Anyone interested in pickling at home needs to know the name Sandor Katz. This dude knows what's up. Seriously. Learning about using bacteria to preserve food has been a personal journey for me. I grew up in the world of TV commercials claiming that bacteria was evil. Anti-bacterial soap was everywhere. Katz actually has a section in his book The Art of Fermentation dedicated to this very subject. I am glad that we are slowly turning the tide and realizing that most bacteria actually help us, not harm us.
I also wanted to sneak a quick garden update in this blog post since I know everyone has been waiting with bated breath (just kidding...). The garden has been raging! Lots of herbs and lettuce so far. I ate my first cherry tomato from the garden this week and it tasted awesome. Some of our pickling cucumbers used in this recipe (which I will explain further down below, differ from most cucumbers you buy in the store) turned out bitter. This can happen because of extreme heat or lack of water. It hasn't been that hot in the Bay Area yet, but I have been really lean on my watering because of the drought, so I believe that is the culprit.
Mike loves the garden.
So does Malcolm. Look at those ears! He is cool as a cucumber.
I first learned about pickling cucumbers last summer, when I was working on a farm in northern Vermont. There are a few varieties of pickling cucumber, but I am most familiar with a type named National. They are shorter, thicker and, I learned, have a bit of a cult following. My boss last summer, Farmer Bill, preferred eating them to other cucumbers and so do many others. They typically have much thinner skins so it is easier for the brine to penetrate. They are also said to be able to handle minimal moisture loss, which keeps them crisp.
whole black peppercorns
I am going to be a little bit vague on exact numbers here so you can adapt this recipe to accommodate any number of cucumbers in any size jar.
The first step is to soak the cucumbers in cold water. While they are soaking, clean the jar you plan on using with hot water and soap. I know some people who boil their glasses or run them through the dishwasher, but sanitizing the jar isn't necessary.
Fill your jar with the cucumbers and added spices. I used garlic, dried chiles de arbol, and black peppercorns. Other spices I recommend are coriander or fennel seeds.
The next thing you want to do is create a brine. The brine I used is 5 percent salt and I recommend using sea salt. Sea salt contains calcium and magnesium which help to maintain crispness. To create the brine, you want 5 percent of the weight to be salt. For example, if you have a quart of water, you'd add 50 grams of salt to get to 5%. I used a kitchen scale to help me with this but found this brine calculator that is very useful as well.
Next, pour the brine into the jar to cover all your ingredients. You are going to want to find an object to make sure that the pickles stay submerged. I used thick slices from a onion to fit in the top ring of the jar. Air is not your friend in pickling adventures and try and knock out any air bubbles that you see. Also, do not eat the onion that has been exposed to air. I have also used thick slices of lemon and lime to impart a nice citrus flavor.
Then seal up your jar and leave it out for about a week. Don't tighten the lid too much and loosen it a little bit every day to release pressure build up. Store at room temp and feel free to taste along the way. You can replicate this when other vegetables and if you really enjoy the process, definitely look into Sandor Katz and his writings. Cheers!