Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I grew these pickling cucumbers this year specifically to make homemade pickles. I've been making them for a couple years now, but I always bought cucumbers from Conrad's in the past. These are so easy to make and SO good for you. Looking for more ways to get probiotics in your diet? These are for you.
These are naturally fermented pickles. They will not be canned. Canning is a way to preserve your garden bounty, but the process of heating will kill all the beneficial enzymes, vitamins, and friendly bacteria.
If you're new to naturally fermented foods, you may be thinking, "Ewww, I don't want to eat something fermented!" But lots of food you already enjoy is fermented--vinegar, sauerkraut, kimchi, wine, beer, cheese, yogurt, miso--to name a few. Even more food was fermented back in the days before canning. It is a natural way to preserve food. This is how people back in Bible times kept food from spoiling without refrigerators. Fermenting actually increases the vitamin content of food. Eating some fermented food every day aids digestion.
I like to use a cross between a recipe from Wild Fermentation and Nourishing Traditions.
You will need:
-sea salt (If Celtic, make sure to sterilize, like I mentioned here.)
-dill seeds or fresh dill heads
-mustard seeds (optional)
-few garlic cloves
-cucumbers, either whole, sliced, or cut in spears
-glass jars or crock
-something to weigh down and keep the cukes submerged (see photo)
I mix 6 tablespoons of Celtic Sea Salt with 8 cups of filtered water, stir to dissolve.
Place a couple cloves peeled garlic in each jar, add seasonings, dill and mustard, if using. Add cucumbers to the jar. If you are using whey (this just gives them a little kick-start on fermenting, it's not essential), add a couple tablespoons to each jar. Then cover with brine. If you need to mix up more brine, do so with the above ratio. You will need enough brine to cover the cucumbers and you will want to leave about an inch of head room.
Now for the important part--you need to weigh your cucumbers down so that they stay submerged. Any part of the cucumber that is above the brine level will rot and have to be thrown out. If you're using a big crock, you can use a plate to weigh them down. I use mason jars (see above picture), so I use little plastic containers filled with dry beans as my weights.
You will now leave these cucumbers out at room temperature to ferment. I do mine for 5 days. The bigger your cucumbers the longer the ferment. If you leave your cucumbers whole, it will take longer. I always slice mine, like you see in the picture.
You will see the liquid turn cloudy (that is good!) and the cucumbers turn from bright green to the darker pickle color. Cover your container with a cloth to keep flies away. After they are done fermenting, store in the fridge (with lids on the jars).
Now at this point, your germaphobia may be telling you that you can't leave cucumbers out on the counter for 5 days! But this is wrong. Bacteria and mold cannot survive in certain conditions, salt and acid are two of those conditions. The brine you made is very salty, nothing bad can live in it, that's why we have to keep the cucumbers in that brine. If they poke above the liquid, they aren't protected and will mold and rot. In the process of fermentation the sugars are turning to acids and that keeps baddies from growing, too. Good bacteria are multiplying and keeping bad stuff at bay as well. If you want to learn more, click here.
Oddly enough, even though the brine starts out very salty, it changes during fermentation. These pickles are not too salty. If your's taste too salty, let them ferment longer.
You will need to check on your pickles every day and skim any mold that is growing on the surface. It's not essential to get all of it, just do your best. Again, I know this sounds weird, but don't worry, the pickles in the brine are safe. This is how true kosher pickles are made. This is how pickles were made in barrels for hundreds of years. Unfortunately all pickles sold in regular grocery stores are only vinegar-soaked, not truly fermented, and so they don't have the same health qualities. In addition, store pickles are then pasteurized/heat sealed, which kills them. These pickles are a living food and will last for months in your fridge.
If you are concerned with how these will taste, you can buy Bubbie's at Whole Foods (sold in the refrigerator section, next to the cheese and yogurt). They are made the same way I have detailed. Bubbie's are spicier, though.
Also, an added bonus--you will have pickled garlic--a wonderful, natural antibiotic. The garlic takes longer to pickle than the cucumbers. Typically the garlic is ready when the pickles are all gone. If the garlic taste like a pickle, you know it's done. If it still tastes strong, like garlic, then you know it's not done and you can just leave it in the jar, in the fridge. I beat colds and flu with garlic, but it's much, much easier to eat when it's pickled! My kids will eat it, too, and love it! Occasionally, I will drink some of the pickle brine, too, since it has lots of good stuff, good acids, good bacteria (probiotics), probably some essence of the garlic, etc.
These are easy (probably takes me 30 minutes or less), but they require a little patience (you don't get to eat them for a few days), but it is SO worth it! Hope you enjoy!