"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Fermentation Files: Pickles, Take Two

Harvest season is in full swing, and I got my kitchen put back together just in time. For the first time in over twenty years, I didn't put in a garden this year, because I was in Mexico. My daughter Rowan put in a pretty good one (more on that later) but of course, that is her garden, not mine. Therefore all my preserving this year is of produce that I bought at the farmer's market or that we picked at the U-picks or bought from a farm stand.

Considering that I've only been home for about three weeks, I've done pretty well so far. There are eight quarts of applesauce in the canning cupboard, some with blackberries and some without. There are six pints of bread and butter pickles, which I make every year for my mom. I'm not a fan of sweet pickles, myself.

I am a fan of dill pickles. Real, crock fermented dill pickles. It's getting harder and harder to find pickling cucumbers around anymore, but I lucked out and found a farm stand with some on display. I hassled the farmer to go out in the field and check for any more, saying I'd buy as many as he had. Turns out, that was a lot. I went home with nine pounds of prickly pickling cukes.

Some of those went into the aforementioned six pints of bread and butter pickles. But most of them went into a two gallon glass crock, along with salt, water, grape leaves, garlic, and dill. In this August heat, they ought to ferment quite quickly sitting out on the counter. In a week or so, I'll test them, and if they are sour enough, I'll pack them into half-gallon jars and refrigerate them. That won't completely stop the fermentation, but it slows it down enough that the pickles will remain more or less the same for as long as it takes us to eat them.

I've made kosher dills before, with fair success. One batch ended up with a funny, half-unpleasant fizziness, but the other two batches were good. My gold standard, of course, is the remembered taste of the kosher dills I begged my mother for in the Jewish delis she took us to whenever we visited my grandparents in New York. I'm not sure I've achieved it yet, but there's always next year.

Kosher Dills

Make a brine, using 2 to 3 tablespoons pickling salt to a quart of pure water. I read that in hotter weather, you use more salt, and in cooler weather, less. However, to be honest I've read all ratios of salt/water ranging from 1 tablespoon/quart all the way up to 5. My best pickles came from using 2 to 3.

Line a clean glass or ceramic container with fresh grape leaves, outer surface facing out. Grape leaves provide tannin, which keeps the pickles crisp. Without grape leaves (or another source of tannin - I've heard you can use oak leaves) your pickles will be soft and slimy.

Add peeled raw garlic (I don't know how big your crock is, or how garlicky you like your pickles, so I can't tell you how much garlic to add. I used a whole head), red pepper flakes, and whatever other pickling spices you like - bay, mustard seed, coriander, clove, allspice, etc. Put in clean, fresh cucumbers. Tuck in fresh crowns of dill wherever they fit.

Pour over the brine. Top with more grape leaves, outer surface out, so that no cucumbers are showing. Put some sort of weight on top so that everything is submerged. Cover, and let stand in a warm spot for a week. Test for doneness. I like mine fully sour, at about ten days to two weeks.

The Fermentation Files (Wild Pickles)


Andy Brown said...


I'm a failure at growing pickles, but maybe I'll buy some if there's a glut later. What I have are beets - and I love pickled beets. Last year I just let them lacto-ferment and they came out earthy and delicious (my favorite was the jar where I mixed in a turnip - but I think I'm going to try something more traditional with some vinegar and spices.

good luck with your dills

Eva Day Wulff said...

I tried to make pickles a few years ago, but they turned out soft and were a huge disappointment. I've never heard of using grape leaves. Cool!