Why ferment cucumbers and squash, rather than just pickle them? Lacto-fermented vegetables are more nutritious and, I think, much more tasty. Pickles, to me, have always been one of those “take it or leave it” foods. But I love fermented vegetables. Up until a hundred years ago, or so, much food was preserved through fermentation. But canning and vinegar pickling are more shelf stable and more suited to the modern grocery store. But we have lost so much in the area of nutrition. In The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods, Wardeh Harmon says:
Traditional fermentation yields extremely nutritious foods. In contrast, modern pickled foods are essentially dead. No time or organisms are allowed to work on the food to yield beneficial acids, to create more nutrients, or to break down hard-to-digest food substances. When subjected to high-heat canning or pasteurization, vitamins, enzymes, and beneficial organisms are lost. White vinegar, used in modern pickling, is an overly acidic food with no nutritional benefits. By contrast, the acids produced by traditional fermentation are nutritious.
The other benefit is that fermenting is so much easier than canning. And on a hot summer day when I’ve spent the morning in the garden harvesting, I do not want to spend the afternoon in a hot kitchen. Fermented vegetables are not cooked and enzymes are not destroyed. And I do not break a sweat preserving food this way.
So, here is how I ferment summer squash: I cut the squash into sticks or rounds that will easily fit into a wide mouth canning jar leaving about 2″ at the top. I fill the jar pushing down on the vegetables as necessary. Then I make a brine by mixing 3 T sea salt with 4 cups of filtered water. Do not use chlorinated water, which will hinder the fermentation process. I thoroughly mix the brine and pour over the squash in the canning jar leaving at least an inch at the top. I sometimes add a few cloves of garlic, or chunks of onion. A few red pepper flakes are also a nice addition. To keep the squash crisp, a grape or oak leaf may be added. I then use a glass canning lid to weigh down the vegetables to be sure they are kept under the brine. A well scrubbed stone or a small bag filled with brine may also be used. I cover with my DIY airlock and put in a dark spot (ie. a kitchen cabinet) for 3 – 5 days. If you don’t have an airlock system you can cover loosely so that gases can escape. Yes, this process can cause an explosion. After 3 -5 days, I then refrigerate. The fermented vegetables will keep for months in the refrigerator.