by Lucas Baumbach
Face it; many of the best things in life are fermented. Little, microscopic bacteria make wonderful things like cheese, wine, pickles, vinegar. In our home we have enjoyed making our own kefir (dairy and water varieties) and we have made kombucha.
This post is specifically dedicated to our favourite recipe for pickling cucumbers. Cucumbers are in the Curcurbitae family, the gourd family, and are related to squash and pumpkins. The way to pick a pickle is by knowing your varieties. We use the Boston Pickler variety. Pickling cucumbers are often thin-skinned, have small seeds and have a more bitter taste when eaten raw. This bitterness subsides during pickling. Slicing cucumbers on the other hand are often darker skinned and less bumpy (not always). Specifically slicers are known for their lack of bitterness. In the following picture you see the process of cleaning the cucumbers, the first step of pickling. Using a clean rag, burnish the surface to remove the bumps, especially focusing on removing any remnant of the blossom end. The blossoms tend to cause the pickles to go soft during fermentation and should be completely removed.
You may notice that this picture features both the yellow-skinned pickling cucumbers and the dark-skinned slicers. They both work just fine for pickling. I pick them no longer than 4 or 5 inches. The smaller the better most people think, and smallness is good when it comes time to stuff the cucumbers into a jar.
This picture does not show the overnight soaking in ice-cold water. Soak immediately after picking and cleaning, to retain crispness. If it is possible, put the pickles in the jar immediately after picking. It is not necessary to have a completely sterile environment or to blanch the cucumbers.
Blanching may be detrimental to the crispness of the pickle.
Lactofermentation is the process by which good bacteria begin to convert the sugars in the pickles to vinegar. No vinegar is required in this recipe. The vinegar is naturally made. Once the acidity in the broth is high no bad bacteria can survive, it is the acidity that makes this unpasteurized product safe. One can eat a live-cultured pickle, because the pickle is in a brine that develops enough vinegar to kill any unhealthy bacteria. Although acidity is important, another key ingredient to keeping the right balance of bacteria is a grape leaf, cherry leaf or any high-tannin leaf. Tannins limit the growth of certain bacteria that can cause the cucumbers to lose crispness. We add one cherry leaf to the bottom and place one on top before placing the lid.
Notice that the pickles are stuffed well below the high mark of the liquid brine. This is important, because anything above the brine will spoil. Without the protection of the acidic vinegar, the pickles turn to mush. A cloudy brine is a good sign. If a funny mold grows on top of the jar, wait a few days and the acid will take care of it.
Now that you understand the theory behind lactofermentation, lets get down to ingredients. We use two cherry (or grape) leaves, two red peppers (cayenne), two cloves of garlic and a stalk or two of fresh dill weed. Two tablespoons of salt per half-gallon or one tablespoon of salt per quart.
Pack the jars with ingredients, usually inserting the dill, peppers and garlic in the center. Then before adding water put the pickling salt directly into the jar. Then pour boiling water over the salt and into the jar until the liquid completely covers the contents but not to overfull.
Use a clean lid to cover the fermenting jar, but do not screw the lid on overly tight. Place the jars in a dark place and burp the jars daily. Temperature plays a role in speed of fermentation. We allow our fermentation to go for at least two weeks at a constant temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The liquid will spill over, thanks to the bubbles caused by fermentation. Keep the jars clean and dry. After two weeks or until the experiment tastes pickled through and through, refrigerate to stop the fermentation process.
With this guide and a bit of ingenuity, you will be enjoying the potassium-rich treat that is the breakfast of champions, pickles.