Hola, Pickleers! PEB n me just finished decanting the crock we set a'fermentin' last Monday. The kitchen smells heavenly, with a nice crispy earthy celery flavor added to the usual aromas (every time I stuck my nose in the crock tonight, I got that pleasing addition to the usual flavor profile of garlic, peppers, onions, and happy lil' buggies).
Before we get started on the after action report, it's really worth recounting our conversation tonight. He wanted to know what I was going to do with my share (add whole olives and call it a side dish or chop it up with olives and secret ingredients and call it tapenade) and what I thought of his projected use. He likes to keep a batch of giardiniera or escabeche going for months, throwing in olives, capers, banana peppers, and whatever else he comes across that fits. And he observed that the brine would change and age but inevitably develop a funk over time, above and beyond the fun crowding-in of flavors from all the stuff he'd added in.
What he's looking for is a way to enjoy what he's got with what he wants to add. The trick is knowing the limits of what's added. Olives are already fermented and I think capers are too, so they're okay with this treatment. Since it's fermented, our escabeche can last in the fridge for a couple years. Adding other ferment-preserved stuff doesn't change that any. If you want to add anything that isn't fermented, though, you'll want to 1. Start a new jar and keep your source material uncontaminated, and 2. Remember that adding non-fermented (i.e. perishable) items changes the amount of time this batch will keep from years to days, as in no more than 14 or 21- the salt, lactic acid, and vinegar will all act as decay retardants, so you can go beyond the recommended refrigeration period of 4-7 days but raw veggies (the banana peppers, for instance) will still go bad eventually.
So, we wound up with four gallons of well fermented Escabeche. The celery turned out great; I'd been afraid of slime like we'd gotten from the okra and nopales but, much to my pleasure, it turned out just as crisp as when we'd put it in. There was a bit of room left in the crock to work with (heh, it's labelled for three gallons), so, if I had a Genie, I'd wish another almost pound of red bell peppers in there.
There was no moldy/mildewy growth above the waterline this time, none! I'm going to chalk that one up to minimizing airspace for it to grow in and carefully wiping down the crock walls (PB has gotten real good at this) and then inoculating them and the sealing bags with vinegar. This is a tiny detail in terms of product loss but it's a nice detail all the same, I'm glad we're progressing here.
The hybridized method I described in the last post turned out great! I think this is now my favorite method- the crock, oversized, foodsafe bags ("poly bags" about $25 for a case of 1000, if you've got access through a restaurant), the custom-cut cardboard helping the plate fill the space, and the jug of water weight. I double bagged, since they're thin and they jusssst fit this crock. With the bag in place, there's no need for a towel cover to keep the bugs out and a lot more leeway (with cardboard) in fitting a plate. And I've been given the go-ahead from the boss to add a box of these special bags to a regular stock order at work, so I'll soon have a thousand of them. Anybody want any?
In terms of timing, as it turned out, this was a five day ferment that worked out fine going through to seven days. With seasonal cheer and related cooking, the temperature in the fermenting cabinet (it's right next to the stove/oven) got up to 76 or so on the weekend. The crock was really ponging (as the Aussies say) Saturday and Sunday night, which tells us that we'd had a good, thorough ferment. This had me concerned, but it was good smells, not a putrefacient funk. We couldn't decant it then, so I opened the cabinet for ventilation and cranked up the A/C. Totally non-sustainable, I know, but it kinda put the brakes on the ferment.
Oh, Ranger Roo made a really good comment on the last post. You'll have to ask her if she's right...