The only time I've been a member of Amazon Prime, Amazon's preferred-customer program offering free shipping, streaming video, streaming music and other benefits, was a few years ago when I reviewed the ill-fated Amazon Fire smartphone. Even though I only had the phone for a week or two, before sending it back to the carrier that had provided the review model, the fact that I'd logged into the phone using my Amazon account triggered a free Prime subscription as if I'd purchased the phone.
I enjoyed Prime while I had it, and I've thought about getting back on, especially now that there's a monthly option alongside the annual-fee option.
A couple of days ago, knowing that Amazon's big "Prime Day" sale was coming up, I signed up for a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime so that I'd be a Prime member and would be eligible to take advantage of Prime Day sales. As it turned out, there were some very good deals, but I was able to resist making any major purchases. The only thing I bought on an actual Prime Day sale was a mortar and pestle, for $9.
I did, however, buy something else on Amazon that day, unrelated to Prime Day. One of my Times-Gazette co-workers brought a bounty of cucumbers and left them in the break room to share. I can't stand raw cucumbers, but I love pickles. I've tried making infused pickles a few times in the past, but one thing on my to-do list was making fermented pickles.
Don't know the difference? Fermented pickles were the original pickled vegetables. If you store certain vegetables in salt water, the salt water will guard against the bacteria which cause the vegetable to rot, but there are some other microorganisms, ones which don't mind salt water, which will break down the vegetable in other ways. These good microorganisms produce lactic acid as a byproduct, which gives the food a pleasantly-tangy flavor. Originally, foods like pickles and sauerkraut were made through this old-fashioned fermentation process.
At some point, it was discovered that you could achieve similar tangy results — not identical, but similar — by simply soaking the vegetables in a vinegar-based brine, and that recipe produces the infused pickles we all know and love. Most store-bought pickles are made this way, and most homemade pickles as well.
There's nothing wrong with infused pickles made with vinegar, and I've eaten more than my share over the years. But there's something special, and slightly different, about the flavor of traditional, fermented pickles. If you've ever had a really good pickle at a delicatessen, it was probably fermented. Some health food types say that fermented vegetables have benefits due to the live probiotic cultures that cause them to ferment. I have no knowledge or expertise on that front.
The traditional way to make fermented pickles is in a crock, with a heavy, but not airtight, lid. The fermentation process creates carbon dioxide as a byproduct, and there has to be a way for it to escape or else you have Mason jars bursting from the pressure.
But there are still risks, such as mold. Also, the bad bacteria thrive in the presence of oxygen, so if the pickles aren't properly submerged in the brine, they can spoil. Depending on the design of the crock, a weight may be used to keep the pickles below the water line.
Lately, I'd been seeing ads in my Facebook feed for special fermentation lids which screw onto standard wide-mouth Mason jars. They have one-way valves which allow excess gas to escape but do not allow outside air (or mold spores) in. I don't believe such lids are completely new, although the ones I saw on Facebook seem to be a new, low-profile design for them. I just wasn't aware of them until recently. You can even use a pump to remove excess air from the jar, further reducing the risks related to oxygen exposure.
Well, when the cucumbers were left in the break room, I picked through them looking for smaller, pickle-size fruit. I went to Amazon to see if they had any lids similar to the ones I'd seen advertised on Facebook. They did. I could buy three lids without any jars, but it was cheaper, and more in line with what I needed, to buy a competing product which included just one lid and came with its own jar.
So I'm going to try to make fermented dill pickles for the first time. The new lid and jar should be arriving tomorrow. Hopefully, I can produce some tasty pickles without poisoning myself.