If married life were a stone crock, filled slowly and methodically with the vital ingredients that eventually transform a food from raw to fermented — wholesome, nutritive, and new — then Mark and I just started chopping the cabbage that will one day, God willing, become sauerkraut. Likening marriage to sauerkraut may very well be the worst analogy I have ever conjured, but if I have learned anything in my twenties it's that you have to do whatever works. Thinking of marriage in food terms provides a measure of calm for my aching heart. As I have relied so heavily on my husband's strength of heart when I feel anything but strong, it seems the best I can do is offer food sustenance.
The truth is I have hardly felt myself since returning from The Vacation About Nothing. The foremost thoughts that fill my brain are deep feelings of longing for my family, most especially for my sister who is becoming a nun. (At first I wrote 'feelings of loss' but quickly corrected to 'feelings of longing' because this is not death; this is not true loss). I have sobbed with abandon at night on my husband's chest, quietly wept in the middle of the work day, and cried joyful tears during moments of peace in the Mass. I know the proper words are forming in my heart and will make their way here, but today is not that day. Instead, today is a day for writing a bit about the fermented Meditteranean pickles we made a few weeks ago. They take 20 minutes to prepare and will carry you through a month in the refrigerator. No matter what the month holds, you will have pickles.
Throughout our summer blog posts, we peppered in mention of Lehman's Hardware, a truly exceptional homesteading / off-grid hardware store back home in Ohio. They sent us a 3-gallon stoneware fermentation crock for putting away food for the winter sans refrigerator. Three gallons of anything is a seriously hefty portion, so we decided to practice with a 1/2-gallon of something that would not get us sick if we screwed up. (Although, a few years ago I made a questionable batch of sauerkraut that sat on the counter for weeks and my dad still ate the whole thing in one go.). This recipe calls for the cucumbers to spend three to four days on the counter and then — once they are up to your pickled liking — place them in the fridge. You could even scale down to a pint jar if you have just one cucumber and not ten, like we did. Refrigeration acts as a preservation method rather than using a hot-water bath or pressure canning. Avoiding use of the stovetop was a very important consideration for us in the camper. An average pickle benefits greatly from zesty Mediterranean spices, something I learned from Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook Jerusalem. Really, the world is your pickle oyster.
MEDITTERANEAN PICKLED CUCUMBERS
makes 1/2 gallon jar
5-6 sliced cucumbers, not too seedy
1 bunch fresh dill
1 T. dried dill
1 T. dried coriander
2 bay leaves
7 cloves garlic
1 t. dried fennel
1 t. salt
6 or so cups of water, for brine
—Sanitize your jar by filling it up with boiling water and allow to sit for a few minutes. Dump the water just before filling with ingredients.
—Bring water and salt to a boil. This is your brine.
—Meanwhile, fill your jar with spices first, then sliced cucumbers. I was liberal with spices, and frankly could have added more.
—Slowly and carefully pour the brine over the cucumbers, leaving about 1 inch of headspace.
—Set pickles out on your counter and taste one on the third day. If you want them more pickle-y, leave out for another day. Otherwise, store in your refrigerator for up to a month (or so).