Naturally fermented (aka cultured) pickles produce the most delicious sour flavour thanks to the naturally occurring good bacteria. The pickles float in a cloudy brine that is delicious. Many are known to drink this brine for the flavour and beneficial bacteria. When we had sore stomach’s as kids, my mom or grandmother would have us drink a little sip of the pickle or sauerkraut brine. It really helped!
The following recipe is directly from my European grandfather. Some of my best memories growing up are visiting my grandparents house during harvest season, my favourite time of year. Their cold storage was always pungent with the smell of heavy brine wafting from several massive earthenware crocks that were almost as tall as my ten year old self. Opening the heavy stone lid and reaching in for those super-sour-garickly pickles was so much fun!
Find a local source of pickling cucumbers that still have a nice hard crunch to them. If you buy soft cucumbers or tough skinned cucumbers you might end up with bitter and soft pickles. The freshness of your cukes is very important in producing a fantastic finished product.
Immediately wash the cukes in very cold water. If they were not harvested that day let them soak in a cold bath to crisp up as I’m doing pictured above. Be sure to de-bud the ends of the stalk.
Wash your crock (or wide-mouth glass jars or other non-porous container) really well. I use boiled water off the kettle to wash ensuring everything is sterilized. Unwanted bacteria introduces molds that might cause the batch to go off. Once your container is washed and the cukes are ready, add the following herbs to the bottom of the crock:
One fresh grape leaf (grape leaves are rich in tannins that inhibit an enzyme in the cukes from going soft. If you don’t have access to grape leaves skip this step and don’t worry)
Peeled, whole garlic cloves…as many as you want! I use 1 -2 whole bulbs, peeled, separated
Fresh dill weed and some dill seeds fresh or dried
Mustard seeds, whole
Coriander seeds, whole
All of these spices are to taste. For one litre jar sized batch, I’d use half a teaspoon of each spice, and 1 whole head of garlic
Next, layer all the freshly washed cucumbers on top of all the spices and garlic. You don’t have to pack them tightly, just pile them in.
Now make your water solution (that will become the brine) to cover your pickles. I find 3 litres of water nicely covered 6 pounds of cucumbers. So, in a clean mixing bowl I dissolve 6 TBSP of sea salt into non-chlorinated tepid (not boiled!) water. If this math scares you: Just fill a pot of water, eye-ball how much water you think will cover your cucumbers by three inches. Then, add sea salt by the TBSP and keep adding salt until it reaches a mouth-puckering saltiness that’s enjoyable. If it’s sickeningly salty, you’ve added too much salt. Too much salt means the environment will be too sterile, and the cukes won’t culture, all the salt just kills the good bacteria. Too little salt, and the unwanted molds will take over and you’ll have a rotten batch. Once you’ve mixed your water and salt solution, pour over your pickles to cover them by three inches.
*note: if you are using chlorinated city water, boil all your water and then let it cool down (without a lid to off-gas) to room temp and use that for your brine.
Keep the cukes under the brine and protect them from being directly exposed to air. Find a plate that fits inside your crock that can hold the cukes under the water brine and then set a weight to sit atop. If you’ve made your pickles in a canning jar or other wide mouthed jar, use a smaller jam jar to act as the weight. The goal here is to keep the veg under the water solution. Make sure your weight (a rock, jar filled with water etc) is also really clean! I sterilize by boiling a giant rock in water for 5minutes. Now, cover with a lid, plate, etc, and let it sit undisturbed in a cool place (not the fridge).
Check on it daily, and with a clean spoon. Scoop away the “skin” and foam that will begin to form (pictured above). While this doesn’t look pretty, it’s not bad, it’s just a sign that the cucumbers are fermenting and turning into pickles! Put the plate, weight, and cover back (after quickly washing them), and return the crock to the cool location.
Check on the pickles every few days, scooping away the foam and skin. If the plate and weight are getting slimy, I wash them with soap and boiled water. After about 7-10 days, you won’t have to scrape the foam anymore. Just leave them and check for taste! After about three weeks, they can be put into mason jars and then into the fridge. There, they will continue to slowly ferment, and age deliciously. In the fridge, they can last up to a year. Then they will be REALLY sour, but so goo
Here I’m checking on the pickles after about two weeks:
They are turning sour, but not quite finished culturing to my taste buds. So I left them in the crock for another week. Below, after three weeks, they are nearly perfect! So, I transferred them into gallon jars to store in the fridge so they can slowly ferment through the season. They are SO GOOD!
Recap & tips:
Make sure you use fresh crispy cukes. Let them soak in very cold water to crisp them up even more just before preparing them in the crock
When making your brine solution you want to find that “sweet spot” of salty brine to your liking. The saltier, the slower to ferment. The less salt, they’ll ferment quick and you might risk them going moldy.
Make sure everything is really clean
It’s important to keep your cukes submerged in the brine. To do this place a clean plate then a weight over top. Then, use cover to keep away the dust and bugs (a lid, a kitchen towel, a plate etc)
Use a good quality salt, not generic table salt. I prefer sea salt.
Questions? please drop them below in the comments!