Packing a healthy lunch is one thing—whether your child eats that lunch is another thing entirely. I grew up in the seventies when whole grain breads, granola and hummus were not common foods—yet. My mother read Mother Earth News and enthusiastically embarked on baking her own bread, making her own hummus, and culturing her own yogurt. We were in rural Arizona where Twinkies, Hostess pies, bologna sandwiches, or frozen burritos were the standard lunches. You can see where this is going. I did not bring those name brand items in my lunch sack. (Oh yes, the sack—we also recycled, and my lunches were packed in random repurposed bread bags from when she wasn’t baking, instead of neat, crisp brown paper lunch sacks. She was ahead of her time.)
In our middle school we were in a classroom with wraparound desks. You know the ones, they are still in use—molded plastic chair with a tabletop that encloses your body usually from the right side. The entire thing is held together by chrome with a chrome basket below the seat in which to store your books and, in our case, our lunches. From this position under my seat my sandwiches betrayed me to the class. Usually by mid-morning my mother’s liberal use of raw garlic was wafting around me like the little cloud of dust that follows Pigpen in Charles Schultz’s cartoons. Pre-teen children are not afraid to point this out with dramatic nose-holding squeals of disgust. When lunch finally came I pulled out sandwiches that looked as if they could be used in a geography lesson on plate tectonics as the hummus oozed through the fault lines of crumbling bread.
So as a parent I am particularly sensitive to coming up with a healthy whole food unprocessed lunch choice that does not feel to my children like social suicide. Luckily kids love pickled foods and with a little creativity your presentation will make them the lunchroom hit. The best part is that with one afternoon of vegetable preparation you can have weeks of fermented snacks without compromising freshness or flavor.
I recommend making these “fermentables” lunch pickles with your children. What a great way to involve them in the process and connect them with their lunch. (For extra credit you and your child can buy the veggies from the farmers’ market and talk about local food systems and preserving a bit of the local harvest…)
Pickled carrot sticks can be a child’s gateway into fermented food. They’re crunchy, tasty and convenient, but it doesn’t stop there—for example celery sticks, green beans, and jicama also make fermented finger food pickles that are ready to eat straight or dip into nut butter for a little protein.
This recipe is a general guide to pickling veggies. You and your child decide which veggies—one at a time, a medley, flavored with herbs, or very plain. Cutting the vegetables into sticks is the easiest, but you can have fun with this. The veggies will pickle in any form—medallions, crinkle cut, heart shaped, whatever you have the patience for.
Ferment the vegetables in a quart jar, or larger vessel. Once fermented divide them into quarter-pint jars and store them in the refrigerator for easy packing in the morning.
Yield: a quart jar — to be divided
• 1 ½ - 2 pounds fresh veggies such as: carrots, green beans, jicama, turnips, celery, edible pod peas (in season), cauliflower, or radishes (for the spicy kid)
• 1 tbsp pickling spice
• 2 cloves garlic
Optional: instead of the pickling spice and garlic you can simply put in a sprig of rosemary, basil, mint, fresh dill seed heads, or other herbs clipped from your garden. Again the idea is working with your child’s favorite flavors.
For the brine:
• 1/8 cup unrefined salt
• 1 quart unchlorinated water (the chlorine can inhibit fermentation)
1. Cut the vegetables into short spears, sticks, or medallions. Keep in mind the size of the jar you will send them to school in.
2. Place the spices, garlic or herbs in the bottom of the jar. Arrange the veggies in the jar packing them tightly in a way that leaves little space between them. When you get to the top of the jar tuck them under the shoulder in such a way that will keep them wedged under the shoulder of the jar therefor the brine. If you are doing certain shapes, that won’t be possible—use a fermenting weight or grape leaf to hold everything down. You don’t want floating veggies.
3. Mix the salt and water until dissolved. Pour over the top until the veggies are completely submerged. Remember that under the brine everything is fine!
4. Set any extra brine aside in the refrigerator in case you need it.
5. Put a lid on your jar (or a water lock lid if you have one) and go ahead and screw it down.
6. You will be releasing the CO2 daily by burping it when the lid starts to bulge. You will open the lid slightly and hear a slight hiss as the gas escapes. (Kids love this part.) If some brine bubbles out do not worry, just replace with some of the reserved brine when it settles down and make sure the veggies are all still submerged.
7. Keep your jar on a plate on the counter for about 7 days. At this point your brine should be cloudy and the ferment should smell nicely sour. Taste your pickles. They will likely be lightly fermented which might be the perfect place for your child; if he or she would like them more sour, tuck everything back in and let it ferment for another week or two. Manage it as described above.
When your pickles are delicious, divide them into small mason jars or other non-reactive air-tight containers. Place these in a corner of your refrigerator to be pulled out for lunches.
Kirsten K. Shockey is a post-modern homesteader who lives in the mountains of Southern Oregon. She writes about sauerkraut and life—but not necessarily in that order. She’s written a complete book of Fermented Vegetables and maintains the website Fermentista’s Kitchen.
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