Cucumbers are in season and they are plentiful at the Farmers’ Market. Want to make something other than cucumber salad? Try pickles. Making pickles isn’t complicated. You can preserve homemade pickles using three basic methods: lactic fermentation (cured with a salt brine), canning (soaked in pickling lime) or refrigeration (immersed in a vinegar solution).
Many enthusiasts swear fermentation yields a better pickle than the pickles made with vinegar. They are also called “crock pickles” or “brine pickles”.
Place the recipe ingredients inside the crock. Make the pickle brine and pour into the crock. Cover with a weight to keep food submerged and drape with a towel to keep out the dust. Ferment at room temperature for 2 or more weeks. Check container daily and skim any scum from the top. Fermentation bubbles may be visible. Taste pickles regularly.
When the pickles reach a flavor you like, you have three options for storing them:
1. Refrigerate to slow fermentation. Pickles should last 4 to 6 months this way. Note that pickled vegetables last longer than pickled fruits, which generally keep well for only 2 to 3 months.
2. Store in a dark, cool spot, such as the basement, where your homemade pickles will continue to ferment but should stay safe for several months.
3. Can fermented pickles for extended storage. The heat of canning compromises their crisp texture and kills the beneficial bacteria, but the flavor will remain. Canned fermented food could last a couple of years.
Kosher Dill Pickles
This recipe, adapted from, The Joy of Pickling, uses grape, oak or sour cherry leaves, which contain tannins believed to help keep fermented homemade pickles crisp. Store-bought, canned grape leaves will also work. Yield: 1 gallon.
Clean, gallon-sized glass jar or ceramic crock
Gallon-sized plastic bag or fitted crock weights
- 1 handful clean grape, oak or sour cherry leaves
- Approximately 6 pounds of 4- to 5-inch unwaxed pickling cucumbers (preferably freshly picked), scrubbed and rinsed
- Peeled cloves from 2 to 3 heads of garlic
- 2 quarts water
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 6 tablespoons unrefined sea salt or pickling salt
- 1/4 cup dill seed or 2 handfuls dill fronds
Place the leaves in the bottom of a clean crock. Slice blossom ends off the cucumbers and pack cucumbers into the crock, smallest ones first, adding garlic cloves throughout. Do not fill the crock more than two-thirds full.
In a separate container, stir together water, vinegar, salt and dill until salt dissolves. Pour this brine over the cucumbers until the liquid is an inch above the cucumbers when you’re pressing them down. If your crock has weights, set them on top of the cucumbers to submerge them. If you don’t have special weights, fill a gallon-sized plastic bag with water and set it on top to keep cucumbers submerged. Cover the crock with towel to keep out dust.
Ferment pickles for 1 to 4 weeks at room temperature, checking crock daily. Scum may develop on top; this is normal. Carefully lift off the weight and rinse it to remove scum. Skim scum from the top of the container before replacing the weight and towel. Do this daily.
You may notice bubbles after the first few days, indicating lactic fermentation is underway. After a week, begin tasting the pickles daily. Keep fermenting until you enjoy the flavor.
To store, place crock in a cool, dry, dark spot (the basement, for example), or remove pickles to smaller, lidded containers in the refrigerator. (If using metal lids, place a piece of plastic wrap between the container and the lid.) You may rinse fermented pickles and cover them with fresh pickle brine and seasonings or strain and reuse the original brine. The pickle flavor will improve after about a month in cooler conditions.
Note: If pickles become slimy or moldy during fermentation, discard them and try again.
Canned Vinegar Pickles
(If you are new to canning methods, the Ball Canning Company has excellent directions. visit their website at http://www.freshpreserving.com/getting-started)
Most modern pickling recipes rely on an acetic acid (vinegar) solution and heat treatment to preserve the vegetables. Vinegar pickles can be sweet, spicy or extremely sour. Popular examples include bread-and-butter pickles, sour gherkins and dill beans. You must use vinegar with at least 5 percent acidity to produce pickles that are safe for long-term storage.
Distilled white vinegar is the best choice because it’s inexpensive and won’t darken the cucumbers and its flavor is mild in comparison to cider, malt or wine vinegars. Avoid using rice vinegar and homemade vinegars, because their acidity is usually too weak. Always use canning recipes that have been tested for safety.
Heat vinegar, water and seasonings to make a brine. Pack whole or chopped ingredients into sterilized canning jars. Cover with hot brine, leaving appropriate head space. Apply lids and rings. Process jars in a boiling water bath.
