It’s middle of the summer and some people will be over run with cucumbers – I am a little late planting things out as we were only able to start sowing in June – I purchased one cucumber seedling (and sowed some seeds) so I don’t have a glut just yet.
The title may be controversial but after reading you will find, as contentious as the title is, it is way easier to make real pickles than pickling and canning.
You can pickle cabbage (sauerkraut 2% brine) and carrots; and besides cucumbers (pickling or gherkin) you can also pickle beets and radishes; pretty much any hard unsweet vegetables/fruits (tomatoes just ferment into a cider type thing).
You can buy special containers with airlocks to let out the fermentation gases (CO2) and prevent the air from entering or you can just use any container that can be easily opened once or twice a day (burp it) to let the gases escape.
Real pickles are lacto-fermented and may also be called kosher pickles (not that they are in adherence to the laws but they were/are made in abundance by the Jewish community of New York City)
The basis of the recipe is putting vegetables in a brine solution and leaving at room temperature for around three to five days. The strength of brine is dependant on how sour you want the pickles to be. Five percent for full sour and 3.5% for half sour are the most common ratios.
The real interest comes with the ingredients you add to the mix; dill is a very common but also peppercorn and mustard seeds.
Below is a recipe that I used quite a few times last summer to deal with the cucumber glut I had. The only downfall is you must use a crisp pickling cucumber as opposed to a salad/slicing type. If you use the latter you will be disappointed with really squishy soft pickles. In that case, you can still use them but turn them into relish instead of spears. The end of season is good as you might cut down the vine and fine very small cucumbers that might only make half a sandwich each. These are perfect for tiny pickles to serve with cheese platters.
Last year, I used ‘Miniature White’ cucumbers and also a pickling type I got from Heritage Seed List called ‘Izastosnoi’. If you are growing burpless; eating or slicing/salad type- use only 2-3 inch long fruits. There is no minimum number of cucumbers that you need so you can test just a couple if you want.
Make up a brine solution of 5% if you want full sour or 3.5% if you want half sour (still a little raw cucumber taste) we always go for full sour but then Mr Urbanfarmer is American.
An easy way to measure this is for every 250ml of water add 8 grams of salt for 3.5% and 12 grams of salt for 5% solution (or multiply the weight of your water by 0.35 or .5 to get the weight of salt you need).
It is better to weigh the salt out as different grains take up different volume. The only thing you need to remember is salt with iodine prevent fermentation. Any non-iodine salt (sea or kosher salt etc) will do however, the coarse grain will be harder to dissolve. If you find that a problem just blitz it dry in a blender first to make the crystals smaller.
You can cut the cucumbers in to spears or circles or you can leave them whole; the only thing you have to cut off is the blossom end as that has enzymes that rot/soften the cucumber – making for a bad pickle. If you can’t tell or don’t remember which is the blossom end – cut a tiny slice off both ends. Adding some bay leaves (or grape if you can get them) will keep the pickles extra crisp. Any leaves that are high in tannin will help to keep the pickles crisp – fresh oak, horseradish or adding dried tea.
Lay your cucumbers as you like in to the container – usually people stack them upways in the jar but it depends on your jar and cucumber shapes.
Next add flavourings: This can be any of the following (and more):
chilli flakes or fresh chilli slices
Pour in as much brine as to make the cucumbers float; and then add a small weight to make sure the cucumbers stay underneath the solution. I use piece of parchment paper the width of the jar and place a ramekin on top; but if your opening does not allow this, you can use a bag filled with brine or anything heavy such as baking weights.
– bay leaves (or other high tannin leaves)
-a container to fit cucumbers tightly
-3.5% or 5% brine (8g or 12g salt per 250ml water)
- black/white peppercorns
- mustard seeds
- coriander seeds
- fennel/dill seeds
- garlic cloves
- fennel/dill leaves
- chilli flakes or fresh chilli
Place cucumbers in container and add flavouring.
Pour in brine until cucumbers are submerged making sure to add a weight on top so the cucumbers stay submerged permanently.
Leave somewhere not too hot if possible (between 18–22° C (65-72° F) – cooler weather will result in longer fermentation time. Hotter temperatures mean that the bacteria may be killed off and then you will end up with smushy off cucumbers.
If you live in a place where summers are consistently hot or you are about to come up to a heatwave (like us this week) – wrap a wet towel around the jar and keep it wet. The water will evaporate keeping the jar cool. You could also place it in a cooler with an ice pack or ice water surrounding the jar.
Do not put in in the fridge as this will be too cold – if you have a wine or brewing fridge that can be set to a cool temperature that can help.
How do you know its working:
Within twenty four hours you will see that the brine has become bubbly and will look fizzy – if it doesn’t; open the jar and reseal and you may see all the bubbles appear. After three days, start checking the sour level. Eat a small piece and see if it is to your liking; if it is then place the jar in the fridge and eat the rest at your leisure (if you take too long to eat them make sure you at least burp the jar once a week as it will continue to ferment slowly and build up gases).
If it is not sour enough or still tastes like raw cucumber then wait a day or so and try again placing in the fridge when tasty. Enjoy.
Have you ever tried fermenting cucumbers – any flavours that you prefer rather than the common dill pickles?