I just opened a jar of fermented cauliflower pickles that I put up last July from a huge head of cauliflower from my garden. The pickles are crisp and tangy, laced with tarragon, garlic, chili and mustard. Best of all, the pickle juice is carbonated. Yes, I said carbonated. I’ll be making an awesome dirty gin martini after I publish this post!
I’d love to say this was my brilliant idea, but I got the inspiration from Amy Thielen’s recipe for Fermented Dills from her cookbook The New Midwestern Table. Before reading that spectacular book, I had always done open-crock fermenting, or fermented with an airlock. Totally sealing the jars as you would for home-brewed beer bottles never occurred to me for pickles. But wow, her fermented dills are amazing! And the pickle juice is carbonated and quite delicious. You basically get kvass and pickles all in one jar.
The brine, which is just salt and water is the same, as is the addition of cabbage leaves and grape leaves, if you have them (I have a row in the yard.) The cabbage kicks the fermentation up a bit, although I probably did not need them with cauliflower. The grape leaves add a bit of tannin, which keeps the veggies firm, but you don’t have to use them. Tarragon is the main herb in my version, plus garlic, chili, mustard and coriander seeds. Those flavors lend more of a French cornichon flavor to the cauliflower, which is a lovely departure from dill. Feel free to use seasonings of your choice, but don’t touch the salt brine.
I’ve included a number of trouble shooting notes in the recipe as the carbonation in these pickles can cause a few mishaps, mainly overflowing and breaking jars. Peruse those notes if you have any complications.
Cauliflower is grown locally in the summer and in the southern states in the winter, so this pickle can easily be made in February. Your fermentation might be a little slower, but it takes months anyone. Not to worry. Enjoy your pickles and martinis!
By Adapted from recipe by Amy Thielen
Amy Thielen’s original Fermented Dills recipe can be found online and in her cookbook The New Midwestern Table.
1 head fresh cauliflower
1/2 cup kosher salt
7 cups water
6 garlic cloves
4 x 4″ sprigs tarragon
6 dried red chilis
2 tsp yellow mustard seed
2 tsp brown mustard seed
2 tsp coriander seed
6 pieces of cabbage leaves cut into 2″x2″ pieces
2 small grape leaves (if available)
This recipe requires 2 quart mason-type jars and new clean lids for this recipe. Sterilize the jars by boiling them in hot water for 10 minutes or running them through the sterilize cycle of your dish washer. Lids should be washed with hot soap and water (don’t boil as it ruins the seal).
Combine salt and water, stirring to dissolve. Bring to a boil. Leave to simmer while you prepare the other ingredients. This may seam like a lot of salt but the salt prevents certain bad bacteria and encourages the growth of good lactobacillus bacteria that leads to fermentation and the creation of preserving acid.
Cut cauliflower into bite-sized florets and wash well. Wash cabbage and tarragon.
Into the bottom of each jar place 3 cabbage pieces, 1 tsp each yellow and brown mustard seed, 1 tsp coriander seed, 3 chilis, 3 cloves garlic and 2 sprigs tarragon. Divide cauliflower between jars.
Pour boiling brine over each jar full of cauliflower. Fill until there’s a 1/4″ head space. Cauliflower should be fully submerged. Cover with jar lids and tighten them as tight as you possibly can.
Once the jars are cool, leave them at room temperature to ferment for one week. During this time the brine will become cloudy and bubbly, and the lid will pop up due to the release of carbon dioxide as part of the fermentation process. This is all good.
After a week, place the jars in a cooler environment, like your basement or in a cupboard near an exterior wall. Allow the jars to ferment for 7 weeks minimum before eating. This is important as you need the acid to properly build up and kill any bad bacteria. Jars will store at cool room temps for up to 6 months, plus another 6 months in the fridge, before the vegetables get to soft. The longer they ferment, the more acidic and spicy they will become.
When you are ready to eat the cauliflower pickles, refrigerate the jars for 24 hours beforehand to calm the carbonation. When the jar is opened, it should “spritz” like a bottle of sparkling water. The pickle juice will be carbonated. The pickles will last another 6 months in the fridge.
As for the pickle juice, I like to mix the juice into a dirty gin martini or bloody mary cocktail. You can also drink it straight. It’s loaded with probiotics, as are the pickles themselves.
Brine Leakage: Occasionally the brine may escape the lid due to the carbonation build up, particularly during the summer and warm temps. To mitigate this, place the jars in a glass baking dish to catch the liquid and move the jars to a cooler location. Open the lids and pour the brine back over the pickles. If it becomes a serious problem, seal the jars and place them in the refrigerator for a few days, them return them to a cool location to continue fermenting.
Jar Breakage: If you’re jars have been used for numerous canning season, they may have hairline stress fractures or chips. Try to use newer jars. Also, do not use jars larger than quarts, as the pressure differential is to great and jars are bound to crack (I lost 2 half gallon jars of pickles this way.)
Veggie Overflow When Opened: Cauliflower actually has a lot of natural sugar which the lactobacillus eat to create acid and carbon dioxide. Since these jars have closed lids, the carbon dioxide builds up pressure, just like champagne. To keep the pressure from releasing to quickly and serving you a pickle in the face, refrigerate the jars 24 hours before opening. For extra caution, open them over the sink.