Friday, April 26, 2013

A Day Late, But Not Short on Pickles.

Time got away from me yesterday, so today we'll be looking at dill pickles. Not quite so different from the relish recipe I went over yesterday, homemade lactofermented dill pickles are pretty amazing. Especially if you can throw in a few cloves of garlic. My grandmother, the Swedish one (who doesn't threaten to cut off extremities over butter), uses vinegar to can her pickles, but they are probably the best things on the planet.  She once made a case of quart jars full of hot and garlic pickles for Dave for Christmas. We would still have a jar or two if we hadn't moved across the freaking continent and ocean. They keep for a loooooooooooong time. Unlike their canned counterparts, these pickles have a shorter shelf life, but once you get them to pickled perfection you can refrigerate them and keep them for a few months, even adding a bit of vinegar for longevity. Let's make some pickles folks.

You will need two pint jars, wide mouthed or regular. One regular sized cucumber, scrubbed to get all the wax and gross stuff off, and local or organic is much better since pesticides are icky and carcinogenic. A mandoline slicer, or a steady hand and a sharp knife. I got this particular mandoline on sale at TJ Maxx in Syracuse about 6 months ago. They usually have some kind of slicer on sale there. It was $16 and worth EVERY PENNY. I use it for everything. Fresh dill, dried in a container just won't cut it. I like to use the flowers and stems from the dill plant too. A little known fact is that in many herbs, the most flavor is found in the stems, not the leaves or flowers (especially in the case of mint). So throw dill pieces in, stems and all, since you can fish them out later if you like. You can add a few whole cloves of garlic if you want. Sadly my husband smashed to pieces the glass container of chopped garlic I had in the fridge this very morning, so these will be garlic-less pickles. He likes to break things made of glass frequently. He once broke three quart sized mason jars. I haven't forgiven him yet. This was three months ago. You also need some salt and filtered water and *whey.

So, to make these babies, slice the cucumber into uniform pieces. You could get smaller cucumbers that are actual pickle sized. You could cut this cucumber into spears too if you like. Hell, you could crack out a cookie cutter and make butterfly shaped slices if you felt like it. They're your pickles, you do what you want.

Once you have cut the cucumber, arrange the slices in a jar until it's about half full, tucking some of the pieces of dill around the cucumber. Stems, flowers, dill pieces, all go in the jar. Now is when you would add some garlic too if you felt so inclined and it wasn't smashed into your kitchen floor. Not bitter I swear.

*Now is the aforementioned weird part. I am a fermenting freak. I love leaving food to sit out and cure in its own juice, as mother nature intended. The smell of sauerkraut makes me think of home, not so much because my grandmother and mother made it, but because I grew up in a place where cabbage was a common crop and the smell of it rotting brought up endless fart jokes on the bus ride home. No lie. So, I have home fermented sauerkraut at home in my fridge, which probably would keep for years if I let it. I poured some of its juice into each jar. As in the previous post, you can use whey from soured milk or yogurt if you don't have sauerkraut. I'm not sure if store bought juice would work since it's heat treated, killing all the active bacteria you need to start a ferment. You can purchase vegetable cultures too online, but I'm way to cheap and lazy for that. Those are your options. Add about two tablespoons or so of whey/juice to the jars to kickstart the fermentation process. Don't worry, your pickles won't taste like milk. I promise.

Now, top of the jars with filtered water or distilled water, making sure you cram the cucumbers and dill down far enough in the jar so they're completely submerged. Remember, water makes a barrier to keep food from molding. There will likely be a film that is white that gathers on the top after a few days. This isn't mold, this is a natural part of the fermentation process. If it's green or furry, then yeah, that's mold and you should chuck the project into the garbage so you don't get food poisoning. But the slimy white stuff, gross as it sounds, means your pickles are... pickling.

 Now we've got pickles ready to go. Put something porous on top, like a paper towel or coffee filter paper, and screw the lid on top. This lets air in but keeps bugs and stuff out. Air is a necessary part of the fermentation process, so don't think that just covering it with a normal jar top is a good idea. If you don't have the top, you can put a rubber band on this as well. Anything to keep the top on while it ferments. I use the rubber bands from asparagus bunches. I save everything almost like I was a child of the Depression.
Finished product!!! Gorgeous right!? I can't wait to test these babies out! They should be ready next Tuesday or Wednesday. To test, take one out, see if it's crunchy and as tart/vinegary as you like. If not, cover it back up, making sure everything is submerged, and leave it for another day or two. Ferment time will depend greatly on the temperature in your area. Things ferment very quickly here, because I live in freaking paradise and every day is 80 some degrees (cue evil snarky laugh at all my NY friends). When I used to make kombucha in Syracuse, NY in the winter, it took 3 weeks to ferment. It takes 10 days here. Keep your pickles near a TV or appliance that's on a lot of the time to give it a warm place to do its thing. 

Technically you could ferment any kind of vegetables like this (especially if you add a ferment culture like yogurt whey or sauerkraut juice): asparagus, whole peppers, carrots, celery, whole garlic heads, cauliflower, broccoli, beets, anything relatively solid that you would eat uncooked or raw. I doubt tomatoes would work (they're too gushy and fleshy) and eggplant would probably be gross. But apart from that, knock yourself out.

Do you ferment things? Are you gonna give this a try? Do you have other suggestions for fermentation newbs!? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Thanks for reading!!!


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