The Self-preservation Society

You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!

‘Cause let’s face it, my home-made Kimchee (second from left) would do more than that. Kimchee can mean one of two things:

  1. If you are a sensitive soul with a delicate palate, it is is the devil’s own pickle. Stinky, garlicky, with enough chilli to blow, well, the bloody doors off.
  2. However, if you are of a more robust constitution, or if you are Korean, it is a deeply sensual organoleptic experience! Sure, it is really stinky. I mean, really stinky. It will drive a winter chill from your bones, cure the common cold, and possibly is a fire-hazard.

Kimchee is pickled cabbage, with garlic and spices. When we say cabbage here, we mean specifically what the Americans call napa cabbages, and we call chinese leaves. It’s the same sort of pickle as sauerkraut, and a lot of pickled cucumbers. Last summer, I finally figured out how to pickle my annual glut of gherkins. I love fresh, baby cucumbers (not sure when a large gherkin is a small cucumber, so please forgive my loose terminology), but there comes a time when you get too many even for me. For years I had tried, but ended up with something green and mushy and tasting like battery-acid.

Now, I can’t take the credit for this, because I bought a book. Note to self: buy a book. Or even just Google it. But the secret here, and this is perhaps surprising to people brought up in Britian: you don’t use vinegar! Weirdly, you use salt. What happens is that the brine stops most bacteria from growing, but crucially, not the lacto-bacteria that are present in the environment. These friendly bacteria, often on the skins of the vegetables themselves, consume the sugars and stuff in the vegetables, and excrete lactic acid, a gently sour acid. Vinegar, on the other hand, is produced by aceto-bacteria, and is a lot stronger and smellier, but fortunately, they don’t like the salt.

(For those with an interest in wines and ciders, this is similar to the process called malolactic fermentation in which similar bacteria turn malic acid from the fruit, into lactic acid, which is less tart. This usually happens in the spring following the harvest, once the alcoholic fermentation has finished, and is very important in Burgundy wines, for example.)

The interesting thing I discovered, and my only real constribution to this, is the realisation that the concentration of salt in the prickling brine is similar to that in sea-water, which would explain a lot about how it was discovered back in the depths of time when salt was scarce. Or maybe not, but I like the idea.

There are basically two techniques, depending what you are pickling. Things you slice up, e.g. cabbages, you rub with salt and that draws out lots of water, and it is sort of self-brining. You then put it in a crock, and let it bubble until it stops bubbling and smells pickled. Then it goes into a jar, and job’s a good ‘un.

Whole things, and especially cucumbers, are placed directly in a pre-made brine, popped in a jar, and lef to bubble somewhere dark and cool (but not too cool). It’s important not to seal the jar because those bubbles (which are carbon dioxide, just like in beer-making) have to go somewhere, and the last thing you want is a pickle-grenade going off at the back of the wardrobe …

In the banner photo, from left to right: gherkins (nice); kimchee (yum); bread-and-butter pickle (everyone likes that one); carrot and cauliflower (jury’s out); French beans (haven’t dared try yet!)

So why am I writing about this at this time of year? Well, because there’s nothing doing in the garden, so I am fantasising about the future crops, and trying to avoid talking about beer all the time. I thought I’d stick some pictures in, whet the appetite, and generally try to lift the winter gloom. I did try making sauerkraut a few weeks ago, but it failed, because the cabbage had too low a water content, I think, and it didn’t produce enough brine. Which is thought-provoking in the context of getting summer crops in winter from a supermarket.

I’m also starting to think about what to do with my anticipated glut of raspberries, but this is proving controversial. I mentioned a raspberry beer, and, well, civil disorder broke out in the home. (Watch this space, but don’t tell the rest of them.)

2 thoughts on “The Self-preservation Society

  1. Stephen, you may recall that I lived in Korea for 3 years and developed an affinity for kimchi. There are hundreds of types from the delicate to the robust/ rank. Spring kimchi is robust but fresh, moule (water) kimchi delicate and winter kimchi, buried in a pot in the ground for 6 weeks, an acquired taste!

    I like to make spring (beg) kimchi when allowed – though eating it gets me related to the spare room. However, despite that handicap 2018 has been declared the year of the pickle in our house with two willing apprentices.

    Sounds like a pickle off later in the year may be called for!

    Keep up the blog really enjoying it.


    1. Lovely to hear that! I shall consult my Korean colleague, and perhaps we can have a kimchee contest!


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