WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU CUCUMBERS, MAKE PICKLES!
by Teri Buhl
All year long, people ask me how to pickle or ferment cucumbers. In summer, when cucumbers are just beginning to come in for harvest, they’re still small and perfect for fermentation, especially if you don’t have enough for a whole crock (which I’ll get to shortly). In a few weeks, when you have more cukes than you know what to do with, process/can them in a vinegar-based solution and make dill pickles (or ferment them). Toward the end of the harvest, those irregular shapes and sizes are perfect for bread and butter pickles and relishes. End of the season cucumbers often have a bitter edge, so use recipes designed to mitigate that bitterness by soaking overnight and/or sweetening the pot.
SMALL SCALE FERMENTATION
Before humans discovered pasteurization, we fermented almost everything – intentionally or not! Yeast and lacto-bacilli are everywhere, and these opportunists are what make fermentation possible. I grew up in the Detroit area, and every Jewish or New York style deli had a big jar on the counter with beautiful, delicious “half-sour” pickles floating in it (also called Kosher Dills). A half-sour simply means that the cucumber has been in the brine for a few days and is still crisp and mostly bright green. Once fully fermented and olive green in color, they’re called full-sours.
When we humans lived in a mostly agrarian society, our equipment was geared toward large batches of produce, so fermentation crocks were large, e.g., crocks and barrels. My first pickling crock was an expensive 5-gallon vessel, and I guarded it with my life! Today, we’re fortunate to have companies that make pickling in a 1-quart, half-gallon, or 1-gallon jar easy and relatively inexpensive. These jars are small enough to sit on your kitchen counter and most are glass, so you can watch what’s happening. They are also more sanitary and easier to clean than the equipment used by our grandparents.
In the recipe below, use a 1-quart mason jar with a ring, fermentation lid, and air lock to make pickles in 3 to 10 days. Once fermented to your taste, they need to be refrigerated to stop the fermentation process. This recipe contains tannins (green tea leaves) to help maintain crispness, something I leaned from Karen Diggs at KrautSource.com. A saltier brine also tends to help keep pickles crisper.
Fermented Cucumber Dills
3 1/2 cups filtered water
1 – 2 Tablespoons high quality sea salt (Kosher salt is not standardized like sea salt is)
6 – 8 Kirby, Persian, or small cucumbers
2 sprigs fresh dill, or 1 teaspoon dill seeds
1 Tablespoon mustard seeds
1 bay leaf
5 – 6 cloves of peeled garlic
1 teaspoon loose green tea leaves or 1 grape or fig leaf (for crunchiness)
- Boil the water and pour into a non-reactive bowl. Stir in the salt and allow to completely cool.
- Trim off 1/4 inch of the blossom end of the cucumbers and poke a hole in the other end.
- Place all seasonings and garlic into a wide mouth quart mason jar, then pack in the cucumbers vertically. Cucumbers that are longer than the jar’s shoulder can be trimmed, but cut thick slices.
- Cover the contents with brine until it reaches about 1-inch over the top of the cucumbers.
- Place lid, ring, and airlock onto jar. Make sure enough water is in the airlock or moat at all times to keep out fruit flies and airborne bacteria. Ferment 3 to 10 days at a temperature between 65 – 80o
- When finished, replace fermentation system with a non-reactive lid, and refrigerate. Eat within 6 months.
Notes: Conventional wisdom says to keep the container out of direct sunlight, but UV light kills bacteria, so this is a point of debate. You can taste your pickles at 3 days to check on progress. If any white (Kahm) mold forms, simply remove it – it’s harmless. More rarely, anything pink, red, black, or slimy should be disposed of – these can be harmful if eaten, and are usually a result of not having washed your produce or not having cleaned the equipment properly. Garlic has wonderful anti-bacterial properties and should be included in fermentation whenever appropriate.
If you are a Do-It-Your selfer, you can buy a plastic Mason jar lid, drill a hole in it, and put an airlock/grommet in it. Otherwise, you can find fermentation equipment at these links (and more). I’ve used them all and consider the first two systems the best, because they’re made of stainless, can be sterilized, and last a lifetime. Rubber and silicon are less expensive, but are subject to splits, peeling, and contamination over time. HAPPY FERMENTING!
THE FOLLOWING LINKS have equipment choices in many price ranges:
https://www.krautsource.com/collections/frontpage (Superb stainless airlock system)
https://www.farmandfleet.com/products/1316699-ball-2-pack-fermentation-replacement-pack.html (Stainless/plastic airlock system)
https://masonjarlifestyle.com/product-category/mason-jar-fermentation/ (Silicone lids with glass weights)
https://www.farmcurious.com/products/farmcurious-fermenting-set-with-recap-2-pack (Plastic system with lid that can go straight to refrigerator)