It’s all about the Pickles… and flexibility!
This blog is less of a step-by-step on how to pickle than it is an example of staying flexible and altering your way as you go. I had pretty highfalutin ideas about only fermenting my veggies because of all the health benefits. But my circumstances don’t allow for that, so I adjusted, embracing the different methods and anticipating the different outcomes of a variety of ways of putting up our harvest. Hope you enjoy!
We grow Double Yield Cucumbers in our garden (seeds sourced from Hudson Valley Seed Co.). This is the second year for them!
“Double” is the key word because we doubled the amount we planted over last year, too!
So we’re going to have to get a little creative to deal with all that yield. Let me explain:
My intention last year was to put up nothing but nice, probiotic fermented pickles. I am really interested in the traditional methods and the health benefits of fermentation. But I had to stay flexible–mainly because of space issues. Since we only had our kitchen fridge for storage, I just couldn’t keep 3-4 gallons of fermenting pickles in the fridge. That would take up one entire shelf.
So, I compromised and fermented my pickles as I intended, but then water bathed most so I could have room in the fridge. This year I’m making another compromise. We’ll get to that a little later.
There are so many different recipes out there that I think it best if you do some searching for reputable sources (like cooperative extensions or someone like Sandoor Katz) for fermenting recipes and find the recipe that works best for you. For this batch I used a recipe from the Wisconsin Cooperative extension–because I couldn’t find one I liked from my local extension.
We are lucky enough to have two 1 gallon crocks (new, not “antiques” from a garage sale, but that’s a discussion for another day). I followed the instructions from the co-op meticulously and have two beautiful crocks fermenting on our pantry shelves. Gather all your ingredients together so you’re not looking for things halfway through that you forgot.
This is about 4 pounds of fresh cukes in our one gallon crock. I like to put crushed whole cloves of garlic (we grew), dill flowers (grown in our herb garden), bay leaves, whole pepper corns, and red pepper flakes into the brine.
Make sure those cukes stay submerged!
We have crock weights to put on top into the brine to make sure the cucumbers are not exposed to air. Keeping cukes submerged is a requirement. If you don’t have weights you can use a saucer that fits, or I have filled plastic bags with brine. Place that on top of the pickles. Be sure to use brine (the same you’re using for your pickles) instead of water in case the bag leaks. If it leaked water into the brine it would alter the chemistry by diluting it.
Wait and Skim
I’ve read a lot of different books and blogs and recipes about fermenting cucumbers. Waiting time varies by intention and recipe. If you want lightly fermented pickles, you can try eating some after just one week. If you like a more deeply pickled cuke, you can wait up to a month in the pantry. Just about everything I have seen says that after 30 days, you should either refrigerate or can your fermented pickles. Refrigerating them slows but does not stop the probiotic fermentation, so you get those benefits.
But, as I said earlier, I couldn’t afford a whole fridge shelf for pickles, so I compromised, keeping one gallon fermenting, and then water bathing the rest. Once again, the methods for water bathing will vary depending on your situation so do your research for your particular circumstance.
Don’t forget to put some cheesecloth over the pickles to keep them clean. Every one to two days I remove the cheesecloth and inspect, removing any scum that may appear with a clean spoon. After about 1 week you’ll notice that there are some bubbles on the surface. Good news! Your pickles are fermenting!
Keep them covered and clean!
(The red potatoes are ours, the corn – a local farmer’s!)
I have more cucumbers than crocks, so I re-purposed a gallon glass jar for my next batch. You don’t need crocks to ferment your pickles. Just follow sanitary practices, use the same methods from your recipe, and ferment your batch in whatever clean vessel you have. I love being able to see the beautiful pickles!
On the subject of staying flexible, I decided to try vinegar pickles as well this year. They don’t have the probiotic health benefits of fermented pickles, but they are certainly a time-honored method of putting up your cukes.
Once again, I searched and used a recipe that made sense to me from a reputable source. For this recipe, the instructions are to make spears. Since I am still shy of refrigerator space, I planned to water bath these immediately following the Ball recipe instructions. I found it easier to pack the hot jars by first laying them on their side.
Pack ’em tightly!
I added red pepper flakes and garlic to this vinegar brine.
You can see them as I pour it in the brine. I also did two quarts with a teaspoon of extra turmeric; we did that last year for our bread and butter pickles and it worked out great, so we are experimenting again this year.
Pay attention to canning instructions
Not to get all preachy, but canning is serious business. In general, the advice is to not use your grandma’s canning recipes no matter how wonderful her pickles were. That was then. This is now. Take time to research and follow the instructions that match your altitude and circumstances. Call your local Cooperative Extension if you need to. They love to help!
Meanwhile… “Fridge Pickles”
I had enough brine for four quarts of pickles to water bath. But I had brine and spears leftover. It was only enough for a pint, but I wasn’t gonna compost these lovely spears. So, I used the same brine and followed the alternate instructions in the recipe for refrigerator pickles. Same method as water-bathing except instead, you soak them in the brine for 30 minutes, put them in a jar, and pickle them for three weeks in the fridge.
Back to the Water Bathing and Pickling
While the refrigerator pickles were cooling, the water bath was done. I tied a string around the batch of pickles that did not have extra turmeric so I could tell when it was time to open them. As we sat in the living room after we pulled the jars out, we delighted in hearing the 4 distinct “pops!” that told us the lids had properly seated.
What veggies are you pickling this year? What methods are you using? Share your stories with us!
NOTE: Said it before. Saying it again! We recommend STRONGLY that you learn about safely water bath canning and pressure canning at these expert sites. This is where we go to learn:
Your local Cooperative Extension – such as: Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Your pickles look wonderful! We did a half dozen pints of refrigerator pickles last week, and now there are enough cucumbers on the vine to can up some pickles for the pantry as well. We have tried fermented pickles, but our house stays too warm in the summer, and they always end up spoiling. Maybe one of these years I will rig up a system to keep them at the right temp!
Thank you for reminding readers to only use safe, tested recipes! Such an important piece of advice when it comes to canning.
Pickles will still ferment if you start out in the fridge, but it will take longer, and you probably run up against the same space constraints. Bit by bit I am building a root cellar in our basement so we have a lot of cold storage. We’ll be posting blogs on that progress!
And I appreciate your comment on safety. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to use safe methods, and who wants to take chances!