Four weeks ago, I ran into the farmer’s market and grabbed a whole lot of pickling cucumbers. I had a fresh cukes, some dill, garlic, salt, and most importantly, a gorgeous crock.
A few years ago I tried a recipe for crock pickles that used cider vinegar. After carefully tending to them for a five or six weeks, we were all giddy with anticipation… and sorely disappointed. They were terrible. The cider vinegar seemed all wrong, harsh, even bitter. So I was a teeny bit trepidatious when setting up my lacto ferment with the baby cukes this time around.
Have you heard of half sour pickles? You might know them as barrel dills or deli style pickles. They aren’t actually “pickled” per se, but are fermented. The cukes, other flavoring ingredients (peppercorns, garlic, and dill head), and grape leaves (the tannins help retain crispness) are placed in a water tight container, covered with a salt solution which prevents bacterial growth that will lead to spoilage, and allowed to ferment with the naturally occurring lactobaccili, which turns the vegetable flesh into a tangy, slightly salty treat. It is the same method used to produce sauerkraut.
Here you can see the cukes are contained under a glass pie plate and a glass jar filled with the brine solution. You can use food-grade plastics, but glass is non-reactive and leaves me with no worries that anything may be leaching into my brine. Of course, you have to be super careful with glass; if it should break into your crock, well, you’ll have to throw the entire batch out.
I check on them almost daily, or at least every three or four days. There is some surface mold to deal with, but otherwise they are pretty low maintenance. You just have to make sure the cucumbers stay under the brine (air is the enemy of lacto ferments!). Finally, after four or five weeks, mine are ready. This week, I have to place them in clean jars with new brine, give a bunch away to neighbors, and place what’s left in the fridge.
I might add that these pickles, along with a nice cold beer, make an excellent dinner! For me anyway… the kids get cereal… and milk.