Yep, you read that correctly….
I’m going to step away from beer for a moment and talk about another one of my favourite fermented products, pickles. Over the last couple of summers I’ve tried to grow various cucumbers and have had no success. My mother and father in law have grown them successfully for years, and I’m quite jealous. Fortunately they know how much I love them, so they always have some to share. My failure may have been due to improper soil composition, soil pH, or perhaps the variety of cucumbers I had planted. In any case, they didn’t grow. This summer I thought I’d try something new and maximize the growing capacity of my backyard even more by building a planter box on the side of my garage. It gets plenty of sun, which cucumbers need and love. They are also ideal candidates for trellising, so I figured it would be the perfect spot.
I chose to try 4 different varieties to see which one(s) grow best.
- Urban Harvest’s “Sumter Pickling Cucumbers“
- McKenzie’s “National Pickling Cucumber“
- Martha Stewart’s “Muncher Organic Cucumber“
- + a polish variety that my mother-in-law brought back with her from Poland.
The Urban Harvest, McKenzie and Polish varieties are growing the best, with the polish variety having the darkest green foliage. The Martha Stewart variety are growing, but not very well. The plants are small and not overly prolific. (It’s just as well as I have no desire to support her empire anyways, I just had the seeds given to me so I thought I’d try them.) A boatload of cucumbers are already in, and there’s a lot more on the way, so I better get my jars together and start pickling!
So, down to the preparation.
What we will need:
- fresh dill
- kosher/pickling salt (do not use iodized salt!)
- horseradish (helps to keep the pickles crisp)
- young grape leaves (optional)
- sterilized jars
- pre-boiled water
The night before, I boiled a few gallons of filtered water to sterilize it and then let it cool down overnight (covered). Over the last week I’ve picked a variety of sizes and kept them in the fridge until I was ready to start. Before we can do that, we need to lightly scrub them with a vegetable brush to get any dirt off. Next, soak them in non-chlorinated water (I used filtered) for at least an hour to allow them to absorb as much water as possible.
Then we need to sterilize the jars properly. I run them through the dishwasher on the high temperature setting and let them cool down. Preferably, it’s best to run them without soap, but if you’re only doing a few jars, that’s just wasteful, so I give the inside a wipe with a paper towel dipped in some vodka, or gin, or some other clear alcohol to get any residue off. I use alcohol, because I find that using sterilizers can actually prevent fermentation from happening. They’re too strong. I used to use boiling water, but that is dangerous and you can burn yourself, so I use any cheap clear alcohol. It will disinfect things, but still allow fermentation to happen.
Next, peel the garlic and horseradish. Wash everything well with water. Be sure to get every last bit of dirt off and cut away any part that is browning or dented. Cut the garlic into chunks and slice the horseradish. Don’t worry, the horseradish doesn’t make them spicy, it’s more to keep them crisp. Don’t ask me how it works, I just know it does! (An old polish tip) Put a few pieces into each jar along with a couple of grape leaves and some dill. As you add the cucumbers, add more dill if you like. Stuff however many cucumbers you can into the sterilized jars. Wedge them in there good so that when you add the water, they don’t float to the top and get exposed to the air, you want everything to stay submerged. Jars with smaller openings than the body are best. If not, you can sterilize some plastic sticks or even a few bamboo skewers by boiling them in water for at least 10 minutes and use them to keep the cucumbers submerged. Once you’ve done that, we need to get the brine ready. Measure an amount of water you think you’ll need, and add 25 grams of kosher/pickling salt per litre. Mix it up until it’s completely dissolved. (If the water is a bit warm, it will dissolve easier.)
Add the brine to the jars so that the cucumbers are fully submerged. Cover with a cheese cloth or paper towel and secure with a rubber band so no unwanted characters can get into it. Set aside in a mildly warm place (about 70°F) and let them sit for about 5 days. Setting them in the sun for a few hours to get things started is also good, just be careful not to cook them! If it’s really hot, you’re better off keeping them inside. Consistent temperature is important, as it is with all fermenting.
After 2 days they will start to turn cloudy and have that nice dill pickle smell.
You will also get a little foaming on the top which may rise up and soak the paper towel. With a clean spoon, scoop off the foam and replace the paper towel with a dry one. Repeat as necessary. If the brine level drops below the pickles, you can always make some more brine (be sure to let it cool to room temperature!) and top the jars up. It just means the cucumbers have absorbed some more water.
After about 5 days, give it a taste (with a clean spoon, used only once) and see if it needs to sit longer. If it does, let it go and keep checking until it suits your taste. Once they are to your liking, remove the paper towel and put the cap that came with the jar back on. They will last for at least a couple of months if you keep them in the fridge, and will continue to sour, but only if they don’t get eaten first!
I’ll continue to post as they become ready…