When a lot of us think of pickles and pickling we think of supermarket glass jars and screw-on, tightly-sealed metallic lids which, once opened either produce nose-wrinkling gases or alluring scents reminding you of all the flavours that have been packed into them. This, in a nutshell, describes pickles and how they work. If you do a wikipedia search for “Pickling” you get this:
“Pickling is the process of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine or vinegar. The resulting food is called a pickle. This procedure gives the food an interesting twist in flavor”
Keeping the science of it all brief, “Anaerobic Fermentation” is literally the conversion of the natural carbohydrates in foods to alcohol (in the case of beer or wine making) and Carbon Dioxide (more so in the case of pickling) in an oxygen-free environment. Now you know where that re-assuring “fizz” you get from our Kimchi Recipe comes from! Throwing the vinegar into the mix makes the environment acidic at a pH which is anything below 6 (think back to your days in school science with litmus paper!). This acidity is vital in getting this whole process to actually preserve by killing off any nasty bacteria. So, fermentation gives flavour and the vinegar preserves!
The simplest pickles just use vinegar to preserve the food. However, in some special cases (like in the case of Kimchi) there is no heating involved as the foods are encouraged to generate their own naturally acidic environment by being salted to pull out moisture (thus creating a brine) then being allowed to ferment and then using the lactic acid that is generated to preserve.
For us, we use pickles to add some acidity to dishes or sometimes texture too as the vegetables never actually undergo a cooking process that might break them down and make them mushy. Preserving vegetables that you can only get in Spring or Summer is pretty special especially when you open that jar, deep into Winter, and appreciate the few seconds you took to look ahead and plan. We've pickled everything from carrots to cauliflower, onions to mushrooms and we are still enjoying them today! We'll give you a few pickle recipes as well over the next few weeks to have a play with, but for now let's leave the pickling there shall we?! R.