Monday, November 8, 2021

Nukadoko Progress Report: The Pickle Pot Goes on Vacation

Hot weather pickling in the nukadoko!
The ginger in the back is for freshening the pot. 
The onion is for aesthetic purposes only, btw.

In August, I decided to head home for a visit. Like many, the pandemic kept me rooted in place, and like many, I could only attend funerals, greet new babies, or fret over family members from very far away. Once I hit full immunity after my second vaccination, I donned my N95 mask and boarded a plane for home to belatedly tend to some of that in person.

However, there was the Pickle Pot to consider. What to do with my little friend? Summer's heat was still well and truly with us in late August, and my partner is no pickler. He's a pickle eater but not a pickler. I considered tucking it in the refrigerator, but our refrigerator freezes things on a whim. This was not a fate I wished for my nukadoko paste. I needed to arrange orusuban, the term Elizabeth Andoh introduces in Kansha, a.k.a. a pickle pot babysitter.

I messaged a friend who lives up the hill from me. I recalled her speaking fondly of a pickle pot she had once upon a time. Her response was immediate. "I'd love to! When can I pick it up?"

So it was that on Sunday before I left, she picked up the pot along with some morning glory seedlings I knew would enjoy her garden fence. I waved as she and the pickle pot drove off for their time together, relieved to have one less worry for my trip. 

The beloved pickle pot.

One month later and a Mystery Unfolds

"Thank you, Joan," she said when she handed back the pot at the end of my two-week quarantine. "The pickles were so good. We really enjoyed it."

The thanks was mine, I told her as I gave her some treats from home to enjoy in exchange. When I lifted the lid to say hello to my pickle pot pal, I noticed that the scent was softer than I remembered, less pungent and sour than usual, and the taste of the pickles followed suit. The consistency wet without being sopping, was the same. 

When I asked if she had done anything special while the pickle pot was in her care, she replied she had not done anything in particular. She had not added more nuka powder, had not thrown in more garlic or ginger (the latter is one of the items Elizabeth recommends for refreshing a pot in the warm season). "Oh, but I did add some salt," she said. "I thought it needed more, so I added a tablespoon and mixed it in."

A Salty Tale

Salt?!? In Kansha, Elizabeth does not mention salt except in the very early stages of creating the pot and as part of vegetable preparation. I assumed, based on my bread-making experience, that the salt was rinsed off the vegetables before immersing them in the pot because it might stop or slow the fermenting process. In bread making, salt is added when transitioning from the sponge to the dough for exactly that reason. What is it up to in the pickle pot?!?

"You make pickles every day, right?" my friend asked. I nodded, not caring to discuss the furuzuke episode. "Well, the vegetables lose water during that process, and so your nukadoko lost its saltiness. The amount to add depends on the size of your pot and your taste preferences."

A little research tells me that maintain the salt balance is pivotal to a healthy pot, not just for flavor. Salt can indeed inhibit the lactic acid bacteria if there is too much, so it is important to regularly monitor the flavor of the pot. (Nukazuke have a distinct flavor, but each home has its own distinct flavor courtesy of the bacteria that live in the house and that are imparted by the makers hands.) So, too much salt, and the pickling process slows, and the taste will be off. Too little, and the pickles will be too sour. 

Elizabeth Andoh's advice to her students in Kansha, " taste pickles at all stages to familiarize themselves with the ways in which the pickles change..." runs through my mind here. Taste isn't the only way to monitor the pot, but it is a key (and darn tasty) way to understand what is happening there.

And a Convert

Speaking of tasting nukazuke, a few days after our chats, my friend messaged to tell me about a new addition to her kitchen: a nukadoko. "You inspired me to start one again!" 

Yes, yes. Another joins the Fermenting Fold...

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