In your hand is an ingredients list and the instructions to the recipe you want to make. You will have already double checked them both, and made sure you have the correct measuring devices and amount of ingredients. All of your jars and cookware are clean. I’m not talking about moral, Grace-Kelly-living clean. I’m talking ran-them-through-the-dishwasher sterilized. You can even boil your utensils and jars in a large stock pot. Now, what else is there to consider?
Well, pretty much just one thing.
The quality of food you create doesn’t depend solely on whether you wash your hands, or boil your jars. Even choosing top-shelf, organic spices won’t matter. Choosing the freshest vegetables will. All your vegetables should be as fresh as possible, used the day they are picked, or at least within one day if you are making fermented pickles. There are a few microorganisms that could make your pickles trash(or compost)-worthy. When you are at the store, feel around for the firmest veggies. It is normal for a cucumber to be rock hard when it is freshest. Store-bought cucumbers have often spent a few days off the vine, making them somewhat soft. Farmers markets are your friend.
Still not sure? Here is the scientific reason why fresh is best.
Cucumbers rot from the inside out
After a fruit ripens it becomes REALLY ripe. The kind of ripe where you decide it’s time to scoop it up off the counter and throw it in the compost. Here’s the uber boring science-y part; pectinase is the entire reason behind this. It is a naturally occurring enzyme found in all produce. It helps break down pectin, the stuff that holds cells together (the suffix -ase means to break), keeping vegetables plump and firm. So thank you, pectinase, for creating that mess. You’re a big help.
What most people don’t know is that there are a ton of microorganisms that take over when pectinase has done its duty. According to this article from 1985, there are lots of other enzymes inside cucumbers as well. You’ll hear that people like to cut the blossom end off of the cucumber before adding them to the jar, well that’s where these things live in the beginning. When a cucumber is allowed to sit for a few days, it begins to break down from the inside. A refrigerator won’t help. Even after just two days, in the fridge or on the counter, a cucumber can easily be over run with these microorganisms and still look, feel, and smell fresh. But these can take over and thrive in your fermented-pickle brine, and can lead to an awful odor and taste. Pickles created using boiling-hot water and vinegar won’t have this problem, because this kills microorganisms that would otherwise spoil the pickles in a few days time.
In a contest, fresh always wins. To what lengths have you gone to get the freshest ingredients? (I’ve driven 30 minutes across town!)