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a large mason jar full of cucumber pickles with dill and garlic

My experiment making fermented cucumber pickles with tea is over, and the verdict is: tea keeps pickles crunchy. I’ll definitely be trying it again to see if I get the same results. For the recipe I used, see part one here.

Closeup of a quarter pickle, sliced lengthwise, on a cutting board

I pulled them out of the crock after three weeks of daily temperatures that went from 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night to 80 in the afternoon. They’ve got a good flavor, and I don’t taste the two tea bags, but they are certainly crunchy pickles! They’re also a little too salty. Next time I’ll lower the ratio of salt to water and see how that influences the crispiness.

Tea-fermented cucumber pickles and garlic in a bowl

I added tea because the tannins it contains help slow the pectinase enzymes that break down plants’ cell walls, which are made of pectin. It’s the stuff that makes fruit ripen. As those walls soften, so do the cucumbers. The traditional way to get tannins into fermented pickles is with grape leaves, horseradish leaves, and oak leaves. A lot of other plants have high tannin levels–I almost used plum leaves until I read that they could be poisonous. Tea is so accessible it seems like a great alternative. If you give it a try, tell me how it goes.

Here’s the original recipe.

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A few weeks ago, Chow aired this instructional video for making sauerkraut with Mark Frauenfelder of MAKE magazine and boingboing.net that’s an easy intro to making kraut. The coolest part for me was learning about the picklemeister as a way to seal your kraut from the air while it ferments. You can see it in the photo in the lower left corner. If you get mold on the surface of your pickle brine or sauerkraut brine, and that mold grosses you out, this clever setup could help you get rid of surface mold.

It works just like a homebrewing airlock by sealing the jar of sauerkraut or pickles or homebrew with a bit of water. As the stuff in the jar ferments, it releases carbon dioxide, which builds up enough pressure to push out the tube and through the water. But air, which carries mold spores, can’t get back in through the water. Soon, you have only carbon dioxide inside and no air at all. Here’s one in action:

You can buy the jar and lid set online, but it would be easy to make one, too, with a wide-mouthed gallon jar, an airlock, and a plastic grommet or plug, plus a little glue. You can find those parts at a homebrewing store. For those who prefer not to put plastic in contact with their food when weighing the kraut to keep it under the brine, I bet you could find a glass food storage bowl that would fit inside the jar, as mentioned at the picklemeister link above.

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Wondering where to get a fermentation starter? On Saturday, February 20th, the folks at CRITTER are hosting a mini fermentation festival, with demonstrations on how to start and use cultures in your kitchen. There will be samples to snack on, presentations, and a culture trade, plus people will be on hand to give tips on making a better pickle. This is your chance to pick up a kombucha mother, sourdough starter, or whatever you’ve been hankering after. And if it isn’t on hand, I bet you could get the number of someone who can give you one the next time they have extra. If you’ve got a culture you’d like to trade, bring it with you or get in touch with the organizers. I’ll be there explaining how to make and eat kefir, and I should have some starter grains to give away.

There will also be demos on growing plants from cuttings and mushrooms from spores—the event embraces anything that grows from a starter.

These are the folks who brought us the kimchi contest last year, and I expect this event will be just as fun.

Here are the vitals:

Saturday, February 20 from 2-4 PM
Cost: Free!

Please RSVP to:
crittersalon AT gmail.com
Subject heading “Mother Cultures”

@ the Studio for Urban Projects:
3579 17th Street
between Dolores and Guerrero
San Francisco

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