Brined (Fermented) Dill Pickles: Day One
I never thought I’d need 20 lbs. of cucumbers in one sitting. But when you’re brining your own batch, you look for economies of scale. I had a five-gallon food grade salsa bucket. And my recipe called for four pounds of pickling cukes per gallon of your container. So there.
Finding the bumpy, relatively seedless pickling cukes isn’t always easy. Luckily, I could custom-picked ones from Heavenly Harvest Farm just down the road. The farm’s owner and manager were in my master food preserver’s course.
Once you secure your cukes, preparing the bucket for brining is pretty easy. You slice all the blossom ends off the cucumbers, to remove an enzyme that softens them. You make a salt water (with a little vinegar) solution. You throw in heaps of flowering dill heads (or dried seeds), garlic cloves, dried hot red peppers, peppercorns, some pickling spice, whatever spices you like, really. You put a weighted plate in on top, to push down and ensure all the cukes are submerged in brine. Otherwise they could mold and rot. Then you allow the fermenting cukes to steep in a dark place with temperatures no greater than 75 degrees. I’ve got the bucket in our coat closet but will move it to the basement if it heats up again. And I’ll be checking the bucket almost daily, to skim any scum off the top and sample the cukes to taste their progress. After three to four weeks of brining, these girls should be fully fermented. Then I can either refrigerate them or hot water process them in jars to make them shelf stable. Oh, and to keep the cukes crisp, I rolled up a few fistfuls of grape leaves from the neighbors vine and horseradish leaves from the root I planted and stuffed them into the brine. Using chemicals like alum or lime to crisp the pickles kind of scares me.
Speaking of fermentation, I plan to attend Portland’s first-ever fermentation festival this Thursday. Sandor Ellix Katz, the author of Wild Fermentation and food preservation poster boy, will be speaking there. He is living with AIDS and eats lacto-fermented foods, in part, for their health benefits.