The Joy Fermentable

These pickles will save your produce and your time! Plus a review of the 90's sitcom, Dinosaurs, a brief discussion on reconciling the dark past of American food, and my recipe for stuffed pumpkins.

Fall is in full swing which means it’s time to dismantle our summer gardens. That final harvest gifts us with A LOT of delicious produce at different stages of ripeness ranging from “I’m so green that not even a few nights in a paper bag will ripen me” to “you need to eat me yesterday.”

Sure, you can pickle those green tomatoes and make some corn salsa with those last corn cobs and peppers, but if you don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen cooking your vegetables, sanitizing jars, and boiling your canned goods, then try lacto-fermentation.

Fermentation sounds intimidating. When we think of fermentation, we think about fermenting wine, cheese, beer — all things that require complex sterilization processes and specific tools to pull off safely. Even with simpler fermentation projects like lacto-fermentation and sourdough starters, the idea of leaving something to “ferment” and build up bacteria on our kitchen countertops feels counterintuitive to the way many of us were taught to safely preserve our foods. Leaving foods out at room temperature is not a normal activity in some households but it should be (and it’s growing in popularity). Fermentation has existed for thousands of years and appears in cultures all over the world. Think sauerkraut in Germany and kimchi in Korea.

To start, all you need is a brine of about 2 cups of water to 1 tablespoon of salt. Layer the vegetables you want to preserve in a jar and once its filled, submerge the veggies with your brine. Some of the vegetables are going to float, so you’ll need a weight of some kind. There are a bunch of free, homemade weights you can make, but if this is something you’re willing to explore, I suggest these glass fermentation weights on Amazon, but make sure that you get the right size (as in, are you working with “regular mouth” or “wide mouth” jars). Once your produce is fully submerged in the jar, put the lid on top but don’t close it — fermentation creates CO2 gasses, and those gasses are going to need to escape! Set the jar on your kitchen countertop at room temperature (ideally anywhere from 65 - 75 degrees Fahrenheit) and check up on it every few days by giving it a smell or taste to see if it’s reached your ideal pickle flavor. It generally takes one to two weeks depending on a bunch of variables like the ratio of salt to water in your brine and room temperature — which are also factors you can tweak to influence the flavor!

It’s very hard for anything to go wrong. Honestly, the only common mishap is if some of the vegetables aren’t fully submerged in the brine. Some mold might start growing, but if it’s not too bad, you can just toss those few veggies from the top — everything else that’s been in the brine should be safe. Also, your nose is going to tip you off if something has gone seriously wrong. If it smells tangy and your mouth starts watering, go for it! If it’s putrid and gross, don’t eat it.

You can check watch the step by step process in this segment I did for WHYY’s You Oughta Know!

Watch Video

This is great for when you have a ton of vegetables that you can’t eat fast enough and for veggies that are maybe a day or two away from getting thrown out. It’s also a great project for misfit veggies. I had a lot of zucchini this year that didn’t get pollinated properly and got root rot because I didn’t fertilize them enough. Though they were small and misshapen, they turned into incredibly tangy and crispy pickles.

Click on the Instagram post to watch how this batch of zucchini pickles came together!

My zucchini weren’t the prettiest. I was late to the fertilizing game, so a bunch of my zucchini got blossom rot. There were also a few times where it either rained or I watered while they were blooming, which led to improper pollination. They may be misshapen, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t edible!

One way I like to use my misfit veggies is to pickle them through fermentation! I’ve been exploring fermentation over the past few months thanks to @phicklefoods - here’s a variation of one of the recipes from her book “Ferment Your Vegetables.”

Start off by cutting off the nasty bits and soaking them in an ice bath for about half an hour. This helps keep the zucchini firm.

Put 2 teaspoons of Herbes de Provence in the bottom of a quart jar.

Layer zucchini spears and onions into the jar.

Submerge in a brine of 3 cups of water to 1 1/2 tablespoons of kosher salt.

Set on a plate on your kitchen countertop for about 3 days.

That’s it! Easy!
July 9, 2020

What’s coming up:

Next Wednesday, October 28th, I’ll be sharing the true story of the Jersey Devil for Study Hall’s Halloween special. Study Hall is an improv show where experts share scholarly presentations and a group of actors create skits based off of the topics presented. It’s a very clever show! If you’re interested in an evening of improv and supporting the local Philly arts, grab your ticket here!

Publishing:

My adventures with fermenting started with an assignment for KitchenAid. I wrote up a brief beginner’s guide to lacto-fermentation with tips from Amanda Feifer, Philadelphia’s own fermentation expert and author of Ferment Your Vegetables.

Reading:

My work has always focused on the historical and cultural context of cuisine, which is a very tricky topic when it comes to exploring American food. The story of American food cannot be properly told without acknowledging the influences and contributions of marginalized people. Conquest, slavery, cultural appropriation, immigration and struggle are all intertwined in our country’s culinary landscape. So is it impossible to enjoy and celebrate our food when it has such a dark past? It’s not impossible — we just need to find ways to reconcile all of these realities, and this Food & Wine story written by Jean Trinh on foraging and folklore in Appalachia does that perfectly. Trinh follows Rebecca Beyer on a foraging hike in Asheville, North Carolina, where they explore local foods while giving credit to all cultures whose knowledge still echos through the Appalachian mountains.

Watching:

I’ve been on a 90’s sitcom kick. It started with Boy Meets World, which I’ve never seen before. The show was produced by Michael Jacob’s Productions which is also responsible for producing Dinosaurs, one of Jim Henson’s final projects that premiered two years before Cory Matthews took TV by storm.

Most people know Jim Henson for creating The Muppets and his work on Sesame Street. Nerdier fans remember Jim Henson for The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. Regardless of what work you remember Henson by, I think we can all agree that he took puppetry to an entirely new level, turning a children’s form of entertainment into a high art form that even adults could get lost in.

His efforts were rewarded in the early 90’s, when ABC gave Dinosaurs, an animatronic puppet show, a Prime Time slot. Sadly, Jim Henson passed away before the show’s premiere in 1991, but his studio carried out his vision. It’s incredible the amount of work that went into this show. Every dinosaur had two actors controlling them — one actor was dressed in a latex suit (the Suit Performer) and another was animating the face through robotics (the Puppeteer). I don’t know what job was harder, trying to navigate a set while only being able to see when the robot’s mouth was open, or consciously controlling every single facial expression down to a raised eyebrow and a curled lip. In a couple of behind-the-scenes interviews, actors talked about how throughout the show, they’d almost become in sync with one another, becoming one dinosaur mind. It’s like a real life Pacific Rim!

The show is loaded with nuanced adult humor and Pangea-sized puns making it so entertaining that you forget that these characters aren’t humans but rather puppets.

Cooking:

Is it even fall without pumpkins? Inspired by a recipe for a roasted stuffed pumpkin in Food & Wine Magazine’s October issue, I decided to do my own variation with two small “butterkin” (butternut squash and pumpkin hybrids) that I picked up at a local farmers’ market. Red curry rice and vegetables stuffed inside a creamy, roasted butterkin! It’s the prettiest dish I’ve made so far this fall! Click here for the recipe on Instagram and if you give it a try, please tag me. I want to know how it turned out!


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Kae Lani Palmisano is the Emmy nominated host of WHYY's Check, Please! Philly, a television show that explores dining throughout the Philadelphia region. She is a Maker with KitchenAid as well as a food and travel writer who enjoys exploring the history and culture of cuisine.