On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally's cellar. - Thomas Jefferson.
I have often mentioned The Sausage Maker, Inc. in terms of how lucky we are to have this resource in Buffalo. They are not only a resource in terms of equipment and supplies, but also as a source for information.
It was that which brought me there, seeking background for a Buffalo Rising article. We chatted on the subject at hand, I took some photographs, and we chatted some more. It was then that I noticed the gizmo.
The Perfect Pickler, encased in plastic, hanging from a rack. I had neither heard of it nor had any idea of how it worked. I was intrigued. We chatted about it for a while, and was surprised (and pleased) to be presented one to test out.
The kit contains a plastic top which will fit a wide mouth Mason jar. Mounted in the top is a water airlock, and also a gasket inside the top to maintain a good seal. There is a small overflow cup which resembles nothing more than a metal shot glass. Also included in the kit are directions, and a bag of Celtic Sea Salt.
Not included was the necessary Mason jar. I declined the offer to purchase one there. I love these guys, but sometimes their prices on common items are quite out of whack. I picked up a half dozen 2 quart jars at Ed Young’s on my way home at a much better price.
I have always wanted one of those beautiful stoneware crocks for making sauerkraut. The kind with a weight inside and a heavy lid that allows you to pour water around it creating a seal. They have always been a bit on the pricy side. The Perfect Pickler seemed to provide a less expensive alternative.
The pickling in question is actually a form of fermentation - specifically lactic acid fermentation. Salt is used to create a brine, either by extraction of liquid from the vegetable to be pickled or by simply mixing it with water. The airlock allows an anaerobic environment to be created allowing the carbon dioxide created by the fermentation to replace the air, with the excess being expelled through the water in the airlock. This process also prevents additional air from being injected into the curing chamber.
Fermentation of foods via yeast or other microflora has been around since the dawn of mankind. It occurs with little or no intrusion from the outside. Grind grain into flour and add water in the mixture will ferment making bread or beer. Crushed grapes their juice and wine, and later vinegar, naturally occurs. One of the oldest spirits known to man is in mead, a simple mixture of water and honey left to the bacteria and yeasts which surround us. “The child of honey, the drink of the gods, need was universal. It can be regarded as the ancestor of all fermented drinks.” A History of Food, Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat (1992).
The simplest form of pickling for this device is making a batch of sauerkraut. A head of cabbage is cored, and the core reserved. Several of the outer leaves are removed and trimmed to provide a “lid” for the shredded cabbage. The cabbages shredded either by hand, a mandoline, or the shredding disc on a food processor. I prefer the irregularity of hand cut.
The next day the cabbage is packed tightly into the Mason jar and all the collected liquid which exuded from the cabbage is poured on top. If the liquid level is insufficient to keep the cabbage covered water is added (preferably filtered). The reserved leaf “lid” is placed over the cabbage and the core and metal cup are used to keep the cabbage submerged.
The lid is screwed on, and water placed in the airlock to the level indicated. The device is placed in a cool dark place for four days (I prefer to go two weeks) to allow fermentation to commence. After that point a regular lid (the two-part metal lid for a Mason jar, as the plastic lid is not airtight) replaces the airlock assembly and the sauerkraut continues its fermentation under refrigeration.
The resulting sauerkraut has been a revelation to me, tart and crunchy without added vinegar or other acid (not that I mind adding them for the purposes of cooking). Once you’ve tried this you will never go back to bagged sauerkraut - except in cases of emergency. Since I’ve been doing this I have had only one failure, and that was easily traced to my own error.
In addition to sauerkraut I have made several types of cucumber and tomato pickles, and a wonderful batch of kimchi. And vinager via some "toilet wine".
I highly recommend the Perfect Pickler is in addition to your kitchen gear. At about $20 retail (not including the Mason jar) it’s a great deal.
But wait. That's not all. Order in the next fifteen minutes and you'll also get . . .
Seriously, think about this a second. For $20 (plus shipping if not locally available) you get a lid, a grommet, and airlock, a gasket, a "shot glass" looking overflow cup and a package of sea salt. You buy the jar.
You can pick up and airlock from a beer supply store for about $1.80. You can also get the grommet there, and if not I found them at local hardware stores in the “doohickey” section, for about $.50. The plastic lids are widely available for about four dollars per eight lids, or about $.50 apiece. You can buy a gasket from Amazon for about two dollars (probably less if you shopped around or bought them in bulk), but I don’t bother with a gasket. I put a double layer of plastic wrap across the jar opening and then poke it down around the inside and screw the lid on. Just enough to make a tighter seal.
For salt I wouldn’t use anything other than non-iodized table salt*. You can get a national brand for about a dollar for 26 ounces or a store brand for less (I buy it in 25 lb. bags). At most you are using about four cents, or less, worth of salt for each batch of cabbage. Laying aside a ½ inch drill bit, if you don’t have one, and you can make your own complete Perfect Pickler for under $5.00. Oh, for $5.00 more you can get the recipe book.
So my advice is build your own and enjoy this really nifty way of making pickled goods at home. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions.
*I will be blogging about my view on salt choices and why non-iodized insert - table salt is really the only choice for this type of cooking - in the very near future. Stay tuned.