I hope you had a happy 4th of July! This time of year always makes me think of picnics and barbeques, which of course makes me think of pickles! If you’re a pickle person, you should try making your own – you can customize the flavor to your liking, save money, and enjoy the mysterious and magical pickling process.
These are also healthier than many commercial varieties, which contain all sorts of strange sweeteners and preservatives. I have always been pretty intimidated by the idea of home canning and sterilizing jars, worrying about botulism etc, but this recipe is very straightforward. These are not like your store-bought vinegar pickles, but rather are brined in salt and left out to lacto-ferment naturally over the course of three days. This process happens because fruits/vegetables have natural beneficial bacteria (including lactobacilli, hence the term lacto-fermentation) living on them. These critters convert sugars to lactic acid, which gives the pickles their wonderful sour flavor. I always enjoy the anticipation, and the gradual development of their delectable dilly pickle smell. This recipe is adapted from the fabulous Fake-It Frugal blog.
- 6-8 pickling/kirby cucumbers, washed and stems removed (you can leave them whole or slice in half lengthwise)
- 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced lengthwise
- 1/8 cup of sea salt
- 1 Tbsp whole peppercorns
- 1 Tbsp pickling spice (or make your own using this recipe)
- 3 cups warm water
- 4 ice cubes
- A handful of fresh dill sprigs
In a large bowl or measuring cup, mix the warm water and salt vigorously until the salt is fully dissolved. In a large, clean pickling jar (I recommend a 32-oz wide-mouth jar, but you can also use several smaller wide-mouth glass jars), add the remaining spices, garlic and dill. Pack in the cucumbers as tightly as you can so they are well anchored (ideally you don’t want the cucumbers floating upward at all). Then pour the warm salt water over the cukes until they are completely covered and half at least about 1/2 inch of water over the top. Add the ice cubes. Remove any material that floats to the surface. Cover your jar with a piece of cloth or a folded paper towel secured with a rubber band.
Leave out at room temp (eg on your kitchen counter) for three days. Important: check on your pickles at least once a day, and spoon off any of the white foam that develops at the surface (as in the photo below), or any bits of spice that rise to the surface (anything that sits on the surface is at risk of growing mold, yuck!).
Notes: You can adjust the timing to your taste, depending on how pickled you want your pickles. Two days will result in a crispier, less sour and more salty pickle, while four days will give you a more fully-developed pickle. Put the lid on the jar and refrigerate them to store as soon as they are done. They do tend to get more crisp after being in the fridge for a day or so. Finally, if you have a problem with the pickles turning out too soft, you can purchase some calcium chloride granules to add to the mix here (supposedly adding grape leaves or tea leaves or other tannin-rich materials may also help maintain crispness).