On Pickles

The New York Times recently piqued my interest when it ran a short piece about at-home-pickler Rick Field: Pickle

Along the way broader realizations about pickling’s impact on his emotional fortitude became clear to Mr. Field in therapy. “The world is incredibly crazy and complicated,” he said, “and at some point I started to feel as if there was something very satisfying about putting something in a jar, looking at it, closing it, tucking it away, watching it, giving it to someone and moving on.”

To see Mr. Field’s surprisingly elegant pickle website, click here.

For a good index of New York City pickle spots, including long-time favorite Guss’s Pickles, click here.

Mark Kurlansky’s book, “Salt: A World History” provides a useful gloss on the process of pickling:

The process by which the Chinese, and later the Japanese, fermented beans in earthen pots is today known as lactic acid fermentation, or, in more common jargon, pickling. Optimum lactic fermentation takes place between sixty-four and seventy-one degrees Fahrenheit, which in most of the world is an easily achieved environment.

As vegetables begin to rot, the sugars break down and produce lactic acid, which serves as a preservative. Theoretically, pickling can be accomplished without salt, but the carbohydrates and proteins in the vegetables tend to putrefy too quickly to be saved by the emerging lactic acid. Without salt, yeast forms, and the fermentation process leads to alcohol rather than pickles.

Between .8 and 1.5 percent of the vegetable’s weight in salt holds off the rotting process until the lactic acid can take over. Excluding oxygen, either by sealing the jar or, more usually, by weighting the vegetables so that they remain immersed in liquid, is necessary for successful lactic fermentation.