Vinegar-Preserved Old-Fashioned Lime Pickles
This combination of ingredients and techniques makes a super-crisp, complex flavored sweet-and-sour pickle. Pre-soaking cucumbers in pickling lime keeps them very crisp.
Yield: 4 quarts.
4 quart-sized canning jars with lids and rings
Water bath canner with rack
Approximately 6 pounds of 4- to 5-inch unwaxed pickling cucumbers (preferably freshly picked), scrubbed and rinsed
- 1 cup food-grade pickling lime (calcium hydroxide)
- 1/2 cup pickling salt
- 1 gallon cold water
- 2 quarts cider or white wine vinegar (minimum 5 percent acidity; cider vinegar will darken pickles)
- 6 cups granulated sugar or 5-1⁄4 cups honey (honey will darken the brine)
- 2-1⁄2 teaspoons unrefined sea salt or pickling salt
- 2 teaspoons mixed pickling spice, store-bought or homemade
- 3 pounds white or yellow onions, diced
Homemade Pickling Spice
Enclose the spices in cheesecloth and close the top with kitchen string.
- 1-inch cinnamon stick
- 1-inch piece of turmeric root, peeled, or 1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 small, whole, dried chile pepper or 1/2 teaspoon crushed, dried chile pepper
- 1 teaspoon dill seed
- 1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice berries
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
To prepare cucumbers for soaking:
Cut them into quarter-inch slices and discard the ends. In a 2-gallon or larger non reactive (glass, plastic or ceramic) container mix pickling lime with salt and water. Add cucumbers and soak for 12 to 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Scoop slices from lime solution, rinse in a colander and soak for 1 hour in fresh, cold water. Repeat rinsing and soaking in cold water at least two more times to completely remove the pickling lime. Drain well.
In a large pot, whisk together vinegar, sugar, salt and pickling spice or your homemade spice packet. Add onions. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes to make a syrup.
Sterilize 4 quart-sized canning jars and lids in boiling water. Pack cucumbers and onions into the jars and pour hot syrup over them, leaving a half-inch head space. Use a knife or chopstick to eliminate air bubbles. Wipe jar rims clean. Apply lids and rings.
The pickles can be canned via low-temperature pasteurization to avoid the higher heat that softens them.
Fill the canner halfway with water and heat to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Set filled jars in the canner and continually monitor water temperature for 30 minutes. Make adjustments to maintain 180 degrees for the duration. The thermometer reading should never exceed 185 degrees. (Learn more about how to make pickles using the low-temperature pasteurization method at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.)
Alternatively, process jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. The flavor of vinegar pickles will improve after about a month in storage.
Sometimes called “quick pickles,” refrigerator pickles are technically vinegar pickles minus the canning. You can adjust a refrigerator pickle recipe — to use less salt or sugar or none at all — without food-safety fears. Refrigerator pickles stay crisp because the cucumbers are not subjected to heat. Making pickles using this method is fast and they are typically ready to eat within a day but should be consumed within a few months.
Prepare vinegar solution and pour over sliced vegetables. Cover and refrigerate.
Easy Refrigerator Pickles
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon dill seed
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves
- 6 pickling cucumbers
- 3/4 ounce fresh dill
Combine water, vinegar, sugar, kosher salt, peppercorns, dill seed, mustard seeds and garlic in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; stir.
Quarter pickling cucumbers lengthwise or in thick round circles and place in a 1 quart glass jar; add fresh dill. Top with hot vinegar mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Pickles will be ready to eat the next day and will stay good for roughly a month.
Any combination of vegetables can be used in place of the cucumbers in the easy refrigerator pickle recipe. Here are a few examples:
- 6 Kirby cucumbers, quartered lengthwise
- 6 young spring carrots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
- 1 handful large scallion pieces or green beans
- A few pieces of cauliflower
- 4 small hot red chiles or 2 jalapenos
Interested in learning how to prepare Nordic Food? Here is your chance.
From September 13-20, 2014, New York City will be hosting the second annual NORTH Food Festival. You can attend one of the elegant dinners or attend the first ever Nordic Hot Dog Championship where Chefs battle it out for the prestigious title of Nordic Hot Dog Champion. If you will be in the area, you may want to sign up for some cooking classes. Here are just two of the featured classes. The remainder are listed on the website.
Cooking Lessons on Preparing Nordic Seafood
Cooking Lessons on Nordic Pastry Making
Here is a Video from the 2013 Festival to pique your interest.
For more information on the North Food Festival: