Fifty Minute Classroom

Nov 20, 2018, 12:43
Pickling and Fermenting Trend Comes Back in From the Prairie to Today’s Kitchens
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Pickling and Fermenting Trend Comes Back in From the Prairie to Today’s Kitchens

Chef Adam Weiner provides step-by-step pickling instructions which can be followed as closely or loosely as desired.

By Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE

Like fashion, food trends go in circles and repeat. One of the newer food trends is preserved foods. In-house fermenting and pickling is currently of particular interest in the food world. What was written about in “Little House on the Prairie” is now back in fashion. What I personally find bemusing is the trend went from fresh and local, to local and fermented and local and pickled. (You can read my article about buying local here: Buying Local Goes Beyond a Farm's Distance. Additionally, click here to read the pickling and fermenting fruits and vegetables feature story in this month’s edition of Gold Medal Classroom.)

Of course, the original purpose of fermenting and pickling food was to maximize the use of food. This has been done since the beginning of human existence. Before modern refrigeration and transportation, people had to feed themselves all year on foods which might only be available for a few months.

The first thing to teach your students is that unless they are canning, most fermented and pickled foods will need to be kept refrigerated. I know this is contradictory. But in the time of Laura Ingalls and Nellie Oleson (not to mention our grandparents), preserved foods were canned--giving them an indefinite shelf life. If food wasn’t canned, then it was stored in cellars in cold climates. Most vegetables can be quick pickled in just a few minutes and will need to be kept under refrigeration for about a month. If the food was canned, then it would be good at least until the next harvest or the end of the next growing season. If you did nothing to the most fresh vegetables, they would spoil fairly quickly.

In other words, a cucumber will last about a week or so in the refrigerator. A pickled cucumber will last three weeks to a month in the refrigerator. A canned cucumber will last at least until the next harvest. Most root vegetables like potatoes and onions will keep until the next season if properly stored. In the past that meant a root cellar.

The second thing you need to teach your students is pickling and fermenting is VERY EASY. Basically, you let nature do the work. It is hard for students to grasp that they don’t have to overdo either process and the more they toy with the natural processes the more likely it won’t work.

The third thing you need to teach your students is because the product will be around for some time, all the utensils, equipment, and their hands must be scrupulously clean because there is minimum (or no) heat involved.

The fourth thing to teach your students is these techniques are designed to work with whatever you have on hand to preserve. In other words, don’t get hung up on having the absolute specific ingredients stated in the recipe. If you are out to make quick pickles and you don’t have cucumbers but you have cauliflower, then use cauliflower. If you don’t have onions but you have carrots, then use carrots. For that matter, the same rule applies for the spices and flavorings. Salt is required and until they become experienced the student should follow the salt listed in the recipe. However, you can almost always substitute other items for the spices called for in the recipes. For example, if you don’t have or like spices such as allspice, peppercorns, cloves, etc. then use something else. The same applies for spiciness. If you like it spicier then make it spicier. If you don’t then tone it down.

Finally, and related to number four, teach your students to start with fresh good quality ingredients. If the cucumbers are soft and mushy, or the cauliflower has turned brown, you won’t have good results.

Below are a couple of favorite recipes I use in my class. Please feel free to use them in yours, and to modify them as you wish. They can easily be done in a 50 minute classroom period, but don’t have your students cover the containers. (You have to wait at least an hour to do this.)

Before you get to the recipes, if you need some pointers on teaching Thanksgiving side dishes take a look at Thanksgiving Side Dishes in 50 Minutes.

Quick Pickles
Chef Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE
4 to 6 Servings

  • 2 medium cucumbers or bell peppers or zucchini or carrots (Cucumbers or zucchini should be peeled with a little peel remaining in stripes for color or texture.)
  • 2 radishes sliced (optional)
  • 1 onion sliced into ¼ rings
  • 1 cup rice wine vinegar or distilled vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon celery seeds or caraway seeds (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon curry powder, cayenne powder, or cumin (optional)
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)

Combine the vegetables in a two quart plastic or stainless (non-reactive) container.

Combine all other ingredients in a pot. Bring just to a boil and immediately turn off. Let liquid cool for 20 minutes. Pour cooled liquid over the vegetables. Let the two quart Cambro or stainless (non-reactive) container sit at room temperature for one hour uncovered. After one hour, place a plastic cover on the container and chill for at least four hours, preferably overnight.

Shelf life 4 weeks in refrigerator.

Note: You can substitute vegetables and all seasonings/spices (except salt) as you like or as available.

Watermelon Rind Pickles
Courtesy of the Watermelon Board

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 2 cups peeled watermelon rind (leave a thin layer of pink), cut into 1 x 1/2 x 2 inch pieces
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 each of allspice berries
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 4 peppercorns
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon pickling spice
  • 1 long slice of fresh ginger root
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seeds

In a pot, bring water and salt to boil over medium high heat. Add rind pieces and boil until tender, about 5 minutes. Strain. Transfer rinds to a large bowl.

In another saucepan, combine sugar, cider vinegar, celery seeds, peppercorns, cloves, pickling spice and ginger root. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Simmer for 15 minutes, until slightly reduced. Pour over watermelon rinds in plastic Cambro container or non-reactive storage container. Place a heavy plate inside the container (not covering the container) to keep rinds submerged in liquid. Wait an hour then cover and refrigerate for one day. Refrigerate. Shelf life 2 to 3 weeks.

Note: You can substitute all seasonings and spices (except the salt) per your taste or as available.


Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula, and is a frequent presenter at CAFÉ events throughout the nation. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Antonin Carême Medal.