In a Pickle
Recently I was called to do a zoom workshop on refrigerator vinegar pickles. I was full of angst over this idea because, although I have made vinegar pickles since I was probably 18, I saw this as just sharing a recipe or two. After consulting with friends, it became clear that there are many people who have never cooked before or never expressed an interest in cooking before now. Witness the explosion of interest in sourdough bread baking. So many people in isolation are appreciating and learning basic cooking skills. Making pickles is no exception.
My husband is not a pickle (or fermented foods) person whatsoever. As the only pickle eater in the house, when I make a pint or quart of pickles, they last quite a while. I am proud to say that I have a quart of refrigerator bread and butter pickles and a pint of fermented dill pickles, both from last summer. Both still excellent! Pickles really last!
This whole pickle discussion led me to want to share the fermented pickle recipe I use so you can get a jump on them when they start appearing at farmer’s markets in June or July.
Firstly, be sure to choose fresh, pickling cucumbers. Slicers are not optimum, but will do in a pinch. You don’t want a cucumber with too many seeds. And a soft skin is preferable. I have successfully used pickling cucumbers and Persian cucumbers. DO NOT use the supermarket cucumbers with wax on the skin. You know, the dark green, 8” or so straight cucumbers with the shiny dark skin – and a thin coating of wax. That wax will impede your fermentation by not allowing the osmosis of the salt.
I find it simplest to cut both ends off of the cucumbers. The blossom end must be removed because there are enzymes that will make your pickles soft. And since many people are not sure which end is the blossom end, why take chances? Cut both ends off. And nobody wants a mushy, soft pickle. If your pickles are mushy, chop them up and use them as a relish.
Cucumbers have a naturally higher water content than cabbage. For a cabbage kraut you will generally use 2% salt to the weight of cabbage. If you have fermented before you will recall that salt draws the water out of the vegetable. If you have a very watery vegetable like a cucumber, even though you are making a brine with water, more water will be drawn out of the cucumber which will dilute the saltiness of the brine. If you don’t use enough salt you risk the safety and/or flavor of your pickles. Cucumber pickles require a 3.5% to a 5% salt to water ratio. That may seem like a wide range, and it will vary depending on your cucumbers and the flavor you like. All cooking, including fermentation, is part science and part art. Trust your gut and practice to get the flavor profile you like.
You will notice in the recipe below that grape leaves are listed as an ingredient. Grape leaves have tannins which also help to keep your pickles from becoming too mushy. If you don’t have grape leaves available to you, I have successfully substituted a few bay leaves or a tea bag. You may be surprised that there really was not a tea flavor in the pickles, but if you’re concerned, green tea will not be as pungent as a black tea. In many recipes there are ingredients that can be ignored. Don’t ignore including a tannin rich element fermenting pickles.
Enjoy your pickles and I hope to see you at a farmer's market and/or workshop soon.
Fermented Dill Pickles
Ingredients for 1 quart of pickles
⦁ Approximately 3 cups of a 3.5-4% salt brine ⦁ 1 teaspoon mustard seed ⦁ 1 teaspoon peppercorns ⦁ 1 teaspoon coriander ⦁ 1 or 2 cloves garlic ⦁ 1 quart fresh pickling cucumbers ⦁ 1 -2 heads of fresh green dill seed or 1½ tsp dill seed ⦁ a few grape leaves. May substitute tea, bay, oak, or raspberry leaves.
1. Make your brine. It is preferred that you use weight of ingredients to create your brine if possible. However, if you don’t have a kitchen scale (and you really should get one!) 3 cups of unchlorinated water will weigh approximately 750 grams. You will want to add approximately 2 TBS of salt. 2. Place the grape leaves or other tannin rich leaf such as a tea bag, bay leaves or raspberry leaves on the bottom of the jar.
3. Put the spices and garlic in the bottom of a sterilized quart jar. If possible, use a tea bag to place the spices in so they don't float. if that is not possible, watch your pickles daily and swirl them to discourage any mold that may be attracted to floaters. 4. Pack cucumbers in jar as whole or spears or slices. Whatever you prefer. 5. Leave about an inch and a half of headroom. 6. Fill the jar with brine, leaving 1" headroom at the top. 7. Be sure all solids are covered by brine AT ALL TIMES for the fermentation process. You may need to place a weight of some sort to keep the cucumbers from floating. 8. Cap loosely or with an airlock. Place in a bowl or dish as the fermentation process may cause some leakage. Ferment at room temperature away from direct sunlight 9. After about 4 or 5 days the water will look cloudy. You may check the pickles at this point. If you want them to be more sour, re-cap for another day or two. 10. Store in the refrigerator. Flavors will develop further over time in the fridge.