While I still have garlic to plant and sweet potatoes to harvest, our summer gardening season is coming to an end. One of the first crops to finish, of course was the tomatoes. In an effort to waste as little as possible I spent last Saturday afternoon gathering up the green tomatoes, some of which will become spicy green tomato pickles.
Last year I stopped making the conventional vinegar pickles. Not only are the fermented variety better for you, but they are so much easier to make and lend themselves very easily to small batch processing. We’ve come to like the fermented pickles so much better that our cherry tomatoes pickled in white vinegar that we made last year…….are still there. And yes, we’ve already given several as Christmas gifts.
While some will opt to ferment food by catching the wild stuff in the air I prefer to use whey. Whey is a byproduct of making cheese, but it is also that liquid that you find on the top of your plain yogurt. Bu using whey, I have noticed more consistent results and I’m also left with a pickled product that can be used within just a few short weeks but will be preserved (in cold storage) for several months.
What is lacto-fermentation?
Lacto-fermentation is “a process whereby special bacteria transform sugars and starches into beneficial acids”*. By adding whey to whatever you are wanting to ferment, you are simply introducing that special bacteria. If this is something you have never tried on your own, the concept may sound intimidating (it was for me). However whey is a very easy product to harvest from plain yogurt and once the proper amount has been added to your pickles, it will work the magic on its own. Except for some occasional monitoring, very little additional effort is required on your part.
To make whey:
You will need:
- Whole milk yogurt
- A floursack towel or piece of cheesecloth
- A strainer
- A bowl
The strainer and the bowl need to be of such size that the strainer can fit easily across the bowl allowing the yogurt to drain. Alternatively you can omit the use of the strainer and tie your towel to a wooden spoon. Situate the spoon across a pitcher.
You will need to allow for 8-24 hours for the yogurt to drain. I like to do mine the night before.
- Line the strainer with your towel or cheesecloth
- Add the yogurt and cover with the ends of the towel
- Place the strainer across the bowl
- Allow to drain overnight or up to 24 hours
Whey will keep up to six months. Store in a glass jar covered with a lid.
It is helpful to note that: recipes preserved in quart jars require four tablespoons of whey. There are 16 tablespoons in a cup. In my kitchen about two cups of yogurt will yield one cup of whey.
To make the pickles:
You will need:
- Green tomatoes (see below for the amount)
- One or two jalapeno peppers, depending on how much heat you like.
- A few cloves of garlic
- Unfiltered water
- Sea salt
- Glass jar and lid
Gather up enough green tomatoes to fit inside the jar of your choosing. I know this is a strange way to specify an amount but IMO it is the easiest way to figure out how much you have and how much whey and salt you will need to add. If I’m doing a very small amount I will literally take my jar out into the garden with me, gathering the tomatoes into the jar. I recommend smaller, bite size tomatoes.
When you are back in the kitchen:
- Thoroughly wash and dry your jars and lids. Set aside.
- Wash your tomatoes, leaving them whole. Also wash and slice your jalapenos (with care) and peel your garlic.
- Load all of your vegetables into the jar. For each quart: add 1 T of sea salt and 4 T of whey. Cover with water to 1 inch below the top lip of the jar.
Optional: add a narrow sized Tatler lid to act as a weight, keeping all of the tomatoes under the liquid.
Allow jars to sit at room temperature for two days before moving them to the fridge. Keep an eye on them. Whey can get feisty. If it starts to “hiss” you may need to burp the jars to relieve pressure and avoid an explosion.