i had two things to ferment today: the long beans from my parents' backyard and the small cucumbers i got from haymarket on friday (when i also got a flat tire). the beans i was going to ferment in a glass cookie jar; the cucumbers it was either a plastic jar (#1 PET) or possibly a half gallon wide-mouth glass mason jar, neither choices were appealing for me. the plastic was risky because it wasn't marked as food grade even though it used to contain chinese pork floss (rousong). the half gallon tall mason jar was my fallback, but i wasn't even sure if all the cucumbers would fit inside, and aesthetically it didn't look good. what i wanted was a shorter wider jar, one with a metal clamp lid. i also had 4L fido jars, but they were too big for the amount of cucumbers i had.
for lunch i put a chicken bake in the oven for 40 minutes. i also used up a few distressed cucumbers that were slightly rotten on one end; i sliced off the soft bits, smashed them up with a meat hammer, then salted and sugared them.
i watched the season finale of reservation dogs. 8 episodes is just too short. i heard it got renewed for a second season, hopefully that one has more episodes.
i went out to gather my fermentation material by 1pm. first stop was home depot, to pick up some composite shims for leveling my new refrigerator. i'm currently using a combination of stacked cardboard and wooden shims, but that's just a temporary solution. wooden can crack under the weight, and the cardboard layer gives an unnecessary bounce.
next i rode to the christmas tree shop to look for a suitable jar. on their website they said they carried an assortment of fido jars ranging from 1-4L ($4-7). however when i got there, all the fido jars seemed to be sold out, and all that were left were smaller glass jars. there was a half gallon jar ($7) that looked promising, but it had a dented metal lid (i prefer plastic or glass lids). after circling the store a few more times (in the chance that maybe the jars were placed elsewhere), i left empty-handed.
i walked next door to trader joe's, to pick up some fresh dill for the half sour pickles i was making.
i decided to visit the everett michaels with the hopes that they might carry the jar i wanted. i haven't been to this particular michaels in a while. there was a time when i came every other week, picking up yarn for my mother, before michaels opened stores in porter square and fresh pond. that was also during a golden period when ac moore was still around, and there was an ac moore store in assembly square (currently occupied by trader joe's). anyway, this store looked particularly sparse, maybe not all their seasonal merchandise have arrived there. they were also pushing online pickup.
i checked out their jar selection, they had more than the christmas tree shop (TCTS), but i didn't like the prices. a 3L glass clamp jar for $13.50? when TCTS sells a 3L fido jar for $6? that was just too much. they also carried short half gallon with metal lids - the same kind at TCTS - but i didn't like the metal lid. i finally ended up just getting a tall half gallon wide-mouth mason jar, the kind that i already have at home, for $6 after a 20% off coupon. i figured i could ferment the long beans in one of these tall mason jars, and maybe make the pickles in the shorter cookie jar.
out of curiosity, i went next door to bath & body works, to see what kind of hand soaps they carried. they had a sale, 4/$20 or 6/$27. doesn't compare to their annual summer sale (did they even have one this year?), which is $2.50 for a bottle, but sale price is better than their normal price, which is $6.50 for a bottle. they had a lot of my favorite scents, good to know if i need to stock up, though i still have several bottles from the 2019 annual sale in july.
since i was already in the area, i decided to visit malden 88 to look for kikkoman tonkatsu sauce. they didn't have it, which makes me think kikkoman doesn't make it anymore, since i've been to 4 different supermarkets (ming's market, c-mart, h-mart, malden 88) and none of them carried it. the only other nearby place i've yet to visit is the super 88 in allston-brighton. i called my mother asking her if she needed anything, she told me to get half a dozen packages of three deer brand suancai ($1.49, slightly more expensive than ming's market $1.29). she also asked me to get a particular type of rice noodles, but when i didn't understand what she was asking, she told me never mind. i paid using the cafe debit card.
i left at 3pm, it took me 36 minutes to get back because of the somerville school street detour. that road was supposed to be opened this spring, but was delayed until the summer, and now the website just says later this year. instead of home, i went to the cafe to drop off the suancai my mother wanted. my 2nd aunt and godmother were also there. my father was gone, went to a teeth cleaning appointment.
by the time i finally came home, it was nearly 4pm. i immediately started on my fermentation. first up was the long beans. i'd washed them earlier and left them to dry in a large stainless steel bowl. i tried putting them in one of the tall half gallon mason jars, but it was hard to get in. i think in hindsight, if i added some brine, it would've been easier, since when i put in the beans "dry" they have a tendency to stick to the side of the glass. instead i put them in the cookie jar, which has a much larger opening. i added 7-1/2 cups of brine, along with some sichuan peppercorn, a few rock sugar, some frozen chili peppers, a few bay leaves, and a dash of chinese baijiu - all the ingredients i'd normally put (minus bay leaves) for sichuan paocai. they're really just extras, the essential ingredient is just salt water, and the beans will naturally ferment on their own.
speaking of brine, i made it this morning, 9 cups of boiling water along with 3 ounces of salt. you wouldn't think it, but 3 ounces is a lot, like a small bowl full of salt. i used cheap morton salt (because i have a lot of it and needed to use it up). i use the kind that isn't fortified with iodine. i don't know if it matters, but i guess the less unnecessary chemicals added to the fermentation, the pure the ferment and less chance of errors. originally i made the portions just for the beans, but then i realized the pickles need brine as well, so i added 3 cups of cold tap water directly into the stock pot full of hot salt water, and added another ounce of salt. i left it on the stove to cool.
next came the half sour pickles. i've never made pickles before, even though i love them and buy them from the supermarket every month or so. pickles are normally "pickled," which is something i don't do, because i feel like natural fermentation (versus using vinegar) makes for better tasting foods. i also think using vinegar is cheating. so i always thought pickles were pickled, until the day i discovered nathan's half sour pickles. from that day on, those were the only kind of pickles i'd eat. crispy and so much more flavors than pickled pickles, i also loved that when i opened a jar, i could actually see the pickles fizzling, which is a good sign of fermentation.
i looked for online half sour pickles recipes. no two were the same (example 1, example 2), they differed in what kind of additional spices they added to the brine. a lot of them called for kirby cucumbers, which i've never heard of before. they're apparently smaller, and have bumps. a lot also said to put the pickles in the fridge. i've always thought that cold temperature stops fermentation, and refrigerator was just for storage.
i discovered all my baby cucumbers (about a dozen) fit my half gallon mason jar perfectly. so i didn't need to get a jar after all, but it's still nice to have a spare for future fermentation projects (besides, it was a nice day for a motorcycle ride, even though half the time i was stuck in traffic). next i added the spices: tsp mustard seeds, tsp dill seeds, tsp peppercorns, tsp coriander seeds (homegrown), tsp fennel seeds. i also added a few sprigs of fresh dill, chopping off the stems. i filled the jar with 5-1/2 cups of brine, which i ended up supplementing with an additional 3 cups of tap water with 1 ounce of salt (the brine ratio). later i realized i forgot to add my garlics, so i crushed and chopped a few cloves and added it to the jar, tightening the lid and giving it a good upside down shake.
now all that i have left to do is wait for the fermentation process to take place. i ended up deciding to leave the half sour pickle jar outside, since it wouldn't ferment in the fridge. i am slightly worried about the pickles because i layered them all in the jar vertically, so they have a tendency to float and a few tips stick out of the brine. i just need to shake the jar every day to make sure salt water continues to cover all the cucumbers.
i didn't eat very much today but i also wasn't that hungry. for dinner, i added some sauces to my smashed cucumber and ate that with a bowl of instant tonkotsu ramen (added some chopped cilantro and scallion to class it up).