As I hinted at in my last post on pickles, there are two kinds of pickles in the world–those that get their flavor from spice and those that get it from fermentation. The second type are known as sours, or brined, but some of the regular pickles you get from the store are fermented, too.
The basic difference is that with sours bacteria in the pickling liquid creates lactic acid which helps make the liquid acidic. The salt in the liquid helps encourage the good bacteria, and keeps away the bad bacteria. The good bacteria then raises the acid, helping to further keep away the bad.
The other approach is using vinegar to get the acid in there and then other flavors. Both approaches work, but I am a sucker for a good old fashion sour pickle.
Sour pickles can be a little daunting though. You are letting bacteria run wild in your food. That takes a little bit of cooking guts. The truth is that it is no tougher than making refrigerator pickles. People around the world have been fermenting vegetables for eons, so have a little faith in this, but just keep an eye if things seem a bit weird. Bacteria is at work, so there may be scum on the surface but that is normal. Instead look out for pickles that feel slimy or overly soft.
There are two aspects of brining pickles that control the pickling process: temperature and the salinity level. The bacteria that produce the lactic acid do well in a salty environment; lots of other bacteria don’t. However, the saltier the liquid is, the slower the bacteria reproduce. Bacteria also react differently to temperature and reproduce more the warmer it gets. If you work with these two controls you can create an environment that favors the yummy bacteria that you want.
This is my first pickle fermenting experiment in a long time. The results were really good, but a little salty. For the next go around, I am going with a slightly lower level of salt and using a recipe from another DC local. I will follow up with results from that batch. The higher level of salt in the first batch meant that it took longer for the bacteria to do their work. The second batch, with less salt, is moving along a lot quicker. The second batch should be much more sour and have a more pronounced tang.
I got the first recipe from a great website that focuses on fermented food from around the world. The author has a book on it and I think I am going to have to order it. I rewrote the recipe because I skipped a lot of steps and ingredients, so check the original for some additional flourishes.
There is of course lots of information on this subject and I am just scratching the surface. I will keep reporting back as I try more stuff. Here are some additional resources I have enjoyed thumbing through:
- A Polish dill pickle recipe
- Pickle Packers International – The trade org for picklers. They have good info on uses for pickle juice and a good overview on how pickles are made.
- A very detailed document on the science behind pickling. The website seems to have trouble though and isn’t always available. Keep trying!
- Learn more about how commercial pickling is done
- Another recipe for Kosher dills, fermented of course!
- A society dedicated to pickles, complete with recipes
- A nice and simple pickling container
- Traditional ceramic pickling crocks
- Make sure you read The Slow Cook, which is not only a great blog on food but also has great pickle recipes.
- 2 lbs Kirby cucumber, unwaxed.
- A good bunch of dill, about half of what comes in a normal supermarket bundle
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 6 black peppercorns
- 3 tbs kosher salt
- 6 cups of water
- 1 large, non-reactive, food safe container which can hold all of this
- 1 plate or bowl which is close to the diameter of the container, used to hold everything under the brine.
- Some sort of cover, or cheese cloth
- Wash and scrub the cucumbers. Make sure you remove any remains of the blossoms.
- Mix the salt and water together in a separate container until the salt dissolves.
- Place garlic, dill and pepper corns in the bottom of your container.
- Layer the pickles on top so that they are pretty well packed.
- Pour in the salt brine and then use a plate or bowl to help ensure that all of the pickles are submerged in the brine. None of the pickles should be poking through to the surface. Cover, or use cheese cloth.
- Scoop off any scum that floats to the surface. No worries, it is all good.
- Sample a Pickle, if it is sour enough, refrigerate the pickles in the brine. It should take 1 to 2 weeks, but could take longer in the winter.
- If you want more flavor then…wait
- Now Enjoy!