SFoodie: First off, what makes a good pickle?
Timberlake: First you have to ask, what makes a pickle? There are so many different kinds, from classic fermented pickles, which get their sourness from lacto-fermentation, to vinegar-brined quick pickles; there's even a tradition (mainly in India) of oil-pickled fruits, and in Japan, pickles (called tsukemono) are made with a variety of techniques, including burying vegetables in fermented rice bran (nukazuke). I suspect we'll mostly see lacto-fermented and vinegar-brined pickles, but it would be exciting to see some out-of-the-box thinking.How did you get involved with Eat Real?
They actually reached out to me, via Twitter. Originally we were talking about me doing one of the demos, but due to some technical difficulties the schedule filled up before we could iron out the details. Still, I'm thrilled to be selected to judge the pickles.
The contest submissions will be broken out into four categories: Cucumber pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and freestyle. For freestyle, the contest submissions say contestants can pick their own veggies, but I'd really love to see some pickled fruit. Sauerkraut and kimchi are both typically lacto-fermented, but cucumber pickles could be fermented, like classic dills, or vinegar-brined, like sweet bread-and-butter pickles. As such, it will be easier to make apples-to-apples comparisons on the sauerkraut and kimchi, but the cucumber pickles, and of course the freestyle, will come down to a matter of taste. Still, we'll be looking for pickles that are balanced ― not too salty or with any one flavor over-assertive, and for the fermented pickles, making sure they haven't over-fermented. They can tend to take on an unpleasant funk after a while.
How many entries are you expecting to judge?
I really have no idea. They're accepting submissions through Friday [tomorrow, Aug. 27] at 1 p.m., so the sky's the limit. Our stomachs are either going to be very good or very, very bad at the end of this.
Pickling is clearly a popular topic right now. On my site, Punk Domestics, we've had tons of submissions of really diverse and interesting pickles, from lacto-fermented cortido to sweet and spicy okra and much more. It's also an excellent toe in the water for people first interested in learning more about food preservation. It's easy, tends to be inexpensive, lends itself well to canning due to high acid content, and yields great results. It can turn into an instant obsession.