Do you like the taste of old-fashioned, crunchy sour and half-sour pickles? At the Chubby Muffin Community Kitchen this week, we made a batch of these wonderful pickles using fresh, local cucumbers from Pomykala Farm. Here are a few steps from the process (from a batch I made ahead at home to bring in to sample):
Washing cucumbers and soaking them in cold water for an hour to get ready for pickling.
Slicing cucumbers (round, quarters, or whole all work fine).
Once they're in jars, the cucumbers are ready for pickling - no need to can, just weigh them down in the brine with a weight (such as a smaller jar filled with water) and throw a dishcloth over it for a few days.
Some people were new to these pickles (which taste very unlike the sweet, vinegar-pickled variety) and others had memories of eating them when they were young. One person remembered them being called “sunshine pickles” in her husband’s family and that her husband’s mother would make a jar and put them on the windowsill to cure. Nowadays, the buzzword is “lacto-fermentation,” which is another way of saying that the food is cultured with healthy, beneficial bacteria called lactobacilli – think yogurt, but applied to many more foods, like pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi, miso, tempeh, and perhaps some of your favorite cheeses.
Cucumbers (and other vegetables) have these naturally occurring bacteria on them, and the trick with pickling (or brine-curing, as it’s also called) is for the salt to ward off any harmful bacteria, and mold, until these good lactobacilli can take over. Once they do, it’s good news for our digestive systems, which pretty much run on beneficial bacteria the way cars run on oil. Which is all a way of saying, hurray for cucumber season, and for pickles. Here's a pared-down recipe:
1 pound pickling cucumbers
1 Tbs. sea salt
2 cups water
If cucumbers are large, trim ends and slice them into rounds; or, quarter them lengthwise.
Dissolve sea salt in water to create a brine solution. Stir until salt is thoroughly dissolved. (It’s best to do this in a separate jar or mixing bowl).
Place fresh grape leaves at the bottom of the jar, if available. Add any additional ingredients (garlic, chilies, dill, etc.). Layer the cucumbers into the jars, arranging as necessary to get them to fit. Leave at least 1 inch free space at tbe top of the jar.
Pour brine over the cucumbers, then weigh them down with a jar filled with water.
Loosely cover the jar with a cloth and store it in a cool place, away from heat.
Check the jar every day, rinsing the weight occasionally.
Taste the pickles after 2-3 days. They should be starting to get more sour and less salty. If you like them crunchy, refrigerate them while they're still firm. Keep checking until they reach the level of sourness you like (up to 1 week in hot weather), then move to the fridge to slow down fermentation.
Pickles will keep in the fridge for several months, but will begin to lose some of their nice crunch after several weeks.