Lazy Hippie: Food that Preserves Itself

Dried mustard seed just harvested from the garden.

I just found out that you can cut up vegetables, throw them in a jar full of water and some salt, wait a few days, and they will have preserved themselves. This seems like magic to me. I can’t believe that this is actually the state of the world, and I have just learned about it.  And, not only do these veggies magically preserve themselves, but afterwards they will be brimming with healthy bacteria and, in some respects, the veggies will be more nutritious than the raw vegetable itself.

Mustard seed, grape leaves, salt, and dill in the pickling jar.

I’ve always loved fresh sauerkraut, and have been making my own for a little while now, but I had no idea that this process could be extended to, well, everything. Guacamole, hot sauce, blueberry soda, salsa, vinegar, pickled carrots, grape leaves, and, of course, pickles. The University of MN Extension has a page on safely making fermented pickles and sauerkraut, which, in my opinion, is a little on the overly-cautious side because their recipes ask that you, after fermenting the pickles, kill the ferment by putting it in a hot water bath to avoid spoilage. I’m more of the “smell it cautiously and eat it ravenously” mentality.

I put grape leaves in my jar, because I read that the tannins can help keep the vegetables crispy, and since I have a grape plant in my backyard, it seemed like an easy thing to try. Not to mention the possibility of making my own stuffed grape leaves from the link above!

Green beans, cucumber, and a hot pepper with the mustard seed, grape leaves, dill, and salt.

A Saint Paul Beer Fest tasting glass holding the veggies under the brine.

A lot of the recipes require the addition of whey or kefir to the brine, but I found that this is just to stack the cards in your favor with a “starter” bacteria. By eliminating the whey, you’re allowing the natural bacteria on the vegetables themselves to run the show. The addition of salt, and keeping the vegetable mass under the brine (away from oxygen) allows the “good” bacteria to happily procreate like bunnies without competition from the bad bacteria.

It’s the time of the season where crazy garden harvests begin, and in this moment, having this discovery, it appears that canning does not have to be the impending nightmare that it is. Time to go crock-shopping!

My current “wild ferments.” Lemons, beans, cucumbers. The middle jar is the furthest along, you can tell by the cloudy brine and the washed out color. I’ve been tasting it along the way, and and once it hits the level of tangy-ness I love, I’ll refrigerate it and eat it at my own pace.


8 responses to this post.

  1. This is so amazing, especially considering that I can just barely keep cacti alive, myself. You’re like a wizard!


  2. I’ve been thinking about trying these: But my freezer is just so much easier :)


    • I kinda thought about that, too, but it seems like they would be really, really easy to make. You can buy those air lock-outs at any homebrew store for a buck, and it would be easy to put a hole in the top of a jar lid…you think?


  3. Isn’t this awesome!? Like you, I’ve been making sauerkraut for a while but I only just recently realized that I could ferment just about any vegetable. Now I’m completely obsessed! I hadn’t thought to do grape leaves, but I have grapevines in the garden so I’m definitely going to try that.


    • Yeah, totally! And it’s so much easier than “regular” pickling with all the vinegar and canning equipment and whatnot :) Thanks for explaining *why* you’re supposed to cut off the blossom end of the cucumber, btw. That has been really hard to find!


  4. Posted by Erica on 08.28.2012 at 3:06 pm

    This seems like a lot of work when you can just go to the store and buy food. It’s fun to get the occasional tomato off the plant I keep in my apartment, but the thought of having a second job of growing food in addition to my regular job is just soul-crushing.


    • Ha! I love doing it, so it’s the opposite of soul-crushing for me :) Plus the food is way better, which is an amazing bonus.


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