.
Fermentation: Life as a Science Project
But it has been too hot to bake most of this summer.
I also make my own yogurt -- which is basically the art of spoiling milk in just the right way. But before you can culture it with the right bacteria, you have to pasteurize it to kill the bad bacteria.
And it's too hot for pasteurization, even if the temperature is just right for culturing the yogurt.
I never made pickles because I don't like canning, but real fermented pickles (and kim chee and sour kraut) aren't really meant to be canned. If you do a short cut version, where you just steep them in vinegar, sure -- can them. But if you actually ferment your own pickles, then by golly, you don't need to heat anything up. You just salt it and let it rot.
Here's how pickles work: you pour brine over them, and the salt kills the bad bacterial, but certain positive bacteria -- the "lacto" bacterias that make yogurt and sour cream and which everybody touts as being the key to health these days -- like the salt just fine. They get to work turning the starches and other compounds in the food into vinegar, which will also help preserve the food.
I also happen to really like lacto-fermeted lemons, but often find people make them too salty, so wouldn't it be cool to make my own?
So this summer I layered a couple of slices of lemon, and then garlic, dill and cucumber slices in a jar with a little mustard seed and peppercorns, and poured brine over them. (One tablespoon salt to a pint of water -- an average brine -- could be saltier or not, depending on how long you want to keep the pickles.) I also poured in a little booster of yogurt whey to be sure there was some lacto bacteria around to do the job.
I then put a small glass jar on top of them to press the floating veggies down into the brine. And I've swished and burped them every day since.
One Week Later....
Almost every recipe I came across for lacto-fermenting pickles says they should be done in three days and to leave them a week if you like them more sour. And they also say that the brine should become cloudy in a day or two, which they did.
However, in spite of bubbling and cloudiness, and a wonderful smell of dill and garlic, my pickles right now taste wonderfully of the spices and salt ... but aren't particularly sour. As a matter of fact, to my taste, they aren't sour at all.
It may have something to do with the fact that I forgot to use distilled water, and there's chlorine in tap water. They do say that the chlorine dissipates after a day, and I added more yogurt whey the second day -- AND the pickles did indeed ferment as advertised. However, it was whey from Dannon yogurt, which isn't very sour. Maybe that's an issue.
Or maybe it's just that most people are in a hurry and find that it's good enough to just let the seasonings seep into the pickles. After a few days, the pickles do taste pretty good. They're just not sour. There was that one recipe which said to let the pickles ferment for a month or two -- this, to me, indicates that maybe the 3-day folks are not giving it time.
I'm thinking of sticking the jar in a warm water bath like I do with yogurt. Keep them at 90-100 degrees for 24 hours and see what happens.
I'm also thinking of starting over -- just eating these and starting another batch, this time being really strict about my ingredients, AND using a warm water bath, AND leaving it longer.
But I'm not sure the garden has any more cucumbers for me. It has been a blight year. So I might make kim chee or pickled lemons.
OR... maybe I should cheat and put the pickles in a seasoned vinegar bath. Not cook or can them -- so the healthy bacteria stay around -- but just give them a little more seasoning.
Or just eat them. Because they do taste pretty good.
In the meantime....
Happy Labor Day!
Take a moment to remember that every aspect of your life was made possible by thousands of wage laborers. Nobody built anything without them. Labor built the roads, manufactured the tools, harvested the crops, built the buildings, wove the cotton, made your clothes. Labor keeps the water and electricity flowing, puts together the device you're reading this on, drove the truck to transport it. Labor makes your Big Mac, films your movies and smiles for your cameras, and sings for you iPods.
And never forget that not all that labor is fairly paid or gets a day off, or has healthcare, or safety protections.
See you in the funny papers.