I could not resist this lacto-fermenting project, since it contains the words “fermented,” “beets,” and “ginger.”*
As the article accompanying the recipe notes, fermentation is the original way to make pickles. It creates that sour taste that industrial pickle-packers have attempted to mimic with vinegar-based brines. In the process, they’ve lost the depth of flavor (so I’ve heard) and the nutritional benefits. So why did processors abandon fermentation? Apparently it doesn’t offer the uniformity necessary for a large-scale operation.
When I first heard “lacto-fermentation,” I found it off-putting; I imagined milk and fermented vegetables. But that’s not quite right: The “lacto” comes from “lactobacillus,” a ubiquitous and “good” bacteria. According to Nourishing Traditions, the proliferation of lactobacilli enhances vegetable digestibility. It also converts starch and sugar into lactic acid, which keeps vegetables and fruits “in a state of perfect preservation” and “promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”
You might know that salt is a common ingredient in vegetable fermentation. In Nourishing Traditions, author Sally Fallon explains that salt inhibits putrefying bacteria while the naturally occurring lactobacilli produces enough lactic acid to preserve the vegetables. But you can reduce or eliminate the salt if you inoculate your pickling solution with whey. I happened to have some frozen whey, left over from making cheese from my friend Matt’s goat milk, and was happy to find a use for it. (That last sentence makes me sound more industrious than I am. Making soft cheese is really easy.) But if you don’t have whey or are vegan, don’t be discouraged. You can certainly ferment without it.
Beautiful beets from Guilford Gardens
left Packed jar right Evidence of fermentation after Day 1
So, perhaps you’re saying, Well, that’s lovely, Tricia. But how does it taste? Like a mellow version of my grandma’s pickled beets, which she makes with vinegar and sugar. That is to say: good. However, I didn’t cook the beets long enough, so they were firmer than I would have liked.
*Random side note about punctuation: For the past three years I’ve had turmoil about the serial comma. Perhaps you’ve noticed its sporadic appearance? Sometimes it slipped through, despite my attempts to stick to AP Style, which generally goes with a “less is more” approach to punctuation. As copy editor at the Oklahoma Gazette, I was obligated to omit serial commas, and I attempted to do the same with this blog as a matter of consistency. I was not properly assimilated into the AP fold, and the absent comma constantly vexed me. I have a somewhat sick affinity for it, and with a recent job change, I can embrace the comma, and hopefully leave behind my acute awareness of the issue. Whew.