“There’s an unusually high amount of bacteria in my kitchen right now,” I cheerfully expressed to a coworker, after explaining what I had been up to earlier in the week. She looked at me with a look of horror, and quickly dropped the subject.
Ever since attending that fateful class on fermentation just over a month ago, the kitchen counter has been looking more like an apothecary shelf than a working surface, lined with half gallon jars filled with all colors and shapes of mysterious, sometimes moldy, mysteries. Enamored by the idea of watching foods morph into new flavors and textures, cultivating and growing something delicious, much like a garden sending out fresh shoots in the spring, I couldn’t start soon enough. Within minutes of walking into the door, I already had a quart of soymilk out, ready to plop a few kefir grains into. Next came the cabbage, to be thinly sliced and turning into sauerkraut, laced with a few slivers of red onion for additional flavor. And while we’re talking cabbage, it only made sense to start up a batch of kimchi as well. Finally, after easing the little square of kombucha mother and its scoobies into a fresh batch of black tea, I was just about ready to sit back and watch things ferment. First, however, I wanted to make a simple batch of cucumber pickles, always a favorite and oh so easy to make. Deceptively easy, really.
That, the most simple and well-known form of fermentation to me, was the only thing this far to go sour, and in a very bad way. I first grew somewhat concerned when a sort of grey peach fuzz developed on the tops of the cucumbers, but very nonchalantly cut off the offending pieces and went on my way. After a few more days in the salty brew, however, when tiny green things began showing up where I was certain I had placed nothing of the sort, it was time to reconsider the project. As much as I hate throwing out food, it’s truly not worth killing yourself over a few moldy pickles.
Fermentation isn’t for everyone- It takes a whole lot of patience, space, and a strong sense of intuition when it comes to either eating or scrapping the often questionable results. While all of my other assorted beverages and vegetables are bubbling along happily, with good bacteria and no disturbing green bits, traditional cucumber pickles are perhaps not in my grasp. Refrigerator pickles, on the other hand, are simple enough for anyone to make, no risks involved.
For those who can’t even think about waiting weeks or months before eating their pickles, this speedy version is for you. Admittedly best after at least a day or two, they’re technically ready to eat after only a few hours. Flavors of all sorts are possible, limited only by the cook’s imagination, but my favorite approach is something slightly Asian-inspired. Miso, ginger, and scallions combine to create a tangy and unusual pickled cucumber, flavorful enough to stand as a condiment to just about anything, or, as I prefer, a little starter or palate cleanser between bites.
Although they may not technically be pickles without being properly fermented, I’m willing to bet that they’re tastier by a landslide in comparison to 90% of those corn syrup-imbued, grey slivers of limp cucumbers you’ll find at the local mega mart.
1/4 Cup Barley Miso Paste
1/2 Cup Rice Vinegar
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/2 Inch Fresh Ginger, Grated
1 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Salt
1 Pound Pickling Cucumbers, Sliced
Place your miso paste in the bottom of a 1-quart jar or container with an air-tight lid, and add in half of the rice vinegar. Stir to loosen up the miso, until it’s completely dissolved in the liquid, and add the remaining ingredients. Throw on the lid, give it a good shake, and stash it in your fridge for at least 6 hours before eating, and up to 2 weeks.