With the “Canvolution” underway, I am somewhat surprised to find myself being considered an expert on home preserving. Phone interviews, radio appearances, live demos; even friends and family have questions for me. “Are my fermenting cukes supposed to smell musty?” is my latest query.
I’ll be the first to say, expert or not, even I was skeptical the first time I made old fashioned crock pickles. Fermentation is sort of scary. And let me be the first to say, I’m not always successful. I’ve got a jar of supposed sauerkraut on the back porch as I write this that has a fine film of black fuzz on it. That can’t be right!!?!
But my Old Fashioned Crock Pickles are delicious, if I do say so. Friends and family concur. We’ve been devouring dill pickle and peanut butter sandwiches. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it; they’re my new lunch time go-to favorite.
So, based on my recent pickle fermenting success I’ve decided to post a pictorial how-to for my recipe (see bottom of page). Believe me…the hard part is getting the gallery function to work on my blog not the actual pickle-making. Here goes:
Old-Fashioned Crock Pickles
Crock pickles cure in a saltwater solution by means of fermentation caused by lactic acid bacteria, a cloudy film or scum that floats on the surface of the brine. Naturally, in this day and age of sanitation and concern about harmful microorganisms, this scum appears somewhat suspect. In fact, lactic acid is responsible for changing the pickles from bright green to an olive or yellow green and produces the characteristically tart, sour flavor we associate with pickles.
For every 5 pounds of cucumbers you will need one gallon of pickling capacity; for example, a 5-gallon crock will hold 25 pounds of cucumbers. Select a ceramic crock, large glass jar, or food-grade plastic container; do not use a metal pot, as it will negatively react with the vinegar.
Season: Mid- to late summer
Yield: 4 quarts
Store: Cool, dark pantry
For every gallon of finished pickles you’ll need:
4 to 5 pounds clean, unwaxed, firm cucumbers about 4 to 6 inches long
2 tablespoons dill seed or 4 to 5 heads fresh dill weed
2 cloves garlic
2 dried red peppers
8 cups water
1/2 cup pickling salt
1/4 cup vinegar
2 teaspoons whole mixed pickling spices
Carefully pick through the cucumbers and discard any that are bruised or have soft spots; wash well. Place half of the dill, 1 clove garlic, and 1 pepper at the bottom of your clean crock. Add the cucumbers and the remaining dill, garlic, and pepper.
Bring the water, salt, vinegar, and pickling spice to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow this brine to cool completely before pouring over the cucumbers in the crock. Weight a dinner plate or a glass pie plate with a heavy-duty, food-grade plastic bag filled with water and place in the crock to keep the fermenting pickles at least 2 inches below the surface of the brine.
Store the crock of cucumbers at room temperature; fermentation will take longer to complete under cool temperatures, whereas excessively warm temperatures will result in soft pickles. Check the crock daily and skim any scum that appears. A clean cloth draped over the crock will keep out dust and other contaminants. Complete fermentation for “full sours” will take about 3 weeks; however, you can remove pickles from their brine before that if you prefer what are known as kosher-style or half-sours.
Fully fermented pickles covered with brine may be refrigerated in jars for months or canned for stable shelf storage. To can the pickles, pour the brine into a pan, heat slowly to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes. Fill hot sterile pint or quart jars with pickles and top with hot brine, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Brine may be strained through a clean cloth or paper coffee filter to reduce cloudiness, if desired. Place lids on the filled jars and process in a water bath: pints for 15 minutes, quarts for 20 minutes.
From Canning & Preserving Your Own Harvest, by Carla Emery & Lorene Edwards Forkner, 2009 Sasquatch Books.
There you have it. Spicy, dilled pickles, all you need is peanut butter! Now, about that messy sauerkraut on the back porch. Anyone have any idea what went wrong